Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Rubbra is kind of a big deal

Last night's BBC Proms performance of Edmund Rubbra's Ode to the Queen was the first time his music has been heard at a Prom for twelve years. Which is a good reason to be thankful. But, and yes I know some people are never satisfied, why was that particular work - which is one of his least typical and least memorable - chosen? Presumably because it linked to the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen's Coronation; an event which the opening work, Walton's March 'Orb and Sceptre' was also commissioned for. If that is the case it is a pity; because the nod to relevance meant an opportunity to introduce Proms audiences to a very fine and undeservedly neglected symphonist was missed - see tweets above and below. Either Rubbra's Tenth Symphony Sinfonia da Camera or his Eleventh - a work that compresses his very essence into a single movement - would have almost exactly fitted the thirteen minute slot occupied by the Ode to the Queen. (As an aside John StorgÄrds excessively fast speeds in the Bruch Concerto last night meant that work almost fitted into thirteen minutes as well). Rubbra's current neglect is based on fashion rather than merit, and it is illuminating to recall that in 1961 at the start of arch modernist Sir William Glock's tenure as BBC controller of music and the Proms, there were twenty-six broadcasts of Rubbra's music across the BBC networks; this compared with three of Boulez's music and one of Stockhausen's. Glock himself commissioned Rubbra's Veni Creator Spiritus for the 1966 Proms and the most unlikely people have a Rubbra moment. As Leo Black writes in his important 2010 book BBC Music in the Glock Era and After:
Music is bound to have its fashions, its ups and downs, and by the same token equally important composers such as Edmund Rubbra now stand a chance (though no more) of retrieving some of the esteem so rightly accorded to them before 1959, and our temporary worship of anything post-Schoenbergian but neglect of any major talent is a pity...
* For his Edmund Rubbra moment Alex Ross samples the con moto opening movement of the composer's Fourth Symphony. This work is coupled with the previously mentioned Tenth and Eleventh symphonies on an outstanding Chandos CD from Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. If you really want to know why Rubbra is kind of a big deal buy this disc.

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1 comment:

Pliable said...

Two pieces of Proms trivia.

The 1966 premiere of Rubbra's Veni Creator Spiritus was conducted by Malcolm Arnold whose Concerto for Two Violins was also programmed - "neglect of any major talent is a pity..."

The Rubbra performance twelve years ago was Richard Hickox conducting the BBC NOW in the glorious Fourth Symphony, Ravel's G major Piano Concerto and Elgar's Second Symphony. "Rarely, rarely comest thou, spirit of delight..."