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ANTHONY HEDGES: A LIFE IN MUSIC by Paul Conway
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Anthony Hedges dies on 19-06-2019
‘My interest has not been with the latest fads and fashions, but in trying to re-use traditional material in non-traditional ways’. Written by the composer Anthony Hedges in 1990 in the preface to a catalogue of his works published by Humberside Leisure Services, this firmly-held artistic credo is substantiated repeatedly by his unfailingly well-crafted and eminently practicable music for all occasions.
He was born in 1931 in Bicester, where he was brought up and educated. At the age of three he was picking out chords on his parents’ upright piano and in his teenage years he was organist at the local Methodist chapel, writing songs and dances for local shows, performing his own piano pieces at the annual student concerts in Banbury Town Hall and accompanying the Bicester Choral Society. At Oxford University he gained a first class honours degree and a postgraduate degree in composition. His National Service years were spent in the Royal Signals Band, where he used his skills as a solo pianist and arranger. With his new wife Joy he then moved to Glasgow where he spent five years as a lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. During this period he wrote articles on music for many national newspapers and journals such as The Musical Times and was commissioned to write his first scores for theatre (Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan) and film (a documentary on the then recently launched Hillman Imp).
In 1962 he was offered a lectureship at Hull University where he became Reader in Composition until his retirement in 1995. Elected chairman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain in 1972, he served with Peter Hope as Joint Chairman of the Guild the following year. A Council member of Westminster Central Music Library for fifteen years, he instigated its publishing scheme for contemporary British scores. As a pianist, he has accompanied, among others, Martyn Hill and Jane Manning. He founded the Humberside Sinfonia and conducted them on many occasions, including an LP released on the Meridian label of his Humberside Cantata Bridge for the Living, Scenes from the Humber and Kingston Sketches. His recorded music has received countless broadcasts internationally. In 1991 he was the featured composer in the Riga Festival of British Music and Film and he returned to Latvia the following year to conduct performances of his cantata I Sing the Birth. In 1997 the University of Hull awarded him an honorary D.Mus. He continues to compose and receive performances of his music. Under the name of Westfield Music (also: http://www.westfieldmusic.karoo.net/) he publishes those of his works that are not commercially published and which may be bought directly from him.
Hull Central Library (Albion Street, Hull, HU1 3TF) houses a comprehensive archive of the music of Anthony Hedges, including not only all the scores (original and revised versions), but also working sketches, juvenilia, works started and then abandoned, recordings of many performances, notes of broadcasts and programmes of performances. It constitutes one of the most complete and thorough records of the work of any composer.
Anthony Hedges’ output is as varied as his career and reflects the many paths this hardworking composer has chosen to take. A prolific output seems even more impressive when considered in conjunction with his many achievements in the field of music as lecturer, writer, accompanist and conductor. His distinctive musical voice has proved sufficiently versatile to enable him to embrace many genres persuasively, including symphonies, an opera, chamber music, solo instrumental works and scores for films, theatre and television. There are many pieces for children (frequently included in grade examination lists), works for amateur musicians and - notably - distinguished contributions to the medium of ‘light music’. The following is a brief survey of Hedges’ music based on a selection of his contributions to a variety of genres.
Four Miniature Dances, Op.28, (1967) was the first of his light music pieces for orchestra. It was written at the suggestion of his wife, Joy, who remarked on the amount of new British Light Music being broadcast by the BBC in the 1960s. Taking up the suggestion, Hedges made his first contribution to this market. It was a great success. Scored for small orchestra, each of the four movements is named after one of his (then) young children – ‘Simon's Samba’, ‘Fiona's Fancy’, ‘Nicholas's Notion’ and ‘Debbie's Delight’. These titles, and hence the music, reflect the character of each child at the time. Four Miniature Dances was first performed in 1968 by Hull University Orchestra conducted by the composer. It received its first broadcast on 27 February 1969 by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Included on a 1997 Marco Polo CD (8.223886) in a performance by the RTE Sinfonietta conducted by the composer, the work makes a charming introduction to his lighter compositions. There are a number of ear-catching solos for the woodwind instruments and the memorable tunes stay with the listener. This is particularly true of the opening ‘Simon's Samba’, whose sinuous and suave theme the composer later transcribed for various solo instruments and ensembles with piano.
In 1969, Hedges wrote his Variations on a theme of Rameau for chamber orchestra, Op.34. This was first performed by the Northern Sinfonia under David Haslam in October 1971. It received its first broadcast in December 1973 with the same orchestra this time under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner. At fifteen minutes’ duration and scored for modest forces of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, timpani, percussion and strings, one’s initial impression of the work as an amiable miniature is deceptive. From the same stable, and of commensurate quality, as Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia, Tippett's Corelli Fantasia and Edmund Rubbra’s Farnaby Improvisations, this droll and at times searching work explores fully the ramifications of its apparently simple theme. The theme is taken from the A minor ordre of the second book of Pieces de Clavecin, 1731, by Rameau. Over a series of eleven inventively orchestrated variations, the composer takes elements from the theme (a couple of demisemiquavers in the opening bar, a stepwise progression in the flutes in the fifth bar and some unusual cadences) and exploits their potential for development with great skill and imagination. The structure is more than just a series of variations since they form groups which correspond to movements of a symphony: hence, variations 3 and 4 form a scherzo, Variations 5, 6 and 7 make an extended and searching slow movement, whilst the ninth variation is a second scherzo in the form of an extended gigue. Variation 4 contains a remarkable five-bar passage where the upper strings are divided into thirteen parts - a brief but telling effect and indicative of the intricate invention of the work as a whole. Variation 5 sounds almost microtonal in its whirring semitonal clashes. Variation 6 is the emotional kernel of the piece, its second half being particularly stirring. Variation 10 is sparsely orchestrated and meditative in feeling, whilst Variation 11, marked Allegro energico, is a brilliant fugal Finale. This contains a ruminative Poco lento section which is cut short by the intrusion of the return of the Allegro energico. The thoughtful nature of these variations extends to the conclusion which, instead of building to a climax, fades away on a triple piano chord for clarinet and upper strings. Though the punchy fourth variation starts off like the scherzo from Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony and the Finale has some Shostakovich-like string writing, the work is far from derivative and unmistakably speaks in the language of Anthony Hedges at his most impressive. He even occasionally captures something of the Baroque splendour of the age in which the original theme was composed. Rescored in 1997, Hedges’ Rameau Variations is a highpoint of his output and deserves to be part of the established repertory.
