The Music of the West - English Music


Sir Edward William Elgar - Baronet OM GCVO

Probably one of the most underrated composers of the nineteenth and twentieth century - and on a par with Wagner, Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.
Remembered now mainly for his jingoistic marches and oratorios, his true genius lies in his Symphonies, concertos, occasional pieces ('Sospiri', 'Sersum Corda' etc) and the 'Enigma', 'Musicmakers' and 'The Spirit of England'.
Elgar is undoubtedly the greatest of all English composers.

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet OM, GCVO (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire.
Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the 'Enigma Variations', the 'Pomp and Circumstance Marches', concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies.
He also composed choral works, including 'The Dream of Gerontius', chamber music and songs.
He was appointed Master of the King's Musick in 1924.
Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe.
He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically, but socially.
In musical circles dominated by academics, he was a self-taught composer; in Protestant Britain, his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters; and in the class-conscious society of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he was acutely sensitive about his humble origins even after he achieved recognition.
He nevertheless married the daughter of a senior British army officer.
She inspired him both musically and socially, but he struggled to achieve success until his forties, when after a series of moderately successful works his 'Enigma Variations' (1899) became immediately popular in Britain and overseas.

He followed the Variations with a choral work, 'The Dream of Gerontius' (1900), (see autographed orchestral score left) based on a Roman Catholic text by Cardinal John henry Newman, that caused some disquiet in the Anglican establishment in Britain, but it became, and has remained, a core repertory work in Britain and elsewhere.
His later full-length religious choral works were well received but have not entered the regular repertory.
The first of his 'Pomp and Circumstance Marches' (1901) is well-known in the English-speaking world.
In his fifties, Elgar composed a symphony and a violin concerto that were immensely successful. His second symphony and his cello concerto did not gain immediate public popularity and took many years to achieve a regular place in the concert repertory of British orchestras.
Elgar's music came, in his later years, to be seen as appealing chiefly to English audiences.
His stock remained low for a generation after his death.
It began to revive significantly in the 1960s, helped by new recordings of his works.
Some of his works have, in recent years, been taken up again internationally, but the music remains more played in Britain than elsewhere.
Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously.
Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of recordings of his works.
The introduction of the microphone in 1925 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral works and excerpts from 'The Dream of Gerontius'.
These recordings were reissued on LP record in the 1970s and on CD in the 1990s.

Peter's first Recording of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'


Sir Arthur Sullivan

'Because I fly
In realms above,
In tendency
To fall in love,
Resemble I
The amorous dove ?
Resemble I
The amorous dove ?

Oh, amorous dove !
Type of Ovidius Naso !
This heart of mine
Is soft as thine,
Although I dare not say so !'

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer.
He is best known for his operaticcollaborations with librettist W. S. Gilbert, including such continually popular works as 'H.M.S. Pinafore', 'The Pirates of Penzance' and 'The Mikado'.
Sullivan's artistic output included 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, eight choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous hymns and other church pieces, songs, parlour ballads, part songs, carols, and piano and chamber pieces.
Apart from his comic operas with Gilbert, Sullivan is best known for some of his hymns and parlour songs, including "Onward Christian Soldiers", "The Absent-Minded Beggar", and "The Lost Chord".
His most critically praised pieces include his 'Irish Symphony', his 'Overture di Ballo', 'The Martyr of Antioch', 'The Golden Legend', and the Savoy Operas, the finest of which is 'Iolanthe'.
Sullivan's only grand opera, 'Ivanhoe', was initially highly successful, but it has been little heard since his death.


Sir Hubert Parry

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1st Baronet (27 February 1848 – 7 October 1918) was an English composer, teacher and historian of music.
Parry's first major works appeared in 1880.
As a composer he is best known for the choral song "Jerusalem", the coronation anthem "I was glad", the hymn tune "Repton", which sets the words "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind", and the choral work 'Blest Pair of Sirens'.
He was director of the Royal College of Music from 1895 until his death and was also professor of music at the University of Oxford from 1900 to 1908.
He also wrote several books about music and music history.
Some contemporaries rated him as the finest English composer since Henry Purcell, but his academic duties prevented him from devoting all his energies to composition.


