Chair of the VW Society gives presentation
Simon Coombs, the Chair of the Vaughan Williams Society, gave an extremely interesting and informative talk on the music of Vaughan Williams to a packed room at the last Society meeting on Monday. Regarded as one of Britain’s great composers, he produced a wide range of music, including songs, symphonies, choral works, chamber music and works with a religious theme. He was what one might call a ‘late developer’ not finding his voice until his ’30s (reminiscent of Bruckner).
Simon took us through his history starting with his childhood in Down Ampney and his later life in Dorking (Surrey) and Chelsea. He showed promise at school, composing a short piece called ‘The Robin’ aged 6. Later he went on to study under Parry and Max Bruch. He spent time in Paris studying with Maurice Ravel who said of him ‘he was the only one of my students who doesn’t try to write my music’.
He was keenly interested in folk music and started to collect these in 1903. He was not the first composer to be
influenced by the folk song tradition (one thinks of Bartok) and much of his early work was founded on this tradition. He was friendly with George Butterworth who shared his passion for English folk songs and who offered advice to VW in his early days including suggesting that he write a symphony. It is a surprising fact but there are no performed symphonies by a British composer before VW and Elgar. The suggestion by Butterworth is therefore something of a revolutionary suggestion. Butterworth died tragically young in the Great War. VW was keen to contribute to the war and served as an ambulance driver and stretcher bearer. Like many who served in the trenches, the War made a lasting impression including the loss of friends.
He was keen to popularise his music and started the Leith Hill Music Festival (near Dorking) in 1905 and which still thrives. He had a huge output which included 9 symphonies.
Simon played a mixture of his works, some familiar, others less often heard. These included the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; an extract from the Sea Symphony (1909); a song from 5 Mystical Songs; parts of the London Symphony (1913) and the Pastoral Symphony (1921) and from number 4 (1934).
Perhaps the work most recognisably as his is the Lark Ascending strongly influenced by his love of folk songs (1914). Other pieces included an extract from the English Folk Song Suite (1923), Serenade to Music (1938) and from one of his operas Hugh the Drover. He was approached by Muir Mathieson to compose the music for the film Thirty Ninth Parallel which he composed in a matter of weeks.
This was a brilliant start to the second half of the season.
The second half of the season starts tonight, Monday 5 February and we are delighted to welcome Simon Coombs from the Vaughan Williams Society who is going to discuss and play music by this great English composer. Starts at 7:30 as usual and is only £3 to non-members. Parking is easy and free and details of how to find us are on the ‘Find us’ tab at the top of the site.
We look forward to welcoming existing members back also any new visitors.
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:
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.
Next meeting on 30 October
The new season got off to a good start with a presentation entitled The Power of Mysticism in Music by Ian Lace. Ian was one of the founder members of the Society (not called that then) so we were pleased to welcome him back. He chose pieces where a sense of something beyond the composer was present in the music. It was interesting that most of the pieces – with one exception in fact – were English composers. Whether this means composers from these shores are more susceptible to these influences is probably unlikely although it was noticeable that several had experience either the first or second world wars.
The pieces played were:
- Adagio from Elgar’s Symphony No 1
- Bax, Symphony No 3
- Finzi Intimations of Mortality
- Bach: Chaconne
- The Romanza from Vaughan William’s Symphony No 5
- Elgar again the time the Kingdom Pentecost and finishing with
- Delius Songs of Farewell
Well not quite finishing there because he finished with Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World.
An excellent evening and an all too rare opportunity to hear the music of Bax.
The next meeting is on 3 October and is on early stereo recordings. It will be preceded by a brief agm.
A century ago, the First World War was in full swing. The battle for Ypres was taking place in April 1916 and it was the first time phosgene gas was used. It is difficult to believe that out of this carnage and bloodletting, some lovely music, poetry and art was created.
At the last meeting, Richard Seal played a selection of pieces which were composed during the time of the war or inspired by it. Richard was much moved by visits to the war graves in Flanders including Vimy Ridge, Arras and Thiepval where he hopes to go to again.
He began with A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth who died on the Somme in 1916 aged just 31. This is a familiar piece and his death was a great loss to music. This was followed by the last movement of Morning Heroes by Sir Arthur Bliss who lived until 1975 but who lost his brother in the conflict. He returned to the battlefield in 1928 and this piece was the result of that visit.
This was followed by Three songs by Ivor Gurney. Gurney had a troubled life and was both a poet and composer. He was gassed while serving with the Gloucester regiment but his biggest problem was his mental health. At the time he was thought to be the greatest of his generation but his full promise never materialised.
