Rawsthorne in the Pages of Music Survey - 1947 -1953
article submitted by John France
Donald Mitchell began producing 'Music Survey' in 1947. He was the sole editor of the first series. However it was the second series which was to cause a stir amongst the cognoscenti of the day. Musical journals are notorious for not being read by musicians - unless they were reading a review of their own compositions or performances. But here was a journal which both Tippet and Britten felt able to subscribe to. It was to have an influence way beyond the confines of its quite small circulation.
Looking back over fifty years we can see the Music Survey as being a half-way house between the 'gentleman' critics like Colles, Westrup and Tovey and the idealised and wordless Functional Analysis which Hans Keller himself proposed.
It was an attempt to get away from situating the compositions within the biography of the composer and towards analysing the relationship of the piece in musical terms, both internal to the work itself and to other works in the composer's corpus.
Music Survey was financed by the Headmaster of Dulwich College. It was heavily edited by Hans Keller and Donald Mitchell. A brief glance at the index reveals a leaning towards the music of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. However, the works of Mozart and Beethoven are not ignored. Mitchell's lifelong love affair with the music of Mahler is well reflected in these pages.
Hans Keller was born in Austria but fled to England in 1938. He played the violin and the viola. Apart from his joint editorship of Music Survey he was a contributor to Music Review and held a post as advisor to the British Film Institute.
Donald Mitchell was basically self taught in music, but was to become one of the most influential writers on the subject. He was a regular contributor to a number of musical periodicals - the Musical Times, and as editor of Tempo between 1958 and 1962.
He is noted for his book 'The Language of Modern music' (1963).
One of the reasons why Music Survey is such a treasure trove for students of British Music is the large number of reviews it carried of indigenous scores and concerts - especially new music and first performances. Apart from the bias towards Britten it makes comments on most of the composers writing in the post-war period in the United Kingdom.
The list is an interesting one. Half-forgotten names such as Leighton Lucas and Robin Milford are reviewed along side better remembered figures such as Humphrey Searle, William Alwyn, Michael Tippet and Alan Rawsthorne.
An important task which has still to be performed is the analysis of the relative merits and demerits of the many composers reviewed. To study who was in the ascendancy and who was seen as being passé at this crucial period in British musical history.
The purpose of this article is to look at the reviews given in Music Survey of one composer, Alan Rawsthorne.
I intend examine this in a more or less chronological order ( as reviewed in the journal). I will quote the entire review where appropriate, so this will also serve as an 'archive' for future researchers.
The first task is to take a view as to what were Rawsthorne's achievements over the life-span of Music Survey. It is easier to present this in tabular form.
The first thing we notice is that there are a number of key works which are not mentioned in the journal. For example, the Concertante Pastorale, the First Violin Concerto, the Clarinet Quartet and the Four Romantic Piano Pieces.
The second thing to note is the relative weight given to compositions. The Sonatina merits 226 words whilst the First Symphony only manages to accrue 79 words.
Paul Hamburger came to the United Kingdom from Vienna. He made his name as a pianist, a writer and an educator. Contemporary musical journalism shews that he was in demand as an accompanist and chamber music player. Amongst his interests are Chopin, Mahler and Britten.
Hamburger reviews a concert given at the Wigmore Hall on the 8th April 1949. James Gibb gave the first performance of the Sonat(a)ina for Piano. It appears that Mr Hamburger regards the work as a Sonata rather than a Sonatina. A brief look at the timings suggests that 11 minutes is possibly closer to his estimation than a piece of 'educational/grade' music normally associated with the Sonatina form. The models of Ravel and Ireland beg consideration. Certainly if we are to evaluate this music by technique and construction we must agree that this is no 'sonata-ette'
"A good solid piece, full of interesting points. Four short movements run without a break, and thus the Sonata is like a new set of 'Bagatelles.'
Although the themes of the first three movements seemed related, this did not help to create the impression of real 4-movememnt form since the material, though weighty enough, is not worked out to all its 'obligations' (to use a term of Schoenberg)
In short I wished the piece had been longer. Apart from this formal criticism, Rawsthorne's idiom is assured and convincing, due, in no small part, to his keen sense of harmonic progression and telling bass-lines which always prevents him from giving way to the merely sensational and coloristic.
