Notes and Editorial Reviews
A FANTASY IDYLL
Adrian Woodward, Claire Helsdon, Katie Hodges (tpt); Mark Wardell, Andrew Earls (org); Gould Trio.; Anna Leese (mez); Diana Galvydyte (vn); Alice Neary (vc); Felicity Lott (sop); Ittai Shapira (vn); Daniel Pailthorpe (fl); Emily Pailthorpe (ob); Stephen de Pledge, Jakob Fichert, Benjamin Frith, Graham Johnson (pn)
CHAMPS HILL D005 (72:44)
Fanfare Improvisation on “Little Cornard.” Improvisation on “Guiting Power.” Choral Prelude on “The Old 100th.” Spiritual
Fantasy. 2 Shakespeare Settings. An Equal Music. An Island Fantasy. Promenade. Nocturne.
Remembering Jacqueline. 3 Seasons Fantasy
David Bowerman (b.1936) may possibly be better known as an entrepreneur and impresario than as a composer, for it is he who built the 160-seat private concert hall known as the “Music Room” at his Champs Hill home in West Sussex, England, where artists and ensembles, both young and established, such as Felicity Lott and the Schubert Ensemble of London, have performed.
This disc was reviewed in
34:1 by Jeremy Marchant, who opined that not a single note of Bowerman’s music “betrays the passing of the last hundred years and all the musical uproar contained therein.” With this assessment I’m inclined to agree; however—and this is a very big nevertheless—the question Marchant hinted at in his review but failed to address was, as he put it, whether “composers have a
to be innovative or not.”
This is an age-old question, but it’s really not as difficult to answer as some have made it out to be. The question that must precede it is, “What is the purpose of art?” Two propositions offer themselves in answer and, ironically, both claim the moral high ground. To the radical, art is revolution, constant and uncompromising; it must reject and destroy history in order to re-create it. Thus, in the words of one of the most radical voices of our time, Pierre Boulez, “It is not enough to deface the Mona Lisa because that does not kill the Mona Lisa. All art of the past must be destroyed.” This is the moral argument of the zealot who is not content to worship his own god, but must justify his god’s supremacy over all others by grinding their idols into dust. Of contemporary composers who have turned their backs on the “true way” and reinvested in melody, tonality, and traditional formal procedures, Boulez accuses them of “wasting their time” and of taking “an easy intellectual path,” and he dismisses them by saying, “they don’t exist, simply that.”
What a tragically narrow view! It reminds me of a scribble someone once scrawled on a public restroom wall. It read, “God is dead”—Nietsche. “Nietsche is dead”—God. How long, I wonder, after Boulez is dead, will people still listen to his music? Will it be as long as people have been listening to Bach? According to Boulez’s world view, Bach must have been one of those composers who was wasting his time and taking an easy intellectual path, for no radical or destroyer, Bach was one of music’s great conservatives—i.e., one who conserved past traditions at a time when musical styles and tastes were changing and he was already considered dated. But destroy Bach and the Mona Lisa, just two examples, and what you destroy is the thread of cultural continuity and the glue that holds a tenuous civilization together.
There is another moral argument, one that says the purpose of art is to stir the passions, uplift the spirit, ennoble us, and in some small way to put us in touch with that part of ourselves we are told was made in God’s image. Bertrand Russell put it best when he speaks in the prologue to his autobiography of his search for love: “I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined.” How insightful to place poets, an abstraction for all who ply the arts, on the same level as saints, and to endow only them, among all human beings, with the power to imagine the prefiguring vision of the heaven.
So yes, it’s true; not a single note of Bowerman’s music betrays the passing of the last hundred years, but I, for one, will take one Bowerman over 100 Boulezes, for the music he writes is stirring, uplifting, and ennobling. It is, in a word, beautiful. And in my world, beautiful music is beautiful music regardless of who wrote it or when it was written.
The program is a well-balanced mix of instrumental, chamber, and vocal works, a number of which were not recorded at Champs Hill but at venues such as Chichester Cathedral and St. Martin in the Fields for the organ numbers, and the Royal Academy of Music for the Two Songs performed by Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson.
, for organ and three trumpets, opens the disc with a piece written for the Chichester Cathedral Flower Festival of 2008, which happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the passing of Chichester’s Bishop Bell. Accordingly, the tune “Vulpius,” beloved by Bell, is woven into the composition.
, a musical
for violin and piano, was written in response to the death of Jacqueline Golden. I’m afraid I must plead ignorance as to who she was, and the booklet note doesn’t elaborate. It does tell us, however, that the piece is based on the Jewish supplicatory prayer
, recited as part of the High Holidays services. As you might expect, it’s cast in that harmonic minor exotic mode we have come to associate, rightly or wrongly, with a generic Middle Eastern and/or Jewish melos. The piece is very moving.
The Two Songs materialized from a request by Felicity Lott, who sent Bowerman the words to Longfellow’s poem
, suggesting he set it to music for her. This became the second of the Two Songs, the first, Bowerman’s own idea, based on words from Shakespeare’s “O Sleep, O Gentle Sleep” from
, Part 2. Both songs are exquisite musical realizations of the texts and exquisitely sung by Lott.
I could go on, piece by piece, describing the beauties and charms of Bowerman’s music—the
Three Seasons Fantasy
for flute, oboe, and piano, an intended four-seasons suite absent the summer in which the summer of 2008 never came; or the “little walk around the park, and back again … and again,” titled
, played so touchingly by cellist Alice Neary and pianist Benjamin Frith; or the magnificent organ display piece,
Improvisation on “Guiting Power,”
a hymn tune composed by John Barnard (1910–49) and named after the Gloucestershire village in the Cotswolds—but in the end I’d only be able to repeat what I’ve already said, which is that this is music to lift the spirits and touch the heart. It’s not just beautiful, but it’s beautifully written by a sure hand for instruments and voices, and the performances by well-known artists are first-rate.
This is a most enjoyable CD and highly recommended to those who have an abiding faith that the beautiful in music is not dead and that it will never die.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Fanfare, for 3 trumpets & organ by David Bowerman
Claire Helsdon (Trumpet),
Katie Hodges (Trumpet),
Adrian Woodward (Trumpet),
Mark Wardell (Organ)
Date of Recording: 01/2008
Venue: Chichester Cathedral
Length: 1 Minutes 45 Secs.
An Equal Music, for voice & piano by David Bowerman
Anna Leese (),
Stephen de Pledge (Piano)
Date of Recording: 07/2009
Venue: Champs Hill
Length: 2 Minutes 14 Secs.
An Island Fantasy, for violin & piano by David Bowerman
Diana Galvydyte (Violin),
Jakob Fichert (Piano)
Date of Recording: 08/2009
Venue: Champs Hill
Length: 5 Minutes 39 Secs.
Promenade, for cello & piano by David Bowerman
Benjamin Frith (Piano),
Alice Neary (Cello)
Date of Recording: 05/2009
Venue: Champs Hill
Length: 6 Minutes 52 Secs.
Snowflake, for voice & piano by David Bowerman
Graham Johnson (Piano),
Felicity Lott ()
Date of Recording: 12/2007
Venue: Royal Academy Of Music
Length: 2 Minutes 49 Secs.
Nocturne, for cello & piano by David Bowerman
Alice Neary (Cello),
Benjamin Frith (Piano)
Date of Recording: 03/2009
Venue: Champs Hill
Length: 4 Minutes 36 Secs.
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