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Here is a new and complete recording of the unique and fascinating work, which brought William Walton's name and fame to the fore in the early 1920's. The history of Façade is extremely complex since there are over thirty extant numbers setting the virtuoso and extraordinary poems of Dame Edith Sitwell, and ever since its premiere different performances and recordings have assembled only some of them, and those in differing order.
This CD presents the complete extant numbers of Façade; in addition the booklet includes the dozen or so Sitwell poems which Walton either never set or which have been lost. The poems are spoken to Walton's widely differing 'orchestrations' by two well-known and popular personalities of the English stage and TV screen—Eleanor Bron and Richard Stilgoe.
The disc also includes the first recording of the incidental music to Salome by Constant Lambert, the fiftieth anniversary of whose death occurs this year. Lambert, of course, was involved with Façade from the beginning as he used to share the recitations with Dame Edith.
The front illustration reproduces John Piper's curtain design for the 1942 performances of Façade.
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Local records of the parish of Eckington in northeast Derbyshire show that there were Sitwells living there as far back as the year 1301; they are still there, though now imposingly housed in Renishaw Hall. The family that had once been ironmasters and mine-owners had, by the end of the nineteenth century, produced a generation of poets and authors. These were the three children of the redoubtable Sir George Sitwell, Bart., and his beautiful but spoilt wife, Lady Ida: Edith (b1887), Osbert (b1892) and Sacheverell (b1897) who, for much of the first half of the twentieth century, were at the very hub of all that was artistic and avant garde in London. Quite apart from their considerable literary gifts and love of all aspects of the arts, they were distinguished by an innate ability to appreciate quality and style and, in the case of Edith, by a pronounced streak of eccentricity inherited from her father.
Eccentricity can take many forms, but it is surely found at its purest in the upper reaches of society where otherwise impeccable manners and behaviour can be accompanied by traits that come close to betraying mental derangement. Sir George typified this to a considerable degree. A single example must suffice. In December 1914 his eldest son and heir Osbert, a 22-year-old second lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, was posted to France to join the front-line trenches, shortly after an attack in which his battalion had suffered severe losses. On arrival he found a letter from his father, full of concern for his wellbeing and liberal with advice:
… Directly you hear the first shell, retire … to the Undercroft [cellar], and remain there quietly until all firing has ceased. Even then, a bombardment, especially as one grows older, is a strain upon the nervous system – but the best remedy for that, as always, is to keep warm and have plenty of plain, nourishing food at frequent but regular intervals. And, of course, plenty of rest. I find a nap in the afternoon most helpful, if not unduly prolonged, and I advise you to try it whenever possible.
Small wonder that when Sir George’s ungainly and unloved daughter began to write poetry and get it published, it would display qualities that were mistaken for pure eccentricity. The essential practicality of Edith’s nature was never far from the surface, however, and in 1914 this enabled her to achieve independence from the tyranny she experienced at home and move to the unfashionable district of Bayswater in London, where she lived for many years.
Within a few months of the end of the First World War the youngest of the trio, Sacheverell (known to all as Sachie), had enrolled as an undergraduate at Oxford, where his friend the poet Siegfried Sassoon happened to be living at the time. By chance Sassoon introduced him to a pale, thin and inarticulate young man from Lancashire. William Walton, having had to leave the choir of Christ Church Cathedral when his voice broke, was working for his B.Mus. and making his second attempt to pass the general subjects exam of Responsions. Something about the young Walton – and this decidedly was not his ham-fisted attempts to play his compositions at the piano – impressed Sachie. He introduced him to other artistically-minded undergraduates and alerted his brother, who in 1916 had been invalided out of the army and was back in London. Osbert promptly went up to Oxford to meet the young composer. He too realized that behind the unimpressive exterior and manner there might be a real talent to foster, with the result that when Walton had to be ‘sent down’ for failing Responsions a third time he was invited to occupy a room in the top storey of the house where Osbert and Sachie lived in the Chelsea district of London. In November 1919 they moved to a more imposing house in Carlyle Square, which adjoins the Kings Road, and again the young Walton (invariably known at that time as Willie) occupied a garret room where he stayed for most of the day, composing fitfully at his piano.
