|I'm lately something of a fan of the music of Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986). He wrote eleven symphonies, 3 violin sonatas, four string quartets, 2 concertos for piano, a violin concerto, a viola concerto, several masses, 2 piano trios, a violoncello sonata, songs, and various other works.|
Edit 1-26-09: News from the Maggini Quartet of upcoming discs to feature quartets by Rubbra and (Gordon?) Jacob. (Hopefully all four Rubbra quartets to follow on Naxos? Who knows?) (Naxos has also remastered the Rubbra/Grinke recording of the 2nd violin sonata from LP in some regions, by the way, for MP3 download though not as a CD. This in addition to several other discs already mentioned.)
Edit 6-14-07: Hyperion Records has now released a recording of the viola concerto, the Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn (and the 1928 version of Walton's concerto also. see here- Lawrence Power, viola, Ilan Volkov, conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony.)
Edit 5-01-06: Bit late of me, should have typed this in a week ago. Radio 3 is playing the Hickox recordings of Rubbra's symphonies and many of the other works released in that Chandos series, mostly one per day on Afternoon Performance. One can still hear nos. 2 to 6 - no. 1 was on April 24 and so is no longer archived on their site (sorry I didn't announce this sooner then), 2 was the next day, 4 and 5 were on Friday and 6 was today - number 11 will be on May 5th. This will begin a 2-year-long series of broadcasts devoted specifically to music, symphonies mainly I think, by British composers...
Edit 3-22-03: There is an official site here (affiliated with Rubbra's primary publisher. Our site is unofficial and not related.)
Edit 7-4-04: Naxos may soon release a recording of the violin concerto, according to http://www.patrickgarvey.com/diary/may.html.
Edit 11-05: Naxos disc is out, contains the violin concerto, the improvisation for violin and orchestra and the Farnaby improvisations!
Noted late - in 10-07, Hickox's RCA LP of Rubbra choral works, including two masses, was reissued on Chandos Records.
A discography. Suggestions and submissions (address now corrected.) welcome; I'm aware of some LPs and CDs I've missed and will be adding them- I just wanted to get that up there as a start. (Ok, not a start anymore, but there's probably still a bit missing.)
Note: Well, the week April 23-7 (2001) is over, and BBC Radio 3 has finished its Composer of the Week segments featuring Edmund Rubbra's music. I caught three of the five using Realplayer, and enjoyed them very much. Some thoughts on the music - especially that new to me - that was played in those three hours may show up on this site in the next while, to join other comments on other works by the composer that I've jotted on this site (and its original incarnation) over the last few years. (Comment April 27 2001.)
Symphony no. 1, op. 44. I've got to hear this. It opens with a nasty clash, the first movement ends ambiguously, the second movement is an old tune (called a perigourdine), and the finale is a slow movement followed by a fugue and a really, really brassy end onto c minor (last chord C-G-D,though- I think). (Note 1-5-98: yes- D in 3rd trumpet.) It is usually negatively described as being too rigorous, too unconcerned with massaging the listener's ear with nice orchestration. For me, however, this is a positive advantage.
Postscript (written October 20, 1997). Well, I've now heard this. Waiting 6 years usually leads to disappointments, but not in this case; the symphony is a must-hear. The first movement's progress is almost unbroken by quiet until its spent end, and is very impressive. I will say that the finale is a sonata-form, 19 minutes in the Hickox recording, and very powerful; it is often quiet yet comes to major climaxes. The second movement is based on a perigourdine but is not itself one; its progress from A♭� major to F minor is gradual and very convincing!
Expect a fuller write–up on this soon.
Jan. 5 1998: The first movement is one of the most impressive ten-minute stretches of driven writing I think I ever have heard. It opens basically in B minor with 3 related themes in counterpoint over a regular drumbeat, and ends with the notes C♯ and D poised against each other for several bars. There is actually a lengthy reposeful section near the end that dies away, but you might miss it without careful attention. The scherzo is a polyphonic masterpiece whose manipulation of rhythms at the end has ancient roots. The finale combines variations and sonata in some ways, with the opening group of the sonata-form being basically variations on the spare and almost baroque-dotted opening theme. The fugal coda is, I believe, based on the second theme of the movement, and carries the listener up and away... one holds one's breath as it gathers itself to those last bars.
