A Blog about the Wardour Castle Summer Schools 1964, 1965

A review of the Wardour Castle Concert 1965

This review from the Times, 1965. I love the crossword-cryptic final two sentences (and that they appear with the verso of The Times Crossword Puzzle).

Wardour Castle Concert

For the past two years a week’s unique kind of summer school for composers and other interested in their problems has been held at Wardour Castle in Wiltshire. In the evenings doors are open to the general public for concerts cleverly juxtaposing old and new music, some of it brand new, such as on Friday when the Melos Ensemble introduces works which they themselves had commissioned from the school’s director, Harrison Birtwistle, and Peter Maxwell Davies.

Birtwistle’s “Tragoedia” was immediate enough in impact to earn cheers. Even though inspiration comes from the structural elements of Greek theatre rather than from any specific story, the music is highly charged with drama: the ancient formal symmetry that this composer values so much is brilliantly enhanced by vivid and daring contrasts of tone colour drawn from a chamber ensemble of strings and wind. We look forward to hearing the work again with the big central “Episodia” and concluding “Exodus” with which Birtwistle is planning to complete it.

Peter Maxwell Davies’s motet, “Ecce Manus Tradentis”, likewise has roots in antiquity, but in the church rather than in the theatre. It is introduced by authentic plainsong (this composer’s deepest inspiration fount) and remains reflective rather than dramatic account of the Betrayal – perhaps emotion is even a shade too consistently recollected in esoteric tranquility for this particular drama. Contrapuntal cunning counts for more than colour per se (in spite of those unexpected handbells added to harp and wind in support of the vocal consort); even so, memory is haunted by a desolate and beautiful duo for flute and harp leading to the words “Domine, tecum paratus”. Maxwell Davies was also represented by two instrumental settings of “In Nomine” (from a larger projected set) throwing subtle and sensitive new light on the plainsong, “Gloria Tibi Trinitias”; placed in the context of similar variations on this theme by Taverner, Tallis, Blitheman, and Purcell, this new music seemed not at all anachronistic, but like a river widening its course on the way to the sea.

Church music by Dunstable involving the plainsong of Sarum near by added to the pleasure of this perceptively planned and executed programme.

Times, Monday August 23 1965, 15

[Edit, 8 January 2010, Birtwistle indicated to me that the changes to Tragoedia were minor:

(LS100060, 22’14”)]

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