Frederick Corder (1852–1932), who studied at the RAM and later with Ferdinand Hiller in Cologne, became an energetic and respected figure of the late Victorian musical scene. Despite a wide range of compositions, including songs, operas and the inevitable religious cantatas commissioned by provincial festivals, his name is now chiefly remembered as the first translator of the mature Wagner operas. As professor and curator at the RAM he also became the teacher of a later generation of composers including Bantock, Holbrooke and Bax. The concert overture Prospero
, published in the year of Sullivan’s Macbeth
, shows a welcome change of direction in the continental influences that were gradually beginning to fertilize British orchestral thinking. Doubtless influenced by his time in Cologne, Corder became an ardent follower of the Liszt/Wagner school and even wrote a book on the former composer. The opening Wotanesque tread of trombones and its ethereal pendant on flute, harp and solo violins immediately proclaim a desire to use orchestral sonority in its own right rather than as organ registration transferred to the orchestra. Despite this opening theme, which can be associated with the stern, yet noble figure of Shakespeare’s last great creation, it would be wrong to search for explicit programmatic features in the overture since much of the music is believed to have been originally composed for a different purpose. Instead it represents an impressive essay in almost abstract musical thought conceived with the sonority of the New German school of orchestration in mind. During Corder’s lifetime the overture was frequently performed, notably by Sir Henry Wood.
from notes by Hugh Priory © 1991