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Second-Tier English Symphonies


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Author Topic: Second-Tier English Symphonies  (Read 440 times)
calyptorhynchus
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« Reply #15 on: March 14, 2019, 09:23:37 pm »

Your premise is that there are first and second tier symphonies, I contest this and maintain that there are only symphonies; a symphony which is not a living and vital entity is not a symphony.

That is what my first sentence means, it still means it, and it is perfectly grammatical and idiomatic.

I have a first-class degree in English from Oxford University and a PhD in English, I have five published collections of poetry to my name, as well as other published works, so please don't tell me I can't write.

I shan't bother to elucidate my next sentences, since you will be incapable of understanding them however simply they are put.
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Greg K
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« Reply #16 on: March 15, 2019, 01:14:29 am »

There is no possible meaning the distinction between "first tier" and "second tier" could have that would make it valid and meaningful for you?

What makes a symphony "a living and vital entity"?  The fact of it being performed?  It becomes that in performance and reception, but ceases to exist otherwise?

Your statement "there are only symphonies" as rejoinder to my distinction between first and second tier is obscure to me.

Are you saying that two or more discrete musical compositions in that form bear no relationship of any kind to one another, - cannot be ordered in any possible way that might be legitimate?

I still don't get it.

BTW, I would challenge anyone else here to affirm the first two sentences of your initial response to me as "perfectly grammatical and idiomatic". 
 
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soundwave106
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« Reply #17 on: March 15, 2019, 02:36:48 am »

Should one suppose that, as no recent symphonies have been mentioned, English composers who still contribute to the medium no longer write "Second-Tier" examples?...

To me, the problem with many later composers in regards to this lumping is the "English essence" part. Without any other consideration, I would consider some of that to be the usage or influence of English (or, at least, British Isles) folk song -- not necessarily a direct quote per se, but at least some influence.

Many 20th century composers are more chromatic / sharp or more experimental, leading to a harmonic sound that is quite far away from the idioms of English folk music. As a result, I would have trouble saying, say, Peter Maxwell Davies's symphonies or Michael Tippett's symphonies as having much "English character", even though they are well thought of as composers, meet much of the other criteria, and in both cases I think do have other non-symphony output that might fits the "folksong" motif.
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PJ
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« Reply #18 on: March 15, 2019, 01:09:10 pm »

Should one suppose that, as no recent symphonies have been mentioned, English composers who still contribute to the medium no longer write "Second-Tier" examples?...

To me, the problem with many later composers in regards to this lumping is the "English essence" part. Without any other consideration, I would consider some of that to be the usage or influence of English (or, at least, British Isles) folk song -- not necessarily a direct quote per se, but at least some influence.

Many 20th century composers are more chromatic / sharp or more experimental, leading to a harmonic sound that is quite far away from the idioms of English folk music. As a result, I would have trouble saying, say, Peter Maxwell Davies's symphonies or Michael Tippett's symphonies as having much "English character", even though they are well thought of as composers, meet much of the other criteria, and in both cases I think do have other non-symphony output that might fits the "folksong" motif.

PMD's may on occasion have some Caledonian character which is probably off-topic under the circumstances. Perhaps.


I see plenty of contemporary British symphonies on release by Toccata, Dutton and so on - I'm sure they've been discussed ad nauseam - and notice Ken Woods is about to record some of Christopher Gunning's symphonies next month.

Whether all these are "first-tier" or not is, I would have thought, a matter of opinion.

I was much impressed recently by John Joubert's Third........................ ............................. ................

P
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #19 on: March 18, 2019, 02:35:08 am »

For a number of very different reasons I hesitate to join in the discussion of this topic.

Firstly because I have already posted as an Administrator. It is not always easy to reconcile the requirements I believe that role imposes upon me with the opinions I might wish to express as a member. There have been times when, through either laziness or lack of care. I have posted as "Dundonnell" when it would have been more appropriate perhaps to have posted as "administrator".

As a member I might have an opinion about the clarity or "coherence" of a particular post but I do not think that it would be appropriate, given my current role, for me to express such an opinion.

Secondly, as may well be evident from my posts over the years on this forum and elsewhere, I would claim a certain familiarity with a large number of British symphonists and their compositions. Whether that familiarity is any more than superficial is for others to judge. I would not assert that I am an expert musicologist! Very far from it! My response to the British symphonies I know is essentially "visceral" rather than analytical.

If pushed however I could write a very long essay on the the subject of the British symphony over the last 100 years. Whether most other members would wish to read it is quite another matter!

Thirdly, I have recently had a letter published in the newsletter of the Havergal Brian Society in which I took issue with attempts by other members of that society to rank Havergal Brian in a list of "great British composers" and to produce a ranking list which included Elgar and Vaughan Williams. I deplore such attempts to rank composers "against" each other. Musical analysis is not a beauty contest. The promotion of the music of a particular composer is not helped by claims, whether reasonable or extravagent, which seek to elevate that composer's music "above" that of other composers.

I fully appreciate that this was NOT what Greg was proposing. Talking about a "Second Tier" is not a ranking system. I can understand what he was talking about when he used that description of a group of British composers who would generally agreed to be, at worst, competent, certainly "worthy", and at times better than those words might imply.

British symphonists can be crudely, but not necessarily, inaccurately divided into certain categories. There were those who wrote in a romantic or post-romantic idiom, derived from the influence of composers like Sibelius. Some of these composers-Stanley Bate would be an example-clearly wrote in a style which is pretty overtly influenced by Vaughan Williams (a style which was denounced by Hugh Wood in the late 1950s!). Others certainly echo with Sibelian references (derivations might be a less flattering description). The symphonies of composers like Sir Arnold Bax, William Alwyn, William Wordsworth or Arthur Butterworth can sound Sibelian....at times. Sir Michael Tippett withdrew his early Symphony in B flat and one reason for this was his perception that it was too Sibelian. Sir William Walton's Symphony No.1 has echoes of this but George Lloyd is, I suppose, one of the most explicitly "romantic" of these composers.

