Monthly Archives: October 2017

The ‘Scottish Orpheus’

The music of James Oswald, described as the ‘Scottish Orpheus’

James Oswald was born in the little town of Crail, Fife and started life as a dancing master in Dunfermline.  He spent time in Edinburgh and

James Oswald. Pic: Spartacus-educational

then went to London and started to compose music based on Scottish tunes then the rage in the 1740’s.  He set up shop near St Martin’s Churchyard and this became a meeting place for expatriate Scots.  He developed his links with the English aristocracy and was appointed Chamber Composer by George III.

We were delighted to welcome Jeremy Barlow to the meeting, an authority on this period of music.  Jeremy is one of the most versatile musicians on the British early music scene, with a career encompassing writing, lecturing, and performing.  After studying at Trinity College Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music, London, his first job was as flutist with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

But what characterises Scottish music and makes it so recognisable?  The basic reason is that it is based on the pentatonic scale not the normal 7 note scale we are used to.  It also has a base accompaniment which is a chord which only changes one note at a time as the melody progresses.  The third feature is something called the ‘Scotch Snap’, a short accented note before a longer note.  These combine to give Scottish music its particular sound.

Image result for jeremy barlow musician

Jeremy Barlow

As an introduction, Jeremy played the Birthday Ode for Queen Mary composed in 1692 by Henry Purcell.  This uses a Scottish tune in the base line.  We also heard contemporary examples by William McGibbon; Francesco Geminiani and Alexander Erskine, Earl of Kelly.  The main part of the evening was music by Oswald which included Airs for the Seasons, the curiously named Dust Cart Cantata and the Divertimento No. 8 for English guitar.  Jeremy Barlow directed the Broadside Band in Airs for all the Seasons, Oswald’s finest work.

Oswald became particularly friendly with John Robinson-Lytton the owner of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.  After Robinson-Lytton died he married his widow and moved into Knebworth, he had surely come a long way.

An interesting evening concerning the work of a composer few would be familiar with.


I am indebted to the notes provided by Jeremy in writing this piece

Peter Curbishley

Next meeting 13 November which is a members’ evening so please let Tony Powell know what your choice is.

 

 

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Pupils of famous composers

Who was this composer’s teacher?

Many composers taught pupils in a kind of apprenticeship scheme.  Composers often needed the money and no doubt the son or daughter of a wealthy family brought in a useful income.  Some pupils went on to have promising careers – others did not have sufficient talent to succeed.

In last night’s meeting Alan Forshaw played pieces by a variety of composers and asked us to guess who had been their teacher.  A combination of style, dates and where they lived or studied gave us a clue in some cases, especially the earlier ones, but it became steadily more difficult as we approached modern times.  Once again in a Society evening, we heard examples of music by long forgotten composers who’s music is worthy of a hearing.  Many were prolific in their day turning out operas, symphonies and concertos by the dozen.  The pieces we heard were:

  • a piano sonata in C by Johann Muthel a pupil of JS Bach
  • the Adagio from the Symphonie Concertante in A by Ignaz Pleyel, who’s name survives on pianos and music scores.  He wrote 41 symphonies. He was taught by Haydn and his influence was audible
  • Thomas Attwood (pictured) studied in Vienna under Mozart and his remains are buried in St Pauls.  We heard his Rondo from a Trio fo

    Thomas Attwood

    r Piano, Violin and ‘cello

  • this was followed by a Fantasia by Steven Storace who was born in London and also studied in Vienna
  • Carl Czerny is slightly better known and was a pupil of Beethoven.  The master’s influence could clearly be heard in his Theme and Variations for Horn and Piano
  • another pupil of Beethoven was Ferdinand Reis, a native of Bonn (a clue) and his Rondo from a Piano Concerto in C# minor showed a lot of talent
  • Franz Liszt needs no introduction and was a pupil of Czerny in Vienna.  We heard his Hungarian Rhapsody No 13
  • the immensely talented but almost unknown Carl Filtsch from Romania led Liszt to say when he heard him play, he would give up performing.  Tragically, he died in his teens but his Impromptu in Gb Major showed what a loss he was to music
  • another pupil of Czerny was Thomas Tellefsen from Norway who also studied in Paris.  Waltz in Db Major
  • Valsa Caprichosa from 3 Portuguese Scenes was composed by a pupil of Liszt, Jose Vianna da Motta who was born on the island of Sao Tome off the coast of Africa
  • Carl Reinecke has almost disappeared from view and is rarely heard today.  His Finale from Wind Octet in Bb Major was a delight
  • Gabriel Fauré needs no introduction who was a pupil of  Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns.  We heard the famous Paradisum from the Requiem
  • Someone less famous, or even unheard of, is Eugene Gigout also from France who studied in Paris under Saint-Saëns.  His Toccata in B Minor is exciting and worth listening to.  He was a famous organist in his day (born 1844)
  • Josef Suk was part of a large musical family and studied under Antonín Dvořák famous for his Symphony from the New World.  Suk does sometimes make it onto present day concerts and last night we heard the Andante from the Serenade for Strings Opus 6, a fine piece
  • Glazunov was a pupil of  Rimsky-Korsakov and studied in St Petersburg.  A prolific composer and we heard the preamble from Scenes de Ballet
  • another pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov was Igor Stravinsky one of the composers who had an enormous influence over the course of 20th century musical history and famous for his ballets.  His Piano Sonata No 2 was special and well worth a listen if you can
  • the Australian Percy Grainger had several teachers and studied in Berlin and elsewhere.  We heard the extraordinary Zanzibar Boat Song – six hands on one piano
  • Busoni was the teacher of Frederick Loewe famous for his musicals with Alan Lerner and it was The Rain In Spain from My Fair Lady we heard to illustrate his talent
  • Lennox Berkeley was a pupil of the enigmatic Maurice Ravel who’s influence could just be heard in Polka Opus 5a

