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ENGLISH MUSIC





 

England is world famous for its literature, painting (particularly its water-colours), for its theatre, but not for its great composers. Now why is this so?

Germans would have insisted if asked that the English are not a musical people, that England is the land that cares little for music. But this is not true. In fact the 16th century and early 17th witnessed Germans visiting England to listen to music. Even back in the 15th century Dunstable enjoyed European reputation for his church music, and nearly two centuries later Dowlard’s songs and arias for the lute there widely printed and performed abroad. Speaking for the music in England of the 17th century we should but consider merely the splendid quality of Purcell’s best work and the amount of music, of all kinds, and most of it performed, that he produced during his short life (1659-1695). This means that the demand for music was great, at least at Court and in London.

In the 18th and 19th centuries England may have been very backward indeed in the creation of symphonies and concertos, but a nation so eagerly vocal – the existing tradition of English choralsinging should mentioned here – can hardly be described as being pathetically unmusical. And if London, after Handel, produced no great music, it could heartily welcome such music, and if necessary, as the record shows, was ready to commission work from famous composers, when left ignored by their own Central Europe, because in England there were certainly persons anything but indifferent to music.

Besides, it is quite explainable why the 18th century produced no great composers. The 18th century delighted in the theatre and entertainment in general. The main entertainment was ballad opera, which usually offered as much spoken dialogue as it did songs and dances.

As to the composers of the 19th century, we should remember that the musical climate of Victorian England was unfavourable to bold and daring composition. The first important British composer in two hundred years – that is, since the death of Purcell – was Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934). Elgar loved England, her past, her people, her countryside and he responded to her need for a National artist. By inclination he was natural musician of great invention. “It was my idea” he said, “that music is in the air all around us, the world is full of it and it is important that you should take as much of it as you wish”. What he took was not always distinguished, but he managed to transform it into something that shone with all the brilliance of the romantic orchestra.

His music full of sound and movement comes from an eclectic late 19th century style. Elgar borrowed elements from Brahms, Strauss, and even from Verdi, but it is stamped with British personality all the same, “he might have been a great composer if he had not been such a perfect gentleman”, one of his admirers wrote. Nevertheless Elgar served his country well and England will long remember him.

Frederic Delius (1862-1934) comes next. He found it essential that music should be the expression of a poetic and emotional nature, and indeed Delius’s music reminds us of the England landscape and its seasons: the freshness of spring, the short-lived brilliancy of summer, the sadness of autumn. He was regarded as the most poetic composer born in England.

Delius was lucky to find an ideal interpreter in Sir Thomas Beecham. It was due to this dynamic conductor that Delius’s music became popular is Great Britain. Sir Thomas Beecham organised in 1927 a six-day festival of Delius’s works which he conducted himself. It is said that had Sir Thomas Beecham not organised that festival Delius might have died unrecognized as an artist.

The English renaissance in music was heralded by an awakening of interest in the native song and dance. Out of this interest a generation of composers came. The most important figure among them was Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) – the representative of English music of the international scene.

He suggested that a composer in England should draw inspiration from life around him. He was in the first place a melodist. His love of folk tunes was part of an essentially melodic approach to music. His natural expression was diatonic, with strong leaning toward modal harmony and counterpoint. He favoured old forms – the passacalia, fugue and concerto grosso, also Elizabethan fantasia with its flowing counterpoint. He held the attention of the world due to his superb command of the grand form.

Speaking of today’s music it should be mentioned that now there are a great many composers hard at work and what they are doing is very promising.

 

Tasks

I. Read the text. Make sure you understand it. Mark the following statements true or false.

1. England is famous for its literature, painting and music. 2. The purpose of Germans who visited England was to listen to music. 3. In the 18th and 19th centuries England was famous for its choral singing. 4. British composers preferred to create such musical works as symphonies and concertos. 5. Sir Edward Elgar was inspired only by Italian music. 6. Elgar’s music was marked with British personality, full of sound and movement. 7. Frederic Delius shows us in his music the English nature. 8. Delius did much himself to popularize his music. 9. Ralph Williams draw inspiration from music of old masters. 10. His favorite old forms are passacaglia, fugue and concerto grosso.

 

II. How well have you read? Can you answer the following questions?

1. What composers have you read in the text about? 2. What musical forms are mentioned in the text? 3. What can you say about music of the 16th -17th centuries in England? 4. What did Sir Edward Elgar say about the music? 5. What was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in England? 6. Who was considered “a perfect gentleman”? 7. What is the English renaissance in music characterized by? 8. Who and how helped Delius to become famous? 9. Who was inspired by the life around? 10. Ralph Williams was a great melodist, wasn’t he? 11. What did Ralph Williams suggested? 12. Why can’t we say that the nation was unmusical?

 

III. Give Russian equivalents of the following phrases:

Symphonies and concertos, music is in the air all around us, unrecognized as an artist, an awakening of interest in the native song and dance, arias for the lute, Victorian England, indifferent to music, the expression of a poetic and emotional nature, to care little for music, superb command of the grand form, to borrow elements from, the freshness of spring, to be regarded as, it should be mentioned.

 

IV. Give English equivalents of the following phrases:

Быть знаменитым, церковная музыка, акварель, хоровое пение, быть полным звука и движения, черпать вдохновение из, предпочитать старые музыкальные формы, смелые и дерзкие сочинения, музыкант-изобретатель, народные мотивы, поклонник, пейзажи и времена года, печаль осени, рожденный в Англии, диатонический.

 

V. Summarize the text.

 






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