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Sir William Wallace Symphonic Poem No 5
Andante con moto [5'21]
Villon Symphonic Poem No 6
Allegro con anima [1'13]
Con brio 'Au moins sera de moy memoire' [1'02]
Più lento 'Où s'en va tout?' [3' 17]
Ballade des Dames du Temps jadis [2'56]
Ballade pour prier Nôtre Dame [2'32]
Allegretto 'Il n'est bon bec que de Paris' [0'58]
Largo 'Je plaings le temps de ma jeunesse' [4'37]
The Passing of Beatrice Symphonic Poem No 1
Sister Helen Symphonic Poem No 3
Largo sostenuto [4'46]
Con fuoco [2'04]
Meno allegro [5'46]
BBC SCOTTISH SYMPHONY
GEOFFREY TRABICHOFF leader
MARTYN BRABBINS Conductor
JOHN PURSER ©1996
This CD presents the first commercial recordings of any of Wallace's compositions - an astonishing fact made all the more significant when it is realized that these fine symphonic poems include the first attempts at the genre made in the British Isles. Their subjects are no less adventurous than their composer:
William Wallace Scottish hero, freedom-fighter; beheaded and dismembered by the English
François Villon Rebel poet, tortured; escaped the gallows by inches; early death a mystery
Beatrice Heroine of purity, pulsing in the rose of Dante's heaven
Sister Helen Villainess, murdering by sorcery; insane with jealous and frustrated love
This is a remarkable late medieval case-book from the pen of Dr William Wallace. All four characters are straining at the bounds of human possibility; and yet these studies of human nature at its extremities are deeply felt and profoundly sympathetic. As a doctor and clinician it was Wallace's business to observe and record with detachment; as an artist the same was to be done with feeling. It is the balanced truthfulness of Wallace's own humanity that allows us to feel with and for his subjects without a hint of pedantry on the one hand, or any gross sentimentality on the other. These are musical portraits of power and integrity.
But William Wallace, MD, MCh, Captain RAMC, was remarkable in his own right. He was a classical scholar, a doctor and eye surgeon, a poet and dramatist, a painter, a writer on music and musicians, and a composer. He was efficient - he became inspector of ophthalmic units in Eastern Command in the Great War; observant - he used his skills as a painter to make careful depictions of eye disorders; scholarly - he published a paper on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Greek ligatures; polemical - his books on music are splendidly provocative; and selfless - in the last two-and-a-half years of his war service he was not off duty for a single day.
William Wallace was born in 1860 and, like Hamish MacCunn (see Hyperion CDA66815), was a son of Greenock. His father, James Wallace, was a distinguished surgeon who may have had to examine his own son when the latter graduated MB and MCh in 1885 at Glasgow. University. William went on to study ophthalmology at Glasgow in 1888, about which time he published words and music of a Carmen Glasguense in honour of the university, the bold cover design of a student with mortar-board, books and symbolic Hebrew letter Shin being his own. The student, in doctoral gown, is probably a self-portrait, the letter Shin meaning 'song', being like a W for William Wallace, and also representing the eye and having symbolic associations with the six- bar phrases of the music and six-line poetic structure. (This is shown on the reverse of the CD booklet)
But for Wallace the ear was to prove stronger than the eye and he finally settled on music, studying at the Royal Academy of Music, though only for two terms, and thereafter teaching himself. He was one of the six rebels, including his younger contemporary Bantock (also the son of a Scottish-based surgeon), who challenged the conservatism of the music schools of the time. With Bantock (see Hyperion CDA66450, CDA66630, CDA66810) Wallace published The New Quarterly Musical Review, frequently editing it with Anderton when Bantock was away. In a letter of 1904 Wallace asks that the Royal College of Music jury give 'a chance to even the most bizarre and so-called eccentric compositions that are sent in'; with respect to controversies at the Leeds Festival he intends to 'march in the direction of the guns' ! In 1964 Neville Cardus described Wallace as 'a composer who was one of the first in the progressive movement of seventy years ago', and some years later, praising The Passing of Beatrice and Villon, recalled Wallace's Freebooter Songs, 'one of which, called 'Son of Mine', I sang myself on smoky Saturday nights for a guinea a time'. It is a pleasing thought that such a progressive composer as Wallace was capable of writing words and music (not to mention designing the cover) for songs which were to achieve such popularity.
