Next weekend's programme will commemorate the start of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st, 1915.
Track 1: Sicilienne, Paradis
This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme is of music to relax and think to - a near--hour of apparent idleness! All you, the listener, require is the Summer, a comfortable chair and ice-cool drink. Let music do the carrying.
You have just heard a Sicilienne - a kind of dance in 6/8 rhythm by Maria-Therese Paradis, a woman-composer and keyboard-performer, blind from childhood, for whom Mozart wrote pieces.
The Prelude in D Flat, by Ivor Gurney shows no sign of having been written in the difficult times following his experiences as both private soldier and casualty in the Great War.
If anyone knew of the sufferings of people thought idle by materialists and so-called hard workers, it was Ivor Gurney. Also, he enjoyed the consolations of music and poetry. Their influence, however, consumed him. For a time, he tried to hold down casual employment by day and work on his artistic occupations by night; this, along with depression and malnutrition perhaps cost him his reason. He articulated suffering humanity but also a glorious idealism beyond bitterness in both music and poetry and prose. His little-known Preludes for Piano are one of his most beautiful inspirations, in a style of refined but deepening harmony, the melodic line as subtle and true as those of an Elgar or Fauré. Here is the delicate, greatly touching Prelude in D Flat.
Track 2: Prelude in D-Flat, Ivor Gurney
Next, a waltz from the days of ‘50s Austerity, by the American virtuoso mouth-organist, Larry Adler. Genevieve, the story of vintage cars and skulduggery between friends on the London To Brighton Run is a good film, well directed and acted, but Adler provided its heart with his music! It was not an easy score to write. Yet the eponymous Darracq, and its Spyker-rival, their occupants and an escalating ordeal by British highways, museum-piece-cars and personal pride, are now inseparable from its delightful qualities... Harmonica was an inspired choice of soloist; Adler’s melodies, his sly modulations and enharmonic shifts - and clever representation of cranking-up - are indelible Who can think vintage-car--owners idle, if their labours of love and tussles are this happy--making for spectators ...? Listen and hear!
Track 3: Genevieve Waltz, Adler
This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme is of music to relax - and think - to.
Now, a short piece for voices and viols, in which the Flemish composer, Adrian Willaert arranges the song Lack of Silver: love has cost a man all his silver, but he doesn’t mind - he has the love of his beloved. Willaert was a master of counterpoint whose chansons were often built on existing tunes. The skill in an accompaniment by strict canon (after-echo of the leading-note in an immediate successive part), to take one example, was much the true job of trained composers in the Sixteenth Century. In six parts, the web spun is fascinating in itself, a reminder that technique is not necessarily meaningless discipline, but the making of music’s expressiveness, and of its liberating hypnotic hold on us. A banal little verse is shown to be not so banal after all... If a patron hears and chooses to pay his artist a little more...
Track 4: Faulte d’argent, Willaert
Edvard Grieg had many successors – Norwegian Art-music has proved one of the strongest traditions in all Western music since the mid-Nineteenth Century. One predecessor was the fiddler, Ole Bull, who became an international celebrity from humble beginnings before Norway was much regarded for more than her scenery. Here is Bull’s most famous piece, an orchestral mood-picture of beauty - The Saeter-girl’s Sunday. A saeter-girl herded cattle on a saeter or high mountain-meadow. The life was hard and lonely, with a rough, turf-roofed hut to call one’s home, and frequent fog, rain and rough weather through Spring and Summer. Grieg’s later musical vision of Saeter-girls as ignorant, man-eating caricatures of valkyries came via Ibsen and Peer Gynt! Bull allows his girl latitude for sentiment, and not from sanctimony but from knowledge. His music is as passionate as any from quiet beginnings, humane and touching.
Track 5: The Saeter-girl’s Sunday, Bull
A Royalist servant to the aristocracy, John Jenkins (1592-1678) is now best known for his pieces for consort of viols and other instruments, dances and fantasias, written for the entertainment of wealthy musical amateurs. He was a master of counterpoint in which a piece is generated by statement and successive entries modified by sequence (repetition of intervals at a higher or lower pitch, inversions - a figure played up-side-down - canons and imitations. Let’s hear his Fantasia in C Minor, a grave little piece for viols supported by organ. A piece like this invites the listener to look about one at less-than-severe surroundings unless the ear attends and follows. There is beauty either way, even in the richest of old rooms.
Track 6 : Fantasia in C Minor, John Jenkins
Next, a Song of The Seashell from Japan. This popular song was written by Hideaki Yashima (1915- ) and is played in an arrangement for flute and stringed instruments, including harp, by James Galway and the Tokyo String Orchestra.