Britten was too young for the war but his War Requiem, which was composed for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral destroyed in WWII, was inspired by the poems of Wilfrid Owen who regrettably died a week before the Armistice.
This was followed by an Elegy for strings and harp by Frederick Kelly who died in 1916. An Australian he also had a gold medal for rowing in the 1908 Olympics and this elegy was in memory of Rupert Brooke who also lost his life.
Some pieces by Charles Ives followed including In Flanders’ Fields composed in 1917.
The evening finished with the last movement of the Pastoral Symphony by Vaughan Williams. The First World War, in which he served in the army in the medical corps, had a lasting emotional effect.
It was a fascinating evening and the presenter’s erudition about this moving period of our history shone through.
The next meeting is on April 18th
The next meeting of Salisbury Recorded Music Society, will be tonight Monday 4th April 2016 at 7.30pm, in our usual venue. Richard Seal will be presenting In Flanders Fields – music inspired by World War I including works by Vaughan Williams, Britten and George Butterworth. A great deal of attention is paid to the poets who were affected by the war, rather less attention is paid to the composers who were also strongly influenced by the carnage.
Members and supporters might like early sight of the new provisonal programme for 2015/16. We have continued the recent innovation of having a live performance even though we are called the ‘recorded’ music society. We have some speakers who are familiar as well as some new faces so there should be plenty to interest music lovers. You will find the pdf version clearer for technical reasons.
2015 16 programme (pdf)
||Speaker and title
||Ed Tinline. Music from Sibelius 150th Anniversary Festival, Lahti, Finland
||Barry Conaway. ‘1911 – new music of a sunset year’ including Delius, Elgar, Mahler and Sibelius
||Peter Curbishley ‘… but I don’t like modern music’. Music by Schoenberg, Shostakovich and other ‘moderns’
||Christopher Guild. ‘The music of Roland Center (1913 – 1973) and the influence of Britten, Shostakovich, Ravel and Vaughan Williams on his work’ (provisional title)
||Alastair Aberdare. ‘A Berlioz Miscellany’. Lord Aberdare is a member of the Berlioz Society
||A Baroque Evening. David Morgan, Sue Wyatt, Sally Reid and David Davies will bring their baroque instruments to give a live performance, including music by Corelli, Gottfried Finger and Handel
||Anthony Powell. ‘A personal musical journey – 60 years of discovery, including works by Beethoven, Mahler, Vaughan Williams, Britten and Butterworth
||Robin Lim. Title to be confirmed
||Jon Hampton. ‘The art of the arranger’. To include works by Boccherini, arranged by Berio, Bach by Elgar and Schubert by Britten
Please note that some elements may change so it is always worth coming to this site to get the up to date position. We are always looking for new presenters and if you would like to volunteer that would be appreciated. If you are nervous about being on your feet then someone else can do the presentation for you if you prefer. We look forward to seeing you in the autumn.
The Society met for the last time before Christmas and listened to selections by members of their favourites. There was an extremely wide ranging and very interesting choice of music starting with a version of Ruslan and Ludmilla played by a horn ensemble. Other items included the prelude to Mascagni’s opera William Ratcliff demonstrating that he was not just a ‘one opera’ composer.
Among other presentations was a mono recording of Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier. Bach composed these before the piano forte was invented so some modern renditions are not entirely faithful to the sort of sound he intended. This early recording by Edwin Fischer was perhaps truer to that. Also by Bach we heard an aria from St Matthew Passion where the alto and violin weave through the melody.
For Wagner lovers – and even for non-Wagner lovers – we heard the well known prelude to the Master Singers. A lighter touch was provided by Dudley Moore playing And the Same to You – a parody of Beethoven, performed at Beyond the Fringe.
Other pieces included:
- Gustav Mahler’s Ruckertleider No 5 sung by Janet Baker
- Beethoven’s Bagatelles (selection of)
- Mozart’s Vedrai carino from Don Giovanni
- Gerald Finzi’s In Terra Pax
- an exceprt from Verdi’s Aida
- the wonderful Fantasy in F Minor by Schubert
- one of the songs from Four Last Songs by Strauss
- and we finished with part of The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
So a fine end to the first half of the season and we wish all our readers a happy Christmas.
The new season starts off on February 2 with a fascinating presentation by Frida Backman of the Backman Trio who will be taking us through the process of making a CD from rehearsal to the finished thing. We look forward to seeing you then. Details of where we are on the home page. Please check back here nearer the time for any change to the arrangements.