Nevertheless the piano-writing is difficult and brilliant, and thanks are due to Mr Gibb for his straightforward performance, and his feat of memorising this complicated piece."
Volume 2 No. 1 p.53/4 1949
If Hamburger had known about John McCabe's article in the Winter 1997 edition of 'The Creel' he would have to have changed his tune. It could not then have been analogous to the Bagatelles. For McCabe posits the existence of a Fifth Bagatelle namely the Fourth Romantic Piece. Mr Hamburger's comparisons are with Schoenberg, although this is perhaps rather tenuous. It is hard to imagine Rawsthorne dutifully and laboriously applying the 'serial methodology' in all its ramifications. There is no mention of the influence of Brahms in the Allegretto and of Shostakovitch in the Allegro Con Brio. I am not convinced that 'solid' is an adjective I would have applied to this piece.
Wilfred Mellers is noted for being a somewhat rare beast - an accomplished composer and an excellent musical journalist. So often these two occupations do not lie easily together. Mellers studied with Wellez and Rubbra - pointing up two very different traditions. During the time of his contributions to the Music Survey he was Staff Tutor in Music at Birmingham University.
Mellers (WHM) reviews some Piano and Chamber Music by Copland, Orr and Rawsthorne. Writing of the Sonatina ( now with the correct title!) he says:-
"Rawsthorne's Sonatina contains no movement built on the dualistic sonata principle of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first movement is mono-thematic and toccata like, creating a typically glinting and astringent sound from the keyboard. The slow movement is lyrically sustained, reaching a most impressive climax; and the humour of the last two movements has a rather Waltonian' acidity. It is testimony to the power and integrity of Rawsthorne's mind that the consistent and continuous keyboard figuration hardly ever ceases to fulfil a musical purpose."
Volume 2 No. 2 p. 110 Autumn 1949
One is led to wonder whether Mr Mellers is pleased that the 'sonata' form is absent or whether he regards it as a loss.
The Concerto for Strings was first given in the United Kingdom at a promenade Concert on 11th August 1949. However the first performance had been broadcast on Radio Hilversum in June 1949. This is a restless piece which in many ways epitomises the changes taking place in British Music at the time. Latter day critics have compared it to Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. However this seems to ignore the fact of the former work's introspection and darker hues. I think there is a greater degree of unity in the Rawsthorne piece over and against the diversity of Britten's ten characteristic pieces.
The reviewer was Paul Hamburger. He is obviously impressed by the architecture and the textures of this piece. He writes:-
"The laconic style, as opposed to mere "bitty-ness," is much rarer in music than in literature, since only few composers, and still fewer listeners, are keen-eared enough to perceive, and leave unsaid, the associative links between several lapidary statements. Rawsthorne is one of these few, making us feel, rather as T.S. Eliot does, by his meaningful conciseness, that our musical, or general, education has been far from thorough. Nor can one say of his latest full-scale work, as one could of the Sonatina, that its material is not worked out in all its possibilities: here it is just a case of very individual material asking for so much working out, and no more. This is most apparent in the first movement, in strictest sonata form, with three well-defined subjects, the first contrapuntal, the second a lyrical passage for solo viola (the few solo passages occur in the 1st and 3rd movements, the slow movement being, as it were, a solo for the whole orchestra); a short development in double-counterpoint being followed by an emotional climax of the movement, a quiet solo-violin passage over a string tremolo; followed in turn by a shortened recapitulation. The 2nd movement, a kind of chaconne, has the same 4-note motto as 'La Folia,' used by Corelli and others, has some of the grave charm of those early Italian Chaconnes. Whether the quotation is conscious or not, one thing is certain: Rawsthorne's musical roots strike very deep. Lastly comes a serious Rondo, thematically related to the first movement, with a quiet, almost stagnant first episode, and a fugue as second episode. The main section is progressively shortened until at last the few firm chords of the 2nd subject that are left put their foot down and call a halt. The work should be speedily published in miniature score.
