Music in the Landscape - How the British Countryside inspired our greatest composers
By Em Marshall
With a Foreword by Jeremy Irons and an introduction by Jonathan Dimbleby
Hardback. 296 pages; illustrated, many colour photographs.
This delightful book, which I should say is not a new release, is most welcome. Its many full colour photographs, aided by succinct texts, reveal the beauty of so many English landscapes (and some seascapes) and associated myths and legends that inspired so many cherished and well-loved works of English music. Composers covered comprise celebrated and well-known one as well as many who are now neglected and/or forgotten. They are: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Delius (comparatively briefly because, in his own admission he was cosmopolitan rather than English), Holst, Walton (briefly), Bax, Bantock, Bliss, Rutland Boughton, Bliss, Frank Bridge, Finzi, Ivor Gurney, Harty, Holbrooke, Howells, John Ireland, Moeran, Parry and Sullivan, plus the Irish Stanford and the Scottish composers Mackenzie, Wallace, MacCunn and McEwen.
Later 20th century English composers are also included. One such is Edward German (but not Eric Coates, a sad omission considering that he was regarded as the ‘King of Light Music’ and that he wrote much pastoral music besides his more famous tributes to London – there is a blue plaque on the beach at Selsey in southern England, celebrating the fact that the view from there across to Bognor Regis inspired one of his most famous compositions, By the Sleepy Lagoon. Others include Brian, Somervell, Balfour Gardiner, Dyson, Alwyn, Butterworth, Armstrong Gibbs, Hadley, Rubbra, Rawsthorne and Warlock.
The author, Em Marshall (now Marshall-Luck), is the Founder-Director of The English Music Festival and Director of the CD label EM Records, and also Chairman of both the Ralph Vaughan Williams and the Granville Bantock Societies. She is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radios 3 and 4 and Classic FM, as well as a contributor to this site.
This review would stretch out too far if I commented in detail on so much content so I will restrict my remarks to two composers on whom I have concentrated my own work: John Ireland and Arnold Bax.
Ireland’s love of the Channel Islands and its extraordinary colourful myths is vividly evoked and so too is Ireland’s love of the English countryside, particularly West Sussex and his eventful home Rock Mill, the delightful windmill situated in the shadow of Chanctonbury Ring – how devastated John Ireland would have felt if he had witnessed the after effects of the late 1980s storm that destroyed this natural wonder! I remember his house keeper, Norah Kirby, telling me how he loved to browse through the antique shops in the nearby pretty little country town of Steyning. His love of cats has also been well documented – he knew every cat that lived many miles around. But it is the music that the landscape inspired him that is so memorable – Amberley Wild Brooks, the Piano Concerto (with its associations with Chanctonbury Ring for example and Legend for Piano and Orchestra that is associated with that wild ‘empty’ countryside between the road running from Storrington to Amberley, and the main road to the south that links Arundel and Worthing – and so much more.
Sir Arnold Bax’s associations with Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland are graphically covered too; in terms of land and seascapes – and myths and legends. I would add that Bax’s memories of hearing magical music (‘fairy bells’) experienced at Breaghy was immortalised in the extraordinary, almost mystical music of the Epilogue of his Third Symphony.
The book has tributes from Jeremy Irons and Jonathan Dimbleby. It deserves to enjoy a wide success for it is a very valuable addition to our fuller appreciation and understanding of British music.