Monday, 22 May 2017

Richard Masters plays ‘A John Ireland Recital’

Recently, the American pianist Dr Richard Masters brought to my attention his splendid 50-minute recital of piano music by John Ireland. And the good news is that it is available on YouTube.
Richard Masters website gives all his biographical information, details of repertoire, recitals, a selection of writings and several audio samples.

John Ireland (1879-1962)
Green Ways: I. The Cherry Tree II. Cypress III. The Palm and May (1937)
Piano Sonata (1918-1920)
‘Chelsea Reach’ (from London Pieces) (1917-20)
Ballade (1928-29)
Richard Masters (piano) [49:22]
Note: The Ballade and Chelsea reach were recorded at a live recital.

The works include some of my favourite Ireland pieces, including the relatively rarely heard ‘Green Ways’: Three Lyric Pieces which were composed in 1937. I guess that this work needs most introduction.
The first piece, ‘The Cherry Tree’ with its Housman-inspired title, is a little forlorn. ‘Loveliest of Trees’ was one of Ireland’s favourite poems. Rarely can a meditation on the transience of life have been presented with such concise, sad and fundamentally beautiful words. This is perfectly replicated in the music. It originally appeared in 1932 as ‘Indian Summer’ and was revised for publication as part of Green Ways.  For some reason, ‘The Cherry Tree’ was dedicated to Ireland’s legal advisor Herbert S. Brown; he was a talented amateur musician.
The second piece, ‘Cypress’, was dedicated to the composer’s accountant, Alfred Chenhalls. The cypress is associated with death, the underworld and mourning. It is often found in church graveyards. The music reflects Shakespeare’s words 'Come away, come away, death /And in sad cypress let me be laid'. (Twelfth Night, act ii scene iv). Ireland has created a suitably reflective piece. It was originally entitled ‘The Intruder’ which may mean that death intrudes upon life?
The last number of Green Ways is ‘The Palm and May’ which takes its title from a line by the English poet Thomas Nashe – ‘The Palm and the May make country houses gay’. I am not convinced that the music is quite as gay and happy as the title implies: there is certainly a touch of bitter-sweetness in these pages. It was dedicated to the pianist Harriet Cohen.
Masters approaches these three pieces with great compassion and thoughtfulness which echoes the varying, but largely melancholic mood of the music.

The most significant work on this YouTube recital is the impressive Piano Sonata (at around 9:16 on this recording). This hugely demanding work was composed between 1918 and 1920 and is one of the masterworks of the British (and World) piano repertoire. It is an immensely powerful sonata that requires deep interpretative skills and a strong technique. The basic temperament of this work is post-romantic, although there are moments of pure impressionism and even nods to Stravinsky. The pianism owes much to Brahms and Liszt, although the complex ‘added note’ harmonies are entirely Ireland’s creation.
John Ireland once said that the first movement of his Piano Sonata was about ‘life’, the second was ‘more ecstatic’ and the last was ‘inspired by a rough autumnal day on Chanctonbury Ring & [the] old British Encampment’.  I am not sure that the second movement is ‘ecstatic’ – to me it is introverted and thoughtful.
Any pianist tackling John Ireland’s Piano Sonata must appreciate the deep mysteries invoked in this work. These include the ‘supernatural’ impact of the author Arthur Machen on the composer with the references to Chanctonbury Ring.  
Richard Masters approaches this sonata with great style and understanding: all the facets of Ireland’s art are present here: ‘…the lyrical, the dramatic, the extrovert and the melancholy – the intense self-questioning and the open, almost naïve, avowals.’ (Colin Scott-Sutherland, ‘John Ireland: A Life in Music’, The John Ireland Companion. Boydell, 2011)

I had heard John Ireland’s evocative piano piece ‘Chelsea Reach’ some time before I first journeyed from Glasgow to London during the autumn of 1973. To my mind (at that time) this music summed up all that I imagined this Thames-side location represented. For the record, this ‘reach’ is the stretch of water between Chelsea Bridge and Battersea Bridge. It passes Battersea Park, the Royal Hospital and Cheyne Walk, where Vaughan William once lived. Ever since I first visited this part of the London, I have never been disappointed. It has remained one of my iconic places in London to explore, to enjoy a drink in and to simply appreciate. Richard Masters eloquently captures every nuance of ‘Chelsea Reach’.
The other two pieces (not played here) in the set of ‘London Pieces’ are thoroughly enjoyable too: ‘Ragamuffin’ is perhaps a little more of its time, however ‘Soho Forenoons’ is delightfully evocative of the atmosphere of that fascinating part of London -at almost any time in its history.

The Ballade for solo piano was composed around 1928. Although the narrative of the story is never revealed, it clearly reflects the Machen-esque mood of much of Ireland’s music.  It is a dark, lugubrious piece that is typically austere and uncompromising. There is little warmth in the near ten-minute duration.       After a slow opening, the music develops an intense idée fixee ‘a wild elemental climax [follows] in which one senses the participation of unearthly forces.’ (Christopher Palmer, Liner Notes Lyrita SRCD 2277). The final bars do give a sense of closure. This turmoil, intensity and tentative repose are well-controlled in this recording by Richard Masters.  

The pianist has told me that he thinks he is the only American pianist to have played an all-John Ireland recital. Without considerable historical investigation, I cannot prove him right or wrong. However, I feel that the truth is probably with Masters. Let us hope that he records many more pieces by John Ireland and his contemporaries (Farjeon, Livens et al). 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Twenty Pieces of Music evoking London

A listing of 20 pieces of music that are descriptive or evocative of London. I have presented the works in chronological order.
The geographical location has been stretched to include Hampton Court. Most of these works have been recorded, some many times. However, I understand that the Mackenzie and the Walford Davies are not [yet] available. Opportunity knocks?
With thanks to Lewis and Susan Foreman’s essential book, London: A Musical Gazeteer, Yale University Press, 2005) which acted as an excellent aide-memoire when I was writing this post.
The listener should note that there are plenty more pieces that I could have listed: perhaps a further 20 in a future post.

Edward Elgar: Cockaigne Overture (In London Town) (1900-1)
Alexander Campbell Mackenzie: London Day by Day Suite (‘Under the Clock’, ‘Merry Mayfair’, ‘Song of Thanksgiving’ and ‘Hampstead Heath’) (1902)
Ralph Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (1914/1920/1933)
George Dyson: In Honour of the City (1928)
John Ireland: Ballade of London Nights (1930)
Eric Coates: London Suite (‘Covent Garden’, ‘Westminster’, ‘Knightsbridge March’) (1933)
Eric Coates: London Again Suite (‘Oxford Street’, ‘Langham Place: Elegie’ and ‘Mayfair Valse’) (1936)
John Ireland: A London Overture (1936)
Henry Walford Davies: Big Ben Looks On: orchestral fantasy (1937)
Arnold Bax: A London Pageant (1937)
Haydn Wood: London Landmarks (‘Nelson’s Column’, ‘Tower Hill’, ‘Horse Guard’s Whitehall’) (1946)
Haydn Wood: London Cameos (‘The City’, ‘St James Park’ and ‘State Ball at Buckingham Palace’) (1947)
Haydn Wood: Snapshots of London (‘Sadler’s Wells’, ‘Regent’s Park’ and ‘Wellington Barracks’) (c.1948)
Cyril Watters: Piccadilly Spree (c.1953)
Montague Phillips: Hampton Court (1954)
Robert Farnon: Westminster Waltz (1956)
Phylis Tate: London Fields Suite (‘Springtime in Kew,' ‘Rondo for Roundabouts’, ‘Hampton Court – the Maze’ and ‘St James’s Park – a lakeside reverie’. (1958)
George Lloyd: Royal Parks -for brass band (1985)
Gordon Langford: London Miniatures (‘London Calls’, ‘Soho’, ‘Green Park’, ‘Trafalgar Square’, ‘The Cenotaph’ and ‘Horse Guard’s Parade’) (?)
Eric Ball: Kensington Concerto -for brass band (1972)


