Edition of selected orchestral works of Sir John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948)
Mitchell, Alasdair James
This doctoral presentation consists of the preparation of critical editions of eight orchestral works by J.B. McEwen: Symphony in A minor (1895-99), Viola Concerto (1901), Coronach (1903), The Demon Lover (1907-08), Grey Galloway (1908), Solway, A Symphony (1911), Hills 'o Heather (1918), and Where The Wild Thyme Blows (1936). In the absence of any monograph on McEwen there is a chapter which brings together for the first time the biographical information that can be culled from various sources; some, like the correspondence between Henry George Farmer and McEwen in the late 1940's, has never been discussed before. A separate chapter surveys the collection of McEwen manuscripts held at Glasgow University Library, its condition, the extent of it, and how it came to be housed there. There follows a discussion of each of the selected works from the point of view of the editorial issues relating to them and also some aspects of McEwen's stylistic development. It was important to McEwen that a composer spoke in his native voice through his music as is evident in a letter he wrote to H.G. Farmer in 1947(1). Discussion of this aspect of his expressive style is therefore helpful in understanding his development from the early Symphony in A minor of 1895-99 to his last orchestral work, Where The Wild Thyme Blows of 1936. Such a stylistic study is secondary to the main thrust of the thesis which is a critical edition, but it is necessary in order to fully understand the complex issues involved in making McEwen's last orchestral work performable. Where The Wild Thyme Blows was left incomplete and the present editor has made a performing version. There is a brief concluding section which consolidates evident features of the McEwen manuscripts which would be useful for further studies of these papers. Each of the selected works is presented as a separate volume in a scholarly edition with full critical commentary given at the end of each volume. (1) Glasgow University Library catalogue n.MS Farmer 217SYMPHONY IN A MINOR: The Symphony in A minor dates from 1896 -98. It was originally a very ambitious five - movement work lasting well over 45 minutes. The Finale, entitled Epilogue, was cut and the more manageable four -movement structure with a new scherzo became the composer's final thoughts on the work as an orchestral piece. McEwen found that he could not get such a symphony performed and arranged it for string quartet in 1898 -99. As such it was often played and was subsequently published by Novello in 1903. This edition has both the Symphony and the String Quartet versions together as they make very interesting comparison. The original third movement and the Epilogue are given as appendices at the end of the score.CORONACH - BORDER BALLAD NO.1: Coronach, was the first Of three Border: Ballads to be completed (November 1903) and was first performed át Philharmonic. Society concert on April 17 1904, Frederick Cowen conducting. It was 'a conspicuous success' according to the Dunedin Magazine. The name coronach derives from the Gaelic dirge intoned at the funeral rites of chiefs and nobles; an ancient Celtic tradition. This is ceremonial music of great nobility ranking with the finest of Parry and Elgar. The work was originally the 'Epilogue' of Symphony in A minor (1896 -98) which McEwen discarded from that symphony and reworked as an orchestral tone poem.SOLWAY - A SYMPHONY: Solway - A Symphony was completed in September of 1911 but had to wait until 1922 for its first performance. The war years had intervened and although almost everything had been changed by the trauma Solway nevertheless made a favourable impression and was performed on several occassions in the 20s including a performance at the London Promenade concerts. It was published under the auspices of the Carnegie Trust in 1922 and has the distinction of being the first British symphony to have been recorded unabridged by the HMV recording company.VIOLA CONCERTO [FOR VIOLA SURVEY AND ORCHESTRA]: The Viola Concerto dates from the year 1904 and seemingly was written in response to a request for a concerto for that instrument by the young virtuoso, Lionel Tertis . The thirty -three year old McEwen rose to the challenge and created the first British viola concerto in modem times. Although deeply rooted in the Brahmsian style it shows many signs of resourcefulness and originality both of form and lyricism Tertis premiered =the work in Bournemouth with the Boumemouth Municipal Orchestra on Novernber 11th 1901. The còridúctor was Dan Godfrey . The editor of this edition has not been able to find any of the orchestral parts used for that performance or, indeed, Tertis's viola part. According to the Dundedin Magazine (December 1915) McEwen