Photograph above taken at the Carmelite Monastery, Quidenham, Norfolk on November 18th 2006 by Pliable.
Now playing - November Woods (1917) by Arnold Bax, performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson (Chandos LP ABRD066). Bax described himself as a 'brazen romantic', so you won't find him on Sequenza21. His life and music were informed by literature and nature, and he drew on Celtic and Nordic mythology for inspiration. November Woods is a close companion to two other Bax tone poems, The Garden of Fand and Tintagel.
The legends of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table are linked to the Cornish castle of Tintagel, and Bax's eponymous tone poem is available on one of my nomination for the greatest records of the 20th century. This EMI recording was made in No 1 Studio, Abbey Road with Robert Kinloch Anderson producing in 1967. The coupling is one of the great 20th century symphonies, Vaughan Williams 5th, the score of which was completed in 1943, and is dedicated to Jean Sibelius 'without permission'. Both works are conducted by one of the great 20th century conductors, Sir John Barbirolli. As you may have guessed I recommend it. Also recommended is Bax's autobiography Farewell My Youth. Sadly it is now out of print, my copy is of a 1949 edition and expect to pay quite a high price if you find a copy.
The words on the crucifix at Quidenham in my header photo are: Wanderers stay and think of me here a while, how I hung on the cross so that thou could come to me. This message is reflected in Vaughan Williams' magnificent 5th Symphony which draws on material from his 1951 opera The Pilgrim's Progress which in turn was based on John Bunyan's 17th century allegorical novel. There is a classic EMI recording of the opera with Sir Adrian Boult conducting, and John Noble singing The Pilgrim. It was made in London's Kingsway Hall in 1972 with exemplary sound from the legendary producer and engineering team of the two Christophers - Bishop and Parker. My webname, Pliable, comes from one of the characters in Bunyan's novel. I have been married for 30 years today, and my wife thinks it significant that Pliable was one of the two residents of The City of Destruction in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The other was Obstinate.
That mention of The City of Destruction brings this Overgrown Path through more November Woods to its final destination. The two photographs above were taken yesterday as we walked through the campus of the University of East Anglia to the Sainsbury Center for Visual Arts to view their magnificent Francis Bacon exhibition. Bacon shared Celtic connections with Bax, and was born in Dublin in 1909, although he spent much of his creative life in London. The exhibition focuses on Bacon's work from the 1950s, and quite stunning it is. Just as even the very best audio system cannot realistically reproduce an orchestral fortissimo from a recording, so Bacon's paintings cannot be done justice on the printed page. They must be seen in the flesh. Some are massive, black statements from the City of Destruction, but others, by contrast, celebrate with colour Bacon's love of van Gogh and travel. And those contrasts brings me the end of this Path. It has travelled from the enlightenment, through romanticism to the modern, and is a reminder, if we neeed one, of how fortunate we are to live in a society of contrasts that can embrace equally Bunyan, and Bax, and Bacon, and beyond.
* Listen to a 43 minute BBC audio programme on Vaughan William's Fifth Symphony -
* For more recordings of Bax, Vaughan Williams and their contemporaries take An Overgrown Path to Treasure trove of 20th century composers
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