About this Recording
8.223700 - KETELBEY: Piano Music, Vol. 2
English 

Albert W. Ketèlbey (1875–1959)
Piano Music Vol. 2

 

Contrary to claims that the name Ketèlbey was a pseudonym, the composer was indeed born Albert William Ketelbey (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 unti11915, 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 tunes 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 set ting a scene. Similar 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. So 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 Hart y 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. Bach 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 Dresden 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 E3493 in 1940 to E2906 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 manuscripts and diaries leaves us only able to speculate about the pre-publication history of the music.

The pieces published under Ketèlbey’s own name

A Romantic Melody was first performed in May 1898, with the less expressive title Mélodie. It was published under that name soon afterwards, with the new title being used when it was re-issued in 1921. The broad sweep of the opening melody leads without a break into the middle section, and the forward movement is not interrupted until the return of the main melody. At each repeat of this melody, a new countermelody is introduced in the left hand. The ending obviously gave the composer some difficulty. Originally the climax was marked with an unclimactic pianissimo. With the dynamic marking changed to the more appropriate fortissimo, the cadence chord of the dominant thirteenth sounds uncharacteristically vulgar, and the final few bars of quiet repeated chords cannot quite repair the feeling of banality.

Pensées joyeuses also dates from 1898. These “joyful thoughts” initially remind us of the drinking song from La Traviata, in a sparkling waltz. The middle section is a chordal passage anticipating the hymn-like melodies in later works such as The Pilgrims and The Adventurers Overture (recorded on Marco Polo 8.223442)

The earliest work on this recording is Rêverie, published in 1894 when Ketèlbey was just nineteen years old. It is dedicated to his father. Beginning with a gentle theme in compound time, the opening section turns out to be a long introduction to a broad expressive melody, even at this early data a typical “Ketèlbey tune”.

Following on from his success with In a Monastery Garden, which had been published in April1915 by Joseph Larway, Ketèlbey wrote A Dream Picture for the same publisher. This appeared by October of the same year, graced with a full-colour front cover depicting a scantily-clad pair of lovers reaching to embrace one another, against a background of mountain crag, billowing wind and luminous cloud! The music is a “lyric poem” in triple time, an unusual time-signature for Ketèlbey’s slow expressive melodies. The texture is reminiscent of another “dream” piece, Tchaikovsky’s Douce rêverie. The effect depends on rich diatonic harmonies, using the “white” notes rather than the chromatic “black” notes. The final cadence is interrupted by an unexpected chord which Ketèlbey came to use quite frequently, notably at the end of In the Mystic Land of Egypt.

The same chord recurs at the end of Valse lyrique, published in 1922. This slow waltz uses several clichés of the French café, such as an accordion-like melody in bare octaves, triplet decorations and added-sixth harmony. It even has a French poem printed above the melody, in the manner of Liszt’s Canzonetta de Salvator Rosa.

“Quand tu chantes, ma belle,
C’est ta voix qui m’appelle…”

The pieces published under the name Anton Vodorinski

The bulk of the music recorded here was published under the name “Anton Vodorinski”. Ketèlbey used several pseudonyms at different stages of his career, for a variety of reasons.

While still a student hoping to establish a reputation as a “serious” composer, he had a series of lighter pieces published under the name “Raoul Clifford”. These included several songs, piano pieces and much mandoline music.

A few years later, the position had reversed. He had become well-known as a specialist in lighter music, and needed an outlet for his heavier compositions. These were issued under the name “Anton Vodorinski”, with the dignity of an opus number, and the title usually in French. When eventually he became famous for such work as In a Persian Market and Wedgwood Blue, even his detractors applauded the excellence of his orchestrations, and he was able to arrange many of these Vodorinski pieces with the credits “composed by Anton Vodorinski, orchestrated by Albert W. Ketèlbey”.

Fame itself brought problems. The market became saturated with works by Ketèlbey—“Ils sont la vogue partout”, as one Belgian music dealer put it—and he needed to experiment with other pseudonyms. For the publisher Paxton, he used “Geoffrey Kaye”. A couple of medleys prepared for Bosworth’s appeared under “A. William Aston” , causing confusion to biographers, who believed that this English-sounding name was more genuine than the Scandinavian “Ketèlbey”. There are also a handful of lighter pieces that were perhaps considered of poorer quality, the best not attributed to the doyen of quality light music. For these, the names “André de Basque” and “Denis Charlton” were used.

The earliest use of this pseudonym “Anton Vodorinski” was with a set of Six Original Pieces without Octaves, Op. 9. These consist of simple teaching material used by Trinity College for grade examinations, and as the composer was also an examiner, he may have felt a professional need for anonymity. Soon afterwards he added op. 14–19, all salon pieces with a more intense emotional content. Op. 20 reverted to teaching material, a set of Four Melodious Pieces, which were originally graced with titles from Alice in Wonderland, before considerations of copyright led to these being abandoned.

