28 July 2015

Graded Music Exams - A British Eccentricity?


At the age of six, my daughter unilaterally announced she was going to learn the violin.  There had been no parental pressure, and while she had been exposed to much music around the house and a great many live concerts, she had shown no real desire actually to play an instrument, occasionally mentioning that she liked the harp and the cello, but very conscious that these were very big instruments for a small girl to handle.  Yet out of the blue the violin wish was expressed to the extent that a quick trip into town to buy a cheap second-hand one became unavoidable.  She took to that like a duck to water and, knowing of a highly-regarded violinist in the locality who ran beginner violin classes, we had my daughter assessed and accepted.  Two years on and she is still loving it; pony club and horse riding apart, it is the activity she most looks forward to each week.

The class runs for two years during which it performs two concerts annually, after which those who wish to carry on have individual lessons and continue to perform at these concerts as well as a third during the year.  I was overseas on an examining tour when the last of my daughter’s violin class concerts was held, but my wife sent me a video and I spent many lonely evenings in my hotel watching and admiring these enthusiastic young violinists.  After days – weeks – of indifferent early grade violinists gloomily scraping their ways through grades 1,2,3,4 and 5, it was refreshing to see so much talent and so much obvious enjoyment from young violinists playing in concert.  Any one of these (my daughter included) could easily have sailed through a grade 3 and got a high distinction, such was the quality of their tone, intonation, posture and rhythmic security.   On my return we discussed my daughter's progress and future direction with the teacher asking about exams; “I don’t do those”, was her dismissive reply, and we left it at that.

That was when I realised that the reason these students were playing so well was because they were not saddled with the burden of a graded music exam.  Most teachers will spend at least six months in any year with a student preparing them for the next exam.  Everyone knows the student who, having done grade three turns up at the very next lesson expecting to start work on grade four; parents are usually blamed for pushing this on the teacher, but teachers themselves are to blame for not being professional enough to put their educational ethics above pressure from their paymasters.  It is a sad consequence of the graded music exam system that a student who can rightfully claim a phenomenal distinction mark at grade 8 may well have a total repertoire of 24 pieces (three from each graded exam) and a complete ignorance of any kind of musical activity beyond lessons and exams.

The fact is, graded music exams have become a self-propelling machine, driving a whole industry on the engine of a system which assumes a legitimacy which few ever think to question.  The major examination boards, all British-based, may only employ a few hundred (largely young and musically unqualified) administrators in their prestigious London headquarters, but they support thousands of examiners, local agents, advisors and all their support staff around the world, not to mention the huge numbers of teachers who derive their entire income from preparing students for graded music examinations.  Add to this the huge publishing business created to support the exams (in-house for ABRSM, through commercial linkage for Trinity and the others) and, if nothing else, one can look at the graded music examination industry as a major employer.  With the ABRSM raking in vast amounts through entry fees in such places as Hong Kong and Singapore, while Trinity rakes in the dollars hand over fist from Indian and Malaysian candidates, it is also a significant earner of foreign currency and plays a key role in maintaining the UK’s position as a leading player in worldwide education.  As one who has benefitted financially and professionally from over half-a-century's association with the graded music examination industry, I am the last person who should be complaining about it.  It’s done me well, and for my part I have always done all I can to promote it and encourage its growth.  My policy has always been that it is a flawed system, but is the best we have, and rather than sit outside and criticise, it is better for me to sit inside and do my bit to improve it.

But now I’m not so sure.  I accept it is the best system of assessing the early progress of music students we have, but I am beginning to wonder whether we need to have any system at all.  When my daughter is progressing far better in her music by NOT doing exams, are, perhaps, we barking totally up the wrong tree in promoting the exam as an essential part of musical training?  After all, it is a peculiarly British thing; possibly seen by many as typifying that British eccentricity which insists on placing every conceivable thing into clearly-defined categories. German, French, Russian and Hungarian friends, all of whom are musicians, are amazed at the graded exam system which, in their eyes, is totally misguided on placing testing and assessment above delivery and appreciation of musical performance.

