Piano Concertos from the Jazz Age : Lambert and Jezek
This post was published by Norris and asserts his opinions and triumph.
I’ve long been interested in a group of 1920s composers who saw Jazz as the salvation of ‘classical’ music. Constant Lambert (1905-1949) and Jaroslav Jezek (1906-1942) often appear in my programmes.
Lambert was a dominant figure in English music of the 1920s. Like his friend William Walton, he was part of the Sitwell’s circle – Lambert’s most famous work, Rio Grande, sets words by Sacheverell Sitwell. Lambert is the dedicatee of Walton’s Façade, an entertainment to the words of Edith Sitwell.
Jezek was the Czech equivalent of Kurt Weill, but his early death in New York precluded a substantial output in English. I’m in the process of learning Czech so that I can get close to the cabaret songs he wrote for the Liberated Theatre in Prague between 1928 and 1938.
Jezek : Piano Concerto (1926) 20’
Large orchestra – extra piccolo, clarinet and saxophone, cornets as well as trumpets (very common in this period), large percussion section including Jazz Kit. The cadenza includes a quotation from Zes Confrey’s syncopated rag Kitten on the Keys.
Lambert : Concerto (1924) 18’
For piano, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings. Recorded on the ASV label.
Lambert : The Rio Grande (1927) 15’
A choral work with concertante piano, strings, large brass section and five percussionists – no woodwind.
Lambert wrote another Concerto for piano and nine instruments (1931) – also indebted to Jazz, but much darker in tone, and dedicated to the memory of the composer Peter Warlock, (the nom de plume of the scholar Philip Heseltine) who gassed himself in 1930. Oxford University Press has authorized my chamber arrangement of Rio Grande for the same forces as this Concerto, namely flute (dbl. piccolo), 3 clarinets (one dbl. E flat, one dbl. bass), trumpet, trombone, percussion, cello and double bass – plus vocal quartet.
Late-Romantic Piano Concertos: Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Arnold Bax
Robert Walker : Fragments of Elgar (1997) 45’
A late-Romantic concerto for piano and orchestra (medium-size – double woodwind, and brass to trombones and tuba) based entirely on Elgar’s sketches and the improvisations he recorded in 1932 (but never wrote down) for the Piano Concerto that remained incomplete at his death in 1934. Premiered at the Three Choirs Festival at Worcester – to be performed in Winnipeg in April 2001.
This work was made possible by my work on Elgar’s recorded, un-notated improvisations, which I play by ear. These provided the composer Robert Walker with what had hitherto been seen as a missing-link in the sketches.
I’m working on several large projects for the centenary of the death of Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953). Apart from the intrinsic interest of his music, lush and exciting (he described himself as a ‘brazen Romantic’) the projects will focus on his divided personality : for ten years or more he lived a double-life as a penniless Irish poet called Dermot O’Byrne, and as the millionaire English composer, Arnold Bax.
Bax was a master of the orchestra. His music for it in combination with his own instrument obviously occupies a particular place in his output. Harriet Cohen, to whom Bax gave exclusive performance rights, persuaded him to allow cuts and simplifications in some of the pieces, which prevented them from taking their proper place in the public’s estimation.
Arnold Bax : Symphonic Variations (1917) 47’
Large orchestra including triple woodwind, full brass section and two percussionists.
Arnold Bax : Winter Legends (1930) 40’
Large orchestra, with three percussionists and harp. One of Bax’s most important neglected scores.