Notes and Editorial Reviews
Incidental Music to
Much Ado About Nothing; The Tempter; Henry VIII; Romeo and Juliet. Marche Solenelle. Coronation March and Hymn
John Wilson, cond; BBC Concert O
DUTTON VOCALION CDLX 7285 (76:26)
The music of Edward German continues to enjoy a renaissance on CD, for which the only response should be a hearty “Hurrah!” While the vicissitudes of his career led him to abandon aspirations to become a composer of “serious” symphonic music in favor of “light” music to
accompany plays, German was a musical craftsman of a high order, demonstrating a consistent level of inspiration and imagination a plane or two above that of most of his confreres in the “light” music field. Whenever one hears his music, one can only lament a certain snobbishness in orchestral programming that has all but banished such truly wonderful music from the ears and memories of concert audiences.
As music director of the Globe Theatre on London’s Aldwych, German wrote incidental music for productions of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and this disc presents selections from three of those. The overture to
Much Ado About Nothing
constantly brings to mind Walton’s
march; take out Walton’s distinctive spicy dissonances, and the two composers have an almost uncanny similarity in their melodic vocabularies and instrumentation. The brief interlude “In Leonato’s Garden,” by contrast, brings to mind Mendelssohn (the
Midsummer Night’s Dream
music) and Schumann (the
Symphony), while the even briefer “Dogberry” recalls a tune from the first movement of Max Bruch’s Serenade for Strings. A concluding French twist is provided by a Bourée and Gigue. Throughout everything, however, is that distinctly English idiom that the mind immediately associates with Elgar, though it was hardly his alone.
The overture to
is similar to that of
, including its similarities to the ceremonial music of Walton, but in accord with its subject has more regal grandeur. It is followed here by a solemn prelude to act II (“Intermezzo funèbre”) and a graceful one to act III, and then three folk dances that are alternately energetic and beguiling. An extended “Dramatic Interlude” from the incidental music to
Romeo and Juliet
makes appropriate gestures to contrast the play’s themes of strife and love, including a presaging hint of the tragic ending, but (unsurprisingly) lacks the weight of a full scale tone poem such as Tchaikovsky’s famous overture. The performance is slightly marred by some out-of-tune clarinet playing partway through.
is a melodrama from 1893 by dramatist Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929). Two musical excerpts are presented here: first a stately Berceuse, and then a Bacchanalian Dance that opens with the expected uproar but has a beautiful, languorous middle section before returning to its opening bustle. Two incidental marches round out the contents of this disc. The
subtitled “Funeral March in D Minor,” does not seem to have been written for any particular occasion, and is as stately as might be expected. The
Coronation March and Hymn
, written for the coronation service of King George V in 1911, is the only work on this disc not composed during the 1890s. Once again, its proper company is with the ceremonial marches of Elgar and Walton—does anyone else write music for pageantry as well as the English?
Apart from an arbitrary prejudice for programming only “serious” music, is there any other reason that accounts for the disappearance of German’s music from concert programs? I believe there is, due to what I will term the interchangeability of German’s music—that is, the music style and thematic content is so consistently similar from composition to composition that an overture, prelude, or intermezzo could often be swapped out from the incidental music for one play to that of another, and no one outside the cognoscenti would be the wiser. Unlike Verdi, Puccini, or Wagner, he does not succeed in creating a distinct atmosphere for each work while at the same time remaining recognizably himself. As Donald Francis Tovey observed of the music of Max Bruch, “It is its lack of adventure that limits its fame.” It reminds one of the famous gibe about Vivaldi writing the same concerto 500 times—and is equally unfair. While not “great” music on a par with the trio of aforementioned operatic masters, it is certainly great music of its type, and deserves to be heard, appreciated, and enjoyed for its very real and not inconsiderable virtues.
This is now the third CD of German’s music that Dutton has produced with John Wilson and the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the playing and recorded sound are as excellent overall as on its predecessors. My only complaint is that for some inexplicable reason, Dutton is scattering the incidental music for particular plays across more than one disc; a previous release (reviewed by Paul A. Snook in 30:4) contains the overture to
and the Prelude to
Romeo and Juliet
. While I dearly hope that Dutton continues to provide us with more German, I hope that thought will be given to integral presentation of all the incidental music for any given play. Despite this one cavil, this delightful release is enthusiastically recommended.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
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