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October - December
2014

Sir Neville Marriner:
New Music at 90

James Palmer

Sir Neville Marriner

Fifty-six years ago, the then Neville Marriner founded a chamber orchestra in London, giving it the name of the church in which they gave their initial concert in 1959, and which – as the Academy of St Martin-in-the Fields – has established itself over that more than half-century as one of the finest such orchestras in the world.

As a vastly experienced orchestral and chamber music violinist in his earlier years – Sir Neville played in the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1952 for both of Toscanini’s London concerts, and had earlier formed part of the two string quartets who gave the British premiere of Darius Milhaud’s Octet for strings (actually the String Quartets Nos 14 and 15, which can be played either separately or together) under the composer’s direction – the formation of the Academy of St Martin-in-the- Fields was both the culmination of a long-held ambition and the springboard for international recognition as one of this country’s finest conductors, ranging from orchestral music, opera and oratorio of the 18th-century to music by modern composers. His 90th birthday, celebrated earlier this year, has not coincided with a slowing-up of this outstanding musician’s appearances, and in this short appreciation, we look forward to a world premiere which Sir Neville is to give later this year.

On November 25th, Sir Neville Marriner, who last April celebrated his 90th birthday, yet who shows no sign of retiring from the podium, will conduct a programme at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, with the orchestra he founded in 1958 bearing the church’s name and which, as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, has taken the name of the church around the world through literally hundreds of recordings.

The London programme in November will be entirely devoted to music by Howard Blake, and will include the world premiere of a new work for double string orchestra, based upon Blake’s music for ‘The Snowman’ - which concurrently will be performed at various theatres across the country, including the Peacock Theatre in London, where ‘The Snowman’ has been produced every Christmas Season since 1997, and where it has become as much a part of Christmas in the theatre – in other cities as well as in London - as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’.

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Rags, Blues and Transformations: Peter Dickinson at 80

Richard Leigh Harris

Peter Dickinson

1934 was an extraordinary year for English music and for English composers. Vaughan Williams was putting the finishing touches to his acerbic Fourth Symphony, whilst a still young William Walton was struggling to complete his massive and Sibelian First Symphony. Delius, Elgar and Holst had all died that year, but in their place were born a handful of composers who were destined to achieve international prominence during the 1960s and 70s: Bernard Rands, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Anthony Gilbert and Peter Dickinson. Younger and equally distinguished colleagues of that same generation included Robert Sherlaw Johnson, Richard Rodney Bennett, Cornelius Cardew, David Blake, Gordon Crosse and John McCabe. A cornucopia of compositional talent!

Peter Dickinson was born in Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire in November 1934 and studied at Cambridge as an organ scholar at Queens' College. His tutors included th scholar Philip Radcliffe and the composer Patrick Hadley. He also received advice and guidance from Sir Lennox Berkeley, a figure on whom Dickinson later became an authority.

Dickinson had been nurtured on the organ by his father, an able amateur church organist. Quite naturally, some of Dickinson's earliest works were written for the Queens' College instrument, for both pre-and post-service use. These include A Cambridge Postlude (1953), Postlude on Adeste Fideles, Three Preludes on Songs 46, 20 & 34 by Orlando Gibbons (1954) influenced by both Gibbons and Howells, a virtuosic Toccata and the Meditation on Murder in the Cathedral (1958). In this latter piece, a lyrical hymn is juxtaposed with moments of violence, prefiguring the composer's later compositional concerns with the co-existence of simultaneous contrasting musics.

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Percy Grainger’s unknown Piano Concerto

Penelope Thwaites

Percy Grainger

The distinguished pianist and Grainger specialist outlines the pianist-composer’s youthful piano concerto movement.

He was thirteen years old. He had travelled across the world from Melbourne, Australia, aged twelve, with his mother, to study at the famed Hoch Konservatorium in Frankfurt. A modest sum of money had been raised by well-wishers in Melbourne – including some distinguished musicians such as G.W.Marshall-Hall and the Anton Rubinstein pupil, Louis Pabst, to help the (now single) mother, Rose Grainger, and her brilliantly gifted young pianist son.

Rose’s successful architect husband, John Grainger, had bestowed on her the gift of syphilis when she was twenty-two and Percy was just one. The dire results, both physical and mental were to manifest themselves increasingly as time went on, but when she and Percy arrived in Frankfurt in 1895 she was still able to lead the active life she enjoyed and there are photos of them both enjoying bicycle rides. Nevertheless, Rose was aware that their future economic security would eventually depend on her son’s success as a virtuoso pianist.

