Author Topic: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)  (Read 1876 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« on: December 06, 2012, 10:11:41 PM »


Constant Lambert was born the son of painter George Washington Thomas Lambert in London. Isolated in infirmaries for long spells as a child due to poor health, Lambert used this time to read voraciously and intensively study music. In 1922, Lambert won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams (whom Lambert admired but did not emulate) and George Dyson (whom Lambert loathed). Early on, Lambert made friends with composers William Walton and Philip Heseltine (aka Peter Warlock), and made some arrangements from Walton's Façade.

The influence of Walton's approach can be seen in very early Lambert works such as the children's fable Mr. Bear Squash-you-all-flat (1924). However, it was the music of Liszt and Duke Ellington that made the deepest impact on Lambert. Jazz inflections can be found in many of the pieces Lambert wrote before 1931, including the Piano Concerto (1924), Concerto for PIano and Nine Players (1931), Piano Sonata (1928), and the short Elegiac Blues (1927) Lambert wrote in memory of the ill-fated vaudeville diva Florence Mills. Russian motifs and the example of Stravinsky also had a great impact on Lambert, and his ballet Romeo & Juliet (1927) was the first work by a British composer to be staged by the Ballets Russes. Lambert's infatuation with Chinese-American silent movie queen Anna May Wong led to the composition of his delicate Eight Poems of Li-Po (1927). In 1928, Lambert composed The Rio Grande, scored for chorus, piano, brass, strings, and percussion. This work proved a huge success, but helped establish the image of Lambert as a composer of entertaining yet insubstantial music.

After his more serious subsequent efforts failed to gain a foothold with the public, Lambert turned to music criticism and wrote Music Ho!: A Study of Music in Decline (1934), a pessimistic and vitriolic tome that foretold a bleak future for twentieth century concert music. This book is still seen as a most vital and valuable tool for study in the art music of the 1920s and 1930s. By the late 1930s, Lambert was building a reputation as a conductor, and from then on his output as a composer slackened. He was strongly associated with ballet and co-founded the Vic Wells Company with Ninette de Valois. Lambert conducted at the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, at the Promenade Concerts and at ISCM concerts in England. By the 1940s, he was one of the most prominent conductors in England and well known internationally through recordings and his popular ballet Horoscope (1937). However, this work even more firmly established Lambert as a neo-Classical triviality in the minds of his peers and among critics who knew nothing of Lambert's 1920s compositions. Lambert finally returned to serious composition in 1951 with the scandalous three-act ballet Tiresias, which was so "hot" that its premiere was censored. Lambert's publisher, Oxford University Press, rejected it. This came as a final, sour blow to the pessimistic composer, who promptly died two days short of his 46th birthday, the result of an undiagnosed diabetic condition aggravated by years of hard drinking. Lambert came from the same generation of British musicians that produced Walton, Tippett, Warlock, and Spike Hughes; however, his music is stylistically nothing like these composers. In Lambert's jazz works he can be seen as a predecessor of the serious, large-form pieces written by jazz composers such as Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea starting in the 1970s. His other music is likewise inspired, original, and well worth rediscovering.

[Article taken from All Music Guide]

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I didn't see a thread dedicated to Lambert so I figured I would start one.  I really enjoy his music. In some instances, he could be called the British version of Gershwin as he had a knack for jazzy syncopations in his music. He also wrote in a Neoclassical style that I find quite appealing. Anyone who's a fan of Stravinsky's Neoclassical period will be delighted when they hear his ballets. Lambert's claim-to-fame seems to rest on the work The Rio Grande, which I have yet to hear, but every critic seems to cite this work as quintessential Lambert. I've heard most of his orchestral works. The only ballet I haven't heard is Horoscope, which I hope to remedy soon.

Anyway, what do you guys think about his music? Any favorite works?
« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 10:21:34 PM by Mirror Image »
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Offline lescamil

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2012, 11:27:15 PM »
The Concerto for Piano and Nine Players is my favorite work of his. It's nothing but fun in the piano part, and the small ensemble provides a very colorful accompaniment. The jazz flavor is strong in the first movement, but the second and third movements take a more serious tone. I also enjoy the ballets Pomona and Horoscope. I actually don't like the Rio Grande. It just is a bit too gimmicky for my taste. The three works I named maybe aren't as "quintessential Lambert", whatever that means, but are just better pieces of music.
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cilgwyn