(Correction May 9 1998: The fugal coda takes the place of the 2nd theme group, as well as being based on the second theme.)
Symphony no. 2, op. 45. I barely know this piece. There have been 2 recordings, one on Lyrita and one, new, on Chandos, and I have heard neither. It is in either 3 or 4 movements (I forget), in D major, and the finale "Rondo" is in E♭� minor. (Four...)
Update written Nov. 1996 (typed in 12-15-96), with some changes 1-5-98:
Symphony no. 2, op. 45. (D minor, but usually written D major, not comprehensibly. Thankfully, the piece is comprehensible just fine.) Movements are in d? (ending d), c♯ (ending c♯, scherzo-like), C major (ending B), and E♭� minor (ending D major). Beautiful opening slow movement with many of the Rubbra fingerprints starts in a sort of F with a raised B, or perhaps a modal d. Intermezzo follows in c♯, sharp (rhythmically sharp!) opening, conflicted conclusion. Slow movement in third place. Rondo-finale opens rhythmically, not unlike finale of sym. 5 to be; main theme in E♭� minor recurs in many keys until a rather loud D-major close. I really like what I've heard of this piece, and it does not sound overscored. (I've now heard the whole thing and rather like it.)
Symphony no. 3, op. 49. While sym. 2 usually shares the critics' opprobrium with symphony 1, no. 3 gets good words from them for its lightness (and 5, for its combination of the lightness of 3&4 and the rigor of 1&2). I like it well enough, though the use of a theme & variations finale got on my nerves a little, I guess, since I prefer all new forms. (Of course, I write theme & variations movements all the time... but I reserve the right to be hypocritical.) The work's first movement- which begins with a lovely melody "in midair"!... ends in E, the finale in C♯.
Symphony no. 4, op. 53. Most beautiful opening to a symphony in this century, wrote the program-notes writer for the Lyrita recording (one of two this work has received, coupled with what is still the only commercial recording of the 3rd symphony; I paraphrase). I disliked the opening immensely- it reminded me of minimalism, not my favorite style (and I dislike almost everything in thatstyle). Perhaps I'll give it another try,in the recording on Chandos that came out a year ago (and which is at a library I have access to). In the meantime consider this section unwritten.
Postscript written May 9, 1998. I now have a copy of the Rubbra 4/10/11 CD on Chandos, and have listened to 4 again. It is in 3 movements, the 2nd an intermezzo, the 3rd divided up into a long Introduzione followed by a faster section largely in minor. The first movement still causes me some problems, for it is thin in parts, repetitive, and somewhat derivative; but this is only my 2nd hearing of it and I will be giving it much more of my time (with a more adequate description of it to go here once I have done so.)
Update written August 4, 1998. Can't get enough of this piece *g*- opinion, especially of first movement, has markedly improved.
(Post-post-scriptum April 11, 2001. Wonderful piece... According to the notes by Robert Saxton to the aforementioned Hickox/BBC National Orchestra of Wales recording on Chandos, the work dates from the years 1940–1942. There is also a recording (conducted I believe by del Mar and my first encounter with the work) on Lyrita and another, conducted by Rubbra, on the metamorphosing BBC Classics label (probably not its name, but I will change this when I have that right, which may have a different distributor now than Carlton...) There was a performance in the BBC Rubbra symphonies cycle in the 1980s which I do not think has reached commercial recording.
Symphony no. 5, op. 63. Finally, a work I've heard more than a few times. This is a symphony in 4 movements, basically B♭ major/minor, D major, C ♯ minor, and B♭� minor ending major. (I might be wrong about the key of the 3rd movement.) The first movement begins slowly, with some basic material. There is a fast section following (which is about half the movement) which is sonata-form-like. The scherzo is witty. Everyone comments how it goes through every key, so I shan't. The slow movement, somewhat like the cavatina of the 2nd quartet in several ways, is extended and melodic. The finale is quite brief, with a memorable minor-mode main theme to launch it (and reappear occasionally) and a majestic, slow and finally major-mode close.
