CB 81 Bells (Rpt)
Intro 1: Voluntary for Organ, MJ Burrows
(Froso Church, Jamtland, Sweden)
Intro 2: Carillon by Sibelius - Kallion Kirkon Kallot - Bells of Kallio Church
Hello and welcome to Classical Break on Somer Valley FM. I’m Mike Burrows.
Introduced by a Carillon written for Kallio Church by Sibelius, today’s programme has the theme of bells in music.
Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942) and born in Sweden was a composer of wide accomplishment whose cause was perhaps not best served by his day job of music critic. His acidulous reviews earned him at least one public boxing of the ears and he was as much despised as feared. When one comes to his own music the picture is a lot more interesting. He wrote piano pieces inspired by and on a par with Grieg’s and symphonies and incidental music that repay attention. He lacked originality rather than a good style, and chose his models with real self-knowledge. At least one of his Symphonies, the Third, Same Ätnam or Lapland should be well-known.
Our first piece today is one from his first book of Flowers of Frösö which were lyric pieces associated with life at his country home, Sommerhagen. Vid Frösö Kyrka. At Frösö Church.
Track One: Peterson Berger: Vid Frösö Kyrka.
Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) was a Modernist in modern times. He was not wholly uncritical of the German and Austrian composers who dominated the Modernist movement, while despising the contemporary domination of Italian music by modish composers of verismo opera, men like Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo, who saw themselves as heirs of Verdi. He worked as a teacher, a thorough-going editor of the music of long-forgotten Italian composers, polyphonists and instrumentalists including Monteverdi and Vivaldi, while developing his own quite individual and often bafflingly complex style. He was in some ways a forerunner of Post-Modernism, mixing idioms ancient and modern and also writing symphonies that defy any conventional analysis and whose moods are often the only thread holding them together. Famous and successful among international groupings of composers, he felt unappreciated at home although he rose to some eminence; his maturity coincided with the rise of Fascism and he had a poor and bitter relationship with the Party, where he was sometimes found embarrassing to the cause and at other times too independent-minded; very probably his talent and aesthetic were not understood by the Leader who was always right, let alone many of Mussolini’s court, and he was an unreliable sycophant.
Although the plum jobs and commissions never came his way, his reputation suffered greatly by his association with the regime. His Third Symphony is entitled Of The Bells. It was written in reaction to the occupation of Italy by Nazi troops after the fall of Mussolini’s government and Italy’s aligning herself with the Allies. To him, bells symbolised an eternal power against which earthly tyranny could do nothing, as in much else in his life he defeated his temporal despair by a faith in religious or aesthetic tradition. He was a very strange - or normal - kind of Modernist for the times. Let’s hear the third movement, a Scherzo, marked Vivace or Lively.
Track Two: Malipiero: Symphony No 3, ‘Delle Compane’.
Now, a Breton Adaptation for choir of a Russian folksong, Une Cloche Dans Le Matin. A sleigh-bell is heard... We leave off everything to sing a song in the wind - wait for the noise of black horses who long for the gallop. It is a choir of a million voices on the wind, the song of those who can only dream of being riders. The sun will return, the spring will bloom again. The bell heard in the night is the song of until we meet again - it dies in the distance more completely than songs in the wind...
Track Three: Folksong: Une Cloche Dans Le Matin.
This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Mike Burrows. The theme of today’s programme is of bells in music.
