About this Recording
8.110848 - KETELBEY: In a Persian Market (Ketelbey, Noble, Prentice, Geehl) (1917-1939)
English 

The Music of Albert W. Ketelbey, Volume 2

Sanctuary of the Heart / In a Persian Market

 

There are few pieces in the light orchestral repertory to equal Sanctuary of the Heart in emotional tension. The excitement in the music seems inappropriate for the vague religious sentiments expressed in the single stanza written in 1924, though for this recording of 1928 a chorus was added paraphrasing the Kyrie eleison of the Anglican liturgy. Now that details of Albert Ketelbey's personal life have been revealed in John Sant's book on the composer, a hidden autobiographical programme suggests itself.

 

The extravagantly romantic but very English main theme, which sets the words "I wandered alone in a strange land", surely stands for Albert himself. At the age of fourteen he was sent from Birmingham to London to study, and promptly returned to Birmingham suffering from homesickness. Back in London, he eventually met Lottie Siegenberg, a passionate Jewish actress, as represented here by a phrase from the Kol Nidrei, a chant used in the Jewish liturgy .At the second statement of this phrase, it takes its bass from the main theme (Lottie becoming dependent on Albert?). The piece ends with the main theme transformed to joyousness, by adopting the 12/8 rhythm of the Kol Nidrei - the phrase “fill all our hearts with love" connoting Albert falling in love with Lottie. The imagery of the poem also symbolizes unity between the Anglican Albert and Jewish Lottie, drawing on phrases from the Book of Common Prayer version of Psalms CX/V and CXXXVII: "When Israel came out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from among the strange people, Judah was his sanctuary," "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept... How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" Albert and Lottie were duly married, and when Lot tie died in 1947, Albert wrote a short elegy called Remembrance, which quotes the main theme of Sanctuary of the Heart, thus affirming the personal significance of the piece.

 

Two other religious meditations in this collection are specifically Roman Catholic. One of the inspirations for in a Monastery Garden was the Franciscan priory at Chilworth, while The Sacred Hour has a choir chanting Ave Maria. These two songs were adaptations of earlier orchestral pieces, and as with all the vocal texts in this collection have words by the composer himself. They are sung by two of the greatest singers from the Antipodes, the Australian Peter Dawson and Oscar Natzke from New Zealand. The words for The Sacred Hour may have been written specifically for Dawson, as this recording made in September 1932 pre-dates the publication of the sheet music by six months.

 

A Dream of Christmas also ends on a religious note, with traditional English Christmas hymns. Here they are used to represent the peculiar mixture of sacred and secular of a British Christmas, with the carols appearing alongside fairies and the pantomime wolf from Little Red Riding Hood in a child's confused dreams. Both the recording and the sheet music were issued for the Christmas market in 1926. The music bears an invitation for the audience to join in with Christians, awake, but the pitch is uncomfortably high for community singing. The technical reason for this is that the hymn is accompanied by the tubular bells, an instrument which was normally restricted to a diatonic scale of E flat major. Thus bell pieces from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to Bells across the Meadows (1921) are invariably in that key, and Christians awake has to be played three semitones higher than normal.

 

Unalloyed fairyland is the subject of In a Fairy Realm, a suite written for the Harrogate Festival in 1927. As with other pieces in this collection, fairies are characterized by the sound of the celesta, and here it is joined by harp, muted strings and muted brass to evoke a secret hidden world. It begins with a slow introduction, The Moonlit Glade, with the first theme on solo horn not heard till bar 31. The indistinct scene is enhanced by elusive tonality, as the melody shifts down a tone with each phrase. Then comes a waltz, The Queen-Fairy Dances, where the first strain is highly idiosyncratic in rhythm, harmony and scoring. Two sections in a more conventional idiom follow, and the dance ends with a delightful scampering scale in the woodwinds. The finale, The Gnomes' March, recalls Tchaikovsky's ballet music in the clarity of its melodies and orchestration.

 

A fairy also appears in the title of the song Fairy Butterfly, written for the soprano Florence Smithson while she was appearing in Puss in Boots at the Drury Lane Theatre at Christmas 1915. This music was later metamorphosed into the movement The Garden Fete in the suite In a Lover's Garden, the ethereal butterfly being brought to ground in a heavy-footed waltz. The song King Cupid was written for the same pantomime, using as its model The Pipes of Pan from The Arcadians, the song which Smithson had made famous.

 

Another probable product of Ketelbey's wartime work in the theatres of the West End is the intermezzo scene In a Persian Market, although it was first advertised in 1920 as an "educational novelty". The composer had an anecdote about its use during a musical show, and it remained a standby for oriental scenes throughout the twentieth century, being used in classic sketches by Morecambe and Wise and the Two Ronnies, while its educational function in "music and movement" classes continues both in Britain and Germany. The princess portrayed by the big romantic theme is a cousin of the princesses in Stravinsky's Firebird (where the music is an actual Russian folk-tune). The opening march has the same distinctive melodic intervals, A -Bb -E, as the oriental intermezzo Wonga, which Ketelbey had used in music for the play Ye Gods in 1916. For this recording, the composer added a new 22-bar section representing the call to prayer.

 

Following the success of In a Persian Market, Ketelbey returned to an oriental theme in several pieces. In the Mystic Land of Egypt (1931) is one of the most impressive, taking the lead from the earlier work in its forthright march and broad romantic melody. The vocal contribution comes from a high baritone serenading his love, and the present recording includes the exotic orchestral colour of two mandolins. The piece is unified by a short descending chromatic scale, heard in the very first bar and recurring sometimes in the melody, sometimes in the harmony, until it is finally played upside down in the last three bars - an attractive musical device, though hardly Egyptian.

 

More convincing in its orientalism is Algerian Song (1925). The first tune uses an unusual mode, and the third is replete with arabesque-like twiddles. Although the composer did publish versions for full orchestra and for military band, the lean texture suggests that the original inspiration was for the present combination of just violin and piano. The mellifluous violinist, Albert Sandier, was probably also the leader of the Concert Orchestra which Ketelbey's former employer Columbia allowed him to recruit for definitive recordings of his major works, including several on this disc.

 

Ketelbey as composer, poet, conductor, accompanist, and finally, in the delightful Wedgwood Blue (1920), as soloist. Though this piece is sometimes incorrectly described as a gavotte, it certainly has the poise of that eighteenth-century dance, here enhanced by the composer's own busy piano decorations.

 

Tom McCanna

 


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