Kingston Sketches, Op.36 (1969) is one of his most popular pieces in terms of performances, receiving 35 broadcasts between 1971 and 1979 alone. Each of the movements reflects the moods suggested to the composer by the street names of Hull. The ‘Whitefriargate Waltz’ is both wistful and elegant. The reflective central ‘Romance: Silver Street’ was the last of the movements to be written and the suite closes with the jaunty and slightly impudent ‘Ferensway March’. Whilst not being programmatic in any literal sense, the three movements manage to convey the character of the Hull streets which inspired them. Kingston Sketches received the first of its many broadcasts by the Orchestra of the Light Music Society on 28 December 1972. It receives an authoritative reading by the RTE Sinfonietta conducted by the composer on the Marco Polo disc.
Also dating from 1969 is the charming Ayrshire Serenade, Op.42. In three movements, it was commissioned by the Craigie College of Education in Ayr and first performed by the Ayrshire Symphony Orchestra in May 1971. It has been recorded on the ASV label (CD WHL 2126). Once again, there is no attempt at writing purely illustrative music here, but the composer’s personality is stamped on every bar, not least in the opening theme of the Allegro moderato first movement, an archetypal Hedges theme with its heady combination of forward momentum, unexpected harmonic shifts and brilliant scoring. The following Andantino has a beautiful, slightly rustic theme for oboe which is taken up by the strings. There is a spirit-lifting Tierce de Picardi ending. The good-humoured Vivace finale features some fugal writing and shares the opening movement’s ebullient mood.
By the time he wrote the Ayrshire Serenade, the composer had experimented with serialism. Though no great lover of the Second Viennese School, Hedges felt at the end of the 1960s a growing dissatisfaction with the idiom of his serious works and wanted to explore new avenues of expression. The resulting works: Four Pieces for piano (1967), Op.20; Sonata for violin and harpsichord (1967), Op.22; Three Songs of Love (1968), Op.33 and the String Quartet (1970), Op.41 are all strictly serial pieces. Of these, the String Quartet is a powerful, compact one-movement work lasting under twenty minutes. It was first performed and subsequently broadcast on Radio 3 by the Lancaster University String Quartet, who commissioned it and to whom it is dedicated.
The Rhapsody for violin and piano (1971), Op.44, is an intense and searing ten-minute piece written in appreciation of happy times with David Roth of the Allegri String Quartet. Roth premiered it with the composer accompanying in a recital at Hull University on 16 June 1971. It was first broadcast by the same artists on Radio Humberside, 2 September 1973 and subsequent broadcasts followed on Radio 3.
Psalm 104, Op.52 (1973) offers a good example of Anthony Hedges’ choral writing. It was originally scored for soprano chorus and brass band, but the composer revised the work and produced a version for choir and orchestra. Lasting 18 minutes and divided into four main sections, this is a powerfully moving extended setting of the Psalm. The opening Allegro vivo begins with a fanfare-like phrase and the choral writing is varied, containing canonic as well as incantatory passages. The following intermezzo-like Allegretto grazioso section has an immediately attractive theme interrupted by a more animated central passage. Marked Andante con moto, the third section includes onomatopoeic writing, with rasping trombone glissandi at the line ‘young lions roar’. The opening fanfare returns at the line ‘The earth is full of Thy riches’. Heralded by a brass chorale-like introductory passage, the brief Moderato finale makes a bright, jazzy conclusion. The fanfare returns for the last time and the ending of the piece is bold and positive. Commissioned by York and District Brass Bands Association, Psalm 104 was first performed by the massed forces of East Riding School Choirs and York Brass Band at Beverley Minster in April 1974. Within the next two years the work received nearly 80 performances, including one in the Royal Albert Hall. A notable recent performance took place in 2015 in the new Catholic Cathedral in New York.
Composed between October 1973 and January 1974, Hedges’ Piano Sonata no.1, Op.53 (1974) was premiered by the composer at Craigie College, Ayr, in July 1974, followed by performances in Scarborough and for Radio Humberside. Although there are some elements of traditional sonata structure in this work, it is essentially a freely evolving structure whose materials are all drawn and developed from the first movement’s initial chords. These return, in varied form, in the first movement to conclude its first section, at more or less mid-point and in its closing bars. They recur twice in the middle of, and also in the coda of, the third movement.
Following a slow and forceful introduction, the first movement continues with a short and spirited main allegro section that gives way to secondary material in the form of quiet sustained chords and some lyrical contrast. The vigorous material is then developed, followed by development of the second subject materials. The final section, rather than being a strict recapitulation, pulls together elements of previously stated material in new, dynamic forms before the opening chords of the movement reappear at its conclusion. In the predominantly rhapsodic second movement, quiet and balancing outer sections frame a central section that provides contrast of both mood and dynamics. The finale has strong elements of rondo structure, but there are no literal repetitions – everything is in a constant state of flux and evolution. It provides an energetic release of earlier tensions, relaxing its drive only briefly towards the end when the main ideas of both first and second movements are recalled in comparative tranquillity before the trenchant closing section. Keith Swallow recorded the Sonata for BBC Radio 3 in 1977, as did Ian Brown in 1982. A recording by Anthony Goldstone was featured on a CD entitled ‘Explorations’, released in 2003 on the Divine Art label (25024).
In 1975 Hedges completed his Symphony no.1, Op.57. This taut and powerful work is in three movements and lasts just over twenty minutes. It builds on the symphonic strengths already present in such works as the Rameau Variations and uses the skills in orchestration evident is his lighter pieces. The composer began the Symphony in 1973 and wrote it in between working on the many commissions he had at this time. Its first performance took place on 27 February 1978 in a radio broadcast by the BBC Northern Orchestra under Bryden Thomson, who was a great champion of Hedges’ work.
The first movement (Allegro Scorrevole) was inspired by an extra-musical concept: namely, the desire to promote new ideas coming up against the entrenched views of the status quo. The strings and later the woodwind represent the pushing forward aspect of Hedges’ idea whilst the status quo is represented by static brass chords which halt the rushing strings and woodwind. The work begins with a stealthy string theme which forms the basis of the movement and much of the rest of the symphony's argument. The brass enters with menacing chords. The strings continue with an intricate fugal passage. At the height of the strings’ argument the brass chords return. Woodwind and percussion enter for the first time, the woodwind spinning arabesques. The clarinets play a rising figure which will reappear in the Trio of the following movement. The string theme reappears on first violins, joining the woodwind flourishes. The brass chords join in. The first movement ends abruptly, its arguments unresolved with the two elements of movement and stasis locked in opposition.
Release of a kind comes with the unhindered momentum of the brief but intensely rhythmical Scherzo second movement, marked Allegro Ritmico. This movement starts with timpani and percussion only, making great use of the percussion section. A four-note motif on the xylophone assumes significance, especially after it is expanded into a five-note motif in a speeded up version on the vibraphone. The violins play a distorted version of the main theme of the previous movement. The Trio is characterised by a chromatic figure for woodwinds over harp chords. It is a development of the florid woodwind material from the opening movement. The Scherzo is reprised and after a climax, the movement fades away, its mechanical whirring spent.