The Wallace household must have been a fascinating one, for he married the distinguished Scottish sculptress Ottilie Helen McLaren, daughter of Lord McLaren. Wallace dedicated his A Suite in Olden Style for piano to her. She was a pupil of Rodin and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, though in 1928 she was unable to enter so William promptly produced a painting, 'Waterloo Drum', of a corner of their own house in London and submitted it to ensure the family was represented. It was accepted and duly hung on the line.
The 1914-1918 War saw Wallace working more or less continuously in the Royal Army Medical Corp, from which he retired in 1919 with the rank of Captain. By the end of the War he was fifty-eight years of age, had taken only three weeks of leave and had reported on 19,000 cases over four years, many of which he had personally attended. He must have been completely drained. In his later years he became a Professor of Harmony and Composition at the Royal Academy of Music (and professorial chief of the library) when his fellow Scot and composer John Blackwood McEwen was Principal.
Wallace's major works include the fine Creation Symphony (first performed at one of Bantock's New Brighton concerts in 1899), the lovely Pelléas et Mélisande Suite of 1903, and a bitingly satirical choral ballad, The Massacre of the MacPhersons, which makes a ridiculous combination of snippets from Wagner's Ring and traditional Scottish themes. There are two further symphonic poems and a number of other pieces, all worthy of attention. Wallace is much more radical than Mackenzie or MacCunn, particularly in his freer development of structure. He also published several books on music theory and history. These include wide-ranging and challenging works analyzing the nature and development of the musical faculty in humankind; and studies of great insight into Wagner and Liszt, whose influence on his own music is clear. He died in 1940.
SIR WILLIAM WALLACE
23 August 1905 was the 600th anniversary of the death of the great Scottish patriot and freedom fighter William Wallace. His story has been the inspiration of innumerable poems, novels, songs and orchestral works, and in the film Braveheart has joined the long list of epic romances of the silver screen.
Robert Burns was no less affected by the legend than others. His verses set to the old Scotch marching tune of Hey Tutti Tatti open famously with the words, 'Scots wha' hae wi' Wallace bled ...'. That tune has led Scottish troops, both regular and mercenary, to battle in every corner of the globe; it led Joan of Arc to the gates of Orleans and beyond; it has established itself as one of the world's most powerful musical and poetic icons; but its association with William Wallace is entirely due to Burns who recognized its appropriateness to a theme dear to his heart.
For Wallace's namesake, the composer William Wallace, the anniversary was an opportunity of national importance, not to be missed. He rose to the occasion with a work of powerful celebration, first performed under Sir Henry Wood on 19 September at the Queen's Hall Promenade Concerts.
It is probably deliberate on the composer's part that there remains something unsaid at the end of the piece. In 1905 there was little sign of a Scottish National movement, and any reference to Wallace's final end would have been less that celebratory anyway - Wallace was the architect of his nation's freedom but, like Moses, he did not live to enter into his promised land. By his own people he was betrayed into the hands of the English who executed and dismembered him, displaying his mutilated parts and making up in thoroughness what they lacked in chivalry.
But the significance of the date and the coincidence of the name could not be denied. The music is splendidly direct, as befits the celebration of a great military hero. The main theme is derived from 'Scots wha' hae'; but the tune only emerges overtly at the end, Wallace himself pointing out that this was a reversal of the usual form. There is no programme to the work, which falls into four sections, but the brooding opening has pre-echoes of the main theme, and it seems as though the awareness of a national identity is slowly emerging, mirrored musically by the use of pentatonic motifs.
Villon was the last to be composed of the six symphonic poems. It was first performed by the New Symphony Orchestra in March 1909 and was published by Schott in 1910.
François Villon (1431-?), murderer, whore-monger, great poet and, with Rabelais, hero of the last of medieval consciousness; whose irreverence is so full of humanity that it has never required forgiveness, and whose mischievous joys are so mixed with eternal sorrows that it is impossible not to feel the deepest affection for him: 'Mats où vent les neiges d'antan?' ('But where are the snows of yesteryear?')
