Friday, 18 May 2012

CB Where The Rainbow Ends

Intro, Track One: Quilter - Where The Rainbow Ends Suite: 1. Rainbow Land (3.24 min)

This is Classical Break, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was researched and written by Mike Burrows. You’ve just heard Rainbow Land, the first movement of a suite Where The Rainbow Ends, written for a play of this name by Roger Quilter. It introduces a programme of largely British music of dreams and otherworld fantasy, some of it what Edward German would have called ‘good light music’. Where The Rainbow Ends was a Christmas fairy-tale, produced at the Savoy Theatre - famous for the D’Oyly Carte Company and the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, first performed in 1911. For many in those days, the fairy world was no faraway Shangri La, as was to be shown when, a decade later and after the Great War, Conan Doyle revealed The Coming of The Fairies to an astonished public. Where The Rainbow Ends tells of children who travel on a magic carpet to save their ship-wrecked parents from a dragon, and are protected in their adventures by Saint George...

“This is the universe. Big, isn’t it?” The Archers film, A Matter of Life and Death, drawn from a Robert Nathan novel by Emeric Pressburger and directed by Michael Powell. It tells the story of a Lancaster pilot who jumps from his burning aircraft without a parachute; survives to fall in love with a WAAC from Boston, Mass, and is visited by a heavenly messenger who wants to conduct him up a celestial stairway to the training-centre for another world. Terrestrial scenes were shot in colour, scenes in Heaven in black and white. The fantasy may be the result of a thought-unimportant head-injury, or it may be real. In any event, the film culminates in emergency brain surgery and an Appeal heard in the Highest of Courts. Intended to promote Anglo-American relations, and invoking every species of idealism of outlook, it owes some of its glamour to the score composed by the Polish √©migr√©, Allan Gray. Here are elements of the score - a fanfare, piano-music connected with sensory disturbance and the escalator, and romantically swooping but distinguished love-theme of its time (used for end-credits).

Track Two: Allan Gray: A Matter of Life and Death (4.09 min)

The first film of one of the stars of A Matter of Life and Death, Roger Livesey, was a silent adaptation of Where The Rainbow Ends. released in 1921 - the year Conan Doyle’s The Coming of The Fairies was published...

Now, a song from a cycle of Yeats-settings, To A Child Dancing In The Wind, by John Tavener (B 1944). A soprano is accompanied by flute, viola and harp. In its tessitura of wide intervals, the vocal part calls for sublime breath control - and the lightest of touches from the instrumentalists. The vision of the unself-consciously graceful and sensuous young girl in a world of her own exists in a harsh world on a Western shore, where work and widowhood await, but the melisma is of the self-hypnotized unmarried girl... A world within the world...

Track Three: John Tavener - To A Child Dancing In The Wind (2.13 min)

There are as many worlds within the world as there are people and products of the artistic imagination. One may need only a fire to sit by to find one’s dreams. The Canadian, Robert Farnon was for many years composer and conductor in light music. He specialized in mood-music and miniatures as did many romantics and late-romantics. His best is good indeed, vivid, natural and skilfully written - the orchestration fits the melody and harmony like a soft glove, a blending of the sections that favours the woodwind, horns and strings, often including harp - his pieces bloom from simple, but affecting elements developed with great care and distinction. Here is Pictures In The Fire, a kind of canzona for violin and orchestra with notable asides from flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon - and fleeting piccolo.

Track Four: Farnon - Pictures In The Fire. (4.57 min)

Edward Elgar, self-taught, composed from the age of about ten. His father gave him the run of his music-shop and his mother did all that she could to foster the child’s interest in literature with the result that the young Edward and siblings wrote a play, The Wand of Youth for which he composed the music. Grown-ups were lured across a stream into the world of childhood imagination, with the result that they developed an understanding of children and so scolded them less severely in future. The miracle was achieved by moths and butterflies, little bells, fairy pipers, fairies and giants, tame and wild bears, a sundance and other such cues. Household music was transformed forty years later in 1907 when, his mother and father now dead, Elgar took up the score and developed and arranged its numbers for full orchestra with unself-conscious, magical results.

The beautiful variety in style, mood and scoring of the finished pieces is proof that the excitement of having the run of a music shop had never left him, and that his mother’s literary dreams and the ambition to express philosophical constructs in poetic imagery and music had been passed on. The titles and ‘little tunes’ are inseparable. Here, the grown-up couple are lulled to sleep by Fairy Pipers.