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Anthony Hedges: An Ayrshire Serenade, op.42 (1969)

I think I heard first Anthony Hedges's: An Ayrshire Serenade, op.42 on a Radio Three broadcast during my school holidays in 1972. The title appealed to me. As a Glaswegian, I was regularly taken to that fine county on day trips to the seaside. When I re-discovered the work on CD, I wondered how Anthony Hedges, born in Bicester, Oxfordshire (b.1931) and now a highly regarded ‘Hull composer’ ended up writing a delightful piece of music with all the freshness of a holiday on the Clyde Coast. I knew that he had written several ‘topographical pieces’ such as the evocative Humber Suite, the Kingston Sketches and the Breton Sketches. But why Ayrshire?  
The answer is Craigie College of Education, Ayr. This was a teacher training establishment which has subsequently merged to become one of the campuses of the University of the West of Scotland.  Hedges’s Serenade was commissioned by the college in 1969 and was first performed by the Ayrshire Symphony Orchestra in May 1971.  This amateur band was formed in 1920 and gave its first concert the following year. The orchestra is still going strong: their Spring Concert was held on 26 March (2017).

For anyone looking for ‘Scottish music’ in this Serenade, I think that they will be disappointed: there is barely a Scots snap to be heard. One reviewer has suggested that the work is based on three ‘local’ tunes: I am not convinced. The Serenade is evocative of this lovely county in an abstract way.
I have been fortunate to have explored Ayrshire from top to bottom and side to side. It is the Birthplace of Scotland’s great poet Robert Burns, as well as being a popular holiday destination. The scenery is varied: from the bleak Galloway Hills to the golf links near the sea, from the rich dairy farmland to the harbours of Troon and Ardrossan.  There are great houses, such as Culzean and Blairquhan Castles which demand to be explored.  Industry-wise, clearly farming is still important. Coal mining has disappeared; however, Prestwick Airport has attracted several aerospace companies. Golf is vital here too, with five of the United Kingdom’s top 100 courses within the county.

The opening, ‘allegro moderato’, of An Ayrshire Serenade is full of energy with a wayward tune and ‘unexpected harmonic twists and turns.’  It immediately sets the tone of the work. The second movement, ‘andantino’ is a sad and pensive little piece: the main burden of the music is given to a solo oboe, playing a wistful tune. Although written in the minor key the music ends on a positive, major chord. It is a lovely piece. Again, there is nothing particularly Scottish about this music.
The finale (Molto vivace) is full of all the verve of a traditional holiday by the sea. Ayrshire’s beaches at Troon, Largs (pebbles), Ayr, and Girvan are inviting for swimming (cold!), paddling, shrimping, beach games and sunshine – well, at least for some of summertime. Hedges has presented an tangible picture of all this excitement, even if the Ayrshire Coast was not in his mind.

Paul Conway (MusicWeb International) has written that ‘it is hard to find any evidence of programme music here but the composer's personality is stamped on every bar...’ Hence it does not major in misty dales, wide seascapes and local festivities. It is a piece of absolute music. 
The Gramophone (Ivan March, September 2000) suggests that the Serenade is ‘a most winningly lyrical triptych. It has an oboe solo for its centrepiece and a catchy, almost Walton-esque syncopated close.’
Ian Lace (MusicWeb International, June 2000) has written that Anthony Hedges' ‘An Ayrshire Serenade is a…vibrant and colourfully kaleidoscopic invention that takes the music on a longish journey, through many styles from its Scottish roots.’ Rob Barnett on the same website (May 2007) proposed that: ‘Hedges' Ayrshire Serenade…is not especially Scottish - more closely echoing the light and the dark of Ayr's scenery - some of it in Sibelian desolation - at least in the central movement. There is a touch of all-purpose English celebration in the finale but it's skilled and personable writing.’

The only recording of this work was released on British Light Music Discoveries, (ASV White Line, CD WHL 2126 in 1999.  The first movement can be heard on Anthony Hedges’s SoundCloud page. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Sir Thomas Beecham and Bax’s The Garden of Fand

I recently posted about an early version of Lennox Berkeley’s Divertimento recorded in 1948. Alec Robertson writing in The Year’s Work in Music, 1948-49 noted several works recorded under the auspices of the British Council. These included: Alan Bush’s ‘Dialectic’ for string quartet, Michael Tippet’s String Quartet No.2 in F sharp, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens for chorus and orchestra, the present Divertimento and Arnold Bax’s The Garden of Fand. This last piece was performed by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)

Alec Robertson wrote:
‘Bax’s Garden of Fand has for long been one of Sir Thomas Beecham’s favourite pieces; and to say that means we are likely to be given a superlative performance of it on records. This is indeed the case in his recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and those of us who heard Sir Thomas conduct the work at his seventieth birthday concert last May will feel glad that our friends overseas can hear his masterly interpretation of this romantic music.
The Garden of Fand is the sea, but, as the composer tells us on the score, the tone-poem has no special relation to the Celtic legend which inspired it. Bax adds that he seeks, in the earlier portion of the work, to create the atmosphere of an enchanted Atlantic completely calm beneath the spell of the Other World and he goes on to tell of the immense wave that tossed a boat and its occupants on to the shore of the Lady Fand’s miraculous island where they dance and feast. Then Fand sings her song of immortal love enchaining the hearts of her hearers for ever, and finally, we learn that the sea overwhelms the whole island and the human beings on it, while the immortals, like the Rhinemaidens in Götterdämmerung, laugh at the foolish mortals now lost in its depths. Twilight falls, and the sea subsides, and Fand’s garden fades out of sight.
The varied colours of the orchestration – which includes two harps, celesta, glockenspiel, and cymbals – are beautifully reproduced in this well-balanced recording, which is never too loud.’

Note:
Beecham’s 70th birthday concert was the second of two events: one held in Liverpool on 27 April 1949 and the other at the Royal Albert Hall on 2 May 1949. This latter concert, which was sponsored by the Daily Telegraph included, as well Bax’s The Garden of Fand, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No.35 ‘Haffner’ K.385, Frederick Delius’s Sea-Drift with Gordon Clinton (baritone) and the Luton Choral Society, Richard Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome, Jean Sibelius’s Tapiola, op.112 and Hector Berlioz’s Trojan March, from The Trojans. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Beecham. 

