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Benjamin Dale—a reassessment. Part Three.

Ruhleben, 1914-1918.
Between 1910 and 1912 Benjamin Dale’s output had settled to a modest rate of one major work a year. However, after finishing the orchestration of “Before the Paling of the Stars” in early 1913, we get another puzzling silence, for though we know that he revised the Sextet in 1913 and the orchestration of the viola Romance and Finale in January 1914, no new work was written for the rest of 1913 or the first part of 1914. Speaking of this period, Edwin Evans in his Musical Times article of 1919 said “Dale had lapsed into a period of relative inactivity which his friends regarded as the preface to a new development of his methods, for he has too much of the spirit of the age to be content to cling so tenaciously as hitherto to those of tradition”. In 1914 he had taken on as a private composition pupil a nineteen year old girl, Kathleen Richards.
Dale was fond of taking his summer vacations in Germany, and in July 1914 he departed with a friend, Fred Hughsden, for a summer of Wagner opera, starting in Munich. This proved unfortunate timing, for as part of the train of events following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June, Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August, and as, in the memorable words of Sir Edward Grey, the lamps went out all over Europe, Dale found himself trapped in Germany. He managed to travel from Munich to Nuremberg, where he stayed in a small hotel or guesthouse. In the first few weeks, as he recalled to JA Forsyth in 1928, they fell into the hands of a martinet who was convinced they were spies—however, when he found they really had opera tickets, and being an ardent Wagnerian himself, he became more sympathetic, and Dale merely complied with the conditions of registration, reporting to the authorities once a week. One wonders at Dale’s state of mind during this uncertain time. However, at this stage many thought the war would be over by Christmas! Part of Dale was still in holiday mode, or maybe just to pass the time, he started composing again. We have at least three miniatures from these weeks, all very fine settings of 19th century English poetry, which have escaped attention until now.
On 11th August he penned a song, “Music, when soft voices die”, a setting of Shelley’s well-known poem, originally marked “for treble voices with piano accompaniment”, presumably intended as a unison song, which would have been marketable at that time. It surely sounds better with one adult singer! In “gently flowing” triple time, in E flat major, this starts with disarming simplicity that reminds one of Quilter, or with its discreet touches of parallel chords, of early Vaughan Williams. At the words “Live within the sense they quicken”, the piano, which until now has been quietly chordal, with deft touches of counterpoint, erupts into a radiant 5-bar solo, with a soaring melody in octaves interlaced with more counterpoint, and the left hand has an elaborate undulating arpeggio pattern, in a manner familiar to those who know the piano sonata. Chromaticisms spring up, we get our first bar of 5/4 time and a surprise move to the key of G, with an expressive lingering, and our old friend the BJD melodic curve appears. It is a wonderful moment, as if Dale is throwing off the trappings of well-behaved convention and giving full rein to his inner self. From here the textures are more varied for verse 2, with syncopated pulsating quavers, a left hand quasi pizzicato figure, and more undulating quavers, and when the opening vocal melody returns, straight, the piano adorns it with a teasing syncopated counter-melody, with delightful chromaticisms, triple appoggiaturas, BJD curves—all the familiar Dale trade marks. To the closing words “slumber on”, Dale introduces a solitary bar of 4/4 time, then one of 5/8, and a surprise cadence, before the piano returns to the opening manner of innocent simplicity as if nothing had happened, albeit there are prolonged notes with pregnant rests as it unwinds and fades away. This beguiling miniature is so characteristic in so many ways. Never published, it lay long unknown amongst Dale’s MSS. What was surely the first performance was given on 26th August 2010 by soprano Olive Murray and myself at St Lawrence Jewry, London EC2.
On 19th August, Dale wrote a part-song, a setting of TE Brown’s mystical ditty “My Garden”. In a mere 28 bars Dale paints a vivid picture, “in free time, with changing mood”, and flexible metre, with bars of 2, 3 and 5 time. Much is made of the initial motif, a rising octave in 3rds, this later expanding to a 9th, the key being A flat. A sudden ppp on a surprise chord of the 7th in C anticipates exactly a chord in Variation 2 of the violin sonata—a moment of inner rapture. The song starts in four parts, but on this chord the parts split into seven; twice, on the climax “Nay!”, and then three bars later, we have nine parts; at the end six parts, with six solo voices. The harmony is rich, using triple appoggiaturas; at the word “cool”, dolcissimo, this produces a hazy effect, something of an experiment in choral sonority. The German term sehr deutlich is used in this tri-lingual number!
From October 1914 we get another part-song, a setting of Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”, already set by Parry in 1903. This is written out for 8-part chorus, however the parts still split, the very first chord being in nine parts, some later chords in ten parts, the basses being in four parts. This is on a larger scale, 62 bars long, Tennyson’s four short verses treated as two 8-line verses. Marked “peaceful, reflective”, in F major, the music is smooth, serene in mood, with luxuriant late-romantic harmonies, again featuring appoggiaturas, the part-writing beautifully spaced, with sumptuous sonorities. The time is flexible in that on the first page alone we have bars of 5, 4, 7; 2 bars of 4; 6, 4! The basses again are taken to bottom D flat. The climax of verse1 rises to top A, before ending ppp in D minor. There is mild chromaticism in verse 2; there is a sudden move from F to F sharp minor, and an unexpected shift from the dominant of A minor to G sharp minor before resolving to F. Again we get expressive rests and lingering. Dale’s MSS vary in neatness and legibility, and this one has the appearance of a fair copy, in which case all drafts and sketches have been destroyed. The writing is small, beautiful and immaculate in a tour de force of penmanship. In Grove 1954, in the fullest list of Dale’s works to yet appear in print, we have 3 part-songs listed as Op. 8. Penelope Mary Dale says a careful search of Dale’s MSS failed to find any such work. Though there is no mention of any opus number in the MSS, I feel convinced that these two part-songs are the first two of the projected Op. 8 set. There is, however, no trace of a third number. They have never been published, and there is no trace of any performance. Maybe Dale associated them with a part of his life he preferred to forget, or felt them to be less marketable in the different post-war environment. These two ravishing pieces cry out for performance by an enterprising highly accomplished choir well versed in the late-romantic idiom. The MSS are at the RAM.
The time came when, after the 15th November deadline for the British to release their German prisoners had expired, all male citizens of the allied powers then living, working, studying or on holiday in Germany were rounded up and taken to a civilian internment camp at Ruhleben, a former racecourse in a village 6 miles west of Berlin. Here Dale found himself in the same barracks as Frederick Keel (1871-1954), a singer and professor of singing at the RAM, who had been in Frankfurt. They sent a postcard on 23rd November with greetings to Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and continued to send periodically reassuring news.
York Bowen conceived the idea of taking on Dale’s organist post at Ealing voluntarily to keep the post open for his friend. This scheme had to be abandoned after 18 months when Bowen was called up for military service.
Much interest has been shown in Ruhleben in the last few years, and this is likely to increase as the centenary of the 1st World War approaches, indeed it is only eclipsed by the stories of the 2nd World War prisoners. The camp housed between 4,000 and 5,500 male prisoners (women had been repatriated in October) in an area of 20 acres. The largest group were 1,500 sailors from merchant ships which had been stranded in Hamburg. There were also many English and Scottish international footballers, businessmen, the physicists Sir James Chadwick and Sir Charles Ellis, and academics. Besides Dale and Keel, the professional musicians included Edgar Bainton, Ernest McMillan (who arrived at the end of March 1915 from Nuremberg after 9 weeks in solitary confinement as punishment for unwittingly violating the terms of his parole under the Defence of the Realm Act), Brycesson Treharne (1879-1948), Roland Bocquet, Leigh Henry (the self-styled modernist), Percy Hull, Quentin Morvaren and John Pauer. At first conditions were very unfortunate. Some of the heaviest autumn rains in a generation turned the camp into a sea of mud, so the Germans were prevailed upon to supply lumber for wooden walkways to be constructed. The prisoners were housed in stables built for 27 horses. Each stall held 6 men and there was a tap in each, but no heat, so the water froze. The US ambassador was shocked to discover these conditions and the Germans were asked to supply more lumber and tools for the prisoners to enclose their boxes. By summer 1915 conditions were better, self administration was granted in September 1915, to the relief of the elderly German guards, things stabilised, committees were formed and there was a sense of solidarity. To pass the time, education and entertainment was organised. By September 1915 there were 1,500 students, who could even study for University of London external degrees and by 1917, 246 teachers in 17 departments. By April 1916 there were 6,000 volumes that had been shipped over for the library. A printing press had been brought in and there were two camp magazines, where services such as barbers, tailors and cobblers could be advertised. The camp had its own postal system and even its own stamps until these were declared illegal in April 1916. There was a football Association which held league competitions, the bigger games being attended by a thousand men, also cricket and boxing was organised. There was much dramatic activity in two societies and plays by Shaw, Galsworthy, Wilde and Ibsen were performed, and eventually Shakespeare after a diffident start. “Twelfth Night” and “Othello” were staged in 1916, Ernest McMillan acting in these. Musical activities were started by Charles Adler and an orchestra of 45 was formed. In June 1915 a musical society was formed; the use of a large hall under the centre of the grandstand, originally a refreshment bar, was obtained, and a base upon which to build a platform, and a stage for concerts and drama. Music and instruments were obtained from Berlin, practice rooms found, pianos hired and bought. In autumn 1915 a series of weekly Sunday evening concerts was arranged, alternating with chamber concerts and recitals. The orchestra rehearsed every morning, often in temperatures bordering on zero; these rehearsals were open to the public. In summer, lighter concerts were held outside. The choir was hampered by having no female voices; more successful was the madrigal choir of 25 selected voices which Bainton conducted, as he tells us in a Musical Times article of February 1919. By February 1916 Keel had 8 singing pupils and Dale had some composition and harmony pupils. Lectures on the various schools of composition took place, with Leigh Henry lecturing on ultra-modern music to the bemusement of some. 42 musicians were named by Keel in a letter, and Dr Lierhammer, a former RAM professor visited them, kindly bringing chocolate. There was a lack of privacy, but creative work still got done. Over 100 plays were produced, and much incidental music to them was written. For a performance of “The Mikado” in 1916, the music was recalled from memory by McMillan, assisted by four others, including Dale, and was performed before the US ambassador. A staff officer from the Berlin War Office remarked that the centre of musical life in Germany at that moment was situated in Ruhleben.
Dated 24th May 1916 is a Country Dance for 4 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos, as the Introduction to Act 3 of “The Knight of the Burning Pestle”, a comedy by the Jacobeans Beaumont and Fletcher. This is the original version of the English Dance, later arranged for violin and piano and for orchestra. The play was not produced until 1917. In Grove 1954 it is stated there may have been other numbers, but if so, they have not survived. Well, there are other numbers, as MSS bequeathed to the RAM in 1986 show—10 in all, for the same string octet, mostly in the nature of “incidental” music, anything between 8 and 28 bars in length, so no suite is forthcoming! The exception is a 244 bar Introduction to Act 1. Keel wrote the songs for this production.
Also sketched in 1916 and finished in 1917 is a piece for violin and piano, “Prunella”, written as incidental music, an Intermezzo, to a play of that name—certainly this is “Prunella, or Love in a Dutch Garden”, a 1904 play by Laurence Housman (brother of AE Housman) and Harley Granville-Barker, about a prim Victorian girl who turns into Pierrette. This seems rather twee and dated to us today, and the play did not get produced after all. However, this piece is the quintessential Dale miniature. It is in graceful 3/8 time, starting off like a Minuet, innocent yet knowing, full of charm, then it becomes more involved in texture, though never heavy, with contrapuntal imitation, including a brief canon, expanding curves, and harmonic subtleties, emphasised by tenuto marks. This builds to a passionate climax, followed by a reminiscence of Variation 6 from the piano sonata. One has to know this is a quotation to understand the piece properly. The quotation culminates in one of those hazy chords, defying analysis, which Dale was so adept at conjuring up, and the reminiscence loses itself in mist before we neatly come back to the present in the tonic, G. The last page features a written out trill, subtle use of the augmented 11th, several uses of the BJD curve, and a typically unpretentious ending pizzicato, pianissimo. The piece is also notable for its pochissimo rits., there being nine tempo modifications in all in just four pages of elastic tempo rubato. There is nothing new in this piece, but it is most endearing. It was later arranged for piano solo and for orchestra, being only published in 1923.
In summer 1917, Dale took up tennis, and played a very vigorous game, taking a bad fall, dislocating a shoulder. The camp doctor, though admired for his efficiency, was rather rough with his patients, and Dale was no exception. The shoulder healed, but all the following winter his health deteriorated. However, in February 1918 he penned 2 Songs from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, which were published in 1919 as his Opus 9. These do not seem to have been written for a specific production at Ruhleben, being written for Frederick Keel. The MS of the first is dated 5th February, the second 13th February. What is not generally known is that on 3rd February, two days before the first song, “O Mistress Mine”, he finished another song, “A Ditty”, a setting of Sir Philip Sidney’s “My true love hath my heart and I have his”. Like “O Mistress Mine”, this is mock-Elizabethan in style, pastiche Morley or Dowland. Frederick Keel was best known then for his editions of Elizabethan songs, and it is evident Dale had studied the style. It is another rare example of two similar compositions by Dale. “A Ditty” is bright and sprightly in tone, yet charming and tender. It is in flexible metre, with very frequent time changes, in 5, 4, 3, 6 and 7 times, in fact there are 22 time signatures on page one, nearly every bar being different. The simple natural flowing melody is most agreeable. The accompaniment is light, deft, with touches of imitation, and changes of register, this being virtually the only clue that it is not authentic Elizabethan, along with occasional wistful turns of phrase and expressive piano interludes. This song has never been published or performed.
