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The Hills

Chorus & Orchestra

By Patrick Hadley

A Study of the Music by John France

 

The Hills is definitely one of Patrick Hadley's two masterpieces; the other being the Symphonic 'The Trees So High.' In many ways 'The Hills' is a difficult piece to formally define. On the one hand it could be seen as a cantata or even an oratorio. Yet again it would be possible to view it as a tone poem. However, perhaps the best description would be a ‘choral symphony.’ The construction of the work lends itself to unity and completeness of design. There are effectively four movements - the first having a slow introduction. It is with considerable accuracy that this work has been compared to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony -certainly on a general scale if not in detail.

However, our musings on the 'form' of this piece are actually brought to a halt by the inscription on the published score that states - 'The Hills - A Cantata for Soprano, Tenor & Bass Soli, Chorus and Orchestra.' So perhaps the question was settled in Hadley's mind, if not for his subsequent listeners.

There were two other topographical works of some importance in Patrick Hadley's catalogue - Fen & Flood and Connemara. The first was descriptive of Norfolk and the second described the Irish scene. However it is with The Hills that Hadley excelled at describing both the actual landscape and the numinous quality evoked by that landscape.

His two previous works had been The Travellers, a cantata for soprano, chorus and orchestra composed in 1942 and the delightful tone poem 'One Morning in Spring' - a sketch for orchestra also composed in that year.

Derbyshire had already inspired a work by the composer. There exists an unpublished sketch for orchestra entitled Kinder Scout. It is perhaps one of the desideratum of Hadley enthusiasts to hear this piece, with whatever faults it may have. It was written when the composer was 24 years old. This work was given its first performance on 14th September 1922 in Buxton when it was played by the Buxton Spa orchestra conducted by George Cathie.

In order to understand the genesis of The Hills, it is necessary to consider a number of factors in the composer's background and family history. It is instructive to look at Patrick Hadley's connection with the Peak District.

Patrick's father Sheldon lost his father in 1881 and shortly afterwards his mother remarried. Her new husband was a wealthy builder who had sufficient funds to rent Shallcross Hall that was a minor stately home near to Buxton. It was natural that Sheldon was a regular visitor to the Hall.

Edith Jane Foster was the daughter of the Reverend Robert Foster, Chaplain to the Royal Hibernian School in Dublin. She had been born in Kilmore, to the north of Athlone. However, like many middle class children of those days she was educated at a boarding school. In her case, it was The Lawns at West Kirby. She was apparently a bit of a thespian and soon took part in acting and singing activities at her school. She is known to have played both Puck and Portia in performances of Shakespeare. At this time Sheldon Hadley's youngest sister also attended The Lawns, and she soon became friendly with Edith. It was almost inevitable that she was invited to Shallcross during the holidays. During these stays she took part in the varied musical activities that were a feature of that house. She met Sheldon and the rest is history. They were married in Dublin.

Paddy, himself was born at Cambridge in 1899. His father was at that time a fellow of Pembroke College. His parents were living at Heacham, which was to be his lifelong home. However, Paddy holidayed on a regular basis in Derbyshire - both before and after the First World War. The Peaks were to become a great stamping ground of his. Even after he had sustained his leg wound in the war, he was able to walk for miles on the moors with as much vigour as a man was with no disability. Hadley is quoted in Wetherell (1997 p.63) that "They were the first real hills I ever saw except for the South Downs in Sussex once as a child, and then at prep. School."

However it is not the landscape that inspired Hadley to compose this particular work. It was something much deeper and more personal. It is really autobiographical in a sense - dealing with his family and his background. Nowadays we would say that he was trying to find himself, recovering his roots. Many of the well-remembered places of his boyhood were to feature in this composition. The initial impetus to write this works seems to have come on the death of his mother in 1940. In a letter to Christopher Palmer (Sleeve Notes EMI 5.67118 2 Hadley) he wrote

'I lost my mother in 1940 and that set my mind to the Derbyshire hills, where she met my father in his old home on the hill above Whalley Bridge…they became engaged in Taxal Woods and were married soon after in Dublin. Then I vividly remembered that old Buxton-Manchester coach road, now just a track, and the moment when the magical panorama opens across the Chapel Valley with Kinder Scout towering up in the far distance (you need a clear day). The place names in the first movement are all to be found on the map of Derbyshire 'peak' (misnamed, there's no peak) roughly between Kinder Scout and Featherbed Moss.'

