Friday, 14 December 2012

15 & 16 December

Here is a repeat from the March 3rd-4th of this year.  It ends with the trailer for our Easter Programme, but don't be fooled by this:  we know where we are, and a Christmas Programme is in preparation!


The North of England

Track One: The Path Across The Moors, Arthur Butterworth

This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme, researched and written by Mike Burrows, celebrates Northern England in music - with two Mediterranean asides! We have just heard The Path Across The Moors, an orchestral piece by the veteran symphonist, Arthur Butterworth; a Northerner like George, but no relation, he played the trumpet in the Halle orchestra for many years, but has produced a large number of works of scope, often inspired by Northern landscapes.

He is now nearing his nineties and still writing and conducting new pieces. The Path Across The Moors was composed in October 1958, when he was in his mid-thirties. The subdued tones of the scoring, favouring the alto- and bass-register, are dark but various owing to the use of many blendings-together of woodwind and strings, reinforced more or less recessedly by brass - particularly horns and trombones - and timpani. The quirky theme passes through shiftings of tonal light and shade like a walker who has much on his mind but is not oblivious to nature about him.

The music for the 1937 film, South Riding was provided by Richard Addinsell. Based on a novel by Winifred Holtby, South Riding is typical of its time, and its derivative plot has been replayed hundreds of times since in the world of the Twentieth Century subliterary Northern Novel. Rich versus poor, education versus blind wealth and poverty. In the early years of the last century, social attitudes are changing. Go--ahead, newly-appointed headmistress enlightens preoccupied landowner whose wife has been certified and must be kept in an expensive private asylum; evil machinations of housing money-grubbers who oppress the workers are frustrated, the mad wife dies, and landowner and headmistress fall in love, presumably to the future advantage of the poor. There is no South Riding, the true setting of the novel is in fact the East Riding, taking in the coast. The Prelude billows Irishry, brass, sweeping violin unisons, airy woodwind, scintilating harp and piano; the deeper tones of the orchestra contributing the swell. Moments of tension are lyrical or of an order of abrupt, more arbitrary sinisterness usually reserved for thirties--to-mid-century film-evocations of madness or panic.

Track Two: South Riding - Prelude, Addinsell

Now, Hanley Male Voice Choir and the Sellers Engineering Band, conducted by the cornettist, Philip McCann, its founder, perform Song of Yorkshire, written by Gordon Langford to words by Agnes Wright. Langford has composed a great deal of commissioned work, including arrangements of folktunes for brass band. One thing that may be said for his music in general is its effective brass-writing: here, he seeks to evoke the various moods of Yorkshire as described in Agnes Wright’s verse. With customary flourish at the opening, more thoughtful moments build to an ending strongly accompanied by brass and bells. The idiom is post-Waltonian, with little of that composer’s corrective astringency! The Sellars Engineering Band came into being at Huddersfield Technical College in 1986. The British brass--band tradition has always flourished where bands were supported by employers; the outgoings on instruments being high; who else can find the money or grant sufficient rehearsal-time? Nowhere was this truer than in the North of England. The tradition, along with the formation of choirs by local churches and working-men’s clubs, enabled the proletariat to be artistic in any sense whatever, the professional and cathedral musical world being closed--off to it. For many, the brass band is the music of ‘oop North’. The snob finds this proof of the earthbound collective soul of Northern people, the listener enjoys good music and musicianship wherever they happen.

Track Three: Song of Yorkshire, Langford 
The Hanley Choir is a 19th Century institution hailing from North Staffordshire in the Midlands. Under Swinnerton Heap, its forebear, and other forces of the North Staffordshire Festival, premiered Elgar’s Scenes From The Saga of King Olaf, as his fame spread through the Midlands and the North. The Festival Committee at Leeds commissioned another cantata in 1898, Caractacus, on the strength of both this work and a short oratorio, Lux Christi, as Elgar’s Jubilee works, Imperial March and The Banner of St George made little headway elsewhere.. Like a pretender to the throne, Elgar mustered support in the provinces of the North and Midlands and in time, marched on London...! He always had the highest respect for the professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs of the Northern and Midlands choral and orchestral societies, believing the musical heart of Britain was to be found somewhere to the North of London!

Every major city or town had its philharmonic societies, its choirs and orchestras, its bands and glee clubs, its festivals and competitions; these rarely shied away from performing new works, as well as Handel, Mendelssohn, Stainer, Sullivan and other staple repertoire. Let’s hear the incongruous but hair-raisingly fervent closing chorus of Caractacus, The Clang of Arms Is O’er, in which the triumphant Romans, having pardoned the titular ‘king’ and his family for resisting conquest of their country by the Imperial legions, salute the ever--increasing extent of British Empire of the future! The cantata was written in the seclusion of a cottage in woods on a Malvern hillside. Elgar worked by day in an Indian Army bell-tent - running up a flag when he wished not to be disturbed. A friend wrote him just before the premiere.

After ‘advertising’ a new line in Elgar Musical Cooking-Stoves, which “plays airs out of the celebrated composer’s works while the kettle boils,” he said, “Aren’t you fearfully excited about Caractacus, supposing it doesn’t sound right or you have made a mistake somewhere.” Critics were not entirely sold on Caractacus, but for the rest, it hit most listeners between wind and water.

Track Four: The Clang of Arms is O’er, Caractacus, Elgar

A song of Northumberland, now, Black Stitchel, for tenor and piano, by John Jeffreys. The words are by the Northumbrian poet, Wilfred Gibson. The Black Stitchel is a high hill: on it, when the wind is coming from the South, the man thinks of his love’s laughter; when the wind is from the West, he thinks of the quiet of her breast; when it is from the North, he thinks of countries black with wrath; when it is from the east, he thinks no more for pity of man and beast... The poem is taken from Whin, a collection published in 1918.

