Author Topic: English Contemporary Composers in 1961  (Read 2696 times)

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Offline Dundonnell

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English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« on: January 14, 2012, 11:38:22 AM »
I am cross-posting this essay from the music forum on which I recently added it.

It may of course be no better than any other example of my grotesque verbosity :D

"This is an introduction to a thread I will be starting shortly about Humphrey Searle :)

In 1957 a book was published in Britain entitled "European Music in the Twentieth Century". In 1961 a revised edition was brought out by Penguin Books(as a Pelican Edition) It consisted of a collection of essays on a number of extremely distinguished European composers(Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schonberg, Berg and Webern, and Skalkottas) and about the music of individual countries(France, West Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Poland, Switzerland, and England) together with an essay on modern music in Scandinavia. The collection was edited by Howard Hartog and the essay writers included composers like Bernard Stevens, Iain Hamilton, Reginald Smith Brindle, Everett Helm and Alexander Goehr), a conductor/writer-Norman Del Mar and the music critic/author David Drew.

For the 1961 revised edition the chapter on "English Music" (the essay ignores the Welsh composers Daniel Jones, Alun Hoddinott and William Mathias) was a new essay written by the young composer and teacher, Hugh Wood. Wood was 29 years old at the time and is, happily, still with us; he celebrates his 80th birthday this year.

Wood began his essay on English Music by being scathing about the generation of composers which had recently passed away-represented by composers like Vaughan Williams and Bax-and by those living composers he deemed to belong to a defunct tradition-Bliss(then aged 70) and Walton(59).

He devoted a considerable part of his essay to discussing the music of the generation he believed represented the then current establishment:
Alan Bush(61),Edmund Rubbra(60), Lennox Berkeley(58), Alan Rawsthorne(56), Michael Tippett(56), Elizabeth Lutyens(55) and the younger
Benjamin Britten(48) and to the emigre composers he regarded as important figures(Egon Wellesz, Roberto Gerhard and Matyas Seiber)

Wood listed but did not discuss the music of William Alwyn(55), William Wordsworth(53), Robert Simpson(40), the 'eclectics'-Stanley Bate(who had died 2 years earlier) and Richard Arnell(44), the 'Hindemithian' Arnold Cooke(55), and Benjamin Frankel(55) and Bernard Stevens(45). He dismissed the music of the 'popular' Malcolm Arnold(40), was more polite about that of the 'conservative' Anthony Milner(36). Wood briefly mentioned the 'avant-garde' composers Alexander Goehr(29) and Peter Maxwell Davies(27).

As a snapshot in time, although this essay contained only Wood's individual responses to British Composers, it is fascinating to read and Wood's influence as a teacher, latterly at Cambridge, influenced not a few of his many students.

But at the heart of his essay Wood named those composers of roughly the same generation whom he regarded as representing the very best of British composers: Humphrey Searle(46), Peter Racine Fricker(41) and Iain Hamilton(39). These three composers-Hamilton, of course, was actually Scottish ;D-appear to have been those of the post-Rawsthorne, Tippett, and Britten generation whom Wood most admired  and the composers he expected to form the musical 'establishment' from the 1970s onwards.

Whatever one may think of Wood's judgments on particular composers his expectations for Searle, Fricker and Hamilton proved short-lived. For a brief period the three enjoyed the respect of the critics and the BBC(to varying degrees). Fricker's music was certainly often played and broadcast by BBC Radio in the 1970s.
Both Fricker and Hamilton however departed for the USA to take up professorships at American universities(Fricker at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Hamilton at Duke University, North Carolina). When they returned to Britain both discovered that they were now largely forgotten. Their tough, driven, sometimes acerbic music had largely disappeared into an abyss between the revival of interest, certainly in terms of recordings, in the music of their more conservative predecessors and the 'new avant-garde' beloved of the new generation of music critics.

Both Fricker and Hamilton were, to slightly differing degrees, bitter at their treatment by the 'new establishment'. Hamilton returned to tonality in his music but that did him little good; his music was still, occasionally, programmed in Scotland during his lifetime but this ended after his death. Both are now largely forgotten, their music goes unplayed and unrecorded. Neither have benefited from the remarkable decision of the German company CPO to record the complete symphonic output of Benjamin Frankel and Humphrey Searle. Frankel's music had, in fact, been often premiered and more often heard in Germany and Searle, of course, had been a pupil of Webern.