All the remaining Vodorinski pieces are in the grand style. Most opus numbers between 23 and 36 were used. It seems likely that gaps in the sequence were deliberately left to create the impression that the fictitious composer was more prolific than was the case. Op. 25, 27 and 30 are piano transcriptions of a set of organ pieces which constitute Op. 23.

Although Rapsodie sérieuse bears the number op. 24, and was published as such in 1914, the music was actually a re-issue of A Prelude, published under Ketèlbey’s own name around 1904. The shadows of Beethoven and Liszt fall over the sonorous opening chords, and again over the mysterious unison passage leading to the repeat of the main melody. The piece has only one full melody, repeated in the “wrong” key of E major instead of C major. The rhapsodic nature is emphasised by the use of irregular bar-lengths, giving the effect of relaxed pauses.

Of all the Vodorinksi music recorded here, Pastorale Op. 27 is most akin to the simple tuneful pieces which Ketèlbey published under his own name. As can be guessed from the title, the principal melody is mainly diatonic, accompanied by static harmony. The piece was originally for organ, and this can be spotted (on paper and in the concert hall, if not on a recording) when the hands cross for the repeat of the melody. The organ version dates from around 1911, the piano from 1916.

Although subtitled “caprice”, La joie de vivre! (Op. 33, 1922) is actually an energetic mazurka, with fistfuls of notes in each hand. The music passes through some unlikely keys which look daunting on paper, but sound logical to the ear. Eventually a “furioso” passage in double octaves leads back to the opening theme. Little joy, but certainly plenty of life!

Légende triste, published as Op. 35 in 1923, in another slow melody. The title is reminiscent of two well-known pieces by Tchaikovsky, Legend and Chanson triste, and the music itself displays features characteristic of the Russian composer, including descending scales, modal interludes and feminine endings. The middle section is based on a descending chroma tic scale, recalling another Russian piece, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp minor. This scale figure is integrated into the accompaniment when the main theme is repeated.

Rêverie dramatique was part of the same organ collection as Pastorale, and the piano version was published in 1920 as Op. 30. This is another of the composer’s long expressive melodies, accompanied by rich harmony and supported by a strong bass line. Again, the organ origins of the writing is indicated by a short section where the hands cross (a device Ketèlbey very rarely uses in his idiomatic piano style). The music is well-balanced, with the more emotionally-charged middle section leading to a climax, before the main theme returns with new harmony and texture.

In 1916, Hammond published a set of Six Vignettes, Op. 26. As with most Vodorinski pieces, the individual movements had French titles: Nuages qui passent, Sur le Volga, Papillon bleu, Le pèlerins, Le chant des orphelins and La brume. Unfortunately, the publisher omitted to deposit a copy in the British Museum, and no copies of the original set have been traced, although the music must surely exist hidden away in someone’s piano stool or attic. As it turns out, three of the movements have survived through being reprinted as separate items. They contain some of the composer’s most interesting piano music, and share several unusual features, all of which makes the loss of the remaining music particularly regrettable.

Whenever Britain was at war, Ketèlbey produced patriotic songs. These include There’s something in the English after all during the Boer War, The trumpet voice of motherland is calling in 1914, and Fighting for Freedom during the Second World War. He also arranged and recorded a selection of Popular Patriotic Songs for Regal Records during the First World War. He obviously felt that the fictitious Anton Vodorinski was a Russian patriot, for the surviving Vignettes share a quasi-Russian theme. For the first time, Ketèlbey wrote a short programme at the head of the music, following in the tradition of Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia and Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain. Such synopses became a characteristic feature of his later narrative tone-pictures.

Les pèlerins (The Pilgrims) has the following programme: “The opening theme (in 5) of march-Iike character depicts the onward tramp of the pilgrims, the second section consists of the Religious Chant gradually reaching an extatic [sic] climax, then dying away as the pilgrims pause for meditation. The last theme is of a more “personal” character and brings the piece to an exultant conclusion.”

The music falls into three separate sections of almost equal length, without the usual reprise of the opening melody. Another unusual feature is that although the first two sections are based on the key of C major, the final section is the unrelated key of D flat major. Ending in a remote key like this was unusual in short pieces of the time, though it occurred in large-scale works by composers such as Mahler and Debussy.

The time signature of 5 announced in the programme was of course felt to be Russian, with the most celebrated ex ample in Tchaikovsky’s Symphonie Pathétique, a work which Ketèlbey himself had edited for publication in 1904. It turns out that the opening march is actually in free rhythm, with the normal 4 bars of 4 beats each regrouped into 3 bars of 5+5+6 beats. The pilgrims sing a chant based on parallel harmony, as do the monks on In a Monastery Garden. That they are Russian is however suggested by the use of a modal scale, though this is replaced by chromatics as the music becomes more intense. The final section is one of Ketèlbey’s most striking hymn-like themes, with the harmonic richness suggesting the music of Bruckner rather than any Russian model.

The Pilgrims was revised for concert performance in 1925, the changes being limited to thickening the chords and translating the title into English.

