Author Topic: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)  (Read 72617 times)

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Offline Klaatu

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #80 on: January 29, 2012, 07:42:29 AM »
Thanks, folks, for starting this discussion. I haven't listened to my Simpson CDs for a very long time and this has persuaded  me to go back to them.

As others have pointed out, Simpson was an amateur astronomer (serious enough to be elected FRAS) and this was acknowledged by Hyperion via the cover art of their recordings of his music.

I remember one of his symphonies (was it the 5th?) being described by a critic as "embodying the progressive acceleration associated with the contraction of a giant star" or some such comment. Certainly the work in question (5th?) reminded me of nothing so much as a disc of matter being sucked into the vortex of a black hole (and wasn't one of his brass band works called "Vortex"?)

Another recollection - outside classical, my favourite musical genres are blues and heavy metal. And one of my favourite heavy metal songs is the awesome Rebellion In Dreamland by the German band Gamma Ray. When I first heard this, it reminded me of Robert Simpson! Nothing to do with the sound of the music, but the acceleration (from Lento to Allegro to Presto to Prestissimo - or something like that!) How's that for a really odd link with Simpson?

Those members who have suggested that Simpson's work is almost devoid of humanity are, I think, right on the money - to me his music is the sound of the universe itself; its stars being born in gaseous stellar nurseries, flaring into life, then collapsing via a titanic supernova into a matter-eating black hole. It's the sound of the universe exploding into existence, flinging itself apart, and sputtering into a cold, empty heat-death where "the last of the stars has gone out" (to quote Olaf Stapledon!)

In fact, the man who might sum up the effect of Simpson's music could be Richard Dawkins when he wrote:

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

(Yikes - this is deep stuff for me!) :o

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #81 on: February 05, 2012, 09:47:21 PM »
Hi everyone

I've recently been enthusing over at the Havergal Brian thread and I thought I'd come and enthuse here.

(BTW, I can't find any influence of Brian on Simpson or vice versa, they are as two different composers as you could find living in the same country a generation and half apart. Simpson's music is all constructed and planned (marvellously so), Brian's is more broken, disrupted, though still (miraculously) unified).

Anyway I have all the Hyperion disks of Simpson's music and listen to them regularly, usually I listen to the symphonies one after another, then ditto the string quartets then ditto the chamber and keyboard works and brass music. It's all great stuff but my two favourite works of his are the 8th and 10th Symphonies; the 10th is just beyond sublime, it's like the Hammerklavier Sonata as a Symphony (I'm sure that's the model). The 8th is very different, it grows organically starting in the world of Nielsen symphonies* and moving on to the later C20. I can't express how inevitable, and yet unexpected, the development of the music is.

*I think Simpson was haunted by the opening of the Nielsen 6th Symphony and the fact that that Symphony could never recapture the innocence of its beginning. Its influence occurs in the 2nd and 3rd symphonies and is almost obsessive in the first movement of the 4th. Does anyone know when Simpson came to his new understanding of the Nielsen Sixth that he wrote about in the 2nd edition of Carl Nielsen Symphonist? It is almost as if in his musical works of the 60s and early 70s he was working out the Nielsen Sixth symphonically in parallel with the music analyst's understanding he was also pursuing. In the 8th Symphony Simpson writes another Nielsen 6 beginning, but the rest of his Symphony follows his new understanding (innocence can't be recaptured and stern reality has to be faced).

I think we're pretty well supplied with recordings, though perhaps we could do with another set of symphonies from a different label. He could also do with recordings of the late Cello and Flute Concertos.

Does anyone know why Simpson withdrew his Violin Concerto? Apparently it was played quite a bit in the 1960s? (And perhaps I should take this over to the Nielsen thread, but why is Nielsen Violin Concerto so awful compared to his other orchestral works and his two concertos?)

Offline Lethevich

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #82 on: February 05, 2012, 10:18:22 PM »
I think we're pretty well supplied with recordings, though perhaps we could do with another set of symphonies from a different label.

Great post, thanks. Regarding the part I quote - I would settle just for a single new recording of a symphony of his - perhaps coupled with something sufficiently contrasting/intriguing. Unfortunately, even this looks unlikely to happen.
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snyprrr

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #83 on: February 05, 2012, 10:56:17 PM »
Always like to hear dark horse favorites!

Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #84 on: February 06, 2012, 10:07:17 AM »

I think we're pretty well supplied with recordings, though perhaps we could do with another set of symphonies from a different label. He could also do with recordings of the late Cello and Flute Concertos.


I agree, great post! Thank you!

