Music that overflows with optimism

Rubbra's output reveals a unity on two levels: the musical, which is readily demonstrable, and the less easily perceived religous/philosophical, which overrides the musical and encompasses almost everything he wrote. It is universal rather than sectarian, an instinctive blend of the most spiritual and mystical elements of Buddhism and Catholicism. It led to a music that overflows with optimism and a sense of well-being, though the, at times, dramatic and conflictual aspects attest to the hard-won nature of that ultimate peace and reassurance.
Edmund Rubbra's biographer Ralph Scott Grover writes in the 2001 New Grove. If Rubbra is known at all today, it is for his eleven symphonies and the violin concerto, all of which overflow with that 'optimism and sense of well-being'. But there is also some very fine and little known chamber music, including four superb quartets, that deserves to come out of the shadow of more fashionable twentieth-century compositions. The Dutton CD above comes from the adventurous chamber music group Endymion who also appeared on the excellent NMC disc of Elisabeth Lutyens music that featured here last year in print and as a podcast. A point of clarification at this point; the Dutton CD sleeve gives the performers as the Endymion Ensemble. There is (was?) a US group of this name. The UK band simply call themselves Endymion, and it is this group that performs on the Dutton disc. Endymion are also doing important work rehabilitating the music of York Bowen. The best known work on their rewarding CD of Rubbra's music is his Sonata for Oboe and Piano, Op. 100, which was written for Evelyn Rothwell (Lady Barbirolli). Other musical connections abound in this collection of the composer's chamber music. His Phantasy, Op. 16 is dedicated to Gerald Finzi. Dutch oboeist Peter Bree, who specialises in twentieth-century music (follow the path to Jules Röntgen), commissioned and recorded the Duo, Op. 156. Arnold Bax's brother Clifford wrote the 1947 BBC radio play The Buddha for which Rubbra provided the incidental music, which became his Suite, The Buddha, Op. 64. Rubbra had a life-long interest in comparative religion, mysticism, and metaphysical literature. He briefly practiced Buddhism before returning to Catholicism. His output also included some very fine sacred choral music that is well worth exploring. This includes a Magnificat and Missa Cantuariensis for the Anglican rite, and a Latin Mass and motets. All can be found on the recommended Naxos disc by Christopher Robinson and the Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge below.

The Pink Floyd, Weather Report, Edmund Rubbra, and much more, in The Year is '72.
I am indebted to Leo Black's Edmund Rubbra Symphonist (ISBN 9781843833550). My copy was supplied by the publisher, Boydell & Brewer, at my request. Both Rubbra CDs featured were purchased by me. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Unknown said…
We did 'Sinfonia Sacra' at the U of Bristol Choral Society a few years ago!
Pliable said…
I wish I had known about that performance of Rubbra's magnificent Sinfonia Sacra in Bristol - I would have been there like a shot. (Our son did his Masters at Bristol University a while ago).

The news of that performance confirms my view that increasingly you have to follow overgrown paths away from 'Big Music' to smaller and innovative ensembles hear the interesting and worthwhile.

Sinfonia Sacra at the BBC Proms anyone?
Unknown said…
Also we did Matthias 'This Worldes Joie', and Dyson's 'Canterbury Pilgrims' (Freeman Dyson was present!)

University Choral Societies are a good place to find this sort of thing.
Pliable said…
My one and only appearance in an opera was a walk on part in Glinka's A Life for the Tsar in a Reading University Operatic Society production in my very distant student days.

In a neat piece of synchronicity Edmund Rubbra taught at Reading University. But that was somewhat before my time there!

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