The poetic output of the three Sitwell siblings continued to grow apace; even Sachie had his first volume of poetry published in 1918 when he was only twenty. Edith’s verse was by far the most striking, and her individual voice became even more pronounced when in 1921 she began to experiment with what she later, somewhat opaquely, described as ‘enquiries into the effect on rhythm, and on speed, of the use of rhymes, assonances and dissonances, placed outwardly and inwardly (at different places in the line) and in most elaborate patterns … There are experiments, also, in texture, in the subtle variations of thickness and thinness brought about in assonances, by the changing of a consonant or labial, from word to word.’ As an example of what she calls her ‘transcendental technique’ Edith quotes a line from ‘Fox-trot’:
Among the pheasant-feathered corn the unicorn has torn, forlorn the
Some of these new verses had already been given currency and not been unreservedly appreciated. According to Osbert, a painter passed judgment on his sister in the words ‘Very clever, no doubt – but what is she but a façade!’. The young Sitwells were delighted by this comment, and Edith used it as the title of her next slim volume of verse. At the same time both brothers considered that it might be appropriate to have certain of the poems provided with a musical accompaniment, and the obvious composer for this task was their lodger, Willie. At first Walton demurred, doubtless feeling that this experimental form of poetry was beyond his comprehension, but he was eventually persuaded to cooperate. Sachie later made the acute observation: ‘I would not say that WTW, to call him by his initials, was a fervent lover of poetry, but he was attuned to them, and had, when directed to them, an instinctive understanding.’
Edith must have made a number of journeys from Bayswater to her brothers’ Chelsea house in the autumn of 1921, for Osbert records: ‘I remember very well the rather long sessions, lasting for two or three hours, which my sister and the composer used to have, when together they read the words, she going over them again and again, while he marked and accented them for his own guidance, to show where the precise stress and emphasis fell, the exact inflection or deflection.’
Walton set sixteen poems and also provided them with an Overture and Interlude. His chosen instrumental ensemble consisted of flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), trumpet, cello and percussion. The Sitwells were sufficiently excited by the result to arrange a private performance of this novel conception which, nevertheless, had distinguished older cousins in the form of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and the Satie/Cocteau Diaghilev ballet Parade. In consequence a Sitwell coterie assembled in the L-shaped first floor drawing-room of 2 Carlyle Square on the evening of 24 January 1922. What they were about to hear was strange enough, but the manner of its presentation took matters a stage further. Osbert was clearly influenced by Parade, for which Picasso had designed a front drop, and therefore decided that the performers had to be hidden behind a specially designed curtain through which a megaphone (as in Parade) protruded. This, according to Edith, was not only ‘because it was obviously impossible for the speaker’s voice, unaided, to be heard above the sound of the instruments’ but also ‘to deprive the work of any personal quality (apart from the personality inherent in the poems and music).’ Sachie favoured the idea of using a Sengerphone, the instrument that had been devised to amplify the voice of the dragon Fafner in Wagner’s Siegfried, and he and Walton went up to Hampstead to negotiate with its inventor, Herr Senger.
The weather during the rehearsals and day of the performance was bitterly cold, and at the end of the evening everybody had to be revived with hot rum punch. Osbert (also behind the curtain) introduced the proceedings; Edith recited through her Sengerphone, and Walton conducted his ad hoc ensemble, in the words of Osbert, ‘holding his baton with something of the air of an elegant and handsome snipe.’ He adds that ‘in the comparatively small drawing-room of Carlyle Square, the sheer volume of sound was overwhelming’ – something that later performers, even in more appropriate surroundings, have also discovered to their cost.
