Parlett Pages UK

BAXWORKS : 1925-1929

The music of Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Catalogued by Graham Parlett


String Quartet No. 2
271. A more sombre work than No 1. On hearing it performed some 25 years later, Bax wrote "I must say I enjoyed it".
Carrey Clavel
272. For voice and piano; text: Thomas Hardy.
273. For voice and piano; text: Robert Herrick. Later orchestrated (GP330, 1934).
274. Short, occasional piece for orchestra, with no known link to any particular occasion.
Blow Northern Wind
275. For voice and piano; text: Old English poem, possibly translated by Clifford Bax. (Score untraced.)


Symphony No. 2
276. Said to be in E minor and C, though Bax's tonal base was always somewhat fluid. This one is richly thematic and typical of the "brazen romantic" that Bax declared himself to be, though he also says that its conception was associated with "much trouble and unhappiness". In some respects the mood recalls November Woods (1917).
Romantic Overture
277. For chamber orchestra and piano, written shortly before the visit to "Peter Warlock" (Philip Heseltine) at Eynsford, Kent.
278. Tenor, soprano obbligato, chorus (SATB) and orchestra. Text: 16th century, attributed (questionably) to Walter Raleigh. Philip Heseltine is said to have introduced the poem to Bax when he was staying at Eynsford in early May 1926. But two months earlier, in a letter dated 2 March to Harriet Cohen, who was in Nice, Bax had already announced: ‘I am thinking of trying to set “As you came by [sic] the holy land of Walsinghame” for choir. It is a wonderful poem and I don’t know of any setting.’
Piano Sonata No. 3
279. In three movements, unlike its predecessors (in one), but like the unnumbered third that was subsequently converted into a symphony (No 1). Bax said its composition gave him a lot of trouble, which is surprising for something that turned out so well. According to Harriet Cohen "The first [movement] was once strangely used by Marie Rambert as the basis of a ballet on the death of Cuchullain. Bax did not think this experiment a success".
Three Carols
280. Arrangements for voice and piano of
   (1) Haut, haut, Peyrot (baritone)
   (2) Laisse-quy tas affaires (contralto)
   (3) Guillô, pran ton tamborin (voice, piano, flute, tambourine)
Texts: Presumably A Book of Old Carols (London 1907), ed. Massé and Scott. Arrangements known only from newspaper reports of their premiere and of another performance at the Wigmore Hall on 16 December 1930. The flute and piano scoring was no doubt influenced by the inclusion in the programme of Now is the Time of Christymas (247), written for men's chorus, flute and piano. (Although Bax writes a part for tambourine, the 'tamborin' of the title is in fact a narrow Provençal drum.)
In the Morning - On the Bridge - Out and Away
281 - 283. For voice and piano; texts respectively A E Housman, Thomas Hardy, James Stephens.
I sing of a Maiden
266. For five unaccompanied voices (SAATB). Text: Anonymous, 15th century. The referend is Mary the mother of Jesus. Philip Heseltine ("Peter Warlock") wrote to Bax: "I am delighted with 'I sing of a maiden'. It is by a very long way the best setting of the poem that has been made, and it should be quite thrilling in performance". (Entry previously misdated 1923.)
Ballad (for violin and piano)
300. Revision of the 1916 original (GP181), of which Bax wrote (to its dedicatee Winifred Small) "It turned up two years ago and I revised it heavily and put it in a drawer and never thought of it again. Today I believe it is rather good - it's a wild stormy thing". (Previously misdated 1929.)