Of course at this time the war was developing into an extremely dangerous phase and there was a constant threat of invasion. So perhaps this led the composer to dwell, maybe a little morbidly on the transience of life. There is an almost pantheist quality to both the text of The Hills and to the atmospherics created by the score. It is a meditation of the unseen influences on human life. Not only those generated by mankind but those deriving from the very stones and soil of the earth itself. It would be easy to reflect in a time when the evil in men's hearts was filling the world that perhaps there was an innate goodness in those parts of creation that seemed to be inanimate. In this work the hills pass a commentary on the rites of passage of human life -especially marriage and death. Patrick Hadley was a nature mystic - in the same way perhaps as Frederick Delius and Vaughan Williams were. In fact there are a number of allusions to the music of Delius in Hadley's score. It is not difficult to see echoes of the Mass of Life; it is no coincidence that he was working on the scores of A Walk to the Paradise Garden and the Song of the High Hills for the Cambridge University Music society at that time. Although there is no overt Christian text or subtext to this work, it is prefaced by the great and evocative line from Psalm 121 - I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills…" If he had finished the quotation - 'from whence cometh my help' it may have assisted us in a greater understanding of the cathartic nature of this composition.

The Hills is composed in five contrasting movements or section: A prologue is followed by a paean of praise to the hills in spring. There is a short slow movement or interlude entitled In Taxal Woods. Then follows what is possibly some of the most exciting music that Hadley composed - the Wedding - this can be seen as the Scherzo. And finally there is an Epilogue - the piece coming to a quiet and optimistic conclusion.

There is prefaced to the vocal score a fairly long synopsis. In many ways the piece can be enjoyed without this prop. According to a hand written comment by Patrick Hadley on a copy of the vocal score I perused, he found it hard to set down his thoughts. He wrote, "What filthy prose I had written! There's nothing so difficult as a synopsis, Don't you think?" The comment was addressed to Ralph Vaughan Williams. I have appended the synopsis (in italics) to this article as I briefly look at each movement.

Furthermore there is the problem of the text of the piece. Obviously there is a libretto to the work. Yet Hadley specifically insisted that it should never be written down. I respect this wish in my article and decline to give the text no matter how interesting it may be. However, I feel free to make a few minor quotes for illustrative purposes.

The work is scored for the following forces:- 2fl(+2 picc) 2ob(+ca) 2cl(+bcl) cbn(opt) 8hn (4opt) 2 tpt 3tbn tuba, 4 perc, hp, str. It was published by Oxford University Press after having been accepted for publication by Norman Peterkin in September 1944. The vocal score was published in 1946 and was priced 6/6d. The holograph was dated Heacham 9th April 1944.

 

Programme

Prologue: Along the Old Manchester Coach Road.

The prodigal son returns to find his father no more and his mother near to death. Then stung with remorse and in the hope of learning something of the early life of his parents, he sets off for those distant hills which he knows saw their first meeting, watched their friendship grow and finally witnessed their marriage.

When the music begins the day is waning and the prodigal son is tramping along an ancient track in the final stage of his journey. At last he reaches the place with the view across the valley beyond which the hills suddenly loom up. He sits down to rest and sings quietly to those hills. After praising them for their stern and rugged beauty he entreats them to sing of those two souls who long years back met within their view and roamed amid their heights. 'Sing me their tale, that tale of long ago, while I rest here and darkness falls, you grim and glorious hills' is his closing phrase. He then falls asleep.

The orchestra continues as the chorus, at first almost imperceptibly, joins in. The music leads without a break into 1.

The prologue opens with a slow marching accompaniment. The bass enters after two bars reflecting on his journey, his weariness and the need to get to shelter before the light fades. It is a little bit of recitative really. This is all written in dark hues – almost sullen. But then, accompanied by a key change there is a mood swing on the part of the traveller - there is some warmth as he begins to comment on the landscape. There are some lovely orchestral touches - for harp and a cor anglais passage that hints at the curlew's song. He looks about him and sees revealed to him some of the attractive Derbyshire countryside - the heather, the limestone, the cry of the curlew and the white farmstead. The first crux of the work is reached when, suddenly, as if turning a corner and seeing a vision before him he sees the Hills. They are standing revealed to him in solemn grandeur. There is a fine flute and piccolo cadenza here. In spite of the failing light he feels an urge to address the hills. There is an almost Finzian quality about this passage - one is reminded of the walking bass that was so dear to that composer. The traveller addresses the hills; it is almost operatic in some respects. He asks the hills to tell him the story of the past - of his late father and dying mother. He decides to rest where he is and let the darkness fall about him. He is about to fall asleep and dream of things past. The prologue ends with a delicious passage for wordless chorus. It is used in a manner that Vaughan Williams was later to exploit so well in the Oxford Elegy. Perhaps it was Delius who inspired this passage. There is no real break before the next movement of section begins.

