About this Recording
8.223699 - KETELBEY: Piano Music, Vol. 1

Albert W

Albert W. Ketèlbey (1875 - 1959)

Piano Music Vol. 1


Contrary to claims that the name Ketèlbey was a pseudonym, the composer was indeed born Albert William Ketèlbey (without the accent) on 9th August 1875 at 41 Alma Street, Aston Manor, Birmingham, son of George, an engraver, and Sarah, whose maiden name was by coincidence also Aston. The house no longer exists, the area having been cleared in the 1960s to make way for blocks of flats and garages, and for the Newtown shopping centre.


Piano lessons must have started at an early age, for we next find the eleven-year- old Albert at the piano of Worcester Town Hall, playing his own composition grandly titled Sonata, to an audience including Edward Elgar. On his own admission, he was a reluctant pianist, but was inspired to composition by a passion for the daughter of the organist of the church choir in which he sang.

Such was his talent, that by the age of thirteen he won a scholarship to Trinity College of Music in London, an institution with which he was associated for many years, first as a pupil, later as an examiner. Although trying his hand at other instruments, including organ, flute, oboe, clarinet and cello, his first instrument remained the piano, with composition taking an ever-increasing role.


While still at the College, Ketèlbey managed to have many short pieces published. The more serious appeared under his real name, but he also produced a string of salon pieces and mandoline music under the splendid pseudonym of "Raoul Clifford". There was even a song called A dream of glory which had the credits "the music by G. Villa, organ part by Raoul Clifford." Villa Road and Clifford Street are both thoroughfares close to the Alma Street of his birth.


On leaving the college, Ketèlbey's work as an examiner enabled him to include some of his own educational pieces on the Trinity College examination syllabus. His main employment was now with two publishing firms. At Chappell's he made reductions of orchestral music for solo piano, while at Hammond's he did the reverse, and orchestrated classics of the piano repertoire for the ever-increasing market of the salon orchestra. This hack-work may have been tedious, but the experience was invaluable in moulding the composer's fluent writing for both piano and orchestra. Hammond also handled most of his early compositions, not only piano pieces, but a large number of songs and even the light opera The Wonder Worker, which had been produced at the Grand Theatre, Fulham, in 1900.


Hammond's was a small firm, unable to furnish publications with the elegant pictorial covers of the larger publishing houses. While still using Hammond for most of his lighter output, Ketèlbey tried to interest more famous publishers in his more serious works. Odd pieces were published by Novello & Co., Ascherberg, Hopwood & Crew, and the American firm Theodore Presser Co..


The breakthrough into the quality market of full colour pictorial covers did not come until1915, when within a space of weeks, Larway issued In a Monastery Garden and Ascherberg Tangled Tunes. By this time, Ketèlbey was obviously well-known in musical circles, for the artist who drew the cover for Tangled Tunes wittily depicts the composer himself as a sorcerer concocting a mixture of runes in a large cauldron.


In 1907 he had taken a job as "impresario" with the Columbia Record Company. In true showbiz fashion, his conducting career was launched when the regular conductor was indisposed, and over the years he rose to become the company's musical director. During the First World War, he also held the same post in revues promoted by André Charlot, including Ye Gods (1916), Flora (1918) and The Officers' Mess (1918). In such productions, music needed to be direct, instantly setting a scene. 5imi1ar qualities were need in the new market of music for the silent cinema, and the composer duly produced collections of brief mood-setting pieces. In later years, at the peak of his popularity, he was able to recycle some of these fragments as concert pieces.


Significantly, one of his collections of cinema music was published by Bosworth. After the First World War, this firm became Ketèlbey's major publisher. The balance of the market had changed, with light music now being recorded almost exclusively in orchestral versions. 50 for the first time, Ketèlbey's music was published simultaneously in two versions, piano and orchestral. The former were distinguished with eye-catching covers, and were printed by Bosworth in London.

The orchestral parts were printed by the firm's Leipzig branch. Arrangements for other performing media, such as military and brass bands, violin with piano, and organ, followed later, with the work being delegated to professional arrangers.


Bosworth's lavished much care over the production of the music. The printing was spacious, mistakes rare, and the product was marketed with a high-profile advertising campaign, taking the prime pages at the centre of the journal Musical Opinion.


