IV British by choice, the influence
of other traditions
10 Franz Reizenstein
Franz Reizenstein was born in Nuremberg on 7th June
1911. His father, a doctor, was interested in painting and other artistic
matters, and provided his family with a helpful and sympathetic background.
Franz’s sister was artistic, his brother was an amateur violinist, while
he himself, from an early age, displayed remarkable gifts as a pianist
and composer. He also possessed perfect pitch. So it seems likely that,
in different circumstances, he might well have made his mark as a child
prodigy. And it was not just a case of his being a composer who also
played the piano. His technique was capable of the biggest works in
the piano repertoire, and throughout his life the twin pursuits of piano
playing and composition made up the two equal halves of his musical
personality, and were inextricably bound together, each influencing
In 1930 Reizenstein went to the State Academy of Music
in Berlin, where he studied composition with Hindemith, piano with Leonid
Hindemith required of his pupils that they should acquire
at least a working knowledge of all the standard orchestral instruments.
As Reizenstein said:
He arranged for his students to take up different
wind and stringed instruments in turn... We played together regularly
and provided most of the music by composing it ourselves. We would
not let anyone listen to the ghastly noises we produced-not that
anybody wanted to but we did learn how to write for the various
Hindemith thought most highly of him, and three guiding
principles established during his years of study were never lost sight
of later. First, a sense of tradition as being something present, active
and growing. He became closely, intimately acquainted with the classical
and romantic repertoire, and saw his function as a composer in terms
of a continuation of that tradition. Second, a strictness and a discipline
in composition, particularly as far as counterpoint was concerned. Third,
a rejection of dodecaphony, atonalism, serialism, and all other avant-garde
experiments. He aligned himself artistically with the established norms
of tonal composition, as far as idiom and structure are concerned, and
worked from that basis without reservations. His knowledge and love
of the standard nineteenth century repertoire were too profound to admit
of their being usurped by an allegiance to one of the more experimental
schools of thought that began to be rife in Europe in the 20s and 30s,
and have grown since.
An article on Hindemith’ summarises his teacher’s,
and his own, aesthetic standpoint:
In all branches of the arts there exists a desire
to delve into decadence and revel in the macabre, both things far
removed from Hindemith’s ideals. Vociferous advocates of surrealism,
who proudly proclaim that they have freed music from the shackles
of tonality, tend to minimise Hindemith’s great achievements because
he had the courage to expose the basic errors of their doctrine.
Any music cast in traditional form or idiom is suspect in their
eyes, even if it is of first-rate craftsmanship. They may continue
their delicious dance around the serial golden calf indefinitely;
this is of little consequence to the general public, who will decide
in the long run which kind of twentieth century music it wants to
hear. Some irresponsible critics, over-anxious to jump on the avant-garde
bandwagon, present a false picture of Hindemith’s position in present-day
music, but most musicians agree that his music will live for a long
time to come. [The Listener, 20th March 1964].
As soon as Hitler came to power in Germany, Reizenstein
realised the evils of Nazism, particularly for those of Jewish birth;
and so in 1934, at the age of twenty-three, he left and came to England-the
first contemporary composer to do so. His choice was helped by the fact
that an uncle on his mother’s side lived at Kingston. He continued his
studies at the Royal College of Music in London; composition with Vaughan
Williams, and (later) piano with Solomon.
He never subsequently lost his respect for, nor the
influence of, Hindemith, in spite of the very different influence exerted
by his new teacher. He found Vaughan Williams much freer, less rigid;
just as influential, but in a different way, as his was a dominating
personality, both musically and spiritually. Other pupils found this
to be the case, that Vaughan Williams was overwhelming as a teacher
to all but the strongest; but in the case of Reizenstein it is difficult
to think of anyone in England at this time who could have provided him
with a more inspiring contrast to Hindemith, or who could better have
introduced him to the nascent English tradition, which was from now
onwards to form the background to his work.
From Solomon, who revolutionized his attitude to the
piano, he learned insistence on tone-quality in piano playing, and on
the greatest control of touch, in so far as touch is the chief means
of varying tone quality. Control of tone, particularly at a pianissimo
dynamic level, and mastery of legato-a sense of melodic continuity,
in spite of the up-and-down movement of the keys and hammers-were the
cornerstones of this technical approach, which Reizenstein derived from
Solomon. And technique arose from the music itself.
Later (1958) Reizenstein was given a post at the Royal
Academy of Music as teacher of piano; and later still (1964) at the
Royal Manchester College. He was never appointed to teach composition
at any of the official music colleges in this country; and he only did
so on a more humble, semi-amateur basis, in evening classes at the Hendon
Music Centre and, much later, in America.
The later 30s were years of difficulty for him, of
struggle and privation. He was entirely involved in music, dedicated
and professional. Both then and subsequently, composition and recitals
were his life; but not, to start with, his livelihood. All his energy
went into music-making, yet he was never saturated. It was inevitable
that sooner or later he would triumph; but this was not to be before
he had undergone considerable hardship. On the outbreak of war in 1939
he was interned on the Isle of Man, along with many others of non-British
birth whose naturalisation papers were not quite in order. In Reizenstein’s
case, a concert tour of South America in 1937/8 [With the Violinist
Roman Totenberg, who later played in his Boston concerts, 1966 (see
p. 148).] had interrupted the continuity of his residence in this country.
However during his internment he was active in arranging concerts and
performing in them.
Throughout this period Vaughan Williams helped him
as much as he could; by writing on his behalf during his internment,
by putting work in his way, such as piano arrangements or editing. Later
in the war Reizenstein volunteered for the army, but was not accepted
owing to his poor eyesight. He was given a job as a railway clerk for
a while-and he even managed to write part of his Viola Sonata, Op. 20,
during this period.
Just as his musicianship was made up of two equal halves-piano
playing and composition - so his personality displayed two chief features,
the serious and the funny; the romantic and the impish. As he took pleasure
in observing, he was born under Gemini. He took great delight in jokes,
whether musical or practical; and these found a natural outlet in the
diversions of Gerard Hoffnung in the 50s, which were a much needed counterbalance
to the overwhelming seriousness that came over British music at this
time. For these extravaganzas Reizenstein contributed specifically humorous
scores (a notoriously difficult task), such as ‘Lets fake an opera.’,
or ‘Concerto popolare’. He also introduced a light note into more solemn
surroundings; for instance into his choral work Voices of Night. Moreover,
an element of fun formed an important part of his personal relationships.
But he also liked peace, and the beauty of nature, which he found particularly
conducive to composition.
Of his forty-eight compositions with Opus numbers,
three-quarters consist of piano and chamber music. This was the medium
in which his romanticism found the most apt expression. His pleasure
in chamber music was the pleasure that comes from intelligent, cultured
discourse between colleagues. He was fortunate in finding excellent
musicians to perform his works, a fact which is itself an eloquent testimony
to their worth: Max Rostal, Leslie Parnas and Maria Lidka, who was a
regular member of his Trio. [Franz Reizenstein (Piano), Maria Lidka
(Violin), Rohan de Saram ’Cello). (Also Derek Simpson and Christopher
Bunting in earlier years)]
Reizenstein’s first published work (1936) was the Piano
Suite, Op. 6; but the first piece that brought him wide acclaim was
the Prologue, Variations and Finale, Op. 12, for violin and piano, written
for Max Rostal (1937-8), and later re-written for violin and orchestra,
Op. 12a. The first ideas for this piece came during the South American
tour in 1937, between Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile; the finale
is based on South American rhythms, ‘en forme d’une Danse Fantasque’.
The movements follow without a break, and are characterized by a brilliantly
rhapsodic virtuosity, and an insight into instrumental technique, shown
by a knowledge of fingering, free use of harmonics and so on, not often
found among English composers. The form is cyclic; that is to say, four
themes are heard throughout, first stated in the Prologue and developed
in the Variations. The range of mood is wide, the texture highly varied.
After leaving Hindemith, he gave rein to his romanticism;
which is to say that the effect of the music comes from the way its
movement is controlled-at what dynamic, pitch or volume; with what degree
and rapidity of harmonic consonance or dissonance-rather than from any
theoretical organisation of the musical elements abstracted from, and
independent of, their resulting sound.
Another outstanding piece for violin and piano is the
G sharp sonata Op. 20, written for Maria Lidka. This has greater tonal
freedom than the earlier piece. If the combination of major and minor
modes may be traced to Vaughan Williams, and the prevalence of the interval
of the fourth to Hindemith, the overall style is considerably more than
the sum of these two constituent parts. The opening movement, in strict
sonata form, develops great warmth in its long-sustained arch-like phrases,
a marked characteristic of this composer; and this is admirably balanced
by the second movement, which is a scherzo in all but name, and which
contains Spanish rhythms, such as the Jota, and passages which recall
the strumming of a guitar. The finale juxtaposes a slow violin cantilena,
which has a misterioso piano background, suggestive of the rustling
of trees in the wind, against a more vigorous, more contrapuntal section,
in which the instruments discourse on equal terms. The main subject
of the first movement returns, and the work concludes in a blaze of
This work marks the end of the first phase of his work,
and there followed a two year gap (1945-47), partly devoted to film
work, before he embarked on the central, most productive period of his
life. This began with the Scherzo, Op. 21, and ended with the Second
Piano Concerto, Op. 37; between these two works are included most of
the large compositions by which he is chiefly known. First come two
outstandingly successful pieces, the Cello Sonata, Op. 22, and the Piano
Quintet, Op. 23. With the Cello Sonata Reizenstein emerges from his
two-year silence with increased stature, and with greater command of
his individual style of poly-tonality. Within the accepted limits of
sonata form, implicit in a tonal idiom, he develops greater freedom
of line than in works of the earlier period. Both instruments are used
in virtuoso manner, and the characteristic juxtaposition of contrasted
moods occurs in the second (scherzo) movement, in which a vivace theme,
built in fourths, is followed by a poignant, rhapsodic, cantabile theme
(lento), full of tonal ambiguity and contrast of colour-the sine qua
non of romanticism. The finale is graded in excitement; an adagio introduction,
which contains most of the material to follow, leads to the main A major
theme (allegro amabile), which in turn develops into agitato.
The Piano Quintet, which was his favourite, is the
largest of Reizenstein’s chamber music compositions, and most fully
sums up his contribution to this branch of music. Refined, polished,
its four movements firmly grounded in the classical sonata structure,
the work can justifiably be placed beside the great chamber works of
the past. In his development of the melodic-harmonic-tonal methods of
the nineteenth century, and within the context of the English tradition,
Reizenstein discovered his characteristic polytonal idiom. And the slow
second movement of this Quintet, in which by definition the pace of
harmonic change is comparatively slow, is an excellent illustration
of the fresh discoveries that lay in store in 1949 for a composer who
was able to pursue a path that, according to some, was played out. The
chromaticism after [o] is complete, and the twelve notes are used freely;
yet never once is the tonal control lost. This section of the slow movement
also contains much rhythmic and contrapuntal development, yet always
within the framework of a regular underlying metre, so fundamental to
the chamber music style.
The scherzo movement gains in brilliance from the larger
ensemble. The material, taken from what has gone before, is shared between
the instruments with a sense of gay abandon which Reizenstein never
surpassed. There is no contrasted mood in this long movement, but nor
is there any need for it; the momentum, once established, runs its appointed
course. Not till the finale do we encounter any slackening of intensity;
starting andante sostenuto, the music builds up, as in the Violin Sonata,
to allegro vivace, then agitato. After considerable contrapuntal work,
canonic imitation and so on, the instruments come together on the final
page for a brilliant conclusion.
To this middle group of works also belongs Reizenstein’s
small but important output of choral compositions. The first of these,
the cantata Voices of Night, Op. 27, was written in 1950/1, and first
heard in June 1952. The appeal of this work immediately led to two more
commissions-the radio opera Anna Kraus, Op. 30, and the oratorio Genesis,
Op. 35, which was first heard at a Three Choirs Festival in 1958. The
librettist for all these works was Reizenstein’s close friend, the poet
Christopher Hassall, who also collaborated with Walton (Troilus and
Cressida) and Bliss (Tobias and the Angel).
Both Voices of Night and Genesis suffer to some extent
from the swing away from the old oratorio tradition that has already
been referred to, though Voices of Night suffered less than the other
work in this respect, since its subject is not specifically religious;
moreover the composer’s sensitivity to the English language helped to
make it a popular success. The work is a sequence of poems invoking
night, starting with the onset of night, finishing with the dawn. When
the poetry is romantic, contemplative, the composer achieves a most
apt result. Such moments occur on No. 1 ('How lovely is the heaven of
this night’) and No. 10 (‘On thy cold shore, O Death’); the music and
the words develop in true partnership. But in the poems whose mood is
less reflective, the function of the music can only be to add colour
to the words; and in such circumstances, with banality just around the
corner, Reizenstein’s characteristic idiom needed to be held severely
in check to avoid inconsistency between words and music. No. 3 (‘Sweet
Suffolk Owle’) and No. 4 (‘The bread is all baked’) are examples of
this more objective sort of word-setting. The composer’s model for this
aspect of his work was Vaughan Williams’ Five Tudor Portraits; it is
no surprise to hear that Vaughan Williams approved of Reizenstein’s
vocal style. But such word-painting, verging sometimes on naivete, implies
a lessening of the role of music in relation to the poetry; and this
was precisely one of the reasons contributing to the decline of the
old English oratorio.
Reizenstein’s second choral work, the oratorio Genesis,
consists of the story of the Creation, as related in (Genesis, interspersed
with poems from various sources to add imagery to the original story.
As well as arranging the text, Hassall contributed one poem, in which
he sets forth the tendency of our age to risk the negation of God’s
creative work through the misuse of man’s knowledge; other poets represented
are Blake, Milton, George Herbert. The soloists are the same as in the
other choral work-soprano and baritone. Curiously, however, the oratorio
is in many ways more successful than the cantata; the composer himself
preferred it. Though it attempts less, it is better integrated, and
more developed a work, and though it fits more obviously than the cantata
does into a limited tradition, rooted in the past-the much-vaunted British
choral tradition-it is more consistently compelling than the other work,
whose roots are shallower. Its style is more characteristic of its composer’s
maturity; the use of the fourth may be traced to Hindemith, the use
of moving triads to Vaughan Williams, but the polytonal counterpoint
is the product of the two, and a marked feature of Reizenstein’s idiom.
Can it be that one accepts the somewhat academic convention
of fugal choruses in a specifically sacred work, whose milieu is an
English cathedral, with fewer reservations than one has about such a
device in a work designed for concert use? For instance, the choral
writing in No. 3a of Genesis (‘And Man became a living soul’) may be
conventional, but it is at the same time considerably more evocative,
and apt, than the fugal writing for male chorus in Voices of Night with
which Reizenstein seeks to adorn the immortal words:-
He who goes to bed, and goes to bed sober,
Falls as the leaves do, and dies in October;
But he who goes to bed, and goes to bed mellow,
Lives as he ought to do, and dies an honest fellow.
Such an admirable sentiment hardly requires traditional
fugal treatment, or indeed musical treatment of any sort (except perhaps
satirical) for its full message, with all its undoubted depth of philosophical
insight, to be conveyed.
But the fugue is an illustration of the lighter, impish
side of Reizenstein’s personality. It is intended as a joke.
After Genesis two further works complete the central
group of compositions: Five Sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for
tenor and piano, Op. 36, and the Second Piano Concerto, Op. 37. Then
followed the second gap in his output, lasting from 1960 to 1963, which
was at last broken by two pieces for wind instruments. As all Hindemith
pupils were obliged to write for, and to play, all orchestral instruments,
writing for the wind instruments came naturally to Reizenstein; particularly
the clarinet, which he played with greater application than the others.
His last composition was a Sonatina for clarinet, Op. 48, of which he
had completed only two movements at the time of his death [The manuscript
is dated July-September, 1968]. This piece was intended to be as approachable
a work as the Oboe Sonatina, Op. 11, written over thirty years earlier.
