Celebrating 50 Years devoted to British Music

This is the proud title of two albums containing eight CD’s which I referred to in my blog of June 3rd. I’ve now had time to listen to all of the 50 pieces extracted from the many recordings by the small but enterprising Lyrita label founded in 1960 by Richard Itter. Angry that the big companies ignored traditional British music in favour of the avant –garde, he set about correcting that imbalance. So, mainly with the London Philharmonic Orchestra but with other orchestras too and leading conductors of the day, he published a great deal of otherwise unplayed and forgotten music in high quality recordings. In the L.P. era I bought several of them and added others when the CD revolution took over. It was a means of education as well as pleasure. I became an enthusiast for the symphonies of George Lloyd and Edmund Rubbra, two totally different but equally neglected British composers.

The albums bring together an extraordinary array of talent. Whilst I was familiar with many of the composers, others were completely new to me.

Phyllis Tate (1911-1987) for example. She had a strong commitment to writing for children and believed that music should entertain and give pleasure. In 1979, she wrote “I must admit to having a sneaking hope that some of my creations may prove to be better than they appear. All I can vouch is this: writing music can be hell; torture in the extreme; but there’s one thing worse; and that is not writing it”. Listening to two of the movements from her London Fields suite commissioned by the BBC has been pleasurable indeed.

Ruth Gipps (1921-1999) was also new to me but apparently was an accomplished all-round musician, as a soloist in both oboe and piano as well as a prolific composer. Her horn concerto is one of the works in the album. Her career started early, winning performance competitions in which she was considerably younger than the rest of the field, performing her first composition at the age of 8 in one of the numerous music festivals she entered.

She was influenced by Vaughan Williams, wrote five symphonies and two substantial piano concertos. She suffered discrimination because she was a woman – applying for a conducting appointment to follow her friend George Weldon in Birmingham, she was not even considered, because the thought of a woman conductor was regarded by many as “indecent”.

I belong to a small music group in Bath that meets once a month to share musical appreciation by listening to recordings. I shall be playing the Tate and Gipps works next Tuesday when we meet, and I shall be interested in how people react to them.