Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Etruscan Concerto (CD)

ABC Classics & Jazz
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Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Richard Mills

Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks studied at the Royal College of Music and was taught composition by Vaughan Williams. She made her name in opera and lived in Athens from 1950-1976. In 1980 she moved back to Australia where she died in 1990. As John Rockwell would point out in his obituary in The New York Times (30 June 1990), Peggy Glanville-Hicks ‘enjoyed her greatest activity and success in the United States, and became a citizen in 1948.’ Yet Roger Covell, who ‘yielded’ her to America in his 1967 study Australia’s Music, reclaimed her in 1970 as ‘one of Australia’s most distinguished composers and liveliest spirits’.

The disc includes Etruscan Concerto, Sappho, Tragic Celebration and Letters from Morroco performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

The CD booklet includes programme notes and biographical information on composer and performers.

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Peggy Glanville-Hicks:

Etruscan Concerto for piano & orchestra [15’17]
1. 1. Promenade 4:05
2. 2. Meditation 7:26
3. 3. Scherzo 3:46
Caroline Almonte piano

Sappho, opera
4. Final Scene 7:42
Deborah Riedel soprano

5. Tragic Celebration, for orchestra 15:34

Letters from Morocco, for voice & orchestra
6. 1. Wind, water, birds and animals 3:19
7. 2. Man is hated in the Sahara 1:23
8. 3. There are concerts here 2:54
9. 4. I have found a new candy 1:39
10. 5. The streets smell of orange-blossom 1:53
11. 6. Sometimes at that hour there are drums 2:04
12. 7. Toward sundown 1:06
Gerald English tenor

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra,
Richard Mills, Antony Mills conductors

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"The name of Peggy Glanville-Hicks is forever entwined with the MGM LP label of the 1950s. They recorded the Viola Concerto (Concerto Romantico) (1955) with Walter Trampler and the Etruscan Concerto for piano and orchestra (1954). There is also a Concertino Antico for harp and orchestra (1955) but this was not recorded.

Glanville-Hicks was born in Melbourne and studied with Vaughan Williams, Boulanger and Wellesz. There were sojourns in Greece and the USA – Greece made a deep impression and she returned to live there. She learnt her theatrical craft - there are four operas and five ballets - working with Fritz Hart before his departure to Hawaii. She was married during the 1930s and 1940s to that mystery man of British music, Stanley Bate but this ended in divorce.

The present disc is a collection in the third season of ABC's Australian Composer orchestral series. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra take centre-stage in this project. There are four works here and the last of them is a song-cycle with orchestra. The latter has been licensed from Tall Poppies where it was previously issued on Tall Poppies TP112.

The Etruscan Concerto is a souvenir of her Mediterranean years and of D.H. Lawrence's Etruscan Places (1933). Its foot-stamping first movement is flavoured with the carefree dances of Skalkottas and of The Isles of Greece by Donald Swann. As with her other concerto pieces there is just a suggestion of prolixity but there is much else to compensate. The central movement with its laggardly winding melodies and incense swirling slowness picks up on the ancient mysteries of the Etruscan civilisation – a Mediterranean connection also touched on in her Gymnopedies. The finale has much in common with the first movement but with a hint of Hovhaness and RVW. It seems that this concerto has also been recorded by Keith Jarrett but, sadly, I have not heard it.

Glanville-Hicks delved into opera more than once. Her Sappho (1963) succeeded the opera Nausicaa (1961). Sappho was written with Callas in mind and to a commission by San Francisco Opera who then refused to perform it seemingly because of the predominance of modal tonality (Kurt Adler). This is the first substantial extract of Sappho to be recorded in the original scoring. I would like to hear the whole work. This is a pleasing if low-key soliloquy. It has a touch of Barber's Antony and Cleopatra but without that work’s flaming fervour. Deborah Riedel keeps the embers glowing and flaring.

Tragic Celebration began life as the ballet score Jephtha's Daughter in which a rash oath results in Jephtha having to slay his own daughter. This orchestral piece has the redolence of Barber's Cave of the Heart with crackling violence and some tenderness. The piece ends touchingly with a silvery tintinnabulatory gleam.

Recordings by Gerald English are as precious as warmth in winter. His voice is not part of the great homogeneous sea of tenors churned out on a production line. His voice has poignancy - a penetrating nasal quality, probing and ecstatic. Glanville-Hicks is well served by it. I treasure broadcast tapes of Radio 3 broadcasts by him including a superb account of Finzi's Oh Fair to See and the songs of Jasper Rooper. He is also well recalled for his role in Walton's Troilus and Cressida.

