Bantock: Thalaba the Destroyer & other orchestral works
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Bantock’s music was first published in piano score by Breitkopf & Härtel in August 1894 under the title The Funeral, and this title gives us the clue to Bantock’s programme from the first part of Southey’s epic poetic cycle. Bantock is reputed to have completed fourteen of Southey’s twenty-four scenes, but only a quarter of his cycle seems to survive, and only two movements, this and the fourteenth, Jaga-Naut, later reappeared and were revised and published in 1912 as Two Orchestral Scenes. After it was first performed in Bantock’s orchestral concert at Queen’s Hall on 15 December 1896, it was heard again by the Worcestershire Philharmonic in May 1900, conducted by none other than Elgar, who was in the middle of writing Gerontius! The two were played together in their un-revised version by Halford in Birmingham in 1902 and by Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth in March 1903, Godfrey later giving the revised version of The Funeral – now called Processional – in March 1912, soon after it was published by Breitkopf.
In this work Bantock makes one of his first of many evocations of the east, here an Indian setting where he evokes the torchlight procession of the body of Arvalan, the Rajah Kehama’s son, replete (in Southey’s words) with ‘horn, and trump, and tambour; / Incessant as the roar / Of streams which down the wintry mountain pour’. Bantock asks for a large orchestra and has his violins divided into three sections rather than the usual two.
After the massive, forcefully insistent music of the march, a contrasted melody represents the wives and followers of the deceased who are forced to commit suttee and be burned alive with the corpse:
At once on every side
the circling torches drop
At once of every side
the fragrant oil is pour’d
At once on every side
the rapid flames rush up.
Then hand in hand the victim band
Roll in the dance around the funeral pyre;
… The tambours and trumpets sound;
And clap of hand, and shouts, and cries,
From all the multitude arise
… Till one by one whirl’d in they fall
And the devouring flames have swallow’d all.
Bantock sets it all – as does Southey – as a colourful and exotic spectacle, vividly evoked, but without any thought for the ultimate horror of the scene.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2001