“O Mistress Mine” is likewise a total success as an Elizabethan pastiche, with its simple, perfectly formed melody, full of grace and charm, humour, and a lightness of touch in the accompaniment with only the occasional elaboration, such as octaves and 10ths, and the detailed expression marks to give the game away. Like “A Ditty”, it has two verses, with changes of piano register and other details the second time round, and a pleasing introduction and postlude.
“Come away, Death”, Op. 9/2, is in an altogether different style, a marriage of elements of the older style, with traces of Sarabande rhythm, and a more sober contemporary idiom, recalling Elgar, with its thick, noble spread chords for piano. It is in D flat major, a most dignified lament as befits the nobleman who sings it. For the second verse, a solo viola joins, in the manner of Brahms’ 2 Songs Op. 91, and 3 songs by Frank Bridge, at first commenting in the interludes where the voice rests, but joining the voice and piano as the song builds to a climax of great nobility, sincerity and passion. It uses simple diatonic chords throughout with occasional flat 7ths, major 7ths and suspensions, and impresses by its restraint and pathos. This most moving song is a total success.
But by March 1918, there was great concern over Dale’s health and it was decided to treat him as an emergency case. He was exchanged with a German prisoner of war at The Hague, where he was placed in the intensive care ward and he began to recover. He was repatriated and returned to England just before the Armistice. According to Penelope Mary Dale, “a sad sight met his relations and friends upon his arrival”. Though his health was recovering, his spirits were low and he had lost the spirit to compose. Bowen said of Ruhleben “such an experience is bound to have a bad effect upon general health and there were several, including Dale himself, who were not the same men when at last they were released”. Possibly owing to his injury, he was unable or unwilling to play the organ, and Penelope Mary Dale says he very rarely deigned to go near an organ again, and if he did, he was normally alone. (Two rare exceptions to this were on July 17th 1922, at the Queen’s Hall Reception and Masque to mark the centenary of the RAM, and in June 1924, in the Duke’s Hall to mark Frederick Corder’s retirement). If his arm injury was the reason for this, strangely it did not seem to affect his love of tennis. JA Forsyth said in 1928 “the remembrance of those four years is still today a nightmare, and perhaps the less said and thought the better”.
Marriage, and the violin sonata, 1919-1928.
On the evening of Saturday 11th January 1919 a gathering of exceptional interest took place at the Duke’s Hall, RAM (postponed from 7th December owing to the illness of Myra Hess). A crowd of 400, RAM professors and students, members of the RAM Club and the Society of British Composers assembled to welcome Dale and Keel home. The programme was long, with the viola Sextet, the viola Phantasy played by Tertis and Myra Hess, and 6 songs sung by Keel, 4 composed by him, and the first performance of Dale’s 2 Shakespeare songs, with Dale at the piano and Tertis on the viola. (Also 2 songs by the recently deceased Morfydd Owen were sung by Ada Rogalsky accompanied by Ethel Bartlett). Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s interval speech praised Dale as having won for himself a place in the very front rank of our young native composers, and went on to say the release of two British musicians was symbolic of the liberation of British music from “a most unwelcome foreign art-tyranny” as during the last quarter century the once great German art had been steadily degenerating and declining. Both Dale and Keel replied. Finally, Myra Hess played the piano sonata complete, this being, said the Musical Times, “a remarkable performance…which will long remain in the memories of those present”. Dale remained on good terms with Keel; in October 1920 at the RAM Club, he accompanied Keel in songs by Dowland, Morley, a Howells folksong arrangement and Vaughan Williams.
In January 1919 Dale arranged his Country Dance as the English Dance for violin and piano. The piece is based on an old English dance from which 6 bars of thematic material are derived. (I once heard this melody sung as a hymn tune!) Dale continues in the spirit of the original, later modulating to more surprising keys like B and B flat major, with some mild unexpected harmonies. The piano part is almost over-elaborate and needs some skill in handling large left hand chords, right hand octaves and other double notes, while sounding light. The central section is on a drone bass, with more lively rhythms. It has much charm, in the manner of Grainger’s “Country Gardens”, but is not the most important of his miniatures. Dale was in the habit at this time of putting his tempo marks in boxes, and this was reproduced in print. Maybe this is something of an obsessional trait. Later that year he arranged the English Dance for orchestra and it was played in 1934 and 1937 at the Proms under Sir Henry Wood.
In May 1919 an article on Dale by Edwin Evans appeared in the Musical Times as the third of a series on modern British composers. Dale was described as “one of the most interesting and promising musical personalities modern England has produced”. Evans claimed Dale represented the end of a period as certain traits in his work coincided with the conventions laid down by the German composers of the mid 19th century, an elegance of contour and a vein of sentiment associated with Mendelssohn. It was stressed that this was natural to him and that in a subtle sense he was being markedly individual. But Evans doubted if aristocratic distinction would characterise post-war music: “The present trend of musical psychology favours ruggedness rather than polished utterance, and the cult of beautiful phrases is giving way to a search for greater veracity”. Those who had vivid personal experiences in the war would be among the foremost to give this element of uncompromising truth in their music, and he would be surprised if Dale were not one of their number.
Evans mentions a Quartet for piano and strings Dale was currently working on and to which his admirers were looking forward to with much curiosity. It was thought this might be completed in May! This piano quartet was never completed and has not been examined at all until recently, when I studied the MS at the RAM. There is not really very much of it. It exists in two versions, the second as a piano quintet. There are 81 bars of the quartet version and 70 bars written out in full of the quintet, with sketches for 2 or 3 more bars. The quartet version ends suddenly at the bottom of a page, so it is possible there may have been more of it. The musical substance is the same in both versions to bar 55, where there is a divergence. It is an Allegro in F major in 6/4 time. Dale marks it “vigorous and passionate, but changeable in mood”. Vigorous and passionate it certainly is. After a rhythmic chordal fanfare at the opening, the piano commences incessant flowing quaver passagework, while the strings have a sweeping melody, joyful and with real impetus. There a few mild harmonic surprises but the language is rather conservative, somewhere between Dvorak and Franck in style. It is likeable and promising, but one cannot tell if it is first-rate Dale. There is really not enough to make more of a judgement—we do not get the promised change of mood, and it is not even possible to predict the overall formal shape of this movement. At least he preserved this fragment rather than destroy it altogether. Like Chopin, Dale goes to extraordinary lengths in the MS to cross out rejected passages.
In September 1919 Dale wrote an article for “The Music Student” on music in Ruhleben. In 1920 he was elected an FRAM. From this year dates “A Holiday Tune” for violin and piano (The Hague, 4th August), designed as educational music. This is a well-written, pleasant, spirited little melody in C, marked alla marcia with a central section in the subdominant, subtitled “Norwegian memories” (Dale had taken holidays in Norway with Bowen, where, according to Margaret Hubicki, he loved the scenery and had even interested himself in collecting folk tunes). This was published in 1922, and also arranged, in a rather more demanding version, for piano solo in 1924, and for small orchestra in 1925. In Grove 1954 the English Dance, “Prunella” and the Holiday Tune are listed as 3 pieces for violin and piano Op.10. We can now see they were written at different times and published by three different publishers! “Prunella” is the most characteristic, ultimately the most significant.
In autumn 1919 to spring 1920 Dale had undertaken an examining tour for the Associated Board in Australia and New Zealand, and his love of travel and of the sea gave him the lift his friends had hoped for. Returning very much refreshed, in 1921 he started work on his violin sonata in E major, Op. 11, which was completed in 1922. A second stimulus for this work may well have been a transcription for piano duet he made of the Delius orchestral ballad “Eventyr” (Once upon a Time), possibly made at Balfour Gardiner’s suggestion as a kind of therapy. This was published by Augener in 1921, a late example of such a transcription of an orchestral work. It has been largely overlooked, but could be a valuable addition to the repertoire. Dale indicates the instrumentation in the score. The third stimulus, I believe, was his marriage, in October 1921, to Kathleen Richards, who had resumed her composition studies with him from 1919 to 1921. Kathleen Dale (1895-1984) was an interesting figure in her own right, a brilliant bluestocking, who had also studied piano with York Bowen from 1914 to 1916 and 1919 to 1920. She was to continue piano studies with Fanny Davies from 1924 to 1926, and from 1926 to 1928 study Swedish at University College, London. Those interested in the byways of British piano music would do well to look at her piano suites “Versailles” and “Greek Myths” (No.3 of which is dedicated to BJD), attractive pieces, well conceived for piano, with a polished feeling for harmony, akin to Bowen. She played and broadcast as a soloist and accompanist, taught at the Tobias Matthay School, lectured, later edited Schubert’s piano sonata in E minor, wrote an important chapter on Schumann’s piano music for a symposium by Gerald Abraham, a book “19th Century Piano Music” (1954), translated HF Redlich’s book on Monteverdi (1951), and wrote articles on Swedish music for Grove 1954. Guy Jonson described her as a very strange woman, though he did not elaborate. She was appointed Dame Ethel Smyth’s musical executor in 1944. In 1922 she collaborated with her husband in freely arranging 6 pieces by François Couperin for violin and piano.
The 1st movement of the violin sonata was completed, according to the MS in the British Library, on 24th March 1922. The work was dedicated “To my wife”. There had been quite a number of British sonatas for violin and piano written in the preceding years, those of:- Elgar (1917), Delius No.1 (finished 1914, performed 1915), Ireland (1917), Bax No.1 (1910-15, published 1921), Bax No.2 (1915-21, performed April 1922), Cyril Scott (1910), McEwen No.2 (1915-19), Holbrooke No.2 (1917), Howells Nos.1 and 2 (1917, 1918), Goossens (1919), Dunhill No.2 (1920) and Boughton (1921). Dale would have encountered at least some of these. Though he would have been immersed in Delius, only the official 1st sonata would have been known to him at this time, and there is no perceptible direct influence from that work. The violin was a natural vehicle for the lyrical impulse within him. He was able to play the violin a little and had a good understanding of its possibilities, and had his good friend and fellow professor Edward Rowsby Woof (1883-1943) to advise him further. Dale chose to revisit the formal layout of the piano sonata—a 1st movement in sonata form followed by Variations encompassing slow movement and Scherzo, leading without a break to Introduction and Finale using the same material. But there are huge differences in formal detail, the harmony and the emotional world covered. Dale had not written a large scale work for nearly ten years, and this sonata is over 40 minutes long, only a minute or two shorter than the piano sonata. Its complete assurance is all the more astonishing.
Formally, it is more complex and intricate than Op.1. Whereas in Op.1 there is only one brief reference to the 1st movement material in the second part, in the violin sonata Dale uses three themes from the 1st movement throughout; indeed the last two pages of the work are a topping and tailing of the 1st movement, with the end of the whole work identical to the ending of the 1st movement. Not only can the first theme of the Finale be traced back to the Variations Theme, but it can be seen to be suggested in the 8th bar of the work. One could have a very entertaining time tracing the travels and adventures of each theme and noting the way they relate to each other in the whole structure and unfolding story, but that is beyond our purpose here. Harmonically Dale has taken not one, but several leaps forward. Not even the lovely part-songs, “Prunella”, certainly not the abortive piano Quartet, have prepared us for this. I believe all Dale’s large scale works mentioned are worthy successors to the piano sonata, but the violin sonata is the best rebuttal of Demuth’s claim that Dale did not touch the same heights again, and that his style failed to develop. In the violin sonata, Dale scales at least the same heights again, by a different route, and harmonically he does things which were unthinkable in 1905. Moreover he does it with complete conviction and confidence. If there were any intermediate phases, he has destroyed the experiment and left us only with the finished product.
Whereas the piano sonata is a picture of turbulent youth and its eventual passing, the violin sonata is a more mature, reflective view. Polished, suave and serene, it explores the cult of beautiful phrases to new heights, and infinite shades of contentment, love and peace. Yet there are three passages, in the development of the 1st movement, the Introduction to the Finale, and in the middle of that Finale where something much darker, explosive and angry erupts, each time with more intensity, until the dark cloud is finally exorcised. There are moments of such pain, longing and regret, that it has been seen as an elegy for a lost world, which would invite comparisons with contemporary works as Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony and “Flos Campi”, Bliss’s “Morning Heroes” and Bridge’s piano sonata. This element is undeniably present; however, overall I regard it as ultimately an uplifting radiant work of quiet optimism.
Instead of an Allegro deciso, we get a Lento espressivo for our 1st movement, but with three faster sections and with the constantly changing harmonies and involved writing, it does not feel slow; in fact we need the space to appreciate the richness of the content. The opening theme has that quiet understated simplicity found in the openings of the great G major and B flat major piano sonatas of Schubert, so unpretentious one hardly thinks they would give rise to large scale works, but they do in all three cases. But actually this is a perfect blend of simplicity and subtle complexity, for on closer inspection there are numerous clues that there is far more to this than is at first apparent—the languorous syncopated suspensions in the melody over chords of 9ths (the very first chord is a tonic 9th), 13ths and added 6ths, appoggiaturas; changes from 4 to 3 to 2 time, and beautiful telling modulations give the game away. To Margaret Hubicki this is a perfect picture of him in a benign mood, welcoming and approachable. The BJD curve finds its place and is an integral part of the melodic development. The music impresses at once with its extreme beauty, finished elegant writing and sureness of direction. Dale is at home and on top form. At the bottom of the second page there is chord of “beautiful pain”, a triple appoggiatura, which could be seen as a diminished chord superimposed over a dominant 7th on G natural, in other words an element of the bitonal. This is new. Little is made of the second subject in the overall scheme—it is a delightful pastoral interlude, with wayward strands of parallel 4ths in the harmony, showing an awareness of Impressionism, particularly Debussy, to a degree that is also new. The following poco piu vivo energises the mood, and takes us to the passionate apotheosis of the opening theme; as the harmonic pace quickens, the writing becomes more elaborate, and we sense the unfolding scope and potential of this work. We get our first touches of “decadent” harmony, with complex 7ths, showing traces of the exotic influences of Scriabin or Bloch, again new in his music.
In the development, two new motifs are introduced, one a haunting tender questioning one (foreshadowed in bar 6 of the work), the other a brusque decisive one. Typically of Dale, both have their natures reversed in course, so the haunting one becomes imbued with confidence and enthusiasm in the Finale, whereas the brusque one becomes languorous, sultry and tender in turn. In the first dark outburst, there are dissonant clashes in the harmony, chains of augmented chords and unusual juxtapositions. This deepens the whole plot yet further. Suddenly, at a stroke, the tender questioning motif is transformed into a playful sprightly motif, a canon springs up, then just as suddenly turns urgent and assertive again with a subsidiary but telling clarion motif. The way the moods evolve and melt into each other, the skill at modulating, and the placing of chords is too rapid and subtle for words to do it justice—this is pure Dale at the height of his powers. He shows endless resource in the invention of textures, and uses whole-tone harmony to arrive at the recapitulation. There is role reversal between violin and piano and subtle modifications of the exposition material, with expansion of passages as well as the customary contraction. The last two pages of this movement are an autumnal sunset, featuring lovely chords with a passing note incorporated into them, and pedal points with complex shifting harmonies over them. The last three lines form an unforgettable Coda, almost unbearably poignant, with a sense of wide space as the plaintive wisps of melody float far above a hushed chordal bed, and the harmonic progressions are exquisitely judged to obtain the right amount of pathos, with the most haunting use of the BJD curve. Dale’s final master stroke is the penultimate chord in the piano, a French 6th on the mediant with an added note—but this defies analysis. Pleasure, pain, longing, ecstasy, and a sense of the exotic, all tinged with a sense of the passing nature of beautiful things are all coalesced into one miraculous chord, which sums up an entire world before resolving to E via a final appoggiatura. This is Dale’s harmony at its most advanced and complex, yet most achingly lovely and, always perfectly judged, it amounts to genius.
The Variation Theme is in A minor, obviously in the manner of a folksong, with its flat 7ths and modal harmony. Rich in melodic motifs, the first 10 bars form the main part of the Theme, and the last 5 bars a codetta. This codetta, as in the piano sonata, has a twist in its tail, a strange little undulating figure which is a decorated chromatic scale and contrives to undermine the tonality, in spite of a pedal A, culminating in a memorable languid figure that deposits us in modal D minor. Variations 1 and 2 likewise end in different keys to what they started in. The five free variations have titles here. Variations 1 to 3 correspond with Variations 1 to 3 in the piano sonata. Variation 1, Pastorale, is mostly in 5/8 time, and intensely develops the opening figure of the Theme with close imitation, and parallel 5ths in the harmony.
Variation 2, Rêverie, is extremely free, a reflection, not only on the Theme, for it briefly quotes from the 1st movement. The violin is muted throughout, for this is one of the elegiac portions of the work. It ingeniously transforms the opening of the Theme, and looks inward throughout, with a telling downward shift of a semitone, much piano, indeed pianississimo writing, misterioso, but with the violin in octaves! Thick piano chords, the hands widely spaced, give a feeling of distance, as do the discreet bitonal touches. We experience an amazing leap of nearly three octaves in the violin, a feeling of intense brooding expression, and agonisingly sweet dissonances. This remarkable variation shows Dale at his closest to the world of Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony.
Variation 3, Intermezzo, is in E flat and stays there since it is in neat ternary form. Its mellow melodic manner is reminiscent of the Brahms of the E flat clarinet sonata, but the enhanced chromatic harmonies and close imitations are more in the manner of Reger. There is a possibly accidental quote of a snatch of the viola Romance. The central section reintroduces a figure from the 1st movement, and more extensively works it, in an alternately playful and wistful manner, with dense harmony.
Variation 4, Dance, corresponds to Variation 5, the Scherzo, of the piano sonata. This dance, in G minor, is very fast and waspish, displaying what Margaret Hubicki called Dale’s “rapier” wit, with much staccato passage work and rapid modulations. Again it is ternary in shape, with the central section a rustic and heavily accented development over a drone bass of the second phrase of the Theme. This also features sparkling development of the wayward chromatic tail of the Theme, at one point in close canon, and a mysterious transition to the recap with a wistful piano pattern over a long held chord of E flat minor. The codetta features spiky humour with more than a touch of menace.
Variation 5, Caprice, is the equivalent of Variation 6 in the piano sonata, again ternary in E flat, alternately wistful and nonchalant, with a graceful dotted figure, leading to a more expansive central section in G, which, as in Variation 6 of Op.1, displays an unexpected depth of passion, and swings from D to a romantic ripe D flat, then using D flat as a pivot, swings back to G and unleashes great gushing waves of emotion. Significantly, the BJD curve looms up. This is a peculiar mix of emotions all Dale’s own, scherzando, wistful, waspish in turn, and it relaxes to a capricious recap before the variation vanishes with a rushing upward scale like the end of Debussy’s “Puck”.
In the Introduction to the Finale, Dale’s imagination knows no bounds. Free from any constraint he soars at will, so anything can happen. Over an E flat pedal the languid motif that ends the Theme becomes charged with electricity and crescendos to a shattering outburst fff con tutti forza. In a passage that shows Dale’s harmony at its most extreme, the music seems momentarily shell shocked, before the last two bars of the Theme appear, frail and forlorn. Following this there is a passage expressively rich, pleading, curvaceous, and gathering in spirit. Suddenly a molto allegro springs upon us and resumes something like the manner of Variation 4, very spiky, marked piqué, which reaches insistent Es hammered out in strong rhythm in the violin. When this transfers to the piano, it becomes in an instant a beating drum. The opening of the Theme floats above, melancholy in free canonic imitation, fragments of the main theme of the Finale are anticipated, and the Introduction ends with one of Dale’s most wonderfully profound passages, the violin reaching up ever higher into the stratosphere, like Vaughan Williams’ lark, while the piano sinks till darkest E flat minor is reached, the violin several octaves above, and we are transported into another world.
The Finale proper has the task of drawing together all the disparate elements and bringing all to a resolution, and this achieved brilliantly, but the music is often complex, dense and multi-layered. Dale is at his closest to the style of Max Reger here, a composer whose music was then more generally familiar to musicians than now, but Dale has a sustained poetic intensity that eludes Reger. Dale sometimes modulates rapidly, for example in the last movement of the piano sonata, but nowhere so rapidly as here. As with Reger, he sometimes instigates a whole chain of modulations, being in one key for no more than two chords. This conveys an impatient urging forward. The Finale is in no recognised form, being a free fantasy on three themes, all derived from previous material. Dale leaps from one theme to another, developing at will. At one point two themes are heard together in counterpoint. Again, this new style goes beyond anything Dale had done before, and it is brought off with total and virtuosic success. A feel of D major is established before Dale goes off on his travels. There are passages of stability, often underlined by pedal points. The music gathers in strength and passion, at one point con entusiasmo, in a sense of a joyous homecoming. As it reaches its most passionate peak yet, it starts to descend via a chain of dissonant augmented chords and we gravitate to the haunting sombre mood of the end of the Introduction. As the piano descends, the violin soars high above.
What follows is the most amazing outburst in all Dale’s music. Starting as did the beginning of the Introduction, electrified, it moves to an intense development, jagged, wild, with fragments thrown around in all directions, the aggressive stamp of rough-edged staccatissimo chords and chains of discords, so 13ths resolve, or fail to resolve, onto 9ths. All hell is let loose, culminating in a mighty climax where frustration and rage pour out from the unplumbed depths of Dale’s being. It gradually cools, and having laid the powers of darkness to rest for good, attempts to start the Finale material again in a much mellowed manner. Gradually Dale introduces the opening theme of the whole sonata, blending it so subtly we do not realise it at first until four consecutive telling uses of the BJD curve herald the opening theme in octaves. The way Dale manages this bridge section to the recap in E major of the opening theme on the penultimate page, is unendingly fascinating, as he lovingly bids farewell to several themes in turn, culminating in a passage of almost unbearable poignancy and beauty. If ever Dale can bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat it is here. All passion spent, the topping and tailing is serene, with numerous subtleties of harmony, one being the substitution of D flat major where there had previously been C sharp minor. As in Schubert, the major is almost more poignant. The sonata ends quietly, unpretentiously, exactly as the end of the 1st movement.
The violin sonata was first performed by Rowsby Woof and York Bowen at the Wigmore Hall on October 27th 1922. On November 6th Woof performed it again there, this time with Denise Lassimonne. Bowen‘s D minor Suite and McEwen’s Little Sonata were also played. Critics praised the charm and workmanship, but Edwin Evans, writing in Cobbett’s Cyclopaedia, found a “despondent tinge” in the prevalence of slow tempi, and trusted, slightly patronisingly, “the next work will prove a more complete recovery”. Evans seems to have missed the point here. The octogenarian WW Cobbett was, if anything, more perceptive, noting it “needs, and amply repays, a long and intensive study of both parts, for it does not yield its secrets to casual performers”. In this sonata, Dale scales the heights and plumbs the depths in new ways, considerably broadening his technical and emotional range. I find nothing despondent here. This sonata, teeming with deeply inspired invention, is something unique and special in his output, maybe the supreme expression of his lyrical gift. It is still, in spite of Lorraine McAslan’s fine 2005 recording, very little known. The few musicians who have examined it have come to conclusions very similar to my own. It stands in the very front rank of British duo sonatas for any medium, in the company of Elgar, Ireland and Bridge. To criticise it is impertinence. In this work, Benjamin Dale has laid bare the innermost depths of his soul in a way given to few.
Close on the heels of this followed the next work, the festival anthem “A Song of Praise”, Op.12, commissioned for the 269th Festival of the Sons of the Clergy, which took place in St Paul’s Cathedral in May 1923. Lewis Foreman claims Dale looked to John E West for an academic model appropriate for a stuffy occasion, in which case he far exceeded his model. Most people would say the influence of Elgar and Parry is felt in the first half particularly. Dale had not written church music other than carols since his student days, so once again we see him extending his stylistic range. But this anthem is not local parish church material—it calls for a large and very accomplished choir, with semi-chorus and orchestra and is designed for a big choral festival. Lasting about 17 minutes, the words are taken from Psalms 27, 89 and 72, and a hymn by Bishop Heber. It divides neatly into two parts, the first a concentrated display of strength and purpose, starting with the words “The Lord is my light and my salvation”, after an impressive orchestral introduction in which, surprisingly, the influence of Brahms is felt. “It is indeed respectable music”, jibed Josef Holbrooke (who was actually an admirer of Dale) in “Contemporary British Composers” (1925), and went on to claim that Coleridge-Taylor showed more merit in his choral work. The music speedily grows more dense and complex when the chorus enter, and the rapid modulations recall the Finale of the violin sonata, but poetry is not the aim here, so we get instead a rather relentless onward tread. Dale impresses with his contrapuntal skill. Counterpoint was always a feature of his music, and there exists in his neatest MS hand two motets, “Cast me not away from thy presence” and “Glory to God in the highest”, which show how he had studied 16th century style. There is an attractive upward sweeping phrase at the words “The Lord is the strength of my life”, which leads on to more development and imitation, the music still mostly in 4/4 time. A massive 14-bar pedal point on B flat, with some unusual progressions over it marks the end of the first paragraph. The second choral paragraph starts after an orchestral interlude with the words “When mine enemies pressed sore upon me”, starting with the choir in unison, then progressing through a series of sequential build ups to a gargantuan passage written out in 8 parts, where Dale piles massive effect upon effect in a formidable show of strength, culminating in a mighty cadence in D on page 26 of the vocal score. The music has impressive large paragraphs and has sustained flow and direction. Dale is making a tremendous effort, and almost overdoes it.
The second half of the work starts with an andante espressivo in the key of B flat; after a brief orchestral interlude which has the flavour of “Gerontius”, the semi-chorus sings a most attractive melody to the words “My song shall be always of the loving kindness of the Lord” which soon gets lost in the dense counterpoint accompanying the chorale tune “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her” for Bishop Heber’s hymn “O saviour, with protecting care”. This is sung by the chorus while the semi-chorus adorn it with counterpoint in the chorale arrangement to end all chorale arrangements! Reger seems to be the model again here, in his most titanic overwritten mode, maybe not the wisest model. Even the piano reduction, written out on three staves, is all but unplayable. There is a 21-bar orchestral interlude before verse 2 of the hymn, now sung in harmony by full choir, first in 4 parts, then in 8 parts, but actually in a progressive unravelling of complexity. One feels that Dale has tried too hard, and there are a few modulations too many, a few imitations too many. Some harmonic progressions have not his usual clarity and perfect timing—this gives a feeling of being laboured occasionally and gives us a touch of musical indigestion as happens with music too complex for its own good. Even the lyrical contrast of the second part soon turns over-complex again. But no mature work of Dale can be without its redeeming lovely lyrical passages, and the best of these are in the closing pages where the main choir repeats the words “Hosanna in the highest”, alternating with the “Gerontius” type semi-chorus. Dale ties up the two sections of the work by bringing in the sweeping orchestral phrase from the first part, and ending with the simple but telling progressions B flat to G, E to G, G sharp minor to G, ending in the overall tonic of the work, G major, in a fade out ending.
It was completed on 15th March 1923. There is a sense he might have been in a hurry to complete it. According to Patrick Piggott, Dale was well aware this is not one of his finest works. Of all his major works this is the least characteristic, and the hardest to appreciate. But it was reviewed most sympathetically by Harvey Grace in the August 1923 Musical Times: “It may fairly be put among the pick of choral works produced during recent years”, and as for the chorale setting, “a musical texture that suggests the Bach of the best of the cantatas”, and he only thought it a pity there was not a well-known English tune for the hymn in the correct metre. It was performed at an RAM orchestral concert at the Queen’s Hall on 1st April 1924 under Sir Henry Wood. It has had few performances, the most recent one being at Eton in 1985. It has never been recorded.