Other composers-though one might still characterise them as "romantic" and whose symphonies are essentially lyrical and certainly tonal- appear to have been more influenced by American composers like Aaron Copland and by the music of Shostakovich. Sir Malcolm Arnold and Richard Arnell might be examples.  

Robert Simpson's symphonies are more influenced by Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and Carl Nielsen and therefore tend to sit apart.

There are those who were more susceptible to influences from a post-Sibelius Scandinavian or German tonal idiom. Arnold Cooke was a pupil of Hindemith and the inflence of the German composer is palpable in his music.
Alan Rawsthorne probably fits into this category although his music is more chromatic than that of Cooke.

In the post-1945 period a number of British composers began to write symphonies which were influenced by the music of Bartok and mid period Stravinsky. These pushed at (or sometimes beyond) the boundaries of tonality. Benjamin Frankel, Peter Racine Fricker, Iain Hamilton, Humphrey Searle, Alun Hoddinott all wrote symphonies which approached, flirted with or crossed into atonality.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's symphonies are an extraordinary marriage of Sibelius and modernism.

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Dundonnell
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« Reply #20 on: March 18, 2019, 02:35:30 am »

My point...which needs to be made before this turns into the extended essay I did not wish to begin....is that there are diverse influences of a wide range on a number of what I would prefer to call "considerable" British composers. I appreciate those influences (although I understand that not everyone will hear the same influences as do I) but these do not detract from-nor should they- my appreciation of the music of the composers in question.

It might be argued, and I would accept that it might well be a legitimate criticism, that I am insufficiently discriminating in my admiration for the music of the composers I have named. I have, on many occasions, praised particular composers and particular symphonies, perhaps over-praised at times.  I make no apologies for enthusiasm however. That enthusiasm has sustained my musical listening experience over many decades and is not going away!
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Greg K
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« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2019, 05:08:43 pm »

Thank you for at least recognizing that  "first tier" and "second tier" (in my post) implied no attempt to create a hierarchy of "better" and "worse" or "good" and "not so good" (let alone "bad") among English Symphonies. 

Calyptorhynchus saw these terms and had an emotional reaction to what he projected into my words, - mirrored by the incoherent (as I read it) response that followed.

If relative judgments and comparative valuations according to flexible criteria will not be allowed here, then any discriminating understanding and critical appreciation becomes impossible.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #22 on: March 18, 2019, 07:24:14 pm »


Calyptorhynchus saw these terms and had an emotional reaction to what he projected into my words,


And he was absolutely right.

Ignorant dreck.
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Greg K
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« Reply #23 on: March 18, 2019, 07:42:38 pm »

Dreck?

You mean I'm trash in the hierarchy of AMF posters?

Below second tier even?
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #24 on: March 18, 2019, 08:11:33 pm »

On a different forum (the BBC R3 Messageboard - closed down by the BBC in a cost-cutting exercise). the member formerly known as 'Sydney Grew' once started a trolling exercise with a topic called 'Composers Variously Rated'.

The gist of this drivel was that it was possible to arrive at as 'scientifically proven' rating scheme for composers - whereby Beethoven and Bach were (without dispute) 'Level One', and so on and so forth down the ladder, until we had Litolff In Level three, but anyone who had ever written an opera but wasnt German (e.g. Saint-Saens) in Level Five  (graded-down for not writing  symphobies or fugal oratorios for Choral Societies)

The topic belonged n the bin from the very outset.  So do topics about putting synphonies into tiers - based purely on the personal bigotry of the assessors. The entire thing simply works to the glorification of self-appointed Cultural Commissars of a Stalinist bent.

I appeal to the moderators to close this topic - which has no place on these message-boards, and frankly should never have started.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #25 on: March 18, 2019, 08:12:48 pm »

Yes, dreck. 

Can't you read?
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #26 on: March 18, 2019, 11:05:29 pm »

Thank you for at least recognizing that  "first tier" and "second tier" (in my post) implied no attempt to create a hierarchy of "better" and "worse" or "good" and "not so good" (let alone "bad") among English Symphonies. 

Calyptorhynchus saw these terms and had an emotional reaction to what he projected into my words, - mirrored by the incoherent (as I read it) response that followed.

If relative judgments and comparative valuations according to flexible criteria will not be allowed here, then any discriminating understanding and critical appreciation becomes impossible.


I think that it was unfortunate that you should choose to repeat your criticism of calyptorhynchus's post. It would, in my judgment, have been more judicious not to do so.

The phrases "relative judgments" and "comparative valuations" are loaded with the obvious conclusion that in order to possess what you call "discriminating understanding" and "critical appreciation" one should assess the music of composers "against" that of other composers, perhaps particularly their contemporaries. That is the road I chose not to follow. Describing or discussing the music of particular composers in terms of the influences they may have derived is a perfectly proper exercise. I tried to do that in my (over-lengthy) post. Where the problems arise is when certain composers are placed in a "First Tier" (to which you appear to place, for example, Edmund Rubbra) but exclude other composers, such as the many I named.

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the Administration
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« Reply #27 on: March 18, 2019, 11:06:37 pm »

I shall lock this thread-at least temporarily-primarily because the discussion has become markedly over-heated and abusive. I would urge all members to recall the need to avoid direct abuse and rudeness!
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