Over the next five years he received the most thorough training from James Kwast (1852 – 1927), a Dutch-German pianist and renowned teacher of many other notable pianists. The Hoch Konservatorium had prided itself on having the great Clara Schumann as the head of its piano department. She had retired shortly before Grainger arrived but one can imagine that her strong influence would have remained in terms of repertoire (including of course Brahms) and in an approach eschewing needlessly flamboyant style. Percy also had the inestimable education of learning from visiting virtuosi, such as Frederick Lamond and Eugen d’Albert (whose decidedly flamboyant style he loved and imitated!) and from his fellow students. He and the English Henry Balfour Gardiner, Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter and Norman O’Neill were dubbed ‘The Frankfurt Gang’, and they met regularly to compare notes, both as executants and as composers. Four of them remained friends for life.

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Henselt and the Russian Piano Music of his time: Part 1

Richard Beattie Davis

Adolf von Helselt

Marking the bicentenary of the birth of Adolf von Helselt, we are pleased to publish the text of a lecture given by the late Richard Beattie Davis on a particularly important aspect of the composer’s life, presented at the first International Henselt Conference in October 2002. 

Many decades ago, I was fortunate enough to come to know extremely well an English pianist named Edith Walton, who, in her youth developed a prodigious gift under the tutelage of Moritz Rosenthall (a pupil of Franz Liszt) and also Leopold Godowsky. One of the composers to whose music she introduced me was Adolph von Henselt who, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was very popular and widely played, evidence of which is furnished by the several editions of his studies and a few other pieces published in collections, notably by Peters and Litolff. This is also substantiated by recordings of Rachmaninoff playing Si oiseau j'étais and performances and editions by Vladimir de Pachmann. One of the most important editions of the studies was that by Ricordi of Milan, with many examples on how to navigate the studies by the famous Gino Tagliapietra.

The impression left by Edith Walton's playing of Henselt's music was indelible and ignited a desire in me to enquire more deeply into his output and circumstances of his emigration to Russia. Soon after my retirement at the end of 1981, my wife and I made our first visit to Schwabach, and located Henselt's Geburtshaus, but it wasn't until two later visits, when we made the acquaintance of Jürgen Söllner and Dr. Oskar Stollberg, that we had the opportunity to probe further.

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Walking on the Wire

My new Violin Sonata: Thomas Hyde

Thomas Hyde

One night in August 1974, a Frenchman, Philippe Petit, broke into the newly constructed Twin Towers in New York and, with a small group of accomplices, made it to the top. They then constructed a tightrope between the two towers, and the following morning Petit gave, ‘the high wire performance of all time’. For the next hour he crossed the wire eight times. Balanced with his pole, he pirouetted, he danced, he performed. 1350 feet below, New Yorkers on their way to work looked up, stunned. For a brief moment they even forgot about President Nixon’s impending resignation.

Petit retells the story in his book To Reach the Clouds, which was then made into an Oscar-winning film Man on Wire in 2008. It was brought to my attention by my friend and librettist, David Norris when we were searching for a subject for a new music-theatre piece. Sadly, another composer was already working on an opera using this very story. But the tightrope walk continued to fascinate me. It seemed to say something important about performance itself. Though Petit admitted that as he stepped onto the wire ‘death was very close’, he conceived of what he was doing not as a dare devil stunt, but as an act of performance. He was communicating something of himself through the beauty of what he did. And though there was fear, his imagination took him to a new and different level beyond. Is that any different from what a musician does as they step on to a stage?

 

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Gloucester Music Society at 85

Christopher Morley

Herbert Sumsion

It was a meeting between Herbert Sumsion, appointed Organist at Gloucester Cathedral in 1928 at the age of 29, and Dr Arnold Alcock, chief surgeon at the Royal Gloucester Hospital, which led to the formation of a music society for the city.

The two friends used to arrange chamber musical evenings in Alcock's House on College Green, but the events soon grew in scale to the point that a move to the Guildhall was necessary; and so, going public, Gloucester Music Society was born 85 years ago in 1929.

The Guildhall remained one of the concert-venues during subsequent years, with others including Ribston Hall School (attracting particularly large audiences), Denmark Road High School and the Cathedral Chapter House. Finally in 1998 a small Lottery grant enabled the Society to make the 12-th century church of St Mary de Lode (built over a Saxon church, and with an earlier Roman mosaic floor still visible), just below the Cathedral, suitable for concerts. It remains the home of Gloucester Music Society to this day.

 

 

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Conversations with Erik Satie

Peter Dickinson

Erik Satie

Anticipating the 90th anniversary of the death of Erik Satie next year, we are pleased to publish this imaginary conversation with him. Satie’s words are authentic, translations by Rollo Myers. It was written for the Satie centenary on May 17, 1966 but never published. In fact, London’s actual Satie Centenary on the day was a very modest programme of songs and piano music at the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea, with Jane Manning and pianists Colin Tilney and Peter Dickinson. Satie’s reputation may not yet have reached the level implied by this imaginary London Centenary but it has come a long way since then.

PD:   You must have been delighted at the Satie Centenary Celebrations in London and it was most unfortunate that you could not be present. The complete works were featured on BBC Radio 3; all the ballets were given at Covent Garden and televised for the first time; and the interdenominational service at Westminster Abbey was in honour of the Eglise Metropolitan d’Art de Jesus Conducteur. It was a fine setting for the Messe des pauvres and Socrate received an ovation at the Festival Hall. You are now widely regarded as one of the first composers in modern music. Would you say something about your origins and later development?

ES:   M. Erik Satie was born at Honfleur (Calvados) on 17 May 1866. He is considered to be the strangest musician of our time. He classes himself among the ‘fantasists’ who are, in his opinion, highly respectable people. He often says to his friends: ‘Although born short-sighted I am long-sighted by inclination…Shun pride: of all the evils from which we suffer this is the most constipating. Let those unhappy people whose sight does not see me blacken their tongues and burst their ears!’

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An enchanted life...

Valerie Tryon

Valerie Tryon

On 5 September 2014 – her 80th birthday – Valerie Tryon was in London, preparing to record a CD for SOMM Records, with Jac Van Steen and the Royal Philharmonic, of French Music for Piano and Orchestra.

My mother always said I had a charmed life, and I think time has proved her right. I’ve been incredibly lucky, not only with the things that have happened to me, but also with the wonderful people I’ve had in my life. It seems as if I’ve been protected in some way. I’ve been spared a lot of things that easily could have happened, but didn’t.

My luck started with my parents, really. My mother was a remarkable woman. When she was little she appeared in movies: we know that when she was 8 or 9 she was in one called Bars of Iron [1920], which starred Leopold McLaglen, brother of Victor McLaglen. As a girl, she acted in Shakespeare, and won prizes for reciting speeches from the plays. The story is that as she practised, repeating the lines over and over, the family’s pet parrot would learn them and repeat them as well! As an adult, she sang with the D’Oyly Carte Company for a while, then taught piano and singing from home. Later, she worked as a music teacher in a school.

 

 

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Peter Copley

in conversation with Brian Hick

Peter Copley

Peter Copley’s new Piano Concerto will receive its world premiere by Margaret Fingerhut, for whom it was composed, on November 8 at St Luke’s Church, Queen’s Park Road Brighton.

Born in Hove, and still living there, it seemed inevitable that Peter and I should meet up at a coffee-house midway between Hove station and the sea front on a warm day towards the end of the summer. I had been covering the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra summer concerts, each of which had included recent works by Sussex composers, and been particularly struck by Peter Copley’s Second String Quartet. Following this up revealed a new commission for a piano concerto for Margaret Fingerhut and it was this which initially prompted our meeting. I asked how the commission came about.

‘It was commissioned jointly by the Musicians of All Saints, Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Brighton & Hove Music services and funded by the Arts Council. I had long been an admirer of Margaret’s playing and met her at Dartington in 2008. She has already worked with the Musicians of All Saints so there was a feeling of confidence on all sides that this could work well for us.

'The concerto is now finished and Margaret is in the process of learning it. The good thing about commissions today is that they have a much broader base than was the case some years ago. As a consequence, there will be educational work done around the concerto, Margaret will give a masterclass based on it and the first performance will be part of a whole day of events including school children and an open rehearsal. Three full rehearsals, which feels exceptional given the few hours one is normally given, are costed in as are a number of other planned performances.’

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