Letters from Morocco were borne out of composer Paul Bowles' letters to Glanville-Hicks. These were part of a forty year correspondence. Islamic muezzin ululation and spoken words are meshed and interleaved. The setting style is free-ranging and while tonal is intrepidly engaged with Brittenesque techniques and wildnesses we may associate with Our Hunting Fathers. These are wonderfully fragrant yet not fragile settings. They variously celebrate the remorseless Sahara, music heard on the warm nights, a hashish almond candy bar, orange blossom, evening drums and the oasis. The hashish bar song has a wandering oriental contour redolent of Hovhaness and Cowell. The seventh of the songs is simply spoken – there is no music. It’s a brave and successful close and a valorous tribute to the words of Paul Bowles.

The words for Sappho and for Moroccan Letters are printed in full in the booklet."

- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

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Liner Notes by Graeme Skinner

As a still relatively young nation, Australia could be considered fortunate to have collected so few notable dead composers! For most of the 20th century, almost every composer we could claim was very much alive. Yet, sadly, this did not stop us from losing track of some of our most talented, who went away and stayed away, as did Percy Grainger and Arthur Benjamin (the only Australian composer blacklisted by Goebbels), or returned too late, like Don Banks. And we are now rediscovering many other interesting stay-aways, like George Clutsam (not just the arranger of Lilac Time), Ernest Hutchinson, John Gough (Launceston-born, like Peter Sculthorpe) and Hubert Clifford. Meanwhile, among those who valiantly toiled away at home, we are at last realising that names like Roy Agnew, John Antill and David Ahern might not just be of local interest, but reasonably take their place at the head of any roster of composing ‘dead white males’.

Even more so than for men, settler Australia’s short musical past is remarkable for its roll-call of significant females: Margaret Sutherland (perhaps our greatest deceased composer of either sex), Miriam Hyde, Dulcie Holland, Iris de Cairos-Rego, Esther Rofe, Marjorie Hesse, Linda Phillips, Ina Mornement, Phyllis Batchelor... The list goes on, and on. It’s been argued, of course, that women were left to do the hard yards at home between the wars, precisely because Australia so actively discouraged its men from composing that they had no option but to go away. Equally true, relatively few of our composing women flourished ‘abroad’ for long, though Tasmanian Katharine Parker (Longfordborn and Grainger protégée) did, and Melburnian Peggy Glanville-Hicks is the notable other. Indeed, Edward Cole’s notes for the 1956 American first recording of her Etruscan Concerto make the unique claim: ‘Peggy Glanville-Hicks is the exception to the rule that women composers do not measure up to the standards set in the field by men.’

Talented Australian women of Glanville-Hicks’ generation hardly lacked precedent for going abroad, as Sutherland, Rofe and Hyde all did for a while, with such exemplars as Nellie Melba and Florence Austral! Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ piano teacher was former Melba accompanist Leonora Amadio, first wife of the flautist John. And when John’s second wife Florence Austral returned in triumph from Europe in June 1930, The Argus listed the 17-year-old Peggy among the students of Fritz Hart’s Albert Street Conservatorium at her welcome-home concert.

Two years later, on 2 June 1932, as The Argus reported the next day, ‘the friends of Miss Peggy Glanville Hicks arranged a complimentary concert for her before her departure for England.’ These friends included Bernard Heinze and Fritz Hart, the latter conducting the yet-to-be hyphenated Peggy and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s D-minor Piano Concerto. The anonymous reviewer praised her ‘graceful musical sense’ and equivocated judiciously that ‘if her compositions appeared to lack any pronounced feeling for either rhythmical or thematic development, they were pleasantly atmospheric,’ the first of a set of three piano preludes especially showing ‘a well-developed grasp of the Debussy idiom’.

Her supporter late in life, and author of one of three (soon to be four) published Peggy Glanville-Hicks biographies, James Murdoch believed her family’s genteel poverty predisposed the socially mobile Peggy to take ‘the common escape – to eccentricity’ and composing. Luckily, her English-born teacher Fritz Hart, friend of Holst and Coleridge-Taylor (both represented on her 1930 farewell program) was as ‘real’ a composer as she could have encountered anywhere, let alone Melbourne. Later in London, Glanville-Hicks’ instructors at the Royal College of Music included Constant Lambert (son of the Australian painter George) and Malcolm Sargent, and for piano, Arthur Benjamin, who began teaching Benjamin Britten in the same year. (Britten, said Glanville-Hicks, introduced her to the music of Stravinsky.) In 1933, on a college scholarship, she began composition lessons with the teacher she later remembered most fondly, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Her works of these years include a Symphonietta (1934) for small orchestra, an unperformed opera Caedmon (1933-36) and the orchestral Prelude based upon it, a lost piano concerto (1936), and a Spanish Suite (1935) later reworked as the exquisite Three Gymnopédies (1953).

