The Titanic has attracted a considerable number of musical pictures and other
commemorations. There is something hypnotically attractive about the mixture
of tragedy, the ultimately unequal battle between natural forces and the
heights of human endeavour represented by this giant amongst liners. The
film and the Celtic-inflected score by Jerry Goldsmith has attracted considerable
popular attention. Also notable were the 1950s film A Night To Remember (with
a score by William Alwyn). Since those innocent days when people felt no
embarrassment about calling ships Titanic, Irresistible and Indefatigable
we have become more realistically cautious about naming things.
This giant 5-movement poem may well interest those made curious by the current
media surge about the Titanic phenomenon. Magill was born in Sheffield in
1954. Britten was his musical mentor but his music does not bear any real
sign of Brittens voice. He studied with David Parkhouse (piano) and
Philip Cannon (composition) He wrote this piece, in five pictures, in 1988.
The first piece is dark and rumbling - setting off deep vibrations. It is
entitled Lamentation for the Dead and was originally inspired by a
the death of a friend killed in a boating accident in Brittany. The second
picture is The Departure which opens in swirling cascades of notes
to the accompaniment of deeper bass figures signifying the vessel and a siren.
The rumbling colossal power of the vessel is strongly evoked.
The third picture is The Voyage. This is subdivided into 10 episodes.
By this time we know that the music is suggestive rather than epic-melodic.
The voices of Ravel, Debussy, Sorabji and Szymanowski are the nearest parallels
I can come up with. The piano work is imaginative in its presentation of
textures, echoes, rumblings and moods glimpsed rather than confronted. An
exception is the Chopin-like and delicate Waltz (in picture 10) dedicated
to William Hartley and his band all of whom were drowned. The Fourth picture
is a portentous depiction of the iceberg in starry bright and ice-cold angular
figures and clusters of notes. All the time the left-hand notes suggest depth
and massive implacable scale.
There are five other related pieces on the disc. Archibald Joyces charming
salon pieces, Remembrance and Songe dAutomne are played in
Magills arrangements. Magill also arranged the touching and fragile
Irish melody The Lass of Aughrim and dedicated it to the 50 Irish
victims of the iceberg. Magills really rather fine The Titanic Waltz
returns to close the disc in affectingly grand style.
Aficionados of Titanic culture should seek out this disc. Also anyone at
all interested in contemporary piano literature would do well to track it
down. For the more general listener I can only suggest that you sample this.
Certainly if you enjoy the music of the composers I have mentioned (and perhaps
I should add Medtner as well) then you will want this disc.
and another review from David Wright
Can I deal with the preliminaries first?
As with all Athene CDs, the recording engineer Mike Bevill has again produced
superlative sound which has an amazing clarity and stunning range.
Ronan Magill was born in Sheffield in 1954 of Irish parents and was a founder
member of the Yehudi Menuhin school. His periods of study fall into two phrases
... firstly, with Fanny Waterman and Benjamin Britten and then he vastly
improved himself by studying with two excellent pianists, David Parkhouse
and John Barstow and with the composer Philip Cannon. From there he studied
with the late Yvonne Lefébure who in turn had been a pupil of Cortot.
Magill is a gifted pianist.
Gerrard Victory gave Magill his debut in Dublin in 1976 with the Paganini
Rhapsody of Rachmaninov. He has played Tchaikovsky 1 and Brahms'
2 with Arthur Davison, the Schumann with Anthony Pay and the
Rachmaninov 2 with Hilary Davan-Whetton.
Magill has written a piano concerto, other piano pieces, three string quartets
and a setting of John Donne's Hymn to God the Father. He is currently
working on a cantata to words by John Dryden. But this epic piano work is
receiving regular performances.
This renewed interest in the Titanic is best known in James Cameron's long-winded
film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslett which, apart from the
last forty minutes, I found incredibly boring. The 1953 film with Clifton
Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner and Richard Basheart was vastly superior
despite its age and lack of technology. Walter Lord's book A Night to
Remember was made into a film in 1958.
I do not wish to divert from Magill's achievement but this is unpretentious
music. It is what it says an atmospheric poem and it is very long. But, it
is a skilful evocation of various aspects of this awful tragedy. As a study
in piano effects with accurate visual imagery it is very effective. There
is a realism here from the sinister to the gaiety of the Titanic Waltz.
The frolics of two young girls in third class is true to life as is the evocation
of the cold starry night.
The composer incorporates two pieces by Archibald Joyce (1873 - 1963) which
were played on the Titanic, Remembrance and Song of Autumn.
Track 10 is the Titanic Waltz, an original piece by Magill dedicated
to Wallace Hartley and the band who carried on playing as the ship sank.
All the eight members of the band were the subject of a memorial concert
in the Albert Hall conducted by Elgar on 24 May 1912 in which he conducted
one of his own works, the Enigma Variations as you might expect from
such an arrogant man. Over 500 musicians from the London orchestras were
present and Sir Henry Wood's orchestration of Chopin's Funeral March
was also performed. It may have been forgotten that the London Symphony Orchestra
were to sail on the Titanic but their trip was brought forward and they sailed
on the Baltic in March.
Magill's work was first performed in the Purcell Room during 1990. It was,
to quote him, an experiment in sound. Recently he has made a suite of what
he considers may be the best sections - the Lamentation of the Sea Dead,
the Waltz and the Iceberg music. I am pleased to report that he is contemplating
a suite of some of the shorter extracts.