Among the great frustrations of reading Stephen Lloyd’s masterly
monograph Sir Dan Godfrey: Champion of British composers
(Thames Publishing, 1995) are the listings of music that was
played at Bournemouth – music now largely lost to the listener.
As a random example, page 81 indicates that the following works
were performed during the 1906-07 season: Nicolas Gatty’s Prelude,
Ernest Halsey’s Suite de Ballet, Landon Ronald’s Birthday
Overture, Richard Walthew’s Three Night Scenes, Arthur
Hervey’s Dramatic Overture and a May Festival Overture
by Arthur Wight. Two things stand out here; firstly the works
are totally forgotten, but secondly, so are many of the composers.
Dan Godfrey largely created what might be termed the ‘Bournemouth
Problem’. His enthusiasm for British music caused him to encourage
a massive range of composing talents. His programmes are full
of music by up and coming composers, one hit wonders and established
talent. Most likely there were a few ‘has beens’ as well. However
relatively few pieces ‘stuck’ in the repertoire and I guess
most of these ‘novelties’ after a couple of performances have
been put to one side and quietly lost. Unfortunately that often
included the score and parts as well. Stephen Lloyd’s listings
are a fantasy - largely works that will not and perhaps more
disturbingly, cannot be recovered.
Dutton Epoch have gone some little way towards addressing the
‘Bournemouth Problem’ in this latest disc of Dan Godfrey
Encores. Here is a collection of fine pieces that will entertain,
fascinate and occasionally move the listener. It acts as a taster
of what has been lost.
This is definitely not a CD to listen to in a half-hearted manner.
In spite of the ‘frothy’ nature of some of these ‘encores’ they
are all to be savoured and enjoyed. They may not shake the foundations
of musical endeavour, but they are all good and worthy of their
composers: they demand our interest.
The first work on the CD is not British, but from across the
Channel in Paris. I first came across Zampa in a volume
of piano reductions of operatic overtures. It has fascinated
me ever since. With the opera’s almost Gilbertian plot of a
nobleman turned pirate, it is full of good tunes, and exciting
Byron Brooke is represented by Gee Whizz! which is a
little cracker, complete with its tricky part for solo xylophone.
It must have brought the house down.
Most people will have come across the music of Percy Whitlock,
most likely his ‘Folk Tune’ or Toccata from the masterly Plymouth
Suite for organ. However Whitlock, who had a long association
with Bournemouth, wrote much music in a variety of genres -
some of it being decidedly high-quality ‘light’ music including
a Bucket and Spade Polka. The present Carillon
for Organ is an example of his more thoughtful writing. The
music here is involved and although a touch ‘retro’ in its style
is internally consistent. In spite of some slightly Delian slippery
harmonies it is beholden to no one. This is great music that
is reflective, often moving and is well-wrought. It deserves
to be welcomed to the repertoire.
Dame Ethel Smyth is probably better known for her opera (and
overture) The Wreckers, than for The Boatswain’s Mate
which is a one-act piece dating from 1914. This was a comic
opera based on a retired boatswain’s attempt to persuade a widowed
pub landlady to marry him. The overture is actually quite dark
in places – more than the plot would seem to demand. Yet it
is well written - let us hope that one day the entire opera
Howard Flynn’s Clatter of the Clogs: A Novelty Fox-Trot
is quite simply a pure joy to listen to. Would that there
were dozens more pieces of music like this!
Sir Landon Ronald is a composer that I would like to know more
about. Works entitled A Birthday Overture, Britannia’s
Realm and A Winter’s Night all excite interest. The present
piece, ‘In an Eastern Garden’ is the second number from the
incidental music to the play The Garden of Allah by Robert
Hitchens and Mary Anderson. It is a lovely evocation of peace
and reflection with the solo violin well to the fore.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs’ The Betrothal is a little bit
of an enigma. It is great music, and deserves to be recorded.
However, I cannot for the life of me see what made this a ‘popular’
encore. This is quite serious music that reflects a second rate
‘fairy’ play by Maurice Maeterlinck. It is music to be savoured
and in many ways is not typical of the composer as we have come
to regard him. Look out for the ravishing waltz theme: it beats
Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier! It is great to have
this piece included here and suitably divorced from a long-forgotten
play where it spent most of its time supporting dialogue. Forget
any plot: just enjoy this deliciously romantic music.
Maurice Birch has two calls on this CD – firstly the characteristic
Dance of the Nymphs with its ‘will o’ the wisp’ mood
created by celesta and strings. The Intermezzo (pizzicato) is
one of those pieces that one feels that one knows. Yet I guess
I have never heard this before. It is a finely crafted piece
that hovers on the cusp between ‘light’ and ‘just a touch serious’.
The Irish composer Ina Boyle was a pupil of Ralph Vaughan Williams
and this is reflected in her stunningly beautiful The Magic
Harp. This work received a Carnegie Award in 1919 and was
taken up by Dan Godfrey. It proudly stands alongside Stanford’s
Irish Rhapsodies and Hamilton Harty’s With the Wild
Geese, for evoking the mood of the Emerald Isle. This is
a magical piece that achieves its success by eschewing the sentimentality
of the Moore’s Irish Melodies but manages to create a mood that
evokes history, myth and landscape. It is a masterpiece. Let
us hope that her Symphonies and Violin Concerto will be forthcoming.
The German Ludwig Pleier Karlsbad’s Doll’s Dance is a
lovely piece of whimsy that uses ‘strings played with [goose]
quills to give the magical pizzicato effect.
Rutland Boughton is probably best recalled for his important
opera, the Celtic fairy play The Immortal Hour. However
this was one small part of a massive catalogue of the composer
who saw himself as being the English Wagner and forming an English
Bayreuth at Glastonbury. The operas typically explored British
mythology and included titles such as Avalon and Galahad,
The Round Table and The Birth of Arthur. The present
piece is the ‘Love Duet’ from Act One of The Immortal Hour
arranged by the composer for orchestra. It is a romantic piece
that exceeds all expectations. This is beautiful music that
is both inspiring and moving. It is good that Dutton Epoch have
already recorded the opera The Queen of Cornwall. For
people who are not opera buffs the Third Symphony is a great
place to begin exploring Rutland Boughton’s music.
The final piece is A Sierra Melody which has been realised
by Malcolm Riley. This miniature gives great solo passages to
the cellist and trumpet player. Again it is hard to define this
as ‘light’ music – it is just totally pleasant and absorbing.
A ‘sierra’ is Spanish for a range of mountains - so look out
for a touch of Iberian colouring.
This is an excellent CD. Naturally, one would wish it to be
Volume 1 of umpteen! The playing by the ‘home’ orchestra and
Ronald Corp is brilliant with an obvious enthusiasm for these
‘lost’ or misplaced works. Unsurprisingly, Stephen Lloyd has
provided the exceptional and comprehensive liner-notes giving
considerable details about the pieces and their composers. And
the cover is evocative of a time when most seaside resorts had
their resident orchestras. Heigh ho!