The Year is '72
1972 was a bad year for violence. It started on 'Bloody Sunday' January 30 when British troops opened fire on civilian demonstrators in the Bogside, Derry, Northern Ireland, killing thirteen people (below). And it continued through the year, and beyond, as the US B-52s (above) unleashed their Christmas bombardment on Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. The bombing was started by president Richard Nixon against the advice of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, and with opposition from the majority of Congress (does that sound familiar?).
Violence and sport collided in September at the Munich Olympics when members of the Israeli team were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists. A failed rescue attempt resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes, five kidnappers, and one German police officer, and sparked a series of Israeli revenge assassinations. 1972 was also a bad year for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover who died in office in May age 77, having held the position since 1924.
Space travel and missiles were much in the news. The three-man US spacecraft Apollo 17 successfully landed on the moon, and the crew took the last moon walk. Back on earth the SALT 1 Treaty between the US and USSR introduced limits on strategic nuclear missiles. And the whole Xbox thing started with the simple paddle operated Pong video game.
In a year of violence the committee for the Nobel Peace prize dediced not to make an award, instead the prize money was allocated to the main prize fund. But the Literature prize was awarded, to German novelist Heinrich Boll for his acute observations of post-war Germany. He produced one of my all time favourite quotations, 'meddling is the only way to stay relevant', and his view on the role of art in society was pungently expressed in his Nobel acceptance speech.
"Art is always a good hiding-place, not for dynamite, but for intellectual explosives and social time bombs. Why would there otherwise have been the various Indices? And precisely in their despised and often even despicable beauty and lack of transparency lies the best hiding-place for the barb that brings about the sudden jerk or the sudden recognition." (from Nobel Lecture, 1973)
The top selling non-fiction title for the year didn’t contain too much intellectual explosive – it was Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. But the number two title did contain some well-placed social time-bombs, it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 (he went on to win the Nobel Literature prize in 1970). Another sort of revolution was started with the publication of Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, the first of a sequence of titles that have lived off the fat of the land for the last thirty years.
In rock music the albums were the Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street (right), and the Pink Floyd ‘concept album’ Dark Side of the Moon. Also expressing lunar preoccupations was the last album from the tragically talented Nick Drake, Pink Moon. And another last album was Clear Spot, made by the team of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band before the magic failed and they went their own ways.
In the jazz world Weather Report produced their fusion classic I Sing the Body Electric, while Chick Corea moved in the other direction with his sparse Light as a Feather. Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson died in Chicago, and violence came to the performing arts when talented young hard bop trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot dead by his mistress New York City jazz club.
Change was also abroad in classical music. Pierre Boulez was in his second year as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and new music ruled in London. UK premieres included Maderna's Julliard Serenade, Stockhausen's Mixtur (version for small orchestra), Ligeti's Ramifications, Crumb's Echoes of time and the river, Sessions Fifth Symphony, Xenakis' Avrova, Berio's Chemin 11b, Boulez's e.e. cummings ist der dichter, and Maxwell Davies' Blind Man's Buff.
I joined the BBC from university in 1972 (see trivia note below). One of my most vivid musical memories of that time is a searing Mahler Ninth at the Proms conducted by Bruno Maderna; I think it must have been 1972 as he was already mortally ill, and was to die the following year. His tragically early death was the inspiration for one of Boulez's most moving compositions, the funeral elegy Rituel in memoriam Maderna. Other personal musical memories for '72 include the trail-blazing Boulez concerts at the Roundhouse in London, particularly the premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies' Blind Man's Bluff.
1972 was certainly a year of violence and change in politics, and new directions in the arts. What an extraordinary time then for the composition of a tonal work using a formal design reflecting the Bach Passions. Yet that is exactly what Edmund Rubbra produced for his Op. 140, his Ninth Symphony, the Sinfonia Sacra. Subtitled 'The Resurrection', it is a setting for soprano, alto and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra, of words from the New Testament telling the story of the events from the Crucifixion to the Ascension It is arguably his masterpiece and, in my view, is a grossly under-rated work. The scoring was completed appropriately on Good Friday 1972, and the first performance was given the following year by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves.