In 1923 Dale took a post at Reading University, where he taught, and conducted the choir and orchestra until 1927. His predecessor at Reading had been Holst (“Elgar can score Holst off the platform whenever he likes” was his verdict on Holst, according to Frederick Durrant, harmony professor at the RAM). He obviously was very busy at this time, as he continued teaching at the RAM, where we find him in early 1925 lecturing on Purcell and Brahms, and adjudicating at the London Music Competition Festival in March 1925 and 1926. In 1926 or 1927 he toured Canada, examining for the Associated Board. He found Canada charming, but with not quite the enchantment of his beloved Bavaria.
There exists a small sketchbook amongst his MSS at the RAM from 1924, the only such sketchbook yet found, where on the first page, written in the Café des Trois Suisses in Bruxelles on 8th January, is the opening 3 bars of an orchestral work laid out for string 5tet. We now know this to be the start of the tone poem “The Flowing Tide”. There are other fragments in short score, with the names of the places and cafés where they were written, one marked “development 1st movement”, another “Finale”. Also there is a Lullaby for voice and piano, written “in bed” (!), also a complete part-song for 3 female voices, again written “in bed”. There is gap between February and August, then we get snippets of anything between 2 to 26 bars written in Tivoli, Copenhagen, or on the Baltic Sea. Orchestral sketches are mixed up with sight-reading pieces he was writing for the Associated Board! Here the sublime and the ridiculous go hand in hand! The sight-reading pieces were published later in 1924, there being 25 at Grade 5 level, 6 for Grade 6 (and 3 pieces marked with three asterisks—possibly by a pupil?), and 12 for Grade 7—these last have titles, such as “Norse Cradle Song”. The work was shared with Herbert Howells. One is reminded of Franck writing his harmonium pieces in tandem with the great organ Chorals. But Franck’s harmonium pieces are more interesting than the sight-reading tests. They are perfectly turned out routine Associated Board material, including little Marches, 2-part Inventions, Sarabandes, Gavottes, but with no trace of his style and personality—it is as if he deliberately repressed his true self. We are told he put so much into his educational work, but it seems a sad misdirection of energies when any capable pedagogue could write these. This sort of work is best done by the CS Langs and SP Waddingtons of this world, of whom there are plenty, whereas only Dale could have written works of such unique poetic vision as the violin sonata and “The Flowing Tide”.
From 1925 date 2 carols for unaccompanied chorus. The first, “Cradle Song”, to anonymous medieval words commencing “Balulalow”, is in A flat, in lilting 6/8 or 9/8 time, very slow, for soprano solo and 8-part chorus. It has a serene restrained beauty. It comes as no surprise that Dale’s choral writing is most accomplished, the parts weaving around each other in an intricate web of sound. The melody is simple with a flavour of the Celtic, where the use of the flat 7th is an event, and the harmonies are diatonic. The music swells to a broad climax in C flat major.
The second, “Rosa Mystica”, with anonymous words from the Medieval Anthology of Mary Segar, is simpler, for tenor solo and 4-part choir with some splitting into more parts. The words are declaimed by the soloist to a modal melody and the Latin responses are sung by the chorus in strict ecclesiastical style with chords mostly in root position. Then the melody is taken up by the choir, with more elaborate imitative writing for the Latin choral responses, before a return to the opening simplicity at the end. This is a convincing pastiche of a style as far removed from the romantic style of the piano sonata and the viola Suite as it is possible to get. They were published by Novello in 1925 and first performed in 1925 by the Oriana Madrigal Society under Charles Kennedy Scott.
But all was not well. Dale’s marriage had shown signs of strain as early as 1923, and at some time in 1930 Dale and Kathleen separated, Dale moving out of the house in Elsworthy Road, Primrose Hill and eventually moving to a flat in Abbey Road, St John’s Wood. Very little is known of what happened, but we can imagine the tensions that arise when two highly strung, temperamental creative personalities are living together. Kathleen was financially better off than her husband, but Dale felt obliged to work hard to support the household, and probably too hard, so his creative work suffered, which was a source of friction. There is an element of pride in this. We must remember that divorce was more difficult then than it has been for the last forty years, and sometimes there could even be an element of scandal, though there does not seem to have been so in this case. There were no children. In the MS of the violin sonata, in the British Library, the dedication to Kathleen was later crossed out. Kathleen Dale never married again and for the rest of her life, for over 50 years, she continued to be known as Kathleen Dale.
In 1926 Dale wrote a Ballade in C minor, Op.15 for violin and piano. The draft was completed on 13th September and it was revised and finished over the next two days. There is a three page prologue, mostly in 4/4 time, before the lilting 6/8 ballade proper begins. It tells a sad story, with a very fine atmospheric opening melody for violin, containing a chain of three fatalistic descending thirds and with a gravitational pull down to the tonic minor in spite of attempts to modulate away, of which there are many, often ingenious ones. These opening three pages are effortlessly spun out, ending in C major with a full stop. The piano writing is relatively spare, but immaculately written and the harmonies are beautifully judged, but more conservative than in the violin sonata, with French 6ths and Neapolitan harmonies providing the highlights. Much of this work could have been written 30 years earlier, it being in the manner of the later Dvorák or of his pupils Suk and Novak.
The ballade music is almost entirely in 6/8 or 9/8 metre, this recalling the Ballades of Chopin. On the fourth page we soon move to A minor, then Dale is well and truly on his travels, as the tale unfolds, with new material, gentle contrasts and some relief from the haunting atmosphere of the opening. Make no mistake, this work is as beautiful, as poetic and as polished as anything Dale ever wrote and is the work of a master craftsman. The old aristocratic elegance is very much there, showing Dale still very much believed in the “cult of beautiful phrases”, and there are some absolutely exquisite moments. However, I find in this work, rather than in the violin sonata, Edwin Evans’ “despondent tinge”, because of the prevailing melancholy mood and because Dale has retreated from the advanced harmonic position of the violin sonata. The piano finds gentle flowing figurations to bring ever more colour to the music, for that is never lacking, but there is still an underlying restlessness and pessimism detectable in the downward harmonic shifts of a semitone which occur, from A minor to A flat, or from B flat minor to A minor. On the 9th page the music energises and accelerates to a central section marked vigoroso, in 9/8 time. But in 4 bars it shifts from an optimistic G major to a troubled C sharp minor. There is real passion in this section, generous use of the keyboard, speeded up versions of the material, menacing chords and rhythmic variety. But the language is still basically pre-1900. Gone are the impressionistic parallel chords, the bitonal tasters and the exotic feel of the violin sonata. There is a catastrophic climax, a sudden dramatic demise of a character, followed by those descending brooding 3rds, and Dale returns to seemingly bottomless wells of introversion and doubt.
From here, Dale retraces his footsteps in a free manner resulting in a loose arch-like structure overall. There is some modification of material, and some new textures, noticeably a Brahmsian slow syncopation between the pianist’s hands, and some beautiful effects lontano pianississimo before a return to the 4/4 voice of the narrator on the last 2 pages. Here are found some of the most colourful harmonic highlights of the work, colourful in the context, but they are only extremely alluring chords of the 9th. The last 3 lines are a Coda where, like Beethoven, Dale continues modulating as far as possible. The penultimate chord is the most colourful of all—on analysis it turns out to be a “smeared” version of the augmented 11th with a semitone displaced. It is curious this chord was not used at all in the violin sonata, which found other exotic harmony, is hinted at only very briefly in one passage in the “Song of Praise” and in fact is not used by Dale in its original form after “Prunella”. This chord was not necessarily played out, for other composers were using it, for example Bax in his 3rd piano sonata (1927) makes several uses of it, and so does York Bowen in the 24 Preludes (1937). There is a feeling of smiling through tears and reconciliation at the end of the Ballade. The work lasts somewhere over 10 minutes.
It was first performed at the Wigmore Hall in 1927 by Rowsby Woof, and surprisingly not Bowen for once, but John Pauer. It was well received and apparently encored. It was favourably reviewed in the Musical Times of August 1927, the workmanship and taste being praised, and the composer’s dislike of virtuoso technique being mentioned. This surely implies virtuoso effects for their own sake. We know there is plenty of virtuosity in the piano sonata and the viola Suite, but they arise from the musical message. We can tell something of Dale’s inner emotional state at this period from this work, for I am sure that a composer can hide nothing. Deep down he must have been unsettled, disillusioned yet resigned. The work has something of the nature of an intimate confessional about it, as even the dedication, to the as yet unidentified “T.F.G.” suggests. I consider this work ultimately of more significance than the more “important” “Song of Praise”.
In a not dissimilar mood is a previously unknown MS song entitled simply “Song” (a memory of the Violin Sonata!), a setting of the well-known words of Christina Rossetti “When I am dead, my dearest”. It is dated 31st August, but the year is unclear in Dale’s small, slightly squashed hasty writing; it could be 1926 or 1928. If it is 1928 then this is his last piece before a creative silence of virtually 10 years. Marked “Very quietly”, the setting perfectly captures the mood of the poem in its simplicity and directness of melody and the spare-textured accompaniment. But whereas Christina Rossetti shows indifference to the would-be mourner’s emotions and the conventions of memorialisation, hinting she might actually forget her lover in time: “haply I may remember, and haply may forget”, Dale’s carefully measured post-Brahmsian setting, though gentle and calm, is full of deep feeling, shot through with sweet pain, shown by lingering appoggiaturas, the prominent and potent BJD curves in the piano, and the colourful chromatic harmonies, more adventurous here than in the Ballade. The memory of the violin sonata is a brief quote in the piano introduction, the interlude between the two verses and the postlude, of a theme introduced in the development of the 1st movement, here in wistful mode, with tugging appoggiaturas in the harmony. The BJD curve makes passionate interjections in the piano in both verses. The second verse grows in intensity, depicting “rain” with an unexpected cold dissonant chord, before painting “as if in pain” with sophisticated very expressive gentle dissonances. Dale quotes the opening vocal line in the piano at “and dreaming through the twilight” in G flat, with familiar undulating triplets, leading to a sudden burst of passion and bitterness at the climax, “haply I may remember”. Remarkably, the song is open-ended, capturing a mood of resignation if not indifference, as Dale closes with the piano playing a beautifully spaced unresolved chord of the 9th. This is unique in his output.
This superb, deeply moving, haunting song shows Dale’s fastidious feeling for harmony, melody and texture at its height. It was possibly too private to publish. The first performance was given by soprano Olive Murray and myself at St Lawrence Jewry on 26th August 2010.
  © Christopher Foreman, April 2011.

Benjamin Dale—a reassessment. Part Four.

The silent years, 1928-1938.

In 1928 Dale was interviewed by JA Forsyth, the editor of the RAM Magazine, for a series of “Pen Pictures of Personalities Past and Present”. Forsyth said “It is a common failing of mankind to wish to do something other than the particular job into which Fate has pitchforked its victim, but in most cases Fate is the sounder arbiter. In Dale’s case, however, I am inclined to think…that creative work is his real metier. As it is, the necessities of life demand that he shall teach”. Forsyth found the piano sonata, viola Suite and “Before the Paling of the Stars” to bear the unmistakeable hallmark of genius, concluding by saying “BJ Dale is still a young man, and was not Brahms over 40 when he wrote his first symphony”. From our perspective today we may agree with all this. However, from some time around 1928 until the start of the comparatively brief but glorious final creative phase in 1938, Dale entered instead on a period of self-imposed silence, for no original works came from his pen in those years. The only arrangement we can date from this time was the orchestration in 1930 of two songs by Purcell, one of which, “I attempt from Love’s sickness to fly”, may have had an autobiographical resonance for him.
It is time to examine the reasons why such a greatly gifted creative personality should have apparently dried up for so long. It must be said at the outset that there is no one single reason that will suffice—it is more a blend of several factors, and a matter of determining which were the dominating ones. Of course, it may be impossible to define the causes with certainty, such are the mysterious elusive workings of a delicate, refined and highly strung creative organism, and maybe informed guesswork is the best we will ever be able to manage. We will enumerate some possible factors:--
1.) Changing fashions and styles. We have seen that Edwin Evans put his finger on the changing climate, the trend favouring ruggedness rather than polished utterance. What with the emergence of Neo-Classicism headed by Stravinsky, the flourishing of Bartók, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Schoenberg and his school, Les Six, experiment and dissonance everywhere, and the dawn of the jazz age, the climate of the 1920s was very different from the pre-war days of Dale’s formative years. Elgar wrote very little after 1920, Sibelius stopped by 1929, even Rachmaninov wrote comparatively little in the last 25 years of his life, and Dale’s friend Balfour Gardiner stopped composing after 1925. Dale did take on board some new developments in the violin sonata, but he remained at heart a romantic. Not for him the incorporation of jazz elements as did Ravel, or the influence of the new Viennese school seen in Frank Bridge. He may have had doubts as to the relevance of his aesthetic to a changing alien world.
2.) His fastidious self-critical nature, destroying anything that did not reach a certain standard. Coupled with this, a need to revise, and as with Bruckner, a touch of the obsessive, going through his scores, putting in almost over-prescriptive expression and phrase marks, checked his creative impulse. Tertis was of this view. Thomas Armstrong thought pride was a factor; sure, there was an element of this in his personality. He had a reputation to live up to, which had been established early. He must have been conscious of the achievements of his brother Henry; all this meant he could let nothing unworthy pass.