Sir Thomas Beecham had recorded Bax’s The Garden of Fand in London on 14 December 1947 at the No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London. The other work recorded that day was Richard Strauss’s Ein HeldenlebenFand was released on 78 rpm discs (HMV DB 6654-6655). Subsequent releases included LP EMI HQM 1165, ‘The Beecham Legacy, Volume 9’ (1968) and CD EMI CDM 7 63405 2. The most recent incarnation of this work would appear to be included in the EMI Sir Thomas Beecham English Music collection EMI CLASSICS 9099152.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Trevor Duncan: The Girl from Corsica

Leaning over the rail of the ship with a glass of chilled vin blanc in my hand, I slipped past the beautiful Corsican town of Bonifacio. This wonderfully sited village, high up on the cliffs at the southern end of Corsica is justly famous as a tourist attraction. I thought of Trevor Duncan’s idyllic short tone poem -The Girl from Corsica and wondered if this was where she came from? Out of interest, Bonifacio is the setting of Guy de Maupassant's macabre short story, ‘A Vendetta’ which is well worth reading. It certainly does not reflect the beauties of the Corsican coast...

Anecdotally, Trevor Duncan (real name Leonard Charles Trebilco 1924-2005) met a certain Mademoiselle on holiday one year. The history books do not tell us if the tryst took place in Corsica, the Auvergne where she lived or maybe even the Isle of Wight. Apparently, she was half-French, half-Corsican, but may herself have been on holiday in England. The relationship between them, so Duncan insisted, was ‘spiritual’ but it is obvious from even the least attentive hearing of the music that she made a considerable impression on him! The same lady inspired another wonderful tone-picture from Duncan’s pen, St Boniface Down. This work ‘celebrates a silent walk along the ridge of St. Boniface Down; it was followed by a beautiful correspondence for some weeks.’ I posted about this in June 2008.

The Girl from Corsica was composed around 1959 and is wistful work packed full of sultry and sensual beauty. Wherever Trevor Duncan met her, he has transposed the setting to the ‘sunny south.’ In fact, there is even a hint of North Africa about this music. So maybe, like Webster’s Dictionary, Duncan was Morocco-Bound when he met this bewitching young lady? The work ends ‘suspended on an unresolved chord’ so who knows what the true story really was?
The tune was used in the serial The Scarf, by Francis Durbridge (1959) which was a murder mystery. 

The Girl from Corsica has been recorded several times. A shortened version was made popular by Ron Goodwin in his Adventure Album issued in 1966. Guild Light Music Classics has issued it on The Golden Age of Light Music, A Trip to the Library, with The New Concert Orchestra conducted by Cedric Dumont (GLCD5164). The full version, a full minute and a half longer is available on Hyperion CA 67148 with Ronald Corp conducting The New London Orchestra. Another great recording is on the retrospective of Trevor Duncan’s music, performed by Andrew Penny and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra on Marco Polo 8.223517. Once again this is the long version. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Ronald Stevenson Piano Music: Volume 1: Kenneth Hamilton

I have never been a fan of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. It has just never appealed to me. Friends of mine would say that my problem is that I have never got beyond G&S’s The Pirates of Penzance and Iolanthe in my operatic tastes, and there may be some truth in that! On the other hand, I do recognise the importance of Grimes as ushering in a glorious new age of operatic endeavour in post-war (1945) Britain.  Ronald Stevenson has written: ‘Peter Grimes is the living conflict. His pride, ambition, and urge for independence fight with his need for love: his self-love battles against his self-hate…’
The basic contention of this Fantasy is the juxtaposition of quotations of storm music symbolising the aggression of the crowd with the haunting ‘Dawn Interlude’ to reflect the drowning of Grimes at sea in the early morning. The Fantasy is a microcosm of the entire opera, presented in just over seven minutes. Stevenson’s music is complex and demanding making use of a Lisztian thesaurus of technical devices.
I have always loved the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia arranged by Britten from the score. For me this is Peter Grimes in a digestible form. Ronald Stevenson’s Fantasy gives me another ‘take’ on this opera which I find equally satisfying.
The Peter Grimes Fantasy was composed in 1971 for the pianist Graham Johnson.

The Three Scottish Ballads (1973) are a little less troubling for the listener, in spite of the violent nature of some of the original texts. Stevenson selected two ballads included in Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3). The tunes he has sourced from elsewhere. The first is about Lord Randall who committed patricide at his mother’s bidding, whilst the ‘Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow’ is a tale of collusion, cowardice and murder. The final ‘ballad’ is based on ‘The Newhaven Fishwife’s Cry.’ Stevenson’s approach to these pieces is not to write a tone-poem on each ballad, but simply to transcribe the tune to give a general impression of the impact of the tale.

The Beltane Bonfire was commissioned by the Scottish International Piano Competition as a test piece for the 1990 competition. The work was completed in ‘early summer 1989’ and was first performed by Nigel Hutchinson in the Purcell Room on 6 February 1990.  Out of interest Beltane is the Gaelic May Day Festival held in the Celtic parts of the United Kingdom. One of the events was the driving of cattle past the bonfires as part of a purification ceremony. Stevenson has represented this by a slow ‘winding fugue.’ Other interesting allusions are to Chopin’s famous A flat Polonaise and the ‘Trial by Fire’ from Mozart’s Magic Flute. The listener must look out for plucked piano strings ‘imitating the clàrsach or Scottish harp.’ It is a great piece that is hugely demanding for the soloist, both in its technical requirements and the eclectic interpretive skills required to bring it off successfully.  It is certainly a worthy ‘test piece’, way beyond my Grade 6½. 

I guess I could say a lot about Hugh MacDiarmid as a Scottish journalist, essayist, poet, and political figure. As a Scot, myself I do have a great sympathy with his literary style. His political ratiocinations and personality are less appealing (to me).
Ronald Stevenson’s ‘Heroic Song’ was commissioned by the BBC to mark MacDiarmid’s 75th birthday. The two men were good friends and shared many political opinions. The work contrasts a medieval Scottish New Year song with a misty portrayal of the ‘high hills, of space and solitude…’ The work is designed to present a musical evocation of ‘The Poet Speaks’, ‘The Poet Laughs’ and ‘The Poet Dreams.’  The music balances an acerbic sound (MacDiarmid’s notable high pitched laugh?) with something that is more numinous.

Stevenson’s Symphonic Elegy for Liszt is a deeply wrought work full of musical and even literary allusions and quotations. Hamilton explains in the liner notes that Stevenson’s model was not the Liszt of the Hungarian Rhapsodies or the Opera Fantasias: it reflected the composer’s later works such as the Venetian La Lugubre Gondola elegies, being altogether dark, gloomy and introverted. 
The overarching form of Stevenson’s piece is a massive ‘barcarolle’, the traditional folk-song rhythm of Venice. Added to the mix is a tune that is quite Scottish in its sound, complete with ‘snaps.’ This makes the work Scotto-Hungarian-Venetian in its imagery.  Other allusions include Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ from the Second Piano Sonata and Liszt’s own Piano Sonata. Clearly this is a complex, technically difficult work, although as noted above not obviously virtuosic. The overall effect is reflective, as if Liszt looking back on his career, from a detached point of view. Venice is, I believe, always at the forefront of this piece. Both Liszt and Stevenson loved this great city.  The Elegy was composed to mark the centenary of Franz Liszt’s death in 1986.