Wallace, a caustic yet sympathetic observer of humanity, has created here a brilliant psychological, but deeply affecting portrait, based on carefully chosen and beautifully ordered quotations from Villon's Grand Testament which are printed in the score. Himself a remarkable scholar, he has perfectly judged the self-pitying pleading of the opening: 'Ung pouvre petit escollier qui fut nommé Françoys Villon'. We know we are being manipulated by the twists of these musical gestures, including their occasionally ironic largess; and with jaunty interpolations, Wallace hints at the mischief to come: 'Au moins sera de moy memoire tel qu'il est d'ung bon folastre'. The bassoon leads us off to the pub and the brothel ('Où s'en va tout? Or escoute: Tout aux tavernes et aux filles') but the consequences of this momentarily riotous behaviour are only disappointment and poverty again. The opening penurious phrase returns, this time more reflectively as Wallace draws us towards Villon's immortal lines on mortality from the Ballade des Dames du Temps jadis: 'Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?' At first the Ballade asks what has become of the great courtesans of the past, Flora and Thaïs, and the Queen of Burgundy who threw her discarded lovers, often students, into the Seine. Wallace evokes the nostalgic grandeur with richly orchestrated lyricism, and briefly we relive those days of beauty and passion, gaining from stately crotchet motion to expansive sensual folds of quavers. But the Ballade ends with France's virgin martyr, Joan of Arc, as vulnerable to time as the rest of them: 'Où sent ils, où, Vierge souvraine?' demands Villon.
Here Wallace performs a magical transformation. The material of lust, the flowing sensual folds of quavers, becomes simple medieval prayer for the Ballade que Villon felt à la requeste de sa mère pour prier Nôtre Dame. There is no mockery here. Wallace can be genuine, as could Villon in his reverence for the supreme virgin. It is this moving prayer which will briefly haunt the end of the work, but just now it has done its filial duty and we are off into the streets of Paris again and the chatter of its women: 'It n'est bon beecque de Paris'. But is is Wallace who cuts short the gossip with the grandest section of all, reserved for that moment when Villon applies all his regrets at the passing of time, not to others, but to himself:Je plaings le temps de ma jeunesse,
Ouquel j'ay plus qu'autre galle,
Il ne s'en a pied alle,
N'a cheval; las! et comment donc?
Et ne m'a laisse quelque don.
Wallace celebrates the glorious folly of Villon's expenditure of his youth with music rich and generous. But, as with Villon, so it must be with this work. There is a quixotic heart to it. There follows, quite unprepared, a little medieval dance for pipe and tabor. It is perfectly scored, its appealing simplicity as pleading and poverty-stricken as Villon, now stripped to the bone. The story of rags and riches is left only with echoes. The clock of the Sorbonne strikes the angelus:Je ouyz la cloche de Sorbonne,
Qui toujours a neuf heures sonne
Le salut que l'Ange predit.
The prayer to the virgin is reduced to a brief line of penitence: 'Où sent ils, où, Vierge souvraine?' There is no answer: only a hushed whisper from the bass clarinet and a wisp of a padded stick on a tamtam, scarcely audible, so that we do not even know when precisely is the moment of death.
THE PASSING OF BEATRICE
The Passing of Beatrice, dating from 1892, was Wallace's first symphonic poem and is believed to be the first British work in the genre. Shaw described Wallace as 'a young Scotch composer with a very tender and sympathetic talent', and then proposed that this work would benefit from being cut down by nine-tenths, comparing it unfavourably with the Prelude to Lohengrin. On such fatuous comparisons many a young composer had been crucified. Fortunately the work has survived, but only just. In any case, The Passing of Beatrice is as much influenced by Liszt, whose Dante Symphony it could be considered as completing in that it takes us from Purgatory to Paradise. Wallace was himself to show Wagner's own degree of indebtedness to Liszt in his fascinating Liszt, Wagner and the Princess (London, 1927; p.94). He headed his score with the following note:This Symphonic Poem is based upon an episode which Dante does not describe. He and Beatrice are taken up into the Empyrean. Paradise opens before them,In fashion then as of a snow-white rose
Displayed itself to me the saintly host,
Whom Christ in his own blood had made his bride.
Dante is lost in wonderment at the vision, and in turning to question Beatrice, finds that she is no longer by his side, but has passed away from him to take her place within the rose of Paradise. The music is designed to illustrate the passing, or transition, of Beatrice from earthly to immortal form.
Wallace's score is intensely romantic in idiom, combining both the purity and sensual imagery of Dante's vision, in which the angels are likened to bees bearing the honey (symbolic of Christ) from a white rose made up of the souls of the blessed. It is to the third circle of petals in this rose that Beatrice is translated. With its lush harmonies and rich orchestration balanced by thoughtfulness and restraint, Wallace's music is something more than sweet. The strings, with violins divided and half of them muted, set a tone of hushed reverence, and their opening ascending motif provides the rhythmic basis for most of the work. This motif goes through a process of transformation: a hymn, an intense chromatic passage for woodwind of deep personal feeling, which rises to a passionate and ecstatic expression of love, and finally a calm and ethereal peace.
