Monday, March 15, 2010

Discovering Bantock

One of life's many pleasures is undoubtedly the enjoyment of good music. During my life I have attended numerous concerts and festivals and spent many hours listening to BBC Radio 3 and ClassicFM. After a while it is easy to think I am familiar with most composers and their works. But occasionally there is the discovery of some new gem. I well remember hearing "The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone" by the little known Scottish Composer, Sally Beamish at the Orkney Festival in 1999. A wondrous tone poem describing the neolithic solstice sun rising over the Ring of Brodgar at Stenness.

By a little serendipity I have recently discovered the works of a British composer whose very existence had remained completely unkown to me. Granville Bantock was born in London in 1868 and seems to have been a man after my own heart. There are photographs of him dressed in bardic robes and he was fascinated in ancient cultures. He loved the Hebrides and he loved exploring sacred sites and his Celtic past. He named his house, "Tir-nan-Og." Two of his symphonies are entitled "Hebridean" (1915) and "Celtic" (1940). Much of his music has a decidedly pagan association.

So this weekend I bought three Hyperion CDs (what would we do without the discography of Hyperion). Bantock's wonderful choral setting for Contralto and Orchestra of the extant lesbian poems of Sappho translated by his partner, Helena. His Symphony in praise of Aprhrodite in Cyprus and his Pagan Symphony (1928). Once I began to listen I was hooked and wondered why his music has been so neglected since his death in 1946.

George Bernard Shaw was apparently asked to write a tribute to Bantock and replied, "Never mind tributes - play his music." As I close this post Sappho's 'Hymn to Aphrodite' translated and set to music by the Bantock's is indeed playing.

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