The Chorale and Fugue in Reverse on Themes of Robert and Clara Schumann was composed in 1979. It is a very short, but tightly structured piece. The ‘reverse’ in the title implies that the music progresses from the ‘coda, final entries and stretto’ to the fugal exposition: from intensity to repose. The chorale, which is based on the words ‘Everything transient is merely a parable’ from Schumann’s Scenes of Faust, is presented in distortion. It is wrapped round the beginning and end of the fugue. A quotation of Clara Schumann’s song ‘Secret Whispers here and there’ is also ‘slyly introduced.

I have remarked before that Stevenson is in the trajectory of the great romantic virtuoso pianists such as Ferruccio Busoni, Leopold Godowsky, Percy Grainger and Paderewski. Going further back in time, Liszt is also an important influence. One of the common features of these men was that they were composers of vast amounts of piano music. Their catalogues include much original music but also many transcriptions, arrangements and paraphrases of other composers’ music. Ronald Stevenson is no exception to this very important, but sometimes controversial adjunct to music-making. It is not the forum to accurately define these three genres, safe to say that there is considerable blurring around the edges. 
The Ivor Novello ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ is a beautiful arrangement of the song. Stevenson cleverly and deftly includes an accompaniment figuration from Rachmaninov’s song ‘Lilacs’ included in that composer’s Twelve Songs op.21 no.5. It is good that Kenneth Hamilton has presented Rachmaninov’s original piece as a ‘prelude’ to the Stevenson transcription.  Stevenson’s Tauberiana is a realisation of Ricard Tauber’s ‘My Heart and I’ from his musical Old Chelsea. It is a splendid arrangement of this lovely tune, represented by a ‘hushed reminiscence’ of the waltz tune, followed by a sweeping, ball room version.

Still reflecting other composer’s music, the Three Elizabethan Pieces after John Bull (1562 or 1563–15 March 1628) include a Pavan, a Galliard and a Jig, all found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. They were transcribed in 1950. Stevenson’s achievement here is to balance a romanticised reinterpretation of this 16/17th century music as seen through the eyes of Busoni where the all the modern resources of the ‘struck’ grand piano are brought to bear against the ‘plucked’ virginal of Bull’s time. It is a style that may not appeal to enthusiasts of historical instruments, but there is no doubting the impact of these three pieces. The Jig is especially exhilarating.

I found that the sound quality is excellent on this disc, although I did feel the piano was just a little bit brittle at times. The liner notes are first class: Hamilton has provided a major essay about these varied piano works. Like so many inserts these days, I found the text small and hard to read.  There is no recording date given.

I relished this first volume of Kenneth Hamilton’s exploration of Ronald Stevenson’s music. The selection of music presented on this disc barely overlaps with the first two volumes of Christopher Guild’s edition of the piano music on Toccata (TOCC0272 and TOCC0388). The only work in common is the Three Scottish Ballads (1973). Equally, the programme on Murray McLachlan’s three-CD survey on DIVINE ART RECORDS DDA21372 does not conflict. 

Based on the imaginative, inspiring and technically demanding performances on this present disc, I do hope that ‘Volume 1’ is the first of a large edition of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music.  Glancing at the catalogue of original and transcribed piano works in Ronald Stevenson: The Man and his Music (ed. Colin Scott-Sutherland, Toccata Press, 2005) there is plenty material to be recorded. 

Track Listing:
Ronald STEVENSON (1928-2015)
Peter Grimes Fantasy (1971)
Three Scottish Ballads (1973)
Beltane Bonfire (1989)
Heroic Song for Hugh MacDiarmid (1959-67)
Symphonic Elegy for Liszt (1986)
Chorale and Fugue in reverse for Robert and Clara Schumann (1979)
Three Elizabethan Pieces after John Bull (1950)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Lilacs, op.21, no.5 (1902)
Ivor Novello (1893-1951) We’ll Gather Lilacs (arr. Stevenson) (1980)
Richard TAUBER (1891-1948) Tauberiana, ‘My Heart and I’ from Old Chelsea (arr. Stevenson) (1980)
Kenneth Hamilton (piano)
PRIMA FACIE PFCD050

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Lennox Berkeley: Divertimento in B flat major, Op. 18 (1943)

Michael Hermann’s invaluable A Discography of CDs and LPs (British Orchestral Music) published on MusicWeb International, lists two versions of Lennox Berkeley’s attractive Divertimento.  The first noted is an LP dating from 1968: Igor Buketoff and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing Bax’s Overture to a Picaresque Comedy and Richard Rodney Bennett’s rarely heard Symphony No. 1. (RCA VICTOR SB-6730).

The second version in Hermann’s listings is the one that I first discovered the work on: Lyrita SRCS.74. This LP was issued in 1975 and included the Serenade for strings, op.12, the Partita for chamber orchestra, op.66 and the Canzonetta (Sinfonia Concertante op.84). The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by the composer.  It was re-released on CD (SRCD.226) in 2007. This additionally included the Berkeley/Britten collaboration ‘Mont Juic’ and the Symphony No. 3 in one movement, op. 74

I recently discovered an earlier version of Berkeley’s Divertimento. Alec Robertson writing in The Year’s Work in Music, 1948-49 noted several works recorded under the auspices of the British Council. These included: Alan Bush’s ‘Dialectic’ for string quartet, Michael Tippet’s String Quartet No.2 in F sharp, Arnold Bax’s The Garden of Fand, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens for chorus and orchestra and the present Divertimento in B flat.  This last work was performed by the London Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Anthony Bernard.
Anthony Bernard (1891-1963) was an English conductor, organist, pianist and composer. The London Chamber Orchestra was founded by Barnard in 1921 and is still going strong: Christopher Warren-Green is the present musical director.

Lennox Berkeley’s Divertimento for orchestra in B Flat Major op. 18 was commissioned by the BBC and is dedicated to his teacher, the redoubtable Nadia Boulanger. It is written in four movements: Prelude, Nocturne, Scherzo and Rondo. The work was premiered at the Bedford Corn Exchange on 1 October 1943 by the BBC Orchestra conducted by Clarence Raybould. The Divertimento has been well summed up by the music critic Alan Frank, who considers that Berkeley found ‘a light way of expressing serious…illuminated by a Latin clarity.’

Alec Robertson (op.cit.) writes about the Divertimento: 'Lennox Berkeley’s Divertimento in B flat is, at least in the outer two movements, an excellent answer to the objection that the contemporary composer leaves out so many things that people enjoy and includes so many that they do not. These two movements are gay, tuneful, and scored with the clarity Berkeley must surely have learnt in his studies with Nadia Boulanger.
What one expects from a work called Divertimento is less apparent in the episodic and rather melancholy slow movement, and in the somewhat mordant [astringent] scherzo, very interesting and effective though these are. Anthony Bernard and the London Chamber Orchestra give a most musical and brilliantly played account of the work, and the recording is a complete success in every respect.’  