The Hills in spring

The hills have now sprung into life. After some preliminary phrases about themselves they reassure the prodigal son. They well remember that tale of long ago, which they soon begin to unfold. But first they set the scene: spring in the air, breezy and crisp, galloping clouds and fitful sunlight, smell of the peat, squelch of the moss, rollicking waterfalls spraying the fellside, whistling crags, billowing heather, croaking of the grouse, screaming curlew; the Hills, spring on the hills! We heave, we surge, we shout and bellow for joy!

The opening pages of this movement are reminiscent of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony. Of course the harmonic language is slightly more modern and the references are to the hills and not 'ships sailing the seas.' But the effect is similar - a great shout of affirmation. In Hadley's libretto it is the hills that are talking about themselves and not an observer- "We are the Hills…"

This is a great cry of praise that lasts but a few bars of intense singing; there are dissonances here that add considerably to the drama. These opening bars must be amongst some of the most dramatic things that Hadley wrote. Eventually the pace and the tempo changes for the self-description of the nature of the landscape. The opening phrases return before the chorus begins a description of the geographical extent of the hills.

Another verse follows consisting of topographical names. ' From Chinley Churn and Rushup Ridge to Crowden Head and Kinder Low, thro' Cluther Rocks, oe'r Ed'le Moor, round Crookston Knoll to Fairbrook Naze and the edge. The down the dip o'er Ashop Clough and up again to Featherbed Top, then Gridlesgrain Tor, through Barrow Stone, so last of all Bleaklow Hill in the north.'

There is another short burst of self-acclamation, but then a subtle change takes hold of the music. The hills seem to be talking to the observers - in this case the symbols for Patrick Hadley's mother and father. They encourage the lovers to come up onto the 'tops.' At this point the tenor and soprano enter with a Delian 'Hy-ah.' They accept the hills’ invitation.

And so the story begins to unfold just as though it were happening once more. The hills call down to the folk below urging them to climb and enjoy this magical spring day upon their heights. The summons is answered from the vale below by two voices that represent the parents of the prodigal son in their youth, 'We hear your call to us, so now together we climb aloft, arise!' The remainder of the movement portrays the ascent of the lovers and their arrival upon the summit, when soli and chorus combine in a final burst of joy.

There is a great surging accompaniment from the orchestra as the two soloists get into their stride. This is pure Delius. This is not in a cribbing sense - there is no way that Hadley can be accused of lifting lumps of any of the older master's works. It is just that he seems to have absorbed all that is essential from such works as the Mass of Life and even Appalachia. There is a Nietzschian feel to the striving for the summit of the hills. Much of the soloists' parts are in unison. Suddenly the chorus crashes in with 'Hyah Taho'. There is a wonderful 'scotch snap' that is so reminiscent of Appalachia on the word 'ever' when they sing 'Come praise the hills for ever.'

Without warning the mood changes again - there is a 'presto' orchestral interlude in the key of B major. But this last only a few moments before a wonderful brass slide up a chromatic scale heralds the last three ‘Hy-ahs’ from the chorus. This time they are joined in this vocalisation by the two soloists.

Interlude - In Taxal Woods To the sounds of nature the pair vow eternal love.

The slow movement of this ‘choral symphony’ is perhaps one of the loveliest things that Patrick Hadley wrote. It has been likened to one of Benjamin Britten's 'Nocturnes.' There is certainly some justification with this comparison. Yet when I first heard this piece I was struck how the opening orchestral passage reminded me of the music of Aaron Copland. The Andante Tranquillo is a tender interlude set between the great song of praise to the Hills and the Wedding Scene that is about to follow.

There is very little programme given by Hadley in the synopsis - save that the lovers vow eternal love. Yet somehow although this is ‘just’ an interlude it is almost the very heart of the work.

The lovers do sing to each other - under the auspices of the hills - yet the actual words do not really seem to matter. Whatever the lovers are saying we know what they are feeling by the tone of the music. The orchestra supplies the imagery of the brook, or as locally known the 'gill’ by judicious use of the harp. Then it is the turn of the flute to mimic the song of the nightingale as it sits in a tree above the waters pouring off the moors. There is very much a chamber music feel to this part of the slow movement. It reminded me of parts of Britten's Turn of the Screw.