Graded music exams came into being at the height of the British Colonial era.  They were designed to ensure music students in colonial territories were on a par with those back home and were thus equally equipped to apply for places in the London music colleges and academies.  That link with the London colleges today exists largely in name only - ABRSM (founded 1889) and Trinity (exams started in 1877) have to hand a chunk of their earnings (we can’t call them profits since both are charitable organisations which are not permitted for tax reasons to show a profit) to the Royal schools and Trinity College London respectively – and while a few scholarships are awarded periodically to candidates through graded exams, these are too rare and geographically inconsistent to make it worth anybody working really hard at their grade 8 in the hope of finding a place at the RAM.  There is a handful of (mostly) Malaysian ABRSM scholars who have made it on to the professional circuit (one thinks most recently of Bobby Chen), but the vast majority of professional performers not only never went through the graded music examination system but have never even heard of it.  Its function has evolved into more an assessment of a teacher’s ability to teach than a student’s ability to make music:  if proof were needed to support this idea, take a stroll through any Hong Kong shopping mall and look at the music schools which promote themselves wholly through their successes in graded music examinations.

Teachers have become so absorbed in preparing students for exams that they forget the purpose of music, and it has become almost the de facto duty of exam board local reps to fill the cavity left by these teachers and prepare concerts which give, at last, the opportunity to perform in public to those students who otherwise spend the entirety of their musical training alone with a teacher and, once a year, an examiner.  The trouble is, these so-called High Achievers’ concerts are as much concerned with promoting the exam boards as showcasing potential musical talent.  Too often we witness the cringe-making juxtaposition of, say, a solo grade 1 violin painfully scraping through a dismal grade 1 test piece and a wanabe pop singer, amplified beyond all human endurance, which does neither of them any good yet impresses us all with the extent of what can be assessed in a graded music exam.

Indeed, so central are ABRSM exams to teachers that they now regard the syllabus as a curriculum defining the bounds of their teaching requirements at each year of a student’s training.  Thus, when Trinity decided to make sight-reading optional and did away with the idea of forcing candidates to play pieces from three different periods of musical history in a single exam, many teachers were horrified.  To this day I still get teachers telling me that this is wrong; “Sight reading is important”, they tell me; “Students have to be exposed to different musical styles”.  And they are right.  But it is not the job of the music exam to do this, it is the job of the teacher, and if the teacher is not good enough to teach beyond what is required in a music exam, then they should not be teaching at all.

The graded music examination system, designed to improve standards in the unregulated world of instrumental music teaching, could be seen as a victim of its own success for, while it has become the accepted standard for many teachers and has certainly expanded and improved the level of instrumental teaching generally, it now has turned to promoting, albeit inadvertently, lazy - if not downright bad - teaching practices. My daughter is by no means alone in benefitting musical from not doing a graded music exam; at a rough guess, I would be very surprised if more than 0.1% of the professional musicians on the world stage had ever done a graded music examination. Perhaps the time has now come for us to rethink the purpose and value of this bloated and self-serving system of musical education and concentrate on producing good players rather than successful examination candidates.

12 June 2015

Look! I Can Hear You!



I could not have been more than five years’ old.  My two sisters and brother were at school all day and I was left alone at home with my mother.  I probably played around for most of the day, but the high point always came just after lunch when Mum and I would sit down together by the wireless and listen to the gentle strains of Fauré’s Dolly Suite and the soothing, silken voice of (I think) Daphne Oxenforde, who uttered those magic words; “Are you sitting comfortably? [pause] Then I’ll begin”.  Does the BBC know how powerful a bonding tool it had with its daily Listen With Mother, a moment when (I imagined) children everywhere were sitting with their Mums avidly lapping up whatever story the delightful Daphne told us?  I can’t remember a single one of the stories, but the Dolly Suite does it for me every time; flooding back happy memories of a long-lost childhood and a precious moment with a loving mother whose love I probably never adequately repaid in either word or deed.

"Aye, Janet".  The rare smile prompted, surely,
by the thought of the music about to come.
Then there was Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, the television highlight of the week when the crusty Andrew Cruickshank uttered his immortal catchphrase “Aye, Janet” and another half hour or so of grim and gloomy goings-on in the life of country doctors in the Scottish village of Tanochbrae (which, with Drs Cameron, Finlay and Snoddy, had at least one doctor per non-doctoral resident – how the NHS has changed in Scotland!) held me in thrall.  The stories were grim and forgettable, but I wouldn’t miss a moment in case, somewhere between the opening and closing statements of what remains for me one of the great TV signature tunes of all time, there was a chance we might have a tiny snatch of some other part of this glorious musical score.  For years I sought the music, eventually learning it was the March from Trevor Duncan’s Little Suite.  It was my prized LP until Naxos gave us the whole Suite on CD.  Trevor Duncan may have been a BBC staffer whose real name was Leonard Trebilco, but for my money he was one of the truly top notch British light music composers of the age. How wonderful it was to discover BBC Alba, the Gaelic Television station, re-running the old series again, and, despite having easy access to the music on CD, I still watched avidly with that same anticipation, aching for the end when the lovely music would fade in once more and transport me back to those days huddled with a warm family around our tiny black-and-white television.