The Finale is a searching Andante which reflects on the earlier material. Its opening phrase is a distorted version of the symphony’s main motif. The movement builds in intensity to a triple forte climax. After a tutti pause, the horns give out another version of the main theme. The lower strings play a pizzicato version of the main theme of the Scherzo. The following brass chords are now subdued, literally muted. Fragments of the symphony’s main theme flit about the orchestra, passing from oboes to flutes to horns and violas, to trumpets, to violins, and ending up on clarinets. The horn chords sound for the last time - still quiet, but this time without mutes. The score ends on a question mark, a string chord dying away to nothing. Hedges’ First Symphony is a work of its time in that it fails to find an optimistic conclusion, achieving repose without resolution. Reviewing the first performance in the Daily Telegraph, Michael Kennedy wrote, ‘It is a real symphony with organic and imaginative development of the thematic material … There is also a steadily increasing emotional drive … In the finale the threads are drawn together with a sure and economical hand. This is both the structural and emotional culmination of a work that should be heard again’.
Written for the official opening of the Humber Bridge, Bridge for the Living, Op.62, is a cantata setting for tenor soloist, chorus and orchestra of the poem ‘A Living Bridge’ by Philip Larkin. It was commissioned by the Hull firm J. H. Fenner and Co. Ltd. in 1975 and written that year in the confident expectation that the Humber Bridge would be completed shortly. In fact, when the work received its belated premiere on 11 April 1981 by the Hull Choral Union, the official opening of the Bridge was still some three months away. This was an important commission, not just because it marked the opening of the Bridge but it was the only time Philip Larkin had written a poem specifically for a musical setting. Indeed, Bridge for the Living is the first ever extended setting for chorus and orchestra of any of Larkin’s poems. The text is quite different from Larkin’s usual style with its atmospheric imagery which almost cries out for musical treatment. As the moods change dramatically between most of the ten four-line stanzas, the composer wrote brief orchestral interludes as transitions between them.
The setting opens with a slow orchestral prelude establishing the mood of the poem and this prelude, together with the motif with which the chorus enters provides the basis for the entire work’s material. The first verse is spare, sung by a semi-chorus, taking its general character from the words ‘Isolate City’. An orchestral link changes the mood ready for the entry of the full chorus in verse two, which homes in on the words ‘working skyline’ to provide a battery of busy percussion, particularly in the lustrous new orchestration. Verses three and four are given to the tenor soloist, the chorus taking over in the second part of verse four. The quiet opening of verse five gives way to bell-like sounds expressed chorally in a brief seven-part cannon, after which another orchestral link changes the mood for verse six. The dramatic change of mood in the poem at this point is reflected in the music by a change in tempo and dynamics, together with an increase in dissonance. The choir treats verses seven and eight as one unit. Verse nine starts as a meditation for soloist and male voices, but the full choir re-enters halfway through. At this point the music begins its ascent in the form of a steady crescendo to a final climax, the unashamedly tonal conclusion mirroring the optimism of the poem’s ending. The score is both exciting and sensitive to the poetry it consistently enhances. The performance on a long-deleted 1981 Meridian LP with the Hull Choral Union and the Humberside Sinfonia does the original score full justice: this excellent LP is long overdue for a reissue on CD. The Hull Choral Union performance of the revised version on 22 April 1999 was even more impressive, showing that the composer had lost none of his orchestrating skill. The imaginative percussion writing in particular has added even more sparkle to this already dazzling score.
Festival Dances, Op.64 (1976) was commissioned by the Borough of Milton Keynes for the Jubilee and was first performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Charles Groves on 7 June 1977. It received its first broadcast by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Bryden Thomson and has been recorded by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Gavin Sutherland on a Dutton Epoch compilation disc (CDLX 7283). The first dance, Allegro vivace, features an irresistible and highly characteristic melody. After a brilliant fanfare, the first subject is a bright and vivacious tune, harmonically wayward, like all the best Hedges inventions. The second subject, first heard on woodwind, is an offshoot of the first - it is remarkable how often, like Haydn before him, Anthony Hedges uses the same material from his main themes for his second subjects - both composers being men in a hurry whose invention skips along at an impressive rate. The central dance, Lento ma non troppo, contains a middle section with a modal chorale for brass and strings which rises to a hypnotic climax before dying down again like a spent force of nature. The concluding Allegro assai is upbeat and brightly scored, the irrepressible main theme from the opening movement returning to round off one of Hedges’ most enjoyable works.
Also in 1976, Anthony Hedges wrote his one and only opera (to date). The two-act Shadows in the Sun, Op.61, lasts for about two hours and is scored for soloists, children's chorus and orchestra. It was first performed by Kelvinhall School, with the Humberside Sinfonia conducted by the composer in June 1977. Hedges, together with his librettist, locally based television writer Jim Hawkins, developed the idea of writing an opera which would involve professional soloists and orchestra, but whose plot would demand a chorus of young children. Hence, the resulting work is not a children’s opera but rather an opera which includes a children’s chorus, giving young people a chance to experience real opera from the inside. Three different choirs from the Hull region were used in the three first performances so as to involve the maximum amount of children in the area. Sadly such schemes are rare. They demonstrate Anthony Hedges’ passionate commitment to music education and his profound belief in the importance of a composer’s place in the community.
Prayers from the Ark, Op.68 (1976) is an excellent example of Anthony Hedges’ sensitive writing for voice and piano. This song cycle sets nine poems by the nun Carmen Bernos de Gasztold. Translated by the composer from the French originals, the nine poems are the prayers of the different animals in the Arc, their individual characters expressed in musical terms sounding occasionally human – ‘Noah’, ‘The Cock’, ‘The Little Birds’, ‘The Little Ducks’, ‘The Ox’, ‘The Foal’, ‘The Cat’, ‘The Butterfly’, ‘The Goat’. The score has a telling wit and makes a splendid addition to the repertoire. Martyn Hill, who gave the first performance of the work with the composer accompanying on the piano, commissioned the work.
The Piano Trio, Op.69 (1977) demonstrates the strength of the composer's writing for chamber music forces. It is dedicated to the Leonardo Trio - Maureen Smith (violin), Anna Shuttleworth (cello), Ian Brown (piano) - who gave the first performance on 2 November 1978. The Trio is cast in one extended movement incorporating several tempo changes. A pounding, chorale-like opening sets the scene and provides some of the subsequent material of the work, the Allegro section taking the repeated-note thematic fragment from the Andante con moto introduction. The central Lento section contains dramatic harmonies and is notable for its ecstatic piano chords. After the whirlwind of the penultimate pages, the closing passage is a slowed-down version of the main repeated-note motif with which the work began. On many occasions in the piece Hedges contrasts the lyrical nature of the string instruments with the percussive quality of the piano. Compact and closely argued, the Piano Trio manages to pack a great deal into its fourteen minutes. The Leonardo Trio gave a Radio 3 broadcast of the piece whilst the Tunnel Trio has broadcast it twice.
