Showing posts with label Jelly d'Aranyi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jelly d'Aranyi. 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

Sunday, March 03, 2019

FS Kelly: a lost genius?



Frederick Septimus Kelly

When I was working on Ghost Variations, one of the most rewarding - and moving - discoveries was the music of Frederick Septimus Kelly (1881-1916): Australian composer, pupil of Donald Francis Tovey, Olympic rowing gold medallist of 1908. He was tragically killed in the Battle of the Somme, having survived the horrors of Gallipoli. Jelly d'Arányi, our violinist heroine, was in love with him and kept his picture on her piano for the rest of her life. There's not much evidence that he returned her feelings, beyond the enjoyment of making music together - but nevertheless, he wrote her a substantial violin sonata on his way back from Gallipoli, which was unearthed and recorded for the first time by Australian violinist Chris Latham less than a decade ago. (You can hear Kelly's most famous work, the beautiful Elegy in Memoriam Rupert Brooke, in The Ghosts of War, the d'Arányi-themed concert I'm presenting for the Oxford Philharmonic on 1 June in Oxford Town Hall, which also includes Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra and, of course, the Schumann Violin Concerto).

The other day I had an email from the pianist Alex Wilson, with the heartening news that he has unearthed more unknown Kelly music, this time for piano solo, and is making a recording. He's crowdfunding it. I've asked him to tell us more. And do please support his efforts in bringing this rewarding music to light - you can contribute here. The campaign is live only until Thursday 7 March.



JD: Alex, how did you first come across FS Kelly and his music? 

AW: I have always been fascinated by the music of composers who fall outside of the mainstream musical canon – a passion that led me to researching the music of the forgotten composers of World War One.  I discovered and performed music by Ernest Farrar, Cecil Coles and George Butterworth in a 5-year concert series – entitled ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ – and it was this exploration that led me to the piano music of the British/Australian composer Frederick Septimus Kelly (‘Sep’), one of the few wartime composers who wrote extensively for solo piano. I managed to unearth a few published pieces at the British Library that I performed in concerts back in 2014, and the success of these works led me to want to explore further.

How would you describe his music, for someone who’s never heard it before? What appeals to you most about it?

Sep’s music is so appealing to me because it is unlike the other music being written by his contemporaries in Britain.  He studied at the Hochkonservatorium in Frankfurtand as a result was influenced by both the late romanticism of mainland Europe and the pastoral, folk influenced style of his British colleagues, creating a unique sound world packed full of contrasting influences that it is really fascinating to try and make sense of – shifting from restrained hymn tunes to Chopin-esque romanticism and enigmatic harmonic languages reminiscent of Scriabin.

This music is full of youthful exuberance, unashamedly unrefined at times and covering a full range of emotions. His music is enigmatic, hard to categorise, but is still very accessible, and has proven to be popular every time I have performed it.


Why have you decided to record these piano works? Tell us something more about them. 

This recording will be the first time the ’24 Monographs’ and ’12 Studies’ have been recorded in their entirety, with many works in the collections unperformed in 100 years.  The process of learning music for which I have literally no other point of reference as to how to perform, read and interpret has been fascinating.  There is no standard interpretation to fall back on, I essentially have a blank canvas on which to make my mark.

The Monographs and Studies were written over a number of years, started before the war in 1913 and continued during the war years until his death at the Somme in 1916.  Sep was revising and editing the music during active service, preparing it for publishing after the war.  It is unclear how close he was to completing this task when he lost his life, though one can assume that the revisions were largely completed as he had already performed a number of the works in concerts during the war period.  Stylistically the music ranges from romantic simplicity to harmonic ambiguity, and the Monographs cover all the major and minor keys, which naturally leads to comparisons with the Chopin Preludes.  


Many of the pieces have only recently come to light. Please tell us how this happened, and why? Where have they been and how were they found?

Much of Sep’s original music is held in archives at the National Library of Australia. It remained in its manuscript form until 2005 when the Marshall-Hall Trust (an organisation devoted to publishing and distributing music by Australian composers) and editors Bruce Steele and Richard Divall created editions of the piano music.  On discovering the existence of further piano music by Sep I was able to obtain the sheet music from Kelly expert Chris Latham, the director of the Australian organisation ‘The Flowers of War’ – an organisation set up to promote the Australian contribution to the First World War.  


