News

World premiere recordings of British composer John Foulds

World premiere recordings of British composer John Foulds

John Foulds has been described as a ‘quintessential eccentric’ and as ‘England’s answer to Charles Ives’. When he started composing, Foulds was a fairly typical English late-Romantic but, as he went on, he experimented with Greek modes, extreme chromaticism, bitonality, quarter-tone scales and exoticism. Unfortunately, few of his scores have survived so Foulds is little known today and it is difficult to assess his musical contribution. Sakari Oramo and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra have championed the work of John Foulds, giving first performances of Mirage (“a Straussian evocation of man’s metaphysical aspirations”) and Lyra Celtica. John Foulds took piano lessons from the age of four and began composing three years later. At ten, he began to study the cello and he left home at 13 to play in local orchestras and bands before joining the cello section of the Hallé Orchestra in 1900. Traveling extensively as a young man, Foulds met a number of European composers, including Bartók, Mahler, Delius, Richard Strauss and Busoni, whose work influenced his own. In 1906, shortly after Henry Wood premiered Foulds’s orchestral piece, Epithalamium, at a London Promenade Concert, Foulds parted company with the Hallé to concentrate on composing. Apotheosis: Music-Poem No. 4 for solo violin and orchestra ‘Dedicated to the memory of Joseph Joachim’ was composed in 1909 and Mirage: Music-Poem No. 5 was composed in 1910. Between 1914 and 1926, he lived mainly in London, where he supported himself composing light music, including his popular Keltic Suite, and works for the theatre, including his incidental music for the first production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. Lyra Celtica, a wordless concerto for voice and orchestra, was composed around 1925. Together with his second wife, the violinist and theosophist Maud McCarthy, Foulds moved to Paris in 1927. McCarthy had a strong interest in Eastern music and Foulds also became interested in Ancient Greek and Indian music. The Three Mantras, partly composed in Paris, are all that survives of a planned three-act Sanskrit opera, Aventara. After a brief return to London in 1930, he moved to India in 1935, where he studied Indian folk music and formed an experimental Indo-European orchestra that combined Western and native instruments. He was working on a Symphony of East and West when he died of cholera in Calcutta in 1939. Susan Bickley is the mezzo-soprano soloist in Lyra Celtica. Daniel Hope, winner of the 2004 Classic Brit award as “Best Young Classical Performing of the Year”, is the soloist in Apotheosis. His recording of the Berg/Britten Violin Concertos for Warner Classics was recently released to ecstatic acclaim.