Bantock: Thalaba the Destroyer & other orchestral works
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Extract: Camel Caravan
Bantock’s most celebrated choral work is his setting of the Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyám in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation. In fact Omar Khayyám was unknown before Fitzgerald found the manuscript in an oriental volume in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The popularity of Fitzgerald’s translation of the eleventh-century Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet is a notable literary phenomenon of Victoria’s reign, but it took some time to become established. Published privately in 1859, it was quickly remaindered, and not reviewed until 1870, nor Fitzgerald publicly identified as the translator until 1875. Yet by the turn of the century it was probably the most popular English poetry of its day.
Initially Fitzgerald translated 75 quatrains, but he went on adding to it, and the fifth edition, of 101 quatrains, was published posthumously in 1889. It was the latter that Bantock set. He was thus working with a popular work of his day, including some of the best known words in the English language.
In setting it, Bantock also had to consider another issue. In 1896 the composer Liza Lehmann had a big success with her selective setting which she called In a Persian Garden, for four soloists and piano. This was well established by the time Bantock came to the words, and it meant that a version that amateurs could sing on a domestic scale was already a popular favourite. Bantock in his complex and expansive approach produced something that, even in individual numbers, few amateurs could attempt, and it only briefly caught on with local choral societies.
The music is in three parts, first produced separately in 1906, 1907 and 1909. The first part was written for the Birmingham Festival in 1906, the same year as Elgar’s The Kingdom, parts two and three following at Cardiff in 1907 and Birmingham again in 1909. The first complete performance was in London, at Queen’s Hall, on 15 February 1910.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2001