Friday 22 March 2013

Lisa Hardy’s meticulously researched, yet immensely readable book on The British Piano Sonata 1870-1945 is published in paperback by Boydell Press

In recent years there has been a resurgent of interest in neglected British piano music mainly through recordings. Nevertheless, this is still an area that has needed further insight which is where Lisa Hardy’s excellent volume The British Piano Sonata 1870-1945 is immensely useful.

Boydell Press
ISBN 978-1-84383-798-5

First published by Boydell Press in 2001, it has recently been published in paperback with a fully updated discography.

There is an excellent introduction: The English Musical Renaissance that gives the background to piano music in England in the early 19th century, from the influences of such figures as Clementi, Dussek and Cramer, to John Field, George Frederick Pinto, Cipriani Potter and Samuel Wesley. The role of the piano in British life is explored in terms of both the concert hall and the home.

The main body of the book is divided into six chapters. The Piano Sonatas 1870-1890 covers William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875), whose friendships included Mendelssohn and Schumann, George Alexander Macfarren (1813-1887), C Hubert H Parry (1848-1918), Charles V Stanford (1852-1924), Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) and Edward German (1862-1936). Their contributions to the genre are discussed with many musical examples. Not only didn’t I know of Ethel Smyth’s three piano sonatas, but the discography has tracked down a 1992/3 recording of them on the obscure Classic Production Osnabruck label, played by Liana Serbescu.

Piano Sonatas 1890-1910 looks at the Piano Sonatas by Algernon Ashton (1859-1937), John McEwen (1868-1948), William Yeates Hurlstone (1876-1906), Benjamin Dale (1885-1943), York Bowen (1884-1961), Dorothy Howell (1898-1982), Leo Livens (c.1896-c.1961) and Cyril Scott (1879-1970), whose first piano sonata not only has musical examples but has a full and detailed list of changes made to the work by the composer. Within this chapter a brief section is devoted to the two London music institutions, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music. Their influence on British music during the period 1890 to 1910 is discussed with a brief mention of the most significant teaching staff.

The next chapter covers the piano sonatas by Arnold Bax (1883-1953), discussing his four sonatas with a summary of the main themes of the second sonata as well as musical comparisons with Scriabin’s seventh sonata, John Ireland (1879-1962), William Baines (1899-1922), Alan Bush (1900-1995) and even Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) whose contribution to the British piano sonata was twelve very early sonatas all written before 1928.

There is a chapter dedicated to the piano sonatas by Kaikhosru Sorabji (1892-1988) and Frank Bridge (1879-1941) in order to compare the influence of Scriabin on their musical language, something I had not considered in relation to Bridge. Again there are numerous musical examples, not just of the sonatas but of other related works, and a detailed analysis of the melodic motifs in Sorabji’s first sonata.

The African-American Influence looks at the influence of spirituals, blues, ragtime, dance music and jazz by comparing Constant Lambert’s(1905-1951) music and, in particular, his sole sonata of 1928/9 and the music of Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998) whose four piano sonatas cover a period of nearly fifty years, from 1936-1984.

Observations Drawn from Selected Sonatas 1930-1945 concentrates on composers such as Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958), Howard Ferguson (1908-1999), Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006), Antony Hopkins (b.1921), whose third sonata and rondo from his second sonata have recently been released by Divine Art Records, Arnold Cooke (1906-2005) and Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1990).

Hardy very much puts these composers and their sonatas within the wider context of European music, pulling together influences from a wide range of sources.

Appendix 1 includes transcriptions of interviews, by the author, with Alan Bush, Geoffrey Bush, Howard Ferguson, Alan Frank, Antony Hopkins and Sir Michael Tippett, all undertaken in 1993.

There is a Catalogue of Piano Sonatas 1870-1945, a very inclusive discography, a list of other recordings referred to in the text, a large comprehensive bibliography and index and list of musical examples and acknowledgments. Given the rarity of public performances of so many of the works featured in this engrossing book, it is of great interest to see just how many of these sonatas have been recorded.

Lisa Hardy’s book, full of a huge amount of meticulous research, is an enormous achievement .This book will be of great interest to both professional musicians and the general music loving public. Whilst it deals in depth with many of the works featured, it is also immensely readable. I shall be returning to this book again and again.

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