Friday, 14 November 2014

15th and 16th November

This week's Classical Break is a recording of a lunchtime concert given at the Holburne Museum, Bath on November 11th, 2014. 
Below are the programme notes by the concert's co-organiser, Edna Blackwell, from which the radio script has been shamelessly drawn. Thanks to the Holburne Museum for allowing us to record the concert for your listening delight!

The Holburne Museum

Lunchtime Concert Tuesday, 11th November at 1.10pm

 For the Fallen

Ludlow and Teme by Ivor Gurney

Bruce Evans (tenor)
Edna Blackwell (piano)
and The Remembrance Quartet

A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth
and songs by Rudi Stephan and W. Denis Browne

Niall Hoskin (baritone)
Steven Hollas (piano)

All today’s composers were born within 5 years of each other. By the end of the First World War three – the Englishmen Butterworth and Browne and the German Stephan – were dead, the other (Ivor Gurney) psychologically damaged.

Ivor Gurney was born in 1890 in Gloucester. A scholarship took him to the Royal College of Music to study composition with Stanford.
He was equally talented as poet and musician writing nearly 900 poems between 1913 and 1926 and continuing to write poems long after his ability to compose coherent music ceased.
At first rejected for military service he joined the Army in 1915 and served in France where he was wounded, gassed and shellshocked. After treatment in military and mental hospitals he resumed his studies at the R.C.M, this time with Vaughan Williams.
Leaving college in 1921 he returned to Gloucester where he failed to find permanent employment and felt he was being rejected both as a composer and a poet.
He threatened suicide and the instability which seemed like eccentricity before the war was aggravated by his feverish activity in producing poems and songs and, of course, his war experiences eventually leading to his admission to Gloucester Mental Hospital.

Gurney rarely set his own poems and was drawn to A.E. Housman for his two song cycles ‘Ludlow and Teme’ and ‘Western Playland’ which were eventually published in 1923 and 1926 after much revision, a process which he continued throughout his composing life.
The seven songs of ‘Ludlow and Teme’ were all probably written in 1919. There is no attempt at musical narrative or cross reference between the songs. He rarely uses word painting, instead he captures changing moods in his accompaniments. The tonality is fluid, the music hovers around rather than settles into a key.
Gurney very much admired Vaughan Williams’ song cycle ‘On Wenlock Edge’ which uses an accompaniment of piano and string quartet, he follows this idea for both his song cycles.
With his deteriorating mental health, musical friends, particularly Marion Scott, had to take over preserving and preparing his manuscripts for publication.
In a letter to a friend, Gurney wrote ‘My Housman cycle is to be done at a party at the Scotts in March (1920), Stewart Wilson as the singer and the Philharmonic Quartet and myself as back ground’. This is a very apt description of the role of the accompanying instruments.
Now permanently resident in a London mental hospital, Gurney was allowed to listen to a first broadcast performance of ‘Ludlow and Teme’ in August 1925. He commented ‘I wish the singer had used the revisions I made – to avoid squareness’. His many revisions are noted in Philip Lancaster’s edition of 2011 which is being used today. All creative activity ceased in 1927, Ivor Gurney eventually died in 1937.

Ludlow and Teme  [words by A.E. Housman]

When smoke stood up from Ludlow
Far in a Western Brookland
‘Tis time, I think by Wenlock Town
*Ludlow Fair
On the Idle Hill of Summer
*When I was One and Twenty
The Lent Lily

*These two poems are also set by Butterworth in the second part of this programme.

Bruce Evans studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has sung both opera and oratorio widely, working for English Touring Opera, Opera della Luna and Glyndebourne Festival and Touring Opera. He also toured in Europe, the Far East and United States with Pavillion Opera. Next year he will be singing the title role in Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ for Bristol Opera. Bruce has enjoyed greatly the opportunity of studying this beautiful and challenging work. He is currently a Technical Project Leader at Heathrow Airport Ltd.

Edna Blackwell is a pianist, conductor and teacher. Apart from conducting many choral and instrumental works, mainly for the Bath Cantata Group, she has enjoyed acting as repétiteur for many operas and has conducted quite a few including ‘La Bohéme’ and ‘Albert Herring’. She enjoys playing chamber music and accompanying in particular. She founded ‘Operaletta’ whose one act comic operas at the Rondo Theatre and latterly Shakespeare’s Birthday Concerts at the Holburne have been particularly successful.