The beauty of the opening is wonderfully restrained, reaching towards the acclamation of the brass, piu vivo, suggestive of the power of Divine Wisdom, which is a central aspect of Beatrice's own enlightenment and which grows in radiance as the full orchestra joins in. The process is repeated, meno mosso, in varied and extended form. The structure parallels Dante's, as he and Beatrice are admitted stage by stage to greater enlightenment. The visionary conclusion matches the beauty of Dante's experience on seeing Beatrice in the rose:Not from the centre of the sea so far
Unto the region of the highest thunder,
As was my ken from hers; and yet the form
Came through that medium down, unmix'd and pure.
Sister Helen represents the opposite approach to love from that of Beatrice - that of implacable revenge motivated by betrayal and jealousy. This, the third and perhaps the most intense of Wallace's symphonic poems, is based on a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti's poem is in ballad idiom, but coloured with pre-Raphaelite colours:'Why did you melt your waxen man,
To-day is the third since you began.'
'The time was long, yet the time ran,
O Mother, Mary Mother,
Three days to-day, between Hell and Heaven!
The opening Largo sostenuto depicts her brooding jealousy and, in the woodwind, the flame of the waxen image of her betrayer. Recollection of her former love, expressed with great feeling, only wells up to the dotted rhythm of the first fortissimo, cruelly anticipating her ultimate triumph.
The Vivace, Scottish in idiom, describes with lilting innocence the little brother whom she has sent to the window to see if a horseman approaches. And soon, indeed, we hear the approach, leading to a climax at her refusal, Meno allegro:'But he calls for ever on your name
And says that he melts before a flame.'
'My heart for his pleasure fared the same,
O Mother, Mary Mother,
Fire at the heart, between Hell and Heaven!
The Andante describes the tokens and pleas of her former lover, forming a kind of slow movement, musically isolated, as it should be, from the perverse emotions of Sister Helen which break out again at the Con fuoco. Others ride to her to beg her to break the spell, but to no avail. The extreme melodrama of the subject might have tempted a lesser composer into a work of unremitting gloom, but Sister Helen's own memories of true love return in varied form, and it is typical of Wallace's rounded view of his characters that he allows her a true memory of beauty - something not granted her in the poem.
But the end is indeed inevitable, and the final stanza is brought to its awful fruition with intense power as her dead lover's ghost is doomed to wander as hers will be until the Last Judgement:'Ah! what white thing at the door has cross'd
Ah! what it this that sighs in the frost?'
'A soul that's lost as mine is lost,
O Mother, Mary Mother,
Lost, lost, all lost, between Hell and Heaven!
© Notes by JOHN PURSER 1996
NOTWITHSTANDING the great success of Hyperion's earlier disc of Wallace's symphonic poems (CDA66848 above), recording Wallace's Creation Symphony was an inspired leap in the dark. It seems that nobody had performed the work in nearly a hundred years and yet, in the history of the symphony in Britain at the time of its composition, it is unprecedented in scope and daring. The Prelude to The Eumenides and the three movements from the Pelléasand M7élisande Suite are also virtually unknown; this is their first recording. See review
William Wallace was born in 1860 and, like Hamish MacCunn (see Hyperion CDA66815), was a son of Greenock. He was a pupil at Fettes College, Edinburgh, and went on to study medicine, graduating with the MB and MCh from Glasgow University in 1885. After a further period studying ophthamology in Vienna, Paris and Moorfields, he returned to graduate with the MD from Glasgow in 1888. But it had not always been a happy time. His father James was a distinguished surgeon and ambitious for him; when William went his own way there were bitter divisions. His mother wrote to him shortly after he had left home in the spring of 1882:
My Dear Willie, It wrung my heart to see you go last night in such a state and with such cruel words ringing in your ears and mine - the only thing I can say is, try to forget them ...
Ever my dear son, your truly grieved mother.
The struggle with his father was still continuing in 1885 and, soon after gaining his doctorate in 1888, he took up the study of music at the Royal Academy of Music in London; the ear had proved stronger than the eye. However, two terms at the RAM were enough for him (not surprising at twenty-eight years of age), and thereafter he was self-taught. He was one of the six rebels who included his younger contemporary Bantock (also the son of a Scottish-based surgeon) who challenged the conservatism of the music schools of the time. With Bantock (see Hyperion CDA6645O, CDA6663O, CDA66810 and CDA66899) Wallace published The New Quarterly Musical Review, frequently editing it with Anderton when Bantock was away. In a letter of 1904 Wallace asks that the Royal College of Music jury give a chance to 'even the most bizarre and so-called eccentric compositions that are sent in', and with respect to controversies at the Leeds Festival cites his intention to 'march in the direction of the guns'!
