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Peter Racine Fricker

This article first appeared in Contemporary British Composers by Francis Routh (Macdonald 1972) with permission

© Francis Routh

see also Personal Thoughts and Memories by David Wright


Few composers have experienced quite such a cruel reversal of fortune as Peter Racine Fricker. Fashion, it would seem, has used him almost as her plaything, to take up or discard at whim. By 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain, Fricker’s position already seemed assured; quite remarkably so for a composer just turned thirty. Prizes, performances and commissions came his way in impressive profusion. He was the first young composer to emerge in England after the war with a mature and original technique which all could detect; during the 50’s his reputation spread and became international.

Yet within the space of ten years, his name has progressively disappeared from London concerts. In 1964 he left to take up a teaching post at Santa Barbara, California; and when in 1970, in his fiftieth year he was invited by the Redcliffe Concerts to return for a concert of his work—his first visit to England for some six years—the event passed unnoticed except by a handful of friends and former colleagues. To the majority of concertgoers his name meant little or nothing, and his music was unfamiliar. Rarely can a musician of such marked ability have experienced such indifference from his contemporaries, having first been recognised by them. Apart from several academic honours, he was made an Honorary Doctor of Music of Leeds University (1958), and he was granted the Frcedom of the City of London (1962), and the Order of Merit, West Germany (1965).

To describe is easier than to explain. Was his music shallow—rooted? Certainly it would appear that it never laid a firm hold on the public ear. Or did he perhaps pay the price of many pioneers who, having opened new paths, are then required to give place to those who follow? Certainly his name was already established before the fashionable wave of serialism reached its peak in the later 50’s. By then he could no longer qualify as a ‘young composer’; indeed, the same could be said of his contemporaries, lain Hamilton and Humphrey Searle. Musicians younger than he were already being swept into prominence on that particular flood-tide. Or again, did he suffer even unwittingly from the lack of any first generation Schoenbergian composers in this country? He had nothing to fall back on, as far as that tradition was concerned. Yet his musical thought has, among other things, a strong element of Schoenberg’s style, particularly in its complex contrapuntal character; and in becoming Matyas Seiber’s pupil he was following his true instinct. Or again, does his music, serious and well-wrought as it is, and as it was required to be by the avant-garde of the 1950’s, for that very reason contain little or no appeal to the avant-garde of the 1960’s, whose taste is more inclined to the experimental, the trivial or the aleatoric?

Born in London in 1920, he was at the Royal College of Music, where he studied counterpoint and composition under R. 0. Morris, and organ under Ernest Bullock. An interest in the organ has remained with him ever since, which is unusual among contemporary composers. This formative period was interrupted by five years’ service in the R.A.F. (1941—6), after which he returned to study privately under Matyas Seiber (1947—8). By this time his musical curiosity was increasing, his developing skill as a composer creating a psychological vacuum which needed to be filled. And Seiber supplied what was needed at this stage, with his breadth of experience, and his insistence on ‘Is this what you really mean?’ Thus, Fricker’s naturally thick, richly scored, freely atonal style became subjected to self—criticism. And the pupil in return helped his teacher in many other ways, by copying, by assisting with the Dorian Singers, the choir which Seiber formed. Fricker wrote for them occasionally. It may well be that virtue was culled from necessity in these early post-war years. Copying and arranging music can provide a very good groundwork in orchestration; you can learn excellent lessons in practical instrumentation, in a more direct way than is possible from more conventional classwork.

Although his first published work was Op. 2, Four fughettas for two pianos, it was the Wind Quintet (1947) that first brought his name to a wide public. Chance played a considerable part in this, since more important than the Clements Memorial Prize, which it won, was the fortuitous fact that the composer had attended the same school1 as Dennis Brain, the horn-player, who broadcast the work with his Ensemble. The Quintet thus gained wider acceptance than would otherwise have been the case.

i. St. Paul’s School, London.