The last years of his life were prolific, and his compositions
included the three Solo Sonatas, the Concert Fantasy for viola, the
Second Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 4c, and the Concerto for String Orchestra,
The Concert Fantasy, Op. 42, was finished in 1966 in
Boston, U.S.A. It was written for Elizabeth Holbrook, and in addition
to calling for a virtuoso technique, it is a substantial recital piece,
exploiting an instrument whose repertoire is somewhat limited in this
respect. It is in one continuous movement, whose various sections alternate
slow with fast. The tonal scheme is classical, while some material (at
[G]) introduces a new display technique for the viola. It is possible
that Reizenstein was influenced in this work by the Walton concerto;
the two composers were on friendly terms, and Reizenstein admired Walton’s
music. This was his first composition for the viola; and he followed
it the next year with another major work, the Solo Sonata Op. 45, also
written for Elizabeth Holbrook.
It is perhaps surprising that his natural bent for
the piano, combined with his innately romantic temperament, did not
result in more compositions for that instrument. But such works as exist
are big pieces, and they repay the closest study. The Twelve Preludes
and Fugues, Op. 32 are a brilliant exposition of that polytonal idiom,
made up of the coupling together of the major and minor modes in a contrapuntal
texture. The whole composition is dedicated, very appropriately, to
Hindemith, since the order of the keys is that of Series I evolved by
Hindemith as the foundation of his theory in The Craft of Musical Composition.
The Series presents the notes in the order of their relationship to
the nucleus tone C. It is also used as the main theme of the first Prelude.
Unity is achieved between each pair by introducing the Fugue subject
into the Prelude, though sometimes in a disguised form; in some of the
pairs, there is no break between the Prelude and its accompanying Fugue
[In Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11. The composer has suggested possible
groupings for performance when it is not possible to play the complete
set: 3, 4, 5; 6, 9, 10; 3, 7, 8; 1, 2, 3, 4; 11, 8, 12,; 11, 12]. This
composition, with its combination of contrapuntal ingenuity and sheer
intellectual toughness, obviously recalls Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis.
A nine year gap separates it from the next piano piece,
the Second Sonata, Op. 40; and indeed twenty years separate the two
piano sonatas from each other. The first, dedicated to Walton, had been
widely heralded, on its publication in 1948, as one of the most important
works of the century; with the second, Reizenstein reached mature fulfilment.
If romanticism can be defined, at least in part, as the outpouring of
music in terms suited to a particular instrument, then this second sonata
is romantic pianism par excellence. It is also intellectually and dramatically
conceived. It opens with a slow motto (tranquillo), partly melodic octaves,
partly B-A-C-H [The notes B flat-A-C-B natural] harmonized in triads.
From this the first movement (allegro) is derived. The second movement
is in memory of Christopher Hassall, who had died the previous year
(1963), and uses material derived from the opening of Genesis. The Finale,
largely in two parts only, is a brilliant vivace, almost a perpetuum
mobile. The motto theme triumphantly concludes the work.
Reizenstein’s last large-scale composition was the
Concerto for String Orchestra, Op. 43, which was not performed until
January 1969, after his death. It is in no sense a virtuoso concerto;
neither soloist nor solo group is set against the rest of the orchestra.
It is a work of a subdued nature, though calling for strength and urgency
in performance, and the four movements are of serenade dimensions, in
which the instruments are used in different relationships to each other,
whether homophonic or polyphonic. The tonality of the first and last
movements is C, while the other two movements use the tonality a minor
third lower (A) and a minor third higher (E flat) respectively. The
first movement uses a miniature sonata form, with little or no development,
and the second theme (poco meno mosso) grows as a countersubject over
the first. The customary scherzo is highly characteristic of this composer,
while the principal theme of the slow movement moves in short, cumulative
phrases, and its two appearances are separated by imitative passage-work,
starting in two parts. After an introduction in E flat minor, based
on the third movement material, the finale starts, inevitably, with
a fugue in G Fourths predominate in the working out, and after a brief
interlude (un poco tranqillo) the fugue subject is recapitulated, starting
on F and in a varied form.
Orchestral composition did not come easily to Reizenstein.
Not only did Hindemith’s training make it more difficult for him to
think, and write, orchestrally, but the linear, contrapuntal style that
was so peculiarly his, was not suited to the orchestral medium. His
purely orchestral works are few, and reflect his sense of fun: the concert
overture Cyrano de Bergerac, for instance, is light in style. He also
wrote the Ballet Suite, Op. 15, which was commissioned by the Arts Theatre.
He started a symphony, but never finished it.
It was in the concertos that he achieved fulfilment
as an orchestral composer. In the two piano concertos, particularly,
he found in the sheer joy of a virtuoso solo part sufficient compensation
for the general absence of that contrapuntal and fugal development which
was so central to his style, but which is somewhat out of place in a
romantic solo concerto.
In the use of a tonally-centred idiom, such as Reizenstein’s,
the degree of musical intensity imparted to the listener can be measured
by the frequency of change of the tonal centre. Frequent changes, close
together, induce a sense of approaching climax with much greater urgency
than infrequent changes, more widely spaced out. Clearly an instrumentally-conceived
phrase is susceptible of greater rapidity of change than one which is
vocally conceived; the human voice can only with difficulty assimilate
frequent changes of tonal centre. And it is remarkable that the rate
of tonal change in the first piano concerto is greater, generally speaking,
than in the second concerto, which came after the choral and vocal compositions,
and was influenced by them to some extent.
Reizenstein’s true style has an inner vitality, a poetry,
which lies in the content of the notes rather than in the notes themselves.
The concertos differ from the chamber music works in that they demand
a more rhetorical, emotive, exuberant style, which is proper to the
romantic concerto, but which can all too easily lead to empty excess,
as sections of the violin concerto show.
But his insight into string writing make the cello
and violin concertos rewarding, if difficult, to play. The early Cello
Concerto is perhaps less original a work than the other, and not readily
accessible to the ordinary listener, though Reizenstein himself liked
the work, and Leslie Parnas, who had played it through with the composer
in Boston, during rehearsals for the Sonata, performed it for the BBC
in 1969 [Bryden Thomson conducted the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra],
and intends to take it into his repertoire.
The salient points of Reizenstein’s tonal idiom may
be summarized under the time-honoured headings of melody, harmony and
rhythm. Among his most frequent melodic characteristics are a breadth
of phrase, a symmetry of design; also a fondness for a group of notes
(two or more) a semitone apart, followed by a major or minor third,
or triad perhaps, either upwards or downwards; by this means the composer
combines chromatic and tonal elements in the melodic line. His harmonic
style rests on two foundations, already mentioned; one, the combination
of different tonal centres, to produce an effect of polytonality; the
other, the prevalent use of the fourth, which derives from Hindemith’s
teaching. As far as Reizenstein’s rhythmic structure is concerned, a
regularity of metre was an intrinsic datum of his contrapuntal technique,
and his sense of rhythm was an essential part of his unfailing craftsmanship.
The avant-garde meant nothing to him; he was not so much an innovator
as a searcher-out of existing techniques. Furthermore, as already mentioned,
his ability to write a genuine vivace, scherzo movement was inherently
part of his style, and singled him out from most English composers.
Indeed it was a reflection of his lively personality and sense of humour,
which found such witty and pungent outlet in his contributions to Gerard
Hoffnung’s musical extravaganzas in the 50s.
One such work, the Concerto Popolare, or Piano Concerto
to end all Piano Concertos, was heard in November 1956. The story behind
it is as follows:
'Once upon a time a pianist and a conductor were
engaged to play a concerto with a well-known orchestra. Unfortunately,
the management omitted to specify which concerto. The pianist came
prepared to play the Grieg, but the conductor decided otherwise.
It was to be Tchaikovsky’s famous First-or none at all! Musicians
are naturally temperamental and neither would give way. Eventually
after a struggle during which fragments of Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff,
Gershwin, Beethoven, popular songs and other oddments were heard
flying through the night air, the pianist was overwhelmed by the
superior forces. He gave way, not without a gallant attempt to have
the last chord.’
The performance, we are told, was a resounding success
in every sense of the word.
Of equal importance to him was his highly successful
work as a concert pianist, from the moment when he first won recognition
in the 30s, right through to the end of his life. He first made his
name by his performance of Hindemith’s Ludus tonalis, as well as of
his own works. His last engagement as a pianist was, perhaps appropriately,
on Nuremberg Radio, in September 1968, when he played his Second Sonata
and Zodiac Suite, Indeed, at the very moment of his sudden death the
following month, he was preparing Hindemith’s Piano Concerto, Kammermusik
No. 2, Op. 36, for a broadcast
Reizenstein was a natural pianist. As well as playing
his own works, he was conversant with the broad stream of the classical
repertoire. His playing had nobility, and a wide emotional range; he
also possessed, in full measure, the composer’s urge not merely to analyse
what he played, but to investigate for himself the lesser-known byways
of music; and his catch included rarities, such as Tchaikowsky’s Concert
Fantasy, Bizet’s Variations Chromatiques, and Dvorak’s incomplete Piano
Concerto, which he edited, revised and arranged-as Dvorak himself had
at one time intended to do.
Curiously perhaps, Reizenstein had no very high opinion
of Hindemith’s piano style, which he considered awkward, unpianistic.
He did however play his teacher’s piano pieces frequently, and Ludus
Tonalis was the model, as we have seen, for his own investigations.
He had a great admiration for Bartok’s work, particularly as shown in
that composer’s understanding of the piano; though he never copied the
percussive style. 1 The other contemporary composers that chiefly excited
his admiration were Walton and Shostakovitch.
His appearances in concerts and radio performances
were very frequent; moreover, towards the end of his life, when his
name was more known internationally, his services as teacher, lecturer
and panel member began also to be in demand. He spent six months in
1966 (January-June) as visiting professor of composition at Boston University
in America, where he went at the invitation of Professor Jean Philips
to teach composition, with particular reference to his own works. While
there he appeared in two concerts specially devoted to his own compositions.
This provides one more instance of the enthusiasm and the readiness
with which American musicians acknowledge the proven worth of British
composers, which their British colleagues are sometimes very slow to
give; Gerhard and Fricker are two further instances of this unfortunate
trend. In the case of Reizenstein, a number of fine compositions, particularly
in the field of chamber music, and a marked individuality of idiom,
place him among the important composers of the contemporary period.
List of compositions by Franz Reizenstein
1 Solo Sonata for Cello (later rev. as Op. 44)
2 Theme, Variations & Fugue for Clarinet Quintet
3 Fantasy for piano
4 Four Silhouettes for piano
5 Wind Quintet
6 Suite for Piano
6a Three pieces for Violin & Piano (arr. from Op.
7 Elegy for Cello and Piano (pub. with Op. 18)
8 Cello Concerto (rev. 1948)
He once turned the pages for Bartok at a Wigmore Hall
9 Divertimento for String Quartet
9a Divertimento for Brass Quartet (2 Trumpets. Horn,
10 Three Concert Pieces for Oboe & Piano
11 Sonatina for Oboe & Piano
12 Prologue, Variations & Finale for Violin &
12a Op. 12, arr. For Violin & Orch.
13 Partita for Flute & Piano
13a Op. 13 for Flute & String Trio
14 Impromptu for Piano
15 Ballet Suite (pub. 1964)
16 Piano Concerto No. 1
17 Intermezzo for Piano
18 Cantilene for Cello & Piano (pub. with Op. 7)
19 Sonata No. 1 in B for Piano
20 Sonata in G sharp for Violin & Piano
21 Scherzo in A for Piano
22 Sonata in A for Cello & Piano
23 Quintet in D for Piano & Strings
24 Legend for Piano
25 Trio in A for Flute, Oboe & Piano
26 Scherzo Fantastique for Piano
27 Voices of Night S.&B.soli,Ch.&Orch.
28 Concert Overture Cyrano de Bergerae
29 Serenade in F
29a Serenade in F (for wind instruments)
30 Radio Opera Anna Kraus
31 Violin Concerto
32 Twelve Preludes and Fugues for Piano
33 Fantasia Concertante for Violin & Piano
34 Trio in one movement (ded. to Vaughan Williams)
35 Genesis Oratorio, Soli Ch.Orch.
36 Five Sonnets of E. B. Browning (for Tenor &
37 Piano Concerto No. 2
38 Duo for Oboe & Clarinet
39 Trio for Flute, Clarinet & Bassoon
40 Sonata No. 2 in A flat for Piano
41 Zodiac-Piano Suite
42 Concert Fantasy for Viola & Piano
43 Concerto for String Orchestra
44 Solo Sonata for Cello (rev. from Op. 1)
45 Solo Sonata for Viola
46 Solo Sonata for Violin
47 Arabesques for Clarinet & Piano
48 Sonatina for Clarinet & Piano (2 movements only
other works without Op. No.:
Five imaginative pieces for Piano (1938)
Short educational pieces
Musical Box, for Piano (1952)
A Jolly Overture (1952)
Scores in collaboration with Gerard Hoffnung:
Concerto Popolare (Piano Concerto to end all Piano
Let's Fake an Opera (The tales of Hoffnung) (librettist
Film scores include:
Highlights of Farnborough (1951)
The House that Jack built (1953)
The Sea (1953)
Island of Steel (1955)
The White Trap (1959)
The Mummy (1959)
Circus of Horrors (1960)
11 Matyas Seiber
Matyas Seiber came to this country to take up residence
in 1935, at a time when the broad pattern of the musical life of England
consisted of the establishment, and the consolidation, of the standard
repertoire, and when the nascent English tradition was just developing,
mainly under the benevolent tutelage of Vaughan Williams. The general
attitude of most musicians tended to a narrow parochialism; English
music as a whole was not yet ready or stable enough to admit the influence
of continental developments; few indeed were aware of, or susceptible
to, the new paths that were currently being unfolded in Europe and America.
Moreover, when Matyas Seiber came here at the age of
thirty, he was unknown; he had not yet achieved distinction, and he
lacked those academic or official qualifications which are required
of musicians before they are admitted to teach in the established English
institutions. Little wonder, therefore that he was to be faced with
long years of struggle before any sort of recognition came his way.
There is a gap in his serious output after 1935 [Particularly in his
12-note composition, for which there was then no audience in England.
The Second String Quartet, a strictly serial work, was finished in 1935;
not until 1944 did he return to a serial style-and quite a free one
this time-with the Fantasia Concertante for violin and orchestra, written
for Max Rostal]; meanwhile, in order to earn a living, he turned his
hand to anything and everything. But versatility had always been one
of his chief characteristics. Broadly speaking, his musical personality
may be considered under two main headings: his work as a teacher, and
his work as a composer - in that order.
He was born in Budapest in 1905, and studied under
Kodaly at the Royal Academy there. By 1925 he had written several highly
colourful student works, including the Sonata de Camera for violin and
cello; then, like his teacher before him, he set out on his travels.
He was a remarkably susceptible musician, and wished to discover for
himself the multifarious strands that made up the fabric of European
music between the wars. These strands, some of them mutually incompatible,
were chiefly folk music, early music, jazz, popular and light music,
After leaving Hungary in 1925 he travelled widely,
visiting North and South America, as well as many European countries.
He eventually settled in Frankfurt, where he taught jazz at the Conservatoire.
He stayed there until 1933, when he had to leave Germany under Hitler.
During these years his ability as an executive musician also spread
in many directions. He was a pianist and conductor; he directed music
in a theatre; he formed workers’ choruses; he was cellist in a string
quartet [The Lenzewesky Quartet]. When once again, after 1933, he was
compelled to move his residence, he eventually, in 1935, settled in
England, where he lived for the rest of his life, until he was killed
in a car accident in South Africa in October 1960.
If his innate curiosity was to give his compositions
a variable quality, it also made him one of the most sought-after teachers
in England, catholic in taste, wide-ranging in experience. He was never
appointed to the staff of any of the major teaching institutions, yet-
his ability to inspire pupils placed him in the same category as Hindemith
or Nadia Boulanger. His pupils, who came eventually from all over the
world, included Francis Chagrin, Malcolm Lipkin, Reginald Smith-Brindle,
Peter Racine Fricker, Anthony Milner, Don Banks, Hugh Wood, and many
others. Thus was his influence most directly and most strongly felt
[Particularly in the 1950s. See p. 156].
His teaching technique was unorthodox; he was concerned
with the writing of music, not academic exercises. His mind was agile,
logical, penetrating; yet the personal style of each pupil was never
interfered with, nor was the necessity for the individual student to
discover his own solutions ever lost sight of. How each pupil went about
his craft was his own affair; but he could expect the results of his
labours to be scrutinized with minute and often devastating attention
to detail, down to the smallest particle.