3.) Dale was extremely busy—his RAM professorship, private teaching, lecturing, adjudicating, examining (besides Australia and Canada, he had been to Gibraltar and Malta). He needed, as seen, to earn a living and felt he had to support his wife. However, he had managed to compose in the earlier 1920s, and after his retirement from Reading in 1927 one might have thought he had more time. Besides, there were holidays. His busy life should not have prevented a steady modest stream of creations in the 1930s. So this is not the real solution to the mystery.
4.) The shadow of Ruhleben. As Bowen said, it had undermined his health, and may have contributed to a shortening of his life. His older brother outlived him by 25 years. In the 1930s a heart condition seems to have been diagnosed. Mrs Hubicki said his heart was a “bit dicey”. This was confirmed by Mrs Dale. Dora Bright also thought Ruhleben had an adverse effect on his psychological state, saying he “turned down most of his works in self-deprecation”. Penelope Mary Dale refers to works dropped through lack of spirit to continue. But remember, Ernest McMillan had completed his doctorate with an “Ode to England” while at Ruhleben, Brycesson Treharne had allegedly composed 200 songs and an act of an opera in Ruhleben, inspired by the sight of a distant forest, and Bainton’s creativity survived intact. With Dale, we have seen even more puzzling silences between 1907 and 1910, and 1913-1914, when Ruhleben was undreamt of. Ruhleben certainly did not do Dale any good, but it was not, I feel, the prime reason for his silence.
5.) Dale’s silence was from the age of 43 to 53. Many composers have slowed down or even stopped writing for a while at his stage of their lives. The ageing of mind and body, the re-evaluation of processes and priorities, has led to new directions in several cases. Wagner wrote no music between 1848 and 1853, concentrating on theoretical work, and when he resumed, the difference in style is at once noticeable. Likewise Bartók between 1923 and 1926 was silent, again followed by a new crystallisation of his style in the works of his full maturity. Tchaikovsky slowed down considerably in his 40s, and Beethoven wrote little between 1812 and 1817, partly for personal reasons, and by 1817 his style had changed into the style of his third period. If composers as disparate as these could slow down or cease, it is conceivable that Dale had run into a comparable mid-life crisis.
6.) Penelope Mary Dale puts further lack of spirit down to the break up of his first marriage. Dale grew up in comfortable circumstances, with a happy family background. He could well have needed a stable supportive loving family environment to enable him to feel secure and concentrate on creative work. This obviously was missing at Ruhleben. The assurance of the violin sonata was due in no small measure to his closeness to Kathleen and his hopes for a meaningful partnership. That love had engendered a masterpiece—love was notably missing by the end of the 1920s, and, his hopes turned sour, Dale, deeply hurt and disappointed, reacted by turning away from creativity, channelling his energies into teaching instead. For all her errors of detail, inconsistencies and amateurish style, Penelope Mary Dale is a prime source, and as a family member, has insight and knowledge others lack. Mrs Margit Dale confirmed this view. (No doubt for reasons of tact and discretion, since Kathleen Dale was still very much alive and active, Dora Bright and Bowen are silent on the marital break up). Therefore I feel that the most telling reasons for his silence were his self-criticism and his marital break up, not to say that the other reasons may not have played their part. It is not enough to glibly state that his inspiration had dried up. I do not believe it ever did—it was merely either repressed or re-directed.
So what sort of teacher was Dale? We have quite a list of pupils from pre-1914 to 1936—they included: Patrick Piggott, Kathleen Dale, Constance Warren, Guirne Creith, Margaret Mullins, Marie Dare, Christian Darnton, Godfrey Sampson, Frederick Grinke, Ian Parrott, Sybil Barlow, Stuart Elliott, Geraldine Thomson, and Mansel Thomas. Margaret Mullins was introduced to Dale by the piano professor Victor Booth some time around 1927 when she was about 11 years old, and studied privately with him, later at the RAM, where she won 9 prizes and scholarships, and was one of his last pupils until he had to give up teaching when appointed Warden in 1936. I had several conversations with Mrs Hubicki, as she became, in 1984-5 at the RAM, and what follows is largely from her. Teaching was no chore to Dale; he loved teaching and put his whole self into it, and as a gifted and unusually conscientious student, besides sharing interests, Margaret Mullins got the best of him. She described him as an inspiration for life. One thing could lead to another, he could get carried away, and a lesson could go on for two hours or more. The breadth and depth of his knowledge was such that she still felt humbled in comparison. Clearly, as Dale’s fellow professor at the RAM, Norman Demuth says, Dale read voraciously and was familiar with styles that Corder would never have taught, such as Palestrina, Elizabethan song and Purcell. A reserved man, he may have been surprised that anyone would want to write an article on him, but if done, it should be done thoroughly, with attention to detail.
Mrs Hubicki, known to her colleagues and pupils as Peggy, used three key words to describe him: 1.) Benign. He was relaxed, warm, approachable, generating a feeling of all doors being open. The opening of the violin sonata is a perfect picture of this. However, he was also 2.) Mercurial—volatile, highly strung, his moods could change quickly and unpredictably. Mrs Hubicki stressed more than once he did not suffer fools gladly. 3.) Rapier—this confirmed that his mind could work like lightning and that he could be devastating, difficult, and liable to a sudden explosion. She only got the wrong side of him once, when she did not follow his instructions concerning the direction of a composition, and he tore the work (and her) to shreds. This should come as no surprise—it is all there in the music, the deflation of a portentous motif into a humorous one, and conversely a languid motif, as in the violin sonata, becoming suddenly electrified and swiftly leading to an outburst; and the mixture of emotions in the Finale of the piano sonata and as the Phantasy heads towards its climax. The occasional nervy and quirky moods were not just post-Ruhleben—an early pre-1914 pupil spoke to Peggy of experiencing them.
He hated pomposity and pretence, the second rate masquerading as the real thing. He could not conceal his likes and dislikes. One arrogant opinionated student who had his lesson immediately before Peggy used to annoy Dale so much, she could spend half the lesson calming him down. He apparently made enemies through standing firm for his principles.
A central part of his teaching was the development of music, how everything comes out of something else, and tradition is continued. His tastes were broad, he was particularly fond of Beethoven and Wagner, but had no time for Berlioz, whom he compared to a beautifully dressed lady with such a plain face. On the vexed subject of contemporary music, he saw, said Peggy, great possibilities of exciting new developments. This would differentiate him from Bowen, who condemned Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments in no uncertain terms. Dale lectured on modern harmony, playing excerpts from “The Rite of Spring” with Patrick Piggott on piano four hands. But Dale did not see why the younger generation should be either always so miserable or protesting—this I believe with particular reference to Alan Bush. Was he depressed or disillusioned? I asked. It is possible in some ways, but this did not come across in the lessons. He had little time for superficial critics, and regarded them as those who could not create themselves. One should not criticise unless one can do better, he said.
They shared a love of tennis. Peggy once showed him a plan of her intended studies during a holiday. He smilingly crossed out two entire weeks of the plan, and wrote instead “plenty of tennis”.
Professor Guy Jonson once went to Dale to accompany a violinist in one of Dale’s works. Unfortunately he did not know the piece well enough and, describing Dale as a high blood pressure person, he said Dale picked up everything in sight and threw it at him. This rather alarming picture is tempered by the fact that Dale later made it up with Guy. Of course, this behaviour would not go down well in these more correct times, but the professors then could be high-handed, and Vivian Langrish would think nothing of propelling a chair across the floor towards a flagging pianist to wake him up!
According to Patrick Piggott, a small scandal occurred when HW Richards, then Warden, sanctioned an abbreviated performance of Dale’s Phantasy for the Duke’s Hall. Dale stormed out and threatened to resign. For him, it had to be an uncompromising everything or nothing.
Professor Ian Parrott, who studied harmony with Dale as a boy of 13 in 1929, simply remembers Dale as a very kind and thoughtful person.
Paradoxically it was in these silent years that Dale found professional and personal fulfilment. In 1931 or 1932 at a tennis court near Munich he had met Margit Kaspar, a young German woman, considerably younger than him. She had studied piano and singing in Munich, but she was not an all-round musician anywhere near the level of Kathleen Dale; Margit was instead a woman of great warmth and exceptional charm. They were married in Munich on 16th December 1933 and the union was a happy one that must have transformed Dale’s life for the better. It happened that Richard Strauss was a friend of her family, and it was probably through her that Dale met the composer who must have been one of his student heroes. Strauss visited the RAM on 3rd November 1936, was guest at a special luncheon and conducted a brilliant performance of “Death and Transfiguration” with the Academy orchestra. Dale was invited to Strauss’ summer residence at Garmisch in 1939, and it was only because of the uncertain political situation that, not wanting to get trapped a second time, he had to decline.
Dale was President of the RAM Club in 1935, attended all the meetings, presiding over the committee, and was thanked for his extreme interest. In 1939 he was Vice-President of the RCO and in 1936 became a member of the Associated Board. From 1936 until his death he was, with SP Waddington and Arthur Bliss, on the BBC Music Advisory Panel. He does not seem to have been very enthusiastic about some contemporary music submitted, such as pieces by Grace Williams or John Foulds, and is on record as saying Ernest Ansermet was a second-rate conductor. On the appointment of Stanley Marchant as Principal of the RAM in 1936, Dale, who had been a student contemporary of Marchant, was appointed Warden, or Vice-Principal of the RAM. Dale threw himself into his duties with great enthusiasm, showing real interest in the welfare, interests and careers of the students. We find him and Mrs Dale hosting a dance given by the student branch of the Club in December 1936; he wrote articles for the RAM Magazine on Review Weeks, and one for Tobias Matthay’s 80th birthday in 1938. On 1st December 1938 a game of table tennis took place with the students’ branch of the Club and staff, and the RAM Magazine tells us “Mr and Mrs Dale joined in, with much gusto”. Gareth Morris remembered Dale as “that brilliant Warden and man of temperament”.
Mrs Dale told me they knew everybody who was anybody, and this is hardly an exaggeration. It is one of the responsibilities of the Warden to select and engage adjudicators for the numerous RAM prizes, and from some of the names who appear in these years, we can get an idea of Dale’s extensive circle—John Ireland, Tovey, Frederic Austin, Carl Flesch, Medtner, and from the younger generation, Louis Kentner, Clifford Curzon and Constant Lambert. Curzon told Mrs Dale at his knighthood supper that he had learnt so much about music from Dale—presumably as a harmony pupil. Medtner had been introduced to Dale by Dora Bright at her Somerset house. Rachmaninov came to the RAM at the invitation of Sir Henry Wood, was guest at a special luncheon and conducted his 2nd symphony with the Academy orchestra, scoring a great success. At the Annual Dinner of the RAM Club at the Dorchester Hotel on 28th June 1935, amongst those present were Sir Henry Dale, Arthur Eddington, Lillian Bayliss, Marie Tempest, Elena Gerhardt, WW Cobbett, Baron D’Erlanger, Lionel Tertis, Lord Palmer, WH Harris and Percy Buck. Dale as a young man had met Elgar. At the Annual Dinner of the Club in 1937 we find him proposing a toast to “the sister arts and sciences”, quoting Schelling’s saying “architecture is frozen music” and emphasising the interdependence of the arts. All this is not bad for someone who had left school around the time of his fifteenth birthday!
In summer 1937 the Dales went on holiday to Bavaria, and invited Peggy to join them. There existed a photo album dating from this trip, which I saw and noted the contents of in 1985—it is not certain where the album is now, or if it even still exists. Starting at Possenhofen, they spent some time by the Starnberger See where we see Mr and Mrs Dale in a rowing boat with Mrs Dale in a swimming costume, then they travelled from Seeshaupt to Bernried on the left bank, having picnics with his mother-in-law Frieda Kaspar on the way. The names of Walchensee, Mittenwald, Garmisch, Alpspitze, and Neuschwanstein Castle are listed before they got to Tutzing. One memorable picture shows Mr and Mrs Dale sitting on a bench in the woods above Feldafing, Dale looking upright and slightly reserved with his hat on, while Mrs Dale seems convulsed with laughter. We get a picture of the couple with a bicycle, Dale wearing Alpine costume, and a side view picture of Dale sitting on the jetty by the See, with a slightly edgy aspect, withdrawn, his mood capable of going either way. The last names in the album are Groh and Leoni. A large man, Dale towers over his wife. The photos show him in a different light from the usual official portraits in the RAM Magazine, mostly relaxed, with a delicious sense of humour. They also paint a picture of a happy marriage, of a couple united in their interests, sharing a sense of fun. There were, however, no children from this marriage.
The turn of the tide, and death, 1938-1943.
It was in 1938 that Sir Henry Wood commissioned Dale to write a piece for his 50th anniversary as a conductor. Going through Dale’s MSS, he found the sketches for an orchestral piece started in 1924, and took to it at once, requesting it to be completed. Penelope Mary Dale says there is no doubt that this gave Dale the surge and uplift of the old spirit which he needed. Mrs Dale remembered him saying around this time “I think I can begin again”. Dale’s major works were requested by specific performers or for specific occasions, for example the piano sonata as an exercise for Corder, dedicated to his friend Bowen, the viola works for Tertis and Cobbett. Now he knew that the great Sir Henry Wood wanted his music, for a prestigious event, this, together with his domestic contentment, was enough to set his creativity in motion again. Originally this piece was to be performed at the famous concert which eventually took place at the Royal Albert Hall on 5th October 1938 where Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music was first heard, and where Rachmaninov played his 2nd concerto. If it had been performed in October 1938, conducted by Wood, “The Flowing Tide” might have become better known. But resuming creative work was not easy. It took far longer than anticipated for Dale to finish, and it was not ready until 1943.
In August 1938, when on holiday in Possenhofen, Dale orchestrated Wolf’s song “Im Frühling”, and sketched another orchestration, “Auf einer Wanderung”, which remained unfinished. It is no surprise to see his taste for Wolf—in July 1934 the first production in England of Wolf’s opera “Der Corregidor” took place at the RAM.