Not here...
...but here
When Panorama took on a new and spine-tingling theme tune, I asked everyone I could think of – the music staff at school, musical friends, my piano teacher – what it was.  Nobody knew, and for years it ran around my head as a perpetual irritant, driving me mad with the need to know what it was.  A chance accident solved the mystery.  Having fallen in love with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, I bought an ancient Supraphon LP of it (Mirka Pokorna with the Brno State Philharmonic under Jiri Waldhans). Heavily edited and subjected to the most astonishing performing liberties (many of which I still hanker after when I hear it properly correctly in a live concert), it left enough room for the whole of the first of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances.  It took a bit of time for me to get round to listening to this, so entranced was I by the Concerto, but when I did I was amazed to hear, at the very end, a very much calmed-down version of the Panorama signature tune.  I bought the whole set of Symphony Dances but the original was not there.  I used up all my pocket money of just about every Rachmaninov LP I could find, and then, on the most expensive (Decca SXL6583) I struck gold.  It was from the final movement of the First Symphony, and there was Walter Weller and the Orchestra of the Suisse Romande playing that glorious moment from Panorama, a programme which did not then interest me in the slightest, but which I never missed just because of the music. 

His Dad may have been lost at the South
Pole, but he was lost when it came to music.
I am not fanatic about wild birds, but I do love them and when my sister gave me, as a recent birthday present, a trip to a puffin colony in the Firth of Forth, I was thrilled to bits; the chance of seeing wild birds in their natural habitat always excites me.  That love of birds, perhaps unexpected in one born and brought up in the middle of London where pigeons, sparrows and the odd crow were the totality of our aviaratical experience, also owes its origins to a television programme which I would never miss, not because of the content but because of the glorious theme music that book-ended it.  How I yearned each week for Peter Scott’s Look! and it’s evocative, soaring, expansive theme music.  But in this case, I remain beaten.  Not a week of my life has passed without its haunting theme coming to mind, yet despite every effort I have made to find it, the music remains unknown.  As a precocious 12-year-old I once met the great Peter Scott himself (he came to an association to which my parents belonged to give a talk on his work at with the Wild Fowl Trust at Slimbridge) and asked him what the music was.  To my horror, he neither knew nor seemed to care.  Did he not know that he was my hero solely because he was associated with some of the most wonderful music I had ever heard? He suggested that it was “probably written just for the programme”, but I doubt that; it was too elevated to be a short jingle by a house composer.  Yet I can get no clues from the music, and I fear my memory has adapted and modified it beyond its original dimensions.  Yet the theme is as vivid as ever (in C major; G up the octave to G, down to E-F-E-D-C lower G-A).  Even the internet, a source some misguided people claim to be the nearest thing to flawless, offers no help whatsoever, and I remain in agonising ignorance of one of the most persistent musical memories I have.

I recall an interview with a member of the production team on Woman’s Hour explaining the pains she took to find the right music to suit the story with which each programme ended.  She told how she would avidly listen to every record she could lay her hands on and make notes for future reference of particular moods or pictures it created in her mind.  Years later, often, she would need to find music to go with, say, a story about a woman in a wheelchair who lived in a lighthouse and, hey presto, there in her card index was just the perfect musical match!  (I started doing this in the hope that, one day, it would come in useful.  It never has, and my huge database of “potential signature tunes and mood music” is now inaccessible, having been finally transferred to a 3 inch floppy disc on my first Amstrad computer – and thereby totally inaccessible today).  Among the real finds she came up with was Richard Adler’s Wilderness Suite (a title which prompted me to hope – in vain as it transpired – it might also have provided the music for Look!) which so perfectly suited a story about American settlers that it was hard not to imagine it having been written especially for it.  Such work is no longer done or valued in the broadcast media as a rule; with music cheaply and painlessly created by dull and unimaginative computer programmers, is there a single theme tune out there which would drive anyone to listen or watch the programme regardless of content, or which will last in the memory over a half a century later? 