Seiber’s views on teaching were summarized in a talk
he gave in 1955:
I believe in a few fundamental principles. First,
that learning or teaching composition is a purely practical matter
(no mystery and no theory). It’s like learning to’ make shoes. Just
as a shoemaker learns step by step how to cut the right size of
upper soles so as not to pinch, how to make joints which don’t creak
etc., so the student must learn how to present ideas, how to lead
from one to the other, how to make joins.
We all agree that we can’t teach inspiration, but
we can teach the technique of how to make the most of that inspiration,
if there is any. I believe that composition is a technique which
can be best learned by imitation, like other crafts. I think the
ideal solution would be to have a sort of ‘composing workshop’,
like some of the great painters had 'painting workshops’. The composer
would be given small tasks, details in the master’s works, and then
be corrected by the master and shown how he would have done it.
The composition student, in fact, should be a kind of apprentice.
The second point I believe in is that composition
is an entirely traditional discipline. There is no short cut-you
Have to go through the techniques which your predecessors developed,
because these are the entire foundation of our present day techniques.
Also I believe that one of the essential things
in the training of a young composer is analysis; and I mean analysis
in depth, down to atoms and cells, discovering how a kind of life-process
goes on, like in any living tissue.
His own compositions include every species of music,
reflecting the range of his curiosity. Inevitably some of the works
are experimental. His Hungarian origin is apparent in a number of pieces,
particularly early ones; both specifically, as in the arrangement of
Hungarian folksongs, and indirectly in such a work as the Elegy for
Viola and Chamber Orchestra. His interest in light music, and the folk
music of many countries, usually found an outlet in the commercial world
of films, radio or television, which was his chief source of income.
His fondness for jazz led to some hybrid attempts to bridge the gap
between that idiom and more conventional composition; for instance the
Improvisations for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra, which were written
in collaboration with John Dankworth; or the Two Jazzolets for dance
band, which date from his years at Frankfurt, and use a 12-note style
in a jazz context. His study of early music led to the two Besardo Suites
for orchestra, which were based on the music of the sixteenth century
lutenist-composer Jean-Baptiste Besard [Particularly the Thesaurus harmonicus
But the greatest scope for the force of his musical
intellect was provided by Schoenberg’s 12-note style, and serialism,
with which he overlaid these other more intuitive characteristics. Serialism,
he considered, showed the way music was going; it was the international
style, while the other styles were merely national, even local. It was
in chamber music, and particularly in the works for violin and piano,
that he developed his particular brand of serialism, the use of a permutation
technique, based on a small group of notes and intervals. Chief among
such chamber works are the Second and Third String Quartets, and the
Permutazioni a cinque for wind quintet; his most characteristic violin
and piano works are the Concert Piece (1954) and the Sonata (1960).
He was particularly stimulated by the combination of two such dissimilar
instruments, and the Concert Piece is an ingenious, totally chromatic
work, based on the permutations of a 4-note group. [The idea that the
study of aesthetics is automatically and necessarily equated with 'vagueness’
was the common view among most musicians, and is still widely held.
See my Contemporary Music, p. 2]
In many ways the work recalls Schoenberg's Fantasy,
Op. 47, which was written only five years previously. Its texture is
varied and lucid; its originally conceived sonorities cover the full
range of the instruments; both players are treated as equal partners,
and the composition as a whole is conceived as a virtuoso showpiece
The 12-note row, on which the piece is based, is made
up of three segments, each of which contains the basic motif of four
notes, in the form of two semitones a tritone apart. This motif is then
transposed twice. In the course of the composition the three segments
change, as well as the sequence of notes within the segments. The structure
of the work as a whole is that of a free fantasy, though balanced; the
contrasted sections are later repeated in varied form. The first performance
of the work, which is dedicated to Tibor Varga, was given by Eli Goren
and Peter Wallfisch at a fiftieth birthday concert for the composer
at Morley College, on 15th May 1955.
The sonata is similarly severe, and he introduced its
first performance with a characteristically detailed analysis of its
construction. His concluding words sum up his attitude to composition
as a whole:
This sort of analysis might sound too mathematical,
too calculated, as if music was put together with the help of a
slide-rule. But in my opinion, this is the only way in which a composer
may profitably talk on his own work. To talk in vague, aesthetic
terms doesn’t come into his province.
Such constructive principles, such mathematical
regularities as I mentioned, are never preconceived ideas with me.
They develop as I go along working on a piece. I still cannot do
what so many of my younger colleagues seem to be able to do so successfully,
namely to plan out the whole work on the basis of these mathematical
or architectonic calculations. For me the act of composing is still
a journey of discovery; I explore all these possibilities inherent
in the material as the piece begins to grow and unfold, and then
I draw the consequences from them.
It means re-composing many things, until everything
begins to fall into place. I know that this is a much more painful
and time-consuming procedure, yet I still cannot bring myself to
do otherwise. After all, it is for every composer himself to decide
his place between freedom and strictness; he has to learn how to
be coherent and organised, without losing the ability to listen
to the unexpected, unaccountable and involuntary promptings of his
In deciding his own personal ‘place between freedom
and strictness’, Seiber opted for freedom. He was more concerned with
the development of thematic material than with following any rules.
On the other hand, he had studied and knew his Schoenberg, and moreover
the force of his own intellect imposed its own strictness; so if his
thematic material was mathematically conceived in the first place, as
it frequently was, its development could only lie along strict lines.
Therefore, if his work were to achieve warmth, this would only come
from some other source than serialism.
So his use of this technique was by no means consistent
or dogmatic; several pieces were quite traditionally conceived, for
instance the Elegy for viola and string orchestra or the Tre Pezzi for
cello and orchestra; while in others an innately lyrical style was placed
somewhat inconsistently in a serial context; the Third String Quartet,
the Quartetto Lirico, is a case in point.
Warmth of inspiration and strictness of idiom, however,
came together, with the most positive results, in the two works with
which he reached his highest point of stability and fulfilment as a
composer; these were the two cantata settings of words by James Joyce,
Ulysses and the Three Fragments. The texts of Joyce acted as a peculiarly
powerful stimulus to Seiber's imagination, and in one sense supplied
that poetic, lyrical and cohesive element that is sometimes missing
from his more abstract works.
Seiber’s cantata Ulysses for tenor solo, chorus and
orchestra (1949), is based on passages from the novel of the same name
by Joyce. It starts where the hero, Mr. Bloom, contemplates the starlit
summer night, with ‘the Heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue
fruit’. This leads to a contemplation of the universe, the vastness
of space, stars and galaxies of immeasurably remote eons and infinite
futures. In antithesis to this, there is the minuteness of some living
organisms, the incalculable infinity of molecules contained in a single
pinhead. His thoughts turn to eclipses, and the sudden stillness which
comes with them. His conclusion is that all this is but a Utopia, and
the ‘Heaventree’ a product of his own imagination.
Never was Seiber more sure that he had to set a passage
to music. Like the text, his work is in five main sections, each in
question and answer form.
The first section is atmospheric, suggesting the magic
of night. A 3-note motive begins the movement, in the low strings, and
this becomes the central core of the whole work.
The second movement is a passacaglia, to suggest the
gradual build-up of size, the vastness of the universe. The climax comes
with the addition of a choral fugue, to the words ‘of our system plunging
towards the constellation of Hercules’.
The third section, the only quick-moving movement,
describes the minuteness of organic existence on earth. The 3-note group
is extended into a 12-note fugue theme.
The fourth section, conceived as a Nocturne, recalls
the hush of mystery during an eclipse. In this ‘Homage a Schoenberg’,
Seiber took the two opening chords of Schoenberg’s piano piece, op.
19 No. 6, added two more of his own, and thus attempted, in 12-note
terms, to express the quietness and remoteness he was seeking.
The fifth section, ‘Epilogue’, refers back to the ‘Heaventree’
ideal, and the music reverses the order of the opening section; starting
with the bright colour of high strings, it moves gradually down to the
low, dark sounds of the beginning, before fading into nothing.
When Ulysses was first performed in 1949 it made a
considerable impact, and did more than any other of his works to establish
Seiber’s reputation as a composer.
Nine years later, when the Basel section of the I.S.C.M.
commissioned him to write a chamber cantata, he returned to James Joyce
for the text of the Three Fragments (1958), for speaker, wordless chorus
and instrumental ensemble (flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; violin, viola,
cello; piano and percussion). This time he chose passages from Joyce’s
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He explains his reason in these
A few passages of lyrical beauty, and of great dramatic
power, stuck in my mind ever since I read them, and were, so to speak,
ear-marked subconsciously for future use. Now it seemed the appropriate
time to make use of them.
The cantata is in three movements. The first starts
atmospherically, like Ulysses, with the words ‘A veiled sunlight lit
up faintly the grey sheet of water’. With the words ‘He heard a confused
music within him’, the four voices of the chorus sing in four different
tempi, while the orchestra adds further to the general melee with a
rhythmical irregularity. Then gradually the sound recedes.
In strong contrast to this, the words of the second
movement are a dramatic, terrifying description of a child’s vision
of the Day of Judgement. The music is wild, jagged, harsh.
The third movement reverts to the mood and material
of the first before fading away to nothing.
Seiber’s importance on the contemporary English scene
lies primarily in his influence over other musicians and composers,
particularly his pupils, and through his connection with Morley College.
English music lacked a first generation of post-Schoenberg composers;
by his precept and example Seiber supplied something of what was lacking,
and demonstrated one highly intelligent and reasonable approach to the
problems inherent in the 12-note style. If it is improbable that his
music will evoke a wide or permanent response-partly because his roots
lay elsewhere, partly because his eclecticism was so pronounced-nevertheless,
he has without question indicated a path and held up a standard for
others to follow.
In a sense, though the character and environment of
the two men could hardly have been more contrasted, Seiber fulfilled
the function and represented to the serial 50s something of what Walford
Davies represented to the far-off and very different 30s. Walford Davies
might be described as an intermediary musician, who spelt out what was
happening in an evolving situation; his subject was the recently established
concert repertoire, as well as the narrowly-defined field of church
music. Seiber performed much the same service in the post-Schoenberg
50s. His subject was the contemporary scene, and in particular the narrowly-defined
field of serialism.
He himself was well aware of the need for traditional
roots if a composer’s work is to be of more than ephemeral interest;
he was also well aware of his debt to Joyce for the warmth and inspiration
of his two cantatas; as he said shortly before his death:
Whether or not I shall have the opportunity of setting
more of James Joyce’s words I really cannot tell now. But for these
two extracts I am eternally grateful to him. They are great literature,
beautiful poetry, which has inspired me to write my two favourite works.
No matter how often I read these passages, I always feel the same thrill
as I felt when I read them for the first time.
12 Egon Wellesz
When Humphrey Searle went to Vienna to study under
Webern, he could hardly have foreseen that in a short time a colleague
of Webern, a composer steeped in the Viennese tradition, was to make
his home in this country; and had he wished to study under him, he would
have needed to travel no further than Oxford, where he had himself once
been an undergraduate.
Egon Wellesz was born in Vienna on 21st October 1885.
He was a fellow-student at that university with Webern, who was two
years his senior, and like him was also a private pupil of Schoenberg;’
but in his composition he followed a different path from Schoenberg.
Composition and musical history were the central features of his student
period; he was under Guido Adler for musical history, and eventually
took his doctorate with a thesis on the eighteenth-century Viennese
composer Giuseppe Bonno, whose importance for Wellesz was chiefly that
he was a contemporary of Gluck. Already Wellesz was showing a strong
inclination towards opera, which was to occupy his main attention as
a composer for the next thirty years. [1904-1906, when Schoenberg was
It was impossible to live just as a composer; many,
such as Mahler, were also conductors, though this involved many years
of back-breaking work on the provincial circuit. So Wellesz chose another
path; his work has followed the twin pursuits of musicology and composition.
Though they are distinct, the one is for him complementary to the other;
he brings to his composition the full range of his shrewd historical
perspective. In the years up to 1938, when he came as a resident to
this country, the highest points of his achievement as a composer were
Alkestis (1923) and Die Bakchantinnen (1931); and it was the second
of these two operas which first gave him cause to visit England.
With a truly English flair for any and every sort of
anniversary, however remote, the authorities of Oxford University had
noticed that 1932 happened to be the two hundredth anniversary of the
birth of Haydn-who had, on one of his visits to England, been made an
honorary doctor of Music of that university. Would it not be appropriate,
therefore, if in 1932 another Viennese composer could be similarly honoured?
The thought that this lot might have fallen upon Schoenberg himself
is indeed a bizarre conception. However, the success of Wellesz’s opera
the previous year had been noticed by H. C. Colles, a pillar of the
Oxford Establishment; and this, coupled with his earlier success in
Alkestis, as well as his work as musicologist, was the decisive factor
in his favour. As luck would have it, another musician who also received
an honorary doctorate at the same time was Edward Dent, the Cambridge
professor whom Wellesz had invited to be president of the I.S.C.M. in
1922, after he and Rudolph Reti had formed it in Salzburg the previous
year. Wellesz in 1932 had a very considerable reputation, and the words
of the official peroration-'musicae hodiernae dux et signifer’-were
not merely empty rhetoric.
Wellesz sprang from the Viennese tradition, at a time
when it reached its flowering in literature and art as well as in music;
and the composer who exercised by far the strongest influence over him
to start with was Mahler. As a boy of twelve he heard Mahler conduct
The Magic Flute, Lohengrin, The Flying Dutchman, for the first time
at the Wiener Hofoper; and the impression was indelible. Indeed, the
impression of Mahler’s performance of Der Freischutz was so strong on
the young Wellesz that the very next day he himself began to compose.
Again, when he first heard Mahler conduct Beethoven’s ninth symphony,
of which he (Mahler) made his own highly personal reading, and even
made alterations to the scoring, the sound of Mahler’s version of it
was for Wellesz a ‘school of orchestration’. Many years later he returned,
on 26th June 1960, to the rebuilt Wiener Staatsoper, at the invitation
of the conductor Karajan, to speak about the achievement of Mahler as
an opera director. This occasion marked the centenary of Mahler’s birth,
and Wellesz re-lived some of the experience of his youth. The cultural
ethos that prevailed at the turn of the century in the Viennese tradition-the
spirit of innate conservatism coupled with a certain revolutionary radicalism;
also the idealism and perfection that were epitomized by Mahler-was
indeed very different from the contemporary situation prevailing today.
Yet it has guided Wellesz.
Mahler’s ten years’ directorship of the Vienna Opera
began on 11th May 1897, when he first conducted Lohengrin there; later
that year he was appointed managing director. He exercised an extraordinary
personal magnetism. Everything that he, or his designer Roller, placed
on the stage had to ‘mean’ something; it was not enough for it merely
to be there. But the performances in which he rose to the greatest heights
were those of the operas of Mozart. Music was for him, according to
Wellesz [Robert Schollum, Egon Wellesz, p. 9], ‘... a holy art’, (eine
heilige Kunst), and each performance was an experience which would continue
with the listener for many days. He was, according to Bruno Walter [Bruno
Walter, Gustav Mahler, p.30 foll. (English edition)] who was his assistant,
passionately devoted to the stage, and brought the whole house, singers,
orchestra and audience alike, under his spell.
This also had the greatest formative effect on the
young Wellesz, whose musical background during his early years at Vienna
was thus made up of Mahler, Bruckner, Strauss and Schoenberg; beyond
them, Ravel, Debussy, Bartok and to some extent Stravinsky; and, later
still, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc and Hindemith, all of whom were his
friends. His immediate colleagues, in a circle that was select and personal,
were Berg and Webern; it was the latter who-in 1935-arranged a fiftieth
birthday concert for him.
Wellesz heard a great deal of music, but always kept
to his own path. After his period at the university, musicology and
composition, coupled with the very strong Viennese operatic tradition,
combined to focus his attention on opera. He studied the works of Fux,
Cavalli, Monteverdi, Cesti, and the nature of seventeenth-century Venetian
opera, and produced books on these topics, as well as editions of the
scores; thus Wellesz anticipated by fifty years the work of some recent
musicologists in this country. He explored the possibilities of the
classical tradition, based on Greek antiquity, which was such an integral
part of the Viennese opera.
