See the Harrison article by John France
Julius Harrison has not had a very assertive presence in the gathering wave of revival of British music. Performances have not been numerous. Bredon Hill
itself has been broadcast by the BBC a few times since 1980 notably by Richard Howarth and Christopher Warren Green with the Ulster Orchestra and BBC Concert. Donald Hunt and Stephen Barlow directed the BBCPO in the Worcestershire Suite
during the mid-1990s. The British Music Society
included the viola sonata in a cassette and CD of viola music. In 1993 we had Geoffrey Self’s fine book: Julius Harrison and the Importunate Muse
(Scolar Press – now Ashgate - 1993; xii 128pp; ISBN 0 85967 2). For Harrison there was to be no Lyrita collection, no ‘Composer of the Week’, nor anything other than the occasional ‘side-show’. For him perhaps the peaks came at the end of his life when in the mid-late 1950s Sargent broadcast his Requiem
and Willcocks his Mass
, these being very large-scale ‘Three Choirs’ works for soloists, choir and orchestra. The present disc is therefore something of a corrective and by no means a mere gap-filler. It does not claim to be a representative selection; nor is it. There are quite a few works that await first recording including expensive projects such as those two choral works.
I will leave some account of the details of Harrison’s life and specifically of the life and Bredon Hill
to John France’s
excellent article. I have also provided a rough dictionary entry at the end of this review.
This Epoch disc is another feather in Mike Dutton's cap. While not quite an all-Harrison disc it's getting close. Harrison’s Worcestershire Suite
is much more than a rural ramble. He was born in that county and clearly was not intent on belittling it. Across four movements, written at the end of the Great War, he delivers an impressionistic lilting haze redolent, in Redstone Rock
, of Frank Bridge's Summer
. Pershore Plums
is bathed in the slowly oozing heat of summer. One can almost feel the warmth of farmhouse walls under a blazing sun. The composer's comments about the sight of cherry, apple and plum blossom seem spot-on. In The Ledbury Parson
smocks and creaky hints of twee Shepherd Fennel
and Holstian rhapsodies from Somerset and points South and North put in ephemeral appearances. However there's plenty to fend off a complete surrender to cliché. Much the same might be said of the Elgarian fancy of the Widdicombe Fair
humoresque. It is nevertheless a work that coasts even more perilously close to the edge. Holst's string suites and Elgar's Serenade
are close cousins to this music.
The Bredon Hill Rhapsody
has been a steadfast if infrequent presence on BBC Radio 3. Despite all protests to the contrary this piece is fragrant with echoes of RVW's Lark Ascending
and Elgar not to mention the Samuel Barber violin concerto. Matthew Trusler's slender and honeyed tone suits the work well and the orchestra know the piece as do the Ulster and BBC Welsh. It's a touching piece of delightful ‘Englishry’ and must have served powerfully when written in the depths of WWII. There are even some voluptuously Finzian moments at climax and some echoes of the Dvorák and Delius violin concertos. Bredon Hill
has also been recorded by Lorraine McAslan in another fine version on Lyrita (review
) coupled with the Coleridge Taylor Violin Concerto.
The Prelude Music
was surely influenced by Harrison's upfront and personal acquaintance with any number of opera intermezzi - he conducted enough of them as one of Carl Rosa's regulars . It is not subfusc
Massenet; Harrison is a subtle creator but the roots of the work are clear enough. Some years later William Alwyn - also an admirer of the pre-Raphaelites - was to produce a work of rapturous mastery for harp and orchestra, Lyra Angelica
. Even so this is voluptuous and saturated stuff with a final urgency born of Tchaikovskian passion rather than Gallic exoticism.
Hubert Clifford's 1943 Serenade for Strings
is another defiantly English work despite Clifford's Australian roots. He had come to the ‘Old Country’ in 1930 to study with RVW. He did not return. His music in this case is gracious and pastoral-romantic and steps easily between the realms of light music and the rural idylls espoused by Butterworth, Bridge and Howells. A soulful Lento
for viola and orchestra charts the territory with reflective caution - a touch of the Finzi Severn Rhapsody
here, admixed with Holst's Lyric Movement
. In the Molto allegro
finale Clifford dashes away with the smoothing iron - Bridge comes strongly to mind. This work is not a patch on the Clifford Symphony on Chandos. However it remains a notable addition to the quiver of English pastoralism yet written with a lighter hand than usual. This charming, rather than striking, work was premiered on 8 December 1944 by the BBC Empire String Orchestra. Let's have Clifford’s Cowes Suite
next - written for Clifford's friend the yachtsman Uffa Fox. What a pity that Ted Heath did not take an interest in that piece during his brief ‘Morning Cloud’ flirtation with EMI Classics in the 1970s!
The notes are by the indispensable Lewis Foreman.