The power of this music on an impressionable youngster has been irrefutable.  Would I have felt such a powerful bond with my mother without Fauré prompting me to Listen With Mother, would Scotland have become such a significant place in my life without Trevor Duncan introducing me so sublimely to Dr Finlay’s Casebook, would I have had a deep and passionate fascination with politics and world affairs without Rachmaninov’s urging me to watch Panorama, and would my fascination with wild birds and open spaces ever have been fired without Look! and its, as yet, anonymous musical superstar?  I do not know, but I do know that the music drove me into the arms of these programmes, all of which ended up affecting my life in a lasting and beneficial way, and that without that music, my life would have been immeasurably the poorer.

 

So I ask, with all sincerity;  kill off the computer music programmers and the dull kids who dutifully churn out 30 seconds of “title music”, the inept and unimaginative producers who see their work as “creative” rather than inspirational, and tell me, for God’s sake, who wrote the music for Look!

03 March 2015

How Grim Thou Art!


Affixed to a glass panel of a telephone kiosk in a Belfast Street (just up the road from Botanic Station on the way to Queen’s University) is a small piece of paper which, inexplicably, is a photocopy of a page from a hymn book.  It includes the music (in four-part harmony) and words of the hymn “How Great Thou Art”.

Why that hymn and, more intriguingly, why is it there at all?  It’s too small to attract most passers-by (my eye was caught by the presence of musical notation) and faces outwards rather than inwards, so it can hardly be there to keep the occupant of the telephone kiosk entertained while awaiting connection.  It remains a mystery, as does, it has to be said, so much else about this hymn.

“How Great Thou Art” regularly gets voted as “the nation’s favourite hymn” in polls run on broadcast and social media, and any vaguely Christian event on television usually finds it being performed either by a massed congregation or, more cringe-makingly, by some solo singer of dubious talent but excessive vocal aspirations.  Its phenomenal popularity seems preposterous given its dirge-like musical quality and its grim words, and the biggest mystery is why it strikes such a powerful chord with the public at large irrespective of the depth of their musical knowledge or Christian convictions.

Its popularity seems to be something of a recent thing, and I survived almost 30 years as chorister and organist, attending sung church services on an almost daily basis and devouring hymn books like some ravaging half-starved monster, before it crossed my path.  I recall vividly that first encounter and my reaction to it.  Invited to adjudicate at a hymn-singing competition held in the Lake District, it was the set hymn for “Children’s’ mixed choirs 12 and under”.  I looked aghast at the copy handed to me before the competition and wondered what on earth I could find in this dire dirge to use as a yardstick in assessing the performance of the five eager young choirs.  The tessitura was so low as to risk damage to young voices and preclude any hope of dynamic variety (it can, at best, only ever sound like an extended low moan), each line ended with a long note - an open invitation, it seemed, for the singers to take an extended break and thereby destroy any sense of coherence the melody might have had (and all five choirs enthusiastically accepted that invitation) - and the melody was so blatantly unsuited to the words that any choir director with a hint of sensitivity would try to keep them as low-profile as possible.  After five dreary, colourless and utterly uninspiring performances I felt unable to award a placing and, as a consequence, the presentation of a cup to the winning choir was withheld.  The Lady Mayoress, who had donated the cup and was to present it, was horrified and demanded that I change my mind (she had put on her chain and regalia in the expectation of another public appearance on stage, which my decision had effectively dashed).  The subsequent altercation had me explaining that “whoever selected that hymn clearly had no understanding or knowledge of the vast number of uplifting and inspiring hymns more suited to young voices”.  Of course, it was the Lady Mayoress who had selected it and she explained that she did it in memory of her late father, whose favourite hymn it was.  My reply that I did not think it fair to impose on innocent and fresh young voices such a dismal dirge simply for her own personal gratification saw the Lady Mayoress storm out of the hall in high dudgeon.

So much of Christian church-going revolves around the comfort of the familiar, and I can appreciate that many people may have memories of an occasion on which a hymn is sung which they revisit every time they hear it again.  But why has this hymn got itself so firmly rooted in so many people’s psyche?  Neither extended exposure to it over the past 30 years nor prolonged study of it has made me change my opinion; it remains, as it ever was, a total mystery to me how this grim thing wins over so much of the great inspirational church hymnody of the past 300 years.  Is this perhaps a manifestation of that “lowest-common-denominator” we see in so much of our artistic life; the public preferring the least complex and intellectually stimulating material to anything more inspiring.

