About this Recording
8.223886 - HEDGES: Four Breton Sketches / Cantilena
English 

Anthony Hedges (b. 1931)
Four Breton Sketches • Cantilena
Scenes from the Humber • Kingston Sketches

 

Born in Bicester in 1931, the English composer Anthony Hedges wrote his first composition at the age of six and two years later was performing locally as a pianist. He studied music at Keble College, Oxford and spent five years as a lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, his Comedy Overture winning success in a Scottish Arts Council competition. In 1962 he moved to Hull University, where he became Reader in Composition until his retirement in 1995. In 1972 he was elected Chairman of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain and served as Joint Chairman in 1973. Anthony Hedges is a prolific and versatile composer, writing music, often in response to commissions, in a variety of genres, from opera to solo instrumental works. He has written widely for children and amateurs, with a quantity of light music that has won wide popularity and music for films, the theatre and television. With some three hundred broadcasts both at home and abroad, his works have been performed by many British orchestras and heard throughout the world. In 1991 he was the featured composer in the Riga Festival of British Music and Film and returned to Latvia in 1992 to conduct performances of his Christmas cantata I sing the birth.

The suite Four Breton Sketches was written in 1980, after a holiday that the composer had spent with his family in Brittany. Each movement expresses a mood engendered by a location or an event, rather than depicting the place itself. The one obviously programmatic element comes in the third movement, Promenade: à Dinard, where sounds of car hooters intrude on a relaxed saunter along the sophisticated promenade. The first performance was given by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Ashley Lawrence in July 1980.

Eight distinguished pianists, who were students together, have held intermittent reunions over many years in the form of multi-piano concerts. For their 1982 reunion they commissioned Anthony Hedges to write a suite for eight pianists and four pianos. The resulting Pieces of Eight proved a great success at its first performance and it is the slow movement from this suite that the composer subsequently orchestrated under the title Cantilena.

The overture Heigham Sound, written in 1978, was an extensive reworking and expansion of a short 1968 composition entitled A Holiday Overture. The earlier work had been broadcast several times when the composer came to feel that it was too concentrated and brief for the materials it contained. To avoid confusion with the original overture, the second version was retitled, following a holiday on the Broads in East Anglia, after a noted beauty spot there, which can be, according to time and season, either bustling or tranquil. The outer sections of the overture reflect the lively holiday atmosphere, while the central section is, by contrast, calm and relaxed. As with Four Breton Sketches, the composer points out that this overture should not be regarded as programme music in any literal sense and that the pun intended by the word 'sound' was as much responsible for the title as the place itself. The first performance was given by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Ashley Lawrence in 1979.

Composed in 1967, Four Miniature Dances was the first of Anthony Hedges' orchestral light music compositions. Each movement is named after one of his then young children and reflects their character at that time. The scoring is for small orchestra. First performed in a concert of light music at Hull University in 1968 with the composer conducting, this suite was first broadcast by the BBC Concert Orchestra in the following year.

Scenes from the Humber was a BBC commission, one of two that Anthony Hedges received to celebrate the opening of the Humber Bridge in 1981 (the other was a large-scale choral work, Bridge for the Living, for which Philip Larkin wrote the text). The present work was first performed by the BBC Northern Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra) under Günther Herbig and has subsequently become one of the composer's most popular and widely known compositions. Recorded as part of a Meridian long-playing record by the Humberside Sinfonia, conducted by the composer, it has been heard in such diverse places as the BBC Radio 3 music channel, as background music for a BBC Woman's Hour serial on Radio 4, and as background music for a television film. The work has also been extensively performed by amateur and youth orchestras. Petuaria was the Roman name for present-day Brough and was the crossing-point of the Humber for Roman legions en route from Lincoln to York. The word 'patrol' has a double meaning here. Musically 'patrol' refers to a piece of music which starts quietly, moves to a central climax and then falls away to a quiet conclusion, but it also the Roman legion 'on patrol' that we hear in this piece. Spurn Point is the desolate and ever-shifting spit of land at the mouth of the Humber. Its mysterious and wind-swept terrain provides a sanctuary for sea-birds, whose cries can be heard both in the introduction and following the stormy climax of this movement. 'The Lincoln Castle' was the last of the paddle-steamers to serve as a Humber ferry. Although built in the 1940s, its design and atmosphere owed more to the 1920s, and its style and steady chugging is reflected in the music, as also is the ship's siren which preceded every departure. Humber Keels were flat-bottomed sailing barges that plied the Humber in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their annual regatta and race was an important feature of life on the river and an oil-painting of the first of these races provided the starting-point for this ebullient movement.

In 1969 Anthony Hedges was among a number of composers who were asked at very short notice to submit sketches of possible opening theme-tunes for a television series. Two themes were jotted down in one evening and although not eventually accepted for the series, they were subsequently extended to form the Waltz and March of the suite Kingston Sketches, with the Romance as a later addition. Each movement bears the name of a street in Kingston upon Hull, a city noted for its imaginative street names, which even include The Land of Green Ginger. This short suite proved extremely popular and in the eight years following its first broadcast in April 1971 by the BBC Northern Ireland Light Orchestra, under Havelock Nelson, it received 34 further broadcasts, in addition to many concert performances.

John Dixon

 


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