"We believe the One Great Bright Spot at the present time is the wonderful success of Albert Ketèlbey dance sensations." (1920)

"The world's three greatest successes, featured by all the English, American and continental orchestras..." (1923)

"Broadcast performances of Ketèlbey actually advertised for one year numbered 1580" (1933)


In the space of ten years, Ketèlbey became the most successful composer in the land. With foresight he had joined as early as 1918 the Performing Right Society, the body which gathered revenue from performances of members' works. The Society had a complicated classification system for distributing its income, to the disadvantage of the more popular composers. Basically, "serious" composers and publishers received more than those operating at the lighter end of the market. The matter came to a head in 1926, when Ketèlbey actually resigned because his cinema music published by Bosworth was classified below that of other publishers, even though it was being performed more frequently. The matter was only resolved by a review of the whole policy, and by 1929 he was proclaimed in the "Performing Right Gazette" as "Britain's greatest living composer", on the basis of number of performances of his works. That he could gain so much popularity irked less successful composers, and there were frequent signs of professional jealousy. The critic Ariel, writing in Musical Opinion, jibed at his "inexpensive pseudo-orientalism", and when challenged, declared that In a Persian Market is bad music, without skill or convincing quality of any kind."


A third setback during this period was the Polly case. In 1922 the Kingsway Theatre revived the eighteenth-century ballad opera Polly, which was a sequel to the well-known Beggar's Opera. The only music in the original score consists of songs with just melody and bass line, with no harmonies, orchestrations or instrumental introductions. The composer Frederic Austin was invited to arrange the music for the normal twentieth-century forces. The show was a hit, and a selection from Austin's musical arrangement was recorded by HMV. Ketèlbey was still working as musical director for the rival recording company Columbia, and they sought to cash in on Polly's success by issuing a selection of their own before the HMV recording was released. The Columbia version was of course arranged by Ketèlbey, who claimed to have worked from the original sources. Nevertheless, the finished product was close enough to Austin's for a writ to be issued for breach of copyright. The case of Austin v. Columbia Record Company came before Mr Justice Astbury, and the list of witnesses ran like a "Who's Who in music" - Ernest Newman, Sir Hugh Percy Allen and Geoffrey Shaw were called for Austin, while Sir Frederick Bridge, Hubert Bath, Sir Frederick Cowen, Sir Dan Godfrey, Hamilton Harty and George Clutsam testified for Ketèlbey. Both plaintiff and defendant sang musical examples to support their case. The judgement went against Columbia and Ketèlbey, but the last word must surely go to the aging Sir Frederick Bridge: "Austin and Ketèlbey are good musicians who have no reason to be fighting over this... What an awful bore this is!"


By the end of the 1920s, Ketèlbey's success as a composer was great enough for him to be able to give up his post at Columbia, and devote himself to composition. Each year he would do a tour of seaside resorts to give special Ketèlbey concerts, which would include his latest novelties. Among these were several pieces for piano with orchestra, and he revived his career as pianist to play the solo part in such items as The Clock and the Oresden Figures and Caprice Pianistique (recorded on Marco Polo 8.223442)


The annual tours ceased soon after the Second World War. Tastes were changing, and the composer's powers waning. Apart from a commission to write The Adventurers Overture for the 1945 National Brass Band Competition, little of interest was produced. The Ketèlbey's income from performing rights dropped from 3493 in 1940 to 2906 in 1950, a massive decrease when wartime inflation is taken into consideration. He even found that his works were being neglected by the BBC. A broadcast festival of light music in 1949 failed to include any of his music, an omission which caused him to complain bitterly that this was a public insult by the BBC.

In truth, his music lacked novelty. Of the handful of works published in the post- war years, most were reworkings of old material, although the composer attempted to disguise the origins. Thus a song called Kilmoren was in fact a revision of Kildoran, which had been the tenor's lead number in The Wonder Worker fifty years earlier. Even the recent Adventurers Overture was refashioned as an orchestral piece.


When the composer died in December 1959, his will was couched in terms to dissuade his widow Mabel from allowing access to his private papers, thus closing the most direct avenue for research into his music. In any case, a flood at his house in Cowes in the winter of 1947 had probably already destroyed the bulk of his manuscripts. The apparent loss of the Hammond archives after the firm was bought up, coupled with the far-from-complete holdings of the British Library, has meant that our knowledge of his music is limited. Several published works have not survived in any public collection. Many earlier pieces lack publication dates, and can only be placed in chronological order by cross-referencing plate numbers with individually dated copies. The absence of 1Ilanuscripts and diaries leaves us only able to speculate about the pre-publication history of the music.



The Early Works


The Two Impromptus and La Gracieuse were all published without dates. Copies of the Impromptus first reached the British Museum in 1907. These three items are almost certainly works performed at Trinity College several years earlier. Both La Gracieuse and Impromptu were re-issued in the 20s - La Gracieuse in 1923, and Impromptu no.2 in 1927, with the new title Pensée fantastique.


The melodies of these pieces are more emotionally laden and less four-square than the composer's later tunes. They have more in common with pieces published under the pseudonym Anton Vodorinski {recorded on Marco Polo 8.223700).


