British Music and Literary Context: Artistic Connections in the Long Nineteenth Century.
Contributing to the ever-diversifying field of interdisciplinary scholarship on nineteenth-century British music. Michael Allis's exploration of the "vibrant and diverse musical-literary correspondence in this period" p. 6) breaks new ground by engaging with "specific British composers and their works" (p. 2). Allis thus expedites the canonization of the compositions of Hubert Parry. Charles Villiers Stanford, Granville Bantock, and Edward Elgar, whose text settings, literary collaborations, and programmatic compositions are explored in the five main chapters of this book. Allis states that the "literary perspective," is adopted "as a 'way in' to appreciating selected late nineteenth-century British composers and their music" (p. 3). His other purpose is to elucidate the modern reception of the musical-literary connections he proposes.
The scholarly erudition of this book is unimpeachable, and Allis's literary voracity is expressed through long, indented quotations whose frequency is almost excessive. With their frequent subheadings, the chapters' interiors can be discursive; enriching as many of the digressions are, sonic, like the background on Elgar and Ernest Newman (pp. 200-5) and the discussion about the Straussian parallels of In the South (pp. 249-52), call for compression or even excision. The density is leavened by the lucidity of Allis's prose and the frequency of both musical and tabular examples.
Chapter 1 chronicles the collaboration between Parry and Robert Bridges (1844-1930) on the Invocation to Musk (1895). Allis partly attributes the disagreements, and Bridges ultimate disillusionment and publication of an alternative version of the poem in 1896, to misgivings about Pam's declamatory approach to text setting. Instructively. Allis includes Gustav Hoist's setting of the 1896 Invocation text to represent Bridges' favored approach.
In Chapter 2. Allis surveys Stan lord's numerous Tennysonian works and includes some fascinating evidence of Tennyson's manner of reciting his Own poetry: figure 2.1 (pp. 68-71) shows Parry 's transcription of Tennyson's recitation of the Choric Song from The Lotus-Eaters, on which pauses, breaths, and vocal intonations are annotated. The discussion of Stanford's Symphony No. 2 in D minor, subtitled "Elegiac" and prefaced by section 71) from Tennyson's In Memorian, is undermined by flimsy parallels between music and text that epitomize the hazards of speculative or unsolicited musical-literary connections. Allis likens "the stuttering rhythmic dislocation that introduces the second idea" of Stanford's first movement to "Tennyson's ocular uncertainty" (p. 118), expressed through haunting images such as "hollow masks of night," "Cloud-towers," and "shadowy thoroughfares of thought." These images seem several worlds away from Stanford's jimmy thematic preparation, whose sforzando diminished sevenths are jocular, not phantasmagoric. More Outlandish still is the suggestion that Tennyson's concatenation of images had any bearing on Stanford's slow movement, in which "the cello solo in bar 64" and "the agitated viola repetitions in bar 128" (pp. 118-19) generate little more consternation within the pastoral idyll than a fence post or a nettle.
Chapter 3 attracts particular curiosity because of the unfamiliarity of its musical repertory: songs by Bantock, followed by Piline at the Fair, a substantial orchestral work based on a dramatic monologue by Robert Browning (1812-89). Allis counteracts allegations of the non-specificity of Bantock's musical portrayal in Rine with a "closer reading of the music that an awareness of Browning's poem might generate" (p. 134). Allis's detailed mapping of Bantock's musical representation onto the text is informed by the dynamic relationships that inhere in any dramatic monolog between speaker and poet, and between speaker and reader: "Bantock's Fifine can be seen as an effective exploration of the speaker-narrator's voice, the relationship between the speaker and his character/auditors, and specific poetic imagery" (p. 9). The parallels Allis draws between music and text are generally persuasive. His analysis of the musical structure, schematized in. table 3 (p. 164) and subsequently elaborated, is more contentious. It makes eminent sense to subdivide the piece into a "Prologue" followed by an "Expository Space" and a "Recapitulatory Space" flanking a central body focusing on the themes and image depictions associated with the respective Female protagonists Fifine and Elvire. However, the hypothetical "deformational sonata structure (expository material with three tonal centres, no development section, multiple restatements)" (p. 165) cannot encompass factors like the expository role of the "Prologue," the lack of any significant statement of Elvire's theme in the "Expository Space" (it is briefly previewed in the "Prologue."), and the generalk scenic, or even cinematic, character of the work, in which, as at the start of the "Recapitulatory Space," episodes are interrupted and principal structural units are complicated with digressions. The most problematical part of the work, arguably, is the recapitulatory region. Allis traces most of its contents to the poem, but the purely musical sensation is of increasingly redundant repetitions of already familiar, extravagantly scored lyrical melodies. It is revealing, perhaps, that in neither his tabular nor verbal analyses does Allis mention the statement of the "Elvire" theme between figures 57 and 60; he jumps straight from the "Householder fugato" (figures 55-56) to the return of the "fair" music (figure 60) (p. 185). as if no rationale for this statement of the theme could be suggested. It is the twofold statement of the "Elvire" theme, here and at figure 63, the even more sumptuously scored "full resolution Of Elvire's theme in the tonic" (p. 185), that, I would argue, contributes to the sensation of redundancy, inflation and an almost egregiously indulgent stretching of the process of closure. Admittedly, this view is subjective, but my aim is to suggest that at least some of the negative criticism of Fifine that Allis cites, he disregards a little too insouciantly. Perceptions, such as William McNaught's, of "many endings and re-beginnings, changes of tempo and mood, dramatic outbursts. quiet musings" (p. 161), call For more careful evaluation. Unlike McNaught. I do not doubt the veracity of Bantock's portrayal of the poem, especially after Allis's extensive exegesis of it, but some purely structural and aesthetic doubts about the piece persist.