wrote one other concerto, a Concerto for Pianoforte in One Movement; sadly this has been lost. He left just the one concerto and in the light of this and considering the paucity of works for the viola it seems quite astonishing that this major work has remained unperformed since the first decade of the 20th century.The manuscript sources are to be found at the Special Collection Library of The University of Glasgow. These consist of the autograph orchestral score (A) catalogue number Ca 14-yl l and the draft piano /viola score (P) catalogue number Ca 13-y46. The editor has made a reduction for viola solo and pianoforte based on the autograph sources.THE DEMON LOVER - BORDER BALLAD NO.2: The Demon Lover is the second of three Border Ballads and dates from the years 1907 -1908. It was inspired by a poem by Hall Caine entitled Graih My Chree which tells the story of a demon who lures his love out to sea in a phantom ship where she drowns (see Commentary at the back of this score). However it is possible that the title derives from a poem of that title collected by Sir Walter Scott (Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 5th edition [3rd vol., 1821]). There are remarkable similarities in the text of these two poems and both are quoted in full in the editorial at the end of this edition. The work was never performed in McEwen's lifetime and had to wait until 1993 when it was recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the editor of this score ( Chandos Records CHAN9241).GREY GALLOWAY - BORDER BALLAD NO.3: Written in 1908 this is the third of a set of tone poems by McEwen known as Border Ballads. It is also his best known and most performed work. There appear to be no literary associations in the piece, unlike the two earlier Border Ballads, Coronach and The Demon Lover. The work is more a tone picture of the Galloway district of Scotland. The composer's own copy of the printed score has two pictures of Galloway scenes pasted onto the inside of the first page of the score which further emphasises the geographical connection with the music. The work was first performed in 1909 and has been heard at Promenade Concerts in London and regular broadcasts on radio ever since.HILLS 'O HEATHER (A RETROSPECT FOR VIOLONCELLO SOLO AND ORCHESTRA): In the last year of the Great War (1918) McEwen wrote a delightful concert piece for cello and piano entitled Hills 'o Heather. It is based on two contrasted, simple melodies the first of which owes a lot to the pibroch style of bagpipe playing first developed in the 17th century on the island of Skye. The second melodic strand is very lyrically expressive with inflections reminiscent of Celtic folk song. McEwen subsequently orchestrated the work in 1919. The orchestration is handled with great delicacy and nowhere is there any danger of the solo cello being overwhelmed by its accompaniment In 1919 McEwen published the version for cello and piano without acknowledging this orchestral version which lay unperformed until it was recorded by Moray Welsh ('cello) and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alasdair Mitchell on Chandos Records (CHAN 9345) in 1994.WHERE THE WILD THYME BLOWS [FOR ORCHESTRA]: In 1936 McEwen was taking a restful holiday in his favourite vacation country, France, and as so often with him, part of the rest therapy was to indulge himself in composition. However, this was to be his last venture into orchestral composition and it was never completed. He took it so far and then abandoned the project possibly he might have finished it had he remained longer in Cannes, we will never know. Fortunately he did not give up on the material and one year later he adapted the piece as the first movement of a trio for piano violin and cello in A minor. This has allowed the editor of this edition of the orchestral piece to attempt to fill in missing elements to let the music be heard. The guiding rule in this performing version has been to add as little as is necessary to what McEwen left of the orchestral score to allow the work to be performable. Very few expression markings are in the score and in this respect the Piano Trio has been invaluable. In order to clarify what is McEwen and what is editorial and what is taken from the Piano Trio the work is printed in two versions. Firstly, the orchestral score is given exactly as McEwen left it with the Piano Trio (1937) underneath. This allows easy comparison between the two versions and shows how many aspects of the orchestral score are incomplete. Secondly, the orchestral score is given with additions by the editor in small notes and dynamics in standard (ie. not sloping) text. Again the Piano Trio (1937) appears below the orchestral score. The work has been recorded in this performing version by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the editor on the Chandos label (CHAN 9345).