Clas­si­cal mu­sic and the Cotswold land­scape

Clas­si­cal mu­si­cian and new di­rec­tor of the Tet­bury Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, Caz Weller Knight, looks at mu­sic in­spired by the Cotswold coun­try­side

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - THE TET­BURY MU­SIC FES­TI­VAL: Septem­ber 29–Oc­to­ber 7

The Cotswolds has pro­duced far more than its fair share of Clas­si­cal mu­sic stars. Well-known names trip off the tongue: Parry, Holst, El­gar, Vaughan-wil­liams, How­ells, Gur­ney. In­deed, their out­put has be­come part of the DNA of what it is to be Bri­tish. What would we do without the stir­ring mu­sic of Holst’s The Plan­ets, or Parry’s I vow to Thee my Coun­try? Could it be that the Cotswold land­scape it­self in­spired their great­ness?

Parry grew up at High­nam in Glouces­ter­shire. From there the views ex­tend in one di­rec­tion to the spire of Glouces­ter Cathe­dral and in the other to the lo­cal church of High­nam, where Parry took his lessons from the church or­gan­ist.

Worces­ter-born El­gar was taken by ferry over the River Sev­ern to school every day, and was once found on her banks with mu­sic pa­per ‘try­ing to write down what the reeds were say­ing’.

Holst, from Chel­tenham, grew up to be a ‘good walker and an inces­sant one’. A great friend of Down-amp­ney born Ralph Vaughan-wil­liams, they had ‘field days’ to­gether when they would walk, ab­sorb the chang­ing land­scape and cri­tique each other’s lat­est mu­si­cal com­po­si­tions.

And How­ells and Gur­ney, Glouces­ter­shire born and bred and two years apart in age, would go for long walks to­gether, some­times last­ing sev­eral days.

So there is no doubt that the Cotswolds land­scape in­spired them. On one of his walks Gur­ney looked at the out­line of the Malvern Hills and said “un­less that in­flu­ences you for the whole of your life in tune-mak­ing, it is fail­ing in one of its chief es­sen­tials!’ His life­long friend How­ells who ‘never com­posed a note of mu­sic without a place or build­ing in mind’ went on to ded­i­cate his 1916 piano quar­tet to ‘The hill at Cho­sen and Ivor Gur­ney who knows it’.

They were de­voted countrymen, and an­chored to the sense of place that the land­scape gave them. But in every case the much-loved land­scape was only one part of the alchemy that would lead to mu­si­cal suc­cess. Two other vi­tal in­gre­di­ents were needed and the Cotswolds had th­ese in a unique com­bi­na­tion.

From a young age each of th­ese men was able to learn his craft from a highly skilled church or­gan­ist of the re­gion. Geo­graph­i­cally close to the an­cient mu­sic tra­di­tions of the cathe­drals of Worces­ter, Here­ford and Glouces­ter, the Cotswolds had an un­usu­ally vi­brant and skilled net­work of mu­sic in par­ish churches. This in turn spun out in­for­mal mu­sic mak­ing in lo­cal bands and glee clubs.

Within this mu­si­cal struc­ture lay op­por­tu­ni­ties, as or­gan­ists, con­duc­tors and choir-mas­ters, to learn and per­form and then, crit­i­cally, to ar­range, or­ches­trate and com­pose orig­i­nal mu­sic.

But the fi­nal part of the mix, the game-changer for our Cotswold crop of mu­si­cal lions, was the op­por­tu­nity to hear world-class, some­times ground­break­ing mu­sic every year, not far from their own homes. And the chance there to see, And

what’s more, to have the chance to see, meet and be in­spired by the top mu­si­cians, com­posers, con­duc­tors and im­pre­sar­ios of their day.

And this is where Mu­sic Fes­ti­vals come in and in par­tic­u­lar for th­ese com­posers, the Three Choirs Fes­ti­val. You can­not look at the life of any of our Cotswold com­posers and ig­nore the im­pact that this lo­cal but world-class mu­sic Fes­ti­val had on their lives.

Parry first vis­ited the Three Choirs Fes­ti­val when he was 13 and went on to have a life­long as­so­ci­a­tion with it as com­poser and con­duc­tor; like­wise El­gar was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor as a boy. In an era be­fore recorded mu­sic be­came eas­ily avail­able, the Fes­ti­val was a way for hori­zons to be ex­panded: Holst thought he had floated up to the ceil­ing when, aged 19, he heard Bach’s

B mi­nor Mass there! The mu­sic Fes­ti­val was also a meet­ing-place of minds: when Her­bert How­ells

and Ivor Gur­ney, aged 18 and 19, went to hear the pre­miere of a piece by Ralph Vaughan-wil­liams, they were thrilled to meet the com­poser him­self and they all talked long and an­i­mat­edly about El­gar’s then highly con­tro­ver­sial Dream of Geron­tius.

So, in a world be­fore in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia, The Fes­ti­val not only broad­ened hori­zons but en­abled what to­day we would call net­work­ing. And by rou­tinely com­mis­sion­ing new works, it pro­vided a plat­form from which Bri­tish com­posers could be sup­ported and pro­moted.

Our beau­ti­ful Cotswolds coun­try­side did in­deed in­spire some of the most glo­ri­ous Clas­si­cal mu­sic ever com­posed. But it was the vi­brant mu­sic-mak­ing her­itage of the area and the ex­is­tence of a well-sup­ported pro­vin­cial mu­sic Fes­ti­val that trans­formed in­spi­ra­tion into out­put.

In­spi­ra­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and op­por­tu­nity: the Cotswolds pro­vided all three.

In­stru­ments of Time and Truth

Ben­jamin Grosvenor

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