William Alwyn (1905-1985), a writer and painter as well as composer, wrote music in many genres and is most famous for his film music. He was an under-appreciated symphonist, writing five symphonies, a sinfonietta and numerous concertante pieces. For his Fifth Symphony he wrote a short work taking its inspiration but no programme from Sir Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia, a favourite work on ancient customs of urn-burial. The finale is perhaps the most arresting section of the piece which seems a bitter expression of mortality and as such dominated by a representation of tolling bells in the brass. Building from a quiet opening, this is a more concise and affecting movement perhaps than Holst’s Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, certainly it is colder and crueller and rises to a paradoxically strong, keening protest only for a dying fall of acceptance to find reconciliation a benignant influence. It seems that fear or grief has nowhere else to run but down. They have travelled a via dolorosa; or perhaps we have witnessed the rites of burial of Celtic or Roman Britain, a lonely procession, final tributes of tears and ululation, and interment. The scoring warms, the violins and brass, which have been so powerful, pass with the soul’s fear and striving after survival - or grief at an unbearable loss. In the consolatory thought of returning to the earth from which one came, there is something as warm as the sun. The very terseness of this movement provides its close with real, hard-won room for pathos and pity, the sections of the orchestra interplaying at last and at something like peace - catharsis of terror and pity occurs; the tragedy is over, its crimes forgiven, its misfortunes understood with humanity and accepted - and forms only a part of the Symphony’s claim on one’s memory.
Track Four: William Alwyn: Symphony Number Five, Hydriotaphia, Finale.
Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote a Symphony, The Bells, based on a poem by Poe, but his output is haunted by the deep and tinny jostling of Orthodox bells - like its znamenniy, or chant, a symbol of the Church’s Byzantine traditions of ritual - from his teenage C-sharp Prelude to his last, greatest work, the Symphonic Dances. There is something wild, uncontrolled and yet unrelenting about this sound: one might almost think of it as a nightmare for overworked pianists, which the young Rachmaninoff certainly was from an unconscionably early age! As summons to or signal of liberation - or New Life - after, highly stipulative observance, it is not to be ignored or subsumed in secular life. It dins itself into one’s consciousness in joy or merciless clangour, hope or condemnation. Something of the fixity of its purpose is caught in the fourth of his Etude-Tableaux for Two Pianos, Opus Five, written when he was eighteen and a student at Moscow Conservatoire.
The twice-played chant, Christ Is Risen is accompanied by an ostinato from the belfry. Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, an expert in Orthodox music, was impressed by the piece at a perfomance given in the home of Beleiev, the important publisher. He was impressed, with the proviso that the bells-figuration wearied the ear as never still; perhaps reserved for the repetition of the chant it would be more effective. Rachmaninoff shrugged. “’I was very stuck-up back then,’” he later wrote, “and I simply said, “Why,when in life it always comes together with the bells?!’ And I never changed a note.”
Track Five: Rachmaninoff: Etude Tableau, Opus Five, Number Four, Paques (Easter)
According to Balinese lore, improvisatory Indonesian gong-music, gamelan, may have had its origins in Japan. It is based on traditional elements - led by double-headed drum, played on a mixed ensemble of large and small gongs, metallaphones - a kind of glockenspiel made up of metal bars - other drums, stringed and even blown instruments, in complex yet insistent time composed of several individual rhythms and melodies; there is no display of ego, the improvization a blend, conflicting or fitting according to what it accompanies in dance or spoken theatre - one genre accompanies all-night productions! - at work or at village- and family-festivities. It is not a music of academic harmonic, tonal relations or formal balance as they were once understood in the West and must at first have seemed utterly primitive and alien to the crowds who witnessed performances at Exhibitions in Europe in the late Nineteenth Century, but since, it has become an influence on Classical musicians as far apart as Debussy and the Reichian minimalists, and on jazz- and popular music.
Gamelan has a number of forms and instrumental variations of its own, all with terms, down to the use of particular kinds of hard- and soft-headed stick, and has distinct Courtly and rural styles.
Here is Puspa Wresti, which accompanies a ritual dance - as offerings are brought to a shrine.
Track Six: Gamelan, Puspa Wresti
Claude Debussy wrote La Cathedrale Engloutie, The Engulfed Cathedral as the tenth of his first Book of Preludes, completed in Nineteen Ten, when he was forty-eight. Rather than with keys, he headed these pieces with highly symbolic, not to say self-conscious, subtitles, a daring innovation as recently as the age of Stravinsky and Schoenberg. These are - he would sneeringly have said - ‘impressions’ for imbeciles, and what he would prefer to call ‘realities’, poetic in the Baudelairian sense of ‘correspondances’ between the Arts rather than easy evasions of the conventional, clearly-hewn walk through the twenty-four keys. Innovation is not the only aim. New, valid expression of the spiritual joint-relationship between images, poetry, music and life itself, between conscious Art and the eternal beauty and truth that are veiled by what we more or less take for real. They leave classical harmony far behind, influenced by Russian whole-tone and Balinese Gamelan-music, but are no less complex and skilfully-made for that: as a dandyish student, he had enjoyed improvizing before lectures for his classmates at the Paris Conservatoire, his harmonic progressions shamelessly undoctrinaire on the professorial piano on which would be played examples from the approved piece analysed during the lecture!
On a solitary Breton bay, amid sounds of the upper world and highly coloured waves the body of a cathedral, ruined or by some miracle, whole, is pictured in the reverberance of deep, solemn bells, which rises to its loudest and fades into silence, tantalizing those who have ears to hear them for a few short minutes and may never hear them again: can one imagine the holiness made of a proud cathedral lost forever to the ultimate otherness of the sea, now that the bells are mute...?
Perhaps music paints and verbalizes something of this.
Track Seven: Debussy: Preludes, First Book, No 10, La Cathedral Engloutie
In most Christian National cultures, the driving off of evil or the otherworld of earthbound spirits can be achieved by the sound of Church-bells. Our next piece illustrates this phenomenon. Everyone knows In The Hall of The Mountain King, by Edvard Grieg, characterized by him as a piece of cow-dung, so ultra-Norwegian Nationalist in tone that he couldn’t bear to hear it. It is a number from his incidental music to Peer Gynt, the most inspired shaggy dog-story told in verse by modern man.
The peasant, Peer, is an irresponsible dreamer descended from a once-wealthy family of the same. His vain, idle life of tall tales, more filled with stretchers than any medical man’s, is plunged into existentialist drama when he abducts a not exceptionally reluctant girl who is about to be married. After ruining and leaving her on the mountain-side, he encounters three cow-herdesses with meadow-morals, and after this runs his head against a rock; after which, he meets the Woman In Green. He rides off to her home with her on a pig. She turns out to be the daughter of the Dovre-Gubben - the King, literally, the Gaffer of the Trolls.
He likes their complacent motto - it could be his - Unto thyself be...enough, but after entertainment, he refuses to scratch his eye out and wear a tail in order to see the world as the huldra-folk do and thus be fit to marry a troll. This is unfortunate. The trolls pursue him from their hall shouting, “Slaughter him!”.
At the height of this action, church bells are heard and they cause the hall to collapse in unholy confusion and cacophony - in the panic, he escapes. For now. His life of travel and a long, empty search for his soul is just beginning.
There is a menace and malicious energy to Grieg’s music that gives the unanswerable lie to all who believe his incidental music to be sweet and sentimental, or its writer to have been any less daring in his chosen field than was his dramatist in his. Peer Gynt Chased By the Trolls.
Track Eight: Grieg: Incidental Music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Peer Gynt Chased By the Trolls.
Our last track is one I remember from childhood and the B-side of a forty-five that redeemed whatever Side A was. It is by Ronald Binge, (1910-1979), a composer of light music which reminds one of the truth of Tchaikovsky’s remark that there is no light music, only good or bad music.Sailing By, Elizabethan Serenade, The Watermill, Inamorata, Autumn Dream were once well-known. Cornet Carillon has been a staple of Christmas brass-band programmes for many years, and with good reason. It is quiet, beautifully-written in its simplicity and not for trolls. To write good music in any idiom is given to few composers; this is a masterly airing of scale-phrases and common chords ending on a final bluesy discord - the perfect cadence, given that bells are hypnotic in their resonance, a matter of partials, overtones and undertones, each bell emitting a jumble of notes, and can clash with a quiet sweetness as strange and memorable as any New Year’s Eve full peal heard from the standpoint of those pulling on the sallies.
This was Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, presented by Mike Burrows. I hope you liked this programme and will join me for the next. Cheers.
Track Nine: Ronald Binge: Cornet Carillon
Play-out Track: Musette Francaise for church organ, MJ Burrows