If you are reading this, it’s probably fair to say you are experienced in unrequited love. Carrying a torch for a composer bypassed by history is like that, rendered all the more intense by one’s sense of injustice at the neglect.
First written in 1910 and revised for publication ten years later, Bax’s First Piano Sonata was inspired by a romantic love affair and a trip to Russia and the Ukraine. In this comparative analysis of all ten available recordings, Christopher Webber asks whether its biographical content is important.
When in 1996 I created the Sir Arnold Bax Website, I knew immediately the first couple of luminaries I wanted to interview. Vernon (Tod) Handley was my initial preference, but the media-shy conductor turned out to be very evasive; so I pursued my second choice, who was at that time was the curator of Asian Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and who during his off hours was intensively involved in research on the life and music of Sir Arnold Bax.
The Monthly Musical Record (September 1915, p.259f) critic reviewing the score of Apple-Blossom Time, suggests that ‘The art of Mr Bax is a correlative of the characteristic canvas work of Mr E.W. Hornel’. This is an interesting comparison. Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933) was an Australian-born artist who moved to Kirkcudbright in Scotland. He specialised in Celtic and Japanese imagery – and pictures of orchards. The reviewer continues by noting that ‘summer happiness, trees in full blossom, happy carefree childhood, rich luxurious natural setting, all appear in the music of Bax as clearly as they are seen in the pictures of Hornel.’ As to the musical content of Apple-Blossom Time, it is noted that ‘The textures, the vivid lines, the almost kaleidoscopic colouring clearly defined yet all blended in a subtle way by exquisite mastery of mood’ also suggests the work of Hornel.
Since first hearing Arnold Bax’s A Northern Ballad in the early 1970’s, I have felt that it is underappreciated. The conventional critique of this tone poem places the ‘plot’ or the ‘action’ in the Highlands of Scotland. Nevertheless, as Lewis Foreman has pointed out (Lyrita Sleeve Notes, SRCS 62) ‘the programmatic origins of the work are not admitted in the score.’ The only clue is provided in Bax’s short note included in the premiere’s programme booklet and subsequently reprinted in the Royal Philharmonic Society Programme (3 December 1931). It was latterly printed in Parlett (1999):
Arnold Bax spent at least two months on the Skarzhinska Estate at Kruglik, near Lubny in Ukraine between May and July 1910. Alan Sutton recently visited Lubny and Kruglik and found some interesting historical background to the Skarzhinska family and to pre-revolutionary Lubny, impressions of which Bax took back with him and incorporated into later works.
“Fair and smiling is the Ukrainian land, a fecund Slavonic Demeter”, wrote Bax at the opening of this section in “Farewell, My Youth”. Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of Russia during the last years of the Tsars, and to that extent compares well in modern times with agriculture being the one sector to have prospered in recent years. In other respects, the 20th century has not been kind to Lubny, and the Skarzhinska Estate itself has disappeared: nor was I able to find precisely where it stood. However my visit did uncover some fascinating history about Natalia Skarzhinska’s family, and other pictures and impressions which will be of interest to those interested in Arnold Bax and his works.
A “Twist” in Sir Arnold Bax’s Late Musical Output by William B. Hannam Editor’s Note: William B. Hannam is a part-time professor of music appreciation and musicology at Kent State University. His doctoral dissertation, completed in 2008, was titled “Arnold …Continue reading →
THE BACKGROUND TO IN MEMORIAM by Graham Parlett In 1911 Bax fulfilled his long-cherished dream of living in Ireland, and for nearly three years he and his wife rented a house on the outskirts of Dublin, where he became friends …Continue reading →
Clifford Gillam, the founder of the original Arnold Bax Society, has recently donated to the British Library two very interesting letters that were addressed to him—one from Bax, the other from Sibelius. The first of these was in response to …Continue reading →
A Preface: Meeting Mr. Bax I’m an instructional assistant in the Reading and Writing Center at Folsom Lake College, not far from Sacramento, California. Thus I work as a tutor of English, though my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are both …Continue reading →