Fricker and Hamilton certainly merit more discussion and most certainly do not deserve their current neglect. I have absolutely no problem with the revival of interest- through recordings if not in the concert hall-in the music of Havergal Brian(whose music I love) or Cyril Scott and York Bowen(on whom I am less keen) or the 'eclectics' Stanley Bate and Richard Arnell(courtesy of Dutton; and whose music I esteem very highly indeed :)) but the neglect of the 'tougher idiom' of Fricker and Hamilton distresses me.

However, it is to Humphrey Searle that I shall shortly return :)"


(I apologise if you have neither the time nor inclination to read an 'essay' of such length but the points, I feel, need to be made.....and you are at perfect liberty to ignore this post if you wish ;D)

Offline Est.1965

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2012, 12:10:59 PM »
(I apologise if you have neither the time nor inclination to read an 'essay' of such length but the points, I feel, need to be made.....and you are at perfect liberty to ignore this post if you wish ;D)

By all the Gods, not at all.  This is a fabulously interesting piece.  There is something of a 'lifitng of the lid' in this.
Dear Hans Rott
In the 1980s there was a creative punk group called "Big Audio Dynamite".  I have decided to apply the term to you, my man.  And I still haven't properly finished your Screenplay yet.  Too bad.  Take care anyway old chum, I'm off to listen to Brahms!
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Offline some guy

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2012, 12:13:22 PM »
Searle is indeed a towering figure. I find it easier to listen to his music repeatedly than just about any other Brit. (The Scots and the Irish are also Brits. Just not English!) Corcoran is another.

But by 1961, there were some major trends getting going that Wood doesn't appear to have recognized or been aware of yet. Not too surprising.

The people associated with those are still rather marginal in many people's minds, if they appear at all.

Cornelius Cardew
Keith Rowe
Howard Skempton
Eddie Prévost
Jonathan Harvey

And a little later on,

Tim Hodgkinson
Chris Cutler
Chris Hobbs
Jonty Harrison

Offline vandermolen

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2012, 02:59:45 PM »
Interesting and informative piece Colin. Have to say that I found the much hyped Hugh Wood Symphony to be a big disappointment. It is highly regarded - but lost on me. It goes into my 'York Bowen list' - together with Nicholas Maw's music.  ;D
« Last Edit: January 14, 2012, 03:02:04 PM by vandermolen »
"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: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2012, 06:18:32 PM »
Interesting and informative piece Colin. Have to say that I found the much hyped Hugh Wood Symphony to be a big disappointment. It is highly regarded - but lost on me. It goes into my 'York Bowen list' - together with Nicholas Maw's music.  ;D

I very much doubt that Hugh Wood would care to lumped/dumped in with York Bowen ;D ;D

I am sorry that you don't like Nicholas Maw. Some of his music doesn't do much for me but I do find Odyssey impressive.

snyprrr

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2012, 09:40:50 PM »
I have a certain feeling about the year 1963 as being a 'cutoff' point for some kind of thing as is being discussed here. Very few of the older guard made it passed here. Starting with Hindemith and Poulenc, we can go backwards and forwards and see the steep decline. It seems only Shostakovich, Malipiero, and Milhaud make it into the '70s (with only Shostakovich gleaning final glory).

I love what happens to these Composers throughout the '60s, until, it seems only vanderdonnell know what really, truly is 'The Last Symphony'. Surely, I must imagine, sometime in the late '70s, early '80s, there was a period when no one wrote this stuff... what IS 'The Last Symphony', haha??

I have such a sentimental feeling towards that feeling of irretrievable loss such as what a Forgotten Composer must feel,... oh, that's so sad. :'( Y'know, gulp? :'( all that effort for nothing perhaps? :'( did I mention the bitterness? :'( brrrr :o There aught to be a Musical! :o ;D

Offline vandermolen

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2012, 09:59:15 AM »
I have a certain feeling about the year 1963 as being a 'cutoff' point for some kind of thing as is being discussed here. Very few of the older guard made it passed here. Starting with Hindemith and Poulenc, we can go backwards and forwards and see the steep decline. It seems only Shostakovich, Malipiero, and Milhaud make it into the '70s (with only Shostakovich gleaning final glory).

