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Alun HODDINOTT - A Source Book

compiled by Stewart R. Craggs

ISBN 978-0-7546-0895-0

ASHGATE October 2007




Experience Classicsonline




On Wednesday 12 March 2008 Alun Hoddinott died. He was regarded as possibly the greatest and certainly the most widely known of the group of Welsh composers that include Grace Williams, William Mathias, David Morgan and David Wynne. It is surely appropriate that Stewart Craggs’s Source Book should have been published a few months before the composer’s death. This is a key reference book that provides scholars and other interested parties with virtually everything they might need to know about the composer’s life and works. The format is similar to others in this series – but it is worth giving a brief overview for any reader that may not yet have discovered them.

It opens with a generous foreword from the singer Jeremy Huw Williams. It is hardly surprising that the songs play an important part in his evaluation of the composer’s achievement. The book lacks a ‘biographical introduction’ as such – although Williams does set the composer in context and mentions some key works and events in Hoddinott’s life. I would have appreciated a biography of some two or three thousand words – although I guess that most readers of this book will be aware of, or have access to this information.

The ‘Index of Titles’ is placed near the front of the book. This simply states the name of the piece – from Symphonies to individual songs in alphabetical order, with the date of composition and the page number of the main entry in the ‘Catalogues of Works’. The next section is a comprehensive overview of the composer’s life and works presented as a chronological list. From the birth of Hoddinott’s father in 1899 through to his attendance at the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall’s wedding in 2005, all the key events are noted along with the dates of his major compositions and important first performances.

However the core of this book is the ‘Catalogue of Works’. Each ‘opus’ is outlined in up to a maximum of twelve sections and is presented in purely chronological order. Interestingly, Hoddinott’s very first composition was a setting of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach: Craggs informs us that only sketches of this work survive –which probably means it is unlikely we will ever hear it performed.

Yet the full force of the book’s usefulness emerges when the reader turns to the entry for the fine Symphony No. 2. This has always been a favourite work of mine and I have long felt that it deserves to be regarded as a major achievement of British symphonic writing. It is entered under the heading for the year ‘1962’ and we are informed that this Symphony is Op.29. It was composed for full orchestra and has four movements – Adagio, Allegro molto, Molto adagio and Maestoso-Allegro-Maestoso-Presto. The next tranche of information includes who commissioned the work – in this case the 1962 Cheltenham Festival of British Contemporary Music. The instrumentation is given in the usual format followed by the dedicatee who, in this instance was Alan Rawsthorne. Naturally, if a work was given a first performance, this is noted. Where the piece has been published the date and the publisher is given. One detail that Craggs provides is important for musicologists and is often ignored: it is the date inscribed on the manuscript. Often this can be much earlier than the published date or the first performance. Furthermore the score may have had a number of incarnations, corrections or reworks before the final ‘received’ edition was arrived at.

There is a useful reference to any recordings that may have been made – this includes CDs, vinyl and cassette tapes. Re-issues are also noted where appropriate. But perhaps the most vital information is the bibliography – in which journals or newspapers which discussed or reviewed the particular work are noted. Lastly there are supplementary or miscellaneous notes that may be helpful to the scholar. In choral works, songs and operas the texts used are noted along with their authors.

The last three sections of the book are equally important and interesting. There is a general bibliography – covering more generalised biographical and critical essays on Hoddinott’s life and works.

The classified index of works is probably the only part of this book that leaves a lot to be desired. It is rather hard to use. For example the ‘Chamber & Solo Instrumental’ sections list such a wide variety of compositions that it is quite unmanageable. I would rather this had been further sub-divided into Piano Works, String Quartets, String trio, Organ pieces etc.

The last part is a general index which concentrates on names of artists, other composers, luminaries and organisations that appear in the general text.

One of the books mentioned in the bibliography is ‘Alun Hoddinott: A Bio-bibliography’ published in 1993. This made me a little concerned that there might have been a deal of overlap between this present book and Craggs's contribution to that notable series of Bio-bibliographies published by Greenwood. Yet I need not have worried. Both books are complementary rather than competitive. The present volume is much more user-friendly – with all the relevant information provided against each work’s entry rather than spread around in a complex series of cross-references. At present, I have not been able to compare entries between the two volumes. I think the only thing I like about the Bio-bib was a brief resume or epitome of the reviews in the press or musical journals. This is helpful.