Fantasy Sonata
284. A beautiful piece in a surprising number of movements (four) for the unusual combination of viola and harp. It was first performed and recorded by Raymond Jeremy (viola) and harpist Maria Korchinska, its dedicatee.
Three Songs from the Norse
285. (1) Irmelin Rose, (2) Lad Vaaren Komme, (3) Venevil. Text: J P Jacobsen (1-2), Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsen (3).
Concerto in D Minor by Antonio Vivaldi (RV 540) (arr)
286. A "rather free arrangement" (G.P.) for harp and string quartet.
287. Short piece or two pianos, dedicated to Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson. "Hardanger is a district on the west coast of Norway, and Bax's piece is in the style of a Norwegian 'halling', a reel-like dance adopted by Grieg in several of his works. The legend 'With acknowledgments to Grieg' appears at the head of the score" (G.P.)
Overture, Elegy and Rondo
288. A quasi-sinfonietta, very representative of the composer's thematic and orchestral style, and justifiably described by him as "Amongst my brightest and most optimistic compositions". It makes a good companion piece to the structurally similar Sinfonietta of 1932.
Violin Sonata No. 3
289. Violin and piano. In two movements, the second containing a section designated "planxty". For its definition, the Oxford English Dictionary quotes a 19th-century musical dictionary thus: "A harp tune of a sportive and animated character, moving in triplets... slower than a jig". According to the Wikipedia entry, however, "[It] is believed to be a corruption of the Irish word and popular toast "sláinte", meaning "good health". Others claim that the word is not Irish in origin but comes from the Latin "plangere," meaning to strike or beat...)
Fantasia by J. S. Bach (BWV 572) (arr)
290. No 2 in A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen, with arrangements by 11 other British composers.


Sonata for Flute and Harp
291. Dedicated to Count Benckendorff, husband of harpist Maria Korchinska. Rearranged in 1936 as a Concerto (for seven instruments, so better regarded as a Septet).
Violin Sonata in F
292. Bax's 4th violin sonata is better known in its more engaging rearrangement as a Nonet (1930).
The Devil that Tempted St. Anthony
293. Piece for two pianos dedicated to Bartlett and Robertson, possibly revised from the now lost piano solo of the same title dated 1920. "The title refers to St Antony the Abbot, whom the Devil's temptations failed to deflect from the path of righteousness. He [later became] the patron saint of basket-makers, butchers, domestic animals, and grave-diggers" (G.P.)
Pæan (Passacaglia)
294. A noisy little piano piece. Orchestrated, even more noisily, in 1938 (GP343).
Three Pieces
295. For small orchestra, revised from Four Orchestral Pieces (1912)
   (a) Evening Piece
   (b) Irish Landscape
   (c) Dance in the Sunlight
"I think they have a certain freshness which might please, although of course they are unfashionably romantic" (A.B.)
The Poisoned Fountain
296. Piece for two pianos dedicated to Bartlett and Robertson. The programme behind this work may come from Irish mythology, the fountain of the title being the Secret Well of Segais, the source of knowledge, which stood on Sídhe Nectain, the hill of the water-god Nectan. Only he and his three cupbearers could approach the fountain without burning their eyes. According to one version of the story, his wife, Boann, scorned the danger and walked round the fountain three times anticlockwise. The waters rose up, drowning her and forming the river Boyne. However, when Rae Robertson introduced the work at a concert in Ottawa he said that it was ‘supposed to tell the story of a broken down fountain in the deserted garden of a ruined medieval castle, with only snails and other creeping things to drink of the tainted waters. Mr. Robertson’s part represented the bubbling of the water, Miss Bartlett’s 'the creeping things'. (Isabel C. Armstrong, Ottawa Citizen, 29 January 1932, p. 27.) This is probably the composer’s own explanation of the title.


Symphony No. 3
297. Nominally in C, the Third combines the emotional depth of the Second with the tightly controlled structure of the First. An anvil-blow at the feroce climax of the first movement is particularly striking. (Or should be  - in some performances it sounds more like a tin can.) The final section of the third movement, marked "Epilogue" for the first time in the cycle, is particularly satisfying. (Vaughan Williams quoted its theme in the finale of his Piano Concerto, written for Harriet Cohen, but later deleted it from the score.)
Sonata for two Pianos
298. Yet another dedication to Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, it is cast in the usual three movements, the third based on Hebridean dance rhythms.
Legend (for viola and piano)
299. A rather grim 10-minute piece.