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This page was last checked and updated on 17 July 2003 at 17:09

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CD recordings of music by Rutland Boughton.

It was on 24 November 2001 at the end of a Hitchin Symphony Orchestra concert when I was approached by a gentleman who introduced himself as Ian Boughton, the grandson of the composer Rutland Boughton. He congratulated me on the concert and then asked if, since he had been informed that I was a devotee of 20th century English music, I knew any of his grandfather`s music. I had to confess that, although I had heard the name and, as a music graduate, had read about The Immortal Hour in the music history books, I had not actually heard a note of this music. He then informed me that he had been talking to Brian Foreman, Chairman of the Arts Council for North Hertfordshire, whose daughter Karen I had taught at Hitchin Girls` School and Brian had suggested that Ian should approach me to see whether I would be interested in conducting any of Boughton`s music. I said that I certainly would be interested.

The next week I received from Ian a CD of Rutland Boughton`s Symphony No. 3 in B minor and the Concerto No. 1 in C for Oboe and Strings (Helios CDH55019). I played the CD and was immediately knocked out by each of them, by their lyricism and power. The symphony I recognised instantly as a masterpiece.

No further developments took place until about a year later when I wrote to Ian to say that I intended to programme both works in one of our forthcoming concerts. I received a reply saying that he was delighted to hear my news - though he had heard rumours that I was intending to conduct these pieces.

Over the next few months I saw Ian on a number of different occasions and was able to talk about his grandfather`s music with him. I learned that very little of it was published and that two projects in particular were dear to the hearts of the members of the family. These were the publication of the Reunion Variations and of the opera, generally considered to be Boughton`s masterpiece. Well, after some pondering, I eventually offered my services regarding the transcription of the opera. Negotiations were entered into and a fee and a deadline were agreed. I was to produce from a photocopy of the composer`s manuscript a full score of the overture and opera, all the instrumental parts and a vocal score. The total length of these came to 2,500 bars and was all to be completed by 1 January 2004.

I set to work with a vengeance and within six months I had entered all the notes into the computer using the Sibelius Version 2.1 notation software. After a mid-winter break I started to correct my efforts and as of today (13 May 2003) I have completed the Overture and Act 1. With a tape recording and a copy of the printed vocal score to help, I have been able to form a good impression of this work. In my opinion it is without doubt a masterpiece. It has a first-rate libretto, based on the play by Thomas Hardy, The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall, which first appeared in November 1923 and which is Hardy`s only stageable play. The quality of the music is of the highest: the themes are distinctive and memorable, which, in an opera which makes full use of reminiscence themes, is a distinct advantage. The orchestral writing is superb, with much counterpoint and highly individual writing for the instruments. There are many moments of sheer beauty, my favourite being Iseult`s aria in Act 1, I dream that the dearest I ever knew Had died; close in favour to that is her other Act 1 aria, Could he but live for me A day. These are beautiful songs. The plot is a re-working of the Tristan and Isolde legend, told with great economy of means. Parts of the libretto are rather archaic, but in many ways this gives them an added attraction.

If anything I do leads to a concert performance or to a staged production of this opera, then I shall feel great pride in the work I have done. It strikes me as absurd that so much tedious music is pumped out daily on the radio and yet further innumerable recordings are continually made of thoroughly well-known pieces when such a great work is lying on a shelf, unperformed and unrecorded. And we need operas like this to counter the old myth that English opera lay dormant between Purcell and Peter Grimes.

In the intervening months I have grown to know more and more of Rutland Boughton`s music: the opera, The Immortal Hour (Hyperion CDD22040), which still holds the world record for the greatest number of consecutive performances of any serious opera; the choral drama, Bethlehem (Hyperion CDA66690); the Flute Concerto, Concerto for String Orchestra, Three Folk Dances and Aylesbury Games (Hyperion CDA67185) and the Oboe Quartet No. 1, the String Quartet in F major From the Welsh Hills, String Quartet in A major On Greek Folk Songs and Three Songs without Words for oboe quartet (Hyperion CDA66936). There are many fine works here and al these recordings are to be highly recommended. Hyperion Records Limited have done us proud by producing all these pieces and our gratitude is due also to The Rutland Boughton Music Trust for sponsoring these recordings.