The Wallace household must have been a fascinating one, for he married the distinguished sculptress Ottilie Helen MacLaren, daughter of Lord MacLaren. Wallace dedicated his A Suite in the Olden Style for piano to her. She studied with Rodin and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy of Arts (though when in 1928 she was unable to enter William promptly produced a painting, Waterloo Drum, of a corner of their own house in London and submitted it to ensure the family was represented; it was accepted and duly hung on the line). Theirs was a relationship of the deepest and most enduring love, enshrined in their moving correspondence now held in the National Library of Scotland.
The 1914-1918 War saw Wallace working more or less continuously in the Royal Army Medical Corps, from which he retired in 1919 with the rank of Captain. By the end of it he was fifty-eight years of age, had taken only three weeks of leave and had reported on nineteen thousand cases, many of which he had personally attended to. He must have been completely drained, yet he went on to be a Professor of Harmony and Composition and Professorial Chief of the library at the Royal Academy of Music in his later years.
Wallace's major works are now well represented on this and Hyperion's preceding Wallace disc. There remain unrecorded only two of his six symphonic WILLIAM WALLACE poems (one of which is currently lost); two orchestral Photograph by Vandyck. Royal College of Music suites and an orchestral rhapsody; a bitingly satirical choral ballad, The Massacre of the MacPhersons, which makes a ridiculous combination of snippets from Wagner's 'Ring' and traditional Scottish themes; and a choral symphony, Koheleth, which awaits rediscovery and may be unfinished. Wallace also published several books on music theory and history. These include wide-ranging and challenging works analysing the nature and development of the musical faculty in humankind, and studies of great insight into Wagner and Liszt, whose influence on his own music is clear. Wallace died in 1940.
Stylistically, Wallace is much more radical that either Mackenzie or MacCunn, particularly in his freer development of structure. Bantock was more splendidly blatant: and immediate symphonic predecessors were, like Bruckner, more determinedly massive or, like Liszt and Mahler (Wallace's exact contemporary), more emotionally ostentatious. Wallace, instead, achieves his own magnificence by uniting passion and philosophy. His style is that of high German romanticism, with only occasional references to Scottish traditional music. His chromatic harmonies are unsympathetic to folk idioms; his melodies are driven by the harmonies rather than the other way about; and his thematic development is thoroughly organic. In all but the last of these respects he is quite different from his younger contemporary Carl Nielsen, yet Wallace's meaning, notably in passages of the Creation Symphony, looks towards the work of Nielsen (born in the same Protestant latitudes) rather than towards the great Austrian and German symphonista. His conviction is not only intellectual and emotional: it has a moral force which is never didactic and, though triumphant, there is no triumphalism in its beauty and splendour.
PRELUDE TO TITE EUMENIDES OF AESCHYLUS
It profiteth a man to gain wisdom through trouble.
Thus Wallace heads his score, being kind enough to translate the Greek which precedes it. It is the role of the Furies - the sisters of Fate - to punish the guilty: in this case Orestes for the murder of his mother Clytemnestra, who had murdered her husband, Orestes' father. Orestes is defended by Apollo in the ensuing trial, and Athene, the goddess of wisdom, has the casting vote. She dismays the Furies by giving a verdict of justifiable homicide, but wins thems over by offering them asylum, a new role and elevated status in Athens, and a new name - the 'Eumenides', or 'benefactors'. The play reflects the gradual maturing of the legal system in Athens in the fifth century before Christ, leading away from the inexorability of vengeance towards a more humane approach.
The Prelude opens with the leitmotif of Fate, driving and relentless. The reply to this comes in the form of an oboe solo, reasoned but full of feeling, which, as it increases in fervour, leads us back to the less rational aspects of the Furies. As the musical argument swings to and fro, so it becomes clear that the two themes are related to each other, the first becoming subsumed in the more rational character of that for Athene. It is in her honour that the concluding hymn in the brass is heard, accompanied by a variant of her own theme.
August Manns conducted the first performance in the Crystal Palace, London, on 21 October 1893.