Listeners are lucky that the YouTube channel ‘Shellackophile’ has uploaded this recording.  The details are: Recorded March 23, 1948, under the auspices of the British Council, in Decca's West Hampstead Studios, London, on 78-rpm matrices AR 12089 through AR 12092. Issued as English Decca K 1882 and 1883 during August 1948. Timings for each movement are given on the web page.  The good news is that the same YouTube Channel has Igor Buketoff’s version of Berkeley’s Divertimento as well. Perhaps more about that recording in another post.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Jim Parker: Travelling Light

I first came across the music of Jim Parker in the wonderful record made with the late John Betjeman, Banana Blush. I remember feeling that the poetry and the music were a perfect match for each other. Since that time, despite not being an avid watcher of television, I have seen Parker’s name in TV credits for programmes as diverse as House of Cards, The House of Elliot, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. For the concert hall, there is a splendid Clarinet Concerto, the wonderful A Londoner in New York for brass and Mississippi Five for wind quintet.
I am beholden to the liner notes written by the composer for all information about these four works. 
A South American Journey is based on an imaginary visit to that continent. The work was originally conceived for recorder and harpsichord. The music celebrates the life of the late Stephen Dodgson, and was commissioned by John Turner, who plays the recorder in this recording. Parker has rescored the work for ‘forces available,’ which includes string quartet, harp, double bass and recorders. 
The Journey has five contrasting movements, all sporting Spanish titles: ‘Tango Cinco’, ‘Pueblo Tranquilo’, ‘Volando’, ‘La Cometa’ and ‘Rapido.’ It is a thoroughly enjoyable suite that creates an excellent Latin American atmosphere. There is much splendid virtuosic playing by John Turner.

Stephane Grappelli was one of the ‘greats’ of popular music. Along with Jean "Django" Reinhardt, he is best recalled for the performances and recordings made with the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France. Jim Parker’s Bonjour M. Grappelli is written for string quartet and seeks to emulate the great man’s playing style without being pastiche. There are four well-balanced movements. The first introduces the tune ‘High Rise Blues’ which began life with the Barrow Poets in 1972. The second, an ‘Elegy’ is quiet and thoughtful. It is dedicated to the late Celia Sheen, the Theremin player in the Midsomer Murder TV series. It had a previous life as the theme tune to a forgotten TV series Body and Soul.  ‘Hurdy Gurdy’ was originally used in a musical for BBC TV called Petticoat Lane. I love the way the second violin plays (deliberately) a tone flat at the beginning and end of this piece. The final movement, ‘Au Revoir M Grappelli’ revisits the blues tune, with some quite romantic and thoughtful playing.

The Three Diversions were first heard at the opening of the Ida Carroll Walkway at the Royal Northern College of Music. Once again Parker has made use of themes he wrote for television. Listeners will recognise the tune in the final movement, ‘A Leave Taking’. It is based on the traditional song ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’. It was composed in memory of Anthony Hopkins, composer, pianist, musicologist and conductor. The other two Diversions are a lively ‘Spring Dance’ and a meditative ‘Paean.’ There is a definite Irish feel with much of this music. Fab! The work is scored for string quartet, recorders, double bass and harp. 

The final work on this imaginative CD is Hoofers, written for oboe and piano. The pieces are quite disconnected in titles and imagery, but make a satisfying suite. The first is in praise of the ‘Flying Scotsman’ named train running between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh. Parker has created an effective train sound.  The second piece is ‘Banjolele’, which derived its inspiration from P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. The protagonist was evicted from several lodgings because of his attachment to this instrument and his desire to master its intricacies. Even Jeeves walks out. No banjolele here, just a jaunty little tune with a sprightly piano accompaniment. Next comes ‘The Lonely Ballerina’ which is another reworking of a theme from Midsomer Murders. More of a reflection about a life well danced than a depiction of a night at the ballet. Quite charming. The finale is the eponymous ‘Hoofers’:  about a troop of dancers in Paris. The music is appropriate for a depiction of Hoofers – dancers. A great way to conclude the fascinating CD. The playing is simply superb.

Typically, the liner notes are excellent and give all relevant details about the music performed. There are also brief notes about the composer and the artists, but no names given for the players in the Solem Quartet. I located them in the ‘net.
It is unfortunate that dates for each work have not been given. This problem was not solved with a Google search. Even the composer’s date of birth is not included. I do believe that this information is very important to many listeners. 

This is a fantastic CD. It is full of imaginative, interesting and well-wrought music that has the distinct advantage of being totally approachable and enjoyable. Jim Parker has a unique voice in music that manages to seamlessly cross the divide between popular, classical and light.

Track Listing:
Jim PARKER (b.1934)
A South American Journey
Bonjour M. Grappelli
Three Diversions
Hoofers
[all pieces undated]
The Solem Quartet, Amy Tress (violin), Catherine Guy (violin), Alistair Vennart (viola) Stephanie Tress (cello); (Journey, Grappelli & Diversions)
John Turner (recorders), Anna Christensen (harp), Alex Jones (double bass), (Journey & Diversions); Richard Simpson (oboe) Janet Simpson (piano) (Hoofers)
DIVINE ART dda25146 

Friday, 28 April 2017

A Handel Story: The ‘Dear Saxon.’

There are many stories and anecdotes about Great Britain’s most famous adopted composer, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Some may be true, some imaginary and others a little exaggerated. The present tale from Anecdotes of Great Musicians by W. Francis Gates (London, Weekes & Co., 1896) would seem to have some basis in fact. Handel was definitely in Rome at the time.
Handel and Scarlatti met at a chamber music concert at the Palazzo della Cancelleria. This was sponsored by the great patron of music and the arts Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667-1740). There the two composers competed under the auspices of Ottoboni. The result of the contest was first equal on the harpsichord and Handel winning on the organ. The actual date of the contest would seem to be 1708, when both composers were 23 years old. Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples on October 26th, 1685, the same year that Handel appeared on earth at Halle-on-Saal on 23 February.
The story is only related in one source, Mainwaring’s Memoirs of the Life of the late George Frideric Handel (London, 1760). As this book was written many years later, there may well be some creative hagiography present in the story.
In recent years, the ‘duel’ has been recreated by performer/actors.

AN INTERESTING story is told of one of Handel's experiences when he was in Italy. The Italians so enjoyed his wonderful powers of playing that they gave him the title of ‘the dear Saxon.’ He entered in a friendly rivalry with Scarlatti, in Venice, and after many trials of skill the general verdict was that the Italian excelled on the harpsichord, but the German carried away the palm on the organ.
Sometime afterward, Handel was invited to a masked ball, and in the course of the evening he sat down at the harpsichord, and astonished all those present by his masterly improvisations. Presently Scarlatti came in, also en masque. Walking quickly to the instrument he listened a moment, and then called out, "It is either the devil or the Saxon!" 
Handel achieved this enviable reputation when only twenty-one [actually 23] years of age.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Gustave Samazeuilh: Le Chant de la Mer (1918-19) for piano

It’s not British music…but…this major piano work was one of my major discoveries in 2015. I revisited this music whilst on holiday in the Mediterranean in recent weeks. The entire piece, lasting more than 20 minutes, seems to sum up my impression of the blue skies and turquoise sea of that wonderful region.
In 2015 I submitted a review of Olivier Chauzu playing the complete piano works of Gustave Samazeuilh to MusicWeb International. I quote much of what I wrote there in this blog post.