Dating from 1968, the Holiday Overture, Op.32 was first given by the London Studio Orchestra, a performance which was broadcast by the BBC on Radio 4. Although the piece received several subsequent broadcasts, the composer felt that the work's four-minute duration did not do full justice to the material contained within it. His instincts were proved right for the resulting reworking produced a little gem - the Overture Heigham Sound, Op.72 (1978). A typically breezy and wry Hedges theme opens the work and the more relaxed middle section, though clearly derived from the introductory material, provides the necessary contrast before the main idea returns to bring the piece to a suitably upbeat conclusion. The overture is named after a beauty spot in the Broads in East Anglia, the composer having spent a holiday there with his family, yet Heigham Sound is not programmatic. In fact the (intended) pun in the title is as good an indication of the work's character - witty, high-spirited and unashamedly melodic - as any East Anglian connection. The first performance was given on 20 January 1979 with the BBC Concert Orchestra under Ashley Lawrence. Fortunately, it was included on the Marco Polo CD in a bright and affectionate performance by the RTE Sinfonietta under the composer’s assured direction.
The Temple of Solomon, Op.78 (1979) is an important work for chorus and orchestra. It is a setting of the story of Solomon’s Temple taken from biblical sources compiled by the composer himself. Divided into four sections (Prologue, The Building of the Temple, The Dedication and Celebrations), this superbly scored piece tests the musicianship of the chorus to the full, in its many powerful climaxes and in the joyous, laudatory Celebrations. The orchestra is not without its own bravura passages, whether representing the sawing and stone-laying of the Building of the Temple or depicting swarming locusts in the solo tenor section ‘If there be dearth …’. The work was commissioned by Huddersfield Choral Society to mark the completion centenary of Huddersfield Town Hall and they gave the first performance there on 2 April 1982, broadcast live on Radio 3. When The Temple of Solomon was first reviewed, some critics compared it unfavourably with Walton’s Belshazzar's Feast, a lazy comparison displaying a lack of understanding of the Hedges style which is at all times true to itself and never a pale imitation of other influences - it is far too strong in character for that. The Temple of Solomon is a powerful and inventive piece which will appeal to anyone who responds to distinctive melodies and skilled orchestration.
The suite Four Breton Sketches, Op.79, dates from 1980 and was first performed and broadcast by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Ashley Lawrence on 7 July that year. It was written after a holiday the composer spent with his family in Brittany. Each of the four movements expresses a mood suggested to the composer by a location or event on that holiday. Thus, Hedges is careful not to claim any programmatic content in the work. However there is one place where he is clearly depicting an actual event: in the third movement, a mini-rondo entitled ‘Promenade: a Dinard’, sounds of car hooters intrude into a relaxed saunter along the promenade. Four Breton Sketches is an enchanting work and makes an effective programme opener on the Marco Polo CD.
Scenes from the Humber, Op.80 (1980) was commissioned by the BBC for a concert to celebrate the official opening of the Humber Bridge on 17 July 1981. It was first performed on that occasion in Hull City Hall by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Gunter Herbig, the first of many performances. Rivalling Kingston Sketches as the most frequently played of Hedges' orchestral works, Scenes from the Humber is another evocative piece of light music which captures the spirit of Hull and its environs. It was recorded as part of the Meridian LP and later re-recorded on the Marco Polo CD. Its four movements are entitled ‘Petuaria Patrol’, ‘Spurn Point Elegy’, ‘The Lincoln Castle’ and ‘Humber Keel Hornpipe’. Petuaria was the Roman name for Brough, ten miles west of Hull. This opening march-like movement begins quietly and gradually increases in intensity before receding again into the distance - a musical device known as a ‘patrol’ - once again Hedges delights in puns in his titles. The movement describes the Roman cohorts who used to cross the Humber at Petuaria, approaching and passing by and is a highly evocative piece of writing. Spurn Point is a deserted promontory of land at the mouth of the Humber which provides a sanctuary for seabirds. Cries of these birds can be heard in the introduction and in the wake of the stormy climax of this sparsely orchestrated and evocative movement. The Lincoln Castle was the last of the paddle steamers to serve as a Humber ferry. Its design and atmosphere suggested the 1920s even though it was built two decades later. Hence the jazzy style of a movement in which the chugging rhythms of the ferry are also captured. Humber Keels were flat-bottomed sailing barges that plied their trade up and down the Humber in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their annual regatta formed an important event in the life of the river and an oil painting of the first of these regattas showing the Humber Keels provided the starting point for the final movement with its typically ebullient and high-spirited main theme, typical of the composer.
The Jackdaw of Rheims, Op.81 (1980) is another entertaining choral piece composed for amateur forces but never ‘written down’ to its executants. Requiring soprano choir, speaker and orchestra, the work was commissioned by the Solihull Education Department and first performed by the Solihull Youth Orchestra with massed junior choirs from local schools on 13 May 1981. A brass fanfare announces the start of the work and a stirring march accompanies the chorus. A memorable theme accompanies the words for the chorus ‘In and Out’ as the jackdaw flies around. There is a timpani-led, scherzo-like episode as the jackdaw makes off with the Cardinal's ring. As the jackdaw is rendered lame, there is a fractured version of the opening march - a good example of how Hedges always gives the best of himself to every work, whether destined for professional or amateur forces. The upbeat ending is suitably joyful with tambourine and tubular bells adding to the colourful score. At about fifteen minutes, the piece is great fun, both to perform and to listen to, doesn't outstay its welcome and represents the composer at his sunniest and most genial.
Commissioned by Anthony Goldstone and Moray Welsh, Exchanges 1, Op.81 (1982) is a ten-minute piece for cello and piano. The title refers to the interplay between both featured instruments and the fact that the first performance (given by Goldstone and Welsh on 5 December 1982) was at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. The score’s tempo marking ‘Poco lento e flessibile’ characterises the work. A slow introduction leads to a vigorous Allegro and elements from the introduction recur before the speedy coda. In 1983 Hedges revised the work and this version has been released on a Rhinosaurus Records CD (RHRCD 018), played by cellist Oliver Gledhill and pianist Julian Milford.
