Author Topic: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners  (Read 2216 times)

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kishnevi

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Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« on: October 25, 2014, 04:53:03 PM »
Lord Berners ought to have his own thread.  He was an interesting personality, to say the least.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Berners


Quote
Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners[1] (18 September 1883 – 19 April 1950), also known as Gerald Tyrwhitt, was a British composer of classical music, novelist, painter and aesthete. He is usually referred to as Lord Berners.

Berners was born in Apley Hall, Shropshire, in 1883.

His father, a naval officer, was rarely home. He was raised by a grandmother who was extremely religious and self-righteous, and a mother who had little intellect and many prejudices. His mother ignored his musical interests and instead focused on developing his masculinity, a trait Berners found to be inherently unnatural.

The eccentricities Berners displayed started early in life. Once, upon hearing that you could teach a dog to swim by throwing him into water, the young Gerald promptly decided that by throwing his mother's dog out the window, he could teach it to fly. The dog was unharmed, though the act earned Berners a beating.

After devising several inappropriate booby traps, Berners was sent off to a boarding school in Cheam at the age of nine. It was here that he would first explore his homosexuality; for a short time, he was romantically involved with an older student. The relationship was abruptly ended after Berners vomited on the other boy.

After he left prep school, Gerald continued his education at Eton College. Later, in his autobiographies, Berners would reflect on his experiences at Eton, claiming that he had learned nothing while there, and that the school was more concerned with shaping the young men's characters than supplying them with an education.

As well as being a talented musician, Berners was a skilled artist and writer. He appears in many books and biographies of the period, notably portrayed as Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love.[2] He was a friend of the Mitford family and close to Diana Guinness.

Berners was notorious for his eccentricity,[3] dyeing pigeons at his house in Faringdon in vibrant colours and at one point entertaining Penelope Betjeman's horse to tea. His Rolls-Royce automobile contained a small clavichord keyboard which could be stored beneath the front seat. Near his house he had a 100-foot viewing tower constructed, Faringdon Folly, a notice at the entrance reading: "Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk".[4] Berners also drove around his estate wearing a pig's-head mask to frighten the locals.[5][6]

He was also subject throughout his life to periods of depression. These became more pronounced during the war.

He died in 1950 at Faringdon House, bequeathing his estate to his companion Robert ('Mad Boy') Heber Percy, who lived at Faringdon until his own death in 1987.

His epitaph on his gravestone reads:
"Here lies Lord Berners
One of the learners
His great love of learning
May earn him a burning
But, Praise the Lord!
He seldom was bored".


Music

Berners' musical works included Trois morceaux, Fantasie espagnole (1919), Fugue in C minor (1924), and several ballets, including The Triumph of Neptune (1926) (based on a story by Sacheverell Sitwell) and Luna Park (1930). In his period at the British embassy in Rome during World War I he composed avant-garde piano music and several song cycles and later ballets and film scores, notably the 1947 feature Nicholas Nickleby.

His friends included the composers Constant Lambert and William Walton and he worked with Frederick Ashton. Walton dedicated Belshazzar's Feast to Berners, and Lambert arranged a Caprice péruvien for orchestra, from Lord Berners' opera Le carrosse du St Sacrement.

Berners himself once said that he would have been a better composer if he had accepted fewer lunch invitations. But English composer Gavin Bryers, quoted in Peter Dickinson’s biography of Berners, disagrees saying: "If he had spent more time on his music he could have become a duller composer".[7] Dinah Birch, reviewing The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me, a biography of Berners written by his granddaughter, Sofka Zinovieff, concurs saying: "Had he committed himself to composition as his life's work, perhaps his legacy would have been more substantial. But his music might have been less innovative, for its amateur quality - 'amateur in the best sense', as Stravinsky insisted - is inseparable from its distinctive flair".[8]

Literature

Berners wrote four autobiographical works and some novels, mostly of a humorous nature. All were published and some went into translations. His autobiographies First Childhood (1934), A Distant Prospect(1945), Resenlieu and Dresden are both witty and affectionate.

Berners obtained some notoriety for his roman à clef The Girls of Radcliff Hall (punning on the name of the famous lesbian writer), initially published privately under the pseudonym "Adela Quebec",[3][9][10] in which he depicts himself and his circle of friends, such as Cecil Beaton and Oliver Messel, as members of a girls school. This frivolous satire, which was privately published and distributed, had a modish success in the 1930s. The original edition is rare; rumour has it that Beaton was responsible for gathering most of the already scarce copies of the book and destroying them.[11] However, the book was reprinted in 2000.