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2012, 04:58:55 AM »
Thanks for opening this thread Mirror Image. I must say,like 'lescamil',can't say I'm too excited by the 'Rio Grande' either! I remember some critic saying it was a better work than the 'Rhapsody in Blue'! Hm?! ::) I'm not too crazy about that one either (although I like Gershwins own recording! :)) but in my opinion there's no comparison! (And what about William Grant Still?!! ::)) And then there is 'Summers Last Will & Testament'! That's got it's moments,certainly,but it's too bleak for me,I'm afraid! And every time I tried listening to the Hyperion recording,it always seemed to end up languising in 'the box'!! :( Even worse,a couple of weeks ago I gave up (lack of room) and took it down the YMCA! Who knows,maybe one of their customers is enjoying it right now?!! ;D I know Malcolm Arnold regarded it as a masterpiece & he was a very talented musician & composer,so what do I know?! ::) By the way,Gershwins recordings of himself playing his own solo piano music are fantastic! I love them! Especially the bits where Fred Astaire & his sister join in. Wow!!!! :) :)
  As to Lambert in general. Isn't it funny how the mighty fall?! Even my father,who has never been particularly interested in music,read his once famous book,'Music Ho!' Yet,his music is hardly every performed & the only way to hear it is via small,enterprising record labels like Hyperion,Lyrita & some ancient old recordings! Yet,some of his music does sound very intriguing & I would certainly place his 'Concerto for Piano & Nine Players' at the top of my Lambert 'want to hear' list! I have heard allot of good reports about it on various forums over the years,but not being a millionaire I have to pick out priorities. But thanks to MI's recommendation I will place this a little higher up on my cd 'wish list' (the Hanssler Koechlin 'Le buisson ardent' is already there!).

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2012, 07:42:10 AM »
The Concerto for Piano and Nine Players is my favorite work of his. It's nothing but fun in the piano part, and the small ensemble provides a very colorful accompaniment. The jazz flavor is strong in the first movement, but the second and third movements take a more serious tone. I also enjoy the ballets Pomona and Horoscope. I actually don't like the Rio Grande. It just is a bit too gimmicky for my taste. The three works I named maybe aren't as "quintessential Lambert", whatever that means, but are just better pieces of music.

I haven't heard The Rio Grande yet, but from reading about it, it's got a big jazz influence, which is fine by me! ;) Anyway, there's a lot of works we could call gimmicky, but just because someone feels this way, I'll certainly not let it hinder my possible enjoyment of a work. As I wrote, I have heard all of Lambert's ballets except Horoscope and feel this is the medium he seemed most comfortable writing in. Romeo and Juliet is a fine work that I enjoyed revisiting last night.
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snyprrr

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2017, 08:02:03 PM »
huh...bump

listening to PC now,...yea, sure, why not? a nice pendant to Stravinsky...

Offline kyjo

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2017, 08:56:29 AM »
The Rio Grande is great fun. Don't think I've heard anything else by him...
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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2017, 10:44:55 AM »
Another cat lover.  :)
I like his music but not 'Rio Grande' especially. The ballet 'Horoscope' is possibly my favourite work by Lambert and he was a fine conductor. I love his recording of Rawsthorne's 'Symphonic Studies'.
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Offline kyjo

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2017, 02:57:35 PM »
I seem to recall Rob Barnett thinks very highly of his unpromisingly-titled Music for Orchestra, which is available on a Lyrita CD.
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Offline Biffo

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2017, 03:19:50 AM »
My first encounter with Constant Lambert was hearing Rio Grande many years ago. It was played to me by an enthusiast and I found it embarrassingly bad - I didn't know what to say. Later, I read Music Ho! and found it entertaining and was intrigued by his enthusiasm for Bernard van Dieren; returning to it some forty years later I found it interesting but something of a period piece. I have finally been able to hear some of van Dieren's music (The Chinese Symphony etc) but while I don't think he deserves the almost complete obscurity he has fallen into, Lambert's enthusiasm was probably excessive.

I have three discs of Lambert's music and I enjoy most of it when I listen to it but that isn't very often. Rio Grande isn't as bad as I remember but still doesn't enthuse me greatly.

Offline Dax

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Re: Constant Lambert (1905 - 1951)
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2017, 07:39:49 PM »
I once read that he made a solo piano recording of the Elegaic Blues which featured a surprising amount of rubato/tenuto. Has anyone heard it?

The 1931 piano concerto (the accompaniment is for a line-up resembling the Duke Ellington 1927 band plus flute and cello) is a big favourite.