Another most important, even decisive factor in Fricker’s musical development was his association with Morley College, which in those years was one of the most fruitful and active centres of musical activity. He met Tippett, who was then its Director of Music. He sang in the choir under Tippett, and occasionally acted as rehearsal pianist for him. He eventually took over as Director from Tippett in 1953. He wrote various pieces for Morley College, such as The Comedy Overture (1958) and choral works, and through Morley College he came into contact with a number of eminent and important musicians—notably the conductor Walter Goehr, the violinist Maria Lidka, and the Amadeus Quartet. The latter played his First String Quartet, Op. 8 (1947), after its first performance at a C.P.N.M. (Committee for the Promotion of New Music) concert in September 1949, and this work also helped to draw much attention to the composer. In one movement, dedicated to Seiber, it was selected for the Brussels I.S.C.M. Festival in 1950. So it was that, at this time, Fricker appeared as the most promising of young avant-garde composers. This impression was further strengthened when his First Symphony, Op. 9 (1948—9), was awarded a Koussevitzky Prize. The result of this award was a performance at the official new music forum, the Cheltenham Festival, in 1950, and this was later followed by performances abroad by Schmidt-Isserstedt, Scherchen and various other conductors. Though the first movement is very densely. contrapuntal, and includes a 7-part fugal section in its development (a legacy from R. 0. Morris), the slow second movement and finale are undeniably effective. With characteristic seriousness of intent and spaciousness of line, Fricker has found his idiom to be suited to symphonic expression, and he has since exploited this fact to the full. He is not among those composers who doubt the validity, and the continued validity, of the symphony orchestra. Not only does his music derive colour from the instruments themselves, but he enjoys working with orchestral musicians. He has frequently conducted his own works. Of his orchestral compositions, the one that has since found the securest place in the concert repertory, and that has been played the most, is the Dance Scene, Op. 22. This piece was conceived like a pas de deux from an imaginary ballet, and its three sections all use dance rhythm, though no specific dance form.

His music has a toughness which is continental-based, Schoenberg-influenced; a seriousness which recalls Hindemith; yet he belongs to no school. He feels the necessity for melodic lines, and recognizable thematic patterns, though for him the rhythmic impulse matters just as much as the notes. Later he was to evolve not so much a note-row as a pitch-row, particularly in piano pieces.

Two violin works followed the symphony; the First Violin Concerto, Op.11 , and the highly concentrated Violin Sonata, Op. 12, both written for Maria Lidka. The concerto was awarded an Arts Council Festival of Britain prize in 1951. Again, the composer is quite content to express his ideas, however severe and astringent, within the established three-movement concerto structure. The work started as a double concerto for violin and harp, and indeed the harp still plays a prominent part in the orchestral score.

From this point onwards, Fricker’s work was largely decided by commissions. He wrote what was asked for. First came a commission from the City of Liverpool, also in connection with the Festival of Britain, for the Second Symphony, Op. 14. This was first played on 26th July 1951, under Hugo Rignold, who has always been the champion of many a British composer.1 The symphony is unconventional in so far as each of its three movements is a different sort of rondo. It is heavily scored, which benefits the sweeping, driving finale, and while not so contrapuntal as the first symphony, it makes plentiful use of canon; for example, at the opening of the slow movement. The texture is thick, luxuriant, and the impetus of the music is derived solely from the composer’s treatment and variation of his themes, and the development of their inherent potential. If it is severely intellectual, based on intervals, it is also polished, refined and warm, full of contrast. He relies on nothing outside the scope of the standard orchestra.

The Second String Quartet, Op. 20, like the first, was written for the Amadeus Quartet, and like the sonata it begins and ends with a slow movement. The Allegro which forms the first movement is unusual in that an independent subject appears as a fugue in the development section, and combines later with the material of the exposition. The second movement is a scherzo, direct in its effect and unproblematical, while the climax of the third movement is derived from the material of the first. Unusually for Fricker, the work is based on two keys, E flat minor, and F sharp.

Concertos and concertante works followed. The Concertante No. 2 for three pianos, strings and timpani, a short work, whose four movements follow without a break, was intended as a balance for the three-piano concerto of Bach, and was introduced at a festival at Hovingham in Yorkshire, also in 1951. The composer conducted, as he has in the case of several others of his works; for instance, he conducted his Litany for double string orchestra, Op. 26, at a Promenade Concert in 1955, and his Tenor Cantata, Op. 37, at an Aldeburgh concert in 1962;there are several other occasions.

In the eight seasons (1960-1968) when he directed the Birmingham Orchestra, Rignold made a point of including many British works, of different generations. His premieres included works by Hoddinott, Simpson, Maconchy, Whettam, Wellesz, Fricker, Musgrave, and Crosse.