Symphony no. 6, op. 80 I haven't heard this as often as I have no. 5, but I have heard it a few times. It's quite good. It's in 4 movements, the first a fast movement with introduction, the 2nd a "Canto", the 3rd a rather good scherzo, and the finale while not exceptional is effective, and mostly slow. Later hearings will probably cause me to revise it upwards. In the meantime I would describe it as a good example of Rubbra type "a". (I'll explain what I mean.)
Symphony no. 7, op. 88 I have only heard this once. It is a fast movement, an intermezzo, and a passacaglia&fugue, with the first movement in C, the second movement in C, and the finale, a passacaglia and fugue, in c minor ending in major.
(Comment April 2001: I've now heard this twice after hearing it recommended many times in the interim. It's an extremely impressive work which I really ought to add to my collection...)
Symphony no. 8, op. 132. Lovely piece, though a bit too "mystical" for my tastes. (Quick amendment dated April 2001: actually, it's a wonderful piece, and has grown on me considerably since I first wrote this.) Dedicated to a fraud (imho.-April 2001) named Teilhard de Chardin of whom posterity, my only possible audience when reading this, cannot have heard ;).
Symphony no. 9, op. 140. (Sinfonia Sacra, or,Resurrection Symphony.) I know next-to-nothing about this. It's choral, it's a setting of a religious tale whose details are not relevant here, it's said by some to be his masterpiece, it ends in A major, and eventually I shall hear it.
Postscript. I have now heard it but find it not especially impressive. More when I hear it again. The work that accompanies it on the Chandos CD (there will also soon be one from the label Conifer), "The Morning Watch", is impressive- very much so.
(Post-post-scriptum 2001. Conifer no longer seems to be an active label- can anyone confirm or disconfirm?- and this recording, which I thought had been announced, never materialized. A rehearing of part of the Sinfonia Sacra suggested that it was a good deal better than I had remembered, and I look forward to hearing the whole piece again soonest. I haven't done it justice, I believe.)
Symphony no. 10, op. 145.Sinfonia da camera "for Sir Arthur Bliss". A somewhat disappointing to my ears 1-movement work in 4 sections, with many beautiful moments but requiring more concentration to follow than I have so far been able to call up. With luck, this will change- many people like this work and perhaps some time so shall I!
Symphony no. 11, op. 153.Symphony in One Movement, "for Colette." A fine piece lasting about 15 minutes. Very memorable ending, unfortunately only recorded once so far commercially (Hickox's Chandos cycle) but that one recording does seem to me quite fine. The quiet ending is especially magical in effect.
Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra, op. 38. This work is in 3 movements, a pensive first with rhythmic fast sections (based on the opening piano writing- this movement is surprisingly well-knit) interspersed and ending angrily in a, a "Saltarella", and a prelude and fugue for finale ending in C.
Violin concerto, op. 103. This piece is in 3 movements with some similarities to Walton's second string quartet and Barber's violin concerto, especially in the finale. The first movement is based on two main themes, one tending to stay in very low registers, the other rather higher in its niche. It's in a minor. The second movement, beginning around B♭� but ending in F, has a memorable recurring climax. The third movement is a quicksilver dash whose similarities with the finale of the Walton (quartet) don't end there;there is a similarly passed-through second theme, for instance. The Rubbra, unlike the Walton, ends on an A major chord. (The last few moments are wonderfully imagined, and indeed this movement is a treat.) Moments in this fine concerto (one of my favorite Rubbra works) recall Britten's and the second of Prokofiev's violin concertos, with a somewhat sterner manner.
