The AGM at the St,Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham on 2 October 2021 marked the retirement of three original members of the Arthur Bliss Society Committee after seventeen years of service: Susan Crownshaw (Secretary), Jill Smith (Membership Secretary) and John Wright (Newsletter Editor), who were thanked by the Chairman David Salter for their work and support. Anne Salter takes on the post of Secretary, Daphne Ellis that of Membership Secretary and Eric McElroy becomes Journal Editor. Four new patrons of the Society are Anna Lapwood, organist and Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge, pianist Rebeca Omordia, musicologist/composer Robert Matthew-Walker and composer Philip Wilby, who has also joined the ABS Committee. Sadly, more deaths in 2021 were reported: that of our Vice-President Peter Ainsworth and of Arthur Bliss’s younger daughter Karen Sellick, who was a long-standing member and supporter of the Society.
The AGM Concert, a celebration of the 130th Anniversary of the birth of Arthur Bliss, was held at St.Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham on Saturday, October 2nd. Presented by the Arthur Bliss Society, the event was generously supported by the Bliss Trust and the Gerald Finzi Trust. An introductory talk, ‘Arthur Bliss and Gerald Finzi: Composers and Friends’ was given by Andrew Burn, who has written and broadcast extensively on British music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Andrew is Chairman of the Bliss Trust and honorary Secretary of the Finzi Trust.
Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet: Arthur Bliss
Prelude and Fugue for String Trio op.24: Gerald Finzi
Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet: Arthur Bliss
By the time Bliss composed the Oboe Quintet in 1927, his music was moving towards maturity and a personal voice that blended modernism with a romantic core, comparable to figures such as Walton and Samuel Barber. The work was commissioned by, and dedicated to, the American patroness of music Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who invited Bliss to write a work for Leon Goossens to play at her festival in Venice. Bliss wrote: ‘it is always a joy to write with a superlative artist in mind’, and this was to become one of his characteristics as a composer.
The Prelude and Fugue is an example of Finzi’s love of Bach’s music, doubtless nurtured when he was a pupil of Edward Bairstow at York Minster between 1917. It was composed in 1938, and conceived as a tribute to the renowned teacher R. O. Morris with whom Finzi studied 16th century counterpoint in 1925. Dedicated to Morris, it was first performed in Birmingham on 13 May 1941 at Queen’s College Chambers, by leading string players of the day: Breta Graham, Vincent Groves and Lilian Warmington. At its London premiere in the same year on 11 September, it was played by the Philharmonic String Trio in a National Gallery lunchtime concert.
Although Bliss found an important stimulus in writing his Clarinet Quintet for another great musician, Frederick Thurston, there was a far more significant one, since the clarinet was the instrument of his brother Kennard, a victim of the First World War. Composed in 1932, immediately after Morning Heroes, Bliss’s overtly public requiem for his beloved brother, the Quintet is a more intimate, deeply personal, expression of his loss. A work of maturity and mastery, it is undoubtedly among his finest achievements.
The artists Daniel Bates, Katherine Spencer and the Eusebius Quartet have garnered excellent reviews for their recording of Bliss’s Oboe and Clarinet Quintets, released in April, with BBC Music Magazine enthusing ‘Bates is an accomplished soloist; there is rapport between him and his collaborators in the Oboe Quintet. Clarinettist Katherine Spencer brings poise and poignancy to the Clarinet Quintet.’ Daniel Bates is principal oboe of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Apart from being one of the clarinets of the OAE, Katherine Spencer is a former BBC New Generation Artist and is heard regularly on Radio 3. Praised in The Sunday Times, for their excellence, ‘clarity and unity of thought’, the Eusebius String Quartet was founded in 2016, frequently performs on Radio 3, and is rapidly gaining an international reputation with concerts in Europe and the USA.
Text adapted from Andrew Burn’s programme notes