Philippe Sly is already gaining international notoriety for his “beautiful, blooming tone and magnetic stage presence” (San Francisco Chronicle). He is the first prize winner of the [...]
Why is turn of the century British Song of interest to an artist or to a listener today, and why were the then-disappearing folk songs and folkways of interest to the poets and composers presented on this recording? A common process of retrospection, almost an artistic technique, unites the contemporary interpreter with the historical poet and the musing composer. Their commonality of approach, like a resonance of meaning, makes this vanished bucolic Britain inwardly visible and audible for us today.
How do we recall a time that has passed forever? The artist, attempting to present relevant and meaningful messages, delves into the past. Living with ghosts, memories, echoes, great works, and all the accumulated thoughts and creations of generations of artists come and gone; diving and resurfacing, the artist disappears from the present, sinks into the past, communes with lost meanings and motifs and reemerges with the voice of the ages fl owing from their own voice- thus bringing meaning forward.
Journeying into archaism is as relevant for the interpreter active today as it was for the composers and poets featured here. The voice of youth is bright and present but takes on shade and hue in the resonant depths of the past, in the age-old and the archaic. Is not song a union of the words, being ancient, and the singing, being young? Many of the composers presented here were keenly aware of the disappearance of folk music and strove to incorporate this vanishing voice into their compositions. This combination of melodies strongly suggestive of folk song with exquisitely sensitive and noble poetry created a unique “high folk-art” that was more a retrieval of meaning than a stylistic retrenchment in musical conservatism.
In the entirety of this present collection of English song there is no mention of the airplane, the automobile, the train, the factory, or of the bombs, guns and trenches of modern warfare. For these composers, all of whom resided in large cities for the majority of their lives, nature and rural life provided the most compelling metaphors for the inner, human experience of their increasingly mechanized and industrialized outer world. England at the turn of the century was a curious mix of ancient life-ways and new technology: automobiles passing horse drawn carts; high speed mechanical forges and machine works drowning out the quiet creak of the spinning wheel or the butter-churn’s rhythmic splash.
The imagery and poetic subjects of the songs presented here show us a world in transition, passing forever into memory. Shakespeare’s world, the world presented in old folksongs, or the world of the ancient Vedic Indian cultures were as outwardly distant for them as their vanished world is for us now. Perhaps the artistic service these composers have rendered to us is the force of their belief in imagination and metaphor as transformative forces and ways to remember the world.
In historical retrospect, it is easy to assign connections between artists to support the notion of a school, style or movement. What for the artist is often a lonely and diffi cult process of personal searching, failing, transformation and expression seems to us one hundred years later as being representative of a general trend of the era. Almost without exception these composers studied at the Royal College of Music around the turn of the century, many under the same professors. Yet the song settings are not only based on various poetic genres, forms and historical periods across the whole spectrum- from bawdy ballad through high fl own love-praise to contemporary meditations on death and transformation- each also contributes, in every fi guration, curious modulation or suggestive melody, a signifi cant and essentially unique particle of meaning toward what we know as the British sound.
Perhaps one element uniting these composers was the desire to present the world not as it was, but as it could be: that music could immerse us in a longing, dreaming romanticism and idealism in that most brutally realistic century. Their music can act as a kind of reassurance or heart’s ease; beneath the contexts and situations of modern life live the seeds of archetypal experience, symbolized and fi gured forth so masterfully in this highly personal, wonderfully pastoral music.
© Cody Growe