His other novels, including Romance of a Nose, Count Omega and The Camel are a mixture of whimsy and gentle satire.


Any suggestions as to what to get in his music?  At the moment all I have is one recording of the suite from The Triumph of Neptune, conducted by Beecham.

Online Brian

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2015, 04:03:12 PM »
Cross-posting:

Anybody familiar with Gerald, Lord Berners? I'm reading a fun, gossipy book about his life and his glittery social circle (including Igor Stravinsky, Salvador Dali, Diaghilev, Wallis Simpson, Thomas Beecham, Gertrude Stein, John Betjeman, all the Mitford sisters, Cecil Beaton, etc.) and the author has a high opinion of Berners' skill as a composer. It was one of the many artistic pursuits his wealth enabled him to dabble in. Stravinsky reportedly enjoyed his music, Constant Lambert conducted premieres, and (most notably) Berners was commissioned by Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes.

Anyway, Marco Polo has a ton of his stuff so this morning I'm giving Lord Berners a try.



I've heard a few of Berners' works and I didn't hear a composer of much distinction nor did the music have much of an effect on me.

I'm tiring of it pretty quickly, having now listened to "Neptune" and "Les Sirenes". It's very witty, light music, but the wit is that slightly obscure, self-congratulatory 1930s English upper-class wit. Doesn't translate too well.

There are definitely very charming/amusing moments, and Lord Berners sounds mightily French, but it's sort of like how Poulenc would have ended up if Poulenc never took composition seriously. That is to say, inferior.

I will add that I also listened to three piano pieces - highlighted by "Three Funeral Marches" and "Poisson d'or" which were much more dissonant and "modern" than either of the ballets I heard. I don't expect to return to Berners any time soon, except maybe the 16-minute "Luna Park" just to complement the biography I'm reading.

cilgwyn

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2015, 12:54:31 AM »
Well,here's someone who does! To a degree,anyway!! I must say I like his The Triumph of Neptune,very much;and I have every single recording. The complete ballet on Marco Polo would be nice,and I don't have a problem with the performance so much as that wierd,echoey,acoustic and boxy sound that marred so many Marco Polo recordings. Unfortunately,this hinders my enjoyment of all the Marco Polo recordings of Berner's music. I'll need to listen to A Wedding Bouquet again,before I comment;but from previous listening I rather suspect that The Triumph of Neptune is Berner's at his best. I like Beecham's recordings of this ballet;but as characterful as they are,they are only bits;and the best way to enjoy the score is via the excellent emi recording,conducted by Barry Wordsworth. I think is a delightful,witty,imaginative score,and I get allot of pleasure from listening to it. Nothing terribly deep there,but I does have an odd atmosphere and I absolutely love the wacky scenario behind it! The Marco Polo complete ballet recording lasts 43:16 and the couplings don't help (particularly,L'uomo dai baffi (The Man with the Moustache)! The emi recording includes some more appropriately tuneful offerings!
I'm going to brave that Marco Polo acoustic and have another listen to A Wedding Bouquet,again. If memory serves me correctly,Les Sirènes and Cupid and Psyche are pleasant enough;but ultimately come over as The Triumph of Neptune without the tunes.....and that Marco Polo sound really doesn't help!!
So there you are.....someone who enjoys some of Lord Berner's music!! ??? ;D
« Last Edit: July 30, 2015, 02:14:16 AM by cilgwyn »

cilgwyn

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2015, 01:01:22 AM »
And in answer to your query Jeffrey! ;) Get the Wordsworth emi recording of The Triumph of Neptune. Don't be tempted by the 'complete' version on Marco Polo. (At least,get the emi first!!!) I'll put it on now and have another listen to the 'fill-ups,as well'!