The ‘entertainment’ – for such it came to be termed when it was eventually published nearly thirty years later – aroused much interest and was considered to be both smart and experimental. Emboldened by this trial run, Edith and Walton, egged on by Osbert and Sachie, decided to revise and expand Façade. By the time of the first public performance, given on the afternoon of 12 June 1923 in the Aeolian Hall, four numbers had been discarded and a further sixteen (two purely instrumental) added. One characteristic feature of this revision was Walton’s decision to add an alto saxophone to his ensemble; this was just one element that contributed to the dance-band flavour that was to become such a conspicuous feature of certain numbers.
Because of the notoriety of the Sitwells, the event was given enormous coverage by the press, and was greeted with a mixture of mild contempt and sympathetic understanding. Edith’s largely incomprehensible verse and arch, mannered delivery from behind the curtain came in for much mocking comment, as did Osbert’s commentary, but the virtually unknown Walton’s contribution was generally admired. The anonymous Daily Mail critic praised ‘the extraordinarily stimulative running comment of Mr Waltons’s music. His musical invention is as original and witty as Miss Sitwell’s poetry and fits the rhythm of the spoken line as though words and music were cast in one mould. He manages to get a pleasing variety of colour out of the six instruments used, […] and this variety forms a valuable contrast to the deliberately monotonous chant of the recitation.’ This was all the more remarkable for, as Walton later recalled, the musical performance had been ‘a shambles’. The audience, which one paper described as consisting of ‘long-haired men, short-haired women’, seems to have been largely enthusiastic and demanded several encores, although Noel Coward found it all very pretentious and caused much offence by subsequently writing a skit on it.
One member of the audience was totally in tune with what he heard, and was to have a lifelong intimate connection with Façade in all its forms. In June 1923 Constant Lambert was still a 17-year-old student at the Royal College of Music but, as Osbert later described him, already ‘a prodigy of intelligence and learning’. Façade was right up his street, and as he was already known at 2 Carlyle Square he offered assistance, even advice, to Walton, who was three years his senior. According to a Lambert article of 1926, Walton spent most of 1923/4 writing and scoring foxtrots for a new band, so the influence of jazz and popular music that increasingly came to suffuse the new Façade numbers cannot just be put down to Lambert’s influence. But the fact remains that Lambert was passionate about this newly imported art form and may well have fanned the flames of Walton’s imagination.
There was a three-year gap before Facade was given again in public, but when this occurred there were significant differences. Seven new numbers were heard at the New Chenil Galleries on 27 April 1926, and a further three (possibly four) at a repeat performance there on June 29. What was notable was that Edith no longer took part in the performance. Possibly fearing that the ‘family’ aspect of the entertainment had gone too far in 1923, the Sitwells engaged the Old Vic actor Neil Porter to do the recitation. It would appear, however, that Mr Porter was the first of many subsequent narrators to discover that the task of reciting the texts to a tightly controlled accompaniment is far from easy, and it comes as no surprise to learn that young Constant Lambert took over quite a few of the numbers. By the time of the June performance Lambert was the sole narrator, and thereafter, even though Edith occasionally joined in, Lambert was acknowledged by the Sitwells and Walton as the ideal reciter.