Thus Wellesz the musicologist spurred on Wellesz the
composer. When considering the whole history of opera, he considered
that a great period had ended with Gluck, the eighteenth-century opera
composer, who could be claimed as Viennese until he moved to Paris.
After Gluck’s departure the Austrian tradition was open to foreign influence;
the tradition of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini was alien to that of Vienna,
which was much more truly reflected in Beethoven’s Fidelio.
The Gluck tradition, however, lived on in France. Within
a story of classical simplicity, and with just three characters, Gluck
made both words and music entirely subservient to the expression of
every shade of feeling experienced by the hero and heroine, and was
not interested in mere vocal display, or such stereotyped devices as
the da capo aria. This was the Greek ideal of dramatic art, that poetry,
music and dance should unite in underwriting the drama, whose basic
facts were traditional common property. The Gluck ideal was later epitomized
in Berlioz’s Les Troyens.
Wellesz attempted to take up where Gluck left off;
and his friend Edward Dent adds an interesting footnote [Opera, p. 51
(Pelican edition 1st ed. 1940)], clearly referring to Wellesz, when
he says that although Gluck could not serve as a model to be imitated,
in spite of some attempts, and although Mozart’s operas are free of
that technical clumsiness which occasionally spoils Gluck’s works on
the stage, nevertheless what was important in Gluck’s operas, as in
Gluck’s own mind, was not the technical method but the moral outlook,
and in so far as Gluck had any style of his own, that style could only
be imitated by someone with the same philosophical principles.... He
could only be venerated as the expression of a moral ideal; and for
that he still stands even now.
Moreover in the ballets of Gluck, Wellesz saw the first
application of the principles of modern dance techniques; and it was
this development, rather than, for instance, the French-influenced Russian
Ballet, which visited the Wiener Oper in 1914, that influenced Wellesz
when he made the dance a very central, and emotional, part of his dramatic
His first ballet, Das Wunder der Diana, Op. 18, was
written in 1914. The libretto was by Bela Balazs, who also wrote those
of Bartok’s The Wooden Prince and Bluebeard’s Castle; and the story
is similar-of temples animated by the moon-goddess, and lovers transfigured;
of transportation from an atmosphere of passion into one of other-worldly
passionlessness; of serenity as if, by transformation of a boy and a
girl, everything unstable has disappeared. This score was a preparation
for Alkestis, Op. 35; but several other stage works, as well as other
compositions, intervened. These included songs, four string quartets,
two orchestral Pieces, the Prologue, Op. 2, and the Suite, Op. 16; and
piano pieces, such as the Three Sketches, Op. 6, which are tonal experiments,
like Schoenberg’s Op. 11; the stage works were the opera Die Prinzessin
Girnara, Op. 27 (1919), and the Persian Ballet, Op. 30 (1920). This
was written for a Russian dancer and choreographer, Ellen Tels, who
had come to Vienna with her own small company. Two other intermediate
works followed; the one-act ballet Achilles auf Skyros, Op. 33, with
a libretto by Hofmannsthal, and a piece for coloratura soprano Aurora,
the material of which was used later in Alkestis. Alkestis was the work
with which Wellesz first successfully established himself as a composer.
It continued the rediscovery of the classical Greek tradition of Gluck,
which had been already begun in Achilles auf Skyros.
The libretto of Alkestis was by Hofmannsthal. He had
written the play in 1893; now he altered the opening scene, and then
suggested that Wellesz should similarly alter, and match, the ending.
This change involved a final chorus. Hofmannsthal was fond of insisting
that the music needed plenty of space; as Goethe said, it needed to
be ‘widely meshed’. Moreover, it also needed the ballet. At the first
performance of the work in Mannheim, the ballet was performed by the
dancing schools of the town. [By a strange coincidence another Alkestis
was produced about this time (1922); that of Rutland Boughton at Glastonbury].
It was subsequently produced in ten different opera
houses in Germany, including Berlin in 1932. And though it was contemporary
with Berg’s Wozzeck, Wellesz’s Alkestis could hardly have been a more
First, it was ‘grand’ opera, in the traditional sense
of the word, as opera had been for centuries. It belonged in the traditional
opera house, just as a work such as Carmen, based on daily life, belonged
more appropriately in the Opera Comique-where, indeed, it was first
performed. But the material of Alkestis was mythical, heroic, not everyday.
The use of ballet, which also earned Schoenberg’s approval, was a logical
extension of this principle.
Second, Wellesz was concerned that his style should
be linear. He did not so much occupy himself with the theoretical discipline
of a 12-note technique, or with the serial fragmentation of the material,
as with the achievement of long melodic lines. This characteristic was
later to be the hallmark of his symphonic style.
No account of an opera composer working at this time
in Vienna would be complete without reference sooner or later to Strauss,
who exerted such a great influence over all aspects of music and over
many musicians, including Schoenberg and Webern. Wellesz’s approach
to opera, however, differed markedly from that of Strauss; if it resembled
anyone else’s it resembled Bartok’s. Wellesz adopted a course of daring
independence. He was also directly influenced by Hofmannsthal, who was
much more to him than just a librettist; he provided a sense of stable
literary values in an age of experiment and uncertainty; he represented
the Austrian tradition, as distinct from the German tradition of Thomas
Mann. Hofmannsthal became estranged from Strauss; and as Wellesz differed
so much in outlook from Strauss, his operas could not be done under
Strauss. So his next dance-drama, Die Opferung des Gefangenen (‘The
sacrifice of the prisoner’), op. 40 (1925), was performed in Berlin
when Strauss did not wish a performance in Vienna. (Many other composers
found the same difficulty, including Berg.)
The story of Die Opferung, originally an old Aztec
play, describes the Mexican civilization before the arrival of the Spanish;
the survival, in the form of tragic drama, of the past grandeur of an
old heroic world [This theme was also recently (1964) adapted by an
English playwright, Peter Schaffer, into The Royal Hunt of the Sun,
which dealt with the Incas of Peru].
This work was followed by a light, one-act opera, with
words taken from Goethe, Scherz, List und Rache, Op. 41, which may be
approximately translated ‘funning, cunning and gunning’. But then in
1929/30 came the fourth and last of the series of ‘heroic’ operas, Die
Bakchantinnen, Op. 44, for which Wellesz wrote his own libretto, with
Euripides once again as a starting-point.
The series of classical ‘heroic’ operas is thus as
1. Achilles auf Skyros
The young Achilles, awakening to life, chooses the
path of a hero.
The wife of King Admetus, who is ready to suffer death
for the idea of kingship.
3. Die Opferung des Gefangenen
The young prince who consciously chooses to die, and
will be worshipped as a hero after his death.
4. Die Bakchantinnen
Pentheus, the man of action, is above the law as king,
and sees in the new cult of Dionysus a force that will destroy his tangible
world-order. He feels that mysticism, by becoming a practical fact,
through a cult, leaves that sphere to which it belongs, and destroys
the existing power-structure.
Die Bakchentinnen was his last Viennese opera; it also
marked the culminating point of his achievement in that field. It calls
for mime as well as chorus-work, and for this the stage-designer Roller
agreed to make use of the sixty to seventy members of the ballet company
of the Viennese Opera-who sang as well as danced, when it came to the
performance. For its first performance in Vienna, on 20th June 1931,
the conductor Clemens Krauss required no fewer than sixty chorus rehearsals
and twenty orchestral rehearsals. The work made a great impression in
Vienna, but could not be repeated in Berlin for political reasons.
After this, until he came to England in 1938, Wellesz’s
composition took a different turn; songs with orchestra, a piano concerto,
a mass; and above all, his first full-length orchestral work (1934-36)
Prosperos Beschworungen (Prospero’s Incantation [‘Prospero’s Incantation’
is the composer’s translation, as it appears on the score. H. C. Colles
however insisted that ‘Prospero’s Spell’ is a more exact translation,
and more ‘Shakespearian’]), Op. 53; five symphonic pieces based on Shakespeare’s
Tempest. [Score published by Universal Edition]
The style of his works up to Prospero may be seen to
follow a pattern. His earlier works began somewhat experimentally, but
the larger forms that he later worked with required a more linear style.
His thought is linear; and just as his interest veered away from Western
Gregorian Chant towards the long lines of Byzantine Church Music, so
is this reflected in the long, melodic lines of his own works, particularly
those for one instrument. A particularly clear example of this characteristic
occurs in Die Opferung des Gefangenen, at the end, just before the prisoner
is killed. He has asked to dance once more with his own warriors; but
this request is met with silence-that is to say, refusal. There follows
a melody for a slow dance, which lasts for fifty-five bars (bars 1200-1255),
during which a song of mourning is also heard from the Prince’s own
This is a very different approach from the pointillism
that characterised Schoenberg’s style, and the fragmentation of the
material, which is one of the chief characteristics of serialism; and
whereas Wellesz might use an atonal idiom in smaller works, such as
the solo Violin Sonata, Op. 36, in which he develops an extended tonality,
something more was needed when larger forces were involved. The solution
he arrived at was to write in blocks, with the crossing of one melodic
line with another to produce varieties of key (polytonality) or varieties
of rhythm (polyrhythm). Each line has a distinct character and vitality,
while the blocks prevent the work becoming rhapsodic.
An example of this ‘emerging tonal complexity’ in Alkestis
(bars 1516-1519), based on the differing tonal implications of combined
linear blocks, is quoted by Reti [In Tonality Atonality Pantonality,
p. 136]. His idiom is melodic, and the rhythmic continuity is usually
straightforward. He eschews harmonic novelty, and favours instead the
substance which comes of contrapuntal treatment of the material. He
considers that nothing palls quicker than novelties, and particularly
excessive harmonic colouring, of the sort that several late romantic
composers indulged in. Indeed, historically speaking, harmonic novelty
had reared its head in the works of the sixteenth century Gesualdo,
only to be discarded by his successors when they built larger structures.
So Wellesz draws a parallel today.
The style of his operas centres round his conception
of operatic drama. Whereas a novelist takes his material from life,
a dramatist takes his material from the great subjects of antiquity.
So opera builds on a traditional foundation. But the fate of an opera,
according to Wellesz, is decided on the stage, not in the orchestra
pit; the contrasts of mood, which keep an opera moving, are underlined
by the music. So for the death of the queen in Alkestis (bars 44-77)
the characteristic Greek atmosphere is obtained by just clarinet and
percussion; the expressive music, noted by Reti for its polytonal character,
occurs earlier also at bar 550, for the moment when the women bring
flowers after the death of Alkestis; in Die Opferung the death of the
prince is musically illustrated at bar 1300. The chorus forms an integral
part in all these operas. As Reti put it [In Egon Wellesz, Musician
and Scholar (Musical Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1, January 1956)], Wellesz
achieves ‘a blend of inner austerity with the splendour of festive choruses
and glittering choreography’.
The first performance of Prospero took place on 19th
February 1938 in Vienna, under Bruno Walter. A further performance was
arranged in Amsterdam on 13th March, by the Concertgebouw Orchestra,
also under Walter; and a repeat of this on 16th March in Rotterdam.
These performances certainly took place; indeed, Wellesz looks back
with characteristic Viennese affection on the concerts, particularly
as the violin solo in the third section of Prospero (‘Ariel’s song’)
was played by Arnold Rose, the brother-in-law of Mahler.
But on the very day of the Amsterdam concert, 13th
March 1938, Hitler entered Vienna, and Austria was annexed to Germany.
War was now inevitable in Europe. Thus ended the world that Wellesz
knew, and many like him, particularly those of Jewish extraction. There
was nothing for him, therefore, but to strike roots elsewhere, and begin
afresh-at the age of fifty-three. Ten years later he was to return to
Vienna, as a visitor, to be greeted by former students and friends;
but this could hardly be foreseen in 1938.
H. C. Colles and Edward Dent arranged for him to come
to England. In view of his doctorate, he was made a Fellow of Lincoln
College, Oxford; later (1947) a Reader in music; this position he retained
until 1957, though he continued to teach after then. It was not Wellesz
the composer who was given this academic post, but Wellesz the musicologist;
and however distinguished his name might be among international European
musicians, there were, so he was told, those at Oxford, and in the more
sound-proof ivory towers of this country, to whom his name meant little
or nothing. Could he not write a book in order to establish his name
in those quarters where it was appropriate that it should be established?
His work as a musicologist had for many years focused
on Byzantine Chant, in which he was already known by the 30s as a specialist.
He discovered clues to the interpretation of neumatic notation, so that
by 1917 the notation of Byzantine Church music was deciphered and transcribed;
and gradually it became possible for Western musicians to explore this
hitherto unknown territory. In 1931 a conference in Copenhagen brought
together those chiefly interested in this work, and it was agreed to
set about publishing the texts of Byzantine musical manuscripts. This
complete edition, Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, was started in 1935
by the Danish scholar Carsten Hoeg, H. J. W. Tillyard, Professor of
Greek at Cardiff University, and Wellesz. So when Wellesz came to Oxford,
it was arranged that his manuscripts and Byzantine photographs should
be brought to this country; whereupon he set about his work. A History
of Byzantine Music and Hymnography was published ten years later. Wellesz
later also became one of the editors of the New Oxford History of Music,
and of the History of Music in Sound.
His arrival in Oxford was followed by a gap of several
years in his creative output. The last work that he wrote in Vienna
had been a part-song Quant’ e bella giovinezza, Op. 59. Not till 1944
does Op. 60 appear-his Fifth String Quartet, ‘in memoriam’ of former
days. Beginning maestoso, with a long and violent unison, the work uses
a 12-note style. Four more string quartets were to follow. There is
a large number of chamber works included in his output, and generally
speaking their style is more concise and direct than the larger pieces.
Four players can be more agile than forty; and Wellesz frequently precedes
bigger works with smaller ones, just as Aurora had paved the way for
But it was in the next year (1945) that he started
on the new path that he has pursued consistently since; that of a symphonist.
He has been practically the only composer of the Viennese tradition
to develop the symphony since Mahler, and his nine symphonies form the
focal point of his output during the period of his residence in Oxford,
just as the operas had formed the focal point of the earlier period
of his life [He wrote an opera, Incognita, based on Congreve, which
was performed on an amateur basis by the Oxford University Opera Club.
It stands in line of descent from Strauss’s Rosenkavalier]. The last
five symphonies in particular form a group which may be compared with
the ‘heroic’ operas; in them also Wellesz sought an ideal of a new classicism.
The First Symphony came about somewhat unexpectedly.
In August 1945, when he was staying at Grasmere in the Lake District,
he was reminded of the Salzkammergut, the district near Salzburg that
he knew so well. A theme occurred to him, which invited symphonic treatment;
the next day another theme came to him. Immediately, as if in a trance,
he sketched out his First Symphony in C, Op. 62, in just three weeks.
It was, he says, the most exciting work of his life. The scoring was
finished later that year. Its three-movement structure is still classical,
for the sake of thematic cohesion, though the development is fugal-a
device which he used later in the fifth symphony. The work was performed
in 1947 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Celibidache, and
later, on 22nd June 1948, in Vienna under Josef Krips, for which Wellesz
returned to Vienna-for the first time since the war.
The Second Symphony, Op. 65 which followed two years
later, he called his ‘most English’ symphony; not only is the character
of the English landscape portrayed, but the composer’s preoccupation
at this time with English poetry is also echoed. The four movements
have a clearly defined tonality. The work still retains traces of romanticism,
and is a blend of heroic and sombre colours. It was performed in this
country under Adrian Boult and Walter Goehr; when it was played in Vienna
under Karl Rankl, on 21st June 1949, Wellesz returned again for this
performance. The following month also his Octet, Op. 67, was performed
by the Vienna Octet at the Salzburg Festival. It was a busy summer for
The Third Symphony, Op. 68, written between 1949 and
1951, stands somewhat apart from his other symphonic work, since it
contains recollections of other Viennese composers, and is the only
symphony not published. Very different was the next symphony, the fourth,
Symphonia Austriaca, Op. 70. A thematic motif, taken from the fourth
String Quartet, gives the work a unity, like an idee fixe. But the composer
has now mastered symphonic form; the structure is firm, the contents
Thus was the stage set for the five symphonies (5-9)
which form the highpoint of his orchestral compositions. The Fifth Symphony,
Op. 75, was written over three years, and finished in Oxford on 2nd
September 1956. Meanwhile, in these years Wellesz had travelled widely;
to America in 1954, where he was invited to stay at the Byzantine Institute
at Dumbarton Oaks, when he lectured at Yale, Princeton and Columbia
Universities, travelled all over the country and heard his music played
in several places; to Constantinople in 1955, where he addressed a congress
on Byzantine music. His name was internationally known; except, strange
to say, in England, where he had already been resident for over fifteen
years, but where his music was scarcely heard, if at all. But at this
time English musicians were just discovering Schoenberg, Berg and Webern;
they had not yet alighted upon Wellesz. Not for nearly ten years was
his Fifth Symphony given its first performance in this country, by Hugo
Rignold and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, on 21st October 1965.