The Viola Concerto was written for William Primrose, who first played it at the 1953 Edinburgh Festival; the Second Violin Concerto (Rapsodia Concertate), which was written for Henryk Szeryng, was first heard at a concert in Rome in 1954. This is richer and more elaborate than the first, and also differs in form. Its first movement is a five-section rondo, its second is a cadenza for the soloist alone, while the finale is a dance, of furious energy, which uses a huge percussion section. The rhythmic element is also particularly prominent in the two concerted works for piano and orchestra. The Piano Concerto, Op. 19, written for Harriet Cohen, was first heard in March 1954. Octaves are plentifully used in the outer movements, while the highly pianistic chromaticism of the central movement, an Air and Variations, is built largely in accordance with what fits the hands. Later, the short Toccata for piano and orchestra, Op. 33, was commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for a piano competition in May 1959, and the composer therefore calls for a display technique. Particularly characteristic of his piano style, as well as of his contrapuntal method of working-out, is the central Adagio section.

By the time of the Third Symphony, op. 36, which was commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and first heard under John Pritchard in 1960, Fricker’s personal characteristics begin to mature and evolve. His style consists primarily of an extreme richness, subtlety and profusion of thematic material, and a contrapuntal chromaticism. In this symphony, however, the composer first uses a process of transformation, whereby the theme-pattern is used not merely as a row of notes, but also as a chord, and a harmonic shape, or pitch-pattern, round which the contrapuntal texture is worked. Intervals are used as links in the structure of the material. Meanwhile the symphony is in other respects more conventional and comparable with the First Symphony; its four movements and its orchestration are classical. Apart from the timpani, no percussion appears—a distinct reaction against the trends of the current avant-garde in 1960. Each movement is expressive of a single mood; but a mood that is abstract, not personally felt.

This process of transformation of the material is continued in the Fourth Symphony, Op. 43, as well as in other works since 1960. Like the Second Symphony, it offers a different solution to the symphonic problem. The symphony was commissioned by the Feeney Trust, and played by the Birmingham Orchestra under Hugo Rignold in 1967. It may be less intellectually demanding than its predecessor; its expressive content, however, is more original, more concentrated. This, no doubt, is partly due to its being written in memory of Matyas Seiber, who had died in 1960. Fricker makes partial use of the note-row of his teacher’s Third String Quintet, as well as the chord structure of Permutazioni a Cinque for wind quartet, from which he also derived the idea of the pitch-patterns of his soprano songs 0 Long D6sirs, Op. 39. This chord is constructed by progressively increasing the intervals between the notes by one semitone, starting with the fourth at the top: 

 

An example of Fricker’s use of this principle can be seen in the third and fifth sections of the symphony:

 

The 3-note groups follow one another at intervals which increase by a semitone each time. The symphony is in one movement, lasting thirty-five minutes, and its continuous line falls into ten contrasting sections round a central Adagio elegiaco. This structure had been already used in the finale of the Third Symphony, as well as the Viola Concerto (1953). These sections alternate fast and slow, and use short cadenzas for solo instruments. Each section expresses one mood, and the material, which is constantly transformed, is taken partly from the interval pattern announced as an introduction at the opening of the symphony,


(Unis..Str..W.W.,Brass)        

partly from other thematic ideas in the first few sections. Nowhere is Fricker’s use of intervals more clearly shown than in the symphony. Each section presents a different view of the material; the whole work thus has both an internal consistency and an overall unity, which are as original as they are compelling. The central Adagio is the longest section beginning and ending with a solo oboe, and developing an intensity of considerable force in two climax—points. The final section is also Adagio, and the symphony finishes very quietly. It is understandable that Fricker should himself consider this work to be the most satisfactory, from all points of view.

Formal Structure Orchestration
First Symphony (1949) 4 movements:
1 Sonata form
2 Slow
3 Scherzo (minuet style)
4 modified sonata form
Orchestra includes piano and harp.
Second Symphony (1951) 3 movements, avoiding sonata form. All the movements are a different sort of rondo. Fourth trumpet, otherwise normal
Third Symphony
(1960)
4 movements:
1Sonata form
2 Slow
3 Scherzo (presto, with a Trio in canon)
4 Sectional, beginning and ending maestoso, with a central Adagio
Classical orchestra, with bass clarinet.
Timpani has a solo part.
Fourth Symphony

(1966)

1 movement

10sections, round a central Adagio (form derived from finale of Third Symphony)

Normal, with possibly extra strings for solo and divisi parts. Timpani has a solo part.