Two performances of Façade (Lambert/Walton) were given at the ISCM Festival in Siena in 1928 (doubtless to the total incomprehension of the Italians), and it is believed that this was the occasion of the first performance of the final two numbers to be composed for Façade. In all, 43 of Edith’s poems had been set. In a 1928 article on the composer Lambert was the first to point out how Walton had imperceptibly turned his Façade assignment on its head. In most of the early numbers, such as ‘Madame Mouse Trots’, ‘Aubade’ and ‘Lullaby for Jumbo’, the instrumental accompaniment is sparse and unassertive and constitutes a gentle underpinning ‘with arabesque and timbre’ of the spoken text, which was intended to be predominant. Gradually all this changed, partly because of the choice of the verses that Walton set. It was a foregone conclusion that poems entitled ‘Tango’, ‘Country Dance’, ‘Polka’ and ‘Fox-trot’ were going to elicit music that was more melodious, rhythmic and catchy than ‘Madame Mouse Trots’ or ‘By the Lake’, and Walton did not muff his opportunity. By the time he came to write ‘Tarantella’ in 1926 the text was totally subordinated to the accompaniment; indeed Edith may well have written the verse to fit already existing music, as she later confirmed she sometimes did. This may not have been what the three Sitwells had intended at the outset of the project in 1921, but they had not reckoned with the imagination of the young man who was eventually to become Sir William Walton, OM, and it is clear that they went along with the transformation and basked in its ever-increasing success.
The growing popularity of Façade was given a significant boost when in February 1930 Decca released two 78-rpm records containing eleven numbers, with Edith and Lambert reciting and Walton conducting. Even before that, Walton had orchestrated four numbers to form the basis of the First Orchestral Suite from Façade; another seven were scored in the 1930s, and most of these were used by Frederick Ashton for his enormously popular ballet of the same name (masterminded and conducted by Lambert), which did as much as anything to make the title world-famous.
The twentieth anniversary of the first private performance of Façade was celebrated on 29 May 1942 by a performance (Lambert/Walton) given at the Aeolian Hall, for which John Piper designed his celebrated curtain (reproduced on the front of this CD), still with an opening for the Sengerphone. In fact this had by now been replaced by a microphone and loudspeaker, but even so Benjamin Britten, writing three days later to Peter Pears, reported that Lambert had been ‘completely inaudible’. The first part of the programme consisted of a rare performance of Pierrot Lunaire, in which twenty-one numbers are presented in a sequence of three times seven. Lambert suggested that the Façade numbers might also be restricted to just twenty-one (the fewest since Carlyle Square) so that they could be grouped as seven times three. This may be a typical instance of Lambertian tongue-in-cheek humour (it was he who used to refer to ‘Four in the Morning’ as ‘4 a.m.’), but it had far-reaching consequences, for when the Entertainment – as opposed to the already issued orchestral suites – was at last published in 1951, this pattern of seven times three was retained. Walton dedicated the score to Lambert who died, two days before his forty-sixth birthday, within a month of its publication.
For the celebrations marking his 75th birthday in March 1977 Walton was persuaded by his publishers to look again at the numbers that had not made the final cut in 1951. He selected eight, and they were performed under the provisional title Façade Revived. The following year Walton decided to replace three of them with different numbers; the result was the newly titled Façade 2. The three discarded numbers which had been included in Façade Revived were ‘Daphne’, ‘The Last Galop’ and ‘The White Owl’. ‘Small Talk’ had not been performed since 1926, but it remains complete in autograph form, unlike the ten other settings and one instrumental introduction which had been composed and performed, but which appear to have been lost (destroyed?) forever.
The present recording constitutes an attempt to present all the extant Façade material – that is to say the Façade Entertainment, Façade 2, and the four additional numbers mentioned above – in a new and, it is hoped, convincing performance order, shared between two speakers, which is the manner the joint authors, Edith Sitwell and William Walton, eventually came to prefer.
Lost or Incomplete Numbers
The numbers that were discarded from the Façade Entertainment by author and composer (who were probably also influenced by the comments of Osbert and Sacheverell) inevitably tend to be the earlier ones, especially those written before the appearance of Edith’s privately printed Façade volume of 1922. They are reproduced here, with a few elucidating comments, in order to complete the picture of the unique Sitwell/Walton Façade partnership.
The two performances referred to are Carlyle Square (first private performance, 24 January 1922) and Aeolian Hall (first public performance, 12 June 1923).
The Wind’s Bastinado
Poem first published in the 1922 Façade volume, after it had been given its only performance at Carlyle Square.
