Friday 20 November 2020

Celebrating the centenary of RVW's The Lark Ascending with a re-construction of the work's premiere

George Meredith in 1893 by George Frederic Watts
George Meredith in 1893
by George Frederic Watts
Inspired by the poetry of George Meredith (1828-1909), The Lark Ascending has become one of RVW's best known and most beloved works, yet its origins are somewhat hazy, not helped by the fact that the original autograph manuscript has been lost. RVW wrote the work in 1914 so it is very much an eve of war-time work and Lewis Foreman has talked about the 'underlying layer of sadness to the music. Rather like the Edwardian era, as viewed retrospectively from the other side of World War One, it seems to reflect nostalgia for a partly mythological lost age of innocence'. It is also, looking back, easy to forget how revolutionary the work must have seemed in the context of British music of the time. Another point is that though we think of Meredith as a Victorian poet, when RVW began The Lark Ascending, the poet had only been dead for five years.

Though RVW wrote it for the violinist Marie Hall (a former pupil of Edward Elgar), who was involved (in some way) in the work's creation, the premiere did not take place until 1920, partly because of RVW's war time activities so that it was only after 1918 that he returned to revise the work. When Marie Hall and pianist Geoffrey Mendham performed it at Shirehampton Public Hall on 15 December 1920 at a concert of the Avonmouth and Shirehampton Choral Society. It was given in a specially created arrangement for violin and piano, whilst the original orchestral version was premiered, again with Hall as soloist, in 1921.

The original concert of the premiere is being recreated on 15 December 2020 at Shirehampton Public Hall (the venue for that 1920 premiere) in association with Bristol Beacon (the former Colston Hall). Violinist Jennifer Pike (who has recorded the violin and piano version) will be the violinist in a performance of the violin and piano arrangement, and extracts from the original concert will be performed including RVW's Fantasia on Christmas Carols, J S Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043 and C Hubert H Parry's Choral Song “Jerusalem” with the Bristol Ensemble and Exsultate Singer.

The concert is a free on-line event at 7.30pm on 15 December 2020, further information from the Bristol Beacon website.

Update: For those interested in trivia, Shirehampton Public Hall was designed by the Bristol-based architect Bligh Bond (1864-1945) who designed a number of buildings in Bristol. He was also interested in spiritualism and psychic archaeology. He claimed to use a medium 'in contact with the original monks' to decide where to excavate at Glastonbury Abbey.

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