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THE CHURCHILL MUSIC.
subtitled 'A Legend in Music of the Life and Times of Sir Winston Churchill'. by Norman Harvey Rutherlyn. These are not selected reviews - they are the only reviews to date. (May 2004). _____________ A REVIEW by THE BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC SOCIETY.
How many times have we heard that the BBC is not interested in tuneful contemporary music?
Well here comes another example - but this time with a sting in the tail.
The composer Norman Harvey Rutherlyn was so moved by Churchill's funeral in 1965 that he vowed to commemorate his life in music by composing a large orchestral and choral work for performance in St Paul's Cathedral to mark Churchill's Centenary in 1974. Eight years and 20 movements later the work was complete and in 1972 was offered to various noteworthy and officially patriotic concerns but nobody was interested. Why not? Probably because it was melodic!
Twenty years later in 1993, in sheer desperation, the composer turned to the Czech Republic. We should be glad that he did so, because a live performance was recorded in by Czseke TV and Radio Prague in 1995 by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of VE Day, and the resulting double CD is a bargain 90 minutes worth of sheer delight.
Among its 20 movements are such pieces such as the lovely opening movement 'Cradledays' (a tribute to his Nanny Mrs Everest at Blenheim Palace), a piece called 'Nurserydays' (portraying the boy Churchill playing with his many toy soldiers): a choral and orchestral arrangement of the 'Harrow School Song': a majestic military march entitled:- 'The Churchill March' (commemorating his time at Sandhurst): followed by:-
'The Malakand Field Force' (India) 'The Boer War',
'The Blenheim Romance',
'Seascape' (subtitled, Lord of the Admiralty at the Spithead Review): followed by the dramatic and sorrowful centre piece of the work:-
The Great War.
(Interval) followed by
The Chartwell Suite:
Four movements entitled:-
'Spring Dawn', 'Summer's Day',
'Autumn Mists', 'Winter's Night'.
and the last four majestic movements entitled
The Second World War.
'In Defeat Defiance'.
'In War Resolution'.
'In Victory Magnanimity'.
'In Peace Goodwill'.
If you like deeply moving music then you will be glad you bought this double CD knowing that any small profits go towards the educational work of the society. But what a disgrace and total irony that it took a former Communist music loving country to perform and produce one of the most patriotic pieces of British music ever composed.
In 1995 and after the first performance organised by the society, the composer with his wife and daughter, gave the copyright and Lady Churchill's leather and gilt bound presentation edition of the orchestral score to the Society.
Review after the first Prague 1995
VE Day performance.
'I am astounded - it is nothing less than a phenomenon - there are passages in it that tower among and rub shoulders with the great symphonic masters'.
The British Music Society Promoters of the British Musical Heritage (Registered Charity 1043838)
Dr Richard Arnell, Sir Malcolm Arnold CBE, Dame Janet Baker DBE CH, Richard Baker OBE, Jennifer Bate, Lady Bliss, Sir Colin Davis CBE, Giles Easterbrook, Lewis Foreman, Dr Vernon Handley, Peter Middleton (Founder Chairman), Sir Simon Rattle CBE, Malcolm Smith, Basil Tschaikov, Dr Malcolm Williamson CBE AO (Master of the Queen's Music), Dr Thomas Wilson CBE
23rd September 2002.
THE CHURCHILL MUSIC.
NORMAN HARVEY RUTHERLYN.
'CHURCHILL'. A Legend in Music of the
Life and Times of Sir Winston. (1974).
Orchestrated by Derek John Barnes. Czech National Symphony Orchestra. c. Vladimir Valek. 2 CDs totalling c. 90 minutes. Also a shortened alternative version with added sound effects. Obtainable from The Secretary, The Churchill Society, 18 Grove Lane, IPSWICH. IP4 1NR. UK Price £14. Overseas incl. P & P (US $22. Euro 22) The original and alternative versions are at the same price.
This CD arrived by post unexpectedly from The Churchill Society.
I was amazed to discover a highly ambitious work written by this self-taught composer, whose original aim was to have it performed at St Paul's Cathedral for the Churchill Centenary in 1974.
