Author Topic: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)  (Read 29511 times)

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Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #20 on: March 27, 2008, 12:51:35 PM »
I adore his 9th quartet - a work I find simultaneously thrilling and extremely daunting...

I have yet to become as close to any of his symphonies as I feel to his 11th, which I can't get enough of :)

Yes, Simpson at his best is 'thrilling and daunting'.. I haven't heard the 11th Symphony yet (I know 1 to 9). Why can't you get enough of it?
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Offline Lethevich

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #21 on: March 27, 2008, 01:07:36 PM »
I haven't heard the 11th Symphony yet (I know 1 to 9). Why can't you get enough of it?

I find it very different from his others in its more limited scale, lighter textures and generally less enormous scope. The structure (two movements in quite distinct feels - the first mid-tempo, the second scherzo styled) is a lot easier to grasp hold of than some of his other works which could be sub-divided into an enormous amount of sections (as some the original Hyperion releases did), and I find that a bit of an obstacle towards understanding a few of the earlier ones. Unlike much of his other work there are less feelings of struggle involved in the 11th, the first movement borders on playful, the second exudes confidence before the well known ending with a casual "flick of the wrist". The overall feeling is acceptance throughout, rather than any difficulty, and as a result it feels a little less icy, emotionally, and more able to form a connection to.

This is from memory, though - I haven't heard the piece in a while. I should revisit soon :)
« Last Edit: March 27, 2008, 01:09:34 PM by Lethe »
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Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #22 on: March 27, 2008, 01:21:27 PM »
If that is 'from memory', you obviously have listened very well. Thanks!
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #23 on: March 29, 2008, 06:19:11 AM »
I like Symphony 1 (Boult) and 3 (Horenstein), the others I struggle with. To me they sound a bit like Nielsen without the tunes, but I wil persevere with Nos 2, 4 and 9 following recommendations here.
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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #24 on: March 29, 2008, 06:26:52 AM »
I started collecting the compositions by Simpson when Hyperion started with recording his Symphonies and SQ, and they have a strange mesmerizing effect on me.....

Offline Lethevich

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #25 on: June 16, 2009, 08:24:33 AM »
I am once again at the beginning of what seems to be turning into a major Simpson kick. I can't get enough of his unique style. Who could've thought that mere tonality and fine tinkering could be so divisive, prompting claims of "greatest late 20th century composer" and "absolutely boring" in equal measure. It fascinates me how he can use both the vehicle and the engine of the Romantic symphony, yet create music which is so far left-field that I have to smile. I don't mean this in a negative way when I say that I am amazed at how little overt emotion there is in this music. Even the coolest of 20th century Romantic/tonal-influenced aren't a patch on Simpson's strangely beautiful crystalline musings. This is not to say that the music cannot be passionate, but it is all taken to levels of such abstraction that it can require a major re-adjustment of the ears to appreciate. While it may gall some people to see the two mentioned in the same sentence, I do find some of Bach's transcendent qualities in this music - it has no real-life crutches, it exists in and as of itself (for want of a better phrased term). You can delve into the many inventive structural qualities to the music, or simply admire the many fine surface qualities to it.

Part of what prompted me to replay his CDs recently was the realisation that I had retained many of his tunes and structures in my mind - some of them were very, very deeply ingrained in me. It is strange, as many do not consider Simpson a particularly melodic composer. I would agree with this, perhaps it is the context of the themes which is crucial rather than the themes themselves. But none the less, something about the music strikes me as utterly vital, and perhaps substantial segments of the 9th quartet remaining with me for a year or two after last hearing the piece (during which time many Romantic tunesmiths have come and gone) is as direct of an endorsement as I can give...
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Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #26 on: June 16, 2009, 08:55:24 AM »
Admirable post, Sarah. You describe Simpson's music very well. His dispassionateness is at once his strength and his weakness, depending on what you want from music. Although he'll never be my favourite composer, I know I will be returning to Simpson, like you, because his music is so rich and rewarding. A man who can write that Ninth symphony must be one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline jowcol

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #27 on: June 16, 2009, 10:04:53 AM »
I might as well weigh in on this-- it's interesting that I feel the same as a lot of you about Simpson.   In some ways I feel the same about him as I feel about Beethoven-- the structure, the form, and the rhythm is all very compelling, but there isnt' much color-- or I don't care for the colors as much as I could.

