Born in Birmingham, Albert Ketèlbey had a certain early success as a composer, winning a scholarship to Trinity College, London, at the age of thirteen. But it would not be until he was in his thirties that he would follow this up with the series of works, including Bells Across the Meadow
, In a Persian Market
as well as In a Monastery Garden
, which would allow him to live very comfortably in later life. He was appointed organist of St. John’s Church, Wimbledon, at the age of sixteen, but left only a handful of original compositions for the instrument. He quickly moved into the world of theatre and light music, establishing for himself a niche providing music to accompany silent films. He was an expert orchestrator and several publishing houses employed him to produce arrangements for the many spa and municipal orchestral ensembles active at the time.
Ketèlbey’s first major success as a composer came in 1912 with Phantom Melody for cello and piano. He followed this up, in 1914, with In a Monastery Garden. According to the composer’s synopsis, the initial warm theme represents the tranquillity of a monastery garden where, to the accompaniment of birdsong, a young poet contemplates his life and woes. His musings are expressed in a darker, more agitated, second theme. Monks are heard singing the Kyrie eleison in the distance, after which the opening theme returns, now even more heart-warming and consoling. The monks’ chant sounds out a final time, gaining in intensity and leading to a conclusion ‘in a glow of exultation’.
from notes by Stephen Westrop © 2002