About this Recording
8.573250 - String Music (English) - ELGAR, E. / LLOYD WEBBER, W. / GOODALL, H / DELIUS, F. (And the Bridge is Love) (English Chamber Orchestra, J. Lloyd Webber)
English 

And the Bridge is Love

 

On 7 May 1888 the Worcestershire Musical Union, conducted by the Reverend Edward Vine Hall, gave the first performance of Three Pieces for String Orchestra by Edward Elgar. A year and a day later, on 8 May 1889, Elgar married his former piano pupil, Alice Roberts, at the Brompton Oratory in London. As their third wedding anniversary approached, Elgar composed a Serenade for Strings for Alice and it seems quite likely that this threemovement work is based on the material of the earlier three pieces. The first performance of the Serenade is thought to have taken place some time in 1892 with Elgar himself conducting the Worcester Ladies’ Orchestral Class but it was not given its first complete, and fully professional, performance until 23 July 1896 when it was played by an orchestra in Antwerp.

The following year Elgar composed a short piece for violin and piano, initially called Evensong. However, when he sent it to his publishers Novello and Company on 28 October, he suggested an alternative title, Vesper. In the event it was published as Chanson de nuit. Two years later he composed a companion piece entitled Chanson de matin. Elgar was later to orchestrate both of these pieces, sending the scores to Novello on 4 January 1901 for publication as his Opus 15. In this form they received their first performances later that year in the Queen’s Hall, London, under the baton of Henry J.Wood. For this recording, however, the arrangements used are those for string orchestra (unlike Elgar’s, which also require wind instruments) by W.H. Reed. William Henry Reed, generally known as Billy, was a close friend of Elgar and the most distinguished orchestral leader of his time. He led the London Symphony Orchestra from 1912 until 1935, the year after Elgar’s death, and was subsequently to write a biography of the composer—Elgar as I knew him.

When the London Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1904 (with Billy Reed as one of its rank-and-file violinists), the Elgars were living in Hereford. From their house, Plas Gwyn, Elgar would delight in walking or cycling along the River Wye to Mordiford where he would fish near its bridge, practise throwing his boomerang with Billy Reed and make sketches for his future compositions. One of the works that he composed at ‘Plas Gwyn’ was his Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47. Elgar’s friend August Jaeger, who worked for Novello, had suggested that he write a brilliant scherzo-like piece to give the strings of the newly formed LSO a chance to display their virtuosity and this was the result. Elgar took as his inspiration a Welsh song he had remembered hearing when on holiday in Cardiganshire and a similar one he had heard, nearer home, while walking in the Wye Valley.

The Elgars left Hereford at the end of 1911 and moved to Hampstead. Edward renamed their new house after another of his favourite rivers, the Severn, which runs through his native Worcestershire, and it was there, in 1914, that he composed Sospiri (Sighs), a short work for strings, harp and harmonium which he dedicated to W.H. Reed. In most performances of this piece, conductors choose, with Elgar’s permission, to replace the harmonium with an organ but, for this recording, the composer’s original wishes have been followed. Sospiri was heard for the first time on 15 October 1914 when it was conducted by the recently honoured Sir Henry Wood at the Queen’s Hall.

In May 1933, just nine months before he died, Elgar flew to Paris to hear the young Yehudi Menuhin play his Violin Concerto. While he was there he also paid a visit to Frederick Delius who was living nearby at Grez-sur-Loing. Elgar had enjoyed this first experience of flying and was later to describe it as being rather like Delius’s music—‘a little intangible sometimes, but always beautiful’. By then Delius was partially paralysed and for some time had been able to continue composing only with the help of Eric Fenby, a young musician from Yorkshire who had offered to act as his amanuensis. On 16 October 1932, Delius’s wife, Jelka, wrote to the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham and told him that Fenby had been staying with them for some weeks and had ‘made some charming pieces for string-orchestra, easy to perform, from the two a cappella Choruses’, adding that they should become ‘very popular’. These were to be the the Two Aquarelles, the original wordless choruses subtitled ‘To be sung of a summer night on the water’ having been written in 1917 for Charles Kennedy Scott and his Oriana Choir who gave the first performance on 28 June 1921.