His most famous work until now has been the Elegy in Memoriam Rupert Brooke - incredibly beautiful piece and one that pays tribute to a close friend. Can you tell us anything more about Kelly and the social circles he moved in?
Sep was a polymath; a young man who turned his head to various disciplines with skill and ‘thereupon decided to be a great composer’ after reading ‘Psychology and Life’s Ideals’ by Professor Hamer.  He performed with the greatest musicians of the day, including as part of a well-renowned trio with cellist Pablo Casals and violinist Jelly D’Aranyi – a woman who loved him deeply, for whom he wrote the Gallipoli violin sonata and who kept his photo on her piano for the rest of her life. 
As a naval officer in World War One Sep joined the famous ‘Latin Club’ – a group of learned officers that included poet Rupert Brooke, composer William Denis Browne and Arthur (Ock) Asquith, the son of the Prime Minister. Sep was also a talented rower, winning gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics with the men’s 8s – before immediately giving it up and returning to performance and composition once again!

What do you think his significance is? (And what could it have been, had he lived longer?)
Kelly died at the age of 35, an age at which he was fully trained as a musician but had only just begun to refine his music, combining the many influences on his composition into a cohesive and individual musical voice.  Chris Latham suggests that ‘if Ralph Vaughan Williams had also died at the age of 35, their musical output would be an almost exact match in quality and quantity, but with Kelly writing more piano works, and Vaughan Williams writing more chamber works.’ Vaughan Williams grew into one of Britain’s most successful and loved composers, and one can only imagine that Kelly might have developed in a similar way.


Why are you crowdfunding the recording? What do you think the pros and cons of crowdfunding are? Is it something you’d recommend that other musicians try?

Funding from official sources is harder than ever to secure, with more musicians seeking funds from ever dwindling resources.  Crowdfunding has proven to be the perfect solution to this problem, and has been a wonderful way to bring my project to the attention of as many people as possible.  Directly as result of publicising this campaign I have connected with groups as diverse as Sep’s relatives, his old rowing club, wartime history enthusiasts and individual supporters from across the world.

Crowdfunding requires a LOT of hard work – I have spent months sending emails, writing articles, creating various recordings and radio appearances, all of which takes precious time away from the practice room in the months building up to a recording of some very difficult music!  However, I now feel like I know my subject much better than before, I have learnt immeasurably from my backers and the stories they have told me, and I am happy to have ‘sold’ a number of my CDs before the music has even been recorded!

For those considering crowdfunding, I’d say GO FOR IT, just don’t expect to have much time for anything else!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

And yesterday was...

Jelly d'Arányi: Schumann heroine
...the 80th anniversary of the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto, given by our own Jelly d'Arányi with Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Queen's Hall, London. If I remember right, the second half contained the UK premiere of Sibelius 5. As this event forms the climax and final chapter of my Ghost Variations I really should have flagged it up on the day, especially as I had been intending to do so for months on end.

Fortunately, the Royal Northern Sinfonia did notice, and planned ahead, and got Alina Ibragimova to come up and play it, and Radio 3 noticed too and broadcast the concert, so it is now, happily, available to listen to on the BBC iPlayer, here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09r7vb0

The full history involved a surprise "spirit message" ostensibly from Schumann; a hunt - by the Swedish Minister in London - through the music libraries of Berlin; a propaganda exercise by the Nazis, who wanted the Schumann concerto to replace the banned Mendelssohn in their people's affections; a reworking of the piece because it didn't, er, quite fit the bill - mostly assigned, unbeknownst to the authorities, to Hindemith; the intervention of Yehudi Menuhin, the young Jewish American violin superstar to whom the publishers from Nazi Germany sent a photostat of the manuscript; and a scandal when the story of the "spirit messages" broke just weeks before Jelly was supposed to give the London premiere, which was then delayed for about four months, though mostly because the Nazis kept changing the date of the German premiere... The saga took some disentangling, but much of it is in Ghost Variations.