The wind’s bastinado
Whipt on the calico
Skin of the Macaroon
And the black Picaroon
Beneath the galloon
Of the midnight sky.
Came the great Soldan
In his sedan
Floating his fan –
Saw what the sly
In the barracoon
Held. Out they fly.
Comes out of Babylon:
Buy for a patacoon –
Sir, you must buy!’
Said Il Magnifico
Pulling a fico –
With a stoccado
and a gambado,
Making a wry
Face: ‘This corraceous
Fruit is a lie!
It is my friend King Pharaoh’s head
That nodding blew out of the Pyramid …’
… The tree’s small corinths
Were hard as jacinths
For it is winter and cold winds sigh …
In her farthingale
Of bunchèd leaves let her singing die.
First published in 1919, and performed at Carlyle Square. Alone of the discarded numbers, it was given two further performances.
By the blue wooden sea,
Coral and amber grots
(Cherries and apricots)
Ribbons of noisy heat,
Binding them head and feet,
Horses as fat as plums
Snort as each bumpkin comes.
Giggles like towers of glass
(Pink and blue spirals) pass,
Oh, how the Vacancy
Laughed at them rushing by!
‘Turn again, flesh and brain,
Only yourselves again!
How far above the Ape,
Differing in each shape,
You with your regular,
Meaningless circles are!’
Bank Holiday I
First published in 1920, and given its only performance at Carlyle Square. Both poems were printed in the programme but, like the other bipartite number ‘Small Talk’ bt, only one may have been set.
The houses on a seesaw rush
In the giddy sun’s hard spectrum push
The noisy heat’s machinery;
Like flags of coloured heat they fly.
The wooden ripples of the smiles
Suck down the houses, then at whiles,
Grown suctioned like an octopus,
They throw them up against us,
As we rush by on coloured bars
Of sense, vibrating flower-hued stars,
With lips like velvet drinks and winds
That bring strange Peris to our minds.
Bank Holiday II
Seas are roaring like a lion; with their wavy flocks Zion,
Noises like a scimitar,
Hair a brassy bar
The sun’s drum; though
Light green water’s swim their daughters, lashing with their eel-sleek-locks
Of mermaids that occurred,
Sinking to the cheap beds.
Legs, like trunks of tropical
Plants, rise up and, over all,
Green as a conservatory,
Is the light … another story …
It has grown too late for life:
Put on your gloves and take a drive!
First published in 1919, and given its only performance at Carlyle Square.
Green wooden leaves clap light away,
Severely practical, as they
Shelter the children, candy-pale.
The chestnut-candles flicker, fail …
The showman’s face is cubed clear as
The shapes reflected in a glass
Of water – (glog, glut, a ghost’s speech
Fumbling for space from each to each).
The fusty showman fumbles, must
Fit in a particle of dust
The universe, for fear it gain
Its freedom from my box of brain.
Yet dust bears seeds that grow to grace
Behind my crude-striped wooden face.
As I, a puppet tinsel-pink,
Leap on my springs, learn how to think,
Then like the trembling golden stalk
Of some long-petalled star, I walk
Through the dark heavens until dew
Falls on my eyes and sense thrills through.
First published in April 1923, and given its only performance in June of the same year at the Aeolian Hall.
The asses’ milk of the stars …
The milky spirals as they sank
From heaven’s saloons and golden bars,
Made a gown
On sands divine
By the asses’ hide of the sea
(With each tide braying free).
And the beavers building Babel
Beneath each tree’s thin beard,
Said, ‘Is it Cain and Abel
Fighting again we heard?’
It is Ass-face, Ass-face,
Drunk on the milk of the stars,
Who will spoil their houses of white lace –
Expelled from the golden bars!
Clown Argheb’s Song
First published in April 1923, and given its only performance in June of the same year at the Aeolian Hall.
Clown Argheb the honey-bee
Counted his money, ‘See
In the bandstand in Hell,
Buzzing, the tunes that fell
Raise up glass houses, round
Serres-chaudes as forcing-ground,
Lest bald heads harden
In Hell’s kitchen garden.’
