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Second-Tier English Symphonies


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Author Topic: Second-Tier English Symphonies  (Read 492 times)
Greg K
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« on: March 13, 2019, 08:00:09 pm »

Imagine someone seeking mature familiarity with the English Symphony (as listener rather than student), - something between initiatory and comprehensive knowledge.  A seasoned relationship, therefore, but one falling somewhat short of intimacy or mastery.

What level of immersion in or breadth of exposure to the accumulated tradition would be necessary to achieve such a result?

To my mind the "first-tier" or foundational composers of English Symphonism (established by some combination of the coherence, individuality, range, and "English essence" of their work) are Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arnold Bax, EJ Moeran, Edmund Rubbra, William Walton, & Malcolm Arnold, - the whole body of whose symphonies in each case any aspirant would need to cultivate a close acquaintance with as part of their quest.  (Should anyone wish to make a case for including Havergal Brian and/or Robert Simpson among them I am open to persuasion, but not initially convinced).

But what of the vast "second tier" of English Symphonies, - by those composers whose symphonic oeuvre may lack the "massed force" of the major figures, but have yet produced individual works of power and eminence? 

Is there any consensus as to which among this large body are the most important, distinctive, and likeable, - those Symphonies which as single efforts and by some criteria rival or approach the vey best work of the canonical seven?

Name up to a dozen or so symphonies in this category (no more than one per composer) that no listener could afford to overlook and yet still claim a "mature familiarity" with the tradition.   
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calyptorhynchus
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« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2019, 09:29:07 pm »

I contest your premises, any symphony which is living and worth listening to is first-tier, other symphonies are simply not worth listening to. It's no fault of first-tier symphonists like Brian and Simpson that their works are or have been neglected, merely inadequate means of propagating music throughout recent times. These inadequate means also entail an overvaluation of some of the composers you mention, such as Elgar.
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Greg K
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« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2019, 09:50:15 pm »

"...inadequate means of propagating music throughout recent times" - are you kidding?

Anyone can go on Youtube now and easily listen to all 32 Brian Symphonies arranged in a tidy sequence, - which might be true of Simpson's 11 as well, not to mention the other (multitudinous) means of access and exposure.

You must mean something different from the obvious, - but then, I find your entire post quite incoherent.
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soundwave106
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« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2019, 02:51:22 am »

You must mean something different from the obvious, - but then, I find your entire post quite incoherent.

Possibly the intent was to mean the concert hall?

In the concert hall in the United States, Britain is (from what I can see) mostly represented by Elgar, Gustav Holst's "The Planets", Handel (if an adopted home counts), occasional programming of Ralph Vaughn Williams and Benjamin Britten, and *maybe* a smattering of misc. works. (Our orchestra programmed Delius a couple of times for instance.) Of these, the only symphonies that are programmed are Handel's (being Baroque symphonies an entirely different beast), Elgar's, and RVW's. (Holst wrote a symphony plus a "choral symphony" but I have never seen that programmed.)

Many of the composers that you list I would put in a theoretical "second tier". These are often just-as-good, quality works, but they just lack that special "thing" that makes it repertoire. By this nature, this tier is a bit fluid -- some composers rise in stature over time, and some composers of hugely popular works at the time fall into obscurity. The Arnold Bax symphonic cycle actually would be my top answer for this category. Because as far as I know, the main thing that gets programmed for Bax is a few of his tone poems (like Tintagel) and chamber pieces (like the Elegiac Trio). Which is unfortunate, because IMHO Bax's symphonic cycle is very good and representative. Bax is not unloved in recordings, though.

I guess for me a good candidate for a "third tier", kind of what you are talking about, would be William Alwyn. Even less known than Arnold Bax (at least in the symphonic works world) and much less recordings than Bax, but with IMHO quite a compelling cycle of symphonies. Unfortunately he happened to be producing tonal symphonic music in an era where atonality was fashionable, which did not help the critical standing in the initial day. I think they would be far better received nowadays.
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Greg K
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« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2019, 04:17:26 am »

Rankings (first-tier, second-tier, etc.) may become no more than conventional and reified (if not entirely subjective) structures, but (if recognized as such) still useful for imposing a flexible order on certain values in relation to the subject IMO.  My criteria for making distinctions were "some combination of coherence, individuality, range, and English essence", in the (hazy) light of which I couldn't put William Alwyn, or say George Lloyd, or Richard Arnell, or Stanley Bate (incomplete as my sampling with Bate is) on the same level OVERALL as my "first-tier" choices, however much individual Symphonies among their works might approach in stature the best there is.
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Toby Esterhase
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2019, 04:33:51 am »

I revalue William Alwyn like Nino Rota his success as movie composer obscured his symphonies.
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Greg K
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« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2019, 06:02:05 am »

OTOH, Alwyn's Symphonies do often display a cinematic quality, so perhaps an extension of his film music skills rather than being obscured thereby.

