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Edmund Rubbra: Symphonist

Edmund Rubbra: Symphonist

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Edmund Rubbra: Symphonist
    Book Description:

    The music of Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) has been unjustly neglected - arguably because its wide-ranging nature makes it difficult to categorise. He is perhaps best known as a symphonist; his eleven symphonies covered a period of musical and political upheaval [1934 - 1980], the first four reflecting the uneasy later 1930s, with a second global conflict no longer avoidable. The immediately-post-war ones document new emotional depths and his conversion, while the final symphonies show a man still in search of peace and reconciliation, overlooked by the world but certain he was on the right path. Leo Black, a pupil of Rubbra at Oxford in the 1950s, here presents a sympathetic full-scale study of these works (the first for some fifteen years). A succinct biographical sketch throws light on legends about the BBC and Rubbra; there are full programme notes on each symphony, with shorter accounts of important non-symphonic works, in particular a 'triptych' of concertos from the 1950s and major liturgical pieces composed around the time of the Second Vatican Council, after Rubbra's conversion to Catholicism. He also deals with the vexed question of Rubbra's mysticism. LEO BLACK is a former BBC chief producer for music and author of the highly-acclaimed 'Franz Schubert: Music and Belief' [2003].

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-631-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION Rubbra in the Third Millennium?
    (pp. 1-5)

    A composer with 164 works to his name is scarcely to be covered adequately in a single book. Ralph Scott Grover analysed the important pieces and some of the minor ones, also accounting, however briefly, for every single thing Rubbra wrote apart from the more ephemeral incidental music, and his book was no mere analytical tour de force but a labour of love.¹ What could act as a complement and, hopefully, bring this extraordinary composer’s music a little nearer the world of that nebulous entity ‘the music-lover’ is an account that dares a few unashamed similes and human comparisons.² Rubbra,...

  7. CHAPTER 1 General Features
    (pp. 6-17)

    Rubbra’s eleven symphonies from five decades represent a major journey in three distinct stages. The first four, composed before and just after the outbreak of the Second World War, and in some ways reflecting that time, made a truly striking start. There followed a period of fulfilment and highest-level achievement between 1947 and 1971, with four more, each one absolutely characteristic and fairly describable as a masterpiece. The choral Ninth Symphony (Sinfonia Sacra) was a one-off which meant a lot to him; it ushered in a final period in which his last two symphonies had a new conciseness.

    Rubbra is...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Early Years
    (pp. 18-40)

    Charles Edmund Rubbra was born on 23 May 1901, at 57 Cambridge Road, a simple ‘two up, two down’ house in a poor area of Northampton. The town would also be the birthplace, four years later, of William Alwyn, and in 1921 of Malcolm Arnold. Those opening years of the new century produced a fine crop of future English composers: Alan Bush was born in 1900, Rubbra’s later best friend Gerald Finzi likewise in 1901, William Walton in 1902, Lennox Berkeley in 1903, Alwyn, Constant Lambert, Alan Rawsthorne and Michael Tippett in 1905, with Arnold Cooke, Benjamin Frankel and Elisabeth...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The First Four Symphonies
    (pp. 41-83)

    The first of Rubbra’s eleven symphonies occupied him from 1935 until 1937. It was well received, and he soon composed three more, with little other composition intervening. War-service followed, first as an army clerk and later as a pianist helping to keep the forces entertained. Had Rubbra been even a little older he could have been involved in the 1914–18 conflict, and his first four symphonies often seem to show a mind dominated by the apprehension of war so general among sensitive people during the run-up to 1939. The music is, admittedly, quite far removed from the ‘Why, this...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Fifth Symphony
    (pp. 84-99)

    Before good could prevail, the war had to be survived and won. For a while, Rubbra’s pacifism kept him doing ‘war work’; once recruited, then promoted from private to sergeant, he ran the Army Classical Chamber Music Group, in particular a piano trio with the violinist Joshua Glazier (who had so far served as a driver) and as cellist Signalman William Pleeth. Like many other families at that time, his two sons born in the 1930s saw very little of him for several years. The trio’s tours to the forces took it as far as Germany around the time the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 A Question of Mysticism – I
    (pp. 100-107)