Fricker’s Fourth Symphony was finished in California in 1966, two years after his move to America. He had always been an extensive traveller—more so, indeed, than most British composers. During the war he spent three years in India, and after the war, in the 5o’s, he was a frequent visitor to many countries in Europe. He saw himself as a member of the European musical community. His viewpoint, as well as his style, was thus the reverse of insular. For example, already in 1935 he was acquainted with Berg’s Wozzeck, as well as works by Krenek, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and others. Moreover, he found the lot of a composer in London far from satisfactory; his work there consisted of a multiplicity of various engagements, which he found unnecessarily time-consuming, apart from leading to an underlying lack of security. He taught at the Royal College of Music from 1955; since 1953 he had directed the music at Morley College; he examined, lectured, conducted, occasionally broadcast. He wrote a number of commercial film scores, and incidental music for radio performances, mainly in the later 50’s; also two radio operas. But generally speaking, as far as his acceptance as a composer was concerned, he found that considerable indifference which faced all composers; performances were largely a matter of luck. And so it is not surprising that when he received an offer from the University of California to become a member of the music staff at Santa Barbara, originally for a year, he should be predisposed in its favour. It meant one job in one place; he would be employed specifically as a composer and teacher, and time-consuming activities peripheral to that would thus become unnecessary; he would have plenty of time for the sustained, thoughtful pursuance of his work. Moreover, the Music Faculty contained several excellent performers who would be his working colleagues— which is an almost irresistible bait to any composer.

So in 1964 he moved to America—though he retains a British passport. Starting with the completion of the Fourth Symphony, the works of his American period mark a fresh phase. They include several major commissions: the Three Scenes, Op. 45, which was written for the California Youth Symphony; the Magnificat, Op.50, for soprano, alto and tenor soli and orchestra; and the Concertante No. 4, Op. 52, for flute, oboe, violin and strings, which he conducted himself at Santa Cruz University.

But in addition to these larger works, and as a result of the circumstances prevailing at Santa Barbara, he has also written for solo instrumentalist or duo teams; the Viola Fantasy, Op. 44, for Peter Mark; the Piano Episodes, Op.51 and 58, for Landon Young; also the short motet for male voices and piano, Ave Mans Stella, Op. 48, and the songs for soprano and harp, The Day and the Spirits, Op. 46.

These solo works mark a fresh departure for Fricker. Their thinner texture allows the rich, condensed quality of his characteristic musical thoughts to be more fully expressive than is the case in works involving more instruments. Thickness of contrapuntal writing is subject to its own law of diminishing returns, as far as the directness of expressive quality is concerned. For instance, it is by no means necessarily true to say that a passage which develops a thematic pattern in eight parts is, therefore, eight times as effective as a passage which simply states the theme in a single voice. Rather the reverse: too much density of musical undergrowth may well choke the flower, and prevent it from blossoming naturally, to its fullest extent.

So the solo works of Fricker’s American period mark a highly expressive and fruitful phase of development. The orchestral works of this time, starting with the Fourth Symphony, also use a thinner texture, and profit as a result. Certain technical innovations are introduced as well. For instance, in the Three Arguments for bassoon and cello, Op. 59, a new method of notation is used; one part steady and even, the other variable. The Episodes for solo piano also introduce a fresh approach to the use of a pitch—row, and follow on from the earlier Twelve Studies, Op. 38—in particular the second study, which uses the intervals of the minor second and fourth. But this remarkable work, more complete than earlier piano pieces, is much more than its title might imply; and though the twelve sections may be analysed technically in terms of canon, inversion, and other contrapuntal tricks of the trade, the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. What is effectively playable on the piano is for Fricker largely determined by the shape of the human hand and by the disposition of the keys, and these two factors always remain constant. Even Stockhausen and the avant—garde cannot escape this reality. Fricker’s Twelve Studies is a rich workshop of pianistic ideas; it contains, in summary form, his method of developing thematic patterns and varied rhythms from progression of intervals; it is bound together by a virtuosity which is entirely original, yet which by no means excludes the traditional techniques associated with the romantic period of piano music; it shows an awareness of piano colour and sonority which few British composers can equal; it was a work containing formative factors on which the composer drew in later works.

After the Twelve Studies, the next piano pieces were sets of Episodes, written for his colleague at Santa Barbara, Landon Young. Episodes I dates from 1967/8, Episodes II from 1969. Each makes use of a mosaic form, and is built up from a number of short sections. The first piece, generally delicate in texture, fragments four main sections, and arranges the piece round a central scherzo. The second, more aggressive and dramatic, is constructed from pieces of five sections, and the central sixth one is a recitative.