Gustav Holst

Gustav Theodore Holst (born Gustavus Theodore von Holst, 21 September 1874 – 25 May 1934) was an English composer.
He is most famous for his orchestral suite 'The Planets'.
Having studied at the Royal College of Music in London, his early work was influenced by Grieg, Wagner, Richard Strauss and fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams, and later, through Vaughan Williams, the music of Ravel.
The combined influence of Ravel, Hindu spiritualism and English folk tunes enabled Holst to forge his own style.
Holst's music is well known for unconventional use of metre and haunting melodies.
Holst composed almost 200 works, including operas, ballets, choral hymns and songs.
An enthusiastic educator, Holst became music master at St Paul's Girls' School in 1905 and director of music at Morley College in 1907, continuing in both posts until retirement.
He was the brother of Hollywood actor Ernest Cossart and father of the composer and conductor Imogen Holst, who wrote a biography of him in 1938.
He was originally named Gustavus Theodor von Holst, but he dropped the "von" from his name in response to anti-German sentiment in Britainduring World War I, making it official by deed poll in 1918.

The Ultimate Version of Holst's 'Planets Suite'
conducted by Sir Malcolm Sergeant
(Peter's first classical record)

Gustav Holst - Hymn of Jesus
Holst the Gnostic and Mystic


Frederick Delius

Frederick Theodore Albert Delius CH (29 January 1862 – 10 June 1934) was an English composer. Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, to a prosperous mercantile family of German extraction, he resisted attempts to recruit him to commerce.
He was sent to Florida in the United States in 1884 to manage an orange plantation, where he neglected his managerial duties and began composing.
After a brief period of formal musical study in Germany beginning in 1886, he embarked on a full-time career as a composer in Paris and then in nearby Grez-sur-Loing, where he and his wife Jelka lived (except during the First World War) for the rest of their lives.
Delius's first successes came in Germany, where Hans Haym and other conductors promoted his music from the late 1890s.
In Delius's native England, it was 1907 before his music made regular appearances in concert programmes, after Thomas Beecham took it up.
Beecham staged Delius's opera 'A Village Romeo and Juliet' at Covent Garden in 1910 and mounted a six-day Delius festival in London in 1929, as well as making gramophone recordings of many of Delius's works.
After 1918 Delius became paralysed and blind, but completed some late compositions between 1928 and 1932 with the aid of an amanuensis, Eric Fenby.
The lyricism in Delius's early compositions reflected both the music he had heard in America and the influences of European composers such asEdvard Grieg and Richard Wagner.
As his skills matured, he developed a style uniquely his own, characterised by his individual orchestration and his uses of chromatic harmony.
Delius's music has been only intermittently popular, and often subject to critical attacks.
The Delius Society, formed in 1962 by his more dedicated followers, continues to promote knowledge of the composer's life and works, and sponsors the annual Delius Prize competition for young musicians.

Although English music, for his 'A Mass of Life' Delius set excerpts of Nietzsche's 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' - in German - to some of his finest music


Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams OM 12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958) was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores.
He was also a collector of English folk music and song which influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, containing many folk song arrangements set as hymn tunes, in addition to several original compositions.
Vaughan Williams's music has often been said to be characteristically English, in the same way as that of Gustav Holst, Frederick Delius and George Butterworth.
His style expresses a deep regard for and fascination with folk tunes, the variations upon which can convey the listener from the down-to-earth (which he always tried to remain in his daily life) to the ethereal.
Simultaneously the music shows patriotism toward England in the subtlest form, engendered by a feeling for ancient landscapes and a person's small yet not entirely insignificant place within them.
His earlier works sometimes show the influence of Maurice Ravel, his teacher for three months in Paris in 1908.

Cover of the Score of Vaughan Williams
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

Act V, Scene 1 'The Merchant of Venice'

as arranged by Ralf Vaughan Williams and set to music

'Serenade to Music'

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb that thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear,
And draw her home with music.
Music! hark!
It is your music of the house.
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.
Silence bestows that virtue on it
How many things by season season'd are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion
And would not be awak'd. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.


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