About this Recording
8.571362 - COOKE, A.: Violin Sonata No. 2 / Viola Sonata / Cello Sonata No. 2 (Stanzeleit, Goff, Wallfisch, Terroni)

Arnold Cooke (1906–2005)
Three String Sonatas


Arnold Cooke died on 13 August 2005, less than three months short of his ninety-ninth birthday. He belonged to the generation of talented English composers which included Constant Lambert, Alan Rawsthorne and Michael Tippett, and was a contemporary of Benjamin Frankel and Elizabeth Lutyens—a group of which he was the last surviving member.

He was born on 4 November 1906 at Gomersal, near Leeds, the second of three brothers whose father was a director of the family carpet manufacturing business in nearby Liversedge. There was music in the family—two of his uncles were professional singers, and his grandfather was a fine amateur violinist—and he was encouraged by his mother to learn the piano from the age of seven or eight while attending Streete Preparatory School, where he also began to compose (‘simple things—hymn tunes and the like’). Further encouraged in a musical direction by listening to his grandfather’s record collection and visiting music festivals in Leeds, Cooke entered Repton School in 1921, having won an entrance exhibition in Classics, and augmented his normal academic studies by learning to play the cello and organ and studying composition with his piano teacher. In 1925 he was accepted at Cambridge University to read History, but after two years changed direction to complete a Music degree, encouraged by the then new Professor of Music, Edward J. Dent. While at Cambridge Cooke regularly played as a cellist in chamber music concerts, and was President of the Musical Society for two years.

In 1929, under Dent’s forward-looking influence—he was then President of the International Society for Contemporary Music—Cooke enrolled in Paul Hindemith’s class at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and spent three vitally formative years there before returning to Cambridge in 1932 to take up a post recently vacated by another former pupil of Hindemith, Walter Leigh, as part-time music director at the Festival Theatre. The following year he was recommended by Edward Dent to the Royal Manchester College of Music, where he subsequently spent five years teaching harmony, counterpoint and composition. In 1938 he made the desirable move to London in pursuit of his chosen career as a composer.

Throughout the 1930s Cooke gradually built himself a national reputation, and enjoyed prestigious first performances of his new works. A Harp Quintet of 1932 was first performed with the celebrated harpist Maria Korchinska at a Macnaghten-Lemare concert; the Griller Quartet introduced his String Quartet No. 1 in 1935; and on 30 August 1934 his Concert Overture No. 1 for orchestra was presented by Sir Henry Wood at a Queen’s Hall Promenade Concert, having won a prize in a competition run by the Daily Express. Cooke was able to complete his Piano Concerto, which was later premiered by Louis Kentner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a studio performance conducted by Clarence Raybould, before his call-up into the Navy in 1941.

During the war years Cooke was posted after initial training to the aircraft carrier Victorious, and later served as a liaison officer first to a Norwegian escort vessel based at Liverpool, then to a Dutch tug based at Tilbury. The latter posting saw him play a significant role in the D-Day landings, for his tug was used to convey floating cement caissons to the landing beaches the night before the invasion began.

After demobilisation in 1945, Cooke returned to Yorkshire and the following year moved back to London, where he worked intensively on his First Symphony. He also became a founder member of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain under Vaughan Williams, and was asked by Louis MacNeice to provide incidental music for his radio play Njal’s Saga—the score being performed by a small orchestra conducted by Alan Rawsthorne. Cooke also provided, among other freelance undertakings of this period, incidental music for a documentary film about the Colorado beetle.

In 1947 he was appointed Professor of Harmony and Composition at Trinity College of Music—again through the recommendation of Edward Dent—and was to hold this position until his retirement some thirty years later. The following year he received a Doctorate from Cambridge University, having submitted for the purpose his recently completed First Symphony, his Piano Concerto of 1940, and the challenging Viola Sonata of 1937. In 1948 too he first met his companion William (‘Billy’) Morrison, with whom he lived until the latter’s death in 1988.

Cooke’s post-war life became the record of his musical achievement. He wrote two operas: the full-length but still unproduced Mary Barton (completed in 1954 to a libretto by W.A. Rathkey, based on the novel by Mrs Gaskell about pre-Union industrial unrest and exploitation in the north of England), and the one-act comic opera The Invisible Duke (1976). His ballet Jabez and the Devil was commissioned by the Royal Ballet on the suggestion of Denis ApIvor, and first seen there in September 1961. A suite from the ballet was also heard at that year’s Promenade Concerts, and later recorded by Nicholas Braithwaite and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Of Cooke’s six symphonies the First (1947) was premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult, and the Second (1963) by the Halle Orchestra under Lawrence Leonard at the Royal Festival Hall. The Third Symphony (1967) was conducted and also recorded by Nicholas Braithwaite; the Fourth (1974) was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and given by John Pritchard and the BBC Symphony Orchestra; and the Fifth (1979) was first performed and broadcast by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Keefe. The Sixth Symphony, completed in 1984, remains unperformed—an indication perhaps of the decline in Cooke’s standing which followed his peak years of the nineteen-sixties and early seventies. His last major orchestral work was the Concerto for Orchestra of 1986, first performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in December the following year.