In addition to the piano works, Fricker’s keyboard writing includes several important pieces for the organ. In spite of the closed, narrow view of the organ prevailing in this country, he has always felt an affinity with the instrument; partly as he studied it while a student, partly because the contrapuntal nature of the organ is so much in keeping with his own style. Also, the possibilities of tonal contrasts, echo effects and so on, are much to his liking. An early sonata remains unpublished, but in several short pieces he achieves a marked individuality, notably in the Pastorale. Two works written for diametrically opposed instruments, yet both equally effective, are the Ricercare, Op. 40, and the Toccata, Gladius Domini, Op. ~ The Ricercare was first played on the restored Schnitger organ in St. Micha~lskerk, Zwolle, in Holland—one of the istorical treasures of Europe, which Fricker once spent a day in discover— for himself. The bright and glittering tone—quality of the full ensemble, and the highly characteristic solo stops, appealed to him most strongly. But the stop—knobs are so inconveniently placed at the side of the player that, without an assistant, alterations of registration in the course of a movement are almost impossible. Therefore, the stops required in the different divisions of the organ have to be set at the beginning of a piece, and then left unaltered. This principle of terraced dynamics was used by Fricker in his Ricercare. The Toccata, however, was written for Alec Wyton, the organist of St. John’s Cathedral, New York, whose enormous instrument, with electric, not mechanical, action, boasts a State Trumpet stop’, which is duly allowed for by the composer in his brilliant, predominantly chordal, Toccata.

His most recent organ piece, finished on Christmas Day, 1969, is the Praeludium, Op. 6o, which was commissioned by the Anglo-Austrian Music Society, and written for the Viennese organist, Anton Heiller. This virtuoso work, which somewhat belies its title, is as consummate a piece of organ craftsmanship as the Twelve Studies was in the case of his piano output. The tonal centre is D, and the structure is that of a continuous suite, whose contrasted sections are evocative of a particular musical mood, derived from the opening motif or aspect of organ sonority. The motif is an irregular sequence of rising fourths, with implied triadic chord formations. This leads to a chordal section, ff maestoso. A quick, barless passage manualiter, Allegro flessibile, largely with just a single line of notes, leads again to the more measured pulse of the maestoso chords; these are then followed by the slow movement, in trio style, with highly expressive antiphonal recitative—like phrases between manuals and pedals. Fricker’s use of the material in this section leads to fewer tonal acerbities than in the earlier part.

The scherzo, which follows without a break, is very quiet, though light and quick, and uses an added rhythm technique with a 1/16 note (semiquaver) metre. Chords, built largely from the fourths of the opening, alternate with staccato, fanfare-like arpeggios. A reprise of the opening (mf) in varied form, gradually builds up again to the maestoso chords, ff, which this time are given their head, and the work finishes with full organ, over a D pedal.

His choral output so far centres round two main works; the oratorio, The Vision of Judgement, Op. 29, and the Magn~/lcat, Op. 50. The first of these was commissioned by the Leeds Centenary Festival, 1958, which may be said to be one of the two remaining bastions of the old oratorio tradition—the other being the Three Choirs Festival. Since Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (1931) added a fresh dimension to this tradition, namely a dimension of dramatic movement and physical energy, it could hardly continue as before, though there have been many attempts, and several commissions, designed to prolong its life. None has been, or could be, wholly successful, and Fricker’s work is no exception. Evolution cannot be halted; the contemporary choral tradition has moved away from the old large—scale oratorio.

That Fricker is himself aware of these developments in the choral tradition, as well as the need for a structural unity, whether of mood or action, is shown in his own writing about The Vision of Judgement.’ His own words are:

I was conscious of the need for a satisfactory overall musical form as well as a logical poetic one. The final shape is of two main movements (or acts, if the work is considered dramatically), divided by an interlude, an unaccompanied chorus.

I have tried to give the work an overall unity by dividing it into scenes and set-pieces in somewhat the same way that Berg did in Wozzeck. These scenes are separated from each other either by the piled-up-fifths motive of the beginning, expressive of despair and anguish, or by the Latin interpolations. In only one case are two scenes run together; these are the second and third of the second part, the duet and the final chorus. In addition to sharing thematic material they also share a common tempo. The quaver remains at a constant speed, so that 3/8 (allegro), 3/4 (moderato) and 3/2 (maestoso) are, so to speak, geared together. Most of the 3/4 sections feature a saraband—like rhythm which is intentionally used as a unifying factor.

