Author Topic: W. H. Bell(1873-1946)-a South African composer  (Read 5249 times)

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Offline Dundonnell

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W. H. Bell(1873-1946)-a South African composer
« on: October 31, 2008, 06:21:17 PM »
I must admit that I had never heard of this composer until I saw the Dutton Epoch new releases advert for a CD coupling Stanley Bate's Viola Concerto, Vaughan Williams's Romance for Viola in an orchestral arrangement and Bell's Viola Concerto 'Rosa Mystica(1916).

On looking up Bell I discovered that he was born in St.Albans, Great Britain in 1873(making him a contemporary of VW and Holst), that he was Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Royal Academy in London from 1903, that he left Britain in 1912 to become Principal of the South African College of Music in Cape Town, and ended his life as Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Cape Town.

That was especially interesting for me personally because my own great uncle was Professor of Bacteriology at Cape Town University from 1918 until 1923.

He wrote 5 symphonies, including a Walt Whitman Symphony(sharing the same admiration as VW and Holst for the poetry of Whitman) and 'A South African Symphony'(No.4).

So...I sent off for a second-hand copy of the Marco Polo CD below.

Impressions? Well first of all, the South African Gideon Fagan's Concert Overture in D(1954) is pretty humdrum(with a theme in it however which recalls one of the themes from 'Lawrence of Arabia' by Maurice Jarre!) but the Tone Poem 'Ilala' is effective, Debussyian, Delian nature painting. Bell's symphony is not a masterpiece but nor is it insignificant.In a better performance than the underpowered South African orchestra can muster the symphony might appear even better. There are certainly echoes as the Musicweb review noted of Holst, VW, Bax and Alfven-

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/july99/bell2.htm

Bell seems to have been rather like Edgar Bainton in leaving his native country and being totally forgotten by it...until now.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2008, 06:24:39 PM by Dundonnell »

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: W. H. Bell(1873-1946)-a South African composer
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2008, 03:30:17 AM »
Thanks, Colin! Very interesting.
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: W. H. Bell(1873-1946)-a South African composer
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2008, 06:29:06 AM »
Yes, thanks from me too Colin. Never heard of him, so I look forward to receiving the Dutton CD and will look out for a cheap copy of the Marco Polo too.
"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 Dundonnell

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Re: W. H. Bell(1873-1946)-a South African composer
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2008, 07:45:48 AM »
Rob Barnett of Musicweb has written that Bell is the next major British musical talent waiting to be discovered :)

I take that assertion with a certain pich of salt on the basis of one work played by the sadly understrength South African NBC Symphony Orchestra :)
(The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra sounded so much better on the BIS cd of Schnittke's Symphony No.0 and Cantata 'Nagasaki'!)

But then Rob has a definite thing for composers of Bell's generation. 

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: W. H. Bell(1873-1946)-a South African composer
« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2008, 11:25:09 AM »
A report on the new Dutton CD of Viola Concertos.

The disc contains W.H. Bell's lovely Viola Concerto 'Rosa Mystica'(1916)-its first performance outside South Africa, the Vaughan Williams Romance for Viola(orchestrated by the disc's solist, Roger Chase) and Stanley Bate's mammoth Viola Concerto.

The disc has the usual splendidly detailed notes by Lewis Foreman accompanied by a hugely enjoyable and informative personal memoir of Bell by his pupil John Joubert.

The more I learn of Bell's work the more intriguing it sounds. He wrote five settings of Japanese No-plays, for example, long before Benjamin Britten thought of doing so! His setting of Whitman's 'Songs of the Last Passage' composed in memory of his son son killed in action in 1943 is highly praised by Joubert. I am beginning to wonder if indeed this is a composer who does merit rediscovery.

However the peach on the disc-to my ears-is Stanley Bate's huge(39 minutes) Viola Concerto!! I first read about Bate over 40 years ago as a composer of quality who enjoyed some exposure while living in the USA during the 1940s, whose 3rd and 4th symphonies were performed in the 1950s with some success but who died tragically at the age of 47 in 1959. A number of informed critics have been urging the revival of the 3rd symphony.

The Viola Concerto is a revelation! Yes, it is derivative...no doubt about that! VW was Bate's teacher and the concerto is dedicated to him and, my goodness, it sounds like VW too-but who better to sound like? I think-admittedly on only one hearing-that it is a glorious work, lyrical, heroic, elegiac in turn but very, very impressive :)

For anyone interested-

http://www.musicweb-international.com/bate/index.htm

More Bate, please, Dutton!
« Last Edit: November 03, 2008, 11:52:12 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: W. H. Bell(1873-1946)-a South African composer
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2008, 02:22:41 PM »
Tantalising write-up, Colin! So much unknown music... (Still have to listen to Wellesz's Second, Berkeley's First, RVW's string quartets. My goodness!)
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato