Showing posts with label FS Kelly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FS Kelly. Show all posts

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Ghosts of War

Tracing the path from FS Kelly's death in the Battle of the Somme, through the rediscovery of the Schumann Violin Concerto on the eve of World War II, to the exile into which that tragic conflict threw so many composers including Bartók: the concert The Ghosts of War is one of my dream events made real. It's been built around my book Ghost Variations and the story of Jelly d'Arányi, who was deeply connected with not only the concerto but also the other two composers. On 1 June I'm narrating the concert for the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra in Oxford Town Hall, with the conductors Marios Papadopoulos and Hannah Schneider (who will do the Kelly) and the stunning Russian violinist Alena Baeva as soloist in the Schumann. I do hope you can join us! Booking here.

Here's some more about the concert and the personalities behind the pieces, to help whet the appetite...


THE GHOSTS OF WAR


Jelly d'Arányi in the 1920s. Portrait by Charles Geoffroy-Dechaume

From the death of composer Frederick Septimus Kelly in the Battle of the Somme, through the bizarre rediscovery of Schumann’s long-suppressed Violin Concerto on the eve of World War II to music that Bela Bartók composed in exile in 1940, this concert traces the inter-war years through the extraordinary figure of the great Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi (the heroine of my novel Ghost Variations, which inspired the programme). 

One of the most significant musicians of her day, muse to such composers as Ravel, Szymanowski, Holst, Vaughan Williams and Bartók, d’Arányi was born in Budapest in 1893 and in her heyday premiered many seminal new pieces of music. But in 1933 she claimed to have received spirit messages purporting to be from the composer Robert Schumann, asking her to find and play his long-neglected Violin Concerto. In her quest to find this work, which had never been published, d’Arányi found herself trapped in a race against the Nazi regime’s Department of Propaganda, which wanted to conscript the newly discovered concerto for its own purposes. The concerto’s rebirth was almost as traumatic a tale as its birth; it had been Schumann’s last orchestral work before the mental collapse that led to his hospitalisation and death. Its modern premiere was eventually presented in November 1937 in front of Hitler and Goebbels. D’Arányi gave its UK premiere at the Queen’s Hall, London, in February 1938.

Flanking the concerto are works by two of the most significant figures in d’Arányi’s life. Frederick Septimus Kelly was described by d’Arányi’s family as “her only fiancé” (if in the French sense of 'suitor' or 'boyfriend' rather than 'intended'...): a highly talented Australian composer and pianist, he studied at Eton and Oxford and frequently met the d’Arányi sisters to rehearse and perform chamber music. On the outbreak of World War I he became an officer and survived Gallipoli, composing a violin sonata for d’Arányi while there. His most famous work, however, is the exquisitely beautiful Elegy in Memoriam Rupert Brooke, written in tribute to the poet, who was a close friend and died in 1915. Kelly met his own tragic death at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. D’Arányi kept his portrait on her piano for the rest of her life - even though there was no sign that Kelly had ever actually returned her feelings. 

Jelly plays Kelly

Bela Bartók was close to the d’Arányi family in Budapest before they moved to Britain: as a young man he was frequently at their home to give piano lessons to their middle sister, Hortense. He was enraptured first by the eldest of the three, Adila (herself an eminent violinist under her married name, Adila Fachiri); but later, when the youngest, Jelly, grew up, she became a crucial inspiration. For her he composed his two impassioned sonatas for violin and piano, which she premiered with him in London respectively in 1922 and 1923. This time the unrequited love was his.

After the outbreak of World War II, Bartók left Hungary and spent his last years in America, where he had to struggle for acceptance and survival. In exile, he composed his magnificent Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who conducted its premiere in 1944. Despite the distance of several thousand miles, the work seems to overflow with the energy, lyrical beauty and exotic colours of Bartók’s - and d’Arányi’s - native Budapest, the dazzling rhythms of the Hungarian language and the soulful, rhapsodic qualities so characteristic of Hungarian folk music. 

The Schumann Violin Concerto’s modern rediscovery seems highly symbolic. D’Arányi’s career was on the brink, tipping from greatness to decline in a combination of physical and psychological pressures; the work is by a composer about to experience a catastrophic breakdown; and it was revived for a world poised on the cliff edge, ready to tumble into the madness of fascism and war. Yet the concerto’s Polonaise finale carries a message of hope that bore a startling relevance to those times and to the future. It was a story crying out to be told, especially in a world that can seem once again to be on the brink of madness. In Ghost Variations I wanted to pay tribute to these great musicians, but also to capture the resonance that their world carries for our own. 

https://oxfordphil.com/events/128153638/the-ghosts-of-war-2019-06-01

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Somme, 1 July 1916

Poppies. Photo: John Beniston via Wikipedia

Below, the Elegy for Strings, "In Memoriam Rupert Brooke", by Frederick Septimus Kelly, the young Australian composer who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916. Jelly d'Arányi, who had hoped to marry him, kept his picture on her piano for the rest of her life.

Please take a moment to remember that the organisation that unites European countries under one big umbrella was formed after World War II in order to stop wars from happening again between its member states. Today it's called the European Union. People in the UK last week voted by a narrow margin to leave this organisation.

It's chiefly a protest vote that lashes out against the holders of power and against that catch-all scapegoat, people who look different, speak a different language or come from somewhere else. Unfortunately the deprivation and alienation in many English and Welsh communities is the result of successive British government policies - e.g., the closure of our manufacturing bases and the mines, "austerity", etc - over the last 30-odd years (see this damning report about the UN's confirmation that the austerity regime breaches the UK's international human rights obligations). The EU actually put money into regenerating these places.

The nation that sent its finest young men to fight for our freedom a hundred years ago has now been sold down the river by a bunch of liars and jokers who were high on their own power and are living to regret it. Ironically, Theresa May, current front-runner for the vacant Tory leadership, has more or less declared that if she becomes PM the fiscal plan - the excuse for these past years of "austerity" - is dead in the water [update, 12.50pm: Chancellor George Osborne has just confirmed that the aim of a budget surplus by 2020 is being ditched]. Just in time for our Brexit-induced recession in 2017.

With any luck, this referendum can be turned to positive effect. It's exposed the depth of our societal fault-lines and the extent of the inequality that recent ideologies have worsened. It would take something as seismic as this to force a policy rethink. Now that rethink must happen, not a moment too soon.

It's not impossible that the structures of constitutional law may yet reveal Brexit as unworkable or illegal - it looks suspiciously as if it may be both. But if it does go ahead, we have to find a way to fight for the guarantees and conditions our businesses need in order to keep functioning on a global stage, and if those sunny uplands vaunted by the Leave camp turn out to exist, we have to seize the supposed opportunities they offer, whatever they may be (look, there goes another unicorn!). But the Article 50 button would have to be pushed first, and it'll be a bloody-minded PM indeed who is able to do that to his/her own country, especially when it could result in the break-up of the UK.

As we all remember the Battle of the Somme and the horrors of World War I today, let's reflect for a moment on the irony - and the hypocrisy - of the current situation.

Over to "Sep" Kelly.



Sunday, November 08, 2015

Remembrance Sunday: astonishing music from the WWI years

Looking for music for Remembrance Sunday - and especially music by Frederick Septimus Kelly - I was blown away by this short film from violinist Guillaume Sutre and pianist Steven Vanhauwaert. It concerns the CD of music from the World War I era that they have recently recorded for Editions Hortus - the first volume of Hortus's WWI series. I wrote the sleeve notes for one of the other albums - the one of left-hand piano concertos including Korngold's - and am much impressed by the research, creativity and quality of the recordings I've heard.

The sonata by Georges Antoine sounds utterly marvellous and as well as impressive music by Pfitzner and Lili Boulanger there's a substantial chunk too of the sonata that Kelly wrote for Jelly d'Arányi - or 'von Arányi', as he wrote it on the manuscript (the family, who were living in England by then, had to Frenchify their German-sounding title soon afterwards).

We will remember them...



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance: Jelly d'Arányi plays FS Kelly



The young violinist Jelly d'Arányi - sometime muse to Ravel, Bartók and even the ageing Elgar - was much in love with the gifted Australian musician FS Kelly, some 12 years her senior. Born in Sydney, educated at Eton and Oxford, he was also an Olympic gold medallist in 1908 for his supreme skill at rowing. Jelly met him through one of his teachers, who was also her oldest and dearest friend in Britain, Donald Francis Tovey; thereafter she often played duos with him. During WWI Kelly survived Gallipoli, where he composed a violin sonata for her. A short period of leave brought him back to Britain for r&r; then in 1916 he was sent to the Somme and never returned. Jelly kept John Singer Sargent's drawing of him on her piano for the rest of her life.

For today, Remembrance Day in the WW1 centenary year, here is a rare recording of Jelly playing his Serenade Op.7, with Ethel Hobday at the piano. Listening to it today in memory of all those caught up in the horrors of those years - and the generation of their loved ones who were left behind, as Jelly was, to live with their memories alone.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A lost generation - and some that need finding

As the commemorations of the World War I centenary begin, music is very much part of the equation. Radio 3 is starting a new series entitled Music on the Brink on 5 January, looking at the music of five crucial cities at the time of the war's outbreak. 

This article appeared in short form in the Independent a week or two ago, but what follows here is my longer original: an introduction to the effect of the "Great War" on the composers who had to participate in it, those who lived and those who died. Some are household names, but others can benefit from the chance of rediscovery that this year may bring.

We already had FS Kelly's deeply moving Elegy for Strings for Remembrance Day, so to start let's hear Jelly d'Aranyi (violin) and Ethel Hobday (piano) playing his Serenade Op.7.





The composer and poet Ivor Gurney once wrote: “Despairing work is the noblest refuge among other despairs”. During commemorations for the centenary of World War I this year, Gurney’s music will be much to the fore, together with that of a generation of composers who, if they survived, found themselves indelibly scarred by their wartime experiences. Their responses were extraordinarily varied. Far from being a catalogue of gloom, their works reflect everything from mourning to pacifism, from iconoclasm to wry humour and escapism. 
 
Gurney’s history is as emblematic as it is tragic, and his songs as beautiful as his poetry. Always prone to depression, he had suffered a breakdown while still a student; but after serving in the war, in which he suffered a shoulder wound in 1917 and gassing only months afterwards, he was diagnosed with “deferred shell-shock”. He spent his later years in and out of mental institutions. Later this year there'll be a Radio 3 Composer of the Week series devoted to his compositions.


Among the most familiar of his contemporaries is Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was 41 on the outbreak of war, but served first as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, later as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He weathered considerable horrors with greater than average strength, though later suffered deafness thought to have been caused by noise damage from gunfire. His Pastoral Symphony – light years from Beethoven’s – references not idealised country scenes, but the fields of northern France. It incubated, he recalled, “when I used to go up night after night with the ambulance wagon at Ecoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was a wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset.” A trumpet cadenza captures the sound he heard of a bugler practising yet hitting the wrong note.

Other survivors were less well adjusted. EJ Moeran was a case in point. He was 19 in 1914 and spent much of the war as a despatch rider until being wounded at Bullecourt in 1917. Not only his psyche but also the progress of his career was overturned; it was soon hampered further by mental instability and alcoholism. He was just beginning to achieve real recognition when the outbreak of World War II intervened. Fortunately his concertos for cello and for violin have recently been enjoying a resurgence of popularity thanks to new recordings respectively by the cellist Guy Johnston and violinist Tasmin Little. Here's the second movement of his Serenade:



Many composers were less fortunate still. George Butterworth died in the Battle of the Somme, aged 31. A friend of Vaughan Williams and fellow collector of folksongs, his most celebrated work is the song cycle A Shropshire Lad, exquisitely evocative settings of AE Housman, as well as an idyllic work for orchestra, The Banks of Green Willow

A less famed loss at the Somme was the Australian composer Frederick Septimus Kelly, who had survived Gallipoli and was also a rowing champion, having won a gold medal in the 1908 Olympic Games. Recently the director of the Canberra Festival, Christopher Latham, has unearthed a violin sonata that Kelly penned on the boat home from Gallipoli, intending it for the violinist Jelly d’Arányi – also a vital inspiration to Ravel, Vaughan Williams and Bartók – whom he was widely expected to marry. It is a relatively carefree-sounding piece – as if imagining its strains in the trenches had offered a means of mental escape. 

Many who did not see action found their attitudes to life and music transformed nonetheless. Frank Bridge espoused strong pacifist views; the impact of the war induced him to transform his hitherto romantic style into near-expressionism – for instance, in an uncompromising piano sonata dedicated to the memory of the composer Ernest Bristow Farrar, who was killed in action. Bridge’s student Benjamin Britten was later to echo his pacifist outlook; and Farrar’s young pupil Gerald Finzi was deeply affected by his mentor’s death, which contributed to shaping his distinctly dark view of life.