I've been pondering laterly on the difference between being a great orchestrator vs a great composer as I've been bouncing between Atterberg and Holmboe. (Rimsky Korsakov considered orchestration an essential part of composition, while Stravinsky maintained that the great orchestrators were not necessarily great composers-- he cited Rimsky and Ravel).  I have no doubt that Holmboe is a more solid composer than Atterberg-- but sometimes I found myself listening to Atterberg just for the color.

Back to Simpson- he's definitely a COMPOSER.  Not much in the way of color or a beguiling melody, but massive structures.

I really love (and I mean LOVE) the 9th.  It's just so massive, and the last 10 minutes or so is so powerful that it's hard not to surrender to it.
Among others, I like the 6th (the one about the cycle of life),  and the end of the 5th is wonderfully strong.  I bought the other volumes in the cycle as they were avaialble, and I confess the others haven't stuck with me as they should.  Not Simpson's fault.  I blame on my moods.  I really plan to get back to him.

I have the whole cycle on my MP3 player, so when Simpson calls, I'll be ready....
"If it sounds good, it is good."
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #28 on: June 16, 2009, 05:28:06 PM »
I am once again at the beginning of what seems to be turning into a major Simpson kick. I can't get enough of his unique style. Who could've thought that mere tonality and fine tinkering could be so divisive, prompting claims of "greatest late 20th century composer" and "absolutely boring" in equal measure. It fascinates me how he can use both the vehicle and the engine of the Romantic symphony, yet create music which is so far left-field that I have to smile. I don't mean this in a negative way when I say that I am amazed at how little overt emotion there is in this music. Even the coolest of 20th century Romantic/tonal-influenced aren't a patch on Simpson's strangely beautiful crystalline musings. This is not to say that the music cannot be passionate, but it is all taken to levels of such abstraction that it can require a major re-adjustment of the ears to appreciate. While it may gall some people to see the two mentioned in the same sentence, I do find some of Bach's transcendent qualities in this music - it has no real-life crutches, it exists in and as of itself (for want of a better phrased term). You can delve into the many inventive structural qualities to the music, or simply admire the many fine surface qualities to it.

Part of what prompted me to replay his CDs recently was the realisation that I had retained many of his tunes and structures in my mind - some of them were very, very deeply ingrained in me. It is strange, as many do not consider Simpson a particularly melodic composer. I would agree with this, perhaps it is the context of the themes which is crucial rather than the themes themselves. But none the less, something about the music strikes me as utterly vital, and perhaps substantial segments of the 9th quartet remaining with me for a year or two after last hearing the piece (during which time many Romantic tunesmiths have come and gone) is as direct of an endorsement as I can give...

Once again..a quite superb post full of acute insight and perception!

It is extremely hard to add anything to what you say but I would certainly agree with Jezetha and jowcol that a composer who could produce something as monumentally grand as the shattering magnificence of the Ninth Symphony is indeed worthy to be rated as a "great composer".

I would really appreciate some comment from Jezetha(Johan) about the influence of Havergal Brian on Simpson's music. Simpson was, of course, the great Brian advocate at the BBC from the 1950s onwards and a devoted Brian admirer. I wrestle with the question of how much Brian we can hear in Simpson...if any?

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #29 on: June 16, 2009, 10:37:17 PM »
I would really appreciate some comment from Jezetha(Johan) about the influence of Havergal Brian on Simpson's music. Simpson was, of course, the great Brian advocate at the BBC from the 1950s onwards and a devoted Brian admirer. I wrestle with the question of how much Brian we can hear in Simpson...if any?