Poet and pedagogue
Bump their bald heads, agog –
(Melon and marrow,
And cucumber narrow.)
Next day comes Proserpine,
Parasol raised, and ‘See,
Ma’am,’ says the gardener, ‘these
Thoughts are as thick as peas!’
So sighed the clown, singing
Buzz, and still clinging,
To no horizontal bars,
But the pink freezing stars!
First published as early as 1916 in a slim volume of poetry shared between Edith and Osbert. Performed in 1923 at the Aeolian Hall and repeated only once. This is clearly influenced by a poem of Rimbaud, on whom Edith’s ex-governess and companion Helen Rootham was an authority.
Castles of crystal,
Castles of wood,
Moving on pulleys
Just as you should!
See the gay people
Flaunting like flags,
Bells in the steeple,
Sky all in rags.
Bright as a parrot
Flaunts the gay heat –
Songs in the garret,
Fruit in the street;
Plump as a cherry,
Red as a rose,
Old Mother Berry –
Blowing her nose!
Reviewing the Aeolian Hall performance in a journal, the far from disinterested Helen Rootham wrote: ‘Mr. Walton gives us music which is not only clever as orchestration, but at moments is strangely and movingly beautiful. Could anything, for instance, be lovelier than the short “Serenade” which opened the fourth group …’, thereby suggesting that this number was purely musical and not a setting of an earlier poem of Edith’s of the same name.
Walton’s setting was given its only performance in 1923 at the Aeolian Hall. Like ‘The Last Galop’ the poem was never published in Edith’s lifetime and was only discovered in 1999 by the Sitwell scholar Neil Ritchie in one of her notebooks. Certain lines are identical to those in the poem ‘Noah’, which Edith published in 1920. As the poem displays many of the features of Edith’s ‘transcendental technique’ and would appear to have been one to which Walton’s musical imagination would have readily responded, the disappearance of this number is doubly sad.
Was a seaman rare,
He was fat as blubber and had sealskin hair
Waith a bonnetted North Pole he would hunt the bear,
Played a rubber
With the Grand Cham’s
The North Pole word
Blue seas for a bonnet
With a star’s rayed core
For a cockade upon it –
If they raced together, the Admiral won it
Till Kingdom come’
Noah through the waters
Sliding like an eel
With his long sleek daughters
Swimming at the keel
Slithered up Mount Ararat and climbed into the Ark
Where the dog-waves bark
At his hair dank, dark.
And fainted at the North Pole’s feet.
’Is it far
The equator’s bar?
I will take a glasses of brandy neat.’
But his youngest daughter
Piped like a crane ‘Drunk again! You have long lain
Where dog-waves bark at the Ark, danced the grand chain
From northern pole to south where the Grand Cham raised Cain
Playing pitch and toss with the land Atlantis,
Playing whist – each card is a King or Queen or Bard,’ cross
Gained said his daughter ‘Here’s another glass of water!
The Grand Cham
Goes grand slam –
He is not such a hard card
as I am.’
First published in April 1923, and given its only performance in June of the same year at the Aeolian Hall.
The fire was furry as a bear
And the flames purr …
The brown bear rambles in his chain
Captive to cruel men
Through the dark and hairy wood …
The maid sighed, ‘All my blood
Is animal. They thought I sat
Like a household cat;
But through the dark woods rambled I …
Oh, if my blood would die!’
The fire had a bear’s fur
It heard and knew …
The dark earth furry as a bear,
Not a lost number but an incomplete one. Unlike the poems listed above, this one would appear to belong to a later period, namely around 1926, the year in which it was performed for the only time. The poem was published in 1927. Two incomplete Walton autographs exist, the longer of which represents probably about a third of the number. The poem develops certain lines and ideas from ‘Gardener Janus Catches a Naiad’ . In a 1972 essay on Façade Sacheverell Sitwell wrote: ‘… there were additions and deletions. Among the latter were the ‘Mazurka’, of which I preferred the music to the poem.’ Could it be that the knowledge of such an opinion at the time caused Edith to have the number suppressed? The loss is ours for, to judge by its opening bars, the number would surely have formed a worthy addition to Walton’s other settings of poems with dance titles.
