The colour of music

Useful article in this week's New Statesman on the Eye Music: Kandinsky, Klee and All That Jazz exhibition that I wrote about here a couple of weeks back.

Now playing - A Colour Symphony by Sir Arthur Bliss, with Vernon Handley conducting the Ulster Orchestra. This 1922 work is a musical bridge between the pageantry of Elgar and the progressiveness of Stravinsky and Milhaud. There are four movements, Purple - Andante maestoso, Red - Allegro vivace, Blue - Gently flowing, and finally, Green - Moderato.

Sir Arthur Bliss held that most royal of musical titles, Master of the Queen's Music. He is remembered as an English composer, and is unlikely to feature on Sequenza21. But he was in fact half-American (on his father’s side), and America played an important part in his life and career. In 1923 Bliss went with his father to the United States, and was active there as a conductor, pianist, lecturer and writer. During the time he was in the US his music was played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Monteux and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. He met Trudy Hoffmann in California and married her in 1925, and returned to England the following year.

A Colour Symphony was composed the year before the composer travelled to America, and the work was a major success on both sides of the Atlantic. But both this work, and the composer's reputation, have faded into obscurity in the intervening years. Today Bliss is usually remembered for his score for the 1936 film based on H.G. Wells' novel The Shape Of Things To Come. That is unfair. His music deserves to be heard more often, particularly A Colour Symphony and Music For Strings. As they say on, if you bought Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra you will like Bliss' Music for Strings.

Wonderful playing from the Ulster Orchestra under Tod Handley in A Colour Symphony. Read more about that fine orchestra here.
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Pliable said…
Email received:

That particular performance of Checkmate is astounding.

Don't forget his Piano Concerto. Wonderful recording with Solomon.


David Cavlovic
Unknown said…
I have been avidly collecting the Bliss discs released by Naxos, and was fortunate enough to hear the Piano Concerto played by Peter Donahoe in Birmingham a couple of years ago. Fantastic music - and deserving of a much wider audience!

Was also present at (and greatly enjoyed) the OAE at Birmingham Town Hall last week, playing a programme based on the Triennial Festivals, including some very fine, deeply unfashionable, music. All this and Thomas Trotter on the Town Hall organ!
JMW said…
I've loved A Colour Symphony since i was a teenager, and time has not dimmed my enthusiasm for it. Great work, and that Handley performance is also terrific! I have never heard a Bliss orchestral work in concert, and that's a shame.

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