Andante – Cadenza – Adagio [10'56]
Andante (poco lento) [8'27]
Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series reaches its tenth volume, and turns to two composers based in England, and works by them which have lain hidden for decades. This disc provides a fascinating glimpse of musical history and the shifting fashions of the age which made fame such a fleeting thing for so many composers.
Frederic Cliffe had a brief but dazzling career as a composer – his Opus 1 was enthusiastically acclaimed, and he continued to write music for performers including Clara Butt at the peak of her fame. But he disappeared as quickly as he had arrived, and his reputation rests on only six works, including the Violin Concerto in D minor. It was performed by the Budapest-born violinist Tivadar Nachéz, and the finale in particular contains much music in a Hungarian idiom.
Baron Frédéric d’Erlanger was a banker, born in Paris but with a German father and American mother, who moved to London in his teens. He was naturalized British and long resident in London, where he was involved in promoting music and was later a trustee of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also a composer, and although his catalogue of works is not huge, throughout his life there was a steady stream of first performances by the most celebrated artists and orchestras of the day. Many record collectors will have come across him as the composer of the ballet music Les cent baisers, recorded by Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra after its success when danced at Covent Garden in 1935.
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Baron Frédéric Alfred d’Erlanger was a banker, born in Paris but with a German father and American mother, who moved to London in his teens. He was naturalized British and long resident in London, where he was involved in promoting music and was later a trustee of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and on the board of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He was also a composer, his teacher being Anselm Ehmant, a close friend of the family, and although his catalogue of works is not huge, throughout his life there was a steady stream of first performances by the most celebrated artists and orchestras of the day. Many record collectors will have come across him as the composer of the ballet music Les cent baisers, recorded by Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra after its success when danced at Covent Garden in 1935.
D’Erlanger had first appeared as a composer with his opéra comique Jehan de Saintré, produced in Aix-les-Bains in 1893 and in Hamburg the following year. He first appeared at Covent Garden as a stage composer in July 1897, under the pseudonym Frédéric Regnal, with the opera Inès Mendo after Mérimée’s comedy. Later, with the German title Das Erbe, it was produced in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Moscow.
If we track his music through his published works, and later through performances at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts, we find a Prelude for violin and piano published in 1895 and an album of six songs in 1896. He appeared at the Proms in September 1895 with a Suite symphonique, and by 1900 had published a Violin Sonata in G minor and in 1901 a notable Piano Quintet, which was given a rousing reception at the 1902 ‘Pops’ at St James’s Hall. New works appeared at regular intervals during his life: just following the Proms we find the Andante symphonique Op 18 for cello and orchestra in October 1904, and the symphonic prelude Sursum Corda! in August 1919. There was also the Concerto symphonique for piano and orchestra from 1921 and the gorgeous Messe de Requiem of 1930, a work admired by Adrian Boult, who arranged its broadcast in 1931 and a public performance in Birmingham in 1933, where it was revived as recently as March 2001. The briefly popular orchestral waltz Midnight Rose was recorded by Barbirolli in 1934.
Possibly d’Erlanger’s most famous work was his opera, in Italian, after Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Someone with d’Erlanger’s connections would only consider the best as his collaborators and he asked Luigi Illica, Puccini’s librettist, to write the libretto. Its first production at the San Carlo Theatre in Naples in 1906 was interrupted by a volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The Naples production spawned early recordings by Amedeo Bassi and Alessandro Bonci of Angel Clare’s aria in Act I. Produced in London in 1909 with no less a cast than Emmy Destin as Tess and Zenatello as Angel Clare, it was revived in 1910 and later produced at Chemnitz and Budapest. Tess was revived by the BBC in 1929 in an English version. In 1910 his opera Noël was produced at the Paris Opéra and subsequently in Chicago, Philadelphia, Montreal and Stockholm.
So d’Erlanger’s Violin Concerto was the work of a significant emerging composer when it was written in 1902. It was first performed by Hugo Heermann, then still the long-standing professor of violin at the Hoch’sche Konservatorium in Frankfurt, and he played it in Holland and Germany before it was taken up by Fritz Kreisler and given its British premiere at the Philharmonic Society concert at Queen’s Hall on 12 March 1903. Published by Rahter of Hamburg in 1903, it was later played at Bournemouth in 1909, 1920 and 1928, as well as at the Queen’s Hall Proms (by Albert Sammons) in 1921.
Notable for the transparency of its scoring, d’Erlanger’s concerto launches straight into the first subject, announced by the soloist in triple- and double-stopped chords without an orchestral introduction. The soloist soars away in running semiquavers, eventually presenting a more lyrical version of the theme and immediately moving on to the singing second subject. A succession of rising trills by the soloist leads to a cadenza-like unaccompanied middle-section before the first subject reappears in the orchestra. The lyrical second subject returns in various keys and with a short coda, Allegro animando, the horns herald the close and a brief gesture of dismissal.
