Bax Editorial – April 2016
In my last editorial, I wrote about my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to commission a new set of parts for Bax’s Symphonic Variations for orchestra and piano – a score that exists only in Bax’s original handwritten manuscript. The score is under copyright to Bax’s publisher Warner/Chappell and I had to request their written permission to proceed with the project. Unfortunately, despite many generous contributions from friends and Baxians alike, the project failed to reach its goal of $3,500 – the modest amount it would have cost to pay a music editor to input the score into Sibelius software to create a new orchestral full score and parts. In truth, I never expected to raise the full amount from contributions alone. What I had hoped is that Warner/Chappell – seeing the interest in a project to restore a major Bax score that they own – would come forward and make a contribution to assure the project would meet its goal and in turn would benefit them. In the end, Warner/Chappell was not willing to make a contribution and the project failed.
I suppose I expected too much from Warner/Chappell as it has never shown much interest in promoting its catalog of Bax’s music – no doubt because Bax’s music generates very little in terms of revenue. It would be nice to think they’d feel some obligation to encourage the promotion of a composer whose music they virtually own outright but Warner/Chappell’s management doesn’t appear to think that way. At any rate, the project failed and a major score by Bax continues to exist in a virtually impossible-to-read copy that assures its neglect in the concert hall. Someday the situation will be corrected but not until someone at Warner/Chappell appreciates the value of Bax’s music or when the music is no longer under copyright and can be published without Warner/Chappell’s permission. Sad to say it may require the latter situation before the Symphonic Variations and several other Bax scores that exist only in handwritten form are able to be edited and printed.
A more heartening development has been the recent acknowledgement of Bax as a major figure in Ireland’s cultural history by many in the Irish media. The cause for this reassessment has been this month’s centenary of the Easter Rising and this has brought about several newspaper articles on Bax as well as a splendid radio documentary on RTE last February. Those Bax scores associated with the Easter Rising and the execution of Padraic Pearse have been scheduled in Dublin’s music halls in recent month including both versions of In Memoriam. It would be nice to believe that the Irish are again accepting Bax as one of their own as it’s hard to think of another composer during the first half of the 20th Century who was more committed to the telling of Irish lore and history in both his writings and music.
Finally, I am off to London this week to hear the BBC Symphony Orchestra perform The Garden of Fand conducted by Sakari Oramo. It has been many years since the last concert performance of this work by one of the major London orchestras. There was a time when Fand was the most popular of Bax’s tone poems but that honor now belongs to Tintagel, which does get the occasional performance at the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican or Royal Albert Hall. I hope the BBC SO’s revival of Fand means it may be making a return to concert programs as an argument could be made for its position as the quintessential Bax tone poem. We know for a fact that it was Bax’s own favorite of all his works and Barbirolli considered it the most perfect of the tone poems. I’m not one to disagree with either of those great gentlemen.
Richard R. Adams