I seem to remember from Malcolm Macdonald's Brian books that Simpson dedicated his Third Symphony to Brian and that the latter advised him, in that stage of his career, on matters of scoring. I can't hear any (direct) Brian influence. Beethoven and Nielsen are the dominant presences. Only in the use of the brass choir can a Brianic trace be detected; but that could stem as easily from Bruckner. I personally think Brian was of paramount importance to Simpson in his ethos - not caring a fig for fashion and boldly carving his own path. I think it is this which Simpson admired tremendously and it inspired him to do the same, and to go on doing it. (I recognise this: Brian was my main inspiration for a whole decade, keeping me on the artistic straight and narrow.) What it was that Simpson actually liked about Brian's music? Brian's 'humanisation of the bass instruments' and that you had to listen 'from the bottom up'. I have never seen an 'emotional' Simpson comment. But that is wholly in character.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2009, 01:53:15 AM by Jezetha »
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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #30 on: June 17, 2009, 01:28:54 AM »
I recently re-visited the 9th Symphony for the first time in about 6 or 7 years. It was this symphony that got me listening to Simpson in the first place, way back in 1998. I was pleased to discover it still sounds wonderful after all these years, even if it doesn't quite hit with the impact of that first listen. (Also, my tastes may have changed a little in the meantime - I am not as focused on monster orchestral works as I used to be.)

I do find some of Bach's transcendent qualities in this music - it has no real-life crutches, it exists in and as of itself (for want of a better phrased term). You can delve into the many inventive structural qualities to the music, or simply admire the many fine surface qualities to it.

I've thought of the Bach analogy before, especially with regard to JSB's more forbidding abstract statements like The Art of Fugue. Some of late Beethoven also comes to mind. Also, one thing I like about Simpson is precisely the unfashionability of his sound: there are no cheap attention-grabbing tricks or populist gestures to undermine the integrity of the enterprise.
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #31 on: June 17, 2009, 03:12:58 AM »
Johan-thanks for that! I am sure that you are correct in what you say about the Brian connection.

Spitvalve-you too hit the nail on the head ;D

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #32 on: June 22, 2009, 10:01:19 AM »
Dundonnell

I wrestle with the question of how much Brian we can hear in Simpson...if any.

Simpson's music is indeed basically boring. Brian's is boring but with good ideas that never take off. Brian can be Straussian but Simpson is the Continental and much less English composer; the slow movement from the 10th (or maybe it was the 11th) quartet is a very fine effort though...

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #33 on: June 22, 2009, 10:58:01 AM »
Dundonnell

I wrestle with the question of how much Brian we can hear in Simpson...if any.

Simpson's music is indeed basically boring. Brian's is boring but with good ideas that never take off. Brian can be Straussian but Simpson is the Continental and much less English composer; the slow movement from the 10th (or maybe it was the 11th) quartet is a very fine effort though...

You are-of course-fully entitled to your opinion. I am sorry that you find Simpson's music "boring". I most certainly do not.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #34 on: June 22, 2009, 12:31:52 PM »
Dundonnell

I wrestle with the question of how much Brian we can hear in Simpson...if any.

Simpson's music is indeed basically boring. Brian's is boring but with good ideas that never take off.

Why wrestle with boring composers? I applaud your heroism.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #35 on: June 22, 2009, 11:02:00 PM »
I was being a bit trollish: these are the Simpson works I've explored and although he was not the most convincing figure for tonality in the post-tonal era, he's honest and solid enough.

Energy, Nielsen variations, Piano concerto, Symphonies Nos.4-5, 7, 9 & 11, String quartets Nos.1-11 &
String trio.


The Fourth symphony was another satisfying constructed work; later symphonies seem more anonymous.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #36 on: June 23, 2009, 02:20:06 AM »
I was being a bit trollish: these are the Simpson works I've explored and although he was not the most convincing figure for tonality in the post-tonal era, he's honest and solid enough.

Energy, Nielsen variations, Piano concerto, Symphonies Nos.4-5, 7, 9 & 11, String quartets Nos.1-11 &
String trio.


The Fourth symphony was another satisfying constructed work; later symphonies seem more anonymous.

I am glad to see your judgment is based on an honest stab at understanding (and even loving). Obviously Simpson isn't for you.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Opus106

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #37 on: July 19, 2010, 12:08:28 AM »
Has Hyperion stated any reason for so frequently using images of astronomical objects/phenomenon on their discs of Simpson's music? I'm curious to know.
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Navneeth

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #38 on: July 19, 2010, 12:11:37 AM »
Simpson had a big amateur interest in astronomy, so I assume that's the reason.
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Offline Opus106

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #39 on: July 19, 2010, 12:23:39 AM »
Simpson had a big amateur interest in astronomy, so I assume that's the reason.

Thanks. :) Somehow I missed that bit when searching Wikipedia. Turns out he was even a Fellow of the RAS.
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Navneeth