The same orchestra and conductor also performed the sixth and seventh
symphonies in the following years [The Sixth Symphony was first played
at Birmingham on 29th September 1966; the Seventh Symphony on 21st November
1968]. Very slowly the balance began to be restored.
In the Fifth Symphony Wellesz goes back to the tonal
adventures of his youth; and this time the experiments succeed. What
he had aimed at when young, his experience as a composer now enabled
him to achieve; a more daring style now becomes tempered with the introversion
of age. The solemn but brilliant opening is similar in mood and texture
to the opening of the second of the Three Sketches for piano, Op. 6,
written in 1911. He adopts a 12-note style, not as a dogma, but in order
to give the structure a certain cohesion. The characteristics of his
style are all here in abundance; particularly the linear counterpoint
over a simple rhythm. The basic tonality of the symphony is D, and the
shape of the 8-note row, first sounded in unison, also includes the
tonality of E flat; this polytonal implication after its initial, harsh
presentation, in bar 5, is worked out in the course of the symphony.
At the point of recapitulation in the first movement. after a slower
middle section, the speed quickens, and the row is stretched from 8
notes to 12, and is combined with its own retrograde to form a fugue
subject [Bar 163; score published by Hans Sikorski, Hamburg].
The second movement, ‘Intermezzo’, is a short, bright
scherzo, also starting in unison, with the row transposed, and with
interjections of 5/8 metre into the prevailing pattern of 6/8. A little
accompanimental motif, which first occurs towards the end of the vivo
(at bar 88), forms the connecting link with the next movement, as it
gives shape to the 12-note theme, as well as underlying colour to the
harmony. The theme is given out adagio molto by a solo bass clarinet,
and answered by the oboes in retrograde. The development of this movement
is contrapuntal, as the theme is first inverted, then treated as a canon
between the bass instruments and the brass (starting at bar 29), while
the violins develop a brilliant counter-subject. This leads, typically
of the composer, to a unison climax. After a more lyrical middle section,
the main theme is recapitulated, once more in unison, and the movement
The first three notes of the original 8-note row are
inverted to form the bass pattern of the finale. The maestoso character
of the first movement is here brought to the fore, and the tragic grandeur
of the theme takes on the form of a funeral march; muted trombones and
tuba (bar 53) enhance this effect. The slower middle section reverts
to the material of the first movement, after which the bass-pattern
and the funeral march are recapitulated. The symphony finishes grandly,
with the expected unison declamation of the main note-pattern, sounding
the E flat and D tonalities round which the work is built.
Wellesz in this work makes a marked contribution to
the development of the symphony as a contemporary form. How many composers,
indeed, have reached a point of climax with their fifth symphony! Both
in the overall conception of the whole, and in the technical execution
of detail, he has developed a new form while not losing sight of the
classical principles of symphonic construction. The features-rhythmic,
harmonic, melodic-of his initial 12-note row are used variously to give
different colour to the themes of each movement, while underlying the
work as a whole is a mood of tragic, heroic solemnity, which develops
towards the final grandeur of the climax at the end. In his use of the
row, Wellesz is contrapuntal rather than serial. He can invert, transpose,
and perform the recognized contrapuntal tricks, with considerable deftness;
but always the technical procedures are subservient to the expressive
needs of the music, and the character of the movement, just as in his
The Sixth Symphony, Op. 95, was written nine years
later, in 1965, and several important works separated it from the fifth;
notably a setting of the first of Rilke’s ten Duineser Elegie, Op. 90,
and also the one-movement Music for String Orchestra, Op. 91. The Sixth
Symphony took only three months, including the scoring (5th April-7th
July). It is in three movements, and like the fifth has a basic tonality
of D, with a polytonal implication of E flat. It opens, again like a
funeral march, slow and heavy in 5/4 metre, with brass and woodwind
dominating, and the first movement grows all of a piece from the beginning.
The strings enter ff in the seventh bar with the principal theme, a
broad and very big, arch like cantabile, whose wide intervals recall
Wellesz’s early works. The mood is intense, with just occasional moments
of contrasting lightness. When the principal theme returns (bar I57)
it is not an exact repetition, and after four bars it is suddenly cut
off; the mood of The funeral march is recaptured,-and the movement ends
menacingly. The second movement is light, quick, transparent, scurrying
to and fro in triplets and semiquavers. A more sustained tranquillo
middle section, for strings only, separates the quick outer parts of
The third movement, Adagio, opens with all the violins
quietly and expressively singing their 12-note melody, very differently
presented now from the theme in the first movement. Over a rhythmic
ostinato in the bass a climax is built up, but in contrast to this theme
follows the most delicate part work for solo instruments. The ending
is one of peaceful. reconciliation.
Wellesz has said of this symphony that it is concerned
with one idea, presented in three aspects. It is a contrast more of
moods than of thematic presentation of the note-row, as the Fifth Symphony
The Seventh Symphony, Op. 102, is also in three movements,
and was written between 11th October 1967 and 21st January 1968. Although
it is entitled ‘contra torrentem’, because Wellesz sees the symphony
as being against current trends, nevertheless he has proved himself
master of that new classicism in symphonic form that he himself opened
up. It continues directly from the point reached in the Sixth Symphony,
though it is more concise, and covers a wider range of expression, with
the greatest intensity. In accordance with his earlier practice, Wellesz
derived material from a work written just before; in this case a cantata,
Mirabile Mysterium, Op. 101, commissioned by the Vienna Radio for the
Italia Prize, 1969.
The disposition of the movements of the Seventh Symphony
is the same as the sixth, with the first and third movements broad,
sustained, and acting as a frame for a more lively, joyful middle movement.
But this time the violins, largely in unison, develop a feeling of ecstasy,
which is theirs alone; the concluding bars consummate this mood.
The sombre character of the music, established at the
opening, pervades the work; even the lighter texture of the middle movement
is offset by heavy brass chords. The finale is the most extended of
the three movements, and the most important, with a resolution of the
mood forming the conclusion; beginning and ending with very sustained
string writing (sehr breit), and quickening in the middle, at  -3.
The Seventh Symphony was followed by a ten minute symphonic
piece, at the request of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. This Symphonischer
Epilog, Op. 108, which is an intensely concentrated work, might be also
described as a tragic epilogue; and once embarked on this course, Wellesz
the symphonist could hardly stop. He felt that this work needed a second
part; and thus arose the finale of the Eighth Symphony, which was written
before the other two movements of it.
The Symphonic Epilogue was finished on 11th December,
1969; the Eighth Symphony, Op. 110, was written between February-June,
1970. That freedom in the thematic working-out of ideas, which is already
apparent in the Seventh Symphony, and carried on in the Epilogue, is
pursued still further in this and in the next symphony. A movement is
not divided into sections, according to the classical procedure; but
the development starts from the very beginning. From the sum of his
symphonic experience Wellesz in his maturity took what was essential
for the music, and wrote just that; the pure reality of sounds, naked
colours, in a lighter surrounding texture, and without full harmonization-the
opposite of Strauss, or of Schoenberg. In this sense the music is implicit
rather than explicit, and its construction a comparatively free and
loose working-out of ideas.
The symphony is in the now customary three movements;
sustained outer movements enclose a quicker, scherzo-like section. The
third movement, Molto tranquillo, which was composed first, is both
substantial and complex. It opens with a phrase built round the interval
of the second (B flat-A flat), which recalls the funeral music in Alkestis
(bar 495 foll.). Biting scoring, with flutes and three high oboes (bar
IS) leads to an increase of intensity, and the music is characterized
by broad lines and wide intervals, spelt out in notes of small value.
Having completed the finale, the other two movements
came quickly to Wellesz. The opening Lento has a long solo for the trumpets
as a leading idea. This is later recalled-not repeated-with mutes, against
the static chords of divisi strings. The material of this symphony is
diverse, yet the work is homogeneous. Here Wellesz has applied the principles
of Mozart, that whereas each 2-bar section of an 8-bar sentence may
contain material of diverse interest, nevertheless the overall phrase
is a unity. In this case, though the juxtaposed motifs are different,
yet the whole musical experience is coherent. The material is firmly
controlled, however loose the structure.
The central Allegretto, in triple metre, represents
the scherzo movement, with just a suggestion of a very short trio for
flute and oboe. The scoring in this movement is slightly pointillistic,
with very short motifs, even single notes, distributed between the instruments.
The style of the trio is picked up at the beginning of the finale.
Following the completion of the Eighth Symphony, Wellesz
was faced with the congenial task of celebrating his 85th birthday-on;
21st October, 1970. To mark the occasion, chamber music concerts were
given at the Austrian Institute in London, as well as Oxford, Vienna
and elsewhere, by the (Vienna) Philharmonic String Quintet, for whom
he wrote Four pieces for String Quintet, Op. 109. But already his mind
was turned towards the possibility of the next symphony; and this was
started in November.
The Ninth Symphony, again in three movements, is a
continuation of the eighth. Like its predecessors, it was composed over
a comparatively short period of uninterrupted work. The speed is remarkable.
The sketch of the first movement was finished by 20th December. On Christmas
Day the middle movement was sketched out in essentials-and has since
remained basically unaltered. The very next day, 26th December, he started
work on the final Adagio. The entire symphony was scored between 22nd
January - 6th February, 1971.
By this time the chromatic tendency of the 12-note
technique had become so much second nature to Wellesz that, like Schoenberg
in Moses und Aaron, he no longer concerned himself with the mechanics
of it-as he had in some earlier works. Here the composer in his maturity
writes what he wants to write, of the sort of symphonic music that by
now he had forged for himself from the style of the Second Viennese
The first movement, Andante Moderato, opens with characteristic
vigour, and the music immediately works towards a point of intensity
(bar 31). A 3-note motif; with a prominent dotted rhythm, acts as a
unifying point of climax. It occurs again in bar 137, and at the end.
The slight pointillism noticeable in the previous symphony is here carried
to a much greater level, and the scoring differs markedly even from
bar to bar. Orchestral colour is used more than in earlier symphonies;
for instance the horns feature prominently, often in unison; one of
the most dramatic and powerful effects, discovered by the 85 year-old
composer. Leading motifs are given to certain instruments; for instance
a falling figure to the harp. As before, the composer is concerned that
nothing should overlay or obscure the absolute sounds of his orchestra.
The scherzo movement, Allegretto grazioso, is of very
light texture. The harmonic movement is slow, and static passages alternate
with evanescent, shimmering sounds. The central trio this time is just
hinted at by tremolo strings.
The concluding Adagio contains the essential Wellesz.
Like the finale of the Eighth Symphony, it is of complex construction,
though free. It opens with a powerful unison violin melody, whose long
line, and characteristically wide intervals, gradually rises, then falls.
This process is immediately repeated, with rhythmic diminution, and
the music grows in intensity to bar 20. The 12-note motif of the first
movement comes as a contrast, as well as a unifying link in the symphony.
The following section, a hocketus melody in the woodwind, and a rubato
passage, leads to the strings resuming the original tempo at bar 55,
with a recollection of the first movement rhythm.
A stricter, more martial pulse, beginning at bar 58,
leads inevitably to a powerful section (bar 75-85), when the first movement
rhythm becomes again more prominent. The strings recall the beginning
of the movement (bar 103), and after bar 115 the woodwind and horns,
in 3-part harmony, and equal crotchets, have a simple passage, like
a chorale. The final moment of the symphony is heralded by a high note
(E flat), by two desks of first violins, which gradually swells up to
ff, only to fade.
To the work of the Second Viennese School Wellesz added
the symphony. Schoenberg, Berg and Webern had been effectively inhibited
from writing symphonies by the overwhelming influence of Mahler; Wellesz
forged a new symphonic style, over a remarkably rich 25-year period
(1945-1970) which also exactly coincides with the period covered by
the present study.
Between the first and ninth symphonies he never once
varied the make-up of the symphony orchestra. Not for him the experimentation
of Tippett, or the novelty of Gerhard. This is one illustration of those
forgotten ideals, that striving after perfection, that emanated from
Mahler, but which now no longer activate the avant-garde; it is also
entirely consistent with Wellesz’s avoidance of novelty, whether of
harmony or sonority.
At his very first lesson with Schoenberg-an unforgettable
experience-the latter had shown him the harmonic novelties at the opening
of Strauss’s Salome. Soon however Wellesz noticed that these novelties
appeared flat indeed in comparison with the more striking novelties
of Schoenberg’s own work. Novelty, Wellesz concluded, was a false god;
once heard, it ceases to be a novelty. Therefore he did not pursue it.
His achievement in the symphonies particularly since
the fifth, has been to take the greatly increased possibilities of expression
of today’s various musical idioms, and, using only what he needed of
them, to fashion a new conception of symphonic form. In many ways the
contemporary composer is faced with precisely the opposite situation
from that which confronted the classical composers, who first forged
the conception of the symphony. They worked from the basis of a fixed
key, and an established diatonic scale of seven notes, to which they
added the additional expressiveness of the remaining five chromatic
notes in whatever proportion and to whatever extent was compatible with
the overall tonal scheme. The contemporary composer, however, works
from the basis of twelve notes, whose organization may or may not be
serial as he sees fit; nor is this licence confined to pitch only.
From such total chromatic freedom, which is clearly
inconsistent with the classical principles of symphonic form, Wellesz
worked inwards and deduced a structure that was compatible with his
chosen idiom. He sees the contemporary situation of the symphony as
not unlike what it was prior to its formulation by Haydn, who poured
out music, and from the resulting stream fashioned a symphonic structure.
Now Wellesz sees the necessity to refashion the symphony; and for structural
contrast, corresponding to the classical sonata form, he does not so
much introduce a second theme as make use of different melody and varied
movement. He has built a new edifice, without losing sight of the old.
13 Roberto Gerhard
Few composers in Britain today have had a richer, fuller
artistic life than Roberto Gerhard. After a slow, gradual growth, his
compositions increased steadily in later years in both number and range.
Artistic vision and intellectual vigour made for his insatiable curiosity
about music of many different periods and styles. Indeed, the assimilation
of fresh ideas and influences was part and parcel of his creative personality.
This particular period of time requires of the composer not just that
he should be aware of the forces and influences at work around him,
but that he should also interpret them; and Gerhard proved fully equal
to this challenge.
The work, no less than the composer himself, can be
approached on many different levels, all of which are valid, and any
one of which will lead the enquirer into ever more complex and intricate
side-turnings; pointers to the working of a daringly original mind.
There is, first, the surface-level of a piece, those themes or motifs
which give it its cohesion; next the subtler undercurrent of unity,
that inner subconscious structure, those details that are implicated
in the folds of the texture that make it hang together; this is particularly
the case in the later works from 1957 onwards.
Listen, says Gerhard; do not look, or analyse, or follow
in a score. So the first impression that reaches the listener is one
of the craftsman in sound; and first impressions are often the strongest
and most valid. But underlying the sound-craftsmanship is an intellect
at once rigorous, tough, all-demanding. The structure, form or shape
(call it what you will) must bc consistent throughout; if a work is
serial, the series must be logical, in both its vertical and linear
use. The two hexachords must interlock. Again, underlying all his work
was a philosophy at once liberal, compassionate, far-sighted, powerful
enough to guide him through the inevitable setbacks and difficulties
of a long and varied life. He wrote innumerable lighter pieces, arrangements
and settings, largely for economic reasons, including an electronic
sound track for a film made by two Cambridge doctors, Audiomobile No.
