Bantock: Thalaba the Destroyer & other orchestral works
Archive Service; also available on CDS44281/6CDA67250
Movement 01: Introduction. The powers of evil: Mesto e lugubre
Movement 02: Zeinab's theme: Molto più lento
Movement 03: Thalaba's theme: Allegro con fuoco
Movement 04: Oneiza's theme: Moderato sostenuto
Movement 05: Thalaba's fatal languor: Poco lento
Movement 06: Wedding and brief happiness of love: Meno mosso
Movement 07: Death of Oneiza: Appassionato con dolore
Movement 08: Thalaba wanders desolately amid the tombs: Molto lento
Movement 09: Thalaba sets out again on his mighty quest: Poco allegro
Movement 10: Thalaba's death, and reprise of Oneiza's theme: Poco più lento
Movement 11: Evil lost for ever
Movement 12: The last ecstasy of faith and love: Pesante e risoluto
Again it is after a long narrative poem by Southey, the manuscript dated 17 July 1899. Thalaba the Destroyer reflects Bantock’s then enthusiasm for Tchaikovsky, who provided him with an expressive language to tell an exotic tale. While at New Brighton, Bantock developed a special interest in Tchaikovsky, and gave several all-Tchaikovsky programmes. The avid public response to Tchaikovsky in general and to the Pathétique Symphony in particular in the 1890s meant that anything with a Russian flavour was likely to find a following. Bantock first conducted the Pathétique on 17 June 1898 and on 11 September that year gave an all-Tchaikovsky concert at which the symphony was repeated. Later in May 1899 he performed the Fourth and on 6 August 1899 he repeated the Pathétique and also included Francesca da Rimini. He carried on programming Tchaikovsky until his last concert at New Brighton on 26 August 1900 which consisted of Hamlet, 1812 and the B flat minor Piano Concerto with Holbrooke as soloist.
Thalaba’s first performance seems to have been at Queen’s Hall during that year’s London Music Festival on 4 May 1900, conducted by Henry Wood. It is billed as the ‘first London performance’ but an earlier one has not been traced. Bantock included it in a programme of British music that he conducted at Antwerp on 27 February 1901 (‘Thalaba le destructeur’) and conducted it again at Liverpool on 8 March 1902.
Bantock prefaced the score with a very long and very detailed programme which the music follows closely. At various points he also writes verses from Southey’s poem to remind us where we are. Southey’s poem derives from Arabic sources and tells of a quest in which the hero, in an exotic and fantastic setting, overcomes all maner of obstacles and challenges. It was first published in 1801. The following is a very abbreviated summary.
Thalaba is the sole survivor of his family and thus has the duty of avenging his father, Hodeirah, who has been killed by the demon Okba. The music opens with brooding trombones and tuba evoking the powers of evil. In the score Bantock quotes from Southey:
In the Domdaniel caverns,
Under the Roots of the Ocean,
Met the masters of the Spell
Already however, we hear motifs which will become the first and second subjects proper – representing his childhood love Oneiza (pizzicato lower strings) and Thalaba (a running figure in the violins). Horns, low in their register, have a dotted idea which we might call the ‘destiny’ motif and then a lyrical melody which depicts Thalaba’s mother Zeinab. This will reappear at the end when she exhorts her son to take his vengeance. The Thalaba theme now emerges and with the destiny theme leads to the second subject proper, the falling oboe theme evoking Oneiza. Soon muted strings, ‘Poco lento’, introduce a new motif in even crochets evoking the fatal languor which overtakes Thalaba, a precursor of the ‘Kayf’ episode in the Prelude to Omar Khayyám. Regaining his will to power, Thalaba persuades Oneiza to marry him – Bantock evokes the pomp and pageantry of the wedding feast and Oneiza’s music is elaborated into an extended love theme. However, before the wedding night Azrael, the angel of death, intervenes at a climax of demonic brass playing fff. The grieving Thalaba is desolate, evoked by a quiet passage of entwining pianissimo strings over pulsing timpani, Bantock writing music which again foreshadows the desert music in Omar. This is treated at length but Thalaba’s theme returns and he pulls himself together with crisply articulated staccato trumpets which develop the languor motif into a call to action, as he renews his Mighty Quest.
At the climax of the epic Thalaba briefly meets Laila, the daughter of Okba, who is inadvertently slain by her father as he strikes at Thalaba. In the cave of Domdaniel his sword raised to kill Okba, Thalaba pardons him and instead smashes the idol Eblis which destroys all as it falls, including Thalaba himself, who is welcomed by the wraith of Oneiza to ‘eternal bliss’. At the end, with a succession of strenuous chords and a downward-rushing crescendo, the theme of evil is lost for ever br while Oneiza’s theme, in Bantock’s words, ‘rises pure and clear in the last ecstasy of faith and love’.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2001