Viola concerto, op. 75. Another three-movement work, and almost a prototype "b"-type composition. The first movement is more or less slow and is, again,based around two themes, one bare, one Sibelian (in the woodwinds). Thereis nonetheless considerable activity in this movement, which begins in a sort of a minor/c minor and ends with a held chord of a minor. The second movement,an E♭� major scherzo, is cheeky in the best way, with a feeling of a minstrel playing in front of a band in parts (that's how it seems to me).Its nearest relative is perhaps the middle movement of Rubbra's cello sonata, though more distant, non-Rubbra relatives might include the middle movements of Britten's and the first Prokofiev violin concerti.
The finale returns to a minor. It is theme-and-variations like, and is called by the composer a musical necklace. Each bead has its own definite anddistinguishing characteristics, and the last variation, ending in A major, has a nice rhythm to it.
Cello sonata, op. 60. In three movements, basically slow-fast-rather slow, and "in G minor"despite ending in D major (g/c/g). The first movement's opening is clever, with its hints of E♭� quickly giving way to G minor; the movement, slow with faster episodes, ends in G major. The second movement, a C minor scherzo with a sudden ending (in A♭� as I recall), is based on a short-long rhythm heard often. There is a merry-go-round feeling to some of it (as with the finale of Holmboe's 6th symphony) suggesting something like a rondo but not "meeting the definition"; the ending of the movement occurs once before but at the time, veers off.
The finale opens in major (G, I think), with daringly simple music. There is a slow fugue, and then a return to calm. (Postscript early April 2001: this is being performed this year, and has been recorded at least twice, on the labels Marco Polo and Guild. (Now a third time on Dutton.) There is also a broadcast recording with Pleeth and Rubbra that is sometimes broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Of these recordings I know only the Wallfisch/York on Marco Polo.)
Violin sonata no. 1, op. 11. A few thoughts having heard the Osostowicz/Dussek recording now probably a dozen times... Three movements, an Allegro con spirito in which the violin and piano spin lyrical lines (generally) gently against each other, a Romance (Lento ma non troppo) which I find marginally the weakest movement of the work but still pleasant and melodic, and a very fine Fugal Rondo (Allegretto moderato pesante) by way of finale bringing hints of Hindemith and Walton to a work that also has suggestions of Ireland (John, that is.) The piece is not terribly characteristic of Rubbra's mature music, unsurprisingly, but I find more and more to enjoy in it the more I listen.
Violin sonata no. 2, op. 31. Perhaps one of the more recorded and played of Rubbra's chamber works (not that any of them are often,) with one CD recording (and one other, now unavailable) and several that were on LP. I wasn't very fond of it (at all.) the first few times I heard it, back in college or in grad school, in those LP recordings, but am being increasingly won over. This piece has much of the world of sound and feeling of the first quartet, I think, in its pensive first movement (Allegretto liberamente e scorrevole) (which ends, though, in a romp...), its rather deep central Lament (Lento e dolente,) and the (to my ears somehow Spanish, and ferocious...) concluding Allegro vivo e feroce (Strident and very rhythmic.)
Violin sonata no. 3, op. 133.(e modal minor ending C major/E♭� major ending G minor/G major.) Really wonderful piece with a first movement in an unusual form (A-B-A-long C-B-A-coda) The movement has the feel of the first movement of the violin concerto in places, with regular rhythms in the piano underpinning the violin's line. The second movement is "lento e mesto" (I think) but not really particularly sad, at least at first, and is very notable for the strange relations between the implied harmonies of the violin part and the harmonies of the piano part. The finale is a variations on a march, in G but with insistence on A♭ much of the time and a variation in D♭�. (Unrecorded commercially when I wrote this originally- I wrote this description from careful study of the score- this piece, along with the first two violin sonatas and other music by Rubbra for violin and piano has appeared on a Dutton Laboratories CD, one of several devoted to Rubbra's chamber music to come from that label. The 2nd violin sonata had appeared on recordings before that, but not the others. I still have not heard this recording, but do intend to.)