...which is not a "romantic story", as one lady I met at a party fondly imagined, but is about the rise of facsism and a warning from history. Eighty years ago does not seem such a long time, being easily within living memory. Several years after the performance, the Queen's Hall was flattened in the Blitz. Tovey died in 1939, as did Jelly's brother-in-law. Myra Hess became a national heroine. Things change. Things can change fast when balance is lost. This was the edge of madness - for Schumann, for Jelly, for the world itself - and we shouldn't forget, because we may be at another edge of madness now.

David Le Page, Viv McLean and I are also doing a Ghost Variations concert this week, the nearest thing we have to an anniversary performance: it will be under the auspices of the Leicester International Music Festival which runs a series of lunchtime concerts year round. It's at the Victorian Art Gallery, New Walk Museum, Leicester, on Thursday 22 February, 1pm. The programme has been adapted for a one-hour format and includes some pieces new to our programme, not least by Gluck and Elgar. We do hope you'll come along if you're in the area. More details here.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Our heroine's birthday



Today is the birthday of the great violinist Jelly d'Arányi, who was born in Budapest on 30 May 1893. She is of course the heroine of Ghost Variations.

Here are just a few pieces of the pieces of music that were composed for her and/or inspired by her, in no particular order:

Ravel: Tzigane
Bartók: Violin Sonata No.1
Ethel Smyth: Double Concerto for Violin and French Horn
Vaughan Williams: Concerto Accademico
FS Kelly: Violin Sonata in G major (now nicknamed the 'Gallipoli Sonata')
Gustav Holst: Double Concerto for two violins (for Jelly and her sister Adila Fachiri)

Unfortunately the majority of Jelly's recordings are of short salon works rather than the meaty concertos and chamber works that formed the bulk of her repertoire. The exceptions are some concertos by Bach and Mozart, and a remarkable set of two piano trios - Schubert's B flat and Brahms's C major Op.87 with Myra Hess, with whom she enjoyed a rewarding duo for some 20 years. The two trios have different cellists - Felix Salmond joins them for the Schubert, Gaspar Cassado for the Brahms. It's the only surviving recording testimony to her partnership with Hess.

Above, hear the slow movement of the Brahms (which features some of Brahms' Hungarian Joachim-tribute rhythms). To judge from their playing here, Myra and Jelly were musical soulmates.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Meanwhile in the Shed...

The Shed, if you haven't met it yet, is my book blog at Unbound attached to the rapidly approaching Ghost Variations. It's the place to go for extras: insights into my processes and the characters, Youtube of their real selves playing, appetite-whetting (I hope) and so on.

Publication is scheduled for 1 September, but there's still a great deal to do... All posts at the Shed are emailed automatically to all the book's supporters and currently you can dip in and take a look even if you're not a patron. Later, though, there will be bonus material accessible only to those who are buying the book.

Currently we're doing an A-Z of the book in clumps of several at a time. You can find them here:

A is for Adila, B is for Bartók, C is for Caesar. Includes recording of Adila Fachiri and Ethel Hobday playing some Hubay.

D is for the Depression, E is for Erik Palmstierna, F is for (Alexander) Fachiri. With recording of Jelly d'Arányi and Adila Fachiri playing the slow movement of a Spohr violin duo which is completely stunning.

I'm continually amazed and deeply moved by their recordings - Adila, though less celebrated generally, plays just as wonderfully as Jelly, though very different in personality. The qualities they share - their perfection of intonation, their intensity of concentration, their purity of tone - really must be heard to be believed. If Ghost Variations has a greater purpose than telling a remarkable musical tale, it is to help keep alive the memory of these exceptional musicians, inspiration to so many composers.