2 ‘DNA’; yet these he looked on as just as real an artistic experience
as his more serious work. He admitted, as we shall see, a number of
lighter pieces into the definitive list of his compositions; Alegrias
He was born at Valls near Barcelona on 25th September
1896. His mother was French, his father Catalan. His awareness of the
upsurge of nationalism in Spanish music that we associate particularly
with Albeniz and Granados was increased when he studied the piano with
the latter in Barcelona (1915-16). More importantly, he studied composition
with Felipe Pedrell, until Pedrell’s death in 1922. The eighty-year-old
professor would refer to his young pupil as ‘Benjamin’, and hint, somewhat
mysteriously, that he was destined to further his work. And indeed,
twenty years later, Gerhard was asked for a single-movement piece to
mark the centenary of Pedrell’s birth (1841), to be played on the Latin
American service of the BBC. This work, though written, was not performed;
but the composer had become so caught up in it that he extended it into
a three-movement work of symphonic size, and gave it the title Pedrelliana.
He took material from Pedrell’s opera La Celestina (1903), which was
a sort of Spanish Tristan and Isolde, and used it as a starting point
for his own work. Curiously enough, Falla, another Pedrell pupil, took
the same opera as a basis for a piece; but he quotes it much more directly
than Gerhard does. As usual Gerhard became entirely absorbed in the
work, and the third movement is about Pedrell himself, whose life Gerhard
saw as tragically split between the divided loyalties of musicology
on the one hand and composition on the other.
Like Falla, Gerhard looked beyond Spain for that spur
to deeper means of expression and a wider sense of artistic direction
than provincial Spanish life provided. But whereas his compatriot had
travelled no farther than Paris, to the congenial world of Debussy and
Ravel, Gerhard travelled to Vienna and Berlin, where for five years
(1923-28) he was Schoenberg’s pupil.
This was that extremely fruitful time when Schoenberg
was just formulating his 12-note technique. 1924 saw the first purely
12-note work of Schoenberg (the Piano Suite, Op. 25), and in December
of the following year Berg’s Wozzeck was first produced in Berlin. The
young Gerhard could hardly have chosen a more climactic moment; he was
witnessing the birth of one of the driving-forces of twentieth-century
But he did not immediately adopt Schoenberg’s style.
Indeed, during these years he wrote little; only the Wind Quintet (1928),
which though not entirely serial, uses certain serial devices-for instance
the Passacaglia bass in the second movement, and the principal melody
in the third. This work throws into relief certain problems inherent
in the 12-note style, which Gerhard sought to solve for himself; the
dichotomy between the principal and the subsidiary pares in a texture
of imitative counterpoint; the inconsistency of using such sharply differentiated
instruments as flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon in a style that
makes for unity and homogeneity above all else. But Gerhard is an unorthodox
Schoenbergian. For instance, his concentration on pattern, one of the
most intellectual inventions of the human mind, has nothing to do with
the linear series of his teacher. As we shall see, Gerhard was later
to make a marked and highly original contribution to the craft of serial
Returning to Barcelona, he became, among other things,
head of the Catalan Library, where he edited early Spanish music. He
also wrote articles and translations for various magazines. In 1938
he was a member of the I.S.C.M. jury in Warsaw [Where Alan Rawsthorne’s
Symphonic Studies were first played.], and on his return he found that
Barcelona had fallen to Franco in the Civil War, and the Catalan government
was exiled to Paris. He therefore remained in Paris until June 1939,
and meanwhile enquired of his English friend Edward Dent about the possibility
of leaving for England.
As President of the I.S.C.M., Dent was much more in
touch with musical developments and continental musicians than the majority
of his English colleagues and contemporaries. He and Gerhard had met
as early as 1932 at the Vienna Festival, and so now, as Professor of
Music at Cambridge, he was able to suggest that his friend be awarded
a ‘research studentship’ at King’s College. In 1939 Gerhard moved to
Cambridge, where he lived happily until his death on 5th January 1970.
Before 1923 Gerhard’s compositions were slight; short
piano pieces, a piano trio, some songs; notably Seven Hai-Kai, settings
from the Japanese for high voice, wind instruments and piano, which
were influenced largely by Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.
Between 1929 and 1939 his works comprised chiefly a
setting of Josep Carner’s poem ‘L’Alta Naixenca del Rei en Jaume’, and
two ballet scores. The first of these, Ariel, was given a concert performance
under Hermann Scherchen at the Barcelona Festival of the I.S.C.M. in
May, 1936 [When Berg’s Violin Concerto was first played.]; the second,
Soirees de Barcelone, was not performed owing to the outbreak of war.
Webern conducted his Cancons Populars Catalanes at an I.S.C.M. concert
in Vienna in 1932.
On his arrival in England in 1939, two more ballet
scores immediately occupied his attention. The first, Don Quixote (1940),
was played first as a concert suite before being staged as a ballet
at Covent Garden (1950). The characters that spring from Don Quixote’s
feverish mind spurred Gerhard on to one of his most characteristic and
colourful stage works. Within the principal Don Quixote theme is included
a little tune from Gerhard’s home in Spain; this gives rise to a note-row,
which is treated serially all through the work. The second ballet, Divertissement
Flamenco, was Gerhard’s response to a commission from the Ballet Rambert.
Though Catalan, not Andalusian, he considered that he could write a
Flamenco as well as the next man, and the ballet was performed in Birmingham
in 1943. It has been made into a concert suite, Alegrias, and the style
is that of a composer enjoying himself in lighter vein. The libretto
concerns a bull fight, and Gerhard has musical fun not only at the expense
of the bull but of the choreographer. For instance, in the finale (Jaleo)
gipsy tunes are used for the dragging off of the corpse, while Chopin’s
funeral march blares out from the trumpets. For a model, if one is needed,
we could turn to Falla’s Three Cornered Hat, which is based on Andalusian
tunes, or the finales of some of Bartok’s String Quartets, which are
characteristically Hungarian, but not inconsistently so.
Another ballet was performed in Cambridge the following
year, by the Kurt Jooss Company: Pandora. If certain qualifications
surround this piece-its length, for instance-no such qualifications
surround his next and most ambitious stage work: his only opera, The
When his wife Poldi returned home one day with a secondhand
copy of Sheridan’s famous comedy, which she had bought for sixpence
from a bookstall, one glance was enough to persuade the composer that
here was a perfect opera libretto; and he began work that very day.
Gerhard’s opera is based on artificiality. It is pastiche
in a serious setting, partly tonal, partly making use of a free 12-note
style. If pastiche may be defined as indulgence in a style that you
like, then Gerhard enjoyed writing this neoclassic mimicry. But the
important clue to pastiche, he considered, is that the character of
the impersonator should not be lost sight of.
Points of resemblance and similarity between Gerhard’s
The Duenna and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress are too close to overlook.
These become all the more remarkable when we remember that Stravinsky’s
work was the later of the two; it was not produced until September 1951,
in Venice. Gerhard’s work has not yet been produced, though it was given
a concert performance in Wiesbaden in 1951.
Both composers chose eighteenth century subject material;
both use a hero, a heroine and a villain, cast as tenor, soprano and
bass respectively; both use a formalised scheme of arias, recitatives,
and so on; both use an E tonality in Acts I and III, with a contrasting
tonality in the middle act; each composer has left his own persona distinctly
recognizable, however much he relies on earlier material. Stravinsky
may have had Mozart or Donizetti in mind [Particularly Cosi fan tutte.
cf Memories and Commentaries p. 158], but his fingerprints are clearly
impressed all over the score. So with Gerhard.
The set numbers of Sheridan’s play fall naturally into
strophic songs. These are simply tonal. It is in the connecting, secondary
passages that Gerhard introduces more chromatic, contrapuntal texture.
Motifs and ostinatos are used to help in establishing characters and
relationships; the tritone, for example, the atonal interval par excellence
(just as the fifth is the tonal interval par excellence), is used throughout
the work to express any undesirable or awkward turn of events. Such
a stylistic oscillation, between tonal and 12-note, could result in
inconsistency unless it was welded into an artistic unity by the overriding
personality of the composer. And this Gerhard achieves.
As an example of this contrast, the first scene of
the second act ends with a drinking trio, in which the composer found
to his delight that the words fitted perfectly with a Spanish rhythm;
he proceeds to indulge this happy discovery for over three hundred bars,
and the mood is jovial:
Fill a cheerful glass
And let good humour pass
Immediately, the opening of the next scene is entirely
contrasted, and a sombre 12-note introduction leads into Luisa’s somewhat
wistful song. Sheridan’s play has been set by other composers apart
from Gerhard. The author’s own father-in-law, the composer Thomas Linley,
cooperated with his own son (also Thomas) in setting it, and this piece
had a long run at Covent Garden, starting on 21st November 1775. More
recently, Prokofiev’s opera, Betrothal in a Nunnery (Op. 86), is based
on Sheridan’s play, with a libretto by the composer. Curiously enough
it was first staged in Leningrad on 3rd November 1946, exactly the time
when Gerhard was engaged on his version.
After the opera there followed the first of the purely
orchestral masterworks by which Gerhard will be permanently remembered,
the Violin Concerto.
This was first performed at the Florence Maggio Musicale
in 1950, conducted by Scherchen, with Antonio Brosa as soloist. Strictly
speaking this work is Gerhard’s second violin concerto. An earlier essay
in this form, written soon after his arrival in Cambridge, was abandoned
just on the point of completion because the composer was dissatisfied
with it; yet not so much with its musical material, some of which was
used in other works later, as with the solo violin technique, which,
so Gerhard held, needed to be one of the main justifications of a solo
concerto. If the solo writing does not represent a carrying forward
of past achievement for the soloist, why should the work necessarily
take the form of a concerto? By this Gerhard did not mean indulgence
or exhibitionism on the part of the solo violinist; simply that the
spark of creative necessity (a Schoenbergian concept) needed to be focused
on to the solo writing. Gerhard was his own first and sternest critic,
and since his earlier violin concerto did not, in his opinion, pass
this test, he decided to abandon it. But the lesson learnt from this
was applied in the next concerto, whose very essence, and ‘instrumentality’
would be unthinkable in any other form than that of a violin concerto.
[1. See Rufer, Composition wish twelve notes, p. 83. Schoenberg had
celebrated his seventieth birthday on 13th September 1944.]
For the first time the twin problems of structure and
sonority are triumphantly and originally solved in an orchestral context.
It is serial in part only. After the first movement cadenza at 
there is a 12-note section, molto vivace con spirito. The slow movement
uses the 12-note series of Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet, while
the last movement is largely autobiographical. The suggestion of the
Marseillaise at the opening recalls the fall of France in 1940, as well
as the composer’s French mother; the use of a Catalan folk-tune recalls
the Abbey of Montserrat, where his father died.
Two further concertos span an important and formative
period of Gerhard’s artistic development which then ensued: the Concerto
for Piano and Strings (1951), and the Concerto for Harpsichord, Strings
and Percussion (1956). They have common features; both are characteristic
of their composer, who makes for simplicity and directness with such
devices as regularity of metre, pedalpoint (with which the piano concerto
opens), repeated figurations, a sustained semiquaver pulse, imitative
entries, and so on. The piano concerto starts freely, and later becomes
serial, while the series of the harpsichord concerto, with its falling
minor thirds, has an inbuilt diminished seventh chord, which makes for
Though written in the same year as the harpsichord
concerto, the Nonet could hardly be more different. Two quartets of
wind, one woodwind, one brass, are linked by a highly original choice
of continuo instrument, an accordion. Certain sonorities are striking,
but the piece as a whole presents the opposite use of the 12-note style
to that revealed in the harpsichord concerto. Whereas that was brilliant,
glittering in texture, full of contrast, based on tonal exploitation
of the note-row, this work is more academic, dense in texture, opaque
and heavy in sonority. Its non-thematic construction places all the
more burden on the colour of the instruments to save the music from
During this period (1950-55) Gerhard developed his
original conception of a rhythmic series. This he intended should do
in the field of time what Schoenberg’s note-row did in the field of
pitch; and the pivot work, in which he first worked out his idea, was
the First String Quartet. The first movement of this work was written
in 1950, the remainder in 1955. The second movement is a free improvisation,
but the third and fourth movements apply the working of a time-series;
the third movement (Grave) in rallentando, the fourth (Molto Allegro)
in acceleration, which makes the motifs more easily comprehended.
Some of Gerhard’s thoughts about the nature of serialism
are summarised in an article written about this time [‘Tonality in twelve-tone
music’ in The Score, May 1952]’, in which he puts forward the hypothesis
that the 12-note technique is a new formulation of the principle of
tonality. The word tonality, derived from the Greek tonos, implies something
stretched; but it had hitherto been taken to refer only to pitch. Why
confine composition to an imitation of Schoenberg’s pitch serialism?
Most rhythm is thematically derived, yet rhythm, though interrelated,
is something independent; it governs the temporal order of a piece,
the way the music unfolds in time. Boulez had evolved a time-series,
for instance in Structures, but Gerhard found this unsatisfactory because
of the octave relationship between a note and another note twice its
value. The essence of Schoenberg’s pitch-serialism was that each of
the twelve notes was different; and octave displacement did not alter
the note itself, any more than in the diatonic system the inversion,
or octave displacement, of a chord altered its character.
Gerhard’s solution was to construct a numerical rhythmical
series using prime numbers, and to interpolate the two groups of six
(or three groups of four, or whatever the division of the twelve might
be) in just the same way as Schoenberg interpolated the two hexachords
of his pitch-series. Thus if one group uses seven beats, another thirteen,
and they both start together, they will not coincide again until ninety-one
beats later (7 x 13); how many bars this constitutes will depend on
This central development in Gerhard’s thinking took
place between the first and second symphonies. The First Symphony (1952-53),
which is in three movements, breaks entirely fresh ground in symphonic
composition, in that, while retaining certain traditional links, it
does away with themes. In place of the classical procedure of thematic
form, with its exposition, development and so on, Gerhard substitutes
a succession of long, melodic arches, serially constructed, and constantly
varying in texture and rhythmic intensity; now the pace is quick, events
crowd in on one another; now it is slack, lazy, and the parts have more
breathing-space. The work is serial, though the later part of the first
movement is somewhat freer, and uses motivic development. The most remarkable
characteristic of Gerhard’s orchestral writing is his use of the strings.
He condenses his original conceptions of orchestral sonority into the
string writing, which is at all times highly effective, if occasionally
extremely difficult. Moods alter; the music veers now this way, now
that. The symphony as a whole can best be compared to a day, from sunrise
to sunset, where the constantly shifting rays of light create effects
of emphasis, climax and release, in a continuing and unbroken cycle.
Interestingly enough, from the Second Symphony onwards (1957), all his
works are a continuous movement, without breaks which he considered
With the Second Symphony he completes the separation,
not just from the traditional thematic principle, but from his own earlier
serial thinking. The numerical series, which, apart from the first String
Quartet, is first used in this work, makes for closer coordination of
the texture, a more taut temporal order. But the processes of composition
are irrelevant for the listener, who is concerned primarily with the
sound; it is unfortunate that the sound of this symphony, which is to
some extent a transitional work, as it marks the composer’s striking
out into the more complexly abstract territory of pure sound, is not
so characteristic of Gerhard as some other works. It resembles that
grey, anonymous Esperanto which was the style adopted in the 50s by
innumerable European serialists whose individuality it is almost impossible
to pick out; the absence of themes imposes great burdens on the listener's
ability for concentrated listening at the intellectual level.
The number of percussion instruments is greater, the
number of notes sparser, than in the First Symphony. Seven percussion
players are called for, and the various categories of instrument (tom-tom,
cymbal, wood-block, Korean block, etc.) are graded into small, medium
and large. This was the standard practice of the European avant-garde.
In its original form, the second main section of the
symphony (Lento, bar 471) opens with an ostinato pattern for percussion
which twice returns after intermediate sections for other instruments.
The dynamic level is extremely low. There follows a little spiccato
fugal section for strings (comodamente), similar to the opening of the
Nonet; a cymbal-roll leads straight into the Molto Vivace final section,
whose speed is disguised by the fragmented nature of the texture.
Yet that the Second Symphony occupied an important
turning-point in his creative growth is proved by the fact that he later
subjected it to basic revision. It was re-written under the title Metamorphoses
[Published by Mills Music], of which 181 manuscript pages were finished
when the composer died. It is in three movements, compared with the
two main sections of the earlier symphony, and these three movements,
according to notes left by the composer, represent the final, complete
version of the work. It was his last manuscript composition. A projected
fifth symphony was not finished.