The composer’s treatment of the orchestra—with constantly varied touches of instrumental colour, and often with only two or three instruments playing, typically answering each other—is particularly characteristic in the gorgeous slow movement. A nine-bar introduction creates a nocturnal atmosphere with bell-like notes on flute and harp over hushed strings. The cor anglais then sings the plaintive first subject, immediately repeated and extended by the soloist. After thirty-one bars it is taken up by the clarinet, the soloist now accompanying with arpeggiated chords across the strings. The second subject follows on the strings with rising decorations by the soloist. The first theme is repeated, now in F minor, with muted accompanying strings. A haunting romantic motif is heard on the horns and will be heard several times before the end. Eventually a cadenza-like passage of running semiquavers presages the return of the cor anglais and a brief orchestral climax before, musing on the horn’s romantic motif, the music fades on the soloist’s long-held pianissimo top C.
The finale comes as a great surprise—a diaphanous scherzando, all fairy gossamer. The music falls into a succession of sixteen related short episodes. The first theme starts in 9/8 and proceeds in 6/8, its leaping triplet motion giving it the feel of a saltarello. A contrasted theme in 12/8 appears in the strings in the fifth episode, and in the next the first theme of the first movement returns in staccato crochets. The writing for the soloist is brilliant throughout, though d’Erlanger does not feel the need for another cadenza.
As well as the violin sonata, d’Erlanger wrote shorter works for violin including a Tarantelle and the lyrical Poëme for violin and piano (later orchestrated), which was published by Schott in 1918 and dedicated to Pedro Morales. The tuneful, heart-on-sleeve Poëme opens with an atmospheric slow introduction before the soaring soloist sings the main theme against a hushed background. The soloist muses on this romantic confection for some time before a faster passage (Animando) leads to a new idea, introduced by the soloist and quickly taken up by the muted strings. A little ascending woodwind motif articulates the return of the main theme, and the twilight gradually deepens as the soloist sings plaintively, ending with a soft high trill. The Poëme was performed in its orchestral version at Bournemouth on 11 February 1928, the solo part played by William Primrose, who soon after became celebrated as a viola player. D’Erlanger himself recorded the violin and piano version in 1927, with the violinist Adila Fachiri, sister of the celebrated Jelly d’Arányi.
* * *
Out of the blue on 22 April 1889 the thirty-one-year-old Frederic Cliffe, professor of piano at the Royal College of Music, but apparently with no previous achievement as a composer, had an astonishing success with a large-scale romantic symphony in C minor. The Daily Telegraph published the following remarkable review:
It may be doubted whether musical history can show on any of its pages the record of such an Opus 1. The symphony is a masterpiece, and the composer, one might think, feels terrified at his own success. For our own part, noting the imaginative power displayed in the work, the easy command of all resources, the beauty and freshness of the themes, and their brilliant development, we feel inclined to ask a question, propounded concerning another phenomenon ‘Whence has this man these things?’ Mr Cliffe has by one effort passed from obscurity to fame, and must be regarded as a bright and shining star on the horizon of our English art.
Even more surprisingly, although a longstanding member of staff at the RCM, Cliffe’s achievement doesn’t appear to have been applauded by his colleagues at the College. Stanford and Parry remain silent about him, which is doubly strange when Parry especially could be so generous towards aspiring composers.
Cliffe’s case is a curious one. He appeared suddenly as a composer, and just as suddenly, sixteen or seventeen years later, he disappeared. Cliffe’s musical legacy, for all practical purposes, is found in just six major works: two symphonies; a tone poem, Cloud and Sunshine, which was written for the Philharmonic Society in 1890; the Violin Concerto written for the Norwich Festival of 1896; a scena for contralto and orchestra, The Triumph of Alcestis, again for the Norwich Festival and written for and sung by Clara Butt at the height of her early fame; and finally a Stanfordesque choral ballad setting of Charles Kingsley’s Ode to the North East Wind, in five movements, published by Novello in 1905. The latter work is notable for the delightfully programmatic orchestral third movement—an atmospheric Nocturne. A March for the Coronation in 1911, a published anthem (Out of the Deep) and a couple of songs complete Cliffe’s surviving music.
Cliffe was born at Lowmoor, near Bradford. His father, William Cliffe, was an amateur cellist—‘a musician of no mean attainment’, according to a biographical sketch of the young Frederic in the journal of the Leeds College of Music, the Quarterly News. In what was probably a typical case of a musical father teaching a more talented son, Frederic began his musical studies at an early age. His progress may be judged from the fact that when only seven years old he had already become well known in the neighbourhood as a promising treble soloist as well as a rising pianist. By the age of eleven Cliffe was appointed as organist at the Parish Church, Wyke, a few miles north of Leeds. The Quarterly News tells us that Cliffe left Wyke two years later to ‘take the organist’s post at the Wesleyan Chapel at Great Horton, Bradford, an appointment [which] led to many opportunities for recitals and other engagements in his early teens’. He later won a scholarship offered by the new National Training School of Music, the forerunner of the Royal College of Music, and in consequence became a protégé of Sir Arthur Sullivan, with tuition in composition from Sir John Stainer, Ebeneezer Prout for harmony, and Franklin Taylor, whom he would eventually succeed, for piano.
