(Repeated from February 2012)
Intro: In Freezing Winter Night, Britten
This is Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme is of winter music and was researched and written by Mike Burrows We have just heard In Freezing Winter Night from A Ceremony of Carols for three--part treble voices and harp by Benjamin Britten. This is Winter standing all about one: everywhere one looks, the frost bareness, a merciless beauty. Our earth is cold; yet the Christmas story of birth and rebirth in love warms deep in one’s soul; we need never lose it. Wonder is in the frost whiteness as in the white fire of remote stars. Is this one’s everyday world? In awe, two boys’ voices move in canon, a third moving with the frost-feeling accompaniment. This music was written in a cabin on a neutral Swedish freighter crossing the Atlantic, as Britten returned tardily to Britain from the United States in 1942. Minus its generator-hum, a nearby refrigeration compartment perhaps aided his imagination... The stiller and sparer it becomes, the more brittle the human mind is made by winter: and yet, we have the Christmas story; this time of seeming frozen stasis is the illusion. If much sleeps or shivers, Spring is gathering its force under it all, merely in wait. From John Playford’s English Dancing Master of 1651, and words written later for broadsheet-sale, here’s All Hail To The Days (To Drive The Cold Winter Away).
Track Two: All Hail To The Days (To Drive The Cold Winter Away) Trad
This is Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was written by Mike Burrows. Its theme is Winter.
Gian-Francesco Malipiero was a lonely figure among the Generation of The Eighties - 1880s, that is. His style was personal: he was capable of close musical reasoning, a brilliant sense of instrumental colour in combination, but held to no one system of any aspect of music, save instinct. His music harks back to pastoral and courtly Italy, and forward into regions that are not for nostalgia or the musically faint-hearted.
It can be frankly illustrative of early music, birdsong, bells - or harsh, terse and distorted, and working progressions of thought through regardless of who can follow. Here is the fourth partita of his Sinfonia Dello Zodiaco, which begins in chant and strict, four-part canon! It is in three movements, for this Sinfonia is in twelve subdivisions - one each for the zodiacal signs - and divided equally into four ‘Partite’ - Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... The composer denied us the crutch of a detailed programme: what programme there was was, he said, not to be told. The Sinfonia was written in 1951. For its social context, the postwar period in Italy was a time of great bitterness, of the settlings of scores arising from the Fascist regime and its ruinous involvement in the Axis cause, an era of poverty, unemployment and the Marshall Plan. American aid in funds and food-parcels had as much to do with support for the Left in Italy as with the privations and sufferings of a defeated nation. In the 69 year-old Malipiero’s complex vision of Winter, there appears to be no place for hope, though there are moments of fleeting beauty and consonance. It The Partita and Sinfonia end in cruel, growling discord. Perhaps, as Thomas Hardy put it,
“If a way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.’
Tracks Three to Five: Sinfonia Dello Zodiaco, Winter, Malipiero
A near-contemporary of Caplet and Ravel, and taught by Vincent D’Indy at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, Deodat De Severac was a composer of the Languedoc in Southern France. His output was largely of character--pieces descriptive of everyday life in this distinct region named after 1the language of its people, Oc. Here is a movement from his Georgic Suite, Le Chant De La Terre, or The Song of The Land. Les Semailles, The Sowings - of seed. In Winter, we think of - and look forward to - Spring.
Track Six: Le Chant De La Terre. Les Semailles, de Severac
To see a light moving on the ground in winter darkness is to wonder who carries it, where And why. It is one of the memorable images from long winter nights, when wits are sharpened and curiosity excited that much more strongly, or when we are tired and reflective, the cold slowing our minds so that we take time to watch and think. There can be thoughts of threat; who would be walking abroad on a night like this?
For the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the lantern that moves along the night and that interests our eyes is the light of soul. In his late choral and orchestral work based on Hopkins’ poetry, Inscape, Edmund Rubbra set this idiosyncratic sonnet in a nocturne of some gravity.
“Men go by me whom either beauty brightIn mould or mind or whatnot else makes rare.
They rain against our much -thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite...”
Hopkins cannot help them, ultimately as out of sight is out of mind; but Christ minds,
“Their ransom, their rescue, and first, last, fast friend.”
Rubbra’s setting seems, aptly, to grow out of chant; the harp has an important, though sparely speaking role, heard bell-like and intermittently against other sombre colours of accompaniment.
Track Seven: Inscape, 2nd Movt, Rubbra
A song by Ivor Gurney, now, I will Go With My Father A-Ploughing. The words are by the Irish poet, Joseph Campbell. There is a wild quality to melody and harmonies - in Gurney’s musical vocabulary, they could be Celtic or Northern: a similar quality informs his songs On Black Stitchel (a poem with Northumbrian setting), and The Fiddler of Dooney (setting Yeats). This song has a tragic significance. Gurney’s Father, a Gloucester tailor, was his hero, and had lately died; Dad, of all his relatives, had understood and admired his musical talent and ambition: he had died during Gurney’s troubles after discharge from the Army, before he had so much as seen his son’s music in print...