PELLÉAS AND MÉLISANDE SUITE
Maeterlinek published his symbolist drama Pelléas et Mélisande in 1892. Wallace's Suite was first performed at the New Brighton Tower with the composer conducting on 19 August 1900. It therefore predates Debussy's incomparable opera of the same name (completed and first produced in 1902) and Sibelius's Suite (1905). Only three of the five movements are included here - but the selection (the last three movements) is one Wallace himself proposed. The movements omitted are 'The Lost Mélisande' and 'The King's March'.
The story is simple enough. Pelléas falls in love with his older brother's young wife, Mélisande. The brother, Golaud, heir to King Arkel's throne, becomes aware of this and kills him; and Mélisande, having presented her husband with a child, dies of grief. But this simplicity cloaks a profound symbolism in which the nature of innocence is questioned and in which its abuse inevitably leads to tragedy.
The Love of Pelléas for Mélisande. Innocent or no, this is a passionate love, given rich expression on bass clarinet followed hy the strings in rising sequences of desire. The hushed delicacy of the medieval setting is also present, but the conclusion of the movement matches the reality in the play, in which Pelléas and Mélisande have been prepared to give themselves wholly to each other, knowing that her husband is watching them.
Spinning Song. This is a little character-piece, showing a delicate and lighter side to Wallace's character as a composer, especially when compared to the dark undercurrents of Sibelius's interpretation of the same scene. Wallace chooses to realize the unaffected innocence of Mélisande in simplistic form and melody. She is scarcely beyond childhood, and the music reflects her dangerous naivety which has so captivated the two brothers. In such a world of natural melodic charm it seems that cruelty would be an utter impossibility.
The Death of Mélisande. Coming after the innocence of the 'Spinning Song', the extravagance of the grief of this movement is all the more telling. This is a vast grief, not only because it occurs in the palace of a king and is for the wife of a king's son who has died in the wake of her lover, but also because this grief is not innocent. Golaud, having murdered his own brother, is left racked with doubt, not knowing whether Pelléas and Mélisande were, after all, merely children, not able to help what they did.
The Contrast with the later, muted treatment of this by Debussy and Sibelius is startling. Dramatic funeral drums and gong punctuate the passionate descending phrase derived from a theme originally associated with Pelléas's declaration of love. The central section recalls that love, but the final lento e dolente, heralded by funereal trumpets and the retum of the drums, fragments into hushed misery.
CREATION SYMPHONY IN C SHARP MINOR
The Creation Symphony was first performed at one of Bantock's New Brighton concerts in 1899 and subsequently in Bournemouth; but composition had started in 1896 when Wallace's life-long love affair with Ottilie McLaren was opening its first buds. He was writing to her almost daily, and his excitement is palpable:
I have begun a Symphony on The Creation- first movement Chaos- not the noisy idea but
deep very mysterious and weird - sullen - then on this comes 'the spirit of God on the
waters', the evolution of Kosmos out of Chaos, then the divine idea of man, just hinted at and
not fully complete till it appears in the sixth day movement; ending with 'Let there be light' -
bright trumpets very high up. This movement is sketched, and I am off my head with joy!
Wallace thought of God's Creation as a work of art. Ottilie was studying with Rodin in Paris at the time; and Wallace, having shaken off the repressive influence of his father and changed from medicine to music, was exulting in his own freedom as a creative artist. He and Ottilie felt a profound intimacy with the whole idea of Creation, and Wallace even embedded the numerological values of his own and Ottilie's names into the structure of the work (see below
and the 'Note on Wallace's Use of Numerology'). He makes the connections clear, writing to Ottilie on 31 January 1896:
You won't perhaps realize the musical idea, but translate it into your own work, and it will be
clear as day. When I think of it I seem to see your patient fingers making Kosmos out of the
Chaos clay - and the mystery of your art will lead to appreciation and understanding of all.
I don't believe in the ultimate happiness of the man who says one art is enough for a lifetime,
for even a lifetime is too little to know one art thoroughly, But everyone can translate into his
own tongue the work of others, absorb it till pictures appear as symphonies, and symphonies
This excitement and intimacy with the act of creation evoked from Wallace a corresponding awe at the vastness of God's conception, and natural modesty in relation to his own place in the history of music:
And some of these days all my work will be forgotten in that of the king who is coming. But
still a tiny bit of me will live in his work, just as in my own weak way I have soaked in the
others who have gone before, and feeling that if it had not been for them where would I be!
