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Frederic Cowen (1852-1935)


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Author Topic: Frederic Cowen (1852-1935)  (Read 237 times)
Albion
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Henry Hugo Pierson (1815-1873)


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« on: March 05, 2020, 11:24:28 pm »

It is heartening to see Cowen's Symphony No.4, The Welsh (1884) scheduled at the 2020 English Music Festival (22nd May) -

https://www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk/2020-oxfordshire-festival/programme.php

As, hopefully and with precedent, this opening evening concert may well be broadcast (it being the BBC CO) this will mean that we can hear all four of the composer's extant symphonies. I greatly enjoyed the 3rd (Marco Polo), 5th (EM Records) and 6th (Classico). Not a great composer, but certainly a gifted one with a flair for orchestration as witnessed in the Butterfly's Ball Overture (Chandos) and the Concertstuck (Hyperion).

Incidentally, Cowen was the subject of Radio 3's all-too-brief 'Time Traveller' this morning (circa 10.10 am) which may have at least introduced his name to a wider listening public...

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A piece is worth your attention, and is itself for you praiseworthy, if it makes you feel you have not wasted your time over it. (SG, 1922)

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Greg K
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« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2020, 04:40:05 pm »

Not a great composer, but certainly a gifted one

Just wondering what your distinguishing criteria might be for "great" versus "gifted", and how you might label the next notch down from those, with a suggestion as to its defining feature also?
 
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Albion
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Henry Hugo Pierson (1815-1873)


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« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2020, 06:50:52 pm »

If you seek emotional and/or intellectual depth a la Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Vaughan Williams etc in your listening do not look for this in Cowen. There is craft, fastidious orchestration and good melodic invention but nothing that would challenge your view of the human condition or the wonders of nature (if such thoughts are to be deemed of importance).

Great composers can change us, move us deeply, inspire us and motivate us. Cowen's art was not of this order. That is a very different thing from saying that his works are not worth hearing and worthy of revival...

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A piece is worth your attention, and is itself for you praiseworthy, if it makes you feel you have not wasted your time over it. (SG, 1922)
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2020, 05:10:22 am »

If something sounds good to me and makes me happy, I could care less what arbitrary rating its composer is given by someone else. Both Beethoven and Cowen make me happy.
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« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2020, 06:18:24 am »

I'm really delighted too. I loved the 5th symphony in particular and also the Concertstuck. I would love to hear a slightly more convincing rendering of the Scandinavian, but I'm still delighted that we will be able to hear all the extant symphonies. Maybe one day we will get to hear a little more of 'Pauline'.
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Albion
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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2020, 12:55:21 pm »

If something sounds good to me and makes me happy, I could care less what arbitrary rating its composer is given by someone else. Both Beethoven and Cowen make me happy.

Hear, hear! Please note the quotation at the bottom of all my posts...

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Henry Hugo Pierson (1815-1873)


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« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2020, 01:58:26 pm »

One of the chief problems in assessing Cowen is the sorry loss of so many autograph scores and orchestral material, presumably destroyed during the London bombings in World War II. Luckily, there are exceptions - some major works were published in full score or the composer's autographs have survived:

in published full score we have Symphonies 3 to 6, both Language of the Flowers suites (1880 and 1914), the cantata The Sleeping Beauty (1885), the oratorio Ruth (1887), the suite In Fairyland (1896), Four English Dances in the Olden Style (1896), the Concertstuck (1897), the tone poem A Phantasy of Life and Love (1901), the overture The Butterfly's Ball (1901), the Indian Rhapsody (1903), the orchestral Reverie (1903), the choral ballad John Gilpin (1904) and A Suite of Old English Dances (1905).

In addition significant extant works in autograph full score include the cantata The Rose Maiden (1870), the cantata The Water-Lily (1892), Ode to the Passions (1898), the ethical cantata The Veil (1910), the orchestral cycle The Months (1912) and an otherwise-unnamed Comedy Opera (1921). Most of these are either in the British Library or the RCM.

Major losses in terms of orchestral material include the first two symphonies, most of the early choral works such as The Corsair (1876) and Saint Ursula (1881), the mature cantata The Transfiguration (1895), the late orchestral pieces The Magic Goblet (1934) and Miniature Variations (1934), and the operas Pauline (1876), Thorgrim (1890), Signa (1893) and Harold (1895). However, at least the choral works and operas mentioned in this paragraph were all published in vocal score.

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« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2020, 02:13:15 am »

Among the losses, also count the Piano Concerto in A minor.
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« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2020, 11:50:56 am »

It would be lovely to hear Signa, even in a reorchestrated version, as it was the intended successor to Sullivan's Ivanhoe at the Royal English Opera House.
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« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2020, 11:51:19 am »

Fascinating list, thank you, John.
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Albion
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Henry Hugo Pierson (1815-1873)


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« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2020, 04:25:24 pm »

Among the losses, also count the Piano Concerto in A minor.

Indeed, with an 1869 vintage this piano concerto pre-dated even Stanford's first attempt of 1873 (recorded by Dutton). Not that there weren't significant concertos before, including those by Cipriani Potter (two of three recorded on Hyperion) and Sterndale Bennett (all recorded, except the elusive 6th, on Lyrita and Hyperion). It may be that material for the opera Thorgrim (1890) launguishes in the largely-uncatalogued Carl Rosa Archive in Liverpool Public Library but the likelihood of revival is minimal. I would love to hear it, having played through the vocal score...

It would be lovely to hear Signa, even in a reorchestrated version, as it was the intended successor to Sullivan's Ivanhoe at the Royal English Opera House.

Unfortunately Signa was so mangled (four acts, reduced to three then two) that the composer himself gave up on it. A friend of mine has an Aschenberg vocal score which must be now regarded as merely a curiosity. Undoubtedly the scheme that Carte envisaged (having also commissioned Hamish MacCunn) foundered as the new national repertoire was simply not ready to produce. He could perhaps have taken over Carl Rosa's native repertoire (Goring Thomas's Esmeralda (1883) and Nadeshda (1885), Stanford's Savonarola (1884) and The Canterbury Pilgrims (1884), Corder's Nordisa (1887), Mackenzie's Colomba (1883) and The Troubadour (1886) and Cowen's Thorgrim), Rosa having died in 1889. There may even have been a market for first-rate revivals of operas from the earlier Victorian period (MacFarren, Loder, Balfe, Wallace, Benedict), but such things never came to pass.

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A piece is worth your attention, and is itself for you praiseworthy, if it makes you feel you have not wasted your time over it. (SG, 1922)

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