Hyperion Records

Elegiac Blues 'In memory of Florence Mills'
Elegiac Blues (In memory of Florence Mills), to give the work its full title, records one of Lambert’s most significant musical experiences and influences. In June 1923, while still a seventeen-year-old student at the RCM, he saw a C B Cochran review called Dover Street to Dixie that had just opened at the London Pavilion. It was the ‘Dixie’ Negro content of the second half, with the singer–dancer Florence Mills and her troupe ‘The Blackbirds’, that particularly interested Lambert. As he later wrote: ‘After the rather hum-drum playing of the English orchestra in the first part it was an electrifying experience to hear Will Vodery’s band play the Delius-like fanfare that preceded the second. It definitely opened up a whole new world of sound. Although they maintained an extraordinary high standard of musicianship throughout, it is hardly necessary to say that they were abused by the English press for their crudity and vulgarity.’ The show ran until September, and Constant and Angus Morrison saw it together at least four times. Florence Mills (1896–1927) was an even greater sensation when she came again to England in September 1926 with a show simply called The Blackbirds; ‘A sort of orgy of jazz’ was how The Times sniffily described it. Again Constant and Angus saw the show many times, including its last London performance on 14 May 1927 before it toured the provinces. But after playing in Liverpool, an exhausted and ill Florence was advised by her doctors to cancel her engagements. After a rest cure in Germany, she returned to the States and died there in hospital on 1 November 1927. That same month Lambert completed the Elegiac Blues for piano, orchestrating it in the following year. A noticeable feature of the work is the rising triplet figure first heard near the beginning, imitative of the fanfare that opened The Blackbirds. Elegiac Blues was first heard in its orchestral guise on 23 July 1928 in a typically innovative broadcast, nearly ninety minutes long, entitled ‘Blue on the Boulevard: A Study of Black and White’ that can only have been assembled by Lambert. It also included Negro poetry, works by Satie, Milhaud and Auric, and the second performance of The Rio Grande.

It was perhaps the stuffy reaction of the music establishment that caused Lambert to champion jazz so strongly in his writing and broadcasts in the late 1920s and the 1930s, singling out in particular Duke Ellington not just as a performer but as ‘a quite outstanding popular composer’. The Blackbirds’ fanfare, so poignant in Elegiac Blues, remained with him as a motto theme throughout his life.

from notes by Stephen Lloyd © 2005

Track-specific metadata
Details for CDA67545 track 14
Recording date
20 December 2004
Recording venue
Clothworkers' Hall, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Phil Rowlands
Hyperion usage
  1. Lambert: Romeo and Juliet & other works (CDA67545)
    Disc 1 Track 14
    Release date: August 2005
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