About This Work
Tintagel is an ancient ruined castle on the North Cornish coast, the sort of wild meeting place between the land and the Atlantic that often inspired Bax. He wrote the work in piano score in October 1917, ostensibly creating pictorial music about the
castle and its historical, artistic, and musical associations. He wrote that "[I]t is intended to evoke...the castle-crowned cliff of Tintagel, and more particularly the wide distances of the Atlantic as seen from the cliffs of Cornwall on a sunny but not windless summer day." Among the castle's historical distinctions is its legendary connection with King Arthur and with the cast of one of the greatest of medieval love legends, that of King Mark and Tristam and Iseult. Hence, Bax makes effective use of an important motive from Wagner's opera on the latter subject. This tale of a pair made helpless by love to resist infidelity and betrayal points to the underlying emotion of the piece: in 1912 Bax had met pianist Harriet Cohen and over the next five years was inexorably drawn to her. While wrestling with the decision whether to leave his wife and children to live with her, he vacationed with her at Tintagel for six weeks in August and September of 1917. (He did leave his family the following March.) The music is marked by this agony and passion. When he finally orchestrated the work in 1919, he dedicated it to Harriet under her nickname, Tania. It is exceptional music, requiring a conductor capable of great subtlety in orchestral balances.
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