The first complete original composition for ten years came on December 11th 1938, in the form of a little Christmas Carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”, for SATB unaccompanied, as a Christmas offering for Margit. Although mentioned in the catalogue of Grove 1954, this was never published or performed. Dale sets the first four verses only of Christina Rossetti’s poem (omitting the last verse “What can I give him?”) in a through-composed setting, simple and unpretentious, and all the more endearing for that. It is direct and tuneful, achieving its effects with an economy of means and deft touches typical of Dale. Starting in D minor, “winter” ends on the flat 7th, there are gnawing dissonant passing notes for “bleak” and “hard”, alternate chords of A minor and C minor under a held A for “moan”. The second half of the 1st verse swings to F sharp minor for “snow had fallen”, with a gentle chromatic descent recalling Grieg. Verse 2 has a solo line for a few voices only, quasi plainsong, and later simple concords, mostly in root position, recalling the old liturgical manner; verse 3 has 4 bars of two-part writing, and ends with 2 bars of unison—in both verses these alternate with more chromatic sections so the old and new, the simple and the subtly complex go hand in hand. In verse 4, “Angels and Archangels” is set to a joyful syncopated figure leading to a climax on “through the air” with mounting middle parts between held Fs in the outer parts. The wonderful tender closing half of the verse is pochissimo più lento; “but only his mother” has an excursion to A major (the melody recalling the opening), then, via a melting dominant 13th, to D flat, with basses on bottom D flat, slipping back to end in F major, closing with the words “with a kiss”. The dynamic range is from forte to pianississimo. The whole, particularly the end, is most intimate and touching.
When Dale had to stop teaching on his appointment as Warden, his pupils gave him a book of poems by Robert Bridges as a gift. This bore fruit, as on 22nd December 1939 another Christmas offering for Margit came in the shape of Dale’s last, and arguably finest song, a setting of Bridges’ 1873 poem “I heard a linnet”. The poem is a delicate lyric, with an intricate rhyming scheme, the word “tender” occurring in the last line of each of the four verses. It speaks of the linnet’s delight on courting in spring; the poet only fearing his speech will distort or mar the bird’s tender notes. Verse 4 exhorts the happy creatures to abandon care and resign their natures to tender love. Dale’s happiest song in every way, it marries words and music to create a perfect song all his own, where one would not change a note, the mood joyful, tender, sweet, teasing, wistful, playful and passionate in turn, every twist and turn in the words caught with the assistance of the harmonies and the piano figuration in a natural spontaneous manner, above all radiating charm, that key word, with numerous deft touches. The key is D, modulating with freedom, returning always at key moments, the ends of the verses. The perfectly placed harmonies with added 6ths, 2nds, and 7ths major and minor have the freedom of the violin sonata, and we find a semitonal side-stepping in the manner of Strauss with a chain of colourful chords. It is through-composed, verse 4 alluding to verse 1, and the whole is unified by the opening piano motif cropping up throughout, at one point featuring rhythmic play by omitting the first quaver, with snatches of irrepressible chirpy birdsong imitation. “Marred in the reading” has a gently chromatic smudge effect in the harmonies, and there are momentary poignant discords on “would that my love spoke clearer”. The joyous surge of the last verse leads to a climax on “but unto love” in radiant C major, where the side-stepping again mirrors verse 1, as does the melisma on “tender”. The piano postlude mirrors that of verse 1, with an upward rush followed by a characteristic crotchet rest before the last two chords and a final staccato D. Dale’s art that conceals art enables all this to be brought off with effortless ease.
This song has a curious history. It is in the 1954 Grove catalogue and is alluded to with the Shakespeare songs in a sentence of Sidney Northcote’s book “Byrd to Britten: a Survey of English Song” (1966), but it was never published and Mrs Dale confirmed it was never performed. What almost certainly was the premiere of this song only took place on 26th August 2010 at St Lawrence Jewry, the performers being Olive Murray and Christopher Foreman. There is no reason why this song or any of the others should not enter the mainstream British song repertoire when they become better known.
Why should these two unknown MS pieces appear in the catalogue of Grove 1954, the reader might ask? It is because that article was revised by Walter H Stock, the assistant librarian of the RAM, who was a friend, great admirer and devoted general aide-de-camp of Dale.
Margaret Mullins was more than just a pupil, as her life became tangled up with the Dales. When Peggy was orchestrating her Irish Fantasy, Dale suggested a little expert advice was needed on bowing and introduced her to a brilliant young violin student, Bohdan Hubicki, a Canadian of Ukrainian extraction, who Dale had first heard when he was examining in Canada and Bohdan was ten. Gareth Morris said Dale’s thought was an inspired one, and there could not have been a more perfect match. The pair were married in St John’s Wood on 20th July 1940. Peggy’s father being dead, Dale actually gave her away at the wedding. He was like a father to her, and Patrick Piggott, a pupil of the same vintage as Peggy, had a similar experience of Dale, for his father died when he was 19, “and from that time BJD seemed almost like a father to me”, he wrote in 1987. By now, of course, World War 2 was in progress and there was a deeply tragic outcome to Peggy’s marriage, for just three months later, on 15th October their North London home suffered a direct hit in an air raid and Bohdan, who would undoubtedly have become one of our leading violinists, was killed and Peggy badly injured. The Dales were very kind and supportive at this terrible time. Dale gave her the score of a late Beethoven quartet, music saying what words could not.
Margit’s brother was an official under the Nazi regime, and we know Dale had a deep love of German culture, especially Bavaria. It was a case of divided loyalties and the war was terrible for him. Margit did much to help him through this difficult time. As with Bowen, there was a streak of naivety in Dale, commented on by JA Forsyth. He continued holidaying in Germany until 1938, oblivious of the freakish regime that was to carry the centuries old policy of persecution of Jews to its darkest apotheosis. There cannot have been anti-Semitic feelings in Dale. Some of his closest associates, Myra Hess, Irene Scharrer, Lionel Tertis, Harry Farjeon, and his brilliant pupil Guirne Creith (real name Gladys Cohen) were all of Jewish descent.
The destruction of Queen’s Hall, scene of several performances of his early works, by an incendiary bomb on 10th May 1941, must have affected him, as well as the daily stress and uncertainty during the blitz. Mrs Dale later said the RAM at this time was practically run from their spacious six room flat, 17c Abbey Road.
Dale had taken his holiday at Marlow in August 1940, and spent a few days in Torquay in December 1940, where he orchestrated three Debussy Preludes—he was pleased enough with these to write to a friend in Canada about them. Also in 1940 the book “Harmony, Counterpoint and Improvisation”, a Novello primer, came out, with the section on harmony written by Dale (Gordon Jacob and Hugo Anson wrote the other sections). The approach is musical, there are plenty of examples given, and there are ample exercises with real melodies and basses for working. Another project at this time, destined to remain unfinished, was the orchestration of “Night Fancies”, which he told Patrick Piggott he thought would make a good Proms piece; this he showed to Piggott one evening at Abbey Road. He may have been flexing his orchestral muscles, for work on “The Flowing Tide” was going on whenever possible. According to Mrs Dale, he would play in the middle of the night on the full-sized Steinway given to him by Balfour Gardiner in 1919, the bits he had written. The neighbours were kind. He would sometimes be up at 6 am and not get to bed again until 4 o’clock the next morning. This sleep deprivation cannot have been good for his heart. “With what a thrill of joy”, wrote Harry Farjeon, “did we all learn that at last he had another big piece under way!...”I know I enjoy writing it”, he told me, as week by week I asked him about the progress of the work and heard of the diminishing tally of pages still to be scored. Little dreaming that this diminishing tally applied also to life itself”.
Mrs Dale suggested “The Flowing Tide” might have been even longer, but the BBC urged him to finish it, and a performance was fixed for 6th August 1943, as part of the 49th season of the Proms. When it was finished, Dale and Margit spent many nights with WH Stock and another librarian, Mr Haywood in checking and correcting the MS set of parts. 30th July 1943 was the date of the first run through with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. By now the ageing and ailing Sir Henry Wood was unable to conduct it, so he persuaded Dale to conduct it himself. The rehearsal took place from 10.30 to 12.30 at the Royal Albert Hall. WH Stock attended, and in 1968 left an account of what followed: “I made notes of places where there were either errors in the score or those parts which he intended to amend or clear in some way. But we never had an opportunity to discuss these. Mr Dale returned to the artists’ room and complained to Mrs Dale and me of being very tired and that the rehearsal had taken a good deal out of him. Mrs Dale took the well-wishers out of the room but I remained at the express wish of Mr Dale. Having asked for and consumed part of a glass of water, the composer collapsed. He was eventually removed to St Mary Abbott’s Hospital at Kensington, but he had died before reaching there, probably at the Royal Albert Hall”. That evening, Sir Stanley Marchant, Sir Adrian Boult and WH Stock went through the score; Sir Adrian agreed to conduct the work on 6th August provided that Stock went through the parts and made corrections where noted.
The first performance took place on Friday 6th August, the concert starting at 7 o’clock. The first part was a concert in itself, an all-Beethoven programme of the “King Stephen” overture, “Adelaide” (soloist Heddle Nash), the 2nd piano concerto (soloist Solomon) and the 7th symphony. “The Flowing Tide” opened the second part and the concert strangely concluded with Busoni’s “Rondo Arlecchinesco”! The programme note, by WG McNaught, was paraphrased by WH Stock for Grove 1954. In 1943 the average audience size at the Proms was 4,000. I have one review, that by Feruccio Bonavia in the Musical Times of September 1943, who found in the work of the older generation of British composers, Dunhill and Dale, thoughtfulness, modesty and good taste not found in the work of the Soviet composers. If Dunhill’s Waltz Suite was like an antidote after the unbridled high spirits of the Russians, “The Flowing Tide” went further still, ”suggesting a delicate composition for the solo instruments rather than a work conceived in terms of the orchestra; one felt as if a Chopin prelude had suddenly found its way into the orchestra, a protest against the noisy, brass-band effects of the “Sinfonia India” [by Carlos Chavez].
“The Flowing Tide” is for an orchestra of triple woodwind, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, glockenspiel, bass drum, cymbals (4 percussion players), celesta, 2 harps and strings. It lasts 31 minutes, from the broadcast given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Vernon Handley in April 2002. As such, it is not only his most extended orchestral piece, but his longest continuous single movement. The score is “dedicated, with great respect, to Henry J Wood” and is prefaced with a quote from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Act 4 Scene 3: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”. Therefore not only is it a picture of the sea to an impressionable traveller, as Dale was, having travelled on all the seas of the world, we are told, but also a vision of humanity. It is planned in five episodes, playing continuously, without always clearly defining the moment of change:
1.) Music of a flowing character, steadily growing in power [circa 4 minutes 10 seconds], followed by a short interlude featuring side drum taps beneath woodwind and celesta [c.1 minute], leading to—
2.) Lento, the longest and most substantial section of the work [7 minutes], ending with a solo for double bassoon.
3.) Rapid, light, scherzando [4 minutes 20 seconds]; earlier themes appear for a moment, as if seeking readmission—an episode of rhapsody and fantasy [4 minutes].
4.) A brief retrospect of the second section, ending with an upward progression through the woodwind, finally a solo celesta [3½ minutes].
5.) Finale, beginning scherzando, gradually incorporating all the main ideas, leading to a climax [7 minutes].
This is on an ambitious scale, being longer than “Tintagel” and “The Garden of Fand” put together. Like his friend Bax, Dale had a lifelong love of the sea, but he does not slavishly imitate Bax; he is very much his own man. Yes, we get a hint of Elgar in the broad opening paragraphs, and he had obviously studied the orchestration of Debussy and Ravel, but the music has a voice very much of its creator, a unique personality, and this, his most mature work, can be seen as a summation of what he had achieved, yet with new pointers. The increased use of counterpoint in the final section virtually uses the Sibelian technique of different speeds superimposed. “The Flowing Tide”, along with the violin sonata, is Dale’s most advanced work harmonically. The harmony can often be simple and direct—Dale achieves some of his most memorable effects with the simplest of means, harmonically side-stepping up a semitone from E flat major to E minor, or modulating up a tone by use of a 7th or 13th. However, in the awesome last seven minutes appear some of the most “advanced” music he ever wrote, but this is complexity with a purpose and harmonic sense, as the dense contrapuntal web, the modulations and orchestral wizardry combine in an exhilarating drawing together of strands, rushing onwards to their glorious goal. This does not yield its secrets to casual listening—it needs concentrated and repeated hearings, and each time one will hear new things, or hear it from different perspectives. “The Flowing Tide” endears itself to all who hear it by the sheer quality of its material, its strength, beauty, memorability and potency for ingenious development, and by its colourful orchestration. Dale’s most colourful work, with its symphonic scope and panoramic range, it astonishes even his admirers. Dale emerges as a master orchestrator, who had a deep understanding of instrumental writing and orchestral possibilities, who can hold his head high in the company of such consummate orchestrators as Bax and Respighi, without quite the cinematic brashness of the latter. Unlike Debussy, Frank Bridge and Enescu in their portrayals of the sea, Dale eschews a full-blown storm scene. There is plenty of mystery, magic and even touches of menace as dark clouds are visible on the horizon and lightning can be seen playing in the distance, and we get the occasional freak wave rearing up, but the storm never actually erupts over our vessel. Curiously, the nearest we get to a storm is a mere 3 minutes in—we hear the rain and feel the wind buffeting us around, but this proves to be no more than a brief squall and the vessel emerges intact. Dale’s sea is essentially a benevolent one, whereby he explores the infinite lights and shades of lyricism, with geniality, warmth, restless searching, poignant regret, and much more. In it, a lifetime of rich experience and emotion is distilled and sublimated. The benign, mercurial and rapier all find their place—the benign in the relaxed, arms wide open genial nature of the opening; the mercurial, for example, in the changing moods of the 3rd section, those dancing Debussian quavers, sparkling, elusive, sinister in turn; the rapier in the sudden dissonant screech of the woodwind near the start of the scherzando, or the frantic off-beat stabbing and howling brass and wind as a squall momentarily erupts in the final section. The public and the intimate go hand in hand, as do the romantic, the fantastic and the bizarre. The music has a timeless quality, and achieves much that is not only distinctive but new for him, a work that can more than stand up, I feel, in the company of “Tintagel” and “Fand”, which is high praise indeed. This is a major British orchestral work which had been slumbering for 60 years until 2002, and no assessment of Dale can be complete without consideration of “The Flowing Tide”.