These are notable and surprisingly strong contributions to a richly rewarding pastoral seam in British music
HARRISON, Julius Allan Greenway (Stourport, Worcestershire 26.3.1885 - Harpenden, Hertfordshire, 5.4.1963)
He was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s School, Hartlebury near Kidderminster. His parents were both musicians. Music was a strong presence in the family with his maternal grandfather having been a proficient song-writer. He learnt piano, violin, organ and French horn. In 1902 he won a Worcestershire County Council scholarship to the Birmingham School of Music and Midland Institute where he studied with Bantock. He was organist in various parish churches. Moved to London in 1908 and became Conductor of the Dulwich Philharmonic Society giving four concerts annually at the Crystal Palace. In 1912 he was appointed to the staff of Covent Garden working with Richter, Weingartner and Nikisch rehearsing Parsifal
for them. He worked again with Nikisch and Weingartner in Paris in 1914 at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. He joined the Beecham Opera Company in 1915 as a conductor. The Great War interrupted his career as it did that of many others. In 1916 he joined the Royal Flying Corps as ground staff based outside London. After the War he took up the joint conductorship of the Scottish Orchestra, a post he held until 1923. In 1924 he became a conductor with the BNOC remaining with the Company until its end in 1927. From 1924 to 1929 he directed the opera class at the RAM. Harrison succeeded Goossens as conductor of the Handel Society. He also conducted the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and the Bradford orchestra. In 1930 he succeeded Basil Cameron as Director of Music, Hastings Corporation when Cameron went off to head the San Francisco orchestra. On the recommendation of Dan Godfrey he had previously been offered a similar post with Harrogate but had declined it because he would have had to conduct an excessive amount of light music. During the ten years he spent at Hastings he did valuable work for British music. The next War brought about the end of the Hastings Municipal Orchestra and he returned to Worcestershire conducting the BBC Northern Orchestra, the Hallé and the Liverpool Philharmonic with whom on 13 October 1936 he premiered a work dedicated to him, Bax’s Rogues Comedy Overture
. His conducting ended with the onset of deafness in 1940 after which he devoted himself to composition. As a conductor his repertoire was broad, taking in the established classics with the then rare and unusual. At an RPS Concert on 19 October 1936 he conducted Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Overture La Bisbeta Domata
and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde
. He made several records including Holst’s Marching Song
, with the Hastings Orchestra, and with the LPO, Elgar’s Imperial March.
He also recorded his own music: Worcestershire Suite
(reissued on Pearl at one stage) – a record made shortly after the first performance, and Romance - Song of Adoration
(the latter with his own Hastings band). He wrote a study of the Brahms Symphonies. For much of his life he lived at The Greenwood, Ox Lane, Harpenden, Hertfordshire.
: The Canterbury Pilgrims
: Cantata, Cleopatra
(1907, won 50 guinea first prize offered by Norwich Triennial Festival out of seventy entries, Norwich Triennial, 1908, Henry Wood. Text by Gerald Cumberland. The work was later disowned by Harrison); Rhapsody
for tenor or baritone and orch. (a setting of the Walt Whitman poem, On The Beach at Night Alone
); Merciless Beauty
, a roundel by Chaucer; Rosalys, A Dream Poem
(1912); Requiem of Archangels for the World
for chorus and orchestra (setting a poem by Herbert Trench, 1919 – evidently a Great War requiem perhaps paralleling The World Requiem
by John Foulds); two church cantatas; The Blessed Damozel
for female voices unaccompanied (words D.G. Rossetti, Blackpool Music Festival 1928, broadcast in recent years by the BBC); Mass
in C minor and major for solo voices, chorus and orch. (1948, Hanley 1948, then BBCSO/Sargent, April 1952, later repeated by Maurice Miles and the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra in 1950 and 1953, and by Sir David Willcocks in 1955); Missa Liturgica
for unaccompanied chorus (1950); Missa, O Lux Beata Trinitas
for unison voices and organ (1951); Requiem
for solo voices, chorus and orch. (1951/57, BBC Chorus and SO/Sargent); Part-songs: The Dark Forest, The Song of the Plough, The Merry Miller.
for strings (1905); Tone Poem, Night on the Mountains
(Bournemouth, December 1911); Variations, Down Among The Dead Men
(Proms 1912, Bournemouth, March 1914); Tone Poem, Rapunzel
after William Morris (Hallé/Harrison, 1917; RPS London Concert/Harrison, 11 March 1918); Worcestershire Suite
(1919/20, Bournemouth, December 1920 - also piano version.); Bredon Hill
, a Rhapsody for violin and orch. (Thomas Matthews/BBC Northern Orch/Harrison, 3 October 1941); Cornish Holiday Sketches
for strings; Autumn Landscapes
for strings (BBCSO/Harrison, 22 February 1937); Widdicombe Fair
(also for string quartet); Humoresque
for strings; Troubadour Suite
for strings, harp and two horns (based on 13th
century tunes); Cello Concerto.
: String Quartet
in D minor (1910); Viola Sonata in C minor (1945); Prelude Music
in G flat for harp and string quartet (1912);
: Rhapsody, Intermezzo and Capriccio
(1905); Prelude and Double Fugue
for two pianos (Birmingham 1905); Severn Country, Three Sketches
for piano; some organ pieces.
: many songs incl. Six Songs (1905); To Cloe
(1909); Marching Along
for tenor or baritone; Sudden Light
(setting Rossetti); Three Sonnets
from Boccaccio (Rossetti); Four Songs of Chivalry
(Manchester, John Coates/Hallé/Landon Ronald, 10 Feb 1916); Four Cavalier Tunes
for tenor and orchestra; Rhapsody
for baritone and orchestra (Walt Whitman); I know a bank
; Viking Song
; Songs from ‘Twelfth Night’