I love what happens to these Composers throughout the '60s, until, it seems only vanderdonnell know what really, truly is 'The Last Symphony'. Surely, I must imagine, sometime in the late '70s, early '80s, there was a period when no one wrote this stuff... what IS 'The Last Symphony', haha??

I have such a sentimental feeling towards that feeling of irretrievable loss such as what a Forgotten Composer must feel,... oh, that's so sad. :'( Y'know, gulp? :'( all that effort for nothing perhaps? :'( did I mention the bitterness? :'( brrrr :o There aught to be a Musical! :o ;D

'vanderdonnell' - love it!  ;D

No, I certainly don't know 'The Last Symphony' as I keep discovering new ones - David Matthews Symphony No 6 for example. Must have another listen to 'Odyssey' by Maw again.
"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).

snyprrr

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2012, 09:49:45 PM »
'vanderdonnell' - love it!  ;D

No, I certainly don't know 'The Last Symphony' as I keep discovering new ones - David Matthews Symphony No 6 for example. Must have another listen to 'Odyssey' by Maw again.

Dave Matthews writes Symphonies??? :o :o :o












...just kidding ;)...

Offline Luke

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2012, 01:44:30 PM »
Don't know quite what to add to this except that - a) I have that book too, with the Hugh Wood essay - interesting reading it makes, as does the Goehr one on the Viennese school; b) I'm one of those taught by Hugh Wood (and Goehr, FWIW) at Cambridge, and I have fond memories of his lectures; c) he was a Hamilton pupil IIRC, which might also be some part of why Hamilton plays a role in his essay; d) his {Wood's} three Concerti are stunning pieces, and the Piano Concerto my favourite of all - a beautifully realised thing indeed.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2012, 04:17:09 PM »
Wood did study under Hamilton and also under Anthony Milner and Matyas Seiber.

All three are treated very respectfully in his chapter ;D

Offline drogulus

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #10 on: January 22, 2012, 08:11:40 PM »
    Isn't it rich (heh!) how the advanced attitudes of a certain kind of modernist become outdated while the outdated composers go on and on, finding new audiences. Is it possible that music doesn't automatically become outdated like attitudes do? Don't composers often survive multiple changes in style, and even thrive for centuries? It sure looks like it. I can even think of a few, and (gasp!) Vaughan Williams might turn out to be one of them, which is what it sounded like to me, in my outdated ignorance, in 1962.
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Offline some guy

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #11 on: January 22, 2012, 11:05:38 PM »
drogolus,

I think you've simply identified a difference between creator and auditor is all.

Creators constantly change, constantly move, constantly search.

Auditors enjoy. And once something has established itself as enjoyable, it keeps giving pleasure, year after year, century after century.

Nothing much noteworthy (as it were!) about that. Just the nature of the situation. Creators and auditors have certain needs that differ from each other. The evanescent attitudes that you note are creators moving and changing. Auditors move and change, too, it's true, but for them it's more the search to find pieces they've never heard before--and some auditors don't even do that. In any case, for auditioning, one a piece is in, it pretty much stays in, no matter what else is going on in the creators' worlds.

Offline drogulus

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2012, 03:57:11 PM »

    There's something wrong with theories that say music styles become outdated for reasons. The only reason that matters is people want to hear something new and different, which does not carry the inference that anything which is not new has lost value. In short, styles evolve, and the political model of revolution and overthrow of the old order (an essential feature of modernist attitudes) is itself a fossil. It still has adherents but history has not been kind to its premises. Evolution OTOH is unguided by theory, is descriptive rather than proscriptive (funny how modernists think they have to side with change when its clear they have such a bad idea of what it is). The modernist Ministry of Propaganda has not established the monopoly on interpretation they would need to establish an official truth about music. People will like what they want. They will even like ultramodernists, and it will not mean a damn thing from the vantage point of high theory.
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Offline some guy

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Re: English Contemporary Composers in 1961
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2012, 04:41:32 PM »
What ARE these things?
the political model of revolution and overthrow of the old order (an essential feature of modernist attitudes)

The modernist Ministry of Propaganda

the vantage point of high theory.

Do they exist out in the real world?