Friday, 5 September 2014

The Sea 6 & 7 September

This programme is a repeat from June 2010
Classical Break :  The Sea

Hullo, welcome to Classical Break on Somer Valley FM.  I’m Mike Burrows.

Today, we are going to hear music inspired by the sea, and we’ll begin with a justly very famous song.

 John Ireland, who was born in 1879 and died in 1962, was fated to compose many works that have not found acceptance on terms other than cold admiration of his technique, which was considerable, and irritation at his inability to meld the various influences on his style and so speak consistently for himself, which was more considerable still.

Though successful as a musician’s musician and teacher, he felt bitterly his lack of public success.  Yet   in this perfect setting of a poem by John Masefield, Sea-fever, he achieved that most elusive thing, a popular masterpiece. 

Track 1 John Ireland:  Sea Fever

This is Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM.  And next in our programme of works inspired by the sea, we turn to Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953).  From the outset of his career, Bax wrote ambitious orchestral and chamber works characterized by a brilliant talent for instrumentation in addition to an as-enviable talent in cultivation of a late romantic symphonic style.  Descended from English Quakers, he was  fascinated by Celtic folklore, and, sympathetic with the cause of Irish Independence, even wrote poems and short stories under an Irish pseudonym!  His life-long, he was inspired also by the Atlantic in its many moods.  Tintagel was written in 1917 in Cornwall where its thirty-four year-old composer was spending six weeks holiday with his lover, the young pianist Harriet Cohen, for whom he would leave his  wife and children.  He had returned from Dublin only because War had broken out and since then, a number of his Dublin friends had been shot for their part in the 1916 Easter Uprising.

Quotation of the Sick Tristan motif  from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde relates the piece to Arthurian legend and the conflicts caused by a passionate affair, but is placed within a score that, beginning in an evocation of sea-birds wheeling and calling above the gaunt ruined castle and brilliant, high-running sea in Summer, draws one into a drama of the elements, nature and a man’s restless but uncompromizing spirit.  A drama, too, of love.  Bax once claimed to be ‘a brazen romantic’ and to have no time for ‘isms’ in music, but even if you have never seen or felt Tintagel, the place, hearing his Tintagel, the word that comes to mind as you listen may be idealism.    

Track 2 Arnold Bax:  Tintagel

That was Tintagel, a tone-poem by Sir Arnold Bax and not the last work that he would  dedicate to Harriet Cohen, his beloved Tania.

The Australian, Percy Grainger, 1882-1961, was at first primarily a pianist.  Frankfurt-trained, he was inspired by the example and friendship of the Norwegian, Edvard Grieg.

His compositions were mined from his own peculiar temperament and energy in addition to his deep study of folk-music in England, America, the South Seas and elsewhere - like Bartok, he recorded singers and players in order to notate their tunes with becoming accuracy, and delighted in scoring and rescoring his folk-based work to recreate not only the music but also the ‘atmosphere’, the unique, idiosyncratic nature of realistic performance and make-up of choirs and instrumental groups!

He pioneered the use of poly--rhythms and ‘elastic scoring’ to this end. 

This arrangement of Scottish folk-tunes -Strathspey and Reel  - What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor counterpointed - is art-music that expresses uniquely something of music-making in context - in the bar of a dockside pub or confines of the foc’sle.  Grieg would have been fascinated by it.  (1 m 32)

Track 3 Grainger:  Strathspey and Reel 

Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) was for many years a pianist-accompanist and conductor of the front rank in British music.

He was also a fine composer and wrote amongst other things two extraordinary Tone poems on Irish Legend, With The Wild Geese, and The Children of Lir.

We are going to hear an extract from The Children of Lir, an unaccountably neglected masterpiece by a great musician.

Towards the end of his life, suffering from terminal cancer and on holiday in Ireland, he saw a tapestry treatment of this strange story, in which the children of a king are ransformed by a curse into swans and doomed to rest for three hundred years on a lake near their old home, three hundred years in the stormy wastes of the Sea of Moyle and three hundred years off a group of islands.

The piece is as much of legend, coast and sea as isTintagel.  It requires a large orchestra and, in one place, soprano-vocalise, for performance, and lasts for about half-an-hour in one continuous movement carefully divided into chapters of the story.

The idiom is less fluent or modern than Bax’s, more openly influenced by the previous generation, composers such as Tchaikovsky, and of the generation before that, particularly Berlioz - Harty’s speciality as a conductor was music of this stamp.  The scoring is coarser and bolder, instruments are more obviously confined to customary roles.  The Irish accent of Harty’s music, a matter of speech-rhythms and familiar turns of synthetic folk-melody, is surprizingly well-reconciled with the idiom of these models.

Let’s hear Calm Seas and Blue Skies.   

Track 4 Hamilton Harty:  The Children of Lir - Poem for Orchestra:  Calm Seas and Blue Skies

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was born in 1852 and died in 1924.  He wrote prolifically in every genre of Art-music and was also the foremost teacher of composition and an important festival-administrator in the England of his day.