The clue may come from this web page devoted to this grindingly boring hymn (http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/o/w/how_great_Thou_art.htm) which explains that its origins go back to 19th century Sweden.  Swedish music and literature can be grim and forbidding, yet holds a strange fascination for the British, and perhaps the current vogue for British television dramas set in Scandinavia and built around grim and forbidding characters and stories might reflect a subconscious craving for a more miserable existence than that which we currently enjoy.  Possibly our anonymous bill-poster in Belfast was trying to tell us that, while the streets around are grim and grimy, the shops mostly shuttered and the graffiti and litter left undisturbed, there is, buried deep in our hymn books, something even more grim.

27 February 2015

Ernest Winchester, a forgotten composer

A request from Hobart, Australia, for information about an English church music composer and organist set me off on a fascinating search.  I have to confess I came up with very little other than some very old copies of his music - notably hymn tunes and some settings of the Responses and Canticles - and an oblique reference to a performance he gave in a church in Gloucestershire.  Yet, it seems, for a time during the latter years of the 19th century, he was as popular as, say, Bob Chilcott or John Rutter are today (minus, of course, the oxygen of publicity provided by recordings and the internet).  This rather set me thinking about the fate of composers whose popularity is so governed by the tastes of the time that, once tastes change, they lapse into obscurity.

Losing touch with such figures not only robs us of part of our musical heritage, but makes it much more difficult for us to understand the musical environment out of which other, greater, composers emerged whose music has managed to transcend the very transitory world of popular taste.  We look at Victorian and Edwardian England and recognise the importance of such composers as Elgar, Stanford and Parry, and tend to dismiss the rest as second-rate.  Yet it was these "second-rate" composers, far more than those whose names and music has been preserved, who would have been the daily bread and butter of the young, budding musicians of the day.  Vaughan Williams, Walton, Britten and Tippett were all developing their love of music in an environment peopled by the likes of E C Winchester.

With the centenary of his death falling next year, it might be appropriate to resurrect the music of E C Winchester and certainly it would sensible to be reminded of his life; not least because it seems so typical of how most who wrote music in England during the late Victorian era lived and yet seems so improbable to us today.  I have a particular interest since he seems to have lived and worked in the same part of London as my father did when, as a young man about to enter a career in the civil service, he, too, worked as an organist and composed a considerable amount of church music.  With extreme gratitude to my original correspondent, Brendan Lennard, who is Senior Cultural Heritage Officer of the City of Hobart, and who managed to find out far more about Winchester than I did, I reprint below the full text of his most recent researches.  Both he and I would dearly love more information on this long-forgotten musician and would be grateful if any readers of this blog could come up with something more.  Do contact me direct either via this blog or on drmarcrochester@gmail.com - I shall pass everything you send to Brendan.

Ernest Charles Winchester was born on 22 May 1854 at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, second child of Charles and Mary E. Winchester.  He had an older sister, Mary.  One reference (Dictionary of Composers for the Church in Great Britain and Ireland) says he was born at ‘Osborne’ which of course was a royal estate – possibly suggesting that his parents worked there.  His father Charles is described as a gardener (1861).  In the 1861 census his family was living at Arch Lodge, Osborne Mews, Whippingham , Isle of Wight, but by 1871 they were in London where his father is now described as a store keeper and domestic servant.  The 1871 census gives his address as 18 Wycliffe Grove, Battersea, though it also describes the young Ernest Winchester (who was sixteen) as Assistant Schoolmaster, Isle of Wight.

On 16 December 1872 the eighteen year-old Winchester commenced employment as a writer in the India Office, the British government department created to oversee administration of the Provinces of British India.  He continued to work as a civil servant in the India Office until his retirement.  By November 1878 he was clerk, 2nd class and in May 1901 was appointed staff clerk.  (1905 India List and India Office List).

He had begun composing church music by the age of 20.  In 1874 his hymn, Sing to the Lord was the prize tune of the College of Organists (which was not then the RCO).

He married Mary Agnes Harriett Spratt (variously known as Agnes or Mary) on 16 January 1878 at Holy Trinity Church, South Wimbledon; their daughter Mabel was born the same year, and was baptised at Holy Trinity on 16 December 1878.  There appears to have only been the one child.  The Winchester family lived at 44 Charlwood Street West; Civil Parish of St George Hanover Square, Westminster in 1881 and at 37 Lambert Road, Brixton, Lambeth (1891).  In both the 1901 and 1911 census they were at 22 Henderson Road, Wandsworth (where’s the Blue Plaque?). 