A short orchestral passage leads to a final acclamation of love between the pair. This is very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' Hugh the Drover or Delius’ Village Romeo and Juliet type of music - the orchestra providing a totally sympathetic accompaniment to the love struck couple. Like all good operatic love duets it is written in unison! It is a very beautiful and well-poised tune. Three repeated 'beloved's brings this movement to a close in quiet silence.

Wedding

During the festive earlier phases of this movement the chorus takes the part of the ordinary worldly wedding guests. Amid the general hubbub the words are indistinguishable, but the general impression seems cheerful as befits the occasion.

This is a fantastic scherzo movement. The choral writing is superb. In spite of the fact that it is a romp one is especially aware of Patrick Hadley's skills as a writer of choral music. The first part of the Wedding scene is given over to meaningless prose. I will respect Paddy's wishes and not give any of it here. However, it is full of nonsense words, some of which are based on 'hunting' terms. This prefigures perhaps the 'mouth music' that was to be used in his later cantata Connemara. There is a dynamic orchestral accompaniment that suggests a great churning motion of a wheel - it is as if it were driving the chorus along. The Wedding music is meant to be joyous, yes - but it also hints at a touch of intoxication, as would have been appropriate at many a Derbyshire wedding! There are lots of key changes in this music - most of them anything but subtle. However it all lends excitement and vigour to this rollicking music. There are also some fine contrapuntal passages dotted through this section that exhibit all the hallmarks of a 'Parry-esque' choral writing. Many dissonances add piquancy to this great choral outburst - for example the last note before the orchestral interlude is a dominant ninth with doublings and added sixth. Just the right amount of tension. There is a great orchestral interlude here complete with sounds of horses hooves or clog dancers. Everything tells me that this is naïve and ought not to work, but is seems just right for the wedding celebration theme.

But now the time draws near for the departure of the bride and bridegroom, when the former saddens at the thought of taking leave or her beloved hills; she will give them one last fond look, then farewell. But not yet, however, for it is now being openly suggested by the guests that there is time for one more of the brimming cup. The bridegroom, quite won over, delays departure accordingly. The orchestra continues in this vein after the voices cease, until it dies down and the prodigal son awakens from his dream.

The orchestral interlude gradually subsides, there is one last burst of energy and a dissonant passage for brass. The chorus gives its welcome to the newly weds - 'Hail the Bride and Bridegroom! There is an Anglican Cathedral feel to this music - more akin to the Hadley anthems than a choral symphony. There is some confusion here as to who the speaker of the words are. Is it the guest who is singing or is it the Hills? I tend to think it is the latter.

Then the whole mood changes - an abrupt modulation into Db major for a short soliloquy by the bride. This is touching music and has echoes of Finzi about it. The bride feels that she is leaving the Derbyshire Hills for far off places and may never see them again; she claims that they ‘will ever bring back sweet memories.’ Wetherell (1997) actually suggests that this line of the libretto may have been Paddy remembering his own mother's very words. It is a charming thought. She gives a last fond farewell. However things are not over yet. The guests suggest that 'one for the road' may be an appropriate way of finishing the wedding reception. Hadley transforms the entire mood of the piece in precisely four bars. From the desolation of loss of the soprano to a four square folksong. Here is another superb example of Hadley's ability to write effective vocal music both for soloist and for choir. This section of the scherzo is a strophic song sung by the tenor soloist - again blurring the distinction between players in this drama. Is it the bridegroom singing or one of the guests? The choir takes up the chorus with great enthusiasm. But soon the mood changes again - we have a recapitulation of the 'Hail' music followed by a farewell for both the chorus and the soloists. Then follows a brief orchestral codetta that appears to be quite a mix of styles. Great changes of key and a romantic tone present music that sounds as if it could have been written for a film. Then before it sinks down into the bass soloists reverie there is an almost Straussian fortissimo.

By now all is darkness. The hills, through his dream, have sung him the early part of the story he wished to hear. He himself can now take up the tale during his own boyhood. 'Long years elapses of toil and cares in far-off scenes, 'mid plains and towns.' True there is a gap during his wanderings (this neither the hills nor himself can bridge) until his return to hear the last words of his mother as in a dream. 'The Hills bring back sweet memories.'

Darkness has descended and the music reflects this. The traveller has awakened and now decides to set the record straight. This last part of the 'Wedding' movement is made up of a number of contrasting sections. Each one vitally important to the argument.