God Pluto is a kindly man; the children ran:
‘Come help us with the games our dames ban.’
He drinks his beer and builds his forge, as red as George
The Fourth his face is that the flames tan.
Like baskets of ripe fruit the bird-songs’ oaten flutes
All honeyed yellow sound in air, where
Among the hairy leaves fall trills of dew and sheaves
Are tasting of fresh green anew. Flare
His flames as tall
As Windsor Castle, all
Balmoral was not higher.
Like feathered masks and peas in pots and castled trees
Walled gardens of the seas, the flames seemed all of these.
As red and green as
Petticoats of queans
Among the flowering
Bloom …. ‘Come rest and be!
I care for nobody, not I, the world can be, – and
no one cares for me!,
In the lane, Hattie,
Flames like Balmoral
From feathered doxies
Blow up like boxes
Cram full of matches, –
Each yells and scratches.
Flames green and yellow spirt from lips and eyes and skirt,
The leaves like chestnut horses’ ears rear .
Ladies, though my forge has made me red as George
The Fourth, such flames we know not here, dear!
The above notes draw on material derived from the critical edition of the Façade Entertainments, edited by David Lloyd-Jones with a preface by Stewart Craggs (Volume 7 of the William Walton Edition), published in 2000 by Oxford University Press.
Constant Lambert: Suite from the incidental music to ‘Salome’
While staying in Paris in 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote his play Salome in French. In June of the following year rehearsals for a production with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role at the Palace Theatre, London, were well advanced when the Lord Chamberlain banned it, not because it was mildly scandalous but because it contained biblical characters. However, in 1894 it was published in an English translation by Wilde’s friend Lord Alfred Douglas, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley.
Salome was eventually first staged in English at the Gate Theatre club on 27 May 1931 with a distinguished cast that included Margaret Rawlings, Robert Speaight, Flora Robson and John Clements. Choreography was by Ninette de Valois, and this may explain why the task of composing and conducting the incidental music that was required was given to the 25-year-old Constant Lambert, for they had already worked together. Lambert was anyhow already famous as the composer of The Rio Grande (1929).
The musical numbers are short, even scrappy, for this is all that was needed to link the scenes and events of the play. The one exception is, of course, the Dance of the Seven Veils, for which something more extended was required. Fresh from his close association with Façade, and doubtless on a tight budget, Lambert selected an ensemble consisting of just four of the six players used by Walton, that is to say clarinet, trumpet, cello and percussion, the latter with a decidedly exotic tinge. The autograph, and the instrumental parts copied by Lambert himself, languished in the BBC Music Library until 1998 when the composer Giles Easterbrook decided to put the material into performable shape by slightly reordering and connecting it up to form the Suite that here receives its first recorded performance.
The Suite comprises three sections. The first has an arresting prelude, after which there is an extended clarinet recitative which sets the sultry, moonlit atmosphere of the play’s opening. At the end there is a loud interruption, depicting the noise of revelry coming from Herod’s banqueting hall.
The second section consists mainly of sombre, reflective music, including that heard immediately after the young Syrian captain of the guard, infatuated with Salome, kills himself.
The longest section is the third in which a brief introduction gives way to the Dance of the Seven Veils. Inevitably this doffs its hat to the famous parallel section of Richard Strauss’s opera. After the dance’s climax we also hear music that accompanies the executioner’s descent to Jokanaan’s cistern, and the energetic passage following Herod’s final cry to the soldiers, ‘Kill that woman!’.
David Lloyd-Jones © 2001