Across the Channel, Claude Debussy was dying of cancer; he did not live to see the conflict’s end. He came to view composition as an act of resistance and patriotism. “I want to work not so much for myself, but to give proof, however small...that not even 30 million ‘boches’ can destroy French thought," he declared. His last works are three instrumental sonatas that show not a hint of the turbulence around him, signed ‘Claude Debussy, musicien français’. 

Maurice Ravel became a driver of ambulances at Verdun. In his piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin each movement is dedicated to a different fallen friend. He, though, resisted the drift towards nationalism: “It would be dangerous for French composers to ignore systematically the works of their foreign colleagues, and thus form themselves into a sort of national coterie: our musical art...would soon degenerate and become isolated by its own academic formulas,” he wrote. But his La Valse is often seen as an unwitting evocation of the world of the Viennese waltz imploding in cataclysm.

This is the piano version, played by Yuja Wang at Verbier:


The composers of Vienna itself responded to the war in manners ranging from the personal to the outright political. Franz Lehár, that supreme composer of operetta, produced a tone poem for tenor and orchestra entitled Fever, portraying the memories of a soldier in shell-shock. At the other extreme, the youthful Erich Wolfgang Korngold became musical director of a regiment, for which he composed a military march. When his commanding officer complained that it was too fast, he quipped: “This is for the retreat.” 

For Arnold Schoenberg, who undertook military service aged 42, the war symbolised – at first – an attack on the reactionary musical world, especially that of France: “Now we will throw these mediocre kitschmongers into slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God,” he wrote in 1914. But German musical losses were intense, too: just one example was the immensely gifted Rudi Stephan, whose opera Die ersten Menschen was only premiered five years after his death on the Galician front. 

While surviving composers processed their experiences through their art in many different ways, an overarching result became clear. The war had produced such trauma and disillusionment that the only way forward was to sweep away the past and find a new, sometimes revolutionary approach for the future. The scene was set for a fresh century of music, rising from the ashes of the old one.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Remembrance Sunday rarity



This is the astonishing Elegy for Strings 'In Memoriam Rupert Brooke' by Frederick Septimus Kelly, the brilliant Australian pianist and composer who survived Gallipoli only to meet his death at the Somme.

An Olympic rowing champion in 1908, he was a sometime pupil of Donald Francis Tovey at Oxford and was close to the young Jelly d'Aranyi, who hoped to marry him. The Sonata he wrote for her on his way back to Britain from Gallipoli - having composed it in his head while in the trenches - was unearthed and performed a couple of years ago by the Australian violinist Chris Latham and turned out to be a carefree, sunny sort of work. The same cannot be said for the Elegy, which is not many miles in mood from Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia.

Please listen, enjoy and think.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Historical bonanza of Jelly d'Aranyi

Yesterday was the 120th birthday of one of my great musical heroines, the violinist Jelly d'Aranyi. And on Youtube, it turns out that an absolute bonanza of her recordings has recently been uploaded - and my goodness, they're amazing. (I still live in hope, though, that one day someone, somewhere, will turn up a recording of her playing the Schumann Violin Concerto in 1938. That's another story.)

Born in Hungary in 1893, Jelly moved to England with her mother and sisters in about 1909. Her playing, beauty and vitality inspired numerous composers to write for her, among them Bartok, Ravel (Tzigane), Ethel Smyth, Vaughan Williams (Concerto Accademica), and FS Kelly, whom she might have married had he not been killed in the Battle of the Somme.

Here are three short glories.

'Jig' from FS Kelly's Serenade, recorded in 1924. With Ethel Hobday (piano).



Purcell 'Golden' Sonata, recorded in 1925, with Jelly's elder sister Adila Fachiri (violin) and Ethel Hobday (piano). Adila was a student of "Onkel Jo" - the d'Aranyi's great-uncle Joseph Joachim - who also bequeathed her his Strad.

This Purcell was later to feature works they performed in Westminster Abbey in 1933 as part of Jelly's tour of British cathedrals giving free concerts for all comers with retiring collection to benefit the unemployed. It became known as Jelly's "Pigrimage of Compassion". T



Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits. With Conrad v. Bos (piano). No commentary needed, really.