Cooke enjoyed five post-war Promenade Concerts premieres, and many other festival commissions. The music writer Colin Mason pointed to his music’s ‘emotional reserve, urbanity, and unassertive individuality’: like that of his more Stravinskian contemporary Lennox Berkeley, it sounded for Mason ‘a quietly distinctive note in English music’. The Cheltenham Festival, natural home to such composers, saw the first performances of Cooke’s First Clarinet Concerto, with Gervase de Peyer in 1957; his Violin Concerto, with Yfrah Neaman in 1959; and his Second Piano Sonata, played by Rosemary Wright in 1966. Cooke’s ‘Cheltenham’ manner is happily reflected in other of his instrumental concertos: the popular Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra (1954) was one of a number of works written for Leon Goossens, while the Cello Concerto was first played by Thomas Igloi at the Proms in 1975.

A wealth of some forty-five chamber works responds to the Hindemithian, utilitarian concept of gebrauchmusik, being capable of performance both by the talented amateur as well as the virtuoso. There are pieces for all manner of small combinations, including five string quartets and solo sonatas for a wide range of instruments, the latter generally accompanied by piano. Notable among the vocal works are the Nocturnes (1956)—five songs for soprano, horn and piano written for Sophie Wyss; the popular Three Songs of Innocence (1957), for soprano, clarinet and piano; and The Seamew (1980) for voice, flute, oboe and string quartet—a work which recalls Warlock’s The Curlew in conception. Areas of more specialized interest include a substantial number of works for both organ and recorder. To the modern repertoire of the latter instrument Cooke has made a serious, pioneering contribution, his music championed by such players as Carl Dolmetsch and John Turner. Cooke largely ceased writing after 1987, though not completely: a Suite for Organ was first performed by Simon Preston in 1989, for a new installation at Tudeley Church near his home at Five Oak Green in Kent, where he had lived since 1963; and in 1996 he set a further Blake Song of Innocence for voice and recorder in memory of soprano Tracey Chadwell—his last music. In 1993 he had suffered a stroke, from which he successfully recovered; but soon after he moved into a nearby residential home, Capel Grange, where he stayed until his death.

The earliest work on this recording is the Viola Sonata, which was written in 1936–37 and published in 1940. It is dedicated to Keith Cummings (who edited the viola part for publication) and Lucy Pierce, and first performed by these artists at the Aeolian Hall in London on 15 October 1937. The Second Violin Sonata dates from 1951, and was commissioned by Gerard Heller for Rosemary Rapaport and Else Cross, to whom it is dedicated and who gave the first performance at the Wigmore Hall on 17 May 1951. The work was published in 1961.

The Second Cello Sonata was written in 1979–80 and published in 1983. It received its first concert performance, by Raphael Wallfisch and Raphael Terroni, on the centenary of the composer’s birth, 4 November 2006, at Gresham’s School in Norfolk.

All three works are recorded here for the first time.

John Talbot

Arnold Cooke – A Personal Reminiscence

I first met Arnold Cooke in Manchester just after the war, and was immediately impressed by his work and charmed by himself. He was a very modest man, utterly without vanity and one of the most unassuming of composers. He was a real ‘working’ musician, untouched by personal ambition or aggrandizement. Arnold was a good friend of my husband Gerard Heller from long before the war. They both worked in Manchester, and music, especially chamber music, was their mutual love.

While Arnold was serving in the Royal Navy during the war years—with great bravery—we visited his parents who were living in Ben Rhydding, and his father told us of those fearful journeys at sea and of Arnold’s outstanding courage in such an alien environment and life.

When we all moved to London, by 1947 I think—Arnold with his close friend and companion Billy Morrison—the four of us became great friends, and we had many happy evenings both in their home in Adam and Eve Mews and our own flat in Bloomsbury.

Billy was a marvellous help to Arnold—always encouraging—and he took such good care of him and promoted his work which he so much admired. He did much in promoting his music for performance, and there was talk for some time of putting on his opera Mary Barton at Covent Garden. But in the end this came to nothing, due to various circumstances.

Arnold’s teacher Hindemith, with whom he studied in Berlin, was an evident influence in his compositions, but this never clouded his own individual style and innate talent. Arnold had very much a voice of his own. His music is always lyrical and he has the rare ability of writing memorable melodies. His chamber music (especially with wind instruments) receives frequent performances, but his six symphonies suffer from undeserved neglect these days. Arnold had a wide knowledge of the possibilities of individual instruments, and was himself a good cellist.

In 1950 my pianist Else Cross and I commissioned a sonata for violin and piano (his second for this ensemble) for performance at a forthcoming Wigmore Hall recital, and it was of the utmost pleasure for us to receive and perform this splendid work. Arnold’s former professor at Cambridge, Edward Dent, came to hear his work and was delighted and enthusiastic about it.

It is a rare privilege to have been friends with Arnold Cooke for nearly fifty years.

© Rosemary Rapaport (Mrs G.P.K. Heller)
October 1995

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