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calyptorhynchus
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« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2019, 06:48:19 am »

"...inadequate means of propagating music throughout recent times" - are you kidding?

Anyone can go on Youtube now and easily listen to all 32 Brian Symphonies arranged in a tidy sequence, - which might be true of Simpson's 11 as well, not to mention the other (multitudinous) means of access and exposure.

You must mean something different from the obvious, - but then, I find your entire post quite incoherent.

Is there any reason why you are being rude?
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2019, 12:21:01 pm »

I am away from home, working in London. I shall respond tomorrow after I get home.
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Greg K
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« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2019, 03:56:55 pm »

"...inadequate means of propagating music throughout recent times" - are you kidding?

Anyone can go on Youtube now and easily listen to all 32 Brian Symphonies arranged in a tidy sequence, - which might be true of Simpson's 11 as well, not to mention the other (multitudinous) means of access and exposure.

You must mean something different from the obvious, - but then, I find your entire post quite incoherent.

Is there any reason why you are being rude?


How am I being rude?  Everything in your post was incoherent to me, - that is, I cannot discern the meaning and relations of its individual components.  I am just being honest about my own reaction.  It didn't make sense, - but I don't say there was no sense in it for you or others.
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the Administration
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« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2019, 06:11:01 pm »

Although I am at an airport I feel that I should now respond.

There is a fine line between candour or robust discussion and rudeness.
I am sure that Greg K. did not intend his remarks to be taken as "rude". However if a member's post is described as "incoherent" it is understandable that the member perceives such a description as rudeness.
Perception and reception have to be taken into account when anyone speaks to or writes about someone else. Calyptorhynchus is entitled to express his perception. If a post of mine was described as "incoherent" I would be offended.
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Toby Esterhase
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« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2019, 06:45:35 pm »

OTOH, Alwyn's Symphonies do often display a cinematic quality, so perhaps an extension of his film music skills rather than being obscured thereby.


Dear Greg.K
Perhaps M.Arnold is a more correct comparison (Rota for his quarrel with L.Nono disapperead from italian concert halls).
Best
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ahinton
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« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2019, 07:08:06 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?...
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Greg K
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« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2019, 07:21:48 pm »

Was Calyptorhynchus's response to my initial post clear and coherent to you yourself, Colin?

Take his first sentence:

   "I contest your premises, any Symphony which is living and worth listening to is first-tier, other Symphonies are simply not worth listening to."

To me it's a mess, - not even a properly constructed sentence, and extremely unclear in meaning (at last to my mind).  Is that MY (presumed) premise he's elaborating, or his own response to my supposed premise?  I can't tell because the thought itself is incoherent to me, - it's components and word choices don't fit together in any understandable way.

Honestly, if someone called me "incoherent" here, - and in my long history of internet posting that would qualify as very tame - the first thing I would ask myself is "well, am I?".  It might be true.  I find forums like this one an ideal venue to sometimes test undeveloped ideas one might have (as often articulated in careless fashion), and use any responses/dialogue to modify, refine, abandon, renounce,  or clarify the expression thereof as may be required.  I APPRECIATE being provoked and criticized, so long as it's evidently exploratory and not gratuitous, - and thus now and then can appear insensitive to those who don't share the same mindset.  Oh well.   


 
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Greg K
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« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2019, 08:00:51 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?...

"Recent symphonies" stand in relation to the established tradition, either by way of reaction against or extension of, - right?  By "first-tier" I simply meant to suggest those composers and works that provided the historical and musical foundation any successors would have to familiarize themselves with and respond to in a deliberate and self-conscious way (that a listener could discern in some fashion), - not NECESSARILY some measure of quality in relation to which the "second-tier" is considered inferior or deficient by whatever defined standards, - though that might be true case by case.

Is musical composition (and music appreciation) like the sciences now, where practitioners can intelligently and productively excel without any substantive knowledge of and engagement with what came before within flexibly circumscribed contexts?   
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