Sur le Volga (On the Volga) is a set of variations on the well-known Russian folk-song usually known as the Song of the Volga Boatmen. The overall form is that of the “patrol”, a march where the music begins quietly, gets louder, then dies away again, like a band marching past. Well-known examples include the Turkish Match of Beethoven, The Turkish Patrol by Michaelis, and Souvenir de Puerto Rico by Gottschalk.

The composer’s programme runs: “The river runs dark and murky, a few boats travel along, a few heavier craft are met, the song of the boatmen is heard: other boatmen pass singing in a different key. They gradually disappear, other approach, they play the melody on balalaikas, the river becomes deserted.” The music was re- issued in the 1930s with the title in English and Ketèlbey acknowledged as the composer.

Le chant des orphelins (Song of the orphans) was arranged for organ by Dr Charles W. Pearce in 1918. In the absence of a surviving piano version, the original has been reconstructed specially for this recording. The prefatory note is lacking in the organ version, but the narration is printed above the relevant sections of the music.

The opening theme is labelled “The simple grief of a child”. The middle theme represents “the more profound grief of the mothers”, a short anguished phrase which is repeated in sequence over a chroma tic bass, somewhat reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. The opening theme returns as “the children’s grief take precedence in the minds of the mothers” and finally “the children fall asleep”.

The title of Morceau pathétique reminds us yet again of Tchaikovsky. The music was composed by 1904, and bears the opus number 14. Both the main themes are in the same key of E minor, though the second theme has this obscured by a sustained G in the bass. This tune was incorporated into In a Chinese Temple Garden as the incantation of the priests.

Of all the pieces published under the name of Anton Vodorinski, Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 16, achieved the most success. Like many of the composer’s later big hits of the 1920s, it was arranged for several different instruments or ensembles, including violin & piano, cello & piano, trumpet & organ, septet, small orchestra, full orchestra and military band. An organ version even merited a brief mention in Westerby’s The complete organ recitalist. There are two versions for solo piano:—the original dating from around 1907, and a concert version with the chords thickened out by J.T. Field in 1910 (recorded here). The title reminds us of the famous work by Rachmaninoff, and indeed the music turns out to copy some of the more illustrious composer’s features, notably the final fortissimo statement of the melody in the bass. Vodorinki’s theme is however much more four-square that Rachmaninoff’s, and runs its gloomy course through a normal 16-bar period. A bridge passage with agonised harmonies leads to a middle section in a completely contrasting mood—positive, with soaring melody, higher register, major key, faster tempo. The ending presented the composer with a dilemma. Originally the music ended in a minor key, but some of the later arrangements listed above change the final chord to major, like many a baroque organ prelude.

Like Chopin, Ketèlbey wrote several waltzes in the key of A flat major, including La grâcieuse (recorded on Marco Polo 8.223699), a study in book 2 of Arpeggio Melodies with the title Valse brillante, and the work recorded here, also called Valse brillante. This was published together with Morceau pathétique around 1904 with the adjacent opus number, 15. The lengthy introduction is followed by five fast waltz melodies, including a schmaltzy tune in parallel thirds. As befits the title, the piece ends with a brilliant coda.

Arpeggio Melodies

Many of Ketèlbey’s piano pieces were educational in intent. Apart from studies written for Trinity Coliege to master particular technical problems, such as Second Study, for acquiring facility in playing thirds, there are pieces for young players such as Six Original Pieces without Octaves. His masterpiece In a Persian Market was first advertised as an “educational novelty”.

The three books of Arpeggio Melodies appeared between 1911 and 1913. These contain a total of forty-eight technical exercises “composed to introduce the practice of arpeggios in ali the keys, etc.” and are arranged by key in pairs, one for the right hand, one for the left. Book One begins on the white notes, working through to the keys with most black notes at the end of Book Three. The present recording includes a selection from this last book.

Most of the pieces in the collection have just a single melody, often with a middle episode where one hand has things easier by playing a repeated note as a pedal-point. A few are graced with introductions, bridge passages and codas, raising them to a more rewarding aesthetic level. The speed at which the arpeggios are to be played, as indicated by metronome markings, varies from piece to piece. Those in Galop brillant are nearly twice as fast as those in Swing Song.

The Mill is of course a riverside picture, with the constantly running water depicted by an ostinato Alberti bass. Being the very last piece in the book, it is in the terrifying key of E flat minor. The middle section is based on a right-hand pedal-point, an unusual stylistic feature of Ketèlbey, who normally prefers to keep his treble part moving.

The strong dance rhythm of Polonaise makes one forget that this is a study in left-hand arpeggios. Berceuse is a lullaby with restful arpeggios in the accompaniment supporting a long singing melody.

Chopin provides the inspiration for Chanson de la tristesse (Song of sadness}. The long melody is marked by unusual phrase lengths, cross-rhythms and unexpectedly rich harmonic colours. Note how the arpeggios in the left hand begin slowly, allowing the student to concentrate on the poetry of the melody when it first appears. By the time the melody is repeated, the left hand has twice the number of notes.

Both Swing Song and Galop brillant have two complete melodies. We are in the world of the can-can in the last piece, an Englishman enjoying himself in Paris, even if his French lacks grammatical precision.


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