Mind Your Bax (2)

This is going to be a rather quick and easy post — well, quick and easy for me, anyhow! — as my desire to act as something of a ‘shop window’ for the great English composer Arnold Bax (1883-1953) actually leads me to do little more at this point in blog-time than present two YouTube clips and retire to a safe distance…

Admittedly, the two clips have been chosen carefully, and with a clear intention. What motivates my first choice is that I want the work I included in yesterday’s blog — you remember, ‘everybody’s favourite Bax piece’, Tintagel (1917-19) — to be followed here by what is probably my favourite Bax piece: November Woods, which dates from the same period (1917) and is likewise a ‘tone poem’ (if that’s what any of these things actually are: musicology is in a real mess about the concept, as about so many others).

Here it is…

(Incidentally, one of the problems that results from Bax’s music being too infrequently played and far too infrequently recorded is that we never hear a performance that makes sense of everything: whoever’s doing it, there’s always something they don’t get right. So if hearing this performance makes you feel the work is a ‘near miss’, do, please, try another version — say, this one, or perhaps this extract from a filmed performance by the terrific National Children’s Orchestra!)

Now, if any of that has convinced you — especially if you’re a first-time hearer! — that Bax is a composer whose creative character incorporates a really unique ability to blend sophistication with savagery, then you’re ready for the second of my chosen clips.

And this isn’t a music clip at all: it’s actually a recording of Bax talking on the radio. (According to Lewis Foreman’s splendid volume Farewell, My Youth and Other Writings by Arnold Bax (1992), this was broadcast on 6 June 1949 in the BBC series ‘British Composers’; but I’ve had a quick look in the BBC’s UK schedules for that day, and I didn’t see him there.) My point in posting it is to see if I can make everyone feel the same sense of shock that I felt when — after decades of hearing Bax’s powerful and unrestrained orchestral music, and knowing about his strong affinity with ancient Celtic culture and his friendship with Irish revolutionaries at the time of the ‘Easter Rising’ — I suddenly heard his speaking voice and was staggered to discover just how ‘buttoned-up’ and even strangulated he sounded!

Anyway this is Bax. The verbally expressible part of Bax, anyhow…


MOcoverforblogIf you enjoyed this posting, remember that I am a regular contributor and columnist for the UK magazine Musical Opinion. The magazine’s website can be found here; to see its Twitter feed, click here; to see its Facebook page, click here. To subscribe to Musical Opinion, click here.

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