Course overview

The early 20th Century witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of English musical talent – dormant since the death of Purcell 200 years earlier. With the premiere of Elgar's Enigma Variations in 1899, the country at last began to put paid to the German gibe of it being "The Land without Music". With the help of musical extracts, we trace the course of the Renaissance and the individuals who shaped it - featuring Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Britten, Walton and Tippett. We also explore how conscious they were of heading a revolution, and address the elusive issue of what we really understand by Englishness in music.

Course description

English music is most commonly associated with the pastoral and folk tradition launched by Vaughan Williams and Holst. Yet Elgar and Delius, paradoxically owed more to German influence. We will learn how Elgar’s overpowering success was achieved in the face of discrimination for being both self-taught and, as a Catholic, an establishment outsider. In the meantime, Delius only found his true voice by abandoning an England which he found stuffy and restrictive. You will learn how Vaughan Williams successfully replaced the influence of Wagner with that of the home-grown melodies of the common man and the modal harmonies of the Tudor age. Like Holst, he nevertheless wrote in a variety of styles, developing a uniquely visionary voice. We shall see how Holst himself pioneered a pared-down, minimalist style which had a powerful influence on Britten, who emerged as the first English composer of world-wide appeal. Finally, you will learn how the different paths taken by Walton and Tippett, the one a neo-Elgarian and the other a ceaseless progressive, sustained the key principles of the Renaissance in combining tradition and modernity to the highest professional standards. As a theme throughout, we will explore the key aspects of these composers’ lives and works, the range of influences from which they drew, and the degree to which any of them could ever really put their finger on what exactly was “English” about their music.

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