The Remembrance Quartet was especially formed for the concert.
Its members are: Matthew Taylor, Anna Salamonsen, Tim Robb and Shena Power.

Note from producer, Rupert Kirkham. Live concerts don't always fit the slot available for a radio programme - in the case of Classical Break, it's 58 minutes. We are running a little early, so I have added in an item which went out on Somer Valley FM earlier this year, researched and written by Mike Burrows. It's another song by Ivor Gurney, called, In Flanders. But as you will hear, although written at the Front, it's about Gurney's love of the Gloucestershire countryside. The singer is the baritone, Stephen Varcoe, the pianist, Clifford Benson. The introduction is me.

George Butterworth was born in 1885, was educated at Eton and Oxford and studied at the Royal College of Music. He was part of the Folksong Revival movement, as a song collector and an enthusiastic dancer (there survives a very short film of him Morris dancing). When war broke out in 1914, as Peter Pirie says ‘it gave him something to do. No-one near him in the army suspected he was interested in music, and he was killed in the Battle of the Somme on 5th August 1916.’
A.E. Housman’s collection of poems ‘A Shropshire Lad’ was published in 1896; Butterworth’s setting dates from 1911.

Loveliest of trees
When I was one-and-twenty
Look not in my eyes
Think no more,lad
The lads in their hundreds
Is my team ploughing? 

Rudi Stephan grew up in the Rhineland city of Worms: he was born there in 1887. He studied in Frankfurt, and following performances of orchestral works at the Festival of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Muskiverein he was hailed as a leading light among the younger generation of German composers. His only opera had just been accepted for performance in 1915 when he volunteered for action. He was killed by a Russian sniper’s bullet in September of that year.
Waldnachmittag   (Woodland Afternoon) (composed 1906)

The peace of Sunday lies over the land: you and I rest beneath a leafy roof. Birds sing sleepily; a sweet breathing silence goes its evening way. The sun dapples the ground, deer graze. Distant hymns tell of love and pain, and the darkling soul quivers at its transience. – words by Maurice Reinhold von Stern.

Memento vivere  (Remember to live) (first draft 1908, final version 1913)

I rode through the dark, silent as sad as night, thinking of the few friends I had on earth, and of those already under the earth. Then a ghostly voice called from the dark mountain: ‘Man, enjoy life today, for tomorrow you go to your grave!’ Was it a shepherd boy singing? I do not know, but it filled my soul with fear. Once I heard those words from a brother’s lips: now he lies in the cold ground. – words by Friedrich Hebbel.


William Denis Browne, born 1888, was educated at Rugby and Clare College Cambridge,
where he was later organ scholar. He was a close friend of Rupert Brooke, who was next door at King’s. Browne studied under Charles Wood and Busoni; he taught for a while before he and Brooke were commissioned together. Brooke died en route to the Dardanelles, where Browne died in action on 4th June 1915

To Gratiana Dancing and Singing – to words of Richard Lovelace (1618-1657)

See! with what constant motion
Even, and glorious, as the sun,
Gratiana steers that noble frame,
Soft as her breast, sweet as her voice
That gave each winding law and poise,
And swifter than the wings of Fame.

Each step trod out a lover's thought
And the ambitious hopes he brought,
Chain'd to her brave feet with such arts;
Such sweet command, and gentle awe,
As when she ceas'd, we sighing saw
The floor lay pav'd with broken hearts.

So did she move; so did she sing
Like the harmonious spheres that bring
Unto their rounds their music's aid;
Which she performed such a way,
As all th' enamoured world will say:
The Graces danced, and Apollo play'd.

Note by the composer: ‘the melody on which the accompaniment is founded is that of an anonymous Allmayne in Elizabeth Rogers’ Virginal Book (17th century)’

Niall Hoskin (Tenor) was in Clare College Choir, Cambridge. He sings in oratorio and recitals, and has now reached the stage where his operatic roles are daddies and baddies. He has done title roles from Orfeo to Don Giovanni, Falstaff to the Mikado. Future oratorio includes Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, Brahms’ German Requiem and Vaughan Williams’Dona nobis pacem. Next year he will be singing in Bath Opera’s Peter Grimes and Bristol Opera’s The Rake’s Progress

Steven Hollas (piano) read music and history of art at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He teaches piano, mainly at St. Lawrence School, accompanies Bath Minerva Choir and Cantamus Choir, plays harpsichord and organ for the Paragon Singers and Bradford Baroque Band. He very much enjoys accompanying singers, especially on historic pianos of various periods.

Edna Blackwell

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