I think Simpson deserves many more recordings. Isn't it just Hyperion that have taken up his music? A massive thank you and much praise for them for doing that. I'm surprised a label such as Naxos, who often produce many discs of less known composers (some far far less worthy than Simpson, and composers like Novak and Bortkiewicz who I have been pestering them to consider!) has not released any Simpson. I might sneakily ask Matthew whether there are any new recordings planned...
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Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #85 on: February 06, 2012, 02:12:20 PM »
Just one other thing I forgot to mention in my previous. As others have said there isn't much influence of English music on Simpson, his major influences are (pretty obviously) Beethoven, Sibelius, Nielsen &c. However occasionally his music does verge on the pastoral, sometimes it's the Danish pastoral of Nielsen (the passages influenced by the opening of the Nielsen 6th I mentioned earlier, but also some more straightforward pastoral of the Fynsk Foraar (spelling?) variety).

But in a few places he does approach the English pastoral eg String Quartet 1 ending, String Quintet ending, a few passages in the Symphony No.9 opening 'chorale prelude' passage, Symphony No. 8 opening movement, String Quintet No.2, Violin Sonata. None of these are extensive stretches and sternness usually supervenes, but I always find them them quite moving.

A few years ago when we still had a specialist classical CD shop in Canberra I was waiting to pay with a Robert Simpson CD in my hand. The next person in the queue commented on this and we discussed Simpson, I then showed him my other CD, music by Finzi, and I said "I don't think Simpson would have thought much of Finzi" and we l laughed, but I like to think Simpson had a little bit of a regard for English pastoral.

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #86 on: February 06, 2012, 04:25:23 PM »
I've enjoyed revisiting Simpson.  He seems to combine the massive narrative of the Bruckner symphony with the cool, cerebral detachment of Webern.  Very cool music. :o

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #87 on: February 07, 2012, 06:08:46 AM »
I agree, great post! Thank you!

I think Simpson deserves many more recordings. Isn't it just Hyperion that have taken up his music? A massive thank you and much praise for them for doing that. I'm surprised a label such as Naxos, who often produce many discs of less known composers (some far far less worthy than Simpson, and composers like Novak and Bortkiewicz who I have been pestering them to consider!) has not released any Simpson. I might sneakily ask Matthew whether there are any new recordings planned...

This is an important point :) The Hyperion/Handley recordings of the symphonies were a major undertaking and brought the granitic grandeur and long-breathed power of Simpson to the attention of a wider public but they were not and are not necessarily the definitive last statements on the symphonies.

As I remarked earlier on this thread Simpson himself was actually dissatisfied with some of the readings. This needs to be said-despite the hagiography which Handley seems to have attracted over the last decade or so. Matthew Taylor himself(Daniel's teacher at the RAM) was given the task of conducting Symphony No.11 and it might be worth an enterprising record company considering whether or not he is up to conducting the cello and flute concertos. The absence of these works, together with a modern recording of the piano concerto, from disc is a scandal >:(

At a time when so much early 20th century British music-some of it outstanding but some of it not-is being recorded Simpson deserves better ::)

Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #88 on: February 07, 2012, 10:45:51 AM »
This is an important point :) The Hyperion/Handley recordings of the symphonies were a major undertaking and brought the granitic grandeur and long-breathed power of Simpson to the attention of a wider public but they were not and are not necessarily the definitive last statements on the symphonies.

As I remarked earlier on this thread Simpson himself was actually dissatisfied with some of the readings. This needs to be said-despite the hagiography which Handley seems to have attracted over the last decade or so. Matthew Taylor himself(Daniel's teacher at the RAM) was given the task of conducting Symphony No.11 and it might be worth an enterprising record company considering whether or not he is up to conducting the cello and flute concertos. The absence of these works, together with a modern recording of the piano concerto, from disc is a scandal >:(

At a time when so much early 20th century British music-some of it outstanding but some of it not-is being recorded Simpson deserves better ::)

:) I'll ask Matthew whether he has plans on recording, or performing any more Simpson anytime soon. Won't see him again until later in the month though, it is half term now. I would certainly be very keen to hear the concerti you mention. At the moment, I only know a few of the symphonies.
Last week, Matthew told me a story about how he had gone to supervise a performance of Simpson's 4th symphony with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Handley. Handley fell ill at the last movement and handed the score to Matthew and said, 'you know the piece, please take over from me'. With barely any rehearsal time at all, Matthew had to conduct a concert performance of the 4th symphony, having never conducted that symphony before! For those of you who remember the scherzo movement, you can only imagine how terrified he must have been!