Impromptu no.1, a graceful mazurka, has much interplay between the two hands, and plenty of chromatic decoration. The middle section serves as a development, with a magical return to the main theme. After such chromatic colouring, the coda is unusually simple, with not an accidental to be heard!


Impromptu no.2 (Pensée fantastique) is a brilliant waltz with catchy syncopations. The central section again acts as a development, leading to tremendous climax with powerful bass line and broken octaves. After a return to the main melody, the piece ends in another forte-fortissimo explosion of bravura octaves.


La Gracieuse, subtitled "valse-impromptu" is another brilliant waltz, dedicated to Lionel Ovenden, who must have been an exceptional pianist. After a conventional opening, the first melody is interrupted by a fanfare. This leads to a remote key, for an episode built up from a short phrase repeated a different pitches to reach an impressive climax. Further melodies include a chorale with unexpected harmonies, which frames a quiet whimsical tuIle marked to be played with rubato.


Valse lyrique, published around 1899, is less demanding on the pianist, and must have made less demands on the composer, The form is a typical dance, with an introduction over a dominant pedal, and the two principal melodies in 8-bar phrases. The harmony takes an unexpected turn in the coda, with a surprise chord which was to become a Ketèlbey fingerprint, notably colouring the final bars of In the Mystic Land of Egypt.



The Later Works


Most of the music on this recording dates from the period 1919-23, when the ever-increasing popularity of Ketèlbey's orchestral novelties enabled him to publish of host of attractive piano pieces. The targeted market seems to have been amateurs with a moderate technique and a preference for good tunes. The items display a simplicity of structure and deftness of harmony, which together enhance the charm of the melodies. In many cases the music has an oft-repeated catchy feature, such as an unusual phrase or chord sequence.


In the Woodlands, subtitled "dance-intermezzo", is a graceful waltz, with the main melody built from fluent, balanced phrases. An advertisement appearing soon after its publication in 1921 describes it as "suitable equally to salon or educational purposes."


Reflections, described variously as a "romantic melody" or "poetical melody", also dates from 1921. The principle theme appears four times, each in a different position on the keyboard -a degree of variety rarely achieved in music of this kind.


Mirror Dance was published by the American firm of Theodore Presser of Philadelphia in 1913. It is a graceful piece, based on sighing figures, impressionistic chords and unexpected suspensions. Unusually, all the melodic material is in the same key.


A Song of Summer is a joyous legato melody, with a drooping bass line in the first bar which it shares with In a Monastery Garden. Although published in 1922, the idiom is more characteristic of ten years earlier.


Golden Autumn is another expressive melody in common time, published in 1923. Several structural features suggest that this is from the early period noted above. The main melody is presented in two forms -a forthright melody in the right hand, followed by a pianissimo melody in the left. In the reprise, these sections are played in reverse order and shortened. The harmony is also unconventional, with an unusual chord progression featuring prominently at every repetition of the opening phrase.


The title of Daffodils reminds us of Narcissus. The mood of this 1919 piece is similar to Nevin's well-known piano piece, which Ketèlbey had once arranged for orchestra. Both Daffodils and Narcissus are graceful intermezzos with a dotted rhythm interspersed with triplets. In Daffodils, the middle section continues the rhythm of the main section as an accompaniment to the left-hand melody.


Sunset Glow is a "rêverie - tone-picture", with a characteristic broad melody. Although published by Hammond in 1921, the title also appears in the files of Presser, who had published Mirror Dance. The repetitive middle section has a descending scale passage representing a chime of bells, a cliché which Ketèlbey used on frequent occasions, in Bells across the Meadows, Bow Bells, The Old Belfry, A Dream of Christmas, and several other works.


The Shadow of Dreams (1922) is another "romantic melody", a rewarding andante demanding "the utmost tenderness" in execution. The reprise of the melody has an impassioned climax, followed by an expressive coda based on a falling chromatic figure.


A River Rêverie, subtitled "a souvenir", also first appeared in 1922, using a theme from Wildhawk: Indian Romance (1913, re-issued with synopsis in 1924) where it represented "The Song of the Western Lovers". Typically for river pieces (Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, Smetana's Vltava), a repetitious melody is accompanied by a restless accompaniment. The coda combines the main melody with the texture of the middle section.


Angelo d'amore was published in 1949, by which time Ketèlbey was discretely recycling music he had written some fifty years previously. The music could well be an old tune dressed up anew. Like In a Monastery Garden, the melody is characterised by chromatic appogiaturas, and the left hand is given a rippling semiquaver accompaniment when the theme is repeated. The one feature that places the composition in the 1940s is the key-change for the final statement of the main theme, so that the piece ends a semitone higher than it started.



