A week of Irish Symphonies!
With St. Patrick's Day coming up on Saturday, how about a series of five Irish Symphonies during Walter Carroll's classical afternoons this week on WFCR? Yes there are enough to go around, and with their bright colors (mostly green, of course), sprightly rhythms and great tunes, they'll make for very enjoyable listening. Here's a little bit about the first three of the five composers. We'll highlight the other two later in the week.
"He would have set the entire bloody Bible to music if he'd lived long enough!" So says actor David Collings, portraying pianist-composer Percy Grainger in Ken Russell's "Song of Summer", the film that tells the story of the relationship between blind and paralyzed composer Frederick Delius and his young amanuensis Eric Fenby. Who was the object of Grainger's scorn? Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), that's who. A native of Dublin, Stanford was the very model of an establishment British musician of his time, a graduate of Cambridge University, organist at Cambridge's Trinity Chapel, co-founder of the Royal College of Music, and, as Grainger's remark suggested, the composer of a very substantial body of Anglican church music. But listen to some of his best non-church music, such as the Clarinet Concerto or the breathtakingly beautiful part song "The Blue Bird", and you'll come to understand that a sensitive soul lay behind Stanford's walrus moustache and pince-nez spectacles. And tune into WFCR Monday afternoon for Stanford's tribute to his homeland, the folksong-filled Symphony No. 3, "Irish" of 1887.
By contrast, Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) was a native of London whose worklist contains a fairly small amount of church music. It does contain, however, a magnificent series of seven symphonies which, along with several symphonic poems, amount to an orchestral repertoire characterized by the sweep, power, depth and epic tone that make him perhaps England's answer to Jean Sibelius. So what is he doing in our St. Patrick's series? Well, starting with his discovery of W. B. Yeats's poetry in 1902, Bax developed a life-long love for all things Irish, living for the first few years after his 1911 marriage in Dublin, and spending several weeks each year for three decades in the Donegal village of Glencolumbkille. The Irish influence is most pronounced in such Bax tone poems as "Cathaleen-Ni-Houlihan" "The Garden of Fand" and " and "In the Faery Hills", not to mention in the actual poems he wrote under the pseudonym Dermot O'Byrne. While it features neither descriptive titles nor folksong quotes, Bax's Symphony No. 1 of 1922 is widely heard as the composer's response to the World War and to the Easter Rising of 1916, which involved many of his friends. The Symphony, which encompasses tragedy, triumph, and Bax's masterful nature-painting, can be heard during Tuesday afternoon's WFCR classical music.
Our third composer was no offspring of the Emerald Isle either — in fact, she was a native of Henniker, New Hampshire. A piano prodigy of extremely precocious musical aptitude, Amy Marcy Cheney (1867-1944) was just at the start of her performing career when she married Boston surgeon Henry Harris Aubrey Beach. Following his wishes, "Mrs. H. H. A. Beach" (as she was known until fairly recent times) gave up her performing career to focus on composition, in which she was largely self-taught, earning many "firsts" among female American composers. After Dr. Beach's death in 1910 and her mother's in the following year, Amy Beach resumed her performing career, concertizing widely in the U. S. and abroad until her retirement in 1940. So again we ask: What's she doing on our St. Patrick's list? Composing a beautiful work inspired by her first hearing of Dvořák's "New World" Symphony, and featuring four Irish tunes of "simple, rugged and unpretentious beauty," that's what. Tune in for Amy Beach's 1896 "Gaelic" Symphony Wednesday afternoon on WFCR.
In the meantime, can you guess who the other two composers of "Irish Symphonies" will be? Stay tuned!
(Photos, left to right: Stanford, Bax, Beach)