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BAXWORKS : 1930-1939

The music of Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Edited by David Parlett from the catalogue by Graham Parlett

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1930
Nonet
302. For flute, clarinet, oboe, harp, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, in two movements. A delightful rearrangement of the unnumbered (but fourth) Violin Sonata of 1928.

Winter Legends
303. Another powerful work for piano and orchestra written for Harriet Cohen. "I am not sure that it is not one of my best things. The piano is really only an important orchestral instrument and the work is - in a way - a symphony, except that the first movement is short and rhapsodic" (A.B.) I used to find this work - much as I love it - somewhat disjointed, but the vigorous 2010 performance by Ashley Wass with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd has finally put it all in place for me, and I certainly rank it with the best of his symphonies. (D.P.)

Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion
304. Brass and percussion, for the Musicians' Benevolent Fund.

Image: Mary Gleaves
Overture to a Picaresque Comedy
305. "Bax is said to have produced this overture after being challenged by someone to write a piece in the style of Richard Strauss… Mary Gleaves [right] was present while he was orchestrating the work in Morar; he characterised it for her as 'high jinks!'" (G.P.). He also referred to it as his "Douglas Fairbanks overture".

Thou hast told us ('Wonder')
306. Hymn for SATB. Text: Thomas Washbourne. "Wonder [the name of the tune] was composed… especially for the enlarged Songs of Praise (1931). It is clearly founded on the style of the early psalm-tunes, but has some individual touches in rhythm and expression." (Songs of Praise Discussed, London 1933.)
 
 
1931
Symphony No. 4
307. In the most atypical of his symphonic cycle Bax attempts a new and more extrovert direction. The first movement could stand alone as a tone poem - Bax wrote that he had in mind "a rough sea at flood-tide on a sunny day"; the second is vaguely reminiscent of Debussy's La Mer, with an undercurrent of warm syrup; and the third sounds to me [DP] like stuff dashed off for a B-movie epic. Bax was in the first flush of his relationship with Mary Gleaves at the time of its conception, a fact which casts strange light on the second movement's insistence on the theme associated with Harriet Cohen, as in November Woods and A Romance.

Valse (for harp)
308. A short piece written for Sidonie Goossens, with a bitonal key signature suggesting a combination of Lydian and Mixolydian modes.

Northern Ballad No. 1
309. Ten-minute piece "meant as a general impression of the fiery romantic life of the Highlands of Scotland before the '45' [the Jacobite Uprising of 1745]" (A.B.) See also Northern Ballad No 2 and the comment on Prelude for a Solemn Occasion, both of 1933.

The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew
310. Orchestral tone poem characterising Bax's gradual shift of allegiance from Celtic to Scandinavian landscape and legend. It has been referred to, somewhat unfairly, as "The Joke the Rhubarb Knew".

Red Autumn
311. Short two-piano piece for Bartlett and Robertson.
 
 
1932
Watching the Needleboats
312. Text: James Joyce, from Pomes Penyeach. Commissioned for and published as part of a collection in The Joyce Book (London and Oxford, 1933).

Symphony No. 5
313. Reminiscent structurally of the Third, and thematically of Sibelius, to whom it is dedicated. "One of my darkest and stormiest works" (A.B.).

Summer Music
314. Revised from 1921 (GP243). "I am rather fond of this little bit of southern England under the sun" (A.B.)

Sinfonietta
315. "I have never thought this work was quite up to the mark and so have not tried to get a performance" (A.B.) First performed 1993, it is an enjoyable piece in three connected movements and makes a good companion piece to the Overture, Elegy and Rondo, both being equally typical of the composer's style and thematic content.

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
316. Commissioned by and dedicated to Gaspar Cassadó. "The fact that nobody has ever taken up this work has been one of the major disappointments of my musical life" (A.B.).

Saga Fragment
317. Orchestrated for piano, trumpet, strings and percussion from the Piano Quartet of 1922. It sounds like a tone poem, but is not so designated. Bax described it (surprisingly) as "Rather a tough pill".

Piano Sonata No. 4
318. "Apart from his eighteenth-century pastiche, the Sonata in Bb ('Salzburg') of 1937, this was Bax's last sonata for piano and, with the exception of the Legend of 1935 [GP334], his last major work for the instrument. Tilly Fleischmann drew Cohn Scott-Sutherland's attention to the close resemblance between the principal melody of the slow movement and the Irish folk tune Has sorrow thy young days shaded?. The composer is said to have been particularly fond of this movement." (G.P.)
 
 
1933
String Quintet
319. For 2 violins, 2 violas 1 cello; in one movement.

Prelude for a Solemn Occasion
320. The solemn occasion in question is unknown, and may be imaginary. The fact that the short score is headed 'III' (Roman numerals) suggests that it might have been the last movement of something incomplete or abandoned. It has been broadcast and recorded under the misleading and unjustified title Northern Ballad No 3. (No 1 is GP309 (1931) and No 2 GP324 (1933).

Sonatina
321. For cello and piano, dedicated to Pablo Casals, who never played it.