The first section is simply a recognition that he has been dreaming; what he has seen has been put into his mind by the Hills themselves. He is now alone with his sorrow -his lack of understanding and grief of his fathers passing and mothers illness. The next section reviews his thoughts about the 'happy tale of long ago.’ The music is in the major key. It is much more positive. Some moody horn notes add a magic to this that makes it feel just right; it is impressionistic in feel. Then there is an increase in the tempo - he supplies the part of the story that he knows. His parents had left Derbyshire and travelled afar (Cambridge?) They had seemingly left the benign influence of this beloved country. Their life had not been easy. There is once again a chamber feel to music of this music; a very simple and pared down accompaniment that definitely prefigures the Britten of the Parables.

Then follows what are perhaps the most evocative ten bars in the entire piece. Once again in Db major the strings accompany the soloist in his statement that the 'Hills bring back sweet memories’. Here is the second crux of the piece. Here Patrick Hadley is contemplating the transience of life. But then straight into the Allegro Agitato.

Now a sudden thought strikes him. Once more he appeals to the Hills. The moon comes up and illuminates the rugged skyline. 'If more there be to tell, you only know. Sing on!' The orchestra rise to a pitch of intensity, then subsides and leads straight into the Epilogue.

The traveller suddenly realises that the Hills will speak to him too. Perhaps they can tell what became of his parents' souls. He commands the hills to 'sing on!’ in a great apotheosis. The orchestra plays for a few moments before closing down the intensity in two short bars.

‘ The Epilogue -The Hills by Moonlight’ is a perfect ending to this unusual but dramatic work. Once again we are in the cathedral rather than the concert hall. Yet surely this is appropriate. There is a religious or numinous quality about the architecture of The Hills that is akin to the stonework of the great cathedrals. As Hadley points out in his synopsis the chorus reverts to the part of the hills - the wedding guests being a dream from the past. The tenor and soprano soloists join in this final meditation on the transience of life. However, this is not a pessimistic ending. For the Hills, in their role as a kind of pantheistic guardian have chosen to cherish the souls of his parents. The traveller can only hope that one-day he too will join them on their peaceful existence on the Derbyshire Peaks. The work ends on a triple pianissimo B major chord in six parts.

Epilogue: The Hills by Moonlight

The chorus (once more as the hills) joined by the soprano and tenor soli, now sings again. The tale is finished After many troubled years spent far away these two devoted souls have at last returned to the hills to remain for ever in their tender care.

Notes:-

Eric Wetherell: ‘Paddy’ The Life of Patrick Hadley’ Thames Publishers (Elkin) London 1997

APPENDIX

The Hills

A Cantata

For soprano, Tenor & Bass Soli,

Chorus & Orchestra

By Patrick Hadley

Vocal Score 6/6

Oxford University Press

36 Soho Square, Oxford Street, London, W1

The score is copyrighted in 1946

The sections of the piece have the following dates:-

Introduction Nil

I G&C 5th October 1943

II Ashby St Ledger Christmas 1943

III Nil

IV Heacham 9th April 1944

 

On a copy of the score presented to the library of Ralph Vaughan Williams by Patrick Hadley

Annotation in black ink - For Ralph from Paddy.

 

In the synopsis, Hadley makes the following changes in black pencil: -

The remainder rest of the movement portrays the ascent of the lovers and their arrival brings the lovers to the top of the mountain upon the summit, when soli and chorus combine in a final burst song of joy.

Further he adds the following note, again in pencil:-

(What filthy prose I had written! There's nothing so difficult as a synopsis, Don't you think?)

 

Emendations to the Score in Red ink

Page 3 Section 2 bar 6 D natural in 'soprano' crossed out and C# inserted in its place

 

Page 5 Section 3 Bass solo words changed from "I rest here and darkness falls, you grim O stern and steadfast and glorious hills.

 

Page 20 Section 11 bar 12 D natural in alto crossed out and changed to Eb

Page 22 Section 12 bar 19 The third beat has the db crossed out and replaced by an Eb

Page 51 Section 42 Bar 2ff The key signature should read F major and not Ab major. Hadley has amended.

Page 73 Section 65 Piano crossed out and replaced by Orchestra

Page 76 Section 68 Bar 6 Bass should read A natural and not Ab

  

Also bound into this volume are the following works: -

Corinna's Maying- R.O. Morris 1933 OUP

La Belle Dame Sans Merci - Patrick Hadley - 1935 Curwen Edition

King Arthur (abridged version) - Henry Purcell 1675 Novello Edition of 1897

Orpheus Act II - C.Von Gluck Novello

Gloria in Excelsis - Llywelwn Gomer 1949 Michigan State College Press

 

John France 2nd February 2002

 

 

 

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