Stella Scott writes:
Apologies for the rather sneaky title, but what great timing!
The BBC has a fantastic series of programmes running over the next 12 months – Our Classical Century. It ties in with the centenary of the end of the 1st World War and celebrates the wealth of great British classical music that has been produced in the 100 years since.
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The first programme, shown on Thursday evening, 15th November 2018, on BBC4, contained a particularly interesting item on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (not to be confused with the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge!). It struck a chord with me because Havant Symphony Orchestra will be playing his Variations on an African Air in a concert on March 23rd 2019 and, like most people, I knew very little about him. The programme also featured ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Vaughan Williams, which Havant Chamber Orchestra will be playing on February 9th at Ferneham Hall in Fareham!
Then on Saturday, 17th November, there was a programme on BBC2 about the friendship between Holst and Vaughan Williams, two very well-known composers whose works HSO will be performing on December 1st. Both programmes are available to watch via iPlayer and this one is thoroughly recommended as a preview to our December concert!
Enthusiastically presented by Amanda Vickery and the irrepressible Tom Service, the programme is based around the long walks the two composers would make together after becoming friends when they both arrived at the Royal College of Music at the same time.
Both composers felt charged with responsibility for developing some truly English music to rival the Germanic tradition which dominated the classical music world at the time and they became fascinated with traditional folk song. This was where they felt the heart of English music must lie and they were ardent supporters of Cecil Sharp – an avid collector of folk song. They were also able to make use of new technology of the time, wax cylinders which could record people singing traditional songs and thereby have them saved for posterity.
The programme highlights the differences in the two characters and the way they were affected by the 1st World War. Vaughan Williams served as an ambulance driver on the front line. Holst was too short sighted and weak in one arm to be able to do active service and attracted a little of the wrong sort of attention due to his German-sounding name.
For me, it feels as if something is missing with no mention at all of Elgar, but this is a look specifically at the friendship between Holst and Vaughan Williams so the apparent omission can be forgiven.
On December 1st, Havant Symphony Orchestra play all three composers – Elgar’s arrangement of Handel’s Overture in D minor, Holst’s Somerset Rhapsody, and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony no. 2, known as the ‘London Symphony’. Completing the concert programme is the Piano Concerto in G by their contemporary, Maurice Ravel. Do watch the BBC programme on iPlayer and then come along to hear the music played live! Bring with you a mental picture of Holst and Vaughan Williams walking together in the glorious English countryside and chatting about folk songs!