Symphonic Scherzo
322. Orchestral reworking of the Scherzo for piano (GP154, 1913) and pianola (GP212, 1918).
 
 
1934
Northern Ballad No. 2
324. Orchestral tone poem. "I have never been able to discover whether I like this piece or not" (A.B.) See also Northern Ballad No 1 (GP309, 1931) and Prelude for a Solemn Occasion (GP320, 1933).

Fatherland
325. For tenor, chorus and orchestra. Revision of GP92 (1907).

Three Songs
326. Arrangements for high voice and orchestra of A Lyke-Wake (GP105, 1908), Wild Almond (GP269, 1924), and The Splendour falls (GP186, 1917).

Clarinet Sonata
327. For clarinet and piano, in two movements. "The work was played twice at the concert, the second time in place of Lennox Berkeley's Sonatina, the score of which had been lost in the post" (G.P.)

Viola Sonata No. 2
328. Apparently not completed, but surviving pages suggest that some of the abandoned material found its way into the Sixth Symphony (1934).

Octet
329. In two movements, for horn, piano, 2 violins, 2 violas, cello, double bass.

Eternity
330. Arrangement for high voice and orchestra of GP273 (1925).
 
 
1935
Symphony No. 6
331. Bax's shortest symphony, his own favourite and widely regarded as his greatest, is powerful and tightly controlled. The third movement is itself tripartite, comprising Introduction - Scherzo and trio - Epilogue. The Epilogue can only be described as transcendent. "The whole work marches irresistibly and irrevocably from point to point with the inevitability of complete mastery" (K Sorabji, in one of his more lucid moments).

The Morning Watch
332. For chorus (SATB) and orchestra. Text: Henry Vaughan.

Nympholept
333. Orchestral tone poem revised from 1915 (GP164).

Legend
334. Short piano piece dedicated to John Simons, in gratitude for his performance of Bax's Third Piano Sonata in May 1935 - though the dedicatee knew nothing about this until Harriet Cohen gave him the manuscript following the composer's death. It was never performed in his lifetime.
 
 
1936
Rogue's Comedy Overture
335 "I have been in the west of Scotland again recently, scoring a rather rampagious [sic] overture - most unsuited to the lovely country" (A.B.).

Threnody and Scherzo
336. Octet in two movements for bassoon, harp, 2 violins, 2 violas, cello, double bass.

Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Harp and String Quartet
337. Septet, essentially a transcription of the Flute and Harp Sonata of 1928.

String Quartet No. 3 in F
338. In four movements (unusually), and unusually long (about 40 minutes).

Overture to Adventure
339. No particular adventure is specified.
 
 
1937
London Pageant
340. Orchestral piece originally called London Pageantry, "Written… with forethoughts of London's pending Coronation scene in the composer's mind" (Edwin Evans).

Sonata in Bb ("Salzburg")
341. An extraordinary piano piece, in the most literal sense of the word. "This work does not appear in any of the lists of Bax's music compiled during his lifetime. At the head of the MS, immediately after the title and dating superscription, are the words 'Author unknown', which ostensibly suggests that it is a transcription of an anonymous eighteenth-century work from Salzburg. In fact it was written as a pastiche, as was confirmed by Bax to a friend… when they met on a bus some time in the early summer of 1937. The date is corroborated by the appearance in the second movement… of a passage that appears in the slow movement of the Violin Concerto [next entry], which was begun in 1937… It is not known why Bax embarked on a piece in eighteenth-century style. Maybe, with its simple textures, it was intended as a musical purgative after the drudgery of orchestrating London Pageant [preceding entry]" (G.P.)
 
 
1938
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
342. "Written for Jascha Heifetz, who apparently found it not to his taste and never played it" (G.P.) The first movement is in three sections designated Overture, Ballad and Scherzo. The second is a nocturne in all but name, and the third incorporates - unusually, for Bax - a jaunty waltz passage.

Pæan
343. Orchestration of a loud and clunky piano piece (GP294, 1928) arranged specifically for the Royal Command Performance organised by Sir Walford Davies, Bax's predecessor as Master of the King's Musick [sic]. The good news is that it only lasts about three minutes.
 
 
1939
Symphony No. 7
344. The superb conclusion to Bax's symphonic cycle (commissioned, inappropriately, by the New York World Fair) has been well described as having a valedictory quality, as if the composer is taking a lingering and nostalgic farewell to a rich romantic life. As indeed he was, and Bax was not entirely happy with the work. But the first movement is particularly fine, and more subtly structured than its predecessors. The middle section of the second is marked "In legendary mood", while the third, unusually, is a Theme and Variations, leading into the customary (but uniquely haunting) Epilogue.

Rhapsodic Ballad
345. This piece for solo cello was commissioned by Beatrice Harrison, but Bax had great difficulty with it, as soon becomes evident.

Concertino for Piano and Orchestra
346. Intended for Harriet Cohen, but left unfinished. Orchestrated 70 years later by Graham Parlett, it received its first performance and recording in 2009. Click here for Parlett's programme notes.
 
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