Later, on a travelling scholarship shared with fellow composer and future husband Stanley Bate, she went to Vienna, only to bail out of the composition lessons Vaughan Williams wanted her to take with Egon Wellesz (later Sculthorpe’s teacher). Most of 1937-38 they spent in Paris studying with Nadia Boulanger. She also resumed contact there with expat Melbourne socialite Louise Hanson-Dyer, whose Lyrebird Press published a quartet of Glanville-Hicks’ early songs, including her lovely setting of Fletcher’s Come Sleep. At Dyer’s prompting, in 1932 Glanville-Hicks had made some choral settings of poems by Sydney Bulletin journalist David McKee Wright, but she returned to Fletcher texts for her Choral Suite of 1937. The BBC Singers performed it at the 1938 London ISCM Festival (Dyer later issued a recording conducted by Adrian Boult), though reviewer Alan Frank realised that the settings were ‘so slight that it would be unfair to judge this young Australian’s talent from them.’

After war was declared in 1939, Glanville-Hicks returned to Australia, but the almost total lack of professional opportunities for composers forced her and Bate, by 1941, to move on to the United States. The couple separated in New York. Through a new friend, poet–composer Paul Bowles, she was eventually appointed deputy to music reviewer Virgil Thomson on The Herald Tribune. For the next two decades she was a fixture in New York’s new music scene. As Thomson recalled: ‘She managed concerts; she ran everybody’s errands; she went on lecture tours...she made her own clothes’! He also claimed she wrote ‘a great deal of music’, but her frantic schedule meant that she seldom completed more than one work a year. Her first really important American score was the Concertino da Camera (1946); of its performance at the 1948 ISCM Amsterdam Festival, Humphrey Searle noted it was ‘charming and expertly written’. It was followed by the luminous Sonata for Harp (1950) – according to Marshall McGuire, ‘one of the outstanding works of its genre of the 20th century’ – and the concerto-like Sonata for Piano and Percussion (1951).

Decades earlier, Fritz Hart had instilled in Glanville-Hicks the craft of vital word setting. Already in 1930, the reviewer at her Melbourne farewell singled out the vocal items, ‘in each case interestingly conceived’, as possibly too confronting and modern in this respect, ‘lack[ing] emotional co-ordination between the melodic line...and the curiously perfunctory piano accompaniments.’ In her Letters from
Morocco (1952) for tenor and small orchestra, the vocal line seems to emanate so directly from the texts as to stand in high relief from the accompaniment. She drew the words from letters written to her by Bowles, now living in Morocco, arranged into the six songs she set, and a seventh that she found ‘too beautiful, so near to music in itself that it resented the addition of notes.’ They were premiered by
William Hess with Leopold Stokowski conducting, on 22 February 1953 at the Museum of Modern Art. The waspish Olin Downes called the music ‘conventionally oriental’; but Richard RePass, writing later in
the UK Musical Times, noted more helpfully that Glanville-Hicks had set Bowles’ ‘florid descriptions of Moroccan nights to a correspondingly florid, melismatic vocal line, while the accompaniment throbs with bizarre rhythms and rich instrumental effects.’

Perhaps the one major Peggy Glanville-Hicks work that could be described as truly Australian was the Sinfonia da Pacifica, which she began writing on board ship when she paid a visit home in 1952, and completed the following year while staying in Jamaica, befriended there by the Australian biologist Theo Flynn, former Hobart professor and father of actor Errol. It was intended for the Australian symphony orchestras and conductor Bernard Heinze, who often called on Glanville-Hicks when he was in New York. It was finally recorded by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in 1993.

