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Arnold BAX

A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax

by Graham Parlett

hardback £70

ISBN 0-19-816586-2

Clarendon Press, Oxford 1999


Because I am late (very late - four years in fact) in reviewing this book many Bax enthusiasts will already have it. Those who are still dithering and who look for a lead let me now give it. There is no getting away from it; outright Baxians must have this catalogue.

What is in this 412 page book?

There is the author's four page foreword plus a six page introduction. There the author has some provocative things to say including a fatalistic acceptance that, apart from Tintagel, much of Bax's music is destined to remain unheard in live performance.

There is a good swift four page chronology of Bax's life. Preliminary notes and an abbreviations key provide the scene-setting for the catalogue as well as giving addresses for sourcing scores and performance materials.

Then follows a chronologically laid out catalogue of 386 entries. There are well over 400 separate movements of which nearly a quarter are orchestral. Fifty chamber works are listed, sixty pieces for piano, 25 choral items and more than 130 songs. The composition entries run from 1896 to 1953. This main catalogue runs from page 31 to page 277.

Each entry provides details of the date, orchestral specification, manuscript/location, publication details, premieres, adaptations, composer programme notes, corrections, research notes and issues and ‘loose ends’. Cross-references to the works of other composers are also given.

Bax admirers will, I guarantee, find something surprising and challenging as they leaf through these pages.

The Appendices are valuable. There are lists of works by genre (e.g. concert works for orchestra), concordance of manuscripts, list of recordings as at 1998 (and there at the head of that section are Bax's words - "The Gramophone is on the whole a ghastly invention ...", 1929), indices of poets, dedicatees, a list of unfulfilled projects and a list of literary works. There is the best Bax bibliography I have encountered and an index of titles and first lines. There is an overarching index running to 20 pages.

In many ways this book completes the Bax documentation. There is the opulence of Lewis Foreman's biography (out of print now but perhaps to be reissued in paperback), there is Colin Scott-Sutherland's spiritual account of the life and symphonies (1972), there are the complete poems and there is Mr Foreman's annotated version of ‘Farewell My Youth’.

Let’s take ten treasurable facts as illustration of the breadth and richness of the catalogue entries:-

Bax felt that the Overture, Elegy and Rondo, the FS of which was stolen from the lounge of the Park Lane Hotel in 1930 was ‘amongst my brightest and most optimistic compositions.’

The Hosting At Dawn Fanfare, 1921, was Bax's response to the invitation to many composers to celebrate the launch of the music magazine ‘Fanfare’. Other fanfare contributors included Goossens, Harrison, Holbrooke, Wellesz and Felix White.

The Boar's Head for male voices was written for the Blackpool Festival Committee for the 1923 competition which was won by the Warrington Male Choral Union.

The Variations on the name Gabriel Fauré for strings orchestra and harp was written for Boyd Neel and premiered by him in 1961. It was to have been given again by Neel in 1977 but this came to nothing

While I knew that the Bax Fifth Symphony was premiered at a Sargent-Courtauld concert on 15 Jan 1934, I did not know that Beecham repeated it on 16 January.

Spring Fire is well known to have been written for the Norwich festival of 1914 but cancelled on the outbreak of War. I had not realised that it was dedicated to Henry J Wood.

Of the Fourth Symphony, Christopher Whelen once recalled Bax referring to it as 'my Sea Symphony’.

Did you know that Bax wrote a sonnet to Fauré, beginning "O unknown elder brother across the sea / Thou singest, and magic summers linger long"?

The Second Symphony was to have been used as a ballet by Walter Gore in the 1972 London Festival Ballet season. It never happened.

There you have it. This book will enable all true Baxians to triangulate their experience of this composer and his music. It will play its own part in prompting the musician to try out this or that work, guiding the conductor through the trauma of performance, the collector will be prompted to reach down that CD, LP or cassette and the recording company to examine the gaps (now precious few) in the discography (Faure Variations, Victory March, the very early orchestral works). If it does then it will have more than justified the long labour of love that this book reflects and presents.

A book in which the author’s affection for this music is balanced with academic rigour - a guiding hand; an authoritative friend.

Rob Barnett



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