Winchester was still with the India Office in 1911, but retired to Bexley, where he died on 21 February 1916 (next year will be his centenary!)  He was survived by his wife Mary, who died seven year later on 28 June 1923 and by their daughter Mabel.  Mabel Winchester had married Arthur Ronson at St Mary Magdalene, Wandsworth Common on 8 October 1904.  Ernest Winchester had become a grandfather on 18 September 1906 when Irene Ronson was born.  Irene (1906-1963) married Noel Roy Dobree (1891-1968) and they had two sons (Arthur and Peter) and a daughter (Mary).

E.C. Winchester, who had obtained his FTCL by the age of 23,  served as organist at Holy Trinity, South Wimbledon (unsure of dates); organist at All Saints, Norfolk Square, Paddington in 1881, and organist and director of music at Christ Church, Southwark from 1883.  All Saints Paddington was consecrated in 1847, but destroyed by fire in 1894.  Christ Church Southwark was bombed during the Second World War.  Only the Wimbledon church survives.




Winchester’s music was occasionally reviewed in the ‘New Music’ column of The Graphic (London).  In 1877 a “batch of Church music” by Winchester was said to demonstrate that he was “not only a good organist but a painstaking composer.”  His anthem “I Will Give Thanks Unto Thee, O Lord,” with a tenor solo and chorus was described as “a brisk, nervous anthem”; the Te Deum and Benedictus were said to demonstrate “good sound writing.”  Other work, including six settings of the “Kyrie Eleison,” were “at times rather monotonous” … but … “have much in them to commend.”  A new setting by Winchester of the hymn, “Hark! Hark! My Soul” was dismissed by The Graphic as not coming up the original by Frederick William Faber.  His “May Day Dance” was described in 1880 as a very charming caprice … one which repay careful study. In 1888 Winchester’s “Crowning of the May Queen,” to words by Claudia F. Hernaman was described by The Graphic as “a remarkably pretty trio for ladies’ voices.”


The British Library lists 58 items by E.C. Winchester (though some appear to be duplicates).  This list includes settings of Holy Communion, the canticles Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, Te Deum, Benedictus, Benedicite and various hymns and anthems.  Interestingly, there is a setting of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ (I wonder how it compares to Sullivan’s St Gertrude?).  There are also two ‘Action Songs’ and music for Christmas.  His organ music includes a Grand Festival March and Three Original Voluntaries (both published by Pitman in 1898).  Most works in the British Library Catalogue were published by Hart and Co.  Many have a publication date of 1898 – though some of these works appear to have been in circulation long before that date.  His service settings were used in Hobart, Tasmania as early as 1891, and for its Christmas festivities in 1893, the Church of All Saints, South Hobart proudly proclaimed;


The special music for Christmas Day has been chosen entirely from the works of Ernest Winchester, the organist of All Saints’ Church, Southwark, London (one of the most popular writers of modern church music), including his “Festival service in F,” and anthem, “There were shepherds.”  The choral settings for Holy Communion are also to be Ernest Winchester’s compositions.

All Saints South Hobart continues the fine tradition of liturgical music in Anglican worship to this day, though I am pretty sure that Winchester’s work has probably disappeared from the repertoire!

This is the catalogue of compositions by E.C. Winchester held by the British Library:


Agnus Dei, etc. [In A flat.] London : Hunt & Co, [1898]
Be merciful after thy Power. Offertory Anthem. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedicite, omnia Opera, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedicite, omnia Opera, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedicite, omnia Opera, for use in Advent, Septuagesima and Lent, etc. [In E flat.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedictus ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedictus, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedictus, harmonised on a Gregorian Tone. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Blessed is He that cometh ... Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Cantate Domino, etc. [In B flat.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Communion Service in F, for use with Marbecke's ... Creed. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Crowning of the May Queen. Trio for Ladies' Voices. Words by C. F. Hernaman. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Deus misereatur, harmonized on an Ancient Melody. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Evening Service. Magnificat & Nunc dimittis ... arranged to Gregorian Tones with varied vocal and instrumental Harmonies. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Evening Service. Magnificat [in A] and Nunc dimittis [in C] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Evening Service. Magnificat [in B flat] and Nunc dimittis [in D flat] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Ferial Responses, arranged and harmonized by E. C. Winchester. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Four original Settings of the Kyrie Eleison, in ... D major. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Gloria ... for Ordinary and Festal use und five Settings of the Kyrie Eleison. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Grand Festival March for the organ. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Hallelujah! Christ is risen. Full Anthem for Easter. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Hark! hark! my Soul. Hymn ... for four voices with a free Organ Accompaniment. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
I will give Thanks unto Thee, O Lord. Festival Anthem. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
If ye love Me ... Full Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Jubilate Deo ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem. Anthem for Christmas. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Litany, etc. [In F.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Magnificat & Nunc dimittis ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis ... in ... G. London : Hart & Co, [1878]
Nicene Creed with Kyrie eleison-two Settings-and Doxologies. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Nunc dimittis. (From the Service in F.). London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Office for Holy Communion ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Onward, Christian Soldiers. Processional Hymn, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Praise the Lord. Full Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Sing to the Lord. Hymn for four voices. London : Weekes & Co, [1876]
Six original Tunes to favourite Hymns. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Six Settings of the Kyrie Eleison. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Strike of the Beer-Jugs. Action Song ... words by A. J. Foxwell. London : J. Curwen & Sons, [1892]
Te Deum [in D] and Benedictus [in F], etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum arranged to Gregorian Tones. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus set to easy music for small Choirs. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus, etc. [In B flat.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus, etc. [In D.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus. Chant Setting, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Ten Offertory Sentences. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Cross ... [Hymn.] Words by S. C. Foster. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Little Gardeners. Action Song ... words by T. P. Cowling. London : J. Curwen & Sons, [1892]
The Lord is my Shepherd. Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Story of the Cross, etc. [Hymns.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Story of the Cross. [S. A. T. B.] London : Hart & Co, [1884?]
The Story of the Cross. Second Setting, and five Original Litany Tunes, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
There were Shepherds. Anthem for Christmas. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Three original Introductory Voluntaries for the Organ. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Three Settings of the Te Deum laudamus to original Quadruple Chants. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Venite ... harmonised on an Ancient Melody. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Versicles or Preces & Responses ... for use during Advent and Lent. London : Hart & Co, [1898]

 
 

25 February 2015

One-Work Composers

The phenomenon of the One-Work Composer seems be dying out.  Forty, thirty, maybe twenty-five years ago most music-lovers could have easily listed a half-dozen composers whose names were familiar only through a single work.  Pachelbel was synonymous with the Canon, Boccherini with the Minuet, Dukas with Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Bax with Tintagel, Sinding with Rustle of Spring, MacDowell with To A Wild Rose, and many more.  I recall from my student days taking part in a double-bill of operas – The Telephone and Savitri – for which the programme booklet (authored by a leading musicologist of the time) suggested that the audience was being shown that two composers were being revealed as writing more than just the one work by which everyone knew them then (Menotti Amahl and the Night Visitors and Holst The Planets).  It was a post-graduate student colleague researching into the music of E J Moeran who, goaded by a silly comment from me about the G minor Symphony (the first movement of which I absolutely adore), surprised me by rattling off a whole catalogue of other compositions from this much-underrated English composer of the early 20th century, and when I stumbled across an old Supraphon LP of Trionfo di Afrodite in a second-hand record-shop in the English midlands back in the late 1970s I realised, for the first time, that Carl Orff had composed something other than Carmina Burana (although even today most music-lovers only know his work in music education beyond that astonishingly popular choral extravaganza).  Max Bruch used to rile against the fact that everyone knew him only for his G minor Violin Concerto, while Percy Grainger was appalled at the popularity of his Country Gardens and would tell anyone who asked that the piece reminded him of cow pats and compost heaps.

