Statuesque Aspirations

A sketch of the proposed Rosenberg statue by Etienne Millner. From http://www.jeecs.org.uk/rosenberg.html.

Last week there passed across my screen the information that there are plans in progress to commission a statue of the First World War poet Isaac Rosenberg (See HERE).  This follows the announcement in November 2012 that a simple sheet steel ‘statue’ of the renowned War Poet Wilfred Owen is being commissioned in his native Shrewsbury (see HERE).  Close to my home here in Lichfield, May and December 2012 saw the unveiling of two statues of Erasmus Darwin, who lived next door to me (see HERE).  Furthermore, the source of the original passing over my desk of the news about the Rosenberg statue (Tim Kendall’s War Poetry Blog) has since been appended with a comment that a committee in Harrow has been convened to look into the possibility of commissioning a statue and other art works honouring the War Poet and artist, David Jones.

A number of artists are already commemorated with statues.  Cheltenham is adorned with a very fine statue of Holst; and Edward Elgar is honoured by a number of such things, both with and without his bicycle.   There is a statue of Ralph Vaughan Williams in Dorking…

For some time I have wondered whether such an honour could be paid to Ivor Gurney – the composer and War Poet with whose work I have become most closely associated in my research and writing – either in his native city of Gloucester or, more idealistically, on Crickley Hill, where he could be set for eternity at stance looking out over his beloved Severn Plain; over Gloucester and out towards Wales.  Or perhaps a bench should be erected on Chosen Hill, Churchdown, on which Gurney might sit alongside a second statue of Herbert Howells, looking out towards the Malvern Hills, the bench perhaps inscribed with motifs from Howells’s Piano Quartet…

Gloucester could also be treated to a statue of Sir Hubert Parry, one of the founding fathers of British music in the twentieth century, the importance of whose work has been long overshadowed by Elgar.

The £92,000 cited as the figure required to be raised for the Rosenberg sounds both an enormous amount of money and also a relative snip, given that such things would most probably be cast in bronze.  But in this ‘Age of Austerity’ where large businesses are going into administration on an almost daily basis, it might seem frivolous and rather pie-in-the-sky to be embarking upon such ventures.  There would undoubtedly be arguments that public monies should be spent on something far more worthwhile then mere statuary.  And yet what can be more important?  The arts are the facet of humanity that defines us as human, and its importance should never be underestimated.  Adorning our cities with sculptures of some of the heroes of the arts not only adds focal points and things of potential beauty and interest to our streets.  They could encourage some sense of pride in the heritage of that place and might prompt some to investigate anew some of these figures, who could find themselves enriched and inspired by the poetry, music or art that they find.  The need for art is paramount, particularly during times of austerity, when opportunities for retail ‘therapy’ are becoming more difficult.  Looking deeply into a piece of art might just allow you to see more deeply within yourself, discovering parts of your being that you never knew existed.

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A Passing and an Affirmation

John Carol Case, 1923-2012

John Carol Case, 1923-2012

It was sad to read this afternoon that the fine English Baritone John Carol-Case died on 28 December 2012.  Although he has been long retired and has led a life out of the limelight in North Yorkshire, one cannot help feeling somewhat sad about the loss to English music – although his contribution to English song in particular lives on through his recorded legacy.

After reading the article on The Independent’s website (see here), I went (as one does in this digital age) to YouTube – being more readily (lazily!) available than the CD shelves – and found this performance of John Carol Case and Tod Handley performing Finzi’s ‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’ from the string version of Let us Garlands bring.

Carol Case’s performance did that (too-?) rare thing to me as I listened: it made me think, yes! I really do want to be a singer!  Having several strings to my bow, as such, as editor, researcher, writer, lecturer etc etc, I came to the point a few years ago where I was considering giving up the singing to make way for these other activities.  Instead of giving up, I decided to lay my hand to the plough and try to see if there was something in it – which it is beginning to seem there might be.  It is moments like this, prompted by Carol Case’s passing, that reaffirms my desire to perform and remember what it is about it that makes me want to do it.  So as long as there are people who wish to listen, I shall sing.  If I can create something as special and truly beautiful as Carol Case does in this performance – not to mention his numerous others which I must revisit – then I shall have truly achieved something.  It is a rare thing though, so I shall just hope that people will get some enjoyment from what I do and carry on.  If the spark of magic happens, which one must always seek to capture, then it will be a blessed thing.

