Track One: Grimethorpe, Roberts
This Is Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme is inspired by music of Northern England. We’ve just heard the world-famous Grimethorpe Brass Band in Grimethorpe, a hymn-tune.
The Plain Downright Merry Wooing Between John And Joan - or The Northern Lovers is a broadsheet ballad from the 17th Century and satirizes Northern hard-headed romance, the sentimental, agricultural duettists wasting no time in listing the material inducements to marriage each represents, as they can’t come every day to woo. The South, of course, knows no such lovers. A lolloping antic hay with as--subtle innuendo, this song to be danced to indicates that the church is not John and Joan’s first resort.
Track Two: The Northern Lovers, Trad
Liverpool was once Britain’s first port on the Western coast; a magnet to labour on board ship, the wharfs and the associated Manchester ship-canal. Immigrants poured in, even as emigrants poured out, heading for kinder countries and a new life of opportunity. It was a place - as now - of wealth and startling hardship, toil and squalor. The Philharmonic Orchestra, the earliest to be formed in this country - in 1840 - attracted famous musicians from far and wide. For example, SS Wesley inaugurated the new Willis organ in Saint George’s Hall in 1855. For the years 1880-3, the Philharmonic’s performers were directed by Max Bruch. There were visits from many famous foreign virtuosi and composers. At the same time, the City’s social divide was a chasm - much as now. At the late Victorian height of prosperity, great buildings, monuments and other impressive public works commemorated wealth, and within streets of them, one found slums, indigence, work-conditions of near-slavery, the lowest life--expectancy in the country - and a defiant counter-culture! Liverpool was a melting-pot of the Empire, and distinctive even in its English! Here is the traditional song, Liverpool Judies. Judies were either the girls who changed the bobbins on textile-factory looms, or difficult winds on approach to the port!
Track Three: Liverpool Judies, Trad
The Australian international pianist, Percy Grainger was a keen folk--song collector and experimental composer. His harmonic sense is relatable to his friends, Grieg and Delius, but is his own, his chromaticism more thorough--going, his taste for dissonance keener, as he seeks out the last nuance in a plain, modal melody. His scoring is often baldly clashing and difficult to balance, but his intention was to bring a tang of the amateur ad-hoc into the professional smoothness of the concert-hall. He formed counter-melodies by simply connecting up certain notes within a harmonic line and using dynamics or a pungent soloist to highlight the quirky (and often magical) result. Voice or instrument comes into its own as an individual. His imagination in what is effective expression was uniquely musical. Here is an arrangement of the Northern ballad, The Three Ravens. If its added-note harmonies soften the melody in a manner too romantic for the modern purist, it finds a truly eerie Graingerish climax that ends all doubt as to the music’s aptness in a stroke of unobvious emphasis not to be easily forgotten.
Track Four: The Three Ravens, Trad, Arr Grainger.
Yorkshire-born, Eric Fenby is known best for his work as an amanuensis to Frederick Delius. He was a talented composer in his own right, as this humorous piece, the Overture, Rossini On Ilkla Moor from 1938, four years after Delius’ death demonstrates. It utilizes not so much the sonata form of a typical Rossinian opera-overture as the various tricks of rhythm, thematic--transformation and ornamentation, lyrical quasi-vocal solos and duets (with plentiful forced crescendi), familiar as the quirky but business-like Italian’s stock-in-trade, to maintain momentum and continuity. The dour subject of variation loses something in translation, but gains undoubtedly in skittishness.
Track Five: Rossini On Ilkla Moor, Fenby
The North has traditionally been a place of aristocratic and popular rebellion against kings. As a hopeful means of security for the throne, The brothers or second sons of kings traditionally hold York in fee and title. This shift isn’t invariably successful, and London has feared Lancaster. The War of The Roses cast a long shadow: the White Rose of York and Red Rose of Lancaster were uneasily united by marriage on the accession of Henry Tudor, but the frontier between Yorkshire and Lancashire still brings strong men eye to eye, as do County sports-matches. Here is a Ballet Of The Roses by the Liverpool--born theatre-composer, Alfred Reynolds, taken from the Suite, 1066 And All That.
Track Six: Ballet of The Roses, Reynolds
Dating back centuries, the words of The Lyke-wake Dirge have been set many times; modernly by composers as various as Bax, Britten and Burgon. a grim vision of Judgement and the punishments awaiting sinners in the hereafter, it glows with the bleakness and fierce religious fire of the North. Howard Ferguson was a composer of a slender but effective output. He began as a pianist and accompanist, and became a close friend and advizer to Gerald Finzi. His bracing, tonal style altered little during a short career; he was an intensely self-critical artist who fell silent not to repeat himself.
His setting of The Lyke-wake Dirge for baritone and orchestra glowers, a processional notable for the low pizzicato tread of harp and basses. A swaying rhythm above this, in at-times muted brass, woodwind, other strings - the violas astringent - is led by the soloist and adds an impression of slow, grim jauntiness, well this side of irony. Isn’t dryness, a laconic sense of humour, common in the North? The music less, however, the harmonies and interweaved scoring building to tragedy and a dying fall. On into silence goes the angrily mournful procession. This setting was a student-work and first performed in 1928.
Track Seven: Lyke Wake Dirge, Ferguson
Now, an old traditional song with origins in dance, The Oak and The Ash, in which a northern lass who has moved to the south pours out her longing for home.
Track Eight: The Oak and The Ash, Trad
The novel, A Month In The Country, by JL Carr, tells of the events of one Summer in the lives of two Great War veterans, an art-restorer and an archaeologist, as they try to return to civilian life from a twilight of nightmares and shell--shock, the one commissioned to reveal a fresco of Judgement, the other to excavate a field for Anglo-Saxon artefacts, but really to find the grave of a disgraced crusader. The setting is the Yorkshire Dales and the company that of curious but friendly villagers. The novel was filmed in the Eighties and Howard Blake wrote a soundtrack of poignant pastoralism, akin to Delius, Warlock and Vaughan Williams, with touches of Brittenesque. This lovely, in some places ethereal and in others, troubled and troubling, music is heard here in the form of a suite and arrangement for string quartet, made by the composer. The titles are, Idyll, March, Elegy, Scherzo, Finale.
Track Nine: A Month In The Country - Suite, Blake
This was Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s script was researched and written by Mike Burrows. We hope you enjoyed it and will join us again soon.
Join us for our next programme, a celebration of Easter!