First, a few biographical notes about the composer will help the listener. Firstly, Gustave Samazeuilh, born in Bordeaux in 1877, was destined for a career in law, but turned to music. He studied with Ernest Chausson and Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum de Paris and subsequently with Paul Dukas. Secondly, Samazeuilh became lifelong friends with Maurice Ravel and was influenced by his music. However, the most important impact was Claude Debussy. And thirdly, Samazeuilh’s catalogue of music is not extensive. Grove notes some half-dozen orchestral works, a good quantity of chamber music for a variety of instruments, several songs and the present collection of piano works. One interesting item mentioned is a Piano Sonata composed in 1902 which is not featured in the present ‘complete’ piano works. One can only assume it has not survived.  There are also a few transcriptions for piano of other composers’ music.
Stylistically, Samazeuilh’s music owes much to the impressionists, especially Debussy. Yet, there is sometimes something a little more neo-classical in these pages as well as backward glances to his two teachers.

Le Chant de la Mer (1918-19) is a massive three-movement work that is surely one of the most undervalued pieces of 20th century piano music.  The Chant is highly structured and follows a ‘well-thought out temporal and symbolic scheme’. I imagine that listeners will immediately think of Claude Debussy’s orchestral suite La Mer and wonder if Samazeuilh has created a piano companion for this work. The actual progenitors of this work are once again Ernest Chausson and Vincent d’Indy. The opening Prelude is slow and majestic as a peaceful ocean ought to be and features ‘static layers of sound’.  It is possibly more MacDowell than Debussy. The ‘Clair du lune au large’ can be perceived as an allegory of human passions expressed in terms of the movement of the tides with ‘moonlight on the waves’. The composer has not been blind to Debussy’s achievement in giving an impressionistic picture of the sea, and there are certainly several nods to La Mer, especially in the final movement, ‘Tempête et lever du jour sur les flots’ which musically paints ‘tempest and daybreak on the waves’ Here Samazeuilh makes use of ‘rapid flourishes, ostinatos and tremolos, chromatic broken-chord ascents and descents, and alternating black-and-white key glissandos…’  It is also clear to see the pianism of Liszt in this movement. 
The three movements, in order, were dedicated to Francis Planté, Marguerite Long and Alfred Cortot respectively.
I am indebted to the liner notes for my understanding of this work. There is also a section in Alfred Cortot’s major study of French piano music which is available (in French) online.  Since writing my review, I have found helpful words about Le Chant de la Mer in Norman Demuth’s essential French Piano Music with notes on its interpretation (London, Museum Press, 1959).

At the time of uploading this blog post, there are two complete versions of Gustave Samazeuilh’s Le Chant de la Mer currently on YouTube.
The first in two parts is played by Stephane Lemelin (Part I and Part 2). My preferred version is by Marie Catherine-Girod recorded in 1997. The recording I reviewed is by Olivier Chauzu and was released on GRAND PIANO GP669 in 2015. His playing on this CD is always sensitive and presents a huge range of musical colour in Gustave Samazeuilh’s largely impressionistic, but often romantic, piano works.  

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ronald Stevenson Piano Music: Volume 2

I was confused. When I knew that I was receiving a CD of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music to review, I mistakenly assumed that it was a second volume to Murray McLachlan’s outstanding triple-disc set on Divine Art (dda21372). I had already reviewed this CD back in 2014. As it turned out, the CD in question was the second instalment of Christopher Guild’s survey for Toccata Records. Preparing for this review, I was reminded that there is yet another exploration of Stevenson’s music underway. The first volume of Kenneth Hamilton’s study of the composer’s music appeared in July 2016 (Prima Facie PFCD050). I have not heard this disc. Add to this, five versions of the magisterial DSCH Passacaglia and several other discs devoted in whole or part to this repertoire, it seems that Ronald Stevenson’s piano music has suddenly become hot property.

The rule of thumb for appreciating Ronald Stevenson’s music is to understand that his style is an amalgam of Scottish inspiration, alongside a profound understanding of contemporary Western musical developments as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of a wide range of indigenous music from around the world. Importantly, Stevenson was equally at home in making transcriptions of other composer’s music as he was in producing original scores.

I noted in my review of Divine Art (dda21372): A good summary of Stevenson’s place in the musical sphere is given in the liner notes: - ‘If we reject, as too superficial, the standard distinctions between transcription and free composition, one comes close to understanding Stevenson’s outstanding corpus of music. Of course, individual pieces vary enormously both in terms of approach and in terms of style. It is as though Stevenson’s music as a whole becomes a kind of meeting place for kindred and diverse spirits.’ For this reason, I believe that it is not possible to describe what Ronald Stevenson’s music ‘sounds like.’’ I hold to this view.

I began my exploration of this present disc with the ‘Three Scots Fairy Tales’ which were composed in 1967. These pieces were written specifically for young players, and complement his better-kent ‘A Wheen Tunes for Bairns tae Spiel’. These three ‘tales’ explore music ostensibly from a piper, a harpist and a fiddler: all are fairies, which does not imply tiny creatures with wings from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The first is a march-cum-jig which cannot quite make up its mind what it wants to be. The second piece is a lullaby which, as the liner notes suggest, could have come from the pen of Debussy. It is truly beautiful. The final number looks across to Central Europe for its inspiration. This short piece is could be classified as ‘Bartok goes to Ballachulish.’ All three pieces are technically demanding for ‘children’: all explore a variety of moods, rhythms and pianistic devices.

A few words about Bristol-born Frank Merrick (1886-1981). He is most often recalled as a teacher and concert pianist but he also composed several important works. He was enthusiastic about then-modern developments in music and regularly played the piano music of John Ireland, Arnold Bax and Alan Rawsthorne. Merrick’s compositions include two piano concertos (c.1935), a cello suite for small orchestra, a Celtic Suite for orchestra, a piano trio and a considerable corpus of piano music and songs.  For many years, Merrick was a friend and colleague of Ronald Stevenson. The liner notes relate how he suggested to Stevenson that he make a transcription of the slow movement of his Piano Concerto No.2 in E minor. Merrick had called this movement ‘Seascape’ which was duly modified by Stevenson to ‘Hebridean Seascape.’ The reason for the inclusion of the word ‘Hebridean’ in the title was that Stevenson divined that Merrick had used a Skye fisherwoman’s song in the central section of the movement. Apparently, he had ‘collected’ this tune whilst on a visit to the island in the early years of the 20th century. Listening to Merrick’s concerto (which I enjoyed immeasurably) I felt that there was little that was Scottish in these pages: even the slow movement seems to be ‘universal music’ despite the obvious lilt of the Hebridean Song.