We might ask how such a provincial freelance musician in the early 1880s kept body and soul together, if he did not have a private income. This, of course, was the problem that faced Elgar for many years. The development of the railways allowed performing musicians such as Cliffe to have a national constituency for his career from a base initially in Leeds. He left us a vivid portrait of the sheer slog such a career would entail in the early 1880s. In one ‘ordinary’ six-day period he ‘played 3 concerts in London, 1 in York, 1 in Bury St Edmunds’ and ‘opened’ [i.e. gave a recital on] a new organ in Kent. He also gave seventy piano lessons in this period. On this basis he must have been giving over three hundred recitals a year and between three and four thousand piano lessons. It is clear that with activity on such a scale in his mid-twenties in Leeds, he was doing much better financially than Elgar was in Worcestershire; and Delius, although from a far more wealthy Bradford family, was at this date still apprenticed to the family wool business, travelling in Europe.
Indeed, it is interesting to compare Cliffe’s life and career with his two pre-eminent contemporaries. He was born a month before Elgar, in not dissimilar family circumstances, and died three years before him. Cliffe was born in Bradford, five years before Delius was born there. Cliffe remained in England and developed his music through performance; Delius, while a violinist, was no touring virtuoso and followed his dream overseas. It is fascinating to see what social determinants and influences gave Cliffe his short-term success and long-term oblivion. With the enormous change of style and aesthetic that launched the twentieth century, Cliffe, like many other talented figures of late Victorian England, fell by the wayside, his short-lived success forgotten as his pupils inherited a new musical world. By the time Delius and Elgar had come into their artistic maturity in the Edwardian period, Cliffe’s work as a composer was already on the wane; and when Elgar’s first symphony changed the world of the English symphony, Cliffe’s composing career had ended.
When his Violin Concerto was commissioned by the Norwich Festival of 1896 Cliffe was already the composer of two noted symphonies. The concerto was performed by the Budapest-born violinist Tivadar Nachéz on 7 October. The first London performance was given by Nachéz at a Philharmonic Society concert six months later, on 7 April 1897. After its initial success it remained unheard for nearly a century, until revived by Philippe Graffin and the Lambeth Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Fifield, in May 2007.
Completed in the Swiss valley of the Engadine, surrounded by high mountains, only weeks before its first performance, the first movement is launched with a sixteen-bar statement of the first subject, immediately repeated by the soloist. In fact there are three ideas, the second being a romantically rising tune and the third a variation on the first. The tug between rhythm and melody builds to a bold climax quickly followed by the lovely, lyrical second subject (molto espressione—tranquillo ma espressivo), the key now F major, the relative major, which Prout had doubtless taught him to be the orthodox key for a second subject. The development section which follows is worked on at some length before the first subject returns. The extended cadenza which Nachéz wrote for the work leads to an idyllic statement of the second subject before a dazzling coda reviews earlier themes.
The expressive main theme of the ternary slow movement is heard on the solo violin at the outset over quietly muted strings. The tune passes to the woodwind and is decorated by the soloist’s running semiquavers. The soloist has a second theme—really an extension of what we have already heard, an idea that will return at the end of the third movement—before the middle section presents a new idea first heard as a dialogue between cellos and horn. At a climax the second idea from the first section is heard again, and the music returns to the opening theme and fades to a crepuscular close.
‘Appassionata, quasi fantasia’ is Cliffe’s instruction to the soloist at the beginning of the finale, for the three-bar introduction of Lento violin recitative (lasting some forty seconds on this recording), as if musing before the Allegro energico of the Hungarian-sounding first subject. The wide-spanning second subject follows. During the development there are passing references to the slow movement before all the material, including the opening recitative, is reviewed in turn. The soloist soars through flashing headlong passagework in the brilliant coda, underlining the gypsy feel of the music, but the wraith of the slow movement is still heard on the trumpets and horns before the throwaway close. Published in an arrangement for violin and piano by Schott of Mainz, the concerto is dedicated: ‘à son cher ami Sir Arthur Sullivan de son élève dévoué’.
Lewis Foreman © 2011
Other albums in this series
The Romantic Violin Concerto, Vol. 15 – Młynarski & Zarzycki
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The Romantic Violin Concerto, Vol. 5 – Coleridge-Taylor & Somervell
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The Romantic Violin Concerto, Vol. 6 – Hubay 1 & 2
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The Romantic Violin Concerto, Vol. 12 – Vieuxtemps
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The Romantic Violin Concerto, Vol. 14 – Glazunov & Schoeck
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