Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
, Op. 18 (1933) [9:49]
, Op. 17a (1918-19) [3:38]
Three Greek Dances, Op.44 (1926, revised 1927) for small orchestra [10:06]
Concert Piece, Op.65 for oboe/cor anglais, two harps and orchestra (1957)
, Op.20 (1918) Suite (orchestration by composer
of original version for solo piano (1917)) [6:44]
Variations on 'Cadet Rousselle' (French Folk Song) (1930) (various composers
orch. Goossens) [3:47]
Two Nature Poems, Op. 25 (1937-38) [11:19]
Intermezzo from Don Juan de Mañara
, Op. 54 (1935) [6:22]
Jeff Crellin (oboe/cor anglais) Marshall Maguire (harp I) Alannah Guthrie
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia,
15-16 June 2010, 5 September 2011, 7 September 2012.
Many years ago the organist at St Andrew’s
Church, Stepps, near Glasgow was a gentleman by the name of Kenneth
Dawkins. He hailed from Birmingham. He told me many tales, some of which
may have been exaggerated. However, I do believe that it was true he
had played a piano duet with Maurice Ravel. The relevant tale is this.
One day, as a young man, he was in a shop in Birmingham and had bought
a copy of Goossens’ Kaleidoscope which had just been published.
He ended up at a friend’s house and went across to the piano and
sight-read through the dozen miniature tone poems. His friend was entertaining
a guest and … you’ve guessed it - it was Eugene Goossens.
Fortunately Mr. Dawkins was complimentary. I recall him playing these
pieces to me from his copy of the sheet music that had been autographed
by the composer. I think they are quite simply magical.
Kaleidoscope began life as a suite of a dozen pieces published in
1918. In 1920 the composer orchestrated the Hurdy Gurdy Man for
the well-known ballerina Tamara Karsavina who was the Prima Ballerina
of the Ballets Russes. Some six years later the film director Ernest
Irving had the entire suite arranged for chamber orchestra - this was
featured in a ballet called The Tragedy of Fashion. The liner-notes
suggest that this spurred Goossens on to make his own arrangement -
he scored eight of them for full orchestra and subtitled it as a Suite
for Children. It was first heard in this version during the 1933
The work may have been predicated on things that once appealed to children
-such as The March of the Wooden Soldier and The Punch and
Judy Show yet the musical style and sound-world is hardly designed
to appeal to young people of any era. There is a huge emotional difference
between the edgy Good Morning and the sad and reflective closing
Good-night. The Promenade is wistful and does not really
suggest high spirits or a child’s romping around. The Hurdy
Gurdy Man is a sad little character as is The Wooden Soldier
who seems to have fought his final battle. How wretched is the Lament
for a Departed Doll? It is heart-breaking, but stunningly beautiful
music. I love the wit of the Old Musical Box - it plays such
a lively little tune. The Punch and Judy Show reflects the dichotomy
of this age-old entertainment - the humour and the cruelty.
Kaleidoscope is subtle and often introverted music that fuses
impressionism with neo-classicism. It is up to the listener to decide
if this music is parody or pastiche. R.H. Hull, writing in 1932 suggested
that ‘Goossens’ [Suite] is effective ... even though the
border-line between calculated amusement and unintentional triviality
is not always clear.’ I must add that I love every note of this
work - either in its piano or orchestral versions. Out of interest the
missing movements from the orchestration are The Rocking Horse,
A Ghost Story, the Clockwork Dancer and A Merry Party.
Most listeners will be familiar with Malcolm Arnold’s well-known
Overture: Tam O’ Shanter. Fewer will know the other musical
interpretations of this poem by George W. Chadwick (1918-19), Learmont
Drysdale (1890) and the ‘Humoresque’ Tam by Sir Alexander
Mackenzie. Another entry on this list is the short Scherzo for
orchestra by Eugene Goossens. Enthusiasts will know the piece from the
Vernon Handley recording made in 1996. This is a short number that does
not try to make a detailed match of Robert Burns’ text to the
music. What Goossens has done is to pick a few elements from the tale
and pack them into the three and half minute scherzo. The effect is
impressive. It is easy to pick out the shambling horse in the opening
bars, the build-up to the chase, the dance and the escape - all in a
compressed form. There are only occasional ‘scotticisms’
in the music. It was first heard at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert
at Queen’s Hall, London on 29 April 1919 conducted by Geoffrey
The ‘Three Greek Dances’ were composed in 1926 (revised
1927) for the choreographer and dance educator Margaret Morris. The
liner-notes point out that her approach was ‘synonymous with a
style of dancing that we associate with the 1920s; making shapes on
stage with arms and flowing robes.’ Morris’s contribution
was to create a dance and movement training methodology. This was called
the ‘Margaret Morris Movement’ (MMM). It was an attempt
at creating something that was more natural for dancers than so-called
‘classical ballet’ choreography. The three dances are quite
simply delicious in mood. It is difficult to categorise - but it is
fair to say that Goossens beats the impressionists at their own game.
