Arnold Bax (1883 -1953)
In the Faery Hills
The Garden of Fand
Symphony No.1 in E flat
The son of cultured and well-to-do Englishparents, Arnold Bax was born in Streatham but spent much of his childhood inHampstead, where the family later settled, taught at home by a private tutorand strongly influenced by the cultured and comfortable environment in which hefound himself. His early interest in music persuaded his father, a barrister,to allow him to enter the Royal Academy of Music in London at the age of seventeen. Therehe became a piano pupil of Tobias Matthay, while studying composition under theWagnerian Frederick Corder.
In 1902 Bax came across the poem TheWanderings of Usheen (Oisin), by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, and discoveredin himself a strong Celtic identity, although racially descended from a familylong established in East Anglia. He and his brother, the writer Clifford Bax, madetheir first visit to Ireland and were captivated. Here they established themselvesfor a time, associating with leading figures in Irish cultural life, while Baxhimself won a reputation as a poet and writer, assuming, for this literarypurpose, the name Dermot O'Byrne and studying Irish legend and the old Irishlanguage. A visit to Russia with a Ukrainian girl that he had met in London and her Italianfriend, introduced a further influence to his cultural formation. While hispursuit of the Ukrainian girl came to nothing, he was able to absorb somethingof the spirit of Russian music, secular and sacred, and was dazzled by theglories of the Imperial Ballet, as he was to be by Dyagilev's Ballets russeson his return to London. His return also brought marriage to the daughter ofthe then distinguished Spanish pianist Carlos Sobrino and the present of ahouse from his father. Bax, however, could not settle in London. Before long thecouple had rented a house in Ireland, and then returned to Engiand, living in variousplaces, but eventually separating, thereby allowing Bax to pursue his ownmusical and amorous ventures in a measure of freedom.
The tone-poem In the Faery Hills waswritten in 1909, later forming the centre of a trilogy of tone-poems under thegeneral title Eire. It is dedicated to the composer Balfour-Gardiner, animportant figure in the musical life of London among younger composers, towhom he was able to give practical encouragement, particularly in a series ofconcerts of music by English composers that he organized in 1912 and 1913, andis scored for a characteristically large orchestra. The instrumentationincludes piccolo, bass clarinet, two harps and a varied percussion section,with glockenspiel and celesta, in addition to the usual instruments of the fullsymphony orchestra. The work was first performed in 1910 at a PromenadeConcert, when it was conducted by Henry Wood, who had requested itscomposition. The poem by Yeats, to which In the Faery Hills owes itsinspiration, allows Oisin or Usheen, replying to St Patrick, to describe hiswandering:
And Niamh blew theremerry notes
Out of a little silvertrump
And then an answeringwhispering flew
Over the bare andwoody land
The clarinet opens with this faery summons, inthe tone-poem, followed by the gradual gathering of the Lillie People. At theheart of the work Oisin sings:
But when I sang of human joy
A sorrow wrapped each merryface.
Aboy comes forward and seizes the harp.
And caught the silverharp away,
And, weeping over thewhite strings, hurled
It down in aleaf-hid, hollow place.
Nowthey dance away with him, laughing as they go. The picture evoked is a Celticone, but not without a touch of the other pagan world earlier suggested by Mallarmeand Debussy in L 'apres-midi d'un faune, of which there are perceptibleechoes. The work starts with a characteristic faery motif, that is to bere-echoed, and a suggestion of the Celtic twilight in a secondary motif fromthe flute. The faery world wakens into an Allegro vivace jig. The danceends and the trumpet repeats the opening motif, as the bard begins his tale,represented at first by two violas, followed by the bassoon, with a harpaccompaniment and faery interpolations. The narrative continues, until thefaery dance is heard again, first from a bassoon. The harp seems to sink in thewater, as the jig resumes. The music slows and the horn-call sounds again,re-echoing. A solo viola, followed by a single flute, leads the dance to itsend.
The Garden of Fand was completed in1916, described by Bax as the last of his Irish works. It again makes use of alarge orchestra, now also including a double bassoon, used colourfully, withdetailed and meticulously notated percussion effects, evoking the sea, the Atlantic Ocean, in its delicateopening, characteristic of Bax, but nevertheless suggesting something ofDebussy in its harmonic and melodic material, and initial delicacy. In hisintroduction to the published score Bax explains that the garden of Fand is the sea. Thepicture at first is of a calm sea, over which a small ship sails into thesunset, to be tossed by a wave onto the shore of Fand's miraculous island. There thevoyagers are caught up in the endless revelry of the place. Fand sings her songof love, enchaining the hearts of her hearers for ever. there is dancing andfeasting, and then the sea rises, to overwhelm the island, leaving theimmortals to ride on the waves, laughing at the mortals drowned in the depthsof the ocean. Twilight falls, the sea grows calm again and Fand's garden isseen no more.
Thecomposer's description gives a clear account of the tone-poem itseif and itsstructure. The story of Fand is part of the saga of Cuchulain, the great heroof Irish iegend, who is beaten in a dream by two strange women, who hadappeared before as birds. For a year Cuchulain lies sick, watched over by hiscompanions and neglecting the deeds of heroism demanded of him. In LadyGregory's version of the tale, Fand, rejected by the sea-god Manannan, andtaking her name, meaning a tear that passed over the fire of the eye, from herpurity and beauty, calls Cuchulain to her aid, provoking the jealousy of thehero's wife Emer. Matters are resolved when Fand and Manannan are reconciledonce more and she is able to cast a mantle of oblivion over what has passed.
More relevant to Bax's tone-poem are the lines of W.B.Yeats: ...and him
Who met Fand walking among theflaming dew
By a grey shore where the windnever blew,
And lost the worldand Emer for a kiss.
The following years broughtcontinued association with Ireland and sympathy with the idealismthat led to the Easter Rising of 1916, in which a number of his friends playeda lea