The Sinfonia da Pacifica was followed by the Concertino antico (1955) for solo harp and string quartet, and the Concerto romantico (1956) for viola player Walter Trampler; the Concerto’s elegiac slow movement is one of the most beautiful and moving in Glanville-Hicks’ output. By contrast, as a Musical America reviewer observed, in the three-movement Etruscan Concerto (1954) ‘the Lady seeks to amuse with sunny tunes and simple, sophisticated harmonies. Her designs have the clarity of etchings, and her scoring the deft precision of watercolours.’ Scored for piano solo and chamber orchestra, the three movements are reflections on D.H. Lawrence’s descriptions of Etruscan Places (1933): of the ancients dancing (Promenade), of the ‘queer stillness’ of their sites (Meditation), and the ‘Etruscan preserve the natural humour of life’ (Scherzo). The work closely identifies Glanville-Hicks with American Boulanger students like Copland, Harris and Thomson, and also with her London teachers Lambert and Benjamin. It was premiered by Carlo Bussotti and conductor Carlos Surinach at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art on 25 January 1956. In the most perceptive review (in Glanville-Hicks’ own paper), Lester Trimble called it ‘riotously rhythmic in its speedy movements...all very delicately exotic, and yet quite clear and Anglo-Saxon in its means’. The work has been previously recorded several times, by, among others, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett.

Thereafter Glanville-Hicks developed further her musical interest in exotic places. In 1956 she composed music for a United Nations film, African Story (1956), and in 1957 two works that reveal her fascination with pre-Columbian America. Her opera The Transposed Heads (1953), based on the 1940 novella by Thomas Mann, is set in ancient India and uses tunes which Glanville-Hicks describes as ‘taken freely and in some cases directly from Hindu folk sources’. But the Mediterranean exerted the strongest tug, culminating in her abandoning New York and relocating to Greece in 1959. There, for the 1961 Athens Festival, she produced her first ancient Greek opera, Nausicaa, based on Robert Graves’ Homer’s Daughter. It was followed by Sappho (1963), based on a 1950 verse-drama by a new friend, novelist Lawrence Durrell, and written in close collaboration with him. Sappho was originally commissioned by the San Francisco Opera, and Glanville-Hicks wrote the title role in the hope that Maria Callas would agree to sing it. Not only did she not (despite reports she’d been ‘interested’), but the company declined to stage the opera at all, its manager, Kurt Adler, criticising ‘the abundant use of modal tonality’. Apart from a few arranged extracts, this is the first performance or recording of a substantial excerpt from the work in the original scoring.

In 1963 she also composed the score for Jephthah’s Daughter, a television dance-piece choreographed by John Butler, broadcast finally by CBS on 6 November 1966 (with Glenn Tetley as Jephthah). Butler was by then one of Glanville-Hicks’ closest friends; they’d first worked together on a ballet for the 1958 Spoleto Festival. A previous TV ballet, Saul and the Witch of Endor (1959) was broadcast in 1960, and their last collaboration was the Rimbaud-inspired Season in Hell premiered in 1967. Clive Barnes in The New York Times noted that the ‘unpretentiously effective music’ gave Jephthah ‘a cohesive unity that dance on television seldom achieves.’ As in the biblical account (Judges 11), Jephthah vows, in return for victory, to sacrifice to God as a burnt offering ‘whatsoever cometh forth [out] of the doors of my house to meet me when I return.’ So he is grief-stricken when his daughter was the first to merge ‘to meet him with timbrels and with dances.’ She pleads with him to ‘let me alone two months, that I may go up and down the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows,’ but returns and at her own insistence Jephthah fulfils his vow. Glanville-Hicks chose to call her concert version of the ballet score Tragic Celebration (1966), a reference to the perpetual memorial ‘that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah.’

Sadly, it was the second-last major score she ever completed, and thus also stands as a tragic marker of the close of her composing life. Having always survived hand-to-mouth, it was only through the generosity of friends like Anaïs Nin that she could afford major surgery to remove a brain tumour early in 1967. As biographer James Murdoch reflected: ‘And so Peggy lived. But the creative urge died.’ It was Murdoch who arranged for Peggy to leaveGreece and return finally to Australia late in 1975. She settled into the Victorian terrace house at 45 Ormond Street, Paddington, that she bequeathed to become Australia’s first ‘Composer’s House’.

As John Rockwell would point out in his obituary in The New York Times (30 June 1990), Peggy Glanville-Hicks ‘enjoyed her greatest activity and success in the United States, and became a citizen in 1948.’ Yet Roger Covell, who ‘yielded’ her to America in his 1967 study Australia’s Music, reclaimed her in 1970 as ‘one of Australia’s most distinguished composers and liveliest spirits’.

- Graeme Skinner