    Rubbra’s expression ‘triptych’ to characterise his Fifth Symphony is a reminder of the part religion played in his life. The crucial quality determining a religious nature was summed up by Pavese in his aphorism about belief in the importance of everything that happens in the world. Rubbra’s copious reading would have shown him comparable things in Christian thought and in Buddhist maxims such as ‘the dharma-body of the Buddha is the hedge at the bottom of the garden’, and some of his most characteristic features can be read as manifestations of an innermost religious nature. There was his extreme care...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Sixth Symphony
    (pp. 108-130)

    The decade and a half after the end of the Second World War saw Rubbra increasingly regarded as one of Britain’s major composers, not short of commissions and much performed. His generation was sometimes taken aback by the sudden post-war ‘anointing’ of Benjamin Britten as The Great New National Composer. Gerald Finzi felt strongly about that, and according to his first biographer Stephen Banfield someone who felt even more strongly was Rubbra, since at the time he found Britten’s music lacking in ‘inner core’; when Billy Budd’s première was broadcast, he rang Finzi in an interval, ‘totally exasperated’.¹ They had...

  13. CHAPTER 7 A Question of Mysticism – II
    (pp. 131-134)

    After however much textual exegesis and background thinking one must, if one raises the idea of mysticism in Rubbra, finally turn to the music’s inscrutable, ambiguous but all-important testimony. Probing the Sixth Symphony for the stigmata as identified by Elsie Payne, one can take its opening mood merely as a point of departure, from itself and from the past; the first movement’s overriding vigour and variety would of itself hardly point to mystical thoughts. The melody is if anything less ‘ambiguous in tonality’ than others of Rubbra’s, and bottomless 6-4 chords are not much in evidence, though the harp is...

  14. CHAPTER 8 The Seventh Symphony
    (pp. 135-158)

    Viewing Rubbra’s involvement with the symphony as a lifelong journey, one might wonder where there was for him to go after the peak achieved in the Fifth and Sixth. In neither work had he ‘entirely solved the finale problem’ (to use a cliché favoured by commentators aiming to keep their elders and betters in their place); he had found, rather, his own more reflective way to round off a major work, and that would be his cue for action when he again reached the later stages of a symphony. One might for that matter have wondered where there was for...

  15. CHAPTER 9 The Tide Turns: The Eighth Symphony
    (pp. 159-175)

    To go by the Sunday Times’s ‘Portrait Gallery’ piece, Rubbra cut no less striking a figure in the late 1950s than he had thirty years earlier, with his beard ‘now conferring on him, as on Kodály, the saintly look of an Apostle … A smile is rarely absent from his face, which radiates good nature and a complete lack of malice’. Such the public persona. But Western music led a double life after the war, with those living the one seldom prepared to acknowledge the other’s existence or even its right to exist. Rubbra began to be overshadowed as more...

  16. CHAPTER 10 The Last Three Symphonies
    (pp. 176-204)

    The final decade and a half of Rubbra’s composing career, after the completion of ‘Hommage to Teilhard’, saw the production of twenty-eight works (Opp. 137–64), including the final three symphonies. In 1969 he completed Discourse for cello and harp, discussed on p. 162, and one piece from 1970 was a short (two-movement) but very intense Second Piano Trio (Op. 138) that encapsulates decades of piano-trio writing between Brahms’s string–piano dualism and the bristling vitality of Fauré’s late chamber music; Rubbra had after all spent half a lifetime as a member of such an ensemble. Commissioned by the Evesham...

  17. APPENDIX I Rubbra on the Fourth Symphony (1942)
    (pp. 205-205)
  18. APPENDIX II The Rubbra Sixth: Some Reflections (1955)
    (pp. 206-208)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 209-222)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-224)
  21. Discography
    (pp. 225-227)
  22. General Index
    (pp. 228-240)
  23. Index of Rubbra’s Works
    (pp. 241-242)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. None)