In his Introduction, Allis quotes David Larkin's observation that "the issue of how travel and music relate to each other in general remains decidedly under-theorized" (p. 11) ("Aus Italien: Retracing Strauss's journeys," The Musical Quarterly 91, nos. 1-2 [Spring Summer 2008]: 43). Compensation comes via the parallels explored in chapter 5 between Elgar's In the South and aesthetic concepts arising from an assortment of Victorian travel literature by writers including Charles Dickens. Allis's overarching aim is to address criticisms provoked by Elgar's alleged excess of developmentally static episodes--namely those depicting "Romans," the "strife" episode, and the famous "Canto populare" with the viola solo. Allis connects the Canto with the concept of "otherness," encoded in its episodic differentiation. This epitomizes an approach to structure comparable to the "succession of scenes" that was such a "common feature of literary descriptions of travel" (p. 277). Very efficaciously, Allis examines Elgar's scene-to-scene transitions, showing that the episodic construction of the work is far from being indicative of compositional misjudgment or of default. The passage approaching the "Canto," for instance, is infused with "vestiges of the 'strife' material": the departure from it contains a timpani roll presaging "the recollection of material from previous scenes" (p. 283). As harbingers of the recapitulation, these motivic references "threaten to destroy the picturesque unity"; as if in response, "the viola's song then begins to stutter" (p. 284). Through such means, Allis demonstrates the compositionally strategic nature of the episodic or scene-shifting qualities of In the South. I question only the nuances of his interpretation. The timpani rolls accompanying the viola theme's D-major transposition, together with the fragmentary motivic reminiscences (or prognostications, taking into account the recapitulation) seem, not "sinister," "ominous," or as "clouds" to be "weathered" (pp. 283-84), but rather as subtle reflections on the Canto's transience, which culminates in its spontaneous disintegration--much as the English horn theme in the reprise of the Largo of Dvorak's Ninth Symphony contributes poignantly to an implicit act of mythical fantasizing about events distant in place and time. (These arise from the connection between the symphony's two middle movements and episodes from Henry Wads-worth Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha (1855), discussed in Michael Beckerman, "Dvorak's 'New World' Largo and 'The Song of Hiawatha'," 19th-Century Music 16, no. 1 [Summer 1992]: 35-48.)
In chapter 4, on Elgar's Piano Quintet op. 84, Allis again deploys a literary connection--Edward Bulwer-Lytton's (1803-73) fantastical novel A Strange Story of 1860--to exonerate a musical work from charges that in this case include a dubitable standard of creative inspiration alongside structural disjunction. Unlike Bantock's Nine or In the South, Elgar's Quintet has no text immediately behind it. Nonetheless, Allis tries (strenuously) to carve out a factual case for Elgar's responsiveness to Bulwer's novel, including testimony from Alice Elgar's diary and evidence of the Elgars' borrowing of Bulwer's novels from the London Library around the time of the Quintet's composition. The factual case is not totally watertight, however, and a speculative element obstinately persists. Allis compares a recurring serpent charmer's song in A Strange Story and the similarly recurring, sinuous chromatic melody introduced near the start of the first movement. He cites the theme's repetitive treatment, 'which "mirrors" the recurrences of the serpent-charmer song in the novel (p. 221), as one factor justifying what Diana McVeagh has criticized as the first movement's "sense of interruption" and lack of "flow" (p. 194) (Edward Elgar His Life and Music [London: Dent, 1955], 176). Although musically much more justified than, say, the supposed echoes of Tennyson's In Memoriam in Stanford's Second Symphony, awkward questions 'arise from such direct comparisons of musical and verbal repetition, and Allis lacks the space to address these fully. The author moves onto safer ground with his comparison of the first movement's development section and a scene in the novel depicting a tarantella. Bulwer's description of the gradual unleashing of an almost orgiastic frenzy does indeed seem to be musically encoded in Elgar's development, whose chromatic imbroglio (bars 328ff.) adds an alarming sensation of hysteria to the headlong momentum. Allis is surely right to emphasize the role of the preceding fugato as the point of departure for, and antipode to, the eventual tumult. He compares this with the "complicated and dreary sonata of Miss Brabazon which preceded the tarantella," aptly observing that the "juxtaposition of these two musical genres, the fugato and the tarantella, certainly helps to communicate the abandon of the latter" (p. 237). However uneasy one may feel about the (lacking) factual underpinning and some of the proposed ramifications of the Elgar-Bulwer connection, one ends the chapter persuaded at least of the possibility that Elgar composed parts of the Quintet with A Strange Story in mind.
Reading this book incubates curiosity. Skepticism is periodically provoked, hut this fosters deeper cogitation and a desire to pursue further the complex aesthetic and epistemological issues arising from Allis's interdisciplinary approach. Well-informed and carefully researched, yet approachable in style, the book invites a wide readership. The music specialist encounters lesser-known literary figures and writings, alternating with familiar topics such as the evolution of Tennyson reception, and readers of all disciplines can beneficially explore the rich pathways of communication that Allis reveals between later nineteenth-century British composers and their literary contemporaries. For me, the most positive symptom of Allis's achievement is that, having read the book twice through during the reviewing process, my inclination is to read it again.
ROHAN H. STEWART-MACDONALD
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|Author:||Stewart-MacDnald, Rohan H.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 18, 2013|
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