2023 brought two important and unique occasions in the Bliss calendar where members and friends were able to meet.
The first was at the Barbican Concert Hall in London on 26 March for the sensational screening of the 1936 film Things to Come with Bliss’s score played live by the London Symphony Orchestra. The film’s producer, Alexander Korda, had approached H. G. Wells to write a screenplay based on his recent best-selling novel The Shape of Things to Come. In turn, Wells persuaded Bliss that he was the ideal person to write music which could illustrate and enhance his vision of the future, but Wells’s script wasn’t used, the screenplay was rewritten and Bliss’s symphonic score had to be reworked to fit the action on screen. In this evening’s performance, the limitations of timing the music to the action were handled brilliantly by the conductor Frank Strobel and the immediacy of the sound gave the audience experience an extra edge – an exhilarating musical soundscape with dialogue and visuals to match. The LSO had featured on the original soundtrack and the current line-up of musicians obviously relished the opportunity to shine in this 87-year-anniversary ‘re-run’. A triumph!
A second and very different opportunity came on 10 July at the book event hosted by Presto Classical at their store in Leamington Spa, where Paul Spicer, in conversation with Chairman of the Bliss Trust Andrew Burn, talked about his new biography Sir Arthur Bliss: Standing out from the Crowd. The evening began with a glass of wine and a chance to meet the other members and friends present, before James Longstaffe of Presto Classical, welcomed us and introduced the speakers, whose discussion began with the somewhat unorthodox approach that Paul took in writing this book. He told us that at the outset he was a ‘musical agnostic’ unfamiliar with Bliss’s work and gave a fascinating insight into how he found a way in by studying in depth the music composed during each time-period as he covered it and letting the scores do their talking. We were taken on a journey through Bliss’s life as a composer, with selected musical interludes linked to significant experiences and events, from the experimentation of the 1920s to the ‘late Indian Summer of creativity’ which lasted until his death in 1975 – events so numerous that sadly there was not enough time for a musical quote for all of them. Inevitably the conversation turned to the profound effect that the First World War had on Bliss’s life, and Paul suggested that the horrors of the Somme, where Bliss was wounded and gassed and where his brother Kennard was killed, had a lifelong effect on Bliss’s personality – Morning Heroes (1930) was dedicated to the memory of Kennard – and the chosen excerpt was the last stanza of Wilfred Owen’s poem Spring Offensive read by Samuel West. Paul’s conclusion was that Bliss’s later music spoke to him most eloquently, singling out Meditations on a theme by John Blow (1955) for special attention and we heard an extract from the finale of Meditations before moving on to the works and experiences of Bliss’s later life The event closed with book sales and signing and Bliss CD sales, which offered the tantalising prospect of approaching the book in the same way that Paul wrote it – getting to know Bliss by listening to his music while reading his story.
The Society arranges occasional gatherings of members and friends for informal pub/restaurant lunches or pre-concert suppers whenever Committee members are able to attend concerts where Bliss works are being played. We have enjoyed meeting members and friends in London, Luton, Harrogate, Worcester, Hereford, Shrewsbury and elsewhere.
Other highlights were in May 2011, when Rupert Luck and Matthew Rickard performed the restored Violin Sonata at an event jointly sponsored by the Arthur Bliss Society and the Ivor Gurney Society and in March 2015, when the Society arranged to have a Bliss work included in one of the regular Lunchtime Recitals at Cheltenham Town Hall at which Rebeca Omordia played the Piano Suite. At the Three Choirs Festivals in 2006 and 2015 (both in Hereford) we arranged highly enjoyable social events, each of them taking place before a concert featuring Bliss work – a lunch out in the country setting of Wyastone in 2006 and the Tea and Talk at The Left Bank complex, beautifully situated by the river Wye, in July 2015.
More details of these and other ABS events can be found in the sub items listed under Events on the main menu.