Ronald Stevenson’s transcription is perfect ‘sea-music’, although I must admit that it could just as well be portraying variable weather on Merrick’s native Bristol Channel. Stevenson has developed/highlighted a wide variety of ‘effects’ including the cry of the Kittiwake and the surging of waves over the rocks and beaches. The above noted ‘fisherwoman’s song’ gives this turbulent music some repose and allows for reflection ‘midst the storm. It is one of my discoveries of 2017 (so far).    The ‘Hebridean Seascape’ was first heard in the Purcell Room on 30 April 1986. 
Both of Frank Merrick’s Piano Concertos are available on YouTube: they deserve to be released onto the commercial market.

The longest piece on this CD is ‘A Carlyle Suite’ (1995). The work is presented in five movements and lasts for just over 20 minutes. The inspiration is the life, times and achievements of one of Scotland’s greatest sons, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881).  Carlyle was a man of letters, a historian, satirist, essayist, philosopher and teacher.
This highly imaginative piece looks at facets of Carlyle’s life. The opening number is an ‘Aubade’ which takes its cue from a short (and rare) poem by the author ‘Here is dawning/Another blue day’. The second piece pays homage to the writer’s wife, Jane Carlyle (née Welsh). For this, the imagery has moved to Chelsea in London. Stevenson has created a clanjamfrie of tunes and melodies which include blatant allusions to Chopin as well as Scottish Strathspeys. It is as if Chopin were giving Jane a private recital, which he did in 1848, and her mind is wandering back and forward across the border. The third movement is a cunning set of variations based on a tune used by J.S. Bach in his A Musical Offering (1747). It is subtitled a ‘Study in historical styles on Frederick the Great’s Theme.’ It is also useful to remember that Carlyle wrote a major study of the life of Frederick, which was published in six volumes between 1858 and 1865. The writing of this huge work took its toll on the author, and led to bouts of depression. The music does not really reflect this emotional turmoil, but presents the theme in baroque, classical, romantic, impressionistic, 12-note expressionist and finally ‘new-classical’ guises. It is a vade-mecum of piano styles. This is followed by Jane Carlyle’s ‘Scherzo.’ This is Scottish music through and through with references to Strathspeys. But there is also a touch of the ‘Sassenach’ Hornpipe in these pages too. The final movement, a Serenade, harks back to the opening Aubade, however this time it is tinged with shades of evening.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable work that should be well-known. I do warn the listener against approaching this tribute to the learned Carlyle with a po-face. Stevenson brings his quirky wit to many places in this score. There is humour here as well as genuine admiration.
The work was commissioned by the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association to commemorate the bi-centenary of Carlyle’s birth in the small Border Town of Ecclefechan.

Rory Dall [Gaelic for ‘blind’] Morison’s Harp Book is a transcription of music composed for the clàrsach back on the late 1600s. The liner notes include a biography of the composer, who was born in the Island of Skye, and notes about the music. Stevenson brought a variety of pianistic techniques to his reworking of this material. From simple harmonies, the use of themes in counterpoint as well as canonic devices. Topics explored include a ‘Song for John MacLeod of Dunvegan’ (Skye), the ‘Lament for a Lost Harp Key’, ‘Lonely Monday’ and the ‘Fiddler’s Contempt.’  They are truly evocative pieces that capture the mood of the Highlands of Scotland before the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Ronald Stevenson has invested them with a magic, poignancy and immediacy for listeners who may never choose to hear this music played on the original instrument.

I enjoyed the ‘Three Scottish Ballads’. I can recall being introduced to Scottish ballads whilst still at primary school, albeit I am sure they were well-chosen and slightly bowdlerised. In later life, I have been privileged to read Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English [& Scottish!] Poetry (1765) as well as Sir Walter Scott’s monumental Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3). In my old-fashioned mind, this volume ought to be required reading in all Scottish schools, but I bet it isn’t!
The texts of two of the three ballads that Stevenson chose to present were collected in Scott: ‘Lord Randall’, who has murdered his father at his mother’s behest and the mournful ‘Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow’, full of collusion, cowardice and murder. Readers will recall that Hamish MacCunn composed a splendid tone poem on this latter topic. Finally, Stevenson set ‘The Newhaven Fishwife’s Cry’. This ballad was not collected by Scott, but portrays the said lady wandering the streets of Edinburgh selling her wares. Without providing a musical commentary on each ballad, Stevenson has sought to transcribe the original melodies to reflect the mood of the texts.  They are masterly examples of this art.

The final work, ‘Lament for a Blind Harper’ is another arrangement: this time based on a melody penned by Ronald Stevenson’s daughter Savourna, who is a well-respected harpist. The father took this melody and arranged it for piano (left hand only). It is a fitting tribute to his daughter and to the Blind Harper who might well be Rory Dall Morison.

The liner notes by Christopher Guild are excellent and provide an essay-length survey of the composer and the music on this CD. My only complaint is that the font in places is so tiny: older eyes struggle. Fortunately, I found a digital copy of these notes on the Toccata website: I wish all record companies would provide this information. I hasten to add that Chandos, Naxos, Hyperion and a few other already do. 

The playing on this disc is superb. Christopher Guild provides a definitive account of all these works. Although this disc concentrates on works that have a Scottish or Celtic ‘flavour’ the sound worlds of Bartok or Busoni are often not too far away. The interpretation requires a universal understanding of both pianism and local music making. I look forward to Volume 3 of this cycle, and hope to be able to review Volume 1 at some stage. This is clearly a major project from Toccata Records and Christopher Guild, if the ‘complete’ piano works (original and transcriptions) are to be tackled. I imagine that it will take several years and many CDs. In my opinion, the wait will be well worth it. Ronald Stevenson was/is a larger than life character: his music deserves to be in the public domain.
Track Listing:
Ronald STEVENSON (1928-2015)
Frank MERRICK (1886-1981) (transcribed: Ronald STEVENSON) Hebridean Seascape (c.1935/1986)
Three Scots Fairy Tales (1967)
A Carlyle Suite (1995)
Rory Dall Morison’s Harp Book (1978)
Three Scottish Ballads (1973)
Savourna STEVENSON b.1961 (transcribed Ronald STEVENSON Lament for a Blind Harper (1986)
Christopher Guild (piano)
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0388 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Cyril Scott: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II

Most of this section of Brook’s pen-portrait needs little comment, however I have included a few notes about the many compositions mentioned towards the end of the essay. 

SOON after the outbreak of the Great War, Scott stayed for a little while with Bernard Shaw and his wife at an hotel at Torquay.[1] He still remembers that the great dramatist had just received an offer of five hundred pounds to go to America and deliver a single lecture at the Carnegie Hall, but had refused it because he couldn't see how the promoters could make such a lecture pay, and he wouldn't have liked them to be out of pocket on his account!