His music was often performed abroad - his Third Symphony, the Irish, was presented by Mahler, amongst others.  He  wrote seven symphonies, several concertos, six Irish Rhapsodies, chamber music, many operas, cantatas, much liturgical music, including Anglican Services, songs and other pieces, including parodies of ‘modern’ music, which he regarded as ‘damned ugly, me bhoy’.

We will hear the opening song from Songs of The Fleet.  This cycle, his second dealing with the patriotic British nautical tradition, was once highly popular, like its predecessor, Songs of The Sea, a staple work for choral festivals, concert-recitals, and in piano-reduction, home-performance and early recording.  In its original form, it is a demonstration in full of his choral, orchestral technique, in which vivid melody, rich harmony, dovetailing and scoring all play their part.  In its inspired and inspirational tone, it is simply the expression of sailors’ feelings on leaving port, as the latest representatives of the breed of sailors who ‘Lead the line’ and face both the sea and battle, today.  As such, it could express the pride to be taken in any courageous endeavour - in life itself.  Here it is:  Sailing at Dawn. 

Track 5 Stanford:  Sailing at Dawn from Songs of the Fleet

The American, Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) wrote for many films. His best score before Hitchcock called by was written for Joseph L Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs Muir, the story of a young widow who goes to live by the sea and takes a cottage once owned by an old sea-captain, whose ghost haunts her and who becomes the love of her life.  As the author of Blood and Swash, the tale of her captain’s life at sea, she meets and falls in love with a philanderer.  In the film, the ghost effaces himself with a powerful speech made to her as she lies sleeping.

The cue that we shall hear accompanies this: in the course of Farewell, we hear many of the leading-motives of the soundtrack.  The mixture is much as before:  light - but not easy - textures involve the high woodwind or violins, and dark and impassioned or less certain moments are conjured up by deeper strings, bassoon and brass.  The brass is usually reserved for expressing storm and stress or - utilising the French horn - romantic warmth.  Above all, the music is touching because impressionistic, harmonically complex, notes constantly qualifying straightwardness; it remains music independent of the images it accompanies, but almost feels its way in life as must even ghosts. 

Captain Gregg talks of her situation,  the wonderful places of his travels,  which they will now never experience together - she will forget him or think of their association as a dream.  The passion in the speech at last appears to gust - but be cut off by the futility of talking of all they have both missed:  she has made her choice - life.  The ebb and flow of the tide is ever-present, the swell and undertow of the sea are as powerful a force as the pull of human attraction is irresistible - whether reciprocated or not - and as merciless.  

Track 6 Bernard Herrmann:  The Ghost and Mrs Muir:  Farewell

We return to Hamilton Harty, to hear the last section of The Children of  Lir, which describes how the bewitched are rescued by an island hermit after their nine centuries of wandering, only to age and die on being christened.  The stillness at that point is that which one feels on coming indoors out of the stormy sea-air, still feeling a humming of the wind in one’s ears, hardened coldness of face and dry brightness of vision.  A bardic peroration of varied scoring builds and subsides stoically with the lonely, resolving sound of a holy bell. The brusque fanfare with which the piece ends rings out much as in the beginning, but with finality.       

Track 7 Hamilton Harty:  The Children of Lir - Poem for Orchestra:  Transformation, Baptism and Death

So we reach our final work for today.  The Finn, Uuno Klami, was born in 1900.  Over-shadowed as all contemporary Finnish musicians were by the international reputation of Sibelius, it was perhaps out of an instinct for artistic self-preservation that Klami looked to the France of Ravel and Les Six, and to Stravinsky for his influences, though the undertow of folksong and Sibelius meant that he did not entirely avoid imitation of the great man, or at least found no means of his own of creating a new national style or content in his brittle, less consistently-inventive music.  Written for the most part between 1930-31, in the conducive surroundings of his coastal birthplace, the six numbers of the orchestral Suite, Sea Pictures were originally intended for a Sea Symphony.  As a skilled sailor, he intended the last movement Force Three, to convey not the appearances of the open sea, but  the feelings of sailing with a Force Three wind behind one!  The result, one might say, culminates in something akin to Bolero In The Finnish Gulf, but even Ravel’s Bolero a work first heard by Klami not long before, was a little--known modern work once, and reminiscences of it would not have seemed so obvious in the 1930s.

Really, the resemblance does Force Three no great harm, being carried off almost as well as Bax’s slighter though perhaps more appropriate quotation from Tristan und Isolde in his Tintagel, which we heard earlier!

You have been listening to Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, We hope that you have enjoyed our programme and that we’ll have your company again soon.  This is Mike Burrows casting off with ForceThree, by Uuno Klami.  

Track 8 Uuno Klami, Sea Pictures, Last Movt, Force Three