The Third Symphony, Collages (1960), was commissioned
by the Koussevitzky Foundation. It introduced yet another technical
innovation, magnetic tape. Gerhard had used electronic effects in two
earlier pieces: first as background for a radio play Asylum Diary, next
for a recitation of Lorca’s Lament for The Death of a Bull-Fighter.
In the Third Symphony tape and orchestra were juxtaposed in a way whose
results could not be foreseen. The overall programme of the work is,
explicitly this time, the span of a day from dawn to night; the sections
invoke (in order): the dawn; the silence of plant life; the tumultuous
world of man; the world of unconsciousness; re-assuming consciousness;
cities in the distance; the calm of night.
Gerhard’s individual interpretation of the serial idiom
was to reach its mature fulfilment in two orchestral works, the Concerto
for Orchestra and the Fourth Symphony. but three other works intervene:
Concert for 8 (1962), Hymnody (1963) for seven instruments, percussion
and two pianos, and The Plague (1963), adapted from Camus for speaker,
mixed chorus and orchestra.
It was in the Concerto for Orchestra (1964-65) that
Gerhard reached that maturity in the new style which the Violin Concerto
had in the old. In the Concerto for the first time the process of composition
without themes, with the work based solely on those intangible, instinctive
processes of constantly alternating and varying the timbre, intensity
and duration of sounds of a very wide sound-spectrum, has been fully
assimilated. His break with his former style is thus complete. The principles
governing Gerhard’s serialism, as well as his intentions underlying
this key work, are expressed as clearly as they could be by the composer’s
note at the front of the score:
The present work is in one single movement. Its form
largely depends upon three contrasting types of continuity which, in
their alternation, strongly affect our passage-of-time consciousness.
The first type is characterized by a high rate of eventuation. Tone
plays solo here, so to speak, and tonal configuration is the leading
The second type is represented by almost static yet
pulsating constellation-like patterns. Here time is playing solo and
temporal configuration, based on ‘time-lattices’, is now the leading
principle. Pitch is merely subsidiary here and, therefore, free use
is made of a number of sounds of indeterminate pitch obtainable on some
instruments by unorthodox ways of playing them.
The third type of continuity might be likened to action
in very slow motion. Comparatively little happens here, and everything
casts long shadows, conjuring up, ideally, the magic sense of uneventfulness.
A characteristic feature of this type of continuity is the virtual suspension
of metre (only presented for the convenience of notation). This, together
with a conspicuous freedom of tempo, is what reminds me of a possibly
last, tenuous link with the ad lib. spirit of the old cadenza.
The piece, which was first heard in Boston, on 25th
April 1965, lasts twenty-one minutes. It carries on where the Second
Symphony left off; absolute priority is given to sonority, from which
Gerhard assumes the structure will automatically be formed. Texture
has supplanted thematic repetition as the deciding factor in the shape
a piece takes. This is in accordance with the earlier principle of sonata
form, which followed naturally from the use of thematic composition,
and contrasted keys. The unorthodox ways of playing the instruments
that the composer refers to include the strings being played with the
finger-nail below the bridge, col legno on the tail piece, the finger-tip
tapping the belly, and so on.
The achievement of the Concerto for Orchestra was further
consolidated in the Fourth Symphony. This work, more assured in idiom,
and stronger in texture than the second, was commissioned by the New
York Philharmonic as part of the celebration of its 125th anniversary,
and performed in December 1967.
Among the smaller pieces, it remains to mention three
short and straightforward piano Impromptus (1959), dedicated to Lord
and Lady Harewood; also the Second String Quartet (1962), which was
commissioned by the University of Michigan, following Gerhard’s visit
there in 1960. This twelve-minute work is remarkable for its fragmenting
the series into 6, 8, 7, even 3-note sets; it also anticipates those
effects which were later to be used in the Concerto.
Gerhard’s work is remarkable for many reasons. He was
one of the very few British composers of the 60s who, having forged
a style within the limits of total serialism, could still call it his
own. His musical personality was sufficiently pronounced for his later
serial works to reach beyond that technical anonymity that claims most.
He was one of the composers who benefited directly
and positively from the swing towards serialism in the 60s; indeed,
without it, and the active support of William Glock, it is more than
doubtful, first, whether his music would have flowered as it did in
the last decade of his life; next, whether it would have been heard
to the extent it was. It was a remarkably productive period for Gerhard
in which, having opened up his new serial world, he proceeded to occupy
it; not only with the large-scale orchestral works, but with smaller
pieces for chamber ensemble. His last three chamber works had astrological
titles: Gemini (1966), a duo concertante (as it was originally called)
for violin and piano; Libra (1968) and Leo (1969) for various ensembles.
The composer’s note to Gemini is characteristic:
The work consists of a series of contrasting episodes,
whose sequence is more like a braiding of diverse strands than a
straight linear development Except for the concluding episodes,
nearly every one recurs more than once, generally in a different
context. These recurrences are not like refrains, and do not fulfil
anything remotely like the function of the classical refrain.
It is a brittle piece, of alternating movement and
stillness for each instrument, and containing many of the avant-garde
characteristics of piano-playing: cluster chords, glissando on the strings,
and so on.
Libra, the Balance, was the composer’s own Zodiac sign.
Like Gemini it could also be seen as a series of contrasting episodes,
or better, heard as a series of contrasting sonorities. Leo, his wife’s
Zodiac sign, also for chamber ensemble, was the last composition published
in his lifetime; and it ends, appropriately, with a long diminuendo
over a rocking piano bass.
Gerhard, like Stravinsky, travelled a great distance
in terms of creative discovery; his style covers a wide spectrum. His
artist’s curiosity was impelled by philosophical and intellectual energy.
Even when expressing himself verbally, which he was sometimes reluctant
to do, he took a delight in finding exactly and precisely the correct
word or phrase to describe what was probably an abstruse, metaphysical
idea. Clarity of speech reflected clarity of thought; nothing was more
alien to Gerhard’s aesthetic than the imprecise, ill-formed, aleatoric
approach to art.
The visitor who was fortunate to engage him, or perhaps
overhear him, in conversation, would come away several hours later a
considerably richer man. Thought-provoking ideas, paradoxes, aphorisms
were carefully enunciated, for later consideration. One writer has noted
several [In The Score (September 1956)]; some more are:-
Sound imagined is real; sound heard is reflex.
Composing at the piano removes a dimension of imagination.
The necessity of redundancy...
Repetition makes structure (cf Paul Klee)
Schoenberg put forward a way of handling pitch; he
did not solve formal problems.
The composer feels thoughtfully, thinks feelingly.
Only when sound transcends its material nature does
it excite the musical imagination.
Surprisingly, he rarely taught. Since 1939 he neither
taught nor lectured at Cambridge, though in 1967 he was made an Hon.
D. Mus. of that university. It was an American University (Ann Arbor,
Michigan) which in 1960 persuaded him to accept an engagement as ‘visiting
professor’. He returned to America the following year, to Tanglewood.
Gerhard’s aesthetic has a broad, philosophical basis.
He felt a kinship with scientists, and the scientific attitude. Music,
he maintained, was the pre-eminent art of the nineteenth century; this
hegemony then passed to science. He moreover derived much benefit from
Paul Valery, whose research into the multifarious problems connected
with the creative process led him to conclusions with which Gerhard
was in sympathy.
Apart from the use of a numerical series, his style
is dominated by the smaller intervals rather than by the compound intervals
which so appealed to Webern; also by his interpretation of serialism
according to what he would call ‘tonal’ principles; chiefly, that is
to say, the principle that the hexachords, of which there are sixty,
can have permutations also within them. The music as a result grows
in many directions, and is full of inner melody. He was fond of quoting
the Byzantine definition of the smaller intervals as somatic, or substance-forming,
and of the wider intervals as pneumatic, or insubstantial.
Another characteristic is the ostinato technique. If
repetition is the corner-stone of structure, ostinato is the corner-stone
of repetition. It is central to Gerhard’s style, and to his building
of texture. Texture starts for him as imagined sound; composition finishes
when the imagined sound has become real, and the moment has become crystallised.
At a rehearsal of the Fourth Symphony, a copyist was
rash enough to suggest that a certain passage be cut. The ensuing conversation
throws a light on Gerhard’s personality as well as his music; an element
of seriousness is concealed, in true Anglo-Saxon style, beneath the
lightness of the moment:
G. You are lucky I am not Schoenberg; he would have
bitten your head off!
Cop. I knew you would not bite my head off!
G. You should have said - I am not Schoenberg.
Cop. Perhaps one Schoenberg is enough?
G. One Schoenberg is more than enough!
14 Andrzej Panufnik
Like Reizenstein, Panufnik combines executive with
creative musicianship. Unlike him, however, he had already attained
eminence in both fields, conducting and composing, before leaving his
native Poland in 1954.
One of the most remarkable features of the British
attitude to musicians from other countries is that while the warmest
welcome is extended to visitors, the reception accorded to newly-arrived
citizens from other countries is ambivalent, and considerably less fulsome.
Composers who have taken up residence in this country, and become British
citizens, have found obstacles in their path which are inexplicable
to any who do not fully understand the full implications of that ominous
and much-quoted phrase ‘English reserve’. And so, in the case of Panufnik,
who is one of the most gifted composers in Europe today, in spite of
his residence here, and his British nationality, his services as a composer
and conductor are in demand in every other country of the Western hemisphere
except London, where he lives.
He was born in Warsaw in 1914. His father was originally
an engineer, but later he devoted himself entirely to making stringed
instruments; he was extremely knowledgeable on the early Italian violin,
and he constructed two completely new models of his own, Antica and
Polonia, which became famous. He also wrote scientific books on the
art of Violin making, which are to be found in the library of the British
Museum. Andrzej Panufnik’s mother, of partly English origin, was a highly
accomplished violinist although she never played in public. After a
period at the Warsaw Conservatoire, where he studied the groundwork
of composition under Kazimierz Sikorski, he proceeded, in 1937, to the
Vienna State Academy, where he studied conducting as one of the very
few and rigorously selected pupils of Felix Weingartner, and at the
same time, acquainted himself with the 12-note style of Schoenberg and
Webern. Panufnik has always considered his work as a conductor to be
complementary to his composition; it has brought him into contact with
music-making, and it has helped to give him that insight into the use
of instruments which every orchestral composer needs. He has never been
a career conductor.
He was also a creditable pianist, though he never considered
himself as a concert soloist. He rounded off these formative years of
study by going first to Paris, then to London. In Paris he concentrated
his attention, naturally, on French composers, while continuing to work
as a conductor under Philippe Gaubert. In London, which he visited in
}939, he acquainted himself with the early period of English music,
largely by research at the British Museum. He also heard several concerts
at the Queen’s Hall. In short, few musicians in their twenty-fifth year
have emerged from their student period better equipped to embark on
He returned to Poland in 1939; and almost immediately
the war broke out. He remained in Warsaw all through the Nazi occupation,
and the difficulties and troubles of those years may well be imagined,
on the personal as well as on the musical level. The city of Warsaw
was completely destroyed, and the hell and agony of the Polish nation
reached its dire climax in the ill-starred uprising of 1944. In such
severe conditions, what music could there be, except on a makeshift
basis? Orchestral concerts were ‘for Germans only’, and the performance
of Polish music (especially Chopin) and of works by Jewish composers
was banned by the Nazis, so music-making often had to be underground.
Indeed, that any music was made at all seems miraculous; and yet it
was at an underground concert in 1942 that Panufnik’s Tragic Overture
was first heard. As well as working at his own composition, Panufnik
played duets for two pianos with his contemporary, Witold Lutoslawski,
and for this purpose they made transcriptions of some hundred works,
from Bach and Mozart to Stravinsky and Szymanowski, and other banned
composers. Tragically and mysteriously, all these transcriptions by
both the composers, with the exception of the Lutoslawski Paganini Variations,
were lost in the Warsaw Uprising. But unspeakably more tragic was the
loss, also in the 1944 Uprising, of all the music that Panufnik had
ever composed; not only that, but his brother Miroslaw lost his life
as a member of the Polish Underground Resistance Army. What better way
had the composer of keeping his brother’s name alive than by dedicating
the re-written Tragic Overture to his memory?
After the war he became conductor of the Cracow Philharmonic,
then director of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He began to travel
extensively as guest conductor to foreign orchestras. He resumed composition,
and in the years immediately after 1945 he was free to develop as a
composer in whatever direction he saw fit. Gradually, however, political
pressure began to be felt more intensely, and the Soviet principles
of ‘Socialist Realism’ were applied more severely. Music, like every
other art, was looked on as an instrument of political propaganda; the
composer was required to write mass songs and patriotic cantatas; all
‘formalism’ was proscribed, whether it was that of Debussy, Hindemith
and Schoenberg, or of the Impressionist school of painters. This political
pressure gradually became a stranglehold, which reached a climax in
the years following 1949. Several works were banned, and some composers,
including Panufnik, came under official criticism. It was only later,
after 1956, that a more liberal atmosphere began to be felt, which was
shown in the Warsaw Festival of that year. This liberalisation was the
result not only of political events but also of a courageous struggle
by the Polish composers; and certainly Panufnik’s dramatic protest two
years before helped to influence the situation.
Much of the development in contemporary Polish music
can only be understood in the light of these events; after 1956 Polish
composers at last were able to experiment as regards their musical language,
and at the same time, in a subtle manner, they were thus able to demonstrate
against the Soviet regime which had so fettered their speech, and to
emphasize that their cultural allegiance lay with the West. Therefore,
after 1956 they excitedly pursued post-Webern serialism and post-Cage
Panufnik, however, followed a different path. For him
the heart of the Polish tradition, and thus of his true style, lies
in that spiritual, emotional, tragic, heroic feeling that can be traced
from Chopin; he has never found any compensating satisfaction in an
abstract theory or system, though he was acquainted with the serial
He was highly respected in Poland, and well-known both
as a composer and conductor. He was elected, among other things, the
vice-president (jointly with Honegger) of the International Music Council
of U.N.E.S.C.O. in Paris. He travelled extensively, and had been to
England several times, for instance for the I.S.C.M. festival in 1946,
when his Five Polish Peasant Songs were performed [On July 12th 1946,
by the BBC Chorus, in the Goldsmiths’ Hall, London]. At last, however,
in spite of outward success, he could endure the artistic stagnation
and the political control in Poland no longer; so in 1954 he decided
to leave the country. It was a bold and radical step to take at the
age of thirty-nine particularly as he would be leaving behind in Warsaw
all his most valued and personal possessions; his manuscripts, and his
pricelessly valuable collection of over fifty stringed instruments,
old Italian as well as new ones constructed by his father. However,
after a concert in Zurich, instead of returning to Warsaw, he came to
London. His action and protest, which he made known through every available
source, has never been forgiven by the Warsaw Government, and his music
is still banned in Poland and all communist countries. He knew no one
in England, nor had he any financial backing. Apart from one concert
with the Philharmonia Orchestra, his conducting engagements continued
to come from abroad. The first year after his arrival was spent, as
the list of his works shows, in rescuing and revising his works for
publication: such works, that is, as he had managed to bring from Poland.
After a few years’ residence he did get two BBC commissions [The Rhapsody
and Polonia Suite], and later he was for two seasons (1957-9) conductor
and musical director of the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra. He
succeeded Rudolf Schwarz, who had been conductor since 1951, and was
succeeded first by Sir Adrian Boult, for just one season, then by Hugo
Rignold. But it was one thing to appear as guest conductor on the international
circuit; it was quite another to devote a fuller proportion of time
to the artistic direction of a provincial English orchestra with a very
unadventurous audience and management committee. However, in addition
to the standard repertoire, Panufnik introduced the Birmingham audiences
to the work of several British composers. He conducted the first performances
of Edmund Rubbra’s Seventh Symphony and Lennox Berkeley’s Second Symphony,
and a Symphonic Prelude, Polonia, by no less a composer than Elgar.
He presented only four of his own works. Above all, he showed particular
interest in early English music: Avison, Arne, Boyce, Byrd and Purcell.
Indeed, it is more than probable that he was much better acquainted
with the early music of the country of his adoption than most Englishmen.