The novel-concerts in association with the book are going to be a treat, certainly for me, Dave and Viv and hopefully for you as well. The programme is stuffed full of music associated with Jelly, her family and her musical circles: Ravel, Bartók, Brahms arr. Joachim, Mendelssohn, Schumann of course, and possibly a piece by FS Kelly. We have:

St Mary's Perivale - 7 September
Music at 22 Mansfield Street (chez Boas) - 4 October
Kensington & Chelsea Music Society at Leighton House, London W11 - 18 October
Barnes Music Society - date tbc, but most likely November

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Keep Calm and...listen to Jelly

I do wonder whence all these amazing recordings on Youtube are popping up. They don't grow on trees and many were never released on LP, let alone CD. This, of Jelly d'Arányi and her sister Adila Fachiri (who have become the main characters of Ghost Variations) with the pianist Ethel Hobday playing the Gigue from Bach's Trio Sonata in C BWV1037, is simply glorious and the most cheering thing I can find on a morning on which everything else seems to be in meltdown, from the BBC's music TV department to ENO to our newspaper to...

oh blast it, here's the Bach.




Monday, January 18, 2016

Here it is: GHOST VARIATIONS

You may have wondered why I've been posting clips of late Schumann and asking you to have a special listen. Now I can reveal all...

The campaign to launch my new novel, Ghost Variations, goes live TODAY via the groundbreaking 21st-century-style publisher Unbound.


Our heroine: Jelly d'Arányi
1933. A world spiralling towards war. A composer descending into madness. And a devoted woman struggling to keep her faith in art and love against all the odds.

Ghost Variations, inspired by real events, tells the extraordinary tale of how the great violinist Jelly d’Arányi rediscovered the long-suppressed Schumann Violin Concerto with the aid of supposed messages from the spirit world.
The concerto, Schumann’s last orchestral work, was embargoed by the composer’s family for fear that it betrayed his mental disintegration. As rumours of its existence spread from London to Berlin, Jelly embarks on an increasingly complex quest to find the manuscript, upon which the Nazi administration has designs of its own.

Though aided and abetted by a team of larger-than-life personalities – including her sister Adila Fachiri, the pianist Myra Hess and the musicologist Donald Francis Tovey – Jelly finds herself confronting forces that threaten her own state of mind. Saving the concerto comes to mean saving herself.


Clara and Robert Schumann
We have 90 days from now to crowd-fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations. If you enjoy my other books, my articles and JDCMB, or if you just like the sound of this one, please come on over and be part of it! This digital e-book publication is worldwide, so it doesn't matter where you are - Sheen or Sydney, San Francisco or Singapore, you'll be able to get your e-copy. 

For a pledge of just £10 you receive the e-book upon its release, are credited as a patron in its pages and gain access to the “shed” (a new blog at Unbound in which I chronicle the book’s creation).

A range of further rewards attend higher contributions.

For example, a special Early Bird deal includes a ticket to join me and fellow patrons to attend the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s performance of the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall on 6 February (violinist is Patricia Kopatchinskaja, with Marin Alsop conducting). We’ll have a drink and discussion after the concert. ONLY 9 PLACES AVAILABLE and you need to book by 31 JANUARY. 

You could sign up for an option which gives you a special print of the cover art, access to a playlist I'm creating to illustrate the book, a credit as a SuperPatron and an invitation to the launch party.

Or you could sponsor a character from the cast of real-life musicians: in addition to all the above, you’ll receive an information pack about her/him, compiled and written by me, including recommended reading and listening lists, plus a special credit in the book. Choose from Jelly d’Arányi, Adila Fachiri, Myra Hess, Donald Francis Tovey and Yehudi Menuhin.

To see the full list of pledge levels and associated rewards, please go to: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations

To learn more about Ghost Variations, please join us for a special evening at London’s Hungarian Cultural Centre on 21 March. I give a short lecture about Jelly d’Arányi (who was, of course, Hungarian) and David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) perform some of the music associated with her – including Ravel’s Tzigane, music by Bartók and Brahms, and a spot of Schumann. Admission is free, but booking is required: please phone 020 7240 8448 or email bookings@hungary.org.uk.

I look forward very much to bringing you this extraordinary tale and hope that you will be as swept up in it as I have been for the four-or-so years it's taken to write. 