The key is C major, the opening theme, con moto moderato is on strings in octaves, in 9/8 time, remaining diatonic for a while. As is common with Dale it appears simple, unassuming, yet is quietly original and pregnant with much vital material that permeates the whole work. One can discern at least three major strands of thematic material, each containing subsidiary motifs that can be developed. The whole first section is a very impressive symphonic paragraph where the material is logically spun out and continuously developed, with seamless continuity, gradually becoming more complex as it modulates, with new emerging elements, and intensification of harmonies and mood. The first climax is 3 minutes in; typically of Dale it is followed by an even greater one, with a sudden unexpected knot of complexity in syncopated rhythms and harmony producing a feel of conflict and turbulence, and pivots us in a new direction. We can see Bonavia rather exaggerated his point at one hearing; there are delicate instrumental solos later, but by page 20 of the score there are great blocks of sound, sectional tuttis, string semiquaver sextuplets giving electric urgency, the climax fff con tutta forza. The bridge passage is ushered in by a tritone on muted horns; a dance rhythm in A minor on flutes, violas and cellos muted, saltando, with taps on the side drum, slowing with the unearthly glow of a cymbal roll with soft sticks to Maestoso on page 27; 5 minutes in, this heralds the 2nd section with a warm slowed down version of the third strand. We get our first touches of mystery, a sense of the fantastic and other worldly as clarinets flourish over a bed of dark woodwind.
The 2nd section proper is nearly 6 minutes in as flutes in luminous oscillating 3rds set the scene for a lento espress and for many the most haunting and memorable theme of the work, one of Dale’s special big melodies which reaches out to embrace humanity. It is first heard on the oboe, featuring two descending 5ths with simple telling harmony, modulating poignantly in its second half; its consequent, calmo, features gently persuasively undulating semiquavers. Dale never repeats himself literally in this work; he always varies the harmony, orchestration or some other feature in a truly kaleidoscopic manner. The second occurrence of this theme is on full strings with throbbing pulsating woodwind triplets, the third time much fuller with an exultant clash of the cymbal. It goes on to develop in the cellos, there also being a lyrical romantic development of the consequent, heart on sleeve, and we get a glimmer of the old BJD curve. After a rising passage there is a caesura, followed by a pent up outburst of passion; again this happens three times, but the third time, a typical Dale touch, it deflates to a subito piano, with celesta chords in B major. 11 minutes in there is a new version of the big 5ths theme, with solo cello, warm, nostalgic and intimate, accompanied by muted violins. Parallel string chords end this section, with a contra bassoon descent.
The 3rd section, con moto, starts by transforming the opening theme with spiky woodwind whirls and eddies, side drum played near the edge, while harps and celesta trill, followed by a sinister malicious dance, with a lurch, featuring lower clarinets and bassoons, and muted nasal brass. Debussian scurrying triplet quavers feature much from now on. All this shows the edgy, nervy, “difficult” side of Dale’s personality. 3 minutes into this section there is a new 4-note figure, C, D flat, B, C, thin, persistent, and bristling with tension and danger, the last new material we get! A minute later we slow down, poco più lento occurring twice, but the development section still goes on, now development at random where anything can happen. The very opening theme is heard in augmentation; we get a silvery, serenely lilting offshoot of this material on upper strings, piccolo, glockenspiel and harp. By now the strings are divided, culminating in a passage where the 1st and 2nd violins are in 4 pairs, the violas in 3 pairs under solos for oboe and horn, slowed down versions of themes from the 1st section, giving the impression of an imminent recap. Sighing antiphonal chords on strings lead to a pair of scene-stealing clarinets in 3rds swooping and gyrating like a pair of enamoured gulls in a sort of fantastic balletic sequence, leading in turn to a striking special effect of dissonant piercing woodwind chords.
On page 82, over 20 minutes into the work, we enter the 4th section, “molto calmo (quasi come in sogno”) and can imagine being becalmed in mid-ocean. This is the still centre of the work. The divided strings create at times an achingly sad feeling, and there is a momentary cry of anguish from the clarinet. Commentators have written of the valedictory nature of Mozart’s last piano concerto and Schubert’s last piano sonata, with sentimentalised hindsight. There is no clue Dale sensed this to be his last composition so we need not go down that road. This section ends with eerie shimmering violins descending tremolando, with a brief celesta solo, and momentarily seems to allude to Ravel’s “Une barque sur l’océan”—whether consciously or not, this is entirely apt.
There is no doubt when the 5th section begins on page 92, 24 minutes into the work, with an Allegro—it is animated at once, the electric 4-note figure erupts again, and the dancing triplet quavers permeate the texture, usually being present somewhere. The long build-up begins with more augmentation of the opening. We get wave effects, where one block of woodwind overlaps with another. Near 27 minutes in there is a sudden brief explosion followed by more surging and building, with undreamt of versions of familiar themes, till the full orchestra is reached 12 pages from the end, a brass choir enters and as we approach the 30 minutes mark a burst of triumph in C major. Is this the climax?—no, for in true tidal fashion it is followed by another bigger wave in a chain of ever-growing climaxes, so we can say the music progresses inexorably to the final climactic chords. Anyone who has watched waves as the tide comes in on a beach will know that Dale has caught this tidal feel uncannily. The triumphant burst is followed by a typical Dale touch, a subito piano and the strings in close imitation at two quavers distance, before accelerating to vivo, an explosion of strings con tutta forza, and the electrifying last minute with full orchestra, near orgiastic trills on full woodwind and a triumphant homecoming in the final chords, the final one swelling to a fortississimo end in C major. What a way to finish one’s life work!
Dale’s posthumous fortunes.
Dale died at the very height of his powers. There was no decline. Like Bowen 18 years later, his death was sudden and unexpected—he had once said to Peggy this was the best way to go, being spared any lingering illness, but a great shock to all around him. There is no doubt, though, his death was a tragedy coming when it did, with the war still at an uncertain stage, and the manner of his death seems to have attracted more attention than his final work itself. If he had lived he would, with his ultra-finical nature, undoubtedly revised “The Flowing Tide”; it is likely there would have been more performances, though probably not under Sir Henry Wood, who was to die just over a year later on 19th August 1944; and we should have had more works. What would we not have given to have had a ballet, a clarinet 5tet or a series of tone poems?
There was a memorial service where Tertis and Bowen played the Romance; this was not attended by Wood, who though much affected by Dale’s death, disliked arranged farewells, according to Lady Jessie Wood. There were warm obituaries in the RAM Magazine by Dora Bright and Harry Farjeon, who paid tribute to Dale’s high-souled nature, his high standards, his unique personality, as “a rare and delightful friend, a witty and humorous companion… one of the most accomplished musicians of our time” who had done his life’s work supremely well. There was a spate of performances; Bowen played the piano sonata at the RAM Club, and occasional performances and tributes in the next few years, such as Bowen’s in 1960. Moura Lympany played the piano sonata at the Prague Festival in 1946 with great success and broadcast it in 1955. The score of “The Flowing Tide” was produced in a photo-facsimile edition subscribed for by his colleagues at the RAM, and copies went to Adrian Boult and the BBC, and gradually found their way to the RAM, who have several copies, now with the MSS. Farjeon expressed the hope that it would be heard again soon—tragically and strangely this was not to be. By now his style was deeply unfashionable and performances became rarer.
Only years after his death do we start to read that he did not live up to his early promise—even Tertis in “My viola and I” (1974) says the high hopes for his future were disappointed. Frank Howes in “The English Musical Renaissance” (1965) did not even mention him once. By 1979 nothing of Dale was in print, nothing heard, and we were told that of that period Vaughan Williams, Holst and Ireland had survived best.
In 1961, Margit Dale gave the MSS of some of his finest works to the British Museum. In 1984, Margit, who had remarried more than once, but continued to live in Abbey Road, suffered a massive burglary while she was away in Sussex. The burglars, no doubt stealing to order, were after Margit’s collection of a thousand or more books, mostly biographical, and had no interest in Dale’s MSS. Doors were left open and some pages were blown out onto the lawn—some may have got lost. Soon after, the MSS were put up for auction, how remains a mystery. Mrs Dale was adamant she would never auction her husband’s MSS. Was she induced to dispose of them by well-meaning souls, or were the burglars themselves responsible? Luckily the RAM came to hear of the auction at Sotheby’s, Mrs Hubicki and the RAM librarian bought them, and the MSS are now safely in the RAM. Mrs Dale herself handed over some last remaining bits in early 1986.
In November 1985 there were two centenary concerts of Dale’s music at the RAM, organised by John White, head of strings and an enthusiast for Dale, Bowen and their contemporaries. On 20th February 1987 the first broadcast of Dale for many years came when Simon Rowland-Jones and Neil Immelman played the Phantasy as part of a series on the Cobbett Phantasies. The Ballade was broadcast later that year, and in April 1989 there was a series of four programmes entitled “The Flowing Tide” broadcast—this was slightly misleading, for we did not get that work; instead we heard the piano sonata, the viola Suite and Phantasy, the violin sonata and Ballade.
Patrick Piggott in the late 1980s was working on a book on Dale, based on his experiences as an unofficial pupil until 1943, around 100 letters Dale wrote to him, often with advice on compositions, papers belonging to Margit Dale and an archive left by Kathleen Dale. He was working first on the events of Dale’s life, and he whetted the appetite in a letter of November 1987 where he said “some of them are very, very strange and unexpected”. Unfortunately Mr Piggott died in 1990. The biography needs to be taken up and completed. Margit Dale moved to Hove, and on her occasional visits to the RAM endeared herself to those tasked to chaperone her. She never lost her German accent. She died in 1995. Mrs Hubicki, a professor of harmony and composition at the RAM until her retirement in 1985, died in January 2006 at the age of 90, a dearly loved mentor to many.
In 1992 the first two CDs appeared, Peter Jacobs playing the complete piano music, and Rowland-Jones and Immelman playing two viola works and “Night Fancies”. In April 2002 a seminal event occurred with the first broadcast of “The Flowing Tide”, the first performance since 1943. As I write, this has still not appeared on CD. The violin works appeared on CD in 2006, the viola music in 2008. Other pianists have started to look at the piano sonata, which has long awaited a performer of true world-class stature to do it full justice. Danny Driver’s recent recording is probably the best yet.
Dale research is still in its young stages. The MS works need our examination, top of the list being the four major student orchestral works spoken of earlier. Most MS works are from his early days; only miniatures, unfinished bits and pieces and arrangements dating from his mature years, as the appended catalogue will show. Next may come the organ sonata and Prelude and Fugue, the piano trio, the partsongs and the slow movement of a symphony. Dale is not usually thought of as a composer of songs, but he emerges from this survey as a fine song composer. Some day an enterprising publisher may issue all seven songs under one cover as a Benjamin Dale songbook (the earliest, an orchestral setting of Tennyson written at the age of 16 is also very worthwhile). The choral works are as yet unrecorded. There is enough orchestral music, including arrangements, to fill two CDs easily.
Dale’s place in musical history.
Dale remained an out and out romantic all his life—Dora Bright wrote he never swerved in his admiration for the music he had loved from boyhood. She says he was intensely alive to new ideas, and he did take on board such selective elements of contemporary developments as he needed. It would be unrealistic to expect him to suddenly start writing in the style of Copland or Tippett (whose Concerto for Double String Orchestra he apparently rejected at the BBC), a totally alien aesthetic to him. But one only has to listen to the violin sonata or “The Flowing Tide” to see the distance he had travelled from his Opus 1 and Opus 2. Farjeon said historically his music is in line with Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner, and geographically in space with rich harmony and flowering melody, and there is an abundance of these. He may not have used the complex chromatic harmonies of Bax or the very individual language of the later York Bowen’s harmony. But there is still an advanced sophisticated use of a broad late romantic palette, fastidiously applied in the placing of chords, also as we have seen, increasing use of counterpoint. We hear the striking assurance of his large-scale forms, broad paragraphs and ingenuity of development, and his mastery of instrumental and vocal writing. It was said in the Musical Times obituary “his most congenial form of expression was one that sought strength in restraint and in a subtle lyrical melodiousness” and in Grove: “it looks inwards and is attentive more to art than to musical effect”—these slightly overstate the case. True, “Before the Paling of the Stars” and the Ballade show much restraint and inward feeling, but the piano sonata, the violin sonata and “The Flowing Tide” have a full range of expression. “The one thing he demanded from his art”, said Dora Bright, “was beauty, in which demand every sane musician must agree”, and we certainly get that in profusion.
He nods respectably in the direction of the folksong revival, and we find unexpected pastiches of Elizabethan song, 16th century choral music and Parry, which he does very well, nearly always convincingly, and in the Shakespeare songs there is characteristic deftness, in the carols lyricism and polish, his trademarks, yet it is in the violin sonata and “The Flowing Tide” where his imagination can roam most freely, for here he is simply being his true self. Josef Holbrooke even suggested a style was lacking in Dale (he did not mention the violin sonata)—this is because each work has its own distinctive flavour, Dale not repeating himself, so we cannot predict where he is going next, and his range is wider than one might think.