Born in 1927, Jeffreys’ style is pitched somewhere between those of Peter Warlock and Benjamin Britten, lyrical, richly harmonic and respectful of the sense and rhythmic flow of verses. Black Stitchel in particular achieves a natural folkish quality. The hardening of tone in the penultimate verse is spare and telling; the climax of the poem and song can be thus made hushed and spectral...

Tracks Five: Black Stitchel, John Jeffreys

In the traditional song, Blow The Wind Southerly, a Northern lass sings a Northumbrian folksong: she sings for the wind to bring her lover home. Her voice, like the clarinet, rich in under- rather than overtones, may tell you that this lass is none other than Klever Kath, from Higher Walton, Lancs. Kathleen Ferrier.

Track Six: Blow The Wind Southerly, Trad

The Lancashire composer and socialist, Alan Rawsthorne, born in Haslingden in 1905, was a student of the Royal Manchester College of Music. He wrote symphonic works, concerti and chamber music - including three fine string quartets, and scores for classic British film-dramas, such as The Cruel Sea and Uncle Silas. Here is the andante finale of his Second Symphony, A Pastoral Symphony, of 1959. A kind of epilogue, it sets a poem to Spring by the Earl of Surrey. There are important solos from oboe, trumpet and violin; the introduction is derived from the opening of the symphony, the trumpet haunting, severely mystical. The movement develops around the soprano, with folksong-like motifs in woodwind and the graver sound of trumpet and hushed, close strings, and ends in peace, on the strings and horns and then strings alone: it may be the closest that Rawsthorne came to writing a pastoral idyll! The work was written after a move to rural Essex; it was intended to celebrate country over town! It is tempting nonetheless to hear the Northern accent! Dark and true and tender is the North, but its light is never forgotten!

Track Seven: Andante from the Second Symphony, Alan Rawsthorne

From Oldham, Sir William Walton acquired fame early at Oxford and in London - he spent much of his life in the south, and farther south still, on the isle of Ischia! From the age of sixteen, he was a known composer, and was soon befriended by Peter Warlock, Ernest Moeran and Constant Lambert, and taken up by the smart Sitwell set in the Twenties. It is hard to hear Lancashire in his music, but in a series of brilliant scores, he created a legacy in all forms to rival that of any contemporary. Moving from a serious twelve-tone and parodic, jazz-inflected tunefulness - think Facade - to a less brittle synthesis of Hindemith, Elgar and Sibelius, he hit his stride in choral, concertante and symphonic works, and film-music. His origins were in singing as a chorister, and melody remained important to him. Let’s hear an early work for orchestra from 1925, Siesta. A curious rather than affected display of Walton’s musical moods, it begins in open-hearted, lazy lyricism, and moves through slyness and outright grotesquery - a kind of pantomime slapstick with woodblocks - to a quiet close. The transitions are, to say the least, elliptical. The scoring is adept and happy, whether honeyed or sour.

Track Eight: Siesta, Walton

The Yorkshire of the Brontes is found around Haworth, near Halifax: an isolated region of North Yorkshire. The clever but agoraphobic children of Haworth’s rector, Patrick Bronte or Brunty, proved incapable of leaving home and maintaining their health. They had lost their mother and two sisters in childhood; in all, tuberculosis lay dormant. Branwell, the son, became a failed artist and powerful poet whose continued neglect remains as it was in his lifetime, tragic and shameful; he died from a combination of that neglect, love, drink, laudanum and, latterly, tubercular exhaustion. He died shortly after a measure of success - carefully excluding him and his own literary efforts - came to his sisters. Charlotte, Emily and Anne, became poets and novelists under assumed names that in two of three cases, went to the grave with their owner. All died young. Emily, the middle daughter, had had no intention of seeking publication for her poems; her subsequent first novel brought her only disillusionment in a bad publishing-deal and savage reviews: She caught a cold at Branwell’s funeral and died from consumption within months of him. Wuthering Heights is possibly the greatest Bronte literary production. Its tale of crossed love, death from love and love to eternity is set amid superb natural descriptions - the Brontes were keen walkers - and darkly claustrophobic interiors in which much evil is done and two generations rise only to fall. Bleak loveliness is in the weather and landscape whose light and shade shape the spirits of those who live and grow more or less inhibitedly in it. Human nature and society in Yorkshire as Emily saw it, is redeemed by true love. The ghost of the unhappily-married Catherine Earnshaw haunts her Healthcliff’s farm at Top Withens, as he ages, bereft...and at length, childhood sweethearts - farmer’s daughter and Liverpool foundling - are reunited in death. The American, Bernard Herrmann wrote an opera on Wuthering Heights, having composed music for a film--adaptation of Charlotte’s first published novel, Jane Eyre, some years before. He loved the novel and the region that had inspired it, and all his love went into a magnificent work in four acts. The idiom is late-romantic, expressionistic in places, emphatically not to be characterized as shaped by folk-song. Yet it seems for the most part characteristic of its book, reconcilable to both an English novel and its setting. Let’s hear the scene On The Moors, between the two young lovers. Interestingly, it utilizes thematic material from his score for the film The Ghost and Mrs Muir, another story of love unrequited in this life...

This was Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. We hope that you’ve enjoyed our journey to the North, researched and scripted by Mike Burrows, and will join us again soon. Goodbye!

Track Nine: Wuthering Heights, On The Moors, Herrmann 
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