Fricker was asked for a piece on a big scale, and his oratorio, like Walton’s, includes organ and full brass. After working with a choir at Morley College, he knew the capabilities, and the limitations, of choral singers. The text that he chose, which was adapted from ‘Christ’ by the eighth century Anglo-Saxon, Cynewulf, was one he had known since schooldays. He interspersed the sections of the poem—powerful, dramatic and challenging—with sections of the traditional Latin Requiem, a device that was used by Britten in his War Requiem four years later. Throughout the oratorio Fricker uses the orchestra independently of the singers, not merely as accompaniment, and the idiom is tonally simpler than in his instrumental and symphonic works. The other major choral work, the Magnificat, Op. 50, dates from his period in America. It was commissioned for the centenary of the University of California, and written in 1968.

Any overall assessment of Fricker’s style—if indeed this is possible in the case of a fifty-year-old composer whose creative output is still in full spate—must begin by eliminating those factors which it does not possess. In spite of his Continental orientation, his style is not neo—Bartok, neo-Schoenberg, or neo-Hindemith. Through his connection with Matyas Seiber, it was immediately assumed at one time that he was heavily indebted to Bartok. This is not the case. Seiber did not attempt to force his pupils into the acceptance of any one particular style, or of any single composer; he preferred to discover what each individual pupil appeared to need most in order to develop his own style. Indeed, the strength of Fricker’s style, as shown in such works as the Twelve Studies or the Fourth Symphony, is precisely the personal use of highly chromatic material. He cannot be attached to any school. He is not, for instance, a serialist, though a serial process is involved in certain of his later works, such as the Episodes for piano.

Nor does he follow trends or fashions, which exert such a force over many British composers. He has seen several such movements come and go since 1945, but he has remained remarkably consistent in the pursuit of his own idiom and style. Up to about 1950 ~t was the fashion among those composers whose business it was to be ‘contemporary’, to write athematic music. This trend soon died out, to be replaced by another. But Fricker has never followed this path, nor swerved from his purpose. Fashions are not, for him, a sufficient basis for a composer’s style. After his 1970 London concert it was suggested [In The Guardian. 24th April  1970] that his music had no wide appeal because he was writing for the contemporary music audience of twenty years previously, not for that of the present moment. While it is true that he in no way subscribes to the trend of the 1970 avant-garde, which is either towards electronic music, or towards aleatoricism, or both, nevertheless it is equally true that neither did he subscribe to the trend of the 1950 avant-garde, which was towards athematicism and dodecaphony. His music cannot be so easily categorized, nor so summarily dismissed.

Also to be excluded from his creative thinking are all direct uses of folk—song, and jazz. Unlike his teacher, he has found no use for jazz, though a jazz-derived syncopation is for him a perfectly legitimate rhythmic device. On the other hand, in spite of the intellectually concentrated nature of his musical thought, this does not rule out the existence of certain extra-musical ideas. His music may be assessed not only by the mechanics of its construction, but by its depiction of mood; a certain distilled resignation, controlled anger even, occurs several times. Fricker seeks a direct effect in this way. For instance, the First String Quartet resulted from sketches he made after seeing an exhibition in Battersea Park of the work of Henry Moore. His music is partly programme music.

 But the central feature of his style, which chiefly decides the nature and the overall effect of the finished work, is the process of construction of the thematic patterns, and (later) the transformation of those patterns. Themes, for him, are not purely abstract invention, like note-rows. He is preoccupied with intervals, and the relationship of intervals. Thematic patterns can be derived from intervals, and the line of the melody can then be condensed into a set of chords. His treatment of chromaticism varies. It may be without a key—centre, such as he uses in the piano Episodes; it may be held to a key-centre by a background pedal note, such as the repeated A at the opening of the Third Symphony, or the D at the beginning and end of the Praeludium for organ. But Fricker’s style is pure music, he has recourse to nothing outside the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. He has worked consistently towards an idea of an organised, logical tonal procedure in his composition technique, and this logic is for him partly aural, partly structural. If a note belongs in a pitch—row, its position is logical, and its aural effect is therefore correct. In this way the composer can explain to himself why a chord is satisfying or not. Moreover, pitch—rows can have a certain symmetry, as well as logic, in the way they progress. Tonality is the end-product of this progression, not so much the starting point of the composition.

© Francis Routh


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