‘Holst Syndrome’: An Undiscovered Country

Bust of Gustav Holst at the Holst Birthplace Museum (http://www.holstmuseum.org.uk)

Bust of Gustav Holst at the Holst Birthplace Museum (http://www.holstmuseum.org.uk)

In a recent guest blog for Gramophone magazine, composer Raymond Yiu writes of his passion for British music and the sad situation in which just one or two works by a composer dominate the perception of that composer’s output.  You can read the blog at http://www.gramophone.co.uk/blog/gramophone-guest-blog/sounds-and-sweet-airs-that-give-delight.

Yiu calls this situation ‘Holst Syndrome’ – a most apt name for it, owing to Holst’s output being overshadowed by one work (overshadowed in terms of reception – certainly not musically), and not even the whole of that work: just a couple of movements of his 1914-16 Suite for Large Orchestra, The Planets.  It begs the question why people don’t work out from that work and explore some of the other pieces by Holst, although such explorations are not encouraged by the drearily repetitious Classic FM, which is one of the main culprits in defining the limitations of the populist canon of musical works.  There is such a remarkable body of work by Holst that is rarely heard, from the joyous Fugal Overture (for orchestra) to the large-scale The Cloud Messenger (alto solo, chorus and orchestra), which I admire enormously.  Or why not try the later work Hammersmith, or the Japanese Suite?  And if you enjoy song, then look up the Humbert Wolfe songs, which are wonderful.

As Yiu states in his blog post, there are so many facets to English music: there is the quirky and playful (while on the subject of Holst, try The Floral Bandit in the Wolfe songs!); the regal; the exotic and mystical; there are great depths of despair; and of course the ‘pastoral’, which is seen by some as the definition of English music but which is a term that somehow defies full definition and encompasses a broad range of music.  I was pleased to see Michael Tippett’s fourth symphony singled out on his list – a marvellous work.  There are several lifetime’s worth of listening getting to know all of the music that is available to us – and more keeps being written.  I know many byways of British music, but have many paths yet to tread, such as Vaughan Williams’s 7th, 8th and 9th symphonies which I don’t yet know, and the Rubbra symphonies are on my shelves to devour at some point – although there are not only symphonies to discover.  But while on the subject of this genre, and to add a little to Raymond Yiu’s list,

Kenneth Leighton, 1929-88(Photograph: Jo Leighton)

Kenneth Leighton, 1929-88
(Photograph: Jo Leighton)

I urge you to listen to Kenneth Leighton’s three symphonies (the numbered works – there is also a Symphony for Strings), which are now available on Chandos Records (www.chandos.net).  Leighton deserves a larger place in our musical canon.  Like Herbert Howells (seek out Howells’s piano concerti or Hymnus Paradisi!), Leighton’s works written for the church are known in choral/cathedral music circles, but very little else is known about or performed.  His chamber music is well worth exploring, but for me his symphonies are particularly fine.  They are almost cyclical in nature, and the first grows out of an almost Sibelius sound-world into works of lyrical beauty, extraordinary energy and vitality, and great, dark depths.  I lament the fact that Leighton died before he was able to complete his fourth…  Leighton was also a very fine pianist and wrote much for the piano.  If a symphony is too much to bear, then try his late Four Romantic Pieces for piano.  They are available for download (very cheaply for such wonderful music!) at The Classical Shop (final four tracks).

So: keep an open mind and don’t be tram-lined into hearing just the few ‘popular’ pieces by any composer.  With the internet it is now a very short and easy journey to discover so much more about a composer and his works.