    Vaughan Williams

  • Finally, another pupil of Ravel was Vaughan Williams (and we will be hearing more of him later in the season with a talk from the Vaughan Williams Society coming).  We heard part of March ‘Seventeen Come Sunday from the Folk Song suite (1924)

Alan had put in a lot of work to track down some of the more obscure pieces especially in the first half which made it an interesting and worthwhile evening.

Peter Curbishley


Next meeting on 30 October

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Next meeting

The next meeting takes place on Monday 16 October at 7:30 and will be a presentation by Alan Forshaw on the topic ‘works by pupils of famous composers’.  Should be interesting.  Usual place the Guides Centre with easy parking to the rear.  £3 for non-members.

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Schubert Centenary Competition

Finishing the Unfinished

It is well-known that Franz Schubert did not finish his eighth symphony, Number 8 in D Minor. What is less well-known that there was a competition launched in 1928 inviting composers to compose the final movements from the surviving notes.  The competition was proposed by the British arm of the Columbia Phonograph company after the bankruptcy of the American parent.  1927 was the centenary of Beethoven’s death and the company released electrical copies of all nine symphonies which were a commercial success.  What to do next?  Well 1928 was the centenary of Schubert’s death and so a competition to complete the Unfinished was proposed.  A prize of over £100,000 in today’s money was to be awarded.

Cue outrage from the musical world and cries of ‘sacrilege’.  The original theme of the competition was dropped and in its place a competition for new works where composers were required to:

[provide] compositions, apart from faultless formal structure, must be marked by the predominance of a vigorous melodic content, and the number of instruments employed must not substantially exceed the measure established by the classical orchestras of time.

Last night’s presentation about this subject was by Robin Lim who had clearly done a deal of research to unearth the background and to find some of the music composed for this competition.

The first piece was by Felix Weingartner and was his Symphony No 6 from which we heard the allegro.  This incorporated some of the known fragments but could not be considered for the competition as he was invited to sit on the judging panel.

Next we heard two movements in symphonic form by Frank Merrick from Bristol, best known in his day as a pianist.

After that was a piece called Pax Vobiscum by john St Anthony Johnson born circa 1874 and about whom little is known.

Finally before the break we heard the 3rd movement from Hans Gal’s Symphony No 1.  Gal lived in Edinburgh and was interned as an enemy alien during WWII.

The evening ended by listening to some of the prize winners.  The judging panel was extraordinary and included Ravel, Respighi, de Falla, Szymanowski and Thomas Beecham.  Third prize went to a piece by Czeslaw Marek (who’s music we have heard in an earlier evening of the Society).  We heard an extract from his symphonia.  This is a composer who we should hear more of as he only rarely appears on concert programmes.

Second prize went to Franz Schmidt and we heard the scherzo from his 3rd Symphony.  This composer does still sometimes still feature in concert programmes – indeed he was performed in the 2015 Proms – but is not well known.

The winner?  This was by the composer Kurt Atterberg and we heard the finale to his 6th Symphony.

The story did not end there though.  Ernest Newman writing in the Sunday Times that;

Atterberg may have looked down the list of judges and slyly made up his mind that he would put ins a bit of something that would appeal to each of them in turn – a bit of Scheherazade for the Russian Glazunov, a bit of Cockaigne for Mr Tovey, a bit of the New World Symphony for Mr Damrosch, and bit of Petrushka for the modernist Alfan and bit of Granados for Salazar … but I wonder if there may not be another explanation  … Atterberg is not merely a composer.  He is a musical critic … suppose he looked round with a cynical smile that was all the world knows all critics wear and decided to pull the world’s leg?

The story was picked up by other newspapers and stories with headlines such as “£2000 Symphony hoax” and “Joke of Swedish Composer” soon appeared.  Columbia sought to recoup the prize money but it was too late — Atterberg had spent it on a new Ford car.

A fascinating insight into a period of musical history which has been all but forgotten.

Peter Curbishley


I am grateful for the notes provided by Robin Lim in writing this piece.

Next meeting 16 October

 

 

 

 

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