Track Five: Edward Elgar - Fairy Pipers (4.08 min)

The pianist, philosopher and mystic, Cyril Scott, was a composer of great ambition and talent for symphonic music, admired by Vauaghan Williams and Bax, and Elgar, who credited him with inspiring the more daring harmonies of his late period! Scott worked as well in small forms, often orchestrating his own piano-music. Here is his orchestral miniature, Lotus-Land: the heavy, sweet blossom of the lotus was reputed by the Greeks to induce dreaming lethargy, a narcosis forgetful of home or a life of action, as Odysseus found to his cost during his travels.

Track Six: Cyril Scott - Lotus-land (4.28 min)

The composer Cyril Rootham wrote at least one fine choral-orchestral song in The Stolen Child... Setting Yeats, it is an enticement to the life of faery, of an escape from the human world:

Come away, O human child,
To the waters and the wild,
With a fairy, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand...

The song is beautiful, the scoring and variations in accompaniment well-suited to the imagery, but this refrain, with its flute flourish on the second and clever scansion of the long, subtlely rhythmical last line, more than anything else, stays with one. It is, after all, such a hard journey to that otherworld, one made (or expressed) by any serious artist. Childhood is the origin of so many of our fantasies of beauty and truth, even enlightenment...

Track Seven: Rootham: The Stolen Child (6.39 min)

Not all dreams are welcome: not all fantasies are an escape from the anguish of living. Here is a short partsong by Elgar, dating from a couple of years after the Wand of Youth Suites, and written whilst on holiday in Rome. It is an evocation of dread, of the thing that dies in the night, and of Owls. Here, the composer - according to his own story - sets verses written by his daughter Carice’s pet white rabbit, Pietro D’Alba, in reality, self-penned. The deliberately uncertain tonality is wedded to a hushed funereal processional, intensely ghostly, the owls’ antiphonal voices caught to peculiarly unsettling effect....

Track Eight: Elgar – Owls, An Epitaph (3.18 min)

One of the Australian composer Percy Grainger’s least-known professional interests was the search for a machine to play ‘free music’ - music that truly sounded to the pitches and pulses of the elements. The idea first came to him as a youngster as he watched sunshine on waves and currents. Here is a short piece of Free Music, arranged for string quartet. Another world within this world and the literally hypnotic, fantastical world of music...

Track Nine: Percy Grainger - Free Music (1.57 min)

Lastly, a long piece for piano-soloist and orchestra by John Ireland. The Legend, opening with a modal horn signal, evokes the Sussex downs: it concerns the atmosphere of a particular spot, a district of stone--age civilization, near where there was a post-Crusades leper-colony - the lepers worshipped through a small slit in the wall of a local church. Out for a solitary walk in this hilly, windblown landscape, Ireland stopped for a picnic. He told later of how as he ate he became aware of a group of children dancing and playing in a circle close to him as though oblivious of him. He was annoyed, but then it was borne in on him suddenly that they played quietly and that their clothes were ‘archaic’. He looked away, looked back and found that they were gone, leaving him alone on the hillside... A friend, the psychical researcher, mystic and ghost--story--writer, Arthur Machen, heard of this experience and wrote a postcard to him, saying simply: “So you’ve seen them, too!” Legend is fittingly large-scale, an awkward gear-change from the opening horn--theme to quicker music got over better in some performances than in others. By the middle of the piece, it is as if the mind clears of gong-clash, bluster and dramatic outlines, pianistic gestures, woodwind fragments, an obsessively menacing liturgical element threatened by chromaticism, a feeling of rising damp and decay. There comes another, clearer, fresher vision, as hallucinatory, in which the orchestral sounds stream hypnotically in light-footed movement - a thinner orchestration of sunshine and swift cloud-shade - and children of another, ancient time dance and play, and the piano-part moves between freedom and thematic matter of earlier... The piano is induced to accompany the dream. It’s not so much that these children are innocent or aesthetically charming, though they are, it’s that life and time have not overcome their natural zest for life, the faith and hope they find in living.

Adults have fantasies of what they are and what life truly is, but perhaps wouldn’t be happy here even if they could be! Because there are always new generations of children, happiness and hope spring eternal. The episode reminds one that the word maze has many meanings, including dance and trance; that mazes can be an adjunct to religious ritual, often of initiation, preparation and purification, and, like the best in musical expression can represent acceptance, enlightenment and progress.

The horn-signal recurs affirmatively, harmonized in the major. A long dying fall reprises nightmare elements amid calm, the piano introducing the chromatic sounds, dwindling away to nothing - perhaps into the depths or distance.

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 you enjoyed it and will join us again soon. Goodbye!

Track Ten: Ireland - Legend For Piano and Orchestra (11.38 min)

© Mike Burrows 2/12