More importantly, some sixteen years have elapsed since the Bio-Bib was published – and as Hoddinott was not a composer to rest lightly there has been a considerable addition to his catalogue – including Symphonies, Song-Cycles, Sonatas and the odd opera. Naturally there have been a host of CD releases since 1993 – although perhaps not as many as the composer’s reputation demands.

The price of this volume is understandably high at £55, for I guess that it is the kind of book that will end up in two places - music departments of colleges and universities and in the personal libraries of musicologists. It will never become a best seller! But rest assured that copies will be snapped up – it is hardly likely to appear in the remainder bookstores!

Craggs is the expert on this type of book. He has compiled ten or so volumes of close written bibliography. Composers such as Ireland, Walton, Elgar and Bliss have their dedicated volumes. It is the sort of research that is so important for those of us who follow on. Few people have the resources and energy to explore the manuscripts and literature of a composer to any great depth. Yet all of us who write reviews or articles depend heavily on these works of scholarship. It is an impressive task, superbly done.

I spent some time reading through the catalogue. I have followed the composer’s career with interest since about 1972, yet the strange thing is that the sheer range and quantity of music that Hoddinott wrote is beyond my ken! I have not heard most of the works noted: in fact I never knew many of them existed! Furthermore there is a long way to go before the majority of Hoddinott’s work is recorded and in public view.

One final thought: the very last work in the catalogue especially appeals to me: the Images of Venice for soprano, baritone and orchestra. This work is a setting of texts by Shelley, Ruskin, and Byron et al. It was given its first performance on St David’s Day 2007. There is something about this work, its title, the authors chosen and the imagery of the Lagoon – one of the most beautiful and inspiring places in the world - that raises my expectations and whets my curiosity. I hope one day that it will be recorded. I will be looking out for it.

I recommend this book to anyone who has more than a passing interest in the music of Alun Hoddinott. It provides a deep understanding of his life, his music and the learned criticism that has been written over the past fifty odd years.

John France

Provides a deep understanding of Hoddinott’s life and music ... see Full Review

And a further view from Rob Barnett:-

There’s no doubting the value of this volume even if it does prompt me to wonder what else Hoddinott wrote between 2005 - when this book appears to have closed for printing - and the composer’s recent death. Presumably there was very little but it would be good to confirm what else was written and would further enhance the value of this volume. Similarly it would be good to know of any works left unfinished and their state of ‘incompleteness’.

By the way I do hope that it might become the habit with volumes of this type that the author adopts the practice applied to law books and includes a note ‘Accurate as at DATE’. It would lend definition and precision to the researcher’s armoury.

I enjoyed the chronology – it gives a quick-sweeping summation and is a good place to start after the Jeremy Huw Williams foreword. This book does not set out to be a biography – no doubt that will follow in due course.

There are very few typos but very few by the standards seen elsewhere. I noticed George Issacs instead of the correct George Isaacs for the Trio op. 77. And shouldn’t the 1998 entry that mentions Rhmney Valley instead show Rhymney Valley? Apart from that there is a speckle of punctuation errors where commas are left floating between spaces rather than butted up against the letter they separate and at least one place where a full stop has no space after it. The paper is a good quality matte white which makes for an easy ‘contrasty’ read.

Bibliography entries against each work in the central catalogue will prove extremely helpful to enthusiasts and academics … and even enthusiastic academics.

Duration of works are shown with instrumental/vocal specifications: a blessing for hard-pressed concert and recording planners including those who contemplate Hoddinott festivals. The centenary is in 2029 but I hope that there will be much earlier celebrations and seasons.

Browsing the catalogue which forms the hub of this book, across some 170 pages, various things can be noted. He wrote no fewer than six operas. There are ten symphonies, 13 piano sonatas and six violin sonatas among much else. A phenomenal output. It is fascinating to see that several of his works set words by the late Ursula Vaughan Williams. I see also that he wrote an appreciation-obituary of RVW in 1958. Notable from the bibliography is that throughout the 1960s he was very active as a music journalist.

All in all this will make a sturdy and reliable foundation for the future of Hoddinott’s music in the years to come.

Rob Barnett





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