But he found, as many have, that the demands of composition
and those of a conducting career are incompatible. Since leaving Birmingham
in 1959 he has devoted the greater part of his time to composition,
and confined his conducting to guest appearances. These have been mainly
abroad, in such places as Buenos Aires, Lisbon, Paris, Stuttgart and
Of his works nothing survives prior to 1944. These
included Symphonic Variations, a Little Overture, a Psalm for soloists,
chorus and orchestra, and several chamber works and piano pieces.
But some other pieces were reconstructed. One in particular,
the Tragic Overture, was firmly enough imprinted on his mind to be rewritten
later. Apart from its central position in Panufnik’s creative consciousness,
it is characteristic of the composer in style, mood and technique; it
serves therefore as the best introduction to his music.
Panufnik’s principles and methods of composition are
highly individual, and, more so than with most contemporary composers,
are an essential clue to an understanding of his music. Whereas Sartre
used to say that ‘existence precedes essence’, in the case of Panufnik
a deep, spiritual feeling, a poetic intuition, precedes creativity.
Many lesser composers adopt to music an emotional attitude of one kind
or another, whether deep or not, as a substitute for the rigorous discipline
of composition; many a hack religious work, for instance, or aleatoric
sketch, has been written on this flimsy and threadbare aesthetic basis.
Others, again, accept the necessity for strictness, but lack that underlying
intensity of feeling which gives warmth and power to the finished structure;
many a composer, whether academic or avant-garde, has became so mesmerised
and preoccupied by technique as to mistake the means for the end of
But Panufnik, like Messiaen (who is only six years
his senior), treats each stage as equally indispensable and important.
The spiritual content decides the very structure of the composition.
First, the emotional involvement, from which derives the innate character
of the themes; these in turn dictate the form of the composition; lastly
come the progressions, tone-colours, and so on. Thus has Panufnik restored
that balance in contemporary music between content and style-between
what you say, and how you say it-which is always the first casualty
in any war between irreconcilable partisans, of whatever viewpoint.
And what snobbery is there that is more fierce, or more irrational and
exclusive, than an aesthetic snobbery?
In no piece is Panufnik’s method more clearly shown
than in the Tragic Overture. A 4-note cell pervades the work like a
motto. It accumulates great warmth and strength. The other most apparent
features are economy, discipline, tidiness. The structure of the piece
approximates to sonata form. The first thematic idea leads to a progressive
increase in tension, built up entirely from the 4-note motif, which
culminates at  (Boosey and Hawkes’ edition). The second idea consists
of a quiet, sustained melody in minims, first given to the flute at
, while the 4-note motif serves an accompanimental purpose. The development
consists of the inversion, augmentation and diminution of the motif
in various sections of the orchestra.
The recapitulation consists of the working of the material
up towards a different kind of culminating moment, at , at which
point the violins and woodwind immediately sing out the secondary theme
(ff, cantabile), while the accompanimental quavers are given to the
brass. When, after , the brass join the other instruments in the
sustained minims, the only section of the orchestra left to hammer out
the 4-note motif is the percussion; and so, up to the end, an antiphonal
ostinato is maintained between the side-drum and the bass-drum, with
occasional interjections from the tom-tom and the cymbals. The 4-note
cell, which pervades the work from the first note to the last, gives
it its melodic as well as its rhythmic character. It is also susceptible
of development, and allows greater freedom to expand than a series which
uses all the twelve notes. Another work which is constructed on similar
principles is the Heroic Overture, which was written for the Helsinki
Olympic Games, 1952, and was awarded a prize in a competition in Warsaw
that same year.
But the Tragic Overture epitomises the two most striking
features of his idiom; These are his use of tonality, which is extended
to a highly individual, chromatic polytonality; and an accumulated intensity
of emotional feeling. These features come together in his favourite
device, the simultaneous use of conflicting degrees of the scale, a
The first published version of this work (Polskie Wydawnictwo
Muzyczne, 1948) already shows Panufnik’s new way of writing a score;
the instruments which are not playing are not indicated in the traditional
manner by a stave, key and rests-a space is left and notation is only
started when the instrument comes in, the stave disappearing once more
when the performer has nothing to play. Panufnik invented and first
used this kind of notation in the early 40s, with the intention of making
the score clearer and more transparent for conductors, alleviating the
usual necessity of pencilling in additional markings. (Frequently a
much-used score which has been in the hands of many conductors becomes
quite illegible.) Panufnik’s simplified method of writing the score
was later adopted by numerous composers, including the majority of today’s
Panufnik is primarily an orchestral composer. Choral
and vocal music does not come easily to him, though one example, Universal
Prayer, is among his major works. Chief among his orchestral compositions
so far are the three symphonies and the piano concerto, while shorter
pieces include Lullaby, Landscape, and more particularly the exquisite
Nocturne. With all his compositions it is the basic conception that
is all-important; in the case of the Nocturne this conception was like
an arch; the music beginning from nothing, working towards a tutti,
then returning to nothing, whence it came; the end mirrors the beginning
(a side-drum roll). This piece was awarded first prize in a competition
in Cracow in 1948.
Some works are inspired by traditional Polish folk-melodies,
and are therefore not so characteristic of the originality of the composer.
However, his approach to folk-lore is very much his own, and is different
from, for example, Szymanowski, Bartok or Vaughan Williams. An example
of this is Hommage a Chopin, which exists in two forms; one is for soprano
and piano, the other is for flute and strings. The work is based on
rustic melodies and rhythms from Masovia in central Poland, where Chopin
was born. Other works which originated in this way are the Five Polish
Peasant Songs and the Polonia Suite, and some others.
Highly characteristic, however, and of great importance,
though they are deceptively slight, are the piano pieces: the Miniature
Studies and Reflections. The studies make the fullest use of piano texture
and sonority. Starting in C sharp major-minor, the key of each study
moves to a fifth lower than the one before, so that the twelve notes
are encompassed in the overall scheme. A quick movement is succeeded
by a slow one, loud alternates with soft, until the final study, which
starts pp and works a gradual crescendo up to ffff, mollo secco. Each
study, needless to say, is built round just one pattern, or motil For
originality of conception these pieces are unequalled by the piano compositions
of other British composers; only Fricker and Reizenstein invite any
kind of comparison. The nine pieces, also called microstructures, which
make up Reflections use even more economy of technique.
Of Panufnik’s symphonies, the first, Sinfonia Rustica,
is partly based on Polish folk-themes. It divides the strings into two
stereophonic groups, each made up in the proportion 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, with
the wind in the middle, though without clarinets and percussion. The
four movements of the symphony are given markings according to the mood
of the music: con tenerezza, con grazia, con espressione, con vigore.
As a whole, the work shows a fresh, original concept of symphonic writing,
which was to bear such excellent fruit later. Although it won yet another
first prize, this time in the Chopin competition in Warsaw, 1949, it
was violently attacked later that year at a meeting of the Composers’
Union, as being ‘alien to the great Socialist era’, and he was told
by the Minister of Culture that his Sinfonia Rustica had ‘ceased to
exist’. This was the crucial period when the regime really started to
put very strong pressure on creative artists in all fields, to impose
the method of ‘socialist realism and force the composers to write music
for the ‘broad masses’ with a clear political propaganda message. To
avoid giving way to this pressure, Panufnik turned to the early Polish
music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (which was not proscribed),
and finding by research some unused themes of several composers of that
period, wrote two works, Old Polish Suite and Concerto in Modo Antico,
without any harmonic or rhythmical distortions, in the style of the
period. (Also, fifteen years later, he returned with one work to this
style, when he wanted to write a special occasional piece for a concert
celebrating Poland’s Millennium of Statehood and Christianity in 1966;
this was the Jagiellonian Triptych).
The second symphony, Sinfonia Elegiaca, is constructed
in one continuous movement, in three sections: molto andante, molto
allegro, molto andante. It was first performed in Houston, Texas, by
that champion of the contemporary composer, Leopold Stokowski [Stokowski
also gave the world premiere of another work, Katyn Epitaph, ten years
later, 1968, with his American Symphony Orchestra in New York]. The
first and third sections were later (1957) used for a ballet, Elegy,
presented in Seattle and New York by the City Center Joffrey Ballet,
conducted by Seymour Lipkin. As a symphony, the conception is of a central
section of savage and percussive energy, flanked on either side by music
of sombre gravity.
Many of Panufnik’s works are of symmetrical construction;
and none more so than Autumn Music, written in memory of a friend who,
through a long, incurable illness, ‘experienced her last autumn in 1960’.
Its three main sections (A-B-C) are hinged together like a triptych,
by two very short Interludes, and it is of symmetrical construction,
with the climax in the middle of the central section, which is itself
in a mirror form. The material, athematic and very simple, consists
of germ-cells of two intervals. The first section, A, and the second
interlude, is based on major and minor seconds; the last section C is
based mainly on the minor third and minor second, like the first interlude.
In the middle section, B, which is contrasting in character to the others,
the telescoped melodic lines in canonic writing are taken from a chord
built in thirds only. This stands like an axis in an almost perfect
symmetry; the symmetrical construction of the work as a whole is also
emphasised by its texture, rhythm, tempo and dynamics.
But it is the third symphony, Sinfonia Sacra, which
calls for chief attention. It was composed, under a grant from the Kosciuszko
Foundation, for Poland’s Millennium of Christianity and Statehood (1966),
and won first prize for Great Britain in the Monaco competition, 1963.
This time the source of inspiration demanded that the symphony should
be particularly Polish in character, and that it should emphasise the
deeply-rooted Catholic tradition of that country. Therefore the composer
chose the first known hymn in the Polish language as his starting-point.
This is a Gregorian chant called Bogurodzica (‘Mother of God’), which
represented for the Poles what the Lutheran Chorale represented for
the Germans, a secular as well as a sacred hymn, heroic as well as religious;
and this quality pervades the symphony.
Sinfonia Sacra is Panufnik’s culminating symphonic
work up to now The indefatigable Leopold Stokowski 1 who gave the first
New York performance, described it as ‘most powerful, extremely original’;
the first London performance was not given until 1968 and even then
not by one of the London orchestras [On 23rd November, 1968, by Constantin
Silvestri and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra]. But this symphony
has had many performances abroad, including two performances in Paris,
one of them televised. The symphony was also used with brilliant success
by the choreographer, Kenneth MacMillan, for his ballet Cain and Abel
at the Deutsche Oper, West Berlin, in November 1968.
The work is in two parts; Three Visions and Hymn. The
Visions, which follow without a break, are strongly contrasted. The
first is an extended fanfare, a colloquy built in fourths, between four
trumpets which are placed at the four compass-points round the orchestra.
The Second Vision uses strings alone to create a mystic, contemplative
atmosphere. The material anticipates the melody that is to come later.
The Third Vision, far the longest and most dramatic, mounts to a climax
of agitation, an orchestral shout of protest, which is suddenly cut
off, to be followed immediately by the Hymn. This expresses the adoration
and warmth of a simple prayer to the Virgin. It starts with very quiet
string harmonics, which gradually dissolve to allow the music to grow
gradually, until the Bogurodzica melody breaks through in full splendour,
a recall of the opening fanfare brings the work to a climactic end.
As in the Tragic Overture, a 4-note cell is used, for instance after
[251, where a cross-rhythm is introduced to give both refinement to
the movement of the music and excitement to the tension. Intervals are
also used as cells of development; the fourth in Vision I, the major
second in Vision 2, the minor second in Vision 3.
But analysis does not give the whole picture; it is
a mistake to dwell too long on the many technical aspects of the work
of this most spiritual and poetic of contemporary composers. Certainly
the order and consistency of a piece demand a rigorous discipline; neither
the component motifs, viewed horizontally, nor the use of harmony or
tonality, viewed vertically, can be left to chance; indeed, Panufnik
considers that the aleatoric principle runs contrary to the composer’s
art, which is anything but accidental.
The year 1970 was a busy and important one for the
composer: not only did he appear as a conductor for the first time for
many years in London [On 11th May, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The
concert included his Autumn Music], but the year also included three
premieres. First, on 7th February, the ‘Cantata for young singers and
players’, Thames Pageant, given by sixteen schools in the Richmond area.
Two treble-voice choirs are placed on either side of the hall, and the
orchestra is divided between the junior players, who play with open
strings, simple recorders and percussion, and the senior players, whose
part is more difficult, and includes four brass instruments. The work
is a suite of seven sections, with words written by the composer’s wife,
Camilla, descriptive of the River Thames.
The following month saw a premiere of a very different
sort. Following the success of Cain and Abel to Panufnik’s music, the
choreographer Kenneth MacMillan commissioned the composer to write a
new ballet for performance in Stuttgart; and this took place on 8th
March. Miss Julie, a ballet in two acts, was based on the Strindberg
play, and enjoyed great success at its first performance.
The third premiere of this year was on 24h May, in
the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, when the redoubtable
Leopold Stokowski conducted Universal Prayer. This conductor had already,
as we have seen, championed Panufnik’s work in America; on this occasion
he performed the new work twice to the vast audience that filled the
largest of Anglican cathedrals.
Universal Prayer represents a fresh departure for Panufnik;
not only is his purpose a deeply-felt one, grand and solemn, but his
interpretation of the sense and sound of the words is new. Pope’s heartfelt
text comes from his Essay on Man, written about 1715, and it seemed
perfectly suited to the composer’s purpose, which was to write a prayer
detached from any religion, but suited to any individual man. Pope’s
prayer is addressed to the one God of every race, every religion, every
age: Jehovah, Jove or Lord. Panufnik finds this inspiring and significant
for this age, and his dream is that people of different religions, and
of different races, should take part in the performance, through which
they will unite their feelings.
The structure of the work is symmetrical in all its
aspects: texture, rhythm, tempo and dynamics. There are thirteen verses
in the poem, and the seventh verse, musically, represents an axis. The
first verse corresponds with the last, the second with the twelfth,
the third with the eleventh, and so on. These verses are divided by
interludes which are also constructed symmetrically, as are the introduction
The scoring is for four solo voices, three harps, mixed
chorus and organ. It is written stereophonically, on two distinctive
Level I: Four solo voices and three harps. The music
is written with precise indications of rhythm and tempo.
Level II: Organ and chorus, written senza mesure. Each
chorus-singer chooses freely his or her own rhythm on the three words
‘Father of all’. The chorus throughout have just one note B natural-and
they also retain independence from each other rhythmically, and make
themselves heard as individuals.
The material is most simple, and the whole work is
based only on one triad, made up of the notes F-B-E, which is constantly
transposed, and used melodically and harmonically, or both simultaneously.
This is a new departure in Panufnik’s expressive language, simple, yet
The central feature of his art, which should remain
uppermost in our minds, is the poetic content. This is not only the
point from which the composer sets out to compose; it is also the source
of colour and vitality in the unique, residual impression created by
each finished structure; it is that suggestive spark of creative intuition
which, the strongest of all weapons in a composer’s armoury, most surely
strikes a responsive chord in the listener's consciousness.
The Works of Andrzej Panufnik
1 Trio, for Piano, Violin, Cello
2 Five Polish Peasant Songs (voices & wind instruments)
1 Tragic Overture
2 Lullaby, for 29 strings, 2 harps
2 Nocturne, for orchestra
1 Twelve miniature studies, for piano solo
2 Sinfonia Rustica
2 Hommage a Chopin a) soprano & piano b) flute
& string orchestra
3 Old Polish Suite
3 Concerto in modo antico
1 Heroic Overture
2 Rhapsody, for Orchestra
1 Sinfonia Elegiaca
2 Polonia-Suite for Orchestra
1 Autumn Music, for Orchestra
1 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
1 Two Lyric Pieces
2 Sinfonia Sacra
2 Song to the Virgin Mary (choir a cappella)
2 Landscape, for String Orchestra
3 Jagiellonian Triptych, for strings
2 Katyn Epitaph
1 Reflections, for piano solo
1 Universal Prayer (Pope), for 4 soli, choir, 3 harps,
I Thames Pageant (cantata for young players & singers)
# A second or third year added after the date of a
composition indicates the year of its
reconstruction or revision.
The categories into which Panufnik’s works fall are:
1. Abstract, independent, composed according to self-imposed
discipline, often with whole sections, or even whole works, built out
of germ-cells of two or three intervals.
2. Based on, or inspired by, Polish folklore and history;
founded on a kind of free tonality, often using a major-minor duality.
3. Composed from themes by Polish composers of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.