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Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)


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Dundonnell
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« on: October 04, 2012, 03:12:13 am »

I seriously thought of calling this thread "I loathe Mahler!".

Of course, that would be both untrue and indeed nonsensical Grin I do NOT loathe Mahler. He was a great composer, indeed a genius Smiley I have always found his Symphony No.1 a tremendously exciting and powerful work. His Symphony No.2 moves me to tears every time I hear it. I must confess that I find Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 9 harder to get to grips with whilst No.7 I can well do without. I am much more of a Brucknerian Grin

What I do hate though is the "Mahler bandwagon", the "Mahler Industry", the "Mahler obsession" which every month produces yet more cds of the symphonies (quite for whom, I am not sure Huh) and which clearly insists that any young conductor cannot prove his worth unless he is prepared to tackle a Mahler symphony. (I have that last assertion from a young and up and coming British conductor himself.)

What has this to do with Sir Arthur Bliss Huh Huh Huh

Clearly there are many, many music lovers who stick to their favourite composers, collect multiple/dozens/scores of versions of the same piece and discuss endlessly comparative versions. I understand and respect that approach.

I am not one of those Grin I am constantly on the lookout for new music, undiscovered, unsung composers and compositions. Sometimes, maybe often, I am underwhelmed or disappointed but I have discovered so much good or even great music that way.

And....(at last Grin) cataloguing reminds me of composers and of works I had not listened to for a long time and had even undervalued.

Bliss was a much, much finer composer than he is given sufficient credit for. Driving home for an hour earlier this evening I listened again (for the first time in far too long) to those two splendid orchestral works-the Meditations on a Theme by John Blow and the Metamorphic Variations. If you don't know them, I beg you to try them out Grin

The finale of the Meditations where Bliss, having previously intruduced and alluded to Blow's theme in only oblique and fleeting appearances, allows it to finally burst out in full in E major is one of the most glorious, thrilling passages in British orchestral music Smiley Nobilimente indeed Grin

We revere Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten, to a slightly lesser extent perhaps, Walton and (at least on cd) Bax but we really have not given Bliss anything like enough credit as a superb orchestrator and a much better composer than popular taste might indicate.

It is that pure and utter Joy of rediscovering music like this which makes life worth living Smiley Smiley

(My apologies if this post seems over-emotional Grin)
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jimfin
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2012, 03:52:37 am »

Quite, Bliss has definitely been eclipsed in recent years, but one hopes that, as with Vaughan Williams, he will make a glorious comeback. Such an individual spirit!
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« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2013, 08:07:56 am »

I agree strongly about the Meditations on a theme by Blow, Colin. Described as 'amiable but rambling' in one review I read, I find it to be a very powerful and moving work, which together with Morning Heroes and the Oboe Quintet, represent Bliss at his best in my view. Adam Zero is another work I like very much. Haven't got my head round The Beatitudes yet but that new Dutton CD is a fine one restoring Bliss's fine recording of Things to Come, which unlike many other recordings includes the track 'Machines' which is one of the best parts of the score!
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« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2013, 11:03:50 am »

Bliss is IMO among this country's finest composers. His music is always inventive and imaginative and yes what a superb orchestrator. His chamber music is especially fine and always a very rewarding experience, in the Clarinet and Oboe Quintets are IMO amongst the very finest chamber works written by British composers. He maintained a high standard throughout his composing career, one just has to listen to the Cello Concerto composed in his late 70's. His neglect in the concert hall and on radio is puzzling.
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« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2013, 02:39:48 pm »

Bliss is "out of fashion" Sad

What does that mean and what are the implications Huh It means that his music is shunned in the concert-hall and new recordings(as opposed to re-issues) are thin on the ground. Bliss is seldom mentioned in discussion of British Music in the 20th century.

He has in point of fact fared better than a number of the members of the next generation of composers who followed him(Bliss was born in 1891). There are recordings of most of his major works-with the exception of the later choral work: the Cantatas "Mary of Magdala" and "The Golden Cantata". One can only speculate, but if Richard Hickox had not died so tragically early then he might have recorded these for Chandos. Instead, Chandos appears to have gone cool on recording new British music, preferring to get Andrew Davis to record Elgar and Delius.

Bliss falls into a strange no-man's land, falling short of the pre-eminence of Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Britten, and lacking the apparent allure of a number of more "exotic" neglected composers born in the late 19th century-Havergal Brian, Cyril Scott, York Bowen etc. His reputation seems to be diminished rather than enhanced by his role as a distinguished and respected position as a prominent figure in the musical Establishment of his time-as Master of the Queen's Music in succession to Sir Arnold Bax. In contrast to Bax, say, he has no colourful private live to describe, he is very much the conventional upper middle-class British composer who just fails to achieve "greatness" in his music. He is too mainstream for a company like Dutton-because his music IS already on cd but is not regarded as appealing enough to programme in concert.

He is not however alone. Walton's music is currently suffering in a similar way. As happened in his own lifetime(to his severe disappointment!) Britten's music, driven by the superbly efficient "publicity machine" Britten so carefully built up during his own lifetime, remains in the public eye whilst Walton's is now rather neglected.