String quartet no. 1 in F minor, op. 35. (F minor ending F minor/G major ending B♭� minor/B♭� minor ending F minor.) Very strong echoes of Bax's chamber music here and yet this is an individual, unforgettable piece. First movement is a sonata form suggesting a chamber work by Bax (either his piano quintet or the 2nd piano trio) in the rhythms of its more robust sections, Faure in its quieter ones, with appropriate and affecting harmonies. There are major key-shifts, with the opening in F minor but a shift soon to f♯ an early example. A several-times repeated phrase leads to the sustained f minor close of the movement. A lost air haunts the opening of the 2nd movement, anticipating one of the slow movements of Tippett's third string quartet in the very bareness of its bowed melody against plucked bass. An a minor folktunish theme enters reminiscent of one in Cui's Suite in Modo Populari, for those who have heard that work. The movement's climaxes remind me vaguely of the second movements of Bax's piano quintet and VW's 6th symphony with a feeling of great activity coming from near-nowhere.
The end of the second movement repeats a theme heard earlier in this movement, and anticipates in slow tempo the main theme of the quite brief and whirligig finale. The finale is something of a rondo, and only a sudden deepening of the bass really announces that the brief coda- several bars - is about to be underway, instead of another section. The end is abrupt, apparently quite angry, and to me very saddening.
String quartet no. 2 in E♭�, op. 73.This work is in 4 movements. The first finds its way from the border of F minor to E♭� through rather obsessive repetition of (various transpositions of) E-E-F-F (and its inversion), of a piece with less obsessive examples of such motivic work in symphonies 5&6. The second movement is the semi-famous polimetric scherzo, where (as is unusual for Rubbra) the different instruments often have different time signatures; it begins in D and ends on the dominant of G. A fairly deep cavatina ensues, ending on the dominant of e minor, and the finale in two parts follows, making its way from E minor to E♭� major through G and C minor and changing mood halfway through. The ending is almost in C minor but achieves an E♭ major peace.
Piano Trio #1 (in one movement,) op. 68. I first heard this during the BBC Radio 3 composer of the week broadcasts, in an archive recording made for the BBC by the Rubbra/Gruenberg/Pleeth trio, which also recorded the work commercially at about the same time. On a second listen (and paying some attention to the liner notes that come with the Dutton recording by members of the Endymion Ensemble) the work divides into several sections: a diverse slow first section, a scherzando, a theme and several meditazione, and a "Coda(Breve)" (the latter most moving.) There are passages in this work kin to some in the finale of the 2nd string quartet.
Piano Trio #2, op. 138. An effective and often affecting somewhat brief work in two contrasting movements with a somewhat surprising fade-out towards the end.
Oboe sonata in C minor, op. 100.Three movements, the first quiet and undemonstrative, the second in a sort of A♭� and starting with a variant of a subsidiary theme of the first movement, and the finale opening in a coruscating and recurring burst. Compact, enjoyable and deservedly often played and recorded.
A Rubbra composition that I call type "a" generally is in three or four movements, begins with a fast movement, continues through a slow movement and ends in an often brief and quicksilver finale (generally fast even when more lengthy).
I call them type "b" if they are basically in a slow-fast-slow format, with the middle movement usually a brief scherzo not unlike the finales of "a" works.
The reason I introduce this terminology is because there seem to be more similarities in some cases between two Rubbra "a" works or between two Rubbra "b" works, in terms of theme choice and import, than between an "a" and a "b" work written at about the same time. (The violin concerto is closer to sym. 6, and the viola concerto to sym. 8, than the violin concerto is to sym. 8 or the viola concerto to sym. 6, despite the greater respective contemporaneity.)
Works receiving performances this hundredth anniversary year (2001) include (but are certainly not limited to — I know I've missed at least one concert here, probably several)
Works programmed between 2001 and 2003 are now (as of Jan. 2005) stored on earlier works page.