Sunday, March 08, 2015

International Women's Day: Violin Legend #1

This recording is pretty good quality for 1928. This was the year in which votes in the UK were extended to include all women over 21 (not only those over 30). Here is the incredible Jelly d'Arányi - pupil of Hubay, great-niece of Joseph Joachim, inspirer of Ravel's Tzigane, Vaughan Williams's Concerto Accademico, certain bits of Bartók and much more - playing Brahms's Hungarian No.8. Happy International Women's Day!

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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy birthday, Jelly

The great violinist Jelly d'Arányi, muse to Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Bartók and many other composers (maybe even Elgar), was born on this day in 1893. The woman for whom Tzigane was created is today remembered far too little, yet the more one digs into her life, the more fascinating it becomes. She was the great-niece of Joseph Joachim - her elder sister Adila Fachiri (her married name), herself a fabulous violinist, was among his last pupils and was at his bedside when he died.

Jelly's life housed countless mysteries. One of the most intriguing is that she enjoyed a duo with Myra Hess for some 20 years, yet merits scarcely a mention in passing in Hess's largest biography to date (I've been trying to find out what went wrong between them, but so far to little avail). She never married, but the great love of her life is said to have been the Australian composer and Olympic rowing champion Frederick Septimus Kelly, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. And she gave the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto in February 1938: as for the famed "spirit messages" from Schumann asking her to track down and perform the piece, which was suppressed by Clara, Joachim and Brahms after the composer's death, there's no doubt that she certainly believed that her messages were genuine - and that they proved effective in restoring the concerto to life.

Please listen to her, Felix Salmond and Myra Hess playing the slow movement of Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat major.

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.






Friday, March 01, 2013

Friday Historical: More Jelly d'Aranyi - very unusual

If you enjoyed last week's d'Aranyi/Hess/Cassado treat, you'll be eager to hear our rarity from Jelly and unnamed accompanist...

Hooray for people who take the trouble to rescue ancient 78rpm records that their friends are chucking out, take them home, play them on an early gramophone and film it to share with the rest of us who might never otherwise hear treasures like Jelly d'Aranyi playing the Albeniz Tango. I quite like our host "the Colonel"'s comparison of the piece to a palm court orchestra, but d'Aranyi's playing is several major cuts above that. Listen to that tone, the nuancing of her intonation and phrasing, the inner-sprung rhythm...


Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Historical: purple Brahms patch with d'Aranyi, Hess and Cassado

This extraordinary recording from 1928 has finally popped up on Youtube. Here's the second movement of Brahms's Piano Trio in C, Op.87 played by Jelly d'Aranyi (violin), Myra Hess (piano) and Gaspar Cassado (cello).



As I understand it, these sessions - this Brahms and also the Schubert B flat Trio (with Felix Salmond on the cello) - were Hess's first recording. She and Jelly d'Aranyi worked together for some 20 years, giving countless recitals at the likes of the Wigmore and Queen's Hall, but these trios seem to be the only surviving example of their collaboration.

Sometime in the war years, it appears that they must have had a massive fallout. Serious enough that in Hess's biography by Marian McKenna, d'Aranyi - her duo partner for two decades - is afforded just one mention, in passing. I've met a number of people who knew one or the other, sometimes both, yet nobody seems sure exactly what went wrong.

The music world is full of these situations, of course, and in the end it's immaterial since the result, unfortunately, was the same whatever the cause. But when you hear the fine blend of their sounds, d'Aranyi's mellifluous charm sparking against Hess's wit and intelligence, the flow of detail and infinite shading of ideas that takes place in their music-making (it's even more obvious in the Schubert, incidentally), it seems little short of tragic that their every move was not captured by microphone - and that their partnership has somehow been wiped from history.

Friday, November 16, 2012

HUNGARIAN DANCES goes Romanian


Yes, it's the latest edition of HUNGARIAN DANCES, and it's in Romanian. Heartfelt thanks to Editura Rao in Bucharest for bringing it out with a priceless new title and this arresting cover pic that looks ever so slightly like Nicky Benedetti. More info, in Romanian, here. 

To celebrate, here's a special Friday Historical: the incomparable Jelly d'Aranyi, playing... something very Hungarian.