The demise of the One-Work Composer seems to have begun with the tercentenary of J S Bach in 1985.  Never known himself as a One-Work Composer, Bach nevertheless has long suffered from a widespread ignorance of the totality of his output.  (Only a few years ago I was doing a presentation to students in Hong Kong and after hearing several of them perform one of the 48 asked them to list other works by Bach; they ummed and ahhed for a while before coming up with “another Prelude and Fugue” and “Toccata and Fugue”, although details of tonality were not known.)  Coming just two years after the first commercial CDs had appeared on the market, enterprising recording companies took advantage of the handy size of the medium, its extended playing time, the ease and relative inexpensiveness of its production, its dazzling aural qualities which sometimes encouraged listeners to focus more on the sound than the music itself and, perhaps most significantly, the opportunities its packaging gave for extended written support materials, to go for comprehensivity.  Quite literally they unearthed everything they could find that Bach had - or may have – written, and committed it all to disc.  That seemed to open the floodgates, and the culture of exhaustive comprehensivity was born.  We now have more CDs bearing the motto “The Complete Works of…” than one would have thought possible, while the one or two tiny gaps which the CDs do not cover have been plugged by the likes of tiny Timmy Tots thumping tunes to tinny sounds (I’ve run out of teasing alliterative Ts) on YouTube.  Bad sound, bad performances, non-existent background information, inane comments from pig-ignorant listeners, but at least bringing into the public arena music which nobody would otherwise have heard.
So today even the most peripheral music-lover will know that Pachelbel was a prolific writer of chorale preludes, Boccherini wrote some lovely chamber works as well as a cello concerto or two, Dukas produced La Peri and MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches contain a lot more charming pieces beyond the opening To a Wild Rose.  On top of that music scholarship has denied some composers their One-Work status; luckily we all now know Albinoni’s numerous concertos since the Adagio by which his name was uniquely preserved for decades turns out not to have been by him at all. 

Yet there remain several composers whose reputations cannot seem to break through the One-Work barrier.  When we see that Litolff’s Scherzo comes from a work listed as his Op.103 we might reasonably expect that, by now, several dozen of his works would, at the very least, have got an airing on YouTube (although that can be a curse; follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ojcu-g5soPY for a ghastly experience seemingly filmed on a cheap webcam in an adolescent’s bedroom - thank God he remembered to put his trousers on before switching on the camera).  On top of that, a truncated work-list in Grove suggests opus numbers for Litolff reach as high as Op.106 and that among his published compositions are no less than 12 operas, five piano concertos and “117 characteristic pieces” for piano solo.  Where are they?  I can find just two of the four listed Concert Overtures on YouTube (notably Maximilian Robespierre, Op.55, and Chant des Belges, Op.101, the latter of which appears as a bad regurgitation of an existing recording and an unexplained black-and-white photograph yet no acknowledgment about the origins of the sounds we hear - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p3dwwR494w.  In proper recorded sound, in coherent performances and supported by generous and informative documentation, Hyperion have unearthed the remaining extant piano concertos (CDA67210 and CDA66889), but that’s it.  Litolff remains, firmly, a One-Work Composer.

As does Hamish MacCunn.  A fantastic new disc of organ music recorded on the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and played with great verve by John Kitchen, boasts music by MacCunn, and this got me very excited.  Having fallen in love with MacCunn’s Land of the Mountain and the Flood (his Op.3 written when he was just 19) from a marvellous HMV LP called “Music of the Four Countries”, I have many times tried to delve deeper into MacCunn’s output, but have largely drawn a blank. Hyperion have, as ever, done more than most by recording a couple of his other pieces and some extracts from his opera Jeanie Deans, but on YouTube you find just a profusion of Land of the Mountain and the Flood (mostly stolen from the existing commercial recordings), some of which include the deeply perceptive critical comments of your average YouTube reader (usually as grammatically conscious as a garden slug) including this dazzling bit of insight from a certain James Ginn; “I liked the part where the cymbals woke me up” or this hugely relevant comparison from Zrak23 “part of the song reminds me of Batman 1989 soundtrack?” (Nice one, Zrak23; after that intellectual effort you can go back to snorting your cocaine now.) MacCunn was by no means as prolific as Litolff, the worklist on Grove showing nothing higher than an Op.30, but surely something should have emerged to rival this one work’s popularity.  A piano recital on Divine Arts by Scottish pianist Murray McLachlan (dda25003) finds a few piano dances, and there is a setting of “O Mistress Mine” on an obscure CD on the Atma label, but that’s it. Kitchen’s organ piece, far from being a new discovery of a hitherto unknown work by MacCunn, turns out to be a masterly transcription by Jeremy Cull of - yes you’ve guessed it - Land of the Mountain and the Flood.

 

So we are left with the inescapable conclusion that, despite all the efforts to release into the public domain recordings of every note written by every composer, some composers must forever languish under the heading of One-Work Composers.  And, as that category continues to shrink, it lends a certain distinction to those, like Litolff and MacCunn, who remain known to the world through one dazzling and, it would seem, unrepeatable moment of creative genius.