In 1982, the composer wrote his Flute Sonatina, Op.86, a ten-minute work in three short movements for flute and piano. The first movement (Moderato) is Shostakovich-like in its triplet-ridden main theme. The jazzy second theme is closely related to the first and has the composer’s fingerprints all over it. Semitonal clashes in the piano part add spice to the texture. The Poulenc-like purity of the Andantino second movement is deceptive since the movement rises to an impassioned climax before falling back to the Gallic charm of the opening melody. The fleet-footed, virtuosic Finale (Allegro scherzando) has a scampering, wide-ranging opening theme and a charming second subject entirely characteristic of Hedges. The throwaway ending is a perfect finishing gesture, rounding off a delightful piece of chamber music. The first performance took place on 14 May 1982 with Ian Denley as flautist and the composer accompanying. In 1984 Anthony Hedges made an orchestral version, entitled Flute Concertino for flute and chamber orchestra, which demonstrates the basically large-scale nature of all his works, no matter how small the forces may be.
Scored for eight pianists and four pianos, Pieces of Eight, Op.87 was written in 1982 and premiered on 17 July of that year by Susan Tunnell, Nina Walker, Keith Swallow, Geoffrey Buckley, Philip Challis, Ernest Hall, Donald Greed and Geoffrey Greed. In 1983 the composer re-scored the slow movement under the title of ‘Cantilena’. This beautifully orchestrated and understated four-minute piece is included on the Marco Polo CD. It is an exquisite microcosm of all the virtues of Hedges as a composer of light music and the haunting theme lingers in the listener’s mind long after the music has finished.
The Viola Sonatina, Op.91 (1982) is a highly effective chamber piece of about ten minutes’ duration. Tougher in its language than the Flute Sonatina, for example, it has moments of great solemn beauty, nonetheless. The Moderato con moto first movement is at times almost orchestral in its grand sonorities. The brief scherzo-like Molto Vivace second movement is like a moto perpetuo with a memorably attractive Trio section, whilst the Finale is a beautiful slow movement (Poco lento e molto flessibile). It was first performed by Keith Lovell and Brian Newbould at Hull University in a recital at Hull University on 15 June 1982.
Six Moods for piano Op.96 (1984) were written for different standards of player, the first two being within the Grade 4 range, the second two being suitable for Grade 5, whilst the final two are more exacting. The pieces have explanatory titles: ‘Contentment’, ‘Assertion’, ‘Whims’, ‘Energy’, ‘Reflection’ and ‘Aggression’ and expertly convey the moods suggested by their titles. The work lasts nine minutes.
A Cleveland Overture, Op.92 (1984) was commissioned by the Cleveland Youth Orchestra, who gave the first performance under Edwin Raymond, the orchestra’s founder-conductor, in in March 1985. (At one point a solo oboe plays a melody derived from the musical letters of his name.) A month later, the work received its first broadcast with the BBC Concert Orchestra under Ashley Lawrence. The main theme provides another excellent example of the composer’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of first-rate tunes. Once again, the oboe-led secondary theme is closely related to the opening melody. This brilliantly orchestrated six-minute work would grace the start of any concert programme. It has been recorded on the ASV White Label’s ‘British Light Overtures’ collection (CD WHL 2137).
Hedges’ Flute Trio no.1 for flute, cello and piano, Op.99 (1985) is one of his most accomplished pieces of chamber music. The interplay between the three protagonists is always engaging and the writing for each instrument is superbly idiomatic. The opening Moderato is tightly knit as the composer constantly explores new facets of the main ideas. One feels that the material could not have been conceived for any other instrumental combination. The emotional heart of the work is the Poco Lento slow movement which begins with a beautifully expressive theme for flute and cello. This unfolds in unison two octaves apart above the piano’s left-hand accompaniment of delicate, broken chords. A brief but intense central episode leads to greater dissonance and chromaticism in the winding flute and cello lines, but the music eventually relaxes into a return of the opening songlike material. Marked Vivace, the finale is bright, rhythmic and playful. It makes an ideal conclusion to an impressive score showing the composer at his most eloquent and refined. The Flute Trio no.1 was premiered in a concert at Southampton University on 16 November 1985 by David Butt (flute), Ross Pople (cello) and Rosemarie Wright (piano). The same ensemble gave its first broadcast performance on Radio 3 in November of the following year. It has received many subsequent performances.
The Fantasy Sonata for bassoon and piano, Op.104 (1986) is cast in three movements. The first alternates slow and fast sections and parts of it are recalled later in the piece. The second is a sardonic scherzo with a virtuosic central section. The finale combines fugal and rondo elements. Once again the writing for solo instrument is entirely idiomatic, emphasising the wide range of the bassoon from growling bass to its highest register. This piece enhances this repertoire, exploiting the lyrical as well as the comic potential of its solo instrument and provides a test of the musicianship as well as the technique of the player. It was commissioned by Hull University Music Department and first performed by the dedicatee Richard Moore, accompanied by the composer on 17 June 1987. This sonata also exists in an arrangement for bassoon and chamber orchestra.
Scored for clarinet and string quartet, Refractions1, Op.106 (1987) demonstrates Anthony Hedges’ keen understanding of the dialectical qualities of chamber music. It is dedicated to James Campbell and the Allegri String Quartet and first performed by them on 15 June 1988. A compact work in a single span of just under 15 minutes, the work is cast in three sections (Lento - moderatocon moto – andante - allegro vivo). The fragments of melody and harmony set out in the slow introduction are combined and recombined throughout the rest of the work, revealing their different facets, shades of colour and changing moods. The variants on the initial material include a fugal variation and canonic writing. A variant near the end of the piece, characterised by spiccato triplets in the lower strings, sounds like the negative image of the second subject of the Heigham Sound Overture. Refractions is in the composer’s most serious vein, yet it remains a darkly attractive and approachable work.
Five Aphorisms for piano, Op.112 (1990) shows the composer at this toughest and most uncompromising. These brief, epigrammatic pieces do have their lighter moments, however, and display a mastery of the instrument. The first is brilliant in its outer sections, more sustained in the central section and its musical language owes a conscious debt to the lyrical sections of Tippett’s Second Piano Sonata. The second has a reflective, quasi-improvisatory character. In contrast, the central Allegro vivace is loud brief and angry. It takes the form of a driving, moto perpetuo, reminiscent of the music of John McCabe. After a substantial climax, it slows down and fades into silence. The following Lento contrasts a jagged motif with quiet, sustained chords. The fifth opens with a neo-romantic flourish and is vigorous for the most part, though with a slower section before the final flourishes of the coda. Five Aphorisms was first performed by the composer in a concert to mark the opening of his music archive in Hull Central Library. It has been recorded by Carolyn Clemmow on the Divine Art CD ‘Explorations’ (Divine Art 25024).
