Friday 6 January 2023

The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand,

Joseph Tawadros (Photo Anthony Lycett)
Joseph Tawadros (Photo Anthony Lycett)
Certain works seem to capture the zeitgeist, become enormously popular and then fade, with revivals never quite managing to recapture that original spirit. So Rutland Boughton's opera The Immortal Hour remains something of a rare novelty, never achieving the remarkable success of its first few years (the opera ran for 216 consecutive performances in London in 1922 with a further 160 the following year!)

Similarly, another escapist work was enormously successful in 1923, James Elroy Flecker's five-act verse drama, The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand, had a run of 281 performances at His Majesty's Theatre that year, directed by Basil Dean. Whilst Flecker's poetry has remained somewhat influential, with Hassan reflecting the promise that was snubbed with the poet's early death (in 1915), few would probably think of performing the verse drama today.

That 1923 performance had incidental music by Frederick Delius, quite a substantial score with preludes to each of the five acts, interludes, a serenade, fanfares, a four-movement ballet, melodramas and choruses, the most famous movement is The Serenade a work that has achieved an independent life.

100 years after the premiere of Delius' music for the play, the Britten Sinfonia is reviving it and giving a complete performance of Delius' incidental music for Flecker's Hassan with the individual movements linked by a narration taken from the play. Jamie Phillips conducts the Britten Sinfonia and Britten Sinfonia Voices in performances at Milton Court Concert Hall (10 February 2023) and Saffron Hall (11 February 2023). 

Whilst Delius' music rather eschews any element of exoticising the music, Flecker's text was influenced by his work in Britain’s Levant consulate service, and he travelled widely in the region and studied ancient Islamic literature and poetry.

As a counterpoint to Hassan, the Britten Sinfonia is pairing Delius' music with that of the Australian/Egyptian oud player and composer Joseph Tawadros who joins the orchestra for performances of his music including the premiere of his Britten Sinfonia commissioned new work, Three Stages of Hindsight.

Full details from the Britten Sinfonia website.

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