Meditazioni sopra Coeurs Desoles -Laura Cannell, recorders, Ross Winters, piano. The Assembly House, Norwich. July 15 2004
(Unknown work as of posting involving some of soprano, recorder, guitar and piano played resp. by Lesley-Jane Rogers, John Turner, Craig Ogden and Peter Lawson) Helmsley Arts Theatre (?), July 18 2004
2nd Violin Sonata (Ronald Mutchnik, violin, Amy Klosterman, piano, October 24 2004, Christ Episcopal Church, Columbia, Maryland)
Unidentified (Lesley-Jane Rogers, soprano, John Turner, recorder, Peter Lawson, piano, October 28 2004, at Manchester's Walter Carroll Lunchtime Concerts)
Quartet 1 (Dante Quartet, Methodist Church, Worcester Road, ??? poss. Droitwich, West Midlands, January 8 2005 - see Music in the West Midlands)
oboe and piano work (Jennie-Lee Keetley, oboe and Jonathan French, piano, February 19 2005 in Berkhamsted, Berkhamsted Music Society)
Cello sonata (Felicity Vincent, cello, Leo Black, piano, Sheffield University, March 3 2005)
Notturno (Highland Park Recorder Society, United Methodist Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey, April 3 2005)
Inscape (Malcolm Pierce, Cherwell Singers, The Oxford Sinfonia, Merton Chapel, Wesley Methodist Church?, Reading?, April 9 2005) Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn (according to the Concert Diary homepage) (In Rye, played by members of Dante quartet, Bruckner and/or Mozart quintet also on program, April 30, 2005, at Vinehall School, East Sussex, see Rye Tourism page)
Hymn to the Virgin (Pershore Abbey, Pershore, Worcestershire, James Bowman, Choir of the Abbey School, Emerald Orchestra, Benjamin Nicholas conducting, May 28 2005)
Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn (http://www.swaledale-festival.org.uk/2003_day_29-5.cfm, with the Dante Quartet at the Swaledale Festival, May 29 2005)
Oboe sonata (International Double Reed Society Meeting, Martin Schuring, oboe, Andrew Campbell, piano, Austin, Texas (see this and surrounding pages, June 8 2005)
Viola concerto (Scott Dickinson, viola, Edward Gardner, conductor, Concert Hall, Broadcasting House, Glasgow, September 2 2005, BBC Scottish SO — see BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra September schedule.)
Improvisation for Cello, and Discourse for Cello and Harp (Harriet Adie & Jessica Burroughs, Dorking Halls, December 3 2005)
Hymn to the Virgin (Nonsuch Singers, at St James's, Piccadilly, December 10 2005)
Quartet no. 1 (Dante Quartet, De Montfort Hall, Leicester, January 8 2006; Bromsgrove, The Artrix, (off A38 Bromsgrove By-pass - Brewsters Roundabout), January 27 2006; and Kingston Parish Church, London, January 28 2006)
Discourse for Cello and Harp (David Powell - cello and Katherine Thomas - harp, St Mary de Lode Church, Gloucester, February 16 2006)
Improvisation for Cello, and Discourse for Cello and Harp (Harriet Adie & Jessica Burroughs, Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre, Holmes Chapel, March 25 2006)
Vocal works (Judy Bellingham, soprano & Terence Dennis, piano, Marama Hall, University of Otago, New Zealand, May 24 2006)
Work for oboe or english horn (Althea Ifeka & Katherine May, The Capitol, North Street, Horsham, West Sussex, June 16 2006)
Oboe sonata (Sarah Calin, oboe, John Reid, piano, April 19 2007, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Philharmonia Orchestra 2006/07 series)
Quartet No. 2 (October 12 2008) (Maggini Quartet Program from Kings Place London Chamber Music Society on Sundays.)
Phantasy for 2 Violins and Piano (February 6 2009) (West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge) (Concert description - Cambridge University Music Club) (Ali Reid, Charlotte Reid, Violin; Elizabeth Burgess, Piano)
A Tribute (March 8 2009) Worthing (Worthing Symphony Orchestra, John Gibbons) (http://www.musicweb-international.com/sandh/2009/jan-jun09/worthing0803.htm)
Quartet No. 1 (March 20 2009) Peter Morrison Recital Hall, Little Benslow Hills (Ibberson Way, Hitchin) (Maggini Quartet) (http://www.benslow.org)
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