Volume 2 No. 2 p. 125/6 Autumn 1949
It is instructive to take a brief look at some of the other works reviewed by Mr Hamburger. These include William Alwyn's Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Harp - definitely a case of damning with faint praise. Gordon Jacob's Fantasia on the Alleluia Hymn was reviewed along with Leighton Lucas' Chaconne in C minor. ( The only piece I know by this composer is a work for Brass Band which is regarded as being something of a test piece.) Lennox Berkeley's 'Colonus Praise' for mixed choir and orchestra.
Strangely, Hamburger omitted a number of important 'novelties' from this review. For example the now long forgotten Violin Concerto by Alan Bush, Eugene Goossens' Sinfonietta and the same composer's Fantasy for Piano and orchestra, Honegger's First Symphony, Humphrey Searle's Overture to a Drama and a piece by Richard Strauss - Duet Concertino for Clarinet, String Orchestra and harp.
Donald Mitchell notes in his review of a concert given at Chelsea Town Hall on the 12th December 1949 by the Boyd Neel orchestra that:-
"Alan Rawsthorne conducted his own Concerto for Sting Orchestra which must be one of our civilisation's few civilised pieces."
Volume 2 No. 3 p 203 Winter 1950
Although this is great praise indeed, one detects a hint of hyperbole. However both the reviews lead us to think that this piece should be given equal status beside the aforementioned Britten, the Tippet Double Concerto, RVW's Tallis Fantasia and Elgar's Introduction and Allegro. Perhaps the recent release on Naxos will have this effect.
Paul Hamburger reviews the Sonata for Cello and Piano which had been published by Oxford University Press in 1949.
It is symbolic of the inspired precision of one of our greatest masters of form that this Sonata starts with a 6-bar ( not even an 8-bar) phrase, consisting of two motifs à 3-bars (a and b) in which every note of the whole sonata is contained like the chicken in the egg.
Only a few examples: The first movement proper begins with (a) in diminution against (b) in inversion; its (chordal) second subject is a particularly interesting form of (b) shared between the instruments: the second movement begins with (a) in canon: the last movement theme is compounded of (b) direct and inverted. Since all these derivations are not superimposed but inherent in the material, the result is "Variety in Identity" - a considerable achievement for a composer.
A similar relationship, perhaps expressible as "Individuality within Tradition" applies to the contents of Mr Rawsthorne's Music. As I have indicated elsewhere he does not copy, or paraphrase, the manner of the great masters. What he does constantly is to utilise their victories over the acoustic material, and to colonise the territories they have discovered. Now these "victories" of the masters, as distinct from their styles, are partly ineffable, partly not examined yet.
They cannot be copied by a modern composer - but they can be assimilated by a strong instinct for tradition which Mr Rawsthorne has. In the 'Poco pui mosso' of the adagio he 'colonises' the contrapuntal variation-form of one or two masters I will not name. In the first movement, the same happens to another's organisation of florid, but thematic middle parts. As in all good modern music, so it is here; the traditional begins where the general public hears dissonances."
Volume 3 No.4 p. 261 Spring 1950
The opening paragraphs of this review are highly technical. Perhaps the constructive principles of the New Viennese School are being sought in this chamber work. There is no doubt that the Cello Sonata is a tightly controlled piece - Martin Cooper remarks in a contemporary article that "the Cello Sonata is characterised by the same persistent concern with the melodic germ as we found in the Violin concerto." He continues to explain that this method or approach is best suited to chamber music - for it is chamber music that the texture and the clarity of instrumentation allow this kind of outworking of intellectual ideas.
However, although 'thematic integration' is inherent in this piece, this is no Schoenbergian construction. Hamburger recognises that Rawsthorne is one of the greatest modern masters of form ( How many would still hold this view today?) The structure of the Cello Sonata highlights this high view.
Sebastian Forbes writing in the Poulton's 'Rawsthorne Symposium' states that the 'division of all three movements into one or more sections of contrasting tempi provides a happy compromise between 'sonata' and 'variations' and ensures that no section is overdeveloped.
Perhaps Mr Hamburger is impressed by the formal constructs of this piece, as providing a way forward for 'modern' music. So much criticism in the pejorative sense is levelled by the contributors of Music Survey towards works constructed in 'conventional' forms. It is hardly surprising that he refers to 'Individuality in Tradition'. Forbes is right in claiming that this piece is Rawsthorne's miniature masterpiece.