What a great piece it would be to see live anyway. Not only does Simpson deserve more recordings, but also live performances. I cannot remember the last time I saw a piece of Simpson programmed. I will have to change that - if my ambition of being a successful conductor becomes reality! :)
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Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #89 on: February 07, 2012, 01:58:16 PM »
I've enjoyed revisiting Simpson.  He seems to combine the massive narrative of the Bruckner symphony with the cool, cerebral detachment of Webern.  Very cool music. :o


And very coolly encapsulated.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #90 on: February 07, 2012, 05:39:06 PM »
Yes, Daniel...that story from Matthew Taylor does not surprise me :(

Vernon Handley suffered from rotten ill health towards the end of his life and, unfortunately, was forced repeatedly to cancel concert engagements, often at very short notice.
I have heard from the former Managing Director of a British radio orchestra that it became so much of a problem that he simply stopped booking Handley altogether for broadcast concerts :(

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #91 on: February 09, 2012, 01:41:06 PM »
Hey guys

I hadn't realised that recordings from Radio 3 of the Cello, Flute and Violin Concertos are available via the link provided on unsung composers

http://www.unsungcomposers.com/forum/index.php/topic,1895.msg22542.html#msg22542

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I've listened to all 3. The Flute Concerto is seriously good, and surprisingly long for a flute concerto. A serious fast first movement, beautiful slow second movement with a magical ending. Good recording too from Radio 3 in 1992 (first performance).

The Cello Concerto I didn't get at first listening. The recording isn't so good and the music sounded a bit unSimpsonish, but I will listen again, obviously.

The Violin Concerto is from 1959 and sounds more like a concerto for violin, orchestra (3 miles away) and hiss (in the concert room). Obviously I'm not blaming the person who provided the recording, just saying it's almost impossible to listen to.

This is a work that was written between the 1st and 2nd Symphonies (?) and was withdrawn by Simpson. It's a long work (43 mins) in three movements (fast, slow, fast). It seemed to me to a bit loose and Romantic for Simpson. Perhaps Simpson felt he'd fallen victim to the curse of the Violin Concerto (as Nielsen did, his VC isn't a patch on his flute and Clarinet concs). I'm sure a modern recording would show it to have good features.

Anyway, more recordings to listen to!

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #92 on: February 10, 2012, 07:36:44 AM »
I agree that the recording of the Violin Concerto is very poor but I didn't think the Cello Concerto was too bad. (These are not my recordings btw ;D).

However, since, as you say, the composer withdrew the violin concerto I think it very unlikely that it will be recorded so this is our only chance to get any idea at all of what it sounds like :(



Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #93 on: February 10, 2012, 04:26:06 PM »
"However, since, as you say, the composer withdrew the violin concerto I think it very unlikely that it will be recorded so this is our only chance to get any idea at all of what it sounds like."

If Simpson stays a niche interest composer then I think you're right. If he becomes more popular, and especially as time goes by, we might ignore his wishes. After all we usually now play the earliest versions of the Bruckner symphonies, not his last revisions (and Simpson recommended this (except for 4 and 8 of course)). Also, the Simpson Violin Concerto sounds like a concerto with big tunes and Romantic swing to it so a violin virtuoso might take it up (stranger things have happened).

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #94 on: February 12, 2012, 03:59:39 PM »
After all we usually now play the earliest versions of the Bruckner symphonies, not his last revisions

Is this really true??

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #95 on: February 12, 2012, 04:53:07 PM »
Quote from: eyeresist on Today at 00:59:39
Is this really true??


It _is_ true in the case of Symphony No. 1, where the earlier 'Linz' version is usually played, and not the later 'Vienna'. Symphonies 5, 6, 7 and 9 are unproblematic. With 2, 3, 4 and 8 a later, revised version is performed as a rule. But I don't claim to be a Bruckner scholar!
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #96 on: February 12, 2012, 08:13:21 PM »
When I said "we play" I mean, we play on our CD players (I never go to concerts). I read Simpson's 1st edition of The Essence of Bruckner ages ago and when I bought recordings I only bought ones that using the earliest versions, as per his advice. In a few cases his advice changed in 2nd edition. Only in the case of the 4th and 8th symphonies are revisions better in this (Simpson) view.

I do sin against the gospel of Simpson in that I listen to the Mazzuca completion of the finale of the 9th.

 :)

eyeresist

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #97 on: February 12, 2012, 08:42:31 PM »
I read an interesting essay which argued that the case against the revisions is actually quite weak, but of course when I want to refer to it, it's nowhere to be found.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #98 on: February 13, 2012, 05:35:06 AM »
The best thing I ever read about the versions is - consider everyone of them as a perfectly valid and distinctive creation. There are, for example, a few passages in the first version of the Third that Bruckner discarded, which I don't want to be without.
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Offline Lethevich

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Re: Robert Simpson(1921-1997)
« Reply #99 on: February 13, 2012, 08:40:20 AM »
The best thing I ever read about the versions is - consider everyone of them as a perfectly valid and distinctive creation. There are, for example, a few passages in the first version of the Third that Bruckner discarded, which I don't want to be without.

I think that the third stands alone (bar perhaps the first, but I don't care for it yet) in the original version being just as worthy as the revised ones. With, say, the fourth and eighth, the revisions did empirically tighten up the argument, and smooth over some of the awkward parts - their original versions do have much of interest, but lack the ability to really carry me away like the early versions of the third manage to.
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