A Woodland Story


This suite "in eight short chapters" appeared in 1921, using tunes which had been published by Hammond in 1915 to accompany silent films. No complete copy of the earlier collection has been located.


1. This is where the fairies dances. A graceful dance in the style loosely known as a gavotte.


2. The voice of the trees. A slow introduction in the style of Grieg, leading to a flowing melody representing rustling trees, though in the 1915 incarnation it was labelled "for running water".


3. Poor little bird. Two melodies, which in the 1915 collection are called "Pathetic, relating to a sad story, etc." and "Plaintive, love, entreaty, etc."


4. Oh! Look at the rabbits! A tarantella in the usual key of A minor. A similar tune was later used in the overture ChaI Romano, recorded on Marco Polo 8.223442.


5. Listen! What's that? Typical mood-setting music for suspense, with unsettling chromatic phrases, harmonies of diminished seventh chords or bare unisons. The opening melody is characterised as "Mexican or Spanish" in the 1915 collection.


6. l do love you. A long sustained melody, requiring a more advanced piano technique.


7. Let’s play at Indians! Many of the devices used here appear in the composer's better-known tone-pictures. The opening juxtaposes left-hand repeated fifths against an angular right-hand tune based on a scale with a flattened second note. The same features occur at the beginning of In a Persian Market. A fanfare figure recalls the Caliph's theme in the same work, while a scampering semiquaver passage could have accompanied the thief from In a Chinese Temple Garden.


8. Let’s hurry home, ifs getting dark. A French-sounding quick march which ends the suite with a subtle joke: the music explores several keys, but never retums to the home key of D major until the very last bars.



In a Monastery Garden


Such a well-known piece, yet a certain amount of confusion surrounds its birth. The composer recalled in later years that it was written for a friend who conducted a seaside orchestra. There is also a contradictory account of it being written after visiting a monastery .The story can be unravelled as follows.


In 1910, Ketèlbey was taken with a publisher friend called Joseph Larway to visit Larway's brother Edgar, who had just become a novice at Chilworth Priory in Surrey. Soon after, a piano version of In a Monastery Garden was written, but Joseph Larway was not convinced that it would sell. Such realistic imitations of bird-song, monks chanting and bells tolling were regarded as too naïve for the tastes of the day.


Ketèlbey was at the time working for Columbia Records. A clarinettist in the company's orchestra happened to spend the summer seasons conducting an orchestra at Bridlington, under the pseudonym of Enrico Scoma. On the look out for new music which the orchestra would enjoy performing, he approached Ketèlbey, who obliged him by orchestrating his picture of a monastery garden.


The piece played well for three years. By this time, war had broken out, and sentimental music was becoming more fashionable. Scoma reported that the number was very popular, and that he was getting requests from members of the audience who wanted to buy the sheet music. Ketèlbey went back to Larway, who now agreed to publish it. The piano version appeared in April1915, followed by the orchestral version in May. Ketèlbey himself made the first recording in October of the same year.


The piece was very successful, and when it came to be reprinted, the composer add a "synopsis" , one of the first of many such programme notes which became a regular feature of his tone-pictures. Although the piano version was printed with an eye-catching cover, the orchestral parts were produced cheaply, with several mistakes. Over the years these were rectified, but amazingly there has never been a proper published part for the conductor to use. {Conductors of light orchestras normally have a special score called a "Piano-Conductor".) The orchestral version also underwent small but significant changes over the years, including the addition of a harp part for Ketèlbey's recording in 1928, and a curious saxophone part in the 1930s.


Meanwhile, the manuscript of the original piano version was presented to Brother Edgar, who bequeathed it to the Franciscan Brotherhood. It can still be seen at their headquarters in East London. The musical text underwent changes before publication, with small alterations such as chord spacings, and the copy also displays the publisher's markings giving details of layout on the printed page. The published version corresponds exactly to the revisions in the manuscript.


The present recording returns to the original version for solo piano. Stripped of its extravagant orchestral trimmings (Ketèlbey was never again to write such a high cello part, or such a lengthy solo for muted cornet), the strength of harmonic expression becomes more evident from the very first bar, where a discordant note in the melody resolves on to a chord whose bass note has simultaneously changed from major to minor, thus tingeing the moment of relaxation with a feeling of sorrow. One might sooner expect such a device in the impassioned world of a Mahler symphony than in a genteel English salon piece.


Although the counterpoint added as bird-song is labelled as such, the sonority of the piano integrates it successfully into the texture. Similarly, the overt realism of the organ and bell in the chanting section is tempered by the unifying factor of the piano's tone. The words of the Kyrie are written in the manuscript, but there is no reason to suppose that at this stage they were anything more than a guide for the pianist to the picture being painted. The actual chanting was to wait till the orchestra was available, to give the string players something different to do during a few bars' rest.


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