Wallace was a deeply thoughtful Christian: his verse-play on the subject of the Passion, The Divine Surrender, was published the year before he started work on the Creation Symphony. Originally intended for a music-drama, Wallace had recast it in spoken form. It achieves a fine intellectual balance between the Jewish, Roman and Christian points of view and, like his music, is the product of a passionate and balanced mind.
As a composer Wallace's modesty is disarming, for this is a work like no other. H Orsmond Anderton (one of the group of rebels referred to above), described the Creation Symphony thus:
... a big work in every sense. It is scored for large festival orchestra and shows the 'passion
for the universal' in the scope and range of its ideas as well as in their treatment. The method
is a reflection of the evolutionary process of nature, one subject growing out of another, and
all springing from the initial germinal idea. There are four movements, leading up to 'Man' in
the last, which contains passages of an occult nature referring to the ultimate dissolution of the
flesh and man's attainment of a purely spiritual state. It is to be hoped that an opportunity will
soon occur of hearing this deeply significant work (Musical Opinion, May 1920).
It is pleasing to be able to endorse Anderton's opinion and also to explain some of the more arcane significances in the work, for it is unified not only by its thematic material, but also by a structure which taps into ancient mystical values attached to number, expressed in simple coded forms of the Hebrew and English alphabets in particular (see 'Note'). This, then, is not a naturalistic work. In fact Wallace, in his own programme note for the first performance (which he conducted), distanced himself from the inspired naturalism of Haydn's Creation, and the pictorialism of Richard Strauss:
Regarded in its poetic significance as a Liturgical Hymn, and not as a record of events, the first chapter of the Book of Genesis presents a theme suggestive of symphonic treatment. Since the aeons into which the Work of Creation was divided cannot be interpreted in a strictly literal sense, the music aims at depicting the emotion which the contemplation of the theme in its poetic and symbolical meaning is able to awaken.
Adagio - Allegro
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
It is these opening words of the Bible which inspire the opening bars of the symphony: a passage of profound mystery and great orchestral daring- double basses divided and solo tuba representing "'emptiness and space', the correct and literal meaning of the Greek word 'chaos"', as Wallace himself describes it. The choice of C sharp minor as the main key is designed to produce a dark, veiled colouring that contains within itself the potential of brilliance in its relative E major- especially when, in Wallace's days, horns and trumpets could be pitched in E.
The challenging dotted rhythms which introduced the main allegro and a process of gradual transformation of the thematic material, might be taken as the latent energy of light: indeed the theme for light, which emerges in the closing moderato, is derived from that of the void. The movement anticipates the triumph of the whole symphony, reaching a climax of cosmic power, before it ends with an ecstatic but calm hymn representing 'light', in Wallace's own words,
'exemplified by very soft strains, as an influence that comes from above'. It is reminiscent of his first tone poem, The Passing of Beatrice, in which a vision of heavenly love is realized.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the
night: He made the stars also.
The andantino starts with an extraordinary evocation of the poised mystery of starlight, using a simultaneous double augmentation of the opening phrase with exquisite orchestral colouring and minimalist purity, nearly a century before its time. The largo introduces the first true melody of the movement, tracing the beautiful and stately progress of the moon. But the symbolic purity of the moon is far from passionless. Again we are reminded of The Passing of Beatrice and the anticipation of spiritual consummation which leads logically to the striding theme of the sun.
This is heard against the re-worked texture of the opening section of the movement, and is followed by all three themes in combination. This trinity of light is also symbolic of the Trinity of the Godhead from which it emanates, reaching towards a triumphant fanfare as the sun rises to a radiant zenith to bring the movement to a close.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.
The movement is a kind of scherzo starting with a restless figure based on the unresolved interval of the tritone and suggesting the restlessness of the oceans. As it gathers force, a new theme emerges from the brass- 'in the character of a sea song', as Wallace puts it- and is succeeded by a pastoral theme identified with the earth. After a return of the opening restlessness, the two themes are combined in a closing section of Wagnerian grandeur.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.
A magnificent fanfare heralds the culmination of the symphony- the creation of man on the sixth day. 'To attach a verbal meaning to each individual phrase is as impossible as is the task of analysing the human being', declared Wallace. But he describes the movement as mainly triumphal, though drawing attention to 'phrases which may be considered as symbolising the ultimate dissolution of the flesh that is as grass'. As a doctor and surgeon Wallace was familiar enough with the dissolution of the flesh, but this movement is primarily symbolic of the creative capacity of humankind- 'male and female created He them' - and the triumph is as much the triumph of love and, specifically, his own and Ottilie's love, placing himself and her as a kind of Adam and Eve in the newly-created Eden of his finale, upon which the second-movement theme of the sun rises in splendour.