In the Spring 1951 edition of Musical Survey there is an article entitles 'Some First Performances' There are a number of works discussed. These include amongst the British contingent Arnold Cooke's Oboe Quartet, Fricker's Violin Sonata. Roberto Gerhard's Viola Sonata and Timothy Moore's Trumpet Concerto. The Rawsthorne work discussed was the First Symphony.
"Back in London, Alan Rawsthorne's Symphony ( Albert Hall, 15th November: BBC Symphony Orchestra under Boult) has met with the lukewarm reception which its nowise lukewarm lifeblood made probable: it does not happen often that the public in general and the critics in particular forgive a composer for developing: not copying himself. Amongst a considerable number of things, the work is the first symphony since Britten's 2nd string quartet which at once faces and solves the modern sonata problem "
Volume 3 No. 3 p.206 March 1951
John McCabe quotes an un-sourced note by Hans Keller ( p131) He described the symphony as "a landmark in the development or our age's symphonic thought and shows a new stage in [Rawsthorne's] own development." He further notes Keller's comment about the "half-hearted response in those who like what they know: the new Rawsthorne perturbed, maybe even offended them."
This quotation seems to be at odds with a later comment about the composer no longer sounding radical when it came time to review the 2nd Piano Concerto.
This symphony seemed to have merited somewhat subdued reviews. Pirie writing in 'The English Musical Renaissance' states 'Rawsthorne's 1st Symphony was less individual than the Symphonic Studies, it is a comparatively conventional work, but saved by it's composer's taut strength."
The first performance was at a popular venue. The Royal Albert Hall on 15th November 1950. The conductor was Sir Adrian Boult. This was Rawsthorne's first essay in the conventional four-movement format. There is no doubt that this was a successful work. Unlike the Symphonic Studies the four movements of this symphony are quite separate. However there is a great degree of thematic unity between them. The opening bars contain the structural material for much of the entire symphony's development.
However, the critical consensus suggests that the weak point of the 1st Symphony is the last movement. Rawsthorne felt that the finale was 'more discursive than the rest of the Symphony.' McCabe conceded that the last movement does have links with the earlier movements, however he states that the 'relationship with the symphony's opening is not explored in depth "
John McCabe quotes Hans Keller in Music Review 12 (May 1951) as saying, " the work offers masterly solutions of two of the three great symphonic problems. i.e. the sonata problem and the high task and test of the slow movement; whereas it does not seem to have overcome the third, i.e. the -ever since the Romantic age - painfully noticeable finale problem."
Yet the fact remains that this was a considerable essay in the symphonic form for any composer to write - especially for his first. Keller is just in his comments and one must suppose that the composer felt pleased with this and most other reviews given at the time. It must not be forgotten that Rawsthorne waited until he was forty five before producing this work. The analogy is drawn to Brahms, who also delayed writing his first symphony until his mid forties.
Hamburger reviews the Cheltenham Festival of 1951.
He writes of the Second Piano Concerto which was reviewing its second performance:-
"Rawsthorne so sure of his style that he doesn't sound radical any longer. People think he's polite, and like him. Long tunes vary with close canons and augmentations (typical R.).
1st mov., between short expos. And recap., has one of the most varied devel's. in modern music. Scherzo in rondo form, the last mov. Rondo + Variation form, slow mov. Scherzoid middle part: all these stress concertante element.
Self confessed vulgarity of last mov. theme a bread-and-butter basis for most complicated harmonic experiments, brilliantly solved, especially the horse-play between the F# and G tonalities of this movement. 4-mov form and treatment of piano come from 2nd Brahms concerto."
Volume 4. No.1 p. 370 October 1951
The 2nd Piano Concerto was a roaring success. From the first it was amazingly popular with both audiences and musicians. Receiving performances in New York, Amsterdam and Berlin, it was given it's first performance at the Royal Festival Hall in 1950 with Clifford Curzon as the soloist and the LSO under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent.
It is not the purpose of this essay to evaluate the references to Brahms - this has been done admirably by John McCabe - however it is interesting to note the success of this work as part of Rawsthorne's post war romantic period as opposed to the 'baroque' period of the First Piano Concerto. For once the 'self confessed vulgarity' of the last movement does not seem to detract from Hamburger's review of this piece. The composer was conscious of this potential 'drop off' from his work. He writes in his own programme notes for the work, "The last movement opens with a short, cacophonous outburst by the orchestra The tune, saved, one hopes, from complete banality by its metrical construction " Nowadays one need only consider some of Arnold's many works which effectively use a 'banal' theme to realise that it can be musically effective and expedient to use 'pop' tunes if the occasion and the emotion require it.