Will the swings of musical fashion bring the music of Arthur Bliss back Huh I have absolutely no idea Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2013, 05:31:36 pm »

Actually Walton is broadcast on R3 a little more often than you'd think, with the exception of the Delius anniversary last year he is consistently the 6th more broadcast British composer behind Britten, Elgar, Purcell, Vaughan Williams and Byrd. Although the range of works broadcast bu him could be wider. In comparison Bliss really struggles, perhaps having been Master of Queens Music for 22 years may have slightly influenced the perception of him being a rather stuffy 'Royal Composer' which is of course completely unjustified and he was also half American. Perhaps future Proms series may feature him more often and thereby raise his profile.
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« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2021, 10:58:14 am »

Bliss is IMO among this country's finest composers. His music is always inventive and imaginative and yes what a superb orchestrator. His chamber music is especially fine and always a very rewarding experience, in the Clarinet and Oboe Quintets are IMO amongst the very finest chamber works written by British composers. He maintained a high standard throughout his composing career, one just has to listen to the Cello Concerto composed in his late 70's. His neglect in the concert hall and on radio is puzzling.

I thought I'd revive this thread, given that the old boy's 130 today: I fully concur with the opinion above. His music never seems to get an airing in concert and yet most of his music has been recorded - a similar situation to Arnold Bax's. Naxos made some excellent recordings with David Lloyd-Jones and Christopher Lyndon-Gee (mainly focusing on the wonderful ballet scores but including great pieces like A Colour Symphony and Meditations on a Theme by John Blow) and Chandos has given us excellent recordings of Morning Heroes, The Beatitudes and Mary of Magdala. Just like Walton, he started out as an enfant terrible and gradually became "Establishment" - nothing wrong with that! A new complete recording of his opera The Olympians (1949) would be very welcome (excerpts are in BIMA).

 Smiley
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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." (Sydney Grew, 1922)
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« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2021, 11:22:25 am »

Bliss is IMO among this country's finest composers. His music is always inventive and imaginative and yes what a superb orchestrator. His chamber music is especially fine and always a very rewarding experience, in the Clarinet and Oboe Quintets are IMO amongst the very finest chamber works written by British composers. He maintained a high standard throughout his composing career, one just has to listen to the Cello Concerto composed in his late 70's. His neglect in the concert hall and on radio is puzzling.

I thought I'd revive this thread, given that the old boy's 130 today: I fully concur with the opinion above. His music never seems to get an airing in concert and yet most of his music has been recorded - a similar situation to Arnold Bax's. Naxos made some excellent recordings with David Lloyd-Jones and Christopher Lyndon-Gee (mainly focusing on the wonderful ballet scores but including great pieces like A Colour Symphony and Meditations on a Theme by John Blow) and Chandos has given us excellent recordings of Morning Heroes, The Beatitudes and Mary of Magdala. Just like Walton, he started out as an enfant terrible and gradually became "Establishment" - nothing wrong with that! A new complete recording of his opera The Olympians (1949) would be very welcome (excerpts are in BIMA).

 Smiley

I'm reasonably well-acquainted with the orchestral and concertante scores of Bliss and I agree with the sentiments expressed. But suffolkcastal's remarks alert me to the fact that, I don't know the chamber music at all; I must investigate pdq!
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« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2021, 11:38:28 am »

I don't know the chamber music at all; I must investigate pdq!

Not being a fan of chamber music, I'll stick to the orchestral, theatrical and choral works (which are a goodly legacy), ta muchly. Sheer



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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." (Sydney Grew, 1922)
Lionel Harrison
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« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2021, 11:53:37 am »

I don't know the chamber music at all; I must investigate pdq!

Not being a fan of chamber music, I'll stick to the orchestral, theatrical and choral works (which are a goodly legacy), ta muchly. Sheer




Not a fan of chamber music?Shocked Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs! I love it, me!  Cheesy Still, I'm not much of a fan of opera (with certain exceptions, of which you are well aware) which some folks find bizarre. Currently considering available versions of th Bliss string quartets, and the oboe and clarinet quintets in advance of next pension day...
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« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2021, 01:23:02 pm »

Not a fan of chamber music?Shocked Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs! I love it, me!  Cheesy

Nope, I avoid chamber music - trios, quartets and such folderols (honourable exceptions being Brahms, Dvorak and Stanford). Likewise most solo instrumental music and sonatas. It just don't do it for me. Big orchestra (with or without chorus) everytime, full fat diet...



...like A Colour Symphony, Morning Heroes and The Beatitudes by Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975).

 Cheesy
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« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2021, 01:53:09 pm »

Not a fan of chamber music?Shocked Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs! I love it, me!  Cheesy

Nope, I avoid chamber music - trios, quartets and such folderols (honourable exceptions being Brahms, Dvorak and Stanford). Likewise most solo instrumental music and sonatas. It just don't do it for me. Big orchestra (with or without chorus) everytime, full fat diet...

...like A Colour Symphony, Morning Heroes and The Beatitudes by Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975).

 Cheesy

That's interesting. For me, if the composer's language and style attract me, the genre is largely irrelevant. For example. I adore Schumann: the symphonies, the concertante works, the chamber music, the solo piano music, the lieder, the choral music... I love 'em all equally - full fat, semi-skimmed or sugar-free!
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