Track Eight: I Will Go With My Father A-Ploughing
The poor are always with us, as the scriptures have it. For some, there is a simple explanation. However unwelcome their attentions, however greedy and cruel they become in pursuit of other people’s fair shares; however many lives are broken or ended to provide that last refinement of power and luxury - the rich, too, are always with us. A folksong now, a carol: Cold Winter is Come. Let’s not tolerate its message. ‘A time to remember the poor’ is an institution in default of refusing at any time to regard poverty as social justice. The person or persons who composed it have earned no posthumous fame, owing to his or their class. An enlightened professional recorded it in 1891, before it, too, could die.
Track Nine: Cold Winter Is Come, Trad
Here’s a sonnet on Winter, written and read by Mike Burrows:
What comes down on the world is not held backBy words, and protests remind of others –
Others when mankind was less far off-track,
That were demeaning enough. Earth mothers
The dead as well as she does the living –
If anything, hugs the dead with more ease,
The uncomplaining dead to whom giving
And taking go deep beneath clay and freeze.
Below the living root they have to lie:
The poor man lies below the conduit
Of available wealth, and his sad sigh
Or rage is a matter of unspirit
To the soulless for whom those sacrificed
Are dwarfed by wealth as by the tree of Christ.
That last sprinkle of gold dust on a one-k-snifter as the world goes bust is a particular pleasure and acquired taste. Local charity replaces the Welfare State,the poor have no cultural ambitions nor skills, no worthy hopes in life, only the dignity of work that they don’t choose. Off waltz public amenities and common humanity and the rich do rather well - 60 Billion last year alone added to the assets of a thousand people now ‘worth’ between them nearly £400 Billion... Those who cut, close and sell off our inheritance at will, and those who cost the country over £100 Billion pounds in lost tax-revenues each year, and Billions more in expropriation-contracts, evidently think winter smiles on local charity and ‘austerity’... The relevance to music in this is who writes, performs, criticizes and broadcasts the art-music of tomorrow? Who grows up sufficiently in this atmosphere of falsehood and denial to create or assist creation in a rich tradition of a thousand years, the phenomenon of mankind’s musical communicativeness? As music-charities scrabble for a scatter of pennies, children from less well-off backgrounds, it seems, have no entree and need not apply, as most outlets and institutions concerned in musical development close or raise their fees and we return to the days of the common man’s carol we have just heard - of two nations, two musics. A composer once watched people as they took their seats in one of our opera-houses and said, “Music starves, but the wealthy could live for months on the fat between their ears.” Let’s hear Winter Wakeneth All My Care from John Rutter’s choral song-cycle with orchestral accompaniment, When Icicles Hang.
Track Ten: Winter Wakeneth All My Care, Rutter
Here’s another song by Gurney. It sets a poem by Edward Thomas. Snow is a brief portrayal of a little girl’s thoughts as she plays in the snow. The little girl in question was the poet’s younger daughter, Mywanwy. A strange, dream-like epiphany of universal suffering is treated with fugitive strokes as in a sketch. The after-impression is of sensitivity and kindness: the human warmth that snow cannot pretermit. Gurney loved children and shared their games, preoccupations and humour with genuine enjoyment. Edward Thomas was a less certain companion, oversensitive, afraid of derision and often simply impatient; there is a stressed unease in his words: you might say that in his anxiety to be truthful and avoid sentimentality, he could not find the way back to being young. He would have been surprized and made sadder to know how his children loved and looked up to him...
Track Eleven: Snow, Gurney
From snow to The Snowdrop, a song for female choir and orchestra from 1909-10, by the late romantic Russian composer, Alexander Grechaninov.
Track Twelve: Snow-drop, Grechaninov
Born into a highly musical family in Whitchurch in Shropshire, Edward German began as a composer mainly of symphonic and orchestral works and incidental music for the theatre, but in middle life became a successful tunesmith in light opera, regarded as a successor to Sullivan at the Savoy Theatre. Rather dead-headed criticism by George Bernard Shaw and other commentators had deterred him from more ambitious work, suggesting that his style was too theatrical! The tragedy of German is very English. ‘Successful’, he wound up confessing, “To tell the truth, I’m afraid to write anymore, they would only laugh at me...” A scrap of paper found among his last effects stated, “I die a disappointed man because my serious works have not been recognised...” To put his real talents into perspective, it’s believed that Elgar enjoyed his music more than that of any other contemporary. The trick is to listen to what German composed: it is obvious that he was a progenitor of most of our tradition of ‘British Light Music’ in the 20th Century, but if the imitations are discounted, he can be heard as Elgar heard him, as a fresh, cosmopolitan voice influenced by French and Russian rather than Teutonic models. His sound owes something to his Welsh blood (and the Welsh hymn-tradition), and the Marchlands in which he grew up, but nothing to the music of British academicians. Written for the Leeds Festival in 1899, The Suite, The Seasons, is a Symphony in all but name. The finale, Winter, is written in sonata--form, and is a stirring juxtaposition of a solemn hymn and brilliant tarantella, developed and combined at the close with Tchaikovskian fervour; the movement’s qualities are not a million miles from those of early Sibelius.
This was Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM. 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. Thanks go to associate producer, Miss Suvi Burrows, aged eight, who requested the Edward German! Goodbye!
Track Twelve: Winter from The Seasons, German (
This script was edited and two pieces – Snow by Ivor Gurney and Snow-drop by Alexander Grechaninov – left out owing to lack of time! The sonnet was written while the programme was being put together and was retained.