I'll Make me a World, Op.113 (1990) was commissioned by Coventry Centre for the Performing Arts and first performed in May 1991 by Stephen Gadd (bass), massed Solihull junior choirs and the Coventry Youth Orchestra conducted by Brian Chappell. Of the same high quality as The Jackdaw of Rheims, the piece is one-movement, twenty-minute work for chorus and orchestra. It begins mysteriously with hushed strings in their upper register and an exotic repeated phrase on xylophone. The bass soloist joins with the words ‘And God stepped out in Space’. The chorus enters with a recurring descending two-note phrase on the words ‘I'm lonely’. A lively and punchy theme accompanies the words ‘And God said “That's good”’. There is a march-like section where God walks upon the earth. The punchy theme is also used at the ‘Amen’ closing section. Skilfully written and carefully judged with regard to the capabilities of young voices, this satisfying piece is graced by the unmistakable voice of its composer.
In Such a Night for string quartet, Op.115 was written in 1990 and received its first performance in November of that year by the Allegri String Quartet at Hull University. It is a rhapsodic, atmospheric nocturne with frequent solos for violin and cello. The modal-sounding writing and the soaring violin solo make the main theme a second cousin to Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending. The recurring motif takes the four syllables of the title and turns them into a yearning, arch-like figure. The beautiful, rich sonorities drawn from the quartet would seem ready-made for expanding to a larger string ensemble and the composer subsequently created a string orchestra version which was given its first performance by the Hull University Orchestra at St Mary's Church, Beverley in February 1992.
Showpiece, Op.127 (1994) is an East Riding Youth Orchestra commission and joins the ranks of the Heigham Sound and Cleveland Overtures as brilliantly orchestrated curtain-raisers. The composer derived the fanfare-like opening theme from the initials ERYO. It is in loose sonata form, but in place of the normal development section, the composer wrote a mini Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, giving each instrument a solo spot, starting with the piccolo and the rest of the woodwind over a string tremolo. The strings are introduced from the double basses upwards and there is a splendid fugue for the string section as a whole. The main theme of the piece is vintage Hedges, jazzy but quintessentially English, all harmonic twists and turns, swiftly changing keys with the sleight of hand of a true Master. It all works perfectly and is great fun for performers and listeners alike. Showpiece has been recorded on the Heritage label’s ‘British Celebration’ CD (HTGCD 203).
Symphony no 2, Op.130, which was written in 1997, still awaits its first performance. It is to be hoped that its concert debut will not be long forthcoming since this work appears to be every bit as well-crafted as its predecessor. It bears a superscription from Wilfrid Owen:
‘With news of all the nations in your hand
And all their sorrows in your face’.
The Owen quote came to the composer’s mind in the early stages of composing the symphony, arising from the music he was writing. It continued to haunt him and is perhaps an indication of the character of the piece. It is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, B flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (2 players), harp and strings. A one-movement work of much substance, it needs a champion to bring it before the public.
The Divertimento for String Orchestra (1998) is a revised and rescored version of Four Diversions for string orchestra, Op.45, composed in 1971. The second subject of the charming opening Allegro commodo recurs throughout the work. The Presto finale boasts a typical Hedges theme, second cousin to the first Festival Dance. A fugal passage initiates the recapitulation and the work ends adroitly and without fuss. It was released on an ASV CD in 1999 as part of a disc celebrating modern English works, conducted by David Lloyd Jones.
The Sinfonia Concertante, Op.82, was commissioned by the Hull Philharmonic Society for its centenary in 1982. Under the baton of Terence Lovett, the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra gave the first performance on 27 February of that year. In 1998 Hedges re-orchestrated the piece and the Hull PO, this time conducted by Andrew Penny, premiered the revised version of the Sinfonia Concertante on 13 May 2000 in Hull City Hall. When the composer began writing this piece he had three ideas in the back of his mind: that it should be a ‘serious’ work, in keeping with the traditions of the Hull Philharmonic Society; there should be an element of festivity and celebration; there should be opportunities to spotlight individual players as soloists and so display some of the personal talents that contribute to making the corporate whole. As soon as he began to think of the piece as part of the orchestra’s centenary celebrations, he found himself haunted by a theme that had been in his mind for some years as an expression of rejoicing. This theme became the starting point for the Sinfonia Concertante, and, although it does not emerge fully formed until the beginning of the finale, all the thematic material of the work derives from it. The overall design is also centred on the last movement, which releases earlier tensions and finishes what has previously been left incomplete.
The Allegro first movement’s exposition evolves from sustained, filled-in fourths on strings and wind. Each section of the orchestra contributes its own ideas – sometimes quietly, sometimes in violent outbursts. The first part of the development section opens with a fugue scored entirely for solo players, and its non-fugal continuation continues to spotlight various soloists. The briefer second section of development is terser in style and climactic. The recapitulation loosely reverses the order of events in the exposition so that the movement ends quietly, as it began.
In the relatively short central Lento, Hedges shines a new light on the main material from the previous movement, which now takes on a wistful, introspective air. Full orchestral forces are deployed only in its middle portion, the outer sections being scored almost entirely for a variable ensemble of solo players.
Where the first two movements make demands on the technique and musicianship of individual players, the Allegro vivace finale challenges the whole orchestra, providing a showpiece for corporate orchestral technique. The tensions of the first movement and the elegiac quality of the second both find their release in this joyous celebratory movement, cast in free rondo form. One of the score’s principal motifs takes on the character of a rousing fanfare in the exultant closing bars.
Hedges’ credentials as a symphonist of stature are present in this satisfying, organically conceived score. His inventive use of a tiny handful of thematic and rhythmic motifs to construct a cogent symphonic statement is as impressive as his imaginative application of diverse and contrasting colours, effects and instrumental groupings.
The Sonata for trumpet and piano, Op.137 (2000) is dedicated to Anthony Thompson. It opens with a slow introduction that contains many of the melodic ideas developed throughout the work. The second movement is especially beautiful. The rondo finale has a light and airy feel. Hedges’ sonata contains musical and technical challenges for the players, but offers a wonderfully fluid melodic style that makes the work satisfying to perform. The Sonata also exists, with the piano part scored for full orchestra by the composer, as a Trumpet Concertino.
Fiddler’s Green, Op.139 (2001), a suite for strings, was commissioned by Frederick Applewhite for the Guildhall Junior String Orchestra and premiered by them at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly in June 2001. It was recorded the following month by members of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland for a disc entitled ‘British String Miniatures’ on the ASV White Line label (CD WHL 2134). The title derives from an old dictionary reference to a name given by sailors to ‘their dancehouses and other places of frolic on shore’. The opening country-style dance is brisk and lively, its repeated notes and arpeggios providing the simple material which is subjected to harmonic twists in Hedges’ inimitable manner. The following Moderato’s slightly woozy scotch-snap rhythms, trills and grace notes create a wryly humorous faux-Celtic ambience reminiscent of Malcolm Arnold’s Scottish Dances of 1957. All traces of irony are eliminated in the touching pastoral Andantino third movement which provides opportunities for expressive solo playing throughout its wistful discourse. The set is rounded off with a short, exuberant jig whose main ideas complement those of the opening movement. Idiomatically written and satisfying to play, this attractive suite was the first time the composer had written a piece of ‘light music’ in ten years and one can hear his relish in returning to this medium in the restorative freshness of the music.
