Chamber Music by Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty (1879-1941)
Intro Track: The Star of The County Down
This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. This week’s script was researched and written by Mike Burrows. To begin the programme, we have a re-discovery lately recorded: the Piano Quintet of the twenty-four years--old Herbert Hamilton Harty. It was first performed in its entirety in 1906, two years after it had won him First Prize in a small privately-endowed competition arranged by a wealthy London socialite.
Between early days as an accompanist, an organist, pianist and violist in the County Down and Dublin of the ‘Nineties, and 1904, by which time he had settled well after emigrating to London, Harty produced a series of chamber works, a Violin Sonata, two String Quartets and this Quintet. He won a prize for a String Quartet at the Feis Coeil in Dublin at the turn of the Century, which helped to smoothe his path in London.
The Piano Quintet in F Major begins with a movement in sonata form marked simply, Allegro. A rather crabbed Brahmsian flourish is responsible for most of the material that follows, a strikingly stressful First Group succeeded by the traditional feminine contrast, a tune whose scotch snaps are Irish in origin, and whose influence briefly mellows the impassioned music of the outset before providing the piano with the opportunity of more large, sonorous chords. The development begins with more subtle contrasts of string sound and piano timbres, the parts skilfully interwoven in counterpoint; the viola is conspicuous as the music dies down and slows for the recapitulation to come in and be made to seem more reflective between fits of gustiness.
The second subject is given beautiful full sonority on piano and diminished note-value decoration underneath, and a triumphant climax - quietness on viola again sounds and the flourish ends this brilliantly fluent movement.
Track One: Allegro
This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. The prize for the Piano Quintet and another award at the Feis Coeil for an Irish Symphony in 1904, brought Harty some fame as a composer, but he was to be known to posterity for other skills. As a pianist-accompanist to singers - including his wife for some time, the soprano, Agnes Nicholls, as a formidable conductor of the LSO and Halle Orchestras, and as an arranger of other men’s music, he was seen for what he was. As a composer, ambition drove him, but was not fulfilled. On the evidence of his actual compositions, this has been a great loss to the concert-going public. This man, who was not an alumnus of a London music college, was possibly as gifted a composer as any Briton working at the time. Fame enourages true genius to develop: like so many other gifted provincials in this country, he was denied what would have been a far preferable destiny.
To return to the Piano Quintet: after a dramatic, well-set-up opening movement in sonata-form, contrast is called-for: a Scherzo, in fact. Marked Vivace, it is like a Brahms intermezzo, and also sports a neat jig-rhythm in tribute, perhaps, to an Irish muse. If it begins a little nervously as well as skittishly, it soon opens out in piano arpeggios and slurred lyricism for the violin and viola in particular. Harty evidently likes the effect of darting pizzicati, also. The piano has a delightful treble chuckling downward scale figure. Shifts between major and minor increase the charm of this movement. Contrasts are subtle - this is no workaday scherzo with trio - and it ends circularly in the lightest and abruptest of fashions. What one should not miss amid the banter is the cunning of Harty’s skill in cyclical variation - this movement is a further development of thematic, rhythmical and harmonic elements of the Allegro; the motto flourish haunts it.
Track 2: Vivace
The motto-theme, smoothed, is present in the third movement. This masterpiece, marked Lento, is solemn, but gloriously feeling and lyrical, beginning in violin, viola and cello-tone. A yearning melody grows in large chords on piano, rolling itself out and accompanied by counterpoint, and dies away into a crescendo in sequences; this is a striking foretaste of the Elgar Piano Quintet of 1918. It dies away in smouldering ‘Irish’ manner - only to begin to rise again, with the violins in unison. The most passionate material in this movement arises: repose always regathers itself here, in order to deliver a stronger message of loss or longing. Again, the apparition passes - it seems like an apparition, and fades in shadows of tremolando on cello in particular. A further rise returns us to the Irish dying fall. A strong unisonal, chordal, tremolando and trilled climax and one is left in peace and the close.
Track 3: Lento
The finale is a rondo, Allegro con Brio. It is as glorious in its own fashion as the other movements. It hints at every turn to the other movements’ material, too. The clever counterpoint of canons, imitations, diminutions and augmentations and colourful interplay between instruments are as ever merely a means to expressive power, in this case, fervent happiness and a contrasting melancholy. An inspired, exciting fragment of melody succeeds the exultant stamping opening, and there’s something of a reprise of the opening section. A more mysterious segment following, derived from subsidiary phrases, is carried into cheerfulness, only to be reasserted by viola and violin, courting scalic responses from the piano. The piano is the author of much of the sanguine or humorous tone of this music, but its quicksilver runs - which impel jogging cello pizzicati, do not prevent the stubbornly shadier bowed sounds of the strings - led by the lovely but melancholy solo viola - from developing into a brown study, the poetic core of this movement: Irish Brahms, but perhaps more spontaneous. The brown study harks back craftily to the slow movement! The happier material rises up out of this, the first subject and its inspired pendant striding out again, the piano either playing block chords or arpeggiating. The quicksilver runs bring back a more cheerful viola and cello amid stirring textures and all builds to a confident, succinct climax; the brown study music returns in a typical change in character through change in tempo - appropriately, it now hustles the Quintet to a close, accompanied at last with a Brahms-like downward glissando on piano. This is an unstoppable finale, superbly proud and optimistic, with genuine deep shadows to contend with.
Track 4: Allegro Con Brio
Harty’s Piano Quintet in F Major was performed in full once and once only, at a function held at the Langham Hotel....
The prize that this splendid score attracted, the in-those-days large sum of £50 - was awarded to the young composer by Benno Schonberger - a pianist - and Frederic Cowen and Alexander Mackenzie, two eminent composers. Why it went unpublished and dropped out of sight or sound for 106 years is a mystery. Judged as music, It comes perilously close to perfection in all respects. Its loss to the concert-hall then and later was a dunderheaded, very British tragedy. Did Paddy think he was Brahms?
Three Pieces for oboe and piano date from 1911, and were first performed in orchestral dress at a Wood Promenade-concert in that year. These are character-pieces in a Romantic tradition that reaches as far back as Robert Schumann. In a ternary form - a first subject with contrasting material - all three display lively invention and skilful workmanship which, although operating at a lower artistic level than the Piano Quintet, are unforeseeably evocative and touching. Here is the first, entitled: Chansonette: Andante con moto.
Track 5: Chansonette: Andante con moto,
Here is the second of Harty’s Three Pieces for oboe and piano. Orientale: Grazioso e con moto. ‘Orientalism’ was a long-lasting fashion in European concert and domestic music. The same clichés did duty for ‘Turkish’, ‘Arabic’, ‘Chinese’, or ‘Japanese’. Harty’s Eastern music is not thorough-going, Irish turns occurring even here. Perhaps by Eastern, he meant London or Paris, rather than County Down or Dublin... There is a witty middle part.
Track 6: Orientale: Grazioso e con moto
Last of these engaging miniatures is a pastoral, A la Campagne: Lento ma non troppo. Interestingly, when Harty devized a book-plate for his library, he took two bars from A La Campagne to accompany a picture of a shepherd playing a pipe. It may be the most inward-turned movement of the suite.
If the orchestral version of Three Pieces is vividly colourful, the duo arrangement permits one to enjoy the work’s rhythmical qualities and the melodic contours in higher relief, as well as a more intimate mode of address. What will be noticed -along with the big reach needed by any accompanist - is the very musicianly balance in the oboe and piano-parts - tact, given that Harty was a full-blooded pianist!
This was Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was researched and written by Mike Burrows. We hope that you enjoyed it and will join us again soon. Goodbye!