Wallace's skilful development of his thematic material, and the tautness of the weave of its evolution (not to mention the vividness of the orchestral colours, singly and in combination), would merit pages of analysis. But above all, it is itself a creation born of an unfaltering conviction, which makes of this work a seamless cloth of beauty, originality and power.
A NOTE ON WALLACE'S USE OF NUMEROLOGY IN THE CREATION SYMPHONY
That Wallace was aware of the numerological significance of the work is clear. The fact that the last two movements are each 293 bars long, and that he kept track of the bar numbers in his score by placing rehearsal numbers (rather than letters) at ten-bar intervals, is in itself telling. But when we examine the significance of the bar numbers in detail, his use of the scheme is inescapable. To understand it a simple diagram of the '26' and '800' values of the alphabet is necessary:
Numerologically, the first movement represents a monad - the single cell of the earth before the spirit of God caused it to divide. The Hebrew words for 'the earth' in Genesis have a numerical value of 296 - the number of bars in the movement. Wallace wrote that the end of the movement represents the advent of light and it is likely that its appearance at bar 271 is deliberate, for 271 is the reversal of 172, the number for 'chaos' and the inherent darkness which light reverses. Bar 172 itself is the fortissimo climax of the central chaos section. The same themes build up again, but this time they climax at bar 222 in a maestoso in which the theme of the last movement is anticipated.
The second movement is 258 bars long. This represents the triple Godhead for it is 86 times 3, and 86 is the number for 'Elohim' - one of the sacred names for God. It also represents the three sources of heavenly light - stars, moon and sun - which are the subject of the movement. However, just as Wallace described the clay which his sculptress wife worked as 'chaos', so 'chaos' is still present within the Creation, and it is only at bar 172 that the final section
integrating the three separate sources of light commences. That 172 is twice 86 can be taken as significant in a Christian context- Father and Son, but without the Holy Spirit which is the active principle of Godhead in the act of Creation, whether in the Spirit of God moving upon the waters, or in the dove of the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary, the mother of the Son of God. In such an interpretation 172 is the Godhead without the Spirit and therefore, in a sense, Chaos.
The third and fourth movements can be taken together. The third starts with the name of Elohim in the opening 86 bars of allegro, but the symbolism in these movements is also personal. Just as the first movement represents a monad (the singleness of the 'world'), and the second represents the Holy Trinity and a trinity of sources of light, so the last two movements represent the duality of water and earth, and of woman and man, respectively. However, it is not their separateness, but their coming together that is celebrated.
Wallace used the Hebrew letter Shin as his signature at the end of each movement of the score. In 1888 he had published words and music of a Carmen Glasguense in honour of Glasgow Univeristy, the bold cover design of a student with mortar-board, books and symbolic letter Shin being his own. The student, in doctoral gown, is probably a self-portrait, the letter Shin meaning 'song' being like a W for William Wallace, and also representing the eye and having symbolic associations with the six-bar phrases of the music and six-line poetic structure. Six is the number
of days of the Creation and is particularly associated with the creation of man. However, 6 x 60 is 360, and this is the value of the letter Shin in the Hebrew 'plenitude' alphabet. Wallace applied this value directly to his own situation. His wife's maiden name was MacLaren, which has a value of 67 in the '26' alphabet. But on her approaching marriage she would change her name to Wallace, using it professionally as well as personally. By removing MacLaren (subtracting 67 from 360) the result is 293 - the number of bars in each of the last two movements of the symphony.
The symbolism is not merely that of the loss of a name. The name is a maiden name; it symbolizes virginity. The new number represents the two names, the two sexes, each yielding to the other to produce a number symbolising their union. In the same '26' alphabet, by an extraordinary coincidence which clearly struck Wallace, the names 'William Wallace' and 'Ottilie MacLaren' themselves add up to the same number- 293. We are not done with coincidence, for in the '800' English alphabet 'William Wallace' adds up to 1,189 and 'Ottilie MacLaren' to 733. Subtracting the one from the other gives 456, and this number is the sum of Adam (46) and Eve (410) in the same '800' alphabet. There is no question that these are coincidences, but equally there is no doubt that Wallace was aware of and made use of them.
I am deeply indebted to the generous scholarship of David Crookes in preparing this note.
JOHN PURSER ©1997
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