It is almost an English La Mer. I am not sure if the imagery
is meant to imply ancient or modern Greece, but that does not seem to
matter. As MMM implies, flowing robes will suggest ‘ancient’
but the musical picture could be of the Greek Islands at the present
day. Goossens also wrote ‘Three Pagan Hymns’ for Margaret
A totally different sound-world is entered with the Concert Piece, Op.65
for oboe/cor anglais, two harps and orchestra which dates from 1957.
It was premiered in 1958 by Eugene Goossens’ brother Leon and
his two sisters, the harpists Sidonie and Marie. It was written to showcase
their skills. It has been said on more than one occasion that this work
is valedictory. There are certainly notes of regret, sadness, longing
and even despair. However, the work lightens towards the end with a
pastiche circus polka. I had to listen to this piece a couple of times,
and even then I am not sure that I like it. Yet something tells me it
is a masterpiece. There is an impressionistic mood to some of this music
although the harmonic language is at times more ‘advanced’.
The composer makes use of a number of instrumental effects on the harps
including threading paper through the strings to give a percussive effect
and ‘thrummed’ accompaniment. There is always a good balance
between the reed tone of the oboe and the iridescent sounds of the harps.
One unusual feature of these ‘variations’ is the quotations
from ‘famous’ orchestral repertoire.
The Four Conceits, Op.20 are another example of a set of piano pieces
that Goossens has chosen to orchestrate. They were originally composed
during the Great War in 1917. In this case Goossens orchestrated the
work immediately and it was heard in this version the following year.
According to the liner-notes, Diaghilev used the work as a ‘Symphonic
Interlude’ during the 1919 season of Ballets Russes at the Alhambra
Theatre. These four pieces are tiny. The opening ‘Conceit’
is entitled Gargoyle - a bit spooky, but certainly not scary.
The Dance Memories is a little waltz with scraps of themes tossed
about. There is little romance here, more bitter-sweet. The Walking
Tune has a theme that one seems to know but cannot quite place.
Perhaps Percy Grainger is called to mind. The finale is related to Kaleidoscope:
the Marionette Show reveals some lively and malevolent characters
but who is evil - the puppets or the puppet master? It is the quality
of the orchestration that makes these into a credible orchestral work,
in spite of their short duration.
The short Variations on Cadet Rousselle were composed in 1918
at the behest of the music critic Edwin Evans. Four composers produced
a small set of variations on the French folk song that satirized a French
bailiff by the name of Guillaume (William) Rousselle. They were Arnold
Bax, Frank Bridge, John Ireland and Eugene Goossens. These were originally
devised for soprano and piano. Goossens made this attractive and humorous
transcription for orchestra in 1930. It is hardly a masterwork, but
certainly deserves its place on this CD.
The Two Nature Poems presented here began life as Three Nature Poems,
Op.25 and were originally devised for piano solo. They were composed
in 1919. The three movements were - Awakening, Pastoral
and Bacchanal. In 1937 the composer chose to orchestrate only
the second and third Poems. The liner-notes are correct in warning the
listener not to expect an ‘idyllic English scene’ in the
Pastoral. Having said that, I do feel this music is not quite
as bleak as Lewis Foreman has suggested. It is more a Northern landscape
(Mill-stone Grit, Pennine) than something with blue southern skies.
The muted trumpets may well suggest a blasted heath? This is appropriate
bearing in mind when the pieces were originally composed. The Bacchanal
is a masterpiece: this is a riot of orchestral colour that amply suggests
the wine, women and song that was the modus operandi of the god Bacchus
and his merry crew.
The opera Don Juan de Mañara was composed in 1935 and
duly received a single performance at the Royal Opera House, Covent
Garden. The libretto of the opera had been written by Arnold Bennett
and was based on a story by the great French novelist Alexandre Dumas’
father. The plot would appear to have lost its way, and would be regarded
as being a bit ‘melodramatic’ by today’s opera-goers.
The Intermezzo was a prelude to Act IV which was set in the Church
of the Sacred Rosary. This is attractive music and it makes one wonder
what the rest of the opera must have sounded like. Interestingly, Gerald
Finzi was not impressed, he felt that it ‘had not the bones of
life in it’ and that it was ‘second hand [Richard] Strauss’.
It is almost redundant to praise the excellent sound quality of this
CD. The same applies to the enthusiastic, but always sensitive and sympathetic
playing by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis. The
liner-notes written by Lewis Foreman are informative and make essential
This CD is a tremendously important addition to the catalogues. The
main competitor is Vernon Handley’s fine 3-CD retrospective of
the composers music recorded on ABC Classics 476 7632. Chandos are picking
up a number of loose ends. Volume 1 included the fundamental Symphony
No.1 and the ‘Phantasy’ Concerto for piano and orchestra
Op. 60. Looking at Goossens’ catalogue there are certainly more
works to be recorded. I am not aware if it is the intention to record
the ‘complete’ orchestral works’ or just a selection.
Let us hope it is the former. There are a number of withdrawn works
that may be ripe for rediscovery - such as the symphonic poems based
on Ossian and Perseus. Then there is the ‘Cowboy’
Fantasy and the Variations on a Theme of Eugene Goossens.
Some of his stage music may also be worth reviving, such as the ballet-score
L’ecole en crinoline and the incidental music to East
of Suez. Meanwhile enjoy these eight works and take them steadily:
they all deserve the listener’s undivided attention.