Scott volunteered for military service on several occasions but was rejected as physically unfit, and had to be content with playing the piano at concerts in aid of war charities. During the war years, he wrote several anonymous books on occult philosophy as well as a great deal of music.
His opera The Alchemist was written in 1918, [2] and as soon as Sir Thomas Beecham saw it he promised to have it produced at Covent Garden, but for years it was dogged by bad luck, Beecham went bankrupt before he could fulfil his promise, and then after all arrangements had been made for its production at Wiesbaden, the opera house was burnt to the ground just before the opening night. Eventually it was performed at Essen on May 28th 1925.
In the autumn of 1920 Scott went to America to play his own works and to lecture. His impressions of the United States are all recorded in My Years of Indiscretion, [3] and therefore I do not propose to write at length on the subject here. He was very surprised, for instance, to find that the people of New York never bothered to draw the blinds of their bedroom windows when undressing at night, and from his own room the prospect of no less than a hundred and sixty illuminated bedrooms was disconcerting, to say the least.
He still recalls the sort of timetable that was worked out for him: two days and two nights in a train, the recital or lecture to be given immediately on arrival, and then another two days and nights of travelling! It was on such a tour as this that he met a poetess who smoked strong black cigars and read ‘shockers’ by the dozen.
The American love of music, he found, was sincere and deep-rooted. They were prepared to pay handsomely for their music, and it was encouraging to find successful business men spending their money not upon yachts or racehorses, but in the endowment of symphony orchestras or opera. One of the few annoyances he had to endure was the type of person who asked him what he thought of Beethoven, or Bach, or some celebrity of the hour. Scott thinks that such questions are foolish. What would a parson say, for instance, if someone came up and asked him ‘What do you think of Moses?’
Of Scott's earlier works, I suppose ‘A Blackbird Song’ and ‘Daffodils’ [4] are still the most popular, but when people refer to him merely as the composer of the ‘song about the blackbird’ he wishes that the blackbird were at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

The best of the earlier works is undoubtedly ‘Sphinx’, [5] which I am told was a favourite with Ravel. Other notable compositions are his ‘Lotus Land’, [6] a richly oriental work which Kreisler later arranged for the violin, the colourful collection of pieces entitled ‘Poems’ [7] and ‘Rainbow Trout’, [8] and his brilliant Sonnet I, [9] a most original work in irregular rhythm. His Chinese Songs, [10] by the way, provoked C. V. Stanford to a tirade of indignation.

When a well-known singing professor heard Scott's setting of ‘An Old Song Ended’ [11] he asked him how he could write such peculiar and discordant harmonies to so simple and beautiful a lyric! Of his later works, his Two Songs without words [12], and ‘Mist’ and ‘Rain’ [13] are particularly effective. Scott's Ode to Great Men [14] was performed at the Norwich Festival in 1936, but this impressive work for orator, female chorus and orchestra fell short of expectations as far as reviving interest in the composer's major works was concerned. His Piano Concerto [15] has always been warmly received wherever it has been heard, yet he is amazed to find that concert promoters of the present day still regard it as a work upon which they might be involved in financial loss. For that reason, he doubts whether the British composer gets a fair chance of being heard. The neglect, he believes, is partly due to the commercialization of music.
Scott admits that the music of Beethoven makes little or no appeal to him, and he feels that the work of many of the lesser-known Russian composers compares favourably with that of Tchaikovsky. It is also his opinion that long after the death of Queen Victoria, British music was asphyxiated by Victorian propriety and correctitude. He readily admits that the BBC has done good work in taking music to the masses, but he feels that in so doing it has ‘cheapened’ music, because people regard it now as something ‘on tap’ like the water in their kitchens, and respect it accordingly.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)
  
Notes:
[1] This was the Hydropathic Hotel (now the Headland Hotel) There is a photo of Cyril Scott taken at this venue in 1915, in the London School of Economics database of photographs.
[2] The Alchemist, the first of Cyril Scott’s operas, was composed in 1917-18. However, it had to wait until 1925 before it was given its premiere in Essen.
[3] My Years of Indiscretion, Mills & Boon, Ltd, London 1924, the first of Cyril Scott’s autobiographical books.
[4] ‘A Blackbird’s Song’ was written in 1906 on a poem by Rosamund Marriot Watson (1860-1911) and ‘Daffodils’ was a setting of a text by Ella Erskine (?)
[5] ‘Sphinx’, op.63 is a piano piece composed around 1908. The mood of the music is impressionistic.
[6] Lotus Land is probably Cyril Scott’s best known piano piece. This exotic, impressionistic work was composed and published in 1905. It was dedicated to the American composer and conductor Henry Hadley (1871-1937). The work was premiered by fellow Frankfurt Group composer, Percy Grainger at the Bechstein (now Wigmore) Hall on 15 November 1905. Other arrangements of this work include one for two piano, four hands and the above mentioned transcription by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano (c.1922).
[7] ‘Poems’ is a collection of five piano pieces: ‘Poppies’, ‘Garden of Soul Sympathy’, ‘Bells’, ‘Twilight of the Year’ and ‘Paradise-Birds’. Each piece is prefaced by a short poem also written by the composer. They was published in 1912.
[8] ‘Rainbow Trout’ (1916) is another piano piece that exploits exotic chords and scales, creating a numinous image of a the fish swimming in clear waters. It was possibly inspired by Claude Debussy’s ‘Poisson d’or.’
[9] The ‘Sonnet I’ was written in 1914 for violin and piano. It was revised 42 years later in 1956.
[10] The composition history of Chinese Songs is a little complex. Originally composed in 1906, these two songs were ‘Waiting’ and ‘A Picnic.’ The Chinese lyrics were translated by the British diplomat and China specialist, Herbert A. Giles (1835-1935). They were eventually incorporated into Songs of Old Cathay (1919). Eaglefield Hull (Cyril Scott: Composer, Poet and Philosopher, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1918) writes that ‘the oriental feeling in these two wonderful songlets is delightfully reproduced. Whilst the first reaches the harmonic system as nearly as possible with a twelve-note scale, the second wins my preference, being filled with a delightful rattle of musical ‘chopsticks’.’
[11] ‘An Old Song Ended’ was published by Elkin in 1911. It is a setting of words by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The song was dedicated to the soprano Maggie Teyte (1888-1976). Who the singing professor was, I am not sure of.
[12] Two Songs without Words would appear to be two pieces for voice and piano. The first is a ‘Pastorale’ dating from 1919 and the second is ‘Tranquillity’. Neither song has a text, but is ‘vocalised.’
[13] ‘Mist’ was composed around 1925, to a text by Marguerite E. Barnsdale and ‘Rain’ was setting of words by Margaret Maitland Radford dated 1916.
[14] Scott's Ode to Great Men seems to have disappeared from notice. This choral piece was composed for the Norwich Music Festival and received its premiere there on 24 September 1936. It was a setting of the apocryphal biblical book Ecclesiasticus (Chapter 44) and words from Shelley. The setting was made for tenor/narrator, orchestra and women’s chorus.
[15] Cyril Scott wrote several concerted works for piano and orchestra. The one that Donald Brooks refers to is Piano Concerto No.1 in C major which was composed in 1913-14 and was premiered at a British Music Festival at the Queen’s Hall in London on 15 May 1915. Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Scott as soloist. It has been recorded on Chandos CHAN 10376 and on Lyrita SRCD. 251. 
In 1958 Scott completed his Piano Concerto No.2. This has been issued on Lyrita SRCD. 251 and on Chandos CHAN 10211.  Another important work was ‘Early One Morning’, Poem for Piano and Orchestra dating from 1931. They are recorded on Chandos CHAN 10376 and on Lyrita SRCD. 251.  There is Concertinos for two pianos and orchestra, which was completed in 1931, as well as an uncompleted Concerto in D, op.10, c.1900.