Track 7: Song of The Seashell, Yashima
What can we make of ourselves if we have no leisure to dream or remember and take stock of events, ourselves and others? The Portuguese Canadian composer, John Estacio, wrote a three-movement work for orchestra, Variations On A Memory. In this, the original theme of the variations is not stated in full until the finale. The movements are named Era Uma Vez (Portuguese for Once Upon A Time), Red Letter Day and A Memory. Their topics are his childhood home; Canada Day celebrations in Vancouver, and retrospection on such memories later, at a difficult stage in his life. A description of public rejoicing and its resonances is flanked by personal reflections, a childhood world of folklore and a warm stove, and a gathering-together of what has made us. There is an important piano--part in the orchestral textures, and Coplandesque use of strings and woodwind, the brass having their main outing during the more extroverted Red Letter Day. The lyrical poignancy is Coplandesque, too, of diatonic simplicity and clashes created by the intervals of the basic scale, the space between the parts kept open at more expressive moments. The Red Letter Day is aptly congested and contrapuntal in comparison with the angular but telling lyricism elsewhere. Its part in nostalgia and finding integration is found at its central section. One nice touch in scoring, a microtonal glissando on tubular bell, occurs towards the end of the first movement.
Tracks 8-10: Variations On A Memory, Eustacio
Musicians are losers - they work harder than most, so that someone can say that there’s no money in what they’ve done (or so the speaker hopes, given his exertions to ensure that such is the case), or that anyone could do what they have done, if they had the mind. Sometimes, however, the artist feels that he wouldn’t be anyone else for the world.
“What shall it profit a man if he gain the world and lose his own soul?” What’s affluence, when you can deal in inspiration?
Pub music recorded 50 years ago, now. Shave The Donkey, performed on two fiddles and a piano. If the soul revolts, it is a fact that self-taught musicians keep music alive where those who have been trained are not to be found. Better self-expression and humour than a machine playing sounds.
Track 11: Shave The Donkey, Trad
A song by Ivor Gurney, now, written when he was attending the Royal College of music. It is called, simply, Sleep, and comes from the famous cycle known by the sobriquet The Elizas - so-named as it consists of settings of Elizabethan poetry: He was twenty-two when he wrote this masterpiece, his mind weary from overwork but not yet clouded by war and the deadening pattern of life imposed by resettlement in conditions of Post-Great War austerity. Come, Sleep... Vocal line and piano accompaniment are reminiscent of Purcell or other masters of the arioso-style; there is an objective transcendence of ordinary suffering that is the source of its infinitely touching pathos, undemonstrative, spare and dignified. It is a song, a melody, its harmonic implications brought out in simple slow figuration on the piano. Each verse rises in supplication, and dies away into that figuration. It seems not only timeless, but a key to escaping sense of time. Here, Sleep is performed with much feeling and intelligence by local singer, Becky Livesey, and pianist, Gay Pullom. The performance was recorded at a lunchtime concert at St John’s Church, Midsomer Norton.
Track 12: Sleep, Gurney
A pre-war fit of anxiety that had necessitated a short spell of rest in a village on the Severn was adduced by the military authorities as proof that Gurney’s mental state before joining up pre-disposed him to become unhinged. That for years they had entrusted him variously with a rifle, bayonet, grenades and Vickers-gun, and he had made good use of them in others’ eyes, was meaningless to the entirely objective adjudicators. The same shift was no doubt used with many sufferers from shell-shock and related physical problems, to reduce costs at the War Office. He was awarded a half-pension and left largely to support himself. He was the son of a tailor and not of independent means. Such pieces as the Prelude we heard earlier or Sleep...: are they products of wool-gathering, of inutility to society? Hardly. But they earned their author next to nothing, and an artist was driven to madness by the necessity to find and keep employment. A Socialist, Gurney wrote of the ‘Unemployment Shame’ that destroyed countless post-war lives, yet he found time to create thousands of poems, hundreds of songs, mood--pieces and larger works, some still to be deciphered for publication... When inspired, his handwriting could be appalling!
Would he now be working part-time in Tesco’s, to seem hard-working? People like to think that they now give Gurney his due, but he died in 1937. His due has to have been more than our being good chaps towards him, eighty or ninety years too late...
The tremendous efforts of the composer and performer are such that music may prompt great thoughts in good people, people who doubt themselves, perhaps, in what they say and do. A local politician has pronounced that we cannot live our lives in cotton-wool, presumably because he has no idea what cotton-wool costs - and let’s not give the Coalition ideas. But we can wrap ourselves in music as dreamers of dreams: to imagine a better future for one-another. Our artists and we, if we choose, are music-makers - and movers and shakers. We may develop empathy for our fellow human--beings, sympathies, sincere wishes to share - as say, Gurney shared - for the health and happiness of others: - how else can we hope for health and happiness ourselves? – and a logical egalitarianism with which truly to build a Big Society. Insight makes contact with like minds, and like minds reciprocate to bring change!
Now, a dance by the Spanish pianist-composer, Enrique Granados, and orchestrated by the founder of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, De Grignon. This piece, Andalucia, comes from the collection Danzas Espagnolas. It displays engaging characteristics fashionable in a certain strain of nationalist music popularized in the late Nineteenth Century by composers as various as Tarrega, Breton, Chapi, a sultry, slightly Arabic-sounding dance with a nostalgic song-like theme as its pendant. Music for a lazy but thoughtful moment. And with it, we shall leave you. This is Classical Break, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was written by Mike Burrows. We hope you enjoyed it and will join us again soon. Goodbye!
Track 14: Andalucia, Granados
© Mike Burrows 06/12