George Butterworth – Words, Deeds & Memory, an unconventional biography
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
Harper Lee : To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 3
How far back does one go? My earliest memory of George Butterworth is of buying a complete set of Cecil Sharp’s Country Dance Tunes and Morris Dance Tunes in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield, probably in 1966. I have them still, volumes IX and X of the second set are “arranged by Cecil Sharp and George Butterworth”. I raided those books many times over the years for folk-tunes to use in my own juvenile compositions ; in fact my school’s cadet force marched past on its General Inspection day one year to folk-tunes from the collection. Then, a year or two later, when rain had washed out a day’s play in a test match, and Radio 3 (or was it the Third Programme?) broadcast music instead : I was spellbound by the fragile beauty of The Banks of Green Willow. I was 14 or 15 – how had I not known this before? I was at an age when every emotion is intensified – nothing could ever again be as beautiful as that moment, there and then. At university I got a score of the piece from the library and transcribed it for brass band (I was reading law, but spent more time writing and playing music, so I have some understanding of how George probably felt during his time at Oxford). Later in life my then partner – most patient of musicians – would accompany my dire attempts to sing some of the Shropshire Lad songs, and play under my baton in (rather better) performances of the orchestral works…
Paul von Klenau – Die Lästerschule
(b. Copenhagen, 11 February 1883 – d. Copenhagen, 31 August 1946)
Paul von Klenau was a Danish composer, though he spent a large majority of his life in Germany and in Austria. In his native Denmark he was not well recognized as a composer. Klenau studied composition under Max Bruch, Ludwig Thuille, and Max von Schillings in Germany. He had many conducting appointments, including longer posts as principal conductor of the Freiburg Opera and choral conductor of the Vienna Konzerthaus Society. He was a close friend of Alban Berg and very vocal champion of Arnold Schoenberg in the 1920s. Before and during World War II he worked hard to champion 12-tone music as an example of “pure” music, and Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbels commissioned two operas in 1937 and 1939 after his highly successful 12-tone opera Michael Kohlhaas in 1933. Hearing loss made it impossible for him to continue his conducting career, and he returned to Copenhagen in 1940 after Hitler’s invasion of Denmark where he remained until his death.
His Lästerschule is not one of Klenau’s twelve-tone compositions. Instead it is light-hearted music which matches the text. Based on Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School for Scandal from 1777, the plot is a classic British farce from the late 18th century, with deft wit, and clever text, with complementary oversimplified characters, disguises, and over-exaggerations. The basic philosophical question remains sarcastically unanswered: what is virtue, and what morals are worth effort? The libretto was written by Rudolf Hoffmann (1878-1939), and Paul von Klenau set it to music. In 1926 the three-act comic opera was premiered in Frankfurt am Main under the baton of Clemens Krauss (1893-1954).
László Lajtha – In Memoriam op. 35
Pièce symphonique pour orchestre (1941)
(b. Budapest, 30 June 1892 – d. Budapest, 16 February 1963)
László Lajtha was the greatest Hungarian symphonist and generally one of the most significant composers of orchestral and chamber music of his time. He entered the Budapest Music Academy in 1908 to study composition with Viktor Herzfeld (1856-1919) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967). In 1909, he went to Leipzig to study the music of Johann Sebastian Bach., and in 1910-11 he was a student of Liszt’s pupil Bernhard Stavenhagen (1862-1914) in Geneva. He was inspired by Béla Bartók and engaged himself in field research of the native traditional music of Transylvania. And he was encouraged by Bartók to go to the Paris Schola Cantorum where Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931) became his teacher in these formative years 1911-13. In 1913, his first composition «Des écrits d’un musicien» (nine fantasies for piano) appeared in print.
During First World War he voluntarily served as an artillery officer and was seriousl wounded twice. In the early 1920s the friendship with Bartók became intense. Lajtha consciously merged the achievements of his Parisian education with Hungaran idiom and Eastern European influences. In 1923 he wrote the first of his ten string quartets, and with his Third Quartet he won the Coolidge Prize in 1929; it was printed by Universal Edition in 1931. In 1932 the publishing house Leduc in Paris (later his regular publisher) started a collaboration with Lajtha. He was director of the open university of Hungarian Radio from 1935 to 1938. In 1936, he worte the first of his nine symphonies.