About this Recording
8.572290 - SCOTT, C.: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 3 / Sonata Melodica (Howick, Rahman)

Cyril Scott (1879–1970)
Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 3 • Sonata Melodica


Among the most wide-ranging of British composers, Cyril Scott was born in Oxton, Lancashire, on 27 September 1879. In response to early indication of musical talent he was sent to the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, initially for eighteen months but from 1895 for a longer period when he took part in the informal gathering of British musicians, including Norman O’Neill, Roger Quilter and Balfour Gardiner, along with the Australian Percy Grainger, known as the ‘Frankfurt Group’. He also met the Symbolist poet Stefan Georg, of whose work he later became a noted translator.

Returning to Liverpool in 1898, Scott embarked on a teaching career but quickly attracted attention as a pianist and composer. His Heroic Suite was successfully given in Manchester and Liverpool by Hans Richter, while the First Symphony received its première at Darmstadt. His London début came with the Piano Quartet in 1901, Henry Wood taking on the Second Symphony (revised as Three Symphonic Dances) at the 1903 Promenade Concerts. In 1909 he secured a British publishing deal for songs and piano music and also one in Germany for his large-scale works (though with the unfortunate result that many of the autograph scores were destroyed during the Second World War). It was with those smaller pieces that his British reputation was assured around the First World War, though the First Piano Concerto was highly successful when first performed under Thomas Beecham in 1915.

During the 1920s Scott became drawn to Indian philosophy on which, together with such subjects as osteopathy and homeopathy, he was to write a number of pioneering books and articles. He also essayed several plays and volumes of poetry, as well as an autobiography My Years of Indiscretion. Notable performances between the wars include the one-act opera The Alchemist at Essen, major choral works for the festivals in Norwich and Leeds, and the Third Symphony. By the time of the Second World War, however, the harmonic basis of an idiom once compared to Debussy and Scriabin had been eclipsed, and in 1944 he decided to cease composing, though, as related in his later memoirs Bone of Contention, a sign from the occult inspired him to continue. Subsequent works include the opera Maureen O’Mara, the oratorio Hymn of Unity along with the Fourth Symphony, concertos for piano and oboe, and a number of duo and ensemble works. Scott died in Eastbourne on 31 December 1970, a figure rather more respected than played, but recordings of his piano concertos during the 1970s helped presage a revival that was to gain momentum over subsequent decades – such that many works are now available on disc.

Works for violin and piano are an important facet of Scott’s chamber music. Alongside shorter pieces and suites, there are four numbered sonatas along with those entitled Sonata Lirica and Sonata Melodica. This disc contains three sonatas from across the extent of his output.

Written in 1908 and given its première at London’s Bechstein (now Wigmore) Hall on 24 March of that year, the First Violin Sonata is dedicated to Ethel Barns. It is among the most convincing and also successful among Scott’s earlier large-scale works. The first movement opens with a theme as long-breathed as it is capricious and which, following a lengthy transition, is complemented by one more inward and ruminative (the epithet ‘Delian’ comes readily to mind). This latter theme then reaches a pause, before a rhapsodic but not unfocussed development of both themes ensues. There is no formal reprise as such, rather the music reaches a forceful climax that moves directly into a sustained and rhetorical coda. Gently undulating piano phrases launch the second movement, informed by harmonic and rhythmic ‘asides’ typical of this composer, before the violin steals in with a speculative theme that soon draws both instruments within its orbit. The interplay between them is withdrawn and even oblique (hence, perhaps, the mistico marking) as it wends its way to a serene close.

In complete contrast, the third movement commences with a lively piano gesture that soon pervades the violin’s response, itself with more than a touch of folk-music inflection. There is a brief incursion into more reflective material that serves as a trio section, before the initial exuberance sees this relatively concise movement to its close. The finale, cast once again on a large scale, begins with an eloquent theme that seamlessly makes way for a less demonstrative successor and which draws on unexpected reserves of emotion during its course. Once again there is no division between the development and reprise; rather the music draws on aspects of both themes on the way to an apotheosis that powerfully confirms the underlying key of C major.

Composed in 1950 and first heard at a Music Teachers’ Association Concert in London the next year, Sonata Melodica is a more relaxed but no less intensively argued instance of Scott’s chamber music, and is dedicated to Francois D’Albert. The first movement starts with an amiable theme that is not without its more quixotic qualities, the two elements soon becoming increasingly intertwined as the music evolves inventively and at length towards a forceful climax, then a rapt and airy distillation of the material thus far heard. A brusque declamation from piano brings a further upsurge in intensity which now carries through to the effulgent close. Evocative signal-like chords on piano launch the slow movement, to which the violin adds a pensive melody that is interrupted by more forceful piano chords. The discourse is resumed, leading to a conclusion of exquisite calm. The finale promptly breaks out of this introspection with a lively theme countered by one that again contrasts repeated piano chords with an improvisatory violin line. This proves to be the central span of a movement which at length finds its way back to its initial vibrancy, the music drawing on both ideas on the way to a decisive conclusion.

Composed in 1955 and published the same year though without an immediate public performance, the Third Violin Sonata ranks among the most inventive works from Scott’s later years. The first movement opens with a violin passage in double-stopped harmony that evolves with the piano into an elegant if taciturn theme drawing considerably on the former’s highest register. Despite its tranquillo marking, the music gains steadily in expressive fervour before heading into a darker, more ambivalent recollection of the initial music then on to an impassioned close. By contrast the central Pastorale ranks among the most lilting and unaffected in all of Scott’s chamber output, its initial placidity becoming livelier and more playful yet without undermining an initial poise that presently returns to round off the movement in musing serenity. The finale continues this sequence of contrasts with a robust exchange between the instruments that opens out into music as unpredictable as the Capriccioso marking suggests. A secondary theme brings a measure of calm, but the first idea is never far away and reasserts itself to take the work through to an incisive ending.

Richard Whitehouse

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