The reviewer considers a number of other works. Alwyn's Festival March is 'passed over in silence.' The Concerto Grosso fares better. Although it is accused of being a crib from Handel, it is " well written for string orchestra." Malcolm Arnold's 1st Symphony is well received - "not a single bar doesn't say Arnold." Frankel, Holst both Gustav and Imogen and Philip Sainton are all treated to tolerable criticism.
However it is John Gardener's 1st Symphony that receives the greatest brickbats.
Hamburger writes, " An uncivilized piece, lacking barbarian strength. Nothing half hearted about Gardener's attempt to squeeze his, no doubt unconscious, cribbings from the English School, Sibelius etc. into a good symphonic scheme "
Dennis Dobson briefly notes the shewing of 'The Dancing Fleece, a film made for the National Wool Textile Corporation at the Edinburgh Festival of 1951.
This had been released in 1950. It was a short 'ballet' film with continuos music. It was choreographed by Harold Turner of Saddler Wells and the story was by Anthony Steven
Volume 4. No 2 p. 426 February 1952
We are fortunate in having a CD of three dances from this particular film, so we are able to judge the quality of this piece of ballet music. It must be seen as a precursor to the score of Madame Chrysanthemum. One must hope that more of Rawsthorne's film scores will be realised - especially some of the 'ministry' shorts. Perhaps it is also important to have the 'visuals' as well. I am sure many people, and not just British Music aficionados would love to see 'Cargo for Ardrossan', for example.
Donald Mitchell briefly reviews the miniature score of 'Street Corner - Overture for orchestra.
"I heard this work twice in one day at the recent Cheltenham Festival (rehearsal and performance) and discovered that once was enough.
But that doesn't mean that it is not an extremely effective overture and bright enough to begin many a festival of contemporary British music.
Volume 2 No. 3 p.192 Winter 1950
Street Corner is one of the few Rawsthorne works which actually gained a popular following from concert-goers. Perhaps its is indicative of the elitist tendency of this journal that such a 'lollipop' is treated with rough justice.
Strangely, of all the pieces for orchestra that Rawsthorne wrote, this overture is amongst the most energetic. John Belcher states that 'for all its surface élan, (it) hides skilful compositional devices in its deeper levels. This is a mood piece and is a link to the many film scores which were a major part of the composer's body of work"
And herein lies the crux of the problem associated with the viewpoint of the Music Survey. I believe that there is an intellectual 'down' on composers who 'prostitute' their art by production of commercial works.
The composer William Alwyn is vilified in the pages of this journal. I believe that it because of his competence at writing film music.
Let me make a final quote:-
"To say stick to film music will be considered abominable bad taste: but that's my advice to Mr. Alwyn. Why stop doing what you do better than most others, in order to try your hand at something where you fail as badly as the worst of the rest?"
Volume 3 No 2 December 1950 p119
In our more eclectic days we would not write off the 'concert' music of William Alwyn, just because he also wrote film music. Even if that concert music owed much in form and texture to the film music.
The low point is reached by Hamburger. He had further written on the Gardener Symphony mentioned above, saying that it was:- "a hotchpotch of sham-romantic film-music, which, fortified by the austere label of "symphony," outlast and out-bores six film-scores."
Rawsthorne wrote much excellent film music - now becoming available on CD. Most of it is excellent. And there are crossover's into his main oeuvre. A musical friend noted that the 'Symphonic Studies' would have provided an excellent score for the 'big screen'. Yet over and against that I feel that the suites of film music as realized by Philip Lane contribute something to the 'symphonic' catalogue of Alan Rawsthorne.
Rawsthorne emerges from the pages of Music Survey with his head held high. The Cello Sonata is seen as being a masterpiece. Hamburger wrote:- " the inspired precision of one of our greatest masters of form."
This is no small praise from a musical periodical that was able to make or break a composer's reputation way beyond the confines of it's readership.