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2015, 05:03:04 AM »
I enjoy the Nicholas Nickleby film score as well as the Triumph of Neptune.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline ritter

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2015, 05:14:19 AM »
I enjoy the Nicholas Nickleby film score as well as the Triumph of Neptune.
I must admit I'm unfamiliar with Berner's muisc. Shoul explore The Triumph of Neptune, as I've ususally found anything related to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes interesting (or at least worth exploring).

ritter
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« Je me suis rarement perdu de vue ; je me suis détesté, je me suis adoré ; puis, nous avons vieilli ensemble. »

cilgwyn

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2015, 05:51:42 AM »
I enjoy the Nicholas Nickleby film score as well as the Triumph of Neptune.
Beecham made two recordings,of course. I'll have to dig them out. There are differences;but I need to listen to them again,before I can make any useful observation here. The soloist sounds a bit too 'sober' on the emi recording,if I want to nit pick! I think there is a livelier intrusion on one of the Beecham's? I wish Chandos,or another label known for it's sound quality,would bring out a 'complete version'. I like pieces like this. I feel they are evocative of a certain period,a little more colourful than now. I've been listening to this for a while on the headphones,and I do like this. I'll try the other cd's again now!

By the way,vandermolen. I was starting to get a bit confused. Jeffrey?!! Wait a minute? He's moved to Florida?!! Does the wife,know?!! ??? ;D

Enjoying City in the West,by the way! Many thanks! :)

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2015, 06:41:31 AM »
Beecham made two recordings,of course. I'll have to dig them out. There are differences;but I need to listen to them again,before I can make any useful observation here. The soloist sounds a bit too 'sober' on the emi recording,if I want to nit pick! I think there is a livelier intrusion on one of the Beecham's? I wish Chandos,or another label known for it's sound quality,would bring out a 'complete version'. I like pieces like this. I feel they are evocative of a certain period,a little more colourful than now. I've been listening to this for a while on the headphones,and I do like this. I'll try the other cd's again now!

By the way,vandermolen. I was starting to get a bit confused. Jeffrey?!! Wait a minute? He's moved to Florida?!! Does the wife,know?!! ??? ;D

Enjoying City in the West,by the way! Many thanks! :)

There are two Jeffrey's contributing to this thread. My wife would certainly be pleased if my CD collection moved to Florida.  8)

Pleased to hear about 'City in the West'.






"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

cilgwyn

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2015, 07:05:28 AM »
All this talk (well.maybe not that much?!) got me thinking of another English counterpart to those frothy French composers,and another composer of ballet scores,that like those of Bliss,don't seem to get performed these days. Anyway,I keep meaning to buy some Constant Lambert for my collection. I looked on Amazon and ebay. Not wanting to frighten my postman too much,I thought I could buy them from Hyperion's own website and get them delivered in the same package. To my surprise,both cds......Pomona & Tiresias,and the one of the Piano Concerto and Romeo & Juliet,etc,were only £5 each...plus postage I might add! Apparently,they have other cd's in their catalogue going at these prices. They aren't listed in the "Please buy me...." section;apparently you have to "look for them"! I wanted my package to fit through the letterbox and I didn't want to spend any more..............so I didn't!! :( ;D
« Last Edit: July 30, 2015, 07:07:56 AM by cilgwyn »

cilgwyn

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Re: Faringdon's Folly, or the Noble Composer: Lord Berners
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2015, 07:22:17 AM »
I've put on the Marco Polo cd of the 'complete' The Triumph of Neptune. Oh dear,this sounds pretty good to me! In fact,the sound is just as good as the emi recording. In fact,it has more bass. It really seems to 'whack-in' after the somewhat drier emi recording. This is what comes of relying on memory before posting! Of course,it may be one of the other Marco Polo Berner cd's that I was thinking of? I wonder if I will like The Man with the moustache this time around. So,there we are;if you want The Triumph of Neptune this recording should be on your list. It sounds like a good performance,too! More vigorous than the Wordsworth.
Sometimes,I'm happy to find out I was wrong! :( ;D

I'm enjoying A Wedding Bouquet. This is definitely one of Marco Polo's better efforts in terms of performance and recording. That said,the sound quality is a step down after their The Triumph of Neptune! That bathroom acoustic! Wacky stuff in an awfully polite English way! A choral ballet set in the garden of a farmhouse near Bellay,with scenes announced by a speaker. I like this!! :o ;D In fact,I think it's rather delightful.........at least,so far?!!
Vandermolen: regarding Nicholas Nickleby. Are you referring to the complete score,or the excerpts (two  bits!) on the emi cd? Bax also composed the score for the David Lean Oliver Twist as you will know. I have a transfer of some excerpts with Harriet Cohen playing,on a  very interesting Symposium cd of historic Bax recordings.

I might need a stiff swig of something more substantial after this Berner cd,though!!
« Last Edit: July 30, 2015, 11:57:28 AM by cilgwyn »