Though Dale and Bowen both emerged from the same stable, and there is often a kinship of spirit and a family resemblance in the music of those two men of such similar sensibilities and tastes, there were differences. There is considerably less music by Dale, but ultimately it goes deeper. One may compare Bowen’s 2nd violin sonata in E minor, Opus 112, surely one of his finest, most striking and impassioned works, with Dale’s violin sonata to see the essential difference. Bowen writes in fine classical sonata form in the 1st movement, passionate, serious, vigorous, and purposeful; a meltingly lyrical slow movement, and an exuberant virtuosic finale. The music is clear-cut and concise, and this is the standard three movement pattern in his sonatas. Dale is approximately 17 minutes longer, has a more complex individual overall cyclic form, diverse and multi-layered with a touch of the elusive, and plumbs even more profoundly into the human condition.
I consider Dale’s three supreme works to be the piano sonata, the violin sonata and “The Flowing Tide”. But the three viola works taken as a body could easily be a triple-headed fourth peak. The mastery of large-scale forms does not preclude him being a fine writer of miniatures, shown in piano music, song and part-song.
There are paradoxes in Dale—1.) A greatly gifted composer with a quick mind, fertile invention and works teeming with ideas, riches and interest who wrote comparatively little, with periods of silence; this I have attempted to explain. 2.) A man who expressed high spirits, confidence, vigour and passion so well, nearly unsurpassably so in the piano sonata and viola Suite, who later lost spirit and the confidence to complete works until the last years when he rediscovered his old spirit. 3.) The writer of large-scale works of 30 to 40 minutes in length who could happily write ordinary little Associated Board pieces and write a 16-bar Lullaby in a minute hand while in bed! These are not so easy to explain.
Dale’s pupils have unfortunately not become very well-known, which we can see is a pity as we start to discover the music of Guirne Creith, Constance Warren and recently, Margaret Hubicki. The CD issued for her 90th birthday contains beautifully crafted sincere music that has much to offer. The influence in turn of Constance Warren and Peggy lives on in their pupils, some of who have come to public attention in recent years. One of the finest of Dale’s pupils, Patrick Piggott, still awaits serious exploration, as his virtuosic large–scale piano music and works of major import as the “Rosanes Lieder” have not been heard for a long time.
I have long had a notion that William Walton knew more of Dale’s music than he might have cared to admit. Possible influence of Dale is seen in three places—1.) The Finale of the viola concerto is basically high spirited but with conflicting darker emotions, leading to a catastrophe and the fateful reappearance of the opening theme, sinking to a profoundly tragic end, the same emotional plan as the Finale and Coda of Dale’s piano sonata. 2.) The use of the hemiola rhythm in the middle movement of the viola concerto is also found in the Finale (and 1st movement) of Dale’s viola Suite. 3.) Walton’s violin sonata has a Theme and Variations for its 2nd movement, encompassing elements of slow movement, scherzo and Finale, as in Dale’s two mature sonatas. Others have seen this likeness.
Dale is of historic importance as he wrote the first great 20th century British romantic piano sonata, undoubtedly the finest British sonata since Sterndale Bennett’s first sonata. Really there is no British precedent for it—the sonatas by Parry are still little-known, as is the Mendelssohnian JF Barnett Sonata in E minor of 1886; in recent years we have uncovered student sonatas by Edward German, Ethel Smyth and Hurlstone, but Dale did not know these, nor was he influenced by McEwen’s rather grey dour Sonata in E minor of 1901. Dale is the true pioneer in this field and all writers of successive British romantic piano sonatas, though they may not sound like him, must have been conscious of his leading example. And of course he is of historic importance in having written some of the first truly great British viola music, which still ranks very high in the viola repertoire.
Dale was not always understood by British critics. It was a German, HF Redlich, who made some of the most perceptive remarks in his entry on Dale in “Die Musik in Geschicte und Gegenwart” (1952). He says Dale seemed predestined to be an English Max Reger, and refers to the piano sonata, the Phantasy and above all, the violin sonata, as being masterly creations in an English advanced symphonic style, with virtuosic handling of harmony and cyclic form.
Did Dale fail to live up to his early promise? Only in that we wish there were more works, for what we do have is of consistently high quality throughout. It is time to take a more positive view of him. Dale is closer to the mainstream of European music than to the English pastoral school. In the final resort I would place him as a major European master at least on a par with such contemporaries as Paul Dukas and Josef Suk. All use an advanced complex late romantic language tinged with Impressionism and it is often large-scale, but still accessible. Moreover there is a resemblance as Dukas was fastidiously self-critical, destroying much, and did not write large-scale works in his last twenty years, and Suk slowed down his output as his music got longer and more complex, a style about which he had some doubts. The history of British music is constantly being rewritten as we discover more of Dale’s contemporaries, and an enlightened generation realise they wrought far better than had been realised. Now Schoenberg and his school no longer dominate the musical skyline as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, the climate has changed, a more open atmosphere prevails, and with the explosion of interest in Bowen in the last fifteen years, Dale’s time could be just around the corner.
For too long have the last 25 years of his career been written off in a sentence or two. I would go so far as to say that he who does not know and love the violin sonata and “The Flowing Tide” from the inside is not yet qualified to write about Dale. The violin sonata may be long, and not easy, requiring concentrated listening (and devoted performers—not just those who have learnt the work quickly for a slick “professional” effort), but we are happy to listen to demanding Mahler symphonies twice as long, so length should not be a problem nowadays. Of course, any classical music has to fight its corner these days in the crowded marketplace of an increasingly ugly and tortured world, but Dale’s music has a message for us, an uplifting positive one, a sane reasonable English voice; he wrote endearing and deeply rewarding music that I believe shall eventually last, for it is capable of reaching out and touching a wide audience, being the music of a wise, good and humane man. For as Dale himself said in a lecture on Beethoven he gave in Review Week, March 1939 at the RAM, “the great artist is not an eccentric, but is the normal man with his powers of imagination raised to the nth degree”. He could have been speaking of himself.
Summary catalogue of works. (The MSS are mostly at the RAM, the rest in the British Library.)
1.) Minuet and Trio in G for piano }
2.) Minuet and Trio in F for piano }
3.) Song, or Scena, “The Jabberwock” (unfinished) } earliest juvenilia
4.) Hymn tune in D }
5.) Hymn tune in E }
6.) Fugue in A minor for organ }
7.) Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in B flat-F for SATB and organ (1898)
8.) Symphony in F (1899)
9.) Pastorale in F for organ (1900)
10.) Overture, “Horatius” for orchestra (January 19th 1900)
11.) String quintet in F (August 13th 1900)
RAM compositions
12.) 2 partsongs for SA and piano: 1.) “Sail on, sail on!”; 2.) “On music” (1900)
13.) Organ sonata in D minor (December 1900)
14.) Marche Funèbre in D minor for orchestra (January 1901)
15.) Piano trio in D minor (1901) (1st movement only)
16.) Song, “The splendour falls on castle walls” for baritone and orchestra (January 10th 1902)
17.) Barcarolle and Valse for piano duet (1902)
18.) Barcarolle in E minor for small orchestra (1902)
19.) Suite for orchestra (Andante and unfinished Scherzo) (1902)
20.) Dramatic Overture, “The Tempest” for orchestra (June 4th 1902)
21.) Prelude (Fantasia) and Fugue in C minor for organ (1902)
22.) Concertstück (Fantasia) in G minor for organ and orchestra (1902)
23.) Slow movement in F and Scherzo in A minor for string quartet (1903)
24.) Nunc Dimittis in E flat for SSATBB (1903)
25.) Partsong, “Tell me ye bards” for TTBB (1903)
26.) Concert Overture in G minor for orchestra (April 8th 1904)
27.) 6 hymn tunes and one arrangement for the Methodist conference (1904, pub.1904)
28.) Hymn tune in D flat, “Gentle saviour we are bringing”
29.) Piano sonata in D minor, Opus 1 (1902-July 1905) (pub. Avison edition 1906)
30.) Dance in G sharp minor for small orchestra (unfinished) (1905)
31.) Slow movement (Romance) of a symphony
32.) Suite in D for viola and piano, Opus 2 (1906) (pub. Avison edition 1913)
Post-RAM compositions
33.) Fantasy in E flat for piano (unfinished)
34.) Carol, “In Bethlehem, that noble place”, for SATB, Opus 6/1 (pub. Novello 1906)
35.) “Night Fancies”, Impromptu for piano, Opus 3 (February 14th 1907) (pub. Ricordi 1909)
36.) Carol, “The Holy Birth”, for SATB, Opus 6/2 (pub. Novello 1908)
32.) a & b) Romance and Finale arranged for viola and orchestra (Romance November 1909, Finale revised January 1914)
37.) Phantasy in D minor-major for viola and piano, Opus 4 (May 26th 1910) (pub. Schott 1912)
38.) Introduction and Andante for 6 violas, Opus 5 (May 29th 1911, revised 1913)
39.) Carol, “The shepherds and the mother”, for SATTB, Opus 6/3 (pub. Stainer & Bell 1912)
40.) Christmas Hymn, “Before the Paling of the Stars” for chorus and orchestra, Opus 7 (October 1912) (pub. Novello 1912)
41.) Song, “Music, when soft voices die” (11th August 1914)
42.) Partsong, “My Garden”, for SATB (Opus 8/1) (19th August 1914)
43.) Canon (in the 7th below) in B flat for piano trio (unfinished) (Nürnberg)
44.) Partsong, “Crossing the Bar”, for SSAATTBB (Opus 8/2) (October 1914)
45.) Incidental music to “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” for string octet, 11 numbers, No.2 = Country Dance in E flat (May 1916)
46.) “Prunella” for violin and piano (1916-17), Opus 10/2 (pub. Augener 1923)
47.) Song, “A Ditty” (“My true love hath my heart and I have his”) (3rd February 1918)
48.) 2 songs from “Twelfth Night”, Opus 9: 1.) “O Mistress Mine”; 2.) “Come away, Death” (5th and 13th February 1918) (pub. Novello 1919)
45/2.) a, b, c) English Dance arranged for violin and piano, Opus 10/1 (January 1919, pub. Anglo-French 1919); for orchestra; for viola and piano
49.) Piano quartet in F (unfinished) (by May 1919); 49.)a.) Piano quintet (unfinished)
50.) Holiday Tune for violin and piano, Opus 10/3 (August 4th 1920) (pub. Associated Board 1922)
51.) Delius’s “Eventyr” arranged for piano duet (1921) (pub. Augener 1921)
52.) Goss’s “Praise, my Soul” arranged for chorus, organ and orchestra (1922)
53.) 6 pieces by F. Couperin arranged for violin and piano (with Kathleen Dale) (1922) (pub. Anglo-French 1922)
54.) Sonata in E for violin and piano, Opus 11 (1921-22) (pub. Augener 1923)
55.) “A Song of Praise”, Festival Anthem for chorus, semi-chorus and orchestra, Opus 12 (15th March 1923) (pub. Novello 1923)
46.)a.) “Prunella” arranged for piano (pub. Augener 1923); 46.)b.)for orchestra (pub. Augener 1924)
56.) Lullaby without words for voice and piano (unfinished) (13th February 1924)
57.) Partsong, “Music, when soft voices die”, for SSA (14th-15th February 1924)
58.) Specimen Sight-reading pieces for piano: a) 26 pieces Grade 5; b) 6 or 9 pieces Grade 6; c) 12 pieces Grade 7 (pub. Associated Board 1924)
50.)a.) Holiday Tune arranged for piano (1924) (pub. Augener 1924); 50.)b.) for small orchestra (1925) (pub. Augener 1925)
59.) Brahms’ “Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen” arranged for orchestra (23rd February 1925)
60.) 2 carols for chorus: 1.) Cradle Song for S. solo and SSAATTBB; 2.) Rosa Mystica for T. solo and SATB (1925) (pub. Novello 1925)
61.) Ballade in C minor for violin and piano, Opus 15 (13th-15th September 1926) (pub. Joseph Williams 1927)
61.)a) Ballade arranged for violin and orchestra (unfinished)
62.) 3 canons: 1.) for flute, clarinet, bassoon; 2.) for violin, viola, cello; 3.) for violin, viola and cello (August 1927)
63.) Song, “When I am dead, my dearest” (31st August ?1928)
64.) 2 songs by Purcell orchestrated (sketched 1921, completed 1930)
65.) Wolf’s “Im Frühling” orchestrated (14th August 1938)
66.) Wolf’s “Auf einer Wanderung” orchestrated (unfinished)
67.) Carol, “In the bleak mid-winter” for SATB (11th December 1938)
68.) Song, “I heard a linnet” (22nd December 1939)
69.) Debussy’s “La file aux cheveux de lin” arranged for orchestra (15th August-31st December 1940)
70.) Debussy’s “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir” arranged for orchestra (30th August 1940)
71.) Debussy’s “La cathédrale engloutie” arranged for orchestra (unfinished)
35.)a) “Night Fancies” arranged for orchestra (unfinished)
72.) Tone-poem, “The Flowing Tide” for orchestra (sketched 1924; 1938-July 1943)
Works of uncertain date.
73.) Kyrie
74.) Chant for a quiet, reflective Psalm
75.) Motet, “Cast me not away from thy presence” for SATB and organ
76.) Motet, “Glory to God in the highest” for SSATB
77.) Piece in C for string quartet (13 bars only, but complete!)
78.) Work for piano trio in G minor (2 pages only)
79.) Canon in the octave in A minor for piano trio
80.) Prelude in D flat-A for piano (unfinished)
81.) Debussy’s “L’isle joyeuse” arranged for orchestra (unfinished)
82.) Grieg’s Symphonic Dance in D arranged for orchestra
83.) Schumann’s Sketch in D flat for pedal piano arranged for small orchestra (unfinished).
© Christopher Foreman, July 2011

Parts 1 & 2






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