It was also in 1921 that the Suite of Six Short Pieces for Piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams was published. Not much seems to be known about this work except that it was subsequently arranged for string orchestra as The Charterhouse Suite. This transcription was made, in collaboration with the composer, by James Brown, the editor of the Polychordia String Library. As well as being a musician, Brown was also a talented painter and friend of Lucien Pissaro who had encouraged him in his artistic endeavours. The orchestral suite takes its name from Charterhouse School, near Godalming in Surrey, at which Vaughan Williams was a pupil from 1887 to 1890.

Another work for strings originally composed for a completely different set of instruments is the fourmovement Downland Suite by John Ireland. Commissioned by the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, it was used as the test piece for the 1932 contest and was heard for the first time at the Crystal Palace on 1 October that year, the winning band being that of Foden’s Motor Works. Ireland dedicated this suite to Kenneth Wright, the Assistant Director of Music at the BBC who had been the first person to interest him in brass band music. Some ten years later, Ireland decided to adapt the middle two movements—the Elegy and this Minuet—for string orchestra but, before he had completed the task, he had to flee from his home in the Channel Islands in June 1940 when a Nazi invasion was imminent. Leaving behind most of his other possessions, he managed to pick up his incomplete manuscript before escaping on one of the last boats to depart.

It was in 1942, the same year in which Ireland’s Minuet and Elegy for strings was published, that William Walton was approached to compose the music for Laurence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s Henry V. He worked on this over the next two years and the film had its first showing at the Carlton Cinema in London’s Haymarket on 22 November 1944. Before long, some of this music had found its way into the concert hall for, the following year, Sir Malcolm Sargent created from the score a Suite for chorus and orchestra and, two years later, the Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff and Touch her soft lips and part appeared in print as Two Pieces for Strings from the film music Henry V.

It was also in 1942 that William Southcombe Lloyd Webber married the pianist and violinist Jean Hermione Johnstone (who had studied with W.H. Reed), their two sons, Andrew and Julian, being born in 1948 and 1951 respectively. During the Second World War Lloyd Webber was the organist at All Saints’, Margaret Street, in London and later he was to enter academic life, first as a teacher at the Royal College of Music and then as Director of the London College of Music. During the ten years or so after the War, however, he spent much of his time composing. It was in 1950 that he set to music the words of The Moon by the Welsh poet William Henry Davies (1871–1940) which had first appeared in his 1914 publication, The Bird of Paradise and other poems. (W.H. Davies is now best remembered for his poem Leisure, which begins with the words ‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’.) Soon after creating this part-song, William Lloyd Webber made an arrangement of it for strings. This version, however, remained unperformed until 2014, his centenary year and the year of this recording.

Peter Avis

“And the Bridge is Love” is a quotation from Thornton Wilder’s novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928. The story of the collapse in 1714 of “the finest bridge in all Peru”, killing five people, it is a parable of the struggle to find meaning in chance and in inexplicable tragedy.

The finale of the novel concludes: “But soon we will die, and all memories of those five will have left Earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love. The only survival, the only meaning.”

This work for solo cello and strings is composed in loving memory of a teenage cellist, Hannah Ryan, the daughter of close family friends, who died tragically in September 2007. It was commissioned by the Chipping Campden Festival and premiered in 2008. That the new work should have received its premiere performances and recording from my dear friend Julian is poignantly appropriate given his career-long dedication to bringing classical music to young people, and that events should have led this to be his last recording of a new commission for cello. There is so much love and warmth in his interpretation of And the Bridge is Love that I hope it stands as a fitting memorial to the short life of the piece’s dedicatee, and will inspire other young players to take it to their hearts too, now that this beautiful recording exists.

Howard Goodall


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