Three Explorations for piano, Op.145 (2002) has been recorded by Caroline Clemmow on the Divine Art label (25024). A footnote on the score explains that ‘the title of this work arises from the small note-cell, common to each piece, which each ‘explores’ in different ways’. The double octaves which open the first piece punctuate the concentrated movement at salient points, enclosing contrasting, though closely-related, materials. The extended second movement is reflective and with a quasi-improvisatory character. The last of the Explorations has the tempo indication ‘Flowing’ at the outset, but after 13 bars there are gradual increases in both speed and dynamics culminating in a violent Allegro. After a central poco meno mosso section, tempo and dynamics again increase and lead to a climax from which the music gradually subsides to its opening character before a short and energetic coda intervenes.
Three Contemplations, for soprano, flute, cello and piano (2003) sets three introspective poems by Jay Appleton. ‘… And mellow fruitfulness’ traces the poem’s trajectory from its dark and melancholic beginnings with low, twisting lines over scrunchy dissonances in the piano to a more optimistic second half suggested by freely flowing instrumental material. In ‘Imagination’, Hedges’ uses his small forces to suggest illimitable vistas by the simple means of broadly-spanning piano chords and harmonics in flute and cello. A hypnotic air is enhanced by subtle use of triplets in the vocal line. Again, the second half of the text is more relaxed and improvisatory and Hedges liberates his material accordingly in this celebration of the limitless inventiveness of the human mind. Framed by tiny but eloquent instrumental passages, ‘Winter sunset glimpsed through the edge of a wood’ brings the mini-cycle to a delicate, shadowy close. Vocal and instrumental lines are noticeably more unfettered and wide-ranging than in the previous settings and in some ways the whole piece can be heard as a logical progression from its opening brown study to its final whimsical musings.
Brief Evocations: settings of four poems by Thomas Pitfield for soprano, recorders and piano, Op.150 (2003) was commissioned by John Turner and first performed in a concert at Hull University on 3 October 2003 by Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), John Turner (recorders) and Peter Lawson (piano). In the opening setting of ‘In an old country church’, descant recorder and piano mimic the belfry clock ticking quietly. Heightened by swirling descant recorder arabesques, ‘The hungry’ has a gripping urgency as it depicts the starving ‘peering at your window’. Its parting gesture is a tiny upward piano phrase - interrogatory and unresolved, this has an unmistakably accusing character. In ‘My words’ the undulating lines conjure up the leaves blown about ‘in gusty autumn’. Gently nostalgic, the closing ‘Gawsworth’ is borne along on a lilting 6/8 rhythm that pauses for a moment at the mention of ‘curfew chime’ for the piano to recall the opening song’s ‘ticking clock’ material – a typically deft touch that makes dramatic sense as well as conferring on the set the hint of a cyclical structure.
The Three Miniatures, Op.153b (2005) were originally composed for recorders and piano and first performed at a Covent Garden lunch-hour concert by John Turner and Stephen Bettaney. At the request of recorder virtuoso John Turner the composer subsequently scored the piano part for a small orchestra consisting of strings, harp and percussion. In this form they have been recorded by John Turner (recorder) and the Manchester Camerata Ensemble conducted by Philip Mackenzie on a Dutton Epoch disc entitled ‘Over the Water’ (CDLX 7191). Featuring descant solo recorder, the opening Allegro vivace sports a classic Hedges tune – long-limbed and delectably restless in its rhythm and harmony. The central slow movement exploits the expressive qualities of the tenor solo recorder in a flowing cantilena. A quick and breezy finale celebrates that cheeky pipsqueak, the sopranino recorder, pairing it with xylophone and glockenspiel for extra sparkle at various points.
West Oxford Walks, Op.143 (2005) is a winning example of Hedges’ light music. It was originally composed for string quartet in response to a commission from the West Oxford Community Association. The composer subsequently arranged the work for flute, piano and, following requests, the first movement was arranged for two cellos and piano and also bassoon and piano (published by the Associated Board). The composer then arranged the original material for string orchestra and harp. In this guise it was recorded on Dutton’s ‘British Light Music Premieres Volume 3’ (CDLX 7170). The three movements are named after well-known venues in West Oxford. ‘Willow Walk’ is headed ‘with a relaxed swing’, which sums up this sauntering, slightly jazzy opening movement. The central ‘Osiers at Osney’ begins with a quietly flowing main theme. After a more animated central episode, which has a spontaneous luminosity, the principal material returns, this time punctuated by harp flourishes. Bringing the set to a close, ‘Tumbling Bay’ has a vigorous main idea and a classic, sweeping Hedges theme at its core.
Ten Bagatelles for piano, Op.156 (2005), were first performed by Martin Roscoe in a recital given as part of the annual Beverley Chamber Music Festival on 28 September 2006 in St Mary’s Church, Beverley. The Bagatelles stand on their own as individual miniatures also form a satisfying collection of contrasting and varied pieces. Some have the character of a study, such the first, whose (vintage) main theme has diverse phrase lengths; the seventh, with its constantly changing time signature; the eighth, with its intricate syncopations and the tenth, which features rigorous, rapid alternations of left and right hands. Others are more ruminative and exploratory, such as the improvisatory third, with its questing arpeggiated figures and filigree sextuplets and the ninth, whose slow chordal textures are graced with an elegantly expressive principal theme. The fruit of many decades’ experience of piano writing, this warm and wise score is the polished product of an experienced and accomplished executant.
Four Poems of W. B. Yeats, for soprano, flute (or recorders), cello and piano, Op.153 (2007) stems from a request from John Turner to write a setting of a Yeats poem for voice and recorder as part of a memorial concert of Professor Basil Deane – a longstanding friend of both Turner and Hedges. Having completed the piece, the composer decided to add more Yeats settings for the available ensemble: ‘To a Child Dancing in the Wind’, for voice and recorder; ‘Do not love too long’, for voice and cello; ‘Sweet Dancer’, for voice, recorder and cello; ‘The Cat and the Moon’, for voice, recorder, cello and piano. Hedges’ gift for suiting the material to the instrument is on display in these captivating miniature settings. In the final song, the droll cello glissandos depicting the cat’s meows, the interjections by the piccolo, sometimes flutter-tongued, and the hushed ostinato of the piano in its upper register create a delicately atmospheric backdrop for the soprano’s artless tale of a cat dancing in the moonlight. The Four Poems have been recorded in an ideal performance by Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), John Turner (recorders), Jonathan Price (cello) and Ian Thompson (piano) on a disc entitled ‘the Rose Tree’ released on the Prima Facie label (PFCD005).
