Thursday, October 27, 2016

Much more than 'The Leek Ascending'


A recent post touched on the symphonies of William Mathias and today's features those of another composer from the 'Land of My Fathers'. It is all too easy to dismiss the Welsh symphonists as Vaughan Williams with slag heaps. In fact they have little in common with their pastoral colleagues across the border, and much more in common with the music of mainland Europe. Bartók's influence can be heard in William Mathias' music, and his contemporary Daniel Jones was influenced by. but not wedded to, European serialism.

As a close friend of Dylan Thomas, Daniel Jones was an early editor of Thomas' poetry and his Fourth Symphony was composed in memory of the poet. He was one of a small group of composers that included Peter Racine Fricker, Benjamin Frankel and Bernard Stevens who developed a hybrid style that experimented with elements of serialism while remaining rooted in tonality. As a result Daniel Jones' symphonies have the merit of combining progressivism with accessibility. But his auspiciously hybrid style has not found favour with dedicated followers of music fashion, and as a result his meritorious symphonies linger in obscurity*.

Daniel Jones' biggest problem was being Welsh and having a very common Welsh name. It is no coincidence that Hans Keller chose the Central European name Piotr Zak for the fictitious composer in his legendary Third Programme spoof on music fashion. If a Daniel Jones symphony was programmed in a BBC Prom and credited to Dorjan Juhász (1912-1993) it would doubtless reach a much wider audience.

* Lyrita's CD of Daniel Jones' Symphonies 4, 7 & 8 is highly recommended. Both Sir Charles Groves and Bryden Thomson are persuasive advocates of Jones' music, and Symphonies 4 and 7 (Groves/RPO) were recorded for EMI in Studio Abbey Road by legendary staff producer Christopher Bishop and issued on an ASD LP before being sub-licensed to Lyrita. lso recommended is the Lyrita CD of Symphonies 6 and 9, and the choral The Country Beyond the Stars. A number of samples of Jones' symphonies can be found on the copyright penumbra that is YouTube. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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