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.
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.