The Lamp of Liberty, for speaker, bass soloist, chamber choir and orchestra, Op.155 (2005) was commissioned by the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra for the bicentenary celebrations of William Wilberforce in Hull in 2007. The premiere took place in Hull City Hall on 12 May 2007 with John Godber (speaker), Michael George (bass), the Beverley Chamber Choir and Hull Philharmonic conducted by Andrew Penny. The title is taken from Abraham Lincoln’s Chicago speech of 1858: ‘I leave you, hoping the that lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal’. The text compiles extracts drawn from various black poets and poets who were connected with Wilberforce, assembled to mirror the gradual move from captivity and despair to freedom and rejoicing. At crucial points three Negro spirituals are introduced. The work opens with the biblical ‘out of the depths have I called unto thee’ and the first part deals with the despair of slaves, including a dramatic section about the burning of villages to procure them. After the first spiritual, ‘Nobody knows the trouble I see’, which is designed for the chorus to show its qualities a cappella, pleas are raised for help: ‘Tis time voice was heard’, culminating in the spiritual ‘Go down Moses’. At the centre of the work – the turning point – extracts from Wilberforce’s Abolition Speech of 1789 are spoken over an orchestral background. The final section recalls the long struggles before freedom was finally achieved, leading to rejoicing in that freedom and the final spiritual ‘Free at last’. The emotional trajectory of this inspiring and passionate score, headed ‘in memoriam William Wilberforce’, is immensely powerful and the climactic paean to liberty is an overwhelming experience in a live context. Nevertheless, Hedges’ fine ear for vocal and orchestral sonorities and sense of dramatic sweep ensures that it is much more than just an occasional piece.
Times Remembered, for soprano, flute, cello and piano, Op.159 (2008) sets four late poems by Jay Appleton. ‘Badger’s Wood’ is a charming evocation of childhood games looking for fictional characters and Hedges offers a suitably wide-eyed, folk-like tune. In ‘Solitude’, isolated, illimitable distances are suggested by soaring flute and a subtle use of the outer registers of the keyboard. The tumbling energy of children following each other in hot pursuit is captured in the rapidly falling and rising phrases of ‘the Chasing-Game’. In ‘Seeing and Hiding’, the narrator seeks a hill to lie and take his fill of both the ‘opportunities’ of the song’s title. These final lines are movingly drawn out by repetition, the music reluctant to take its leave of this idyllic setting. It makes a magical conclusion to an exquisite and evocative cycle that would seem guaranteed to cast a spell over any audience.
Quintessential Hedges, the overture Saturday Market, Op.70 (1978, rev. 1985 and 2008) is an evocation of the bustling centre of Beverley in East Yorkshire where the composer has lived since 1967. It began life as a test piece for the National Youth Brass Band Competition. At the publishers’ request, Hedges made an arrangement for concert band in 1985. Years later, the conductor Gavin Sutherland, who had played in the original version as a schoolboy, urged the composer to make an orchestral transcription. The resulting orchestral version dates from 2008. Sutherland conducts the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in Hedges’ Saturday Market on a compilation disc entitled ‘British Light Music Premieres’ Volume 6, released by Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7283). This is Hedges’ light music at its considerable best. The themes are memorable and well defined, the orchestration is economical and effective and the material is so beautifully structured that not a note is wasted.
Three Humours for clarinet, bassoon and piano, Op.163, was written in the early summer of 2010 in response to a request from bassoonist Richard Moore, a longstanding friend of the composer, for a light-hearted work with at least one movement that would involve some rhythmic complexity to challenge the players. The resultant piece is among the composer’s most beautifully crafted mini-divertimentos. The opening Allegro vivace carries the title ‘Joie de vivre’ and opens vigorously. A more lyrical section is followed by development and then a freely varied recapitulation which includes a fleeting but delightful waltz-like variant of the main material on piano. The second movement, Poco lento, is headed ‘Contemplation’ and contrasts initial rhapsodic writing with more sustained, songlike lines. The quicksilver finale, ‘Celebration’ has a Molto vivace tempo marking and the main material is in a constant state of rhythmic flux – a considerable challenge for the performers, though not the listener. Its charming and bluesy second subject, however, has a more regular pulse. The interplay between the three instruments, which is a constant delight throughout the score, reaches its apogee in this kittenish finale. Three Humours was premiered by the Anemos Trio - Robert Blanken (clarinet), Richard Moore (bassoon) and Karen Kingsley (piano) – in a Radio 3 broadcast on 21 June 2011. These players have subsequently included it in many concerts across the south of England, making it the composer’s most widely-performed chamber work.
Trialogues for flute, oboe and piano, Op.165 (2011) was premiered at Richmond Concerts Society on 11 April 2015 by the Chanterlands Players: Ian Denley (flute), Helena Bidder (oboe) and Robert Markham (piano). Lasting around eleven minutes, it is cast in three compact movements. This welcome addition to a scant repertoire engages each of the players constantly in a richly satisfying discourse – the very essence of a successful vehicle for chamber forces. In the opening movement, a brief and fluid slow preface introduces the three protagonists in turn, as well as presenting material to be developed later in the work. Following without a break, the main Allegro vivace section contains a strongly rhythmic principal idea and a more relaxed and lyrical secondary theme with a characteristically wistful, slightly jazzy feel. Elements of both subjects are explored and elaborated in a lively and playful development section that incorporates some fugal treatment before a varied recapitulation where the chief subjects are re-stated in reverse order. The eloquent and introspective central Lento considers motifs from the preceding movement and, at its core, the work’s introduction is recalled. Emotional depths are probed as each instrument is allowed to contribute expressive solo passages as well as engage in telling discussion with the other players. Rounding off the piece is a lively, rondo finale that has a dance-like feel with shifting 5/8 and 6/8 rhythms – think a mixture of Gigue and Hornpipe!’ suggests the composer in his programme note. More measured episodes provide an effective contrast to the metrically capricious primary theme. Gradually increasing in intricacy and virtuosity as it unfolds, the movement ends in a lively flourish, supplying a rewarding conclusion to a delightful score that succeeds in showcasing all three instruments’ individual qualities as well as their ability to create a piquant ensemble.
The consistently high standard of Anthony Hedges’ writing shines through in a series of impressive scores for large and small forces, only some of which are considered here. Though it is gratifying that his light pieces and chamber works have been featured on various CDs, the continuing absence in the catalogue of major works such as the symphonies, concertinos, choral works and the Piano Sonata no.2, Op.154 (2004) is a sore omission. One can only hope that enterprising record labels will rectify this situation soon so that listeners will have the opportunity to explore his finest compositions and commentators can evaluate fully his output in all its range and diversity. In the meantime an admirable cross-section of his music (together with programme notes) is available for listening on www.soundcloud.com/anthony-hedges.
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