In many ways Rubbra (photo above) defies categorisation. He was born in 1901 to of musical working-class parents. In his early years he was influenced by Holst and Vaughan Williams, but his compositions do not belong to the so-called 'pastoral school' of English Music. Instead his love of the polyphonic music of the 16th - 18th centuries infuses the texture and structure of his compositions. His mid-life conversion to Roman Catholicism was important to his musical development (and forges a link to Bruckner, both composers use cathedral like structures in their music), and in later years he became interested in Buddhism and Taoism.
The initial inspiration for the Ninth Symphony came from the painting of the Risen Christ by the Italian Renaissance painter Donato Bramante (1444-1514). The structure of the work reflects the Bach Passions, although clearly this Resurrection symphony deals with later events. It is scored for soprano, contralto, baritone, chorus and orchestra (S C Bar soloists, chor 2.2(ca).2.2. -18.104.22.168. timp perc str) and takes a contemporary feminist view by stressing the role of the women in the Resurrection story.
Each of the four sections of the forty-five minute work ends with a Catholic hymn set by Rubbra. Three of the four sections end with a Lutheran chorale, which develop seamlessly from the preceeding hymn. The chorales are based on those by Johannes Crüger (1598-1662) - see audio file below, Melchior Teschner (1584-1635) and Hans Leo Hassler (1562-1612). The use of Catholic hymns coupled with Protestant chorales was an important gesture in a year which opened with the sectarian violence of Bloody Sunday.
Rubbra’s encapsulation of the Christian message, and homage to polyphony must have seemed very out of step with the zeitgeist of 1972. But his central themes proved to be remarkably prescient, and were a precursor to a group of composers that can be said to loosely include Arvo Pärt, John Tavener and James MacMillan.
But sadly, even though Rubbra can be identified as a forerunner of some of today's fashionable composers, his works remain resolutely unfashionable in the concert hall, although the Fourth Symphony was performed at the Proms a while back. (His neglect may have something to do with the fact that his scores are published by Lengnick, a subsidiary of a pop publisher, Complete Music).
His Ninth Symphony, like most of his compositions, remains a rarity reserved for the recording studio. Fortunately we are well served by the magnificent premiere recording with Lynne Dawson (soprano), Della Jones (alto), Stephen Roberts (baritone), and the BBC National Chorus of Wales and BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Richard Hickox. Here as a sampler of this magnificent work are three brief audio files:
From the Prelude -
From the Chorus 'Crux Fidelis'-
From the Chorale 'Almighty Lord we pray thee' -
Next year is the twentieth anniversary of Rubbra's death. Thankfully his publisher, Lengnick, is preparing a new edition for the anniversary. It would be good if the BBC could give similar recognition at their Promenade Concerts, or elsewhere. But increasingly the internet driven BBC sees itself as a global brand delivering global music to global audiences. Sadly in this brave new global world local masterpieces such as Rubbra's Ninth Symphony (and Malcolm Arnold's similarly masterly and important ninth symphony) increasingly fail to register on their global radar. Regular readers will know I rate the music of J.S.Bach as one of the pinnacles of Western civilisation. Currently the BBC are putting massive PR efforts behind their forthcoming, and globally bankable, Bach Christmas. But I just wish 1% of those efforts could be put behind spreading the word about the music of Rubbra, Arnold, and other neglected 20th century composers.
Follow this link for the Edmund Rubbra website
Audio clips - Amazon
B52 - Air Force Link
Bloody Sunday - InfoSatellite.com
Rolling Stones - Rocks Off
Rubbra - Paul James
Ninth symphony CD - Musicweb-international
Trivia corner - In 1972 I was on a BBC training course, follow this link for only the fourth personal photograph in 244 posts On An Overgrown Path. Where are they now? Chris Swann went on to direct some excellent TV arts programmes including the documentary (with Humphrey Burton) on the studio recording by Bernstein of his 'West Side Story'. Andrew Mussett was a fine BBC Radio 3 Producer before bailing out, like many other talented people, in the John Birt era. Stewart Taylor moved from a career on the technical side to loudspeaker manufacturers KEF and Celestion. Report broken links, missing images, and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to The Year is '42