Up t’North

York, Newcastle (the Tyne one, of course), Liverpool, Hexham, Durham, Bishop Auckland, Harrogate, Hull and Holy Island; the Lindisfarne Gospels (or at least, one page of them), tons of Pre-Raphaelites, an apocalypse or two by mad John Martin and the fantastical world of Marc Chagall; the hustle and bustle of Holy Island (‘it’s a place […]

Modus operandi

I’ve already mentioned modes in the context of Vaughan Williams’ first and second symphonies and several other works, the Tallis Fantasia, Wenlock Edge and so on. By the time he had finished the third (Pastoral) symphony (1921) the composer’s mature style was almost completely formed, and much of that unique, instantly recognisable ‘Vaughan Williams sound’ […]

The Demon

There’s something dark and primaeval at the heart of Russian music that sometimes  bubbles and seethes to the surface and becomes the Songs and Dances of Death or the Rite of Spring or the Scythian Suite. It’s populated by magical beings and monsters: the evil sorcerer, Chernomor; the green-taloned ogre, Kashchei; the Firebird; the tiny infantophagic witch, Baba-yaga; the Rusalka; the […]

L’affaire Ravel

For five consecutive years (1900–1905) Ravel tried and failed to win the prestigious Prix de Rome. In 1905 the matter became a matter of public scandal and led to the resignation of the, then, principal of the Conservatoire, Théodore Dubois, and his replacement by Gabriel Fauré. Ravel’s operatic output consists of two one-act works: L’heure espagnole (Spanish […]

Going pear shaped: Satie and Les Six

Jester, mystic, prophet and author of, among other things, the Memoirs of an Amnesiac, Erik Satie was one of the great eccentrics of French music. He eventually surrounded himself with a loosely allied group of young composers (Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Germaine Tailleferre and, later, Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc) who, having at first styled themselves Les nouveaux jeunes, soon […]

What’s tonality? Who’s André Caplet?

Two very good questions: the first is central to our understanding of western music and particularly of the way it ‘evolved’ during the 19th and 20th centuries. Not that easy to explain without loads of jargon: I’ll do my best! (…for those of you who want to follow Schönberg as he takes his first nervous(?) […]


I am trying to do ‘something different’… what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism’ is a term which is as poorly used as possible.  Claude Debussy As you can see, Debussy wasn’t too pleased to have the word ‘Impressionist’ applied to his music; he had always felt a greater affinity with the attention to detail, brilliant colour […]

Pater seraphicus

It may seem a bit odd to have listened to and talked about the music of Henri Duparc and Vincent D’Indy before that of their teacher, César Franck. But Franck (as composer as distinct from performer) was a late developer who wrote most of his best known music during the last years of his life: Le […]