Written under truly difficult conditions, it is a startling example of single-mindedness, dedication and determination - and a living example in the honourable tradition of English eccentricity.
When Rutherlyn had completed the piece, needless to say nobody was interested in performing it, and it sat with the Churchill Memorial Trust for 18 years utterly forgotten.
The first glimmer came in 1985 when Margaret Thatcher selected one movement, The Churchill March, to be performed in Westminster Abbey for the 40th Anniversary Commemoration of the Ending of the War. Then with the Iron Curtain removed, Rutherlyn, cogniscant of the musical heritage of the Czech people, made an approach.
It was performed at a Gala Inaugural Concert given in Prague on the 50th anniversary of VE Day, 1995. by The Churchill Society and sponsored and broadcast by Radio Prague in conjunction with Czeske TV . This led to the present recording.
The description of the work in programmatic terms is pretty accurate. The 19 individual movements cover Churchill's childhood, Harrow, Sandhurst, India, Omdurman, First Lord, the Great War, Chartwell and WWII. (There is also a piece for the Boer War never performed). The only questionable omission is reference to Gallipoli, which does not feature in the Great War scenario. Of course Churchill was not the prime villain of that fiasco, indeed his strategic concept has strong argument for it. It was the actual execution that was so bad, with Hamilton and de Roebeck out of their depths, and Stopforth's incompetence breathtaking. But Gallipoli always hung over Churchill's repute, and still does.
As for the music, a review by Peter Worsley of the British Light Music Society perhaps gives the hint. It is unashamedly tuneful and much of it is light. It does not attempt to be "monumental", avoids bombast, and the bloodier moments are treated with reflective reserve rather than as a Hollywood action drama.. There are a variety of musical quotations, but the shadows of notable composers who have specialised in patriotic or historical music do not lie over it.
The episodes covering Mrs. Everest (his nanny), the nursery, Harrow and Sandhurst are effectively high quality light music and most enjoyable at that. A few other pieces are less successful, but the setting at Blenheim when he proposes marriage is charming, and the scenes at Chartwell between the wars have natural beauty lavished upon them but not without reflection on the storms gathering. The invigorating Seascape, including a Review of the Fleet, is of some substance.
Central to the Great War music is the singing of "The Soldier's Prayer" (poet not named) to a haunting and beautiful tune which, pleasant though it is, left me slightly uneasy as to whether it was the right approach. WWII has some good tunes and ends to an acceptably buoyant climax, though without actually quite hitting the emotional heights. Nevertheless it is successful.
To complicate matters, an alternative, shorter version has been issued with more added sound effects (two were already in place). Some pieces improve, notably the Omdurman episode and the already fine Seascape, others are neither here nor there. The final number, which tries to create the ambiance of St Paul's Cathedral, as if it had actually been performed there, does not really succeed. It seems distinctly disjointed and I preferred the "straight" version.
To sum up, there is scope in this friendly music for selection by Classic FM, and for use as a complete entity in a variety of ways geared to popular entertainment. If the BBC did not manage the Proms I would have added that it would be suitable for a Saturday night, but an organisation that fears Sullivan's Festival Te Deum or a semi-staged version of Maxwell Davies "Resurrection" is unlikely to take heed.
As for the CD, I can recommend it in one or both versions to anybody with a liking for unpretentious, tuneful fare with the occasional sharp and disturbing edges. But for BMS members there is more to it than that. Normally such a composer would appear in due course in a future edition of Gerald Leach's Profiles book, with his name read but his music unheard. Thanks to this CD we have the opportunity actually to hear what Rutherlyn has achieved, and to form our own judgment on this extraordinary, unorthodox piece.
All will admire the motives behind it, and the industry and determination involved in its creation - to say nothing of the sheer neck of the whole endeavour.
THE CHURCHILL MUSIC has been broadcast three times in Europe to date and excerpts have been performed in Canada and the USA; but not a single note of it has been performed in the United Kingdom!
THE CHURCHILL MUSIC.
1996 CHRISTMAS LECTURE The Battle for REAL Music.
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