Works described in this part:
- Four Voluntaries for organ
- Two Preludes for organ on Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier and Who would true valour see
- This sorry scheme of things: cantata
- Friendly grotesques for piano duet
- In a Sunday Newspaper: song-cycle
- Daisy Simpkins: a concert entertainment
- Twice a Kiss: a musical charade
- Murder at the Towers
- Two Kavafy Songs
- Spring Legend: a ballet
- Organ Sonata (1958)
- Fitzwillam Mass
- Aye, aye, Lucian
- Three Organ Voluntaries to be played during Holy Communion
- Scherzetto for orchestra
Following the success of The Mayor of Casterbridge, Peter no longer felt the need to compose exercises or pieces on the off-chance that they may be performed. Instead, performers and organisations began to ask him to write music for specific performances. As a result, the 1950s was a period in which he became more accomplished and more confident as a composer. and a number of remarkable pieces flowed from his pen. Many of his composing tasks were still quite menial, composing incidental music for plays, in particular the Greek Plays in Cambridge, and pageants, with even an occasional film score. And, because of his facility in writing accessible music, he was a regular contributor to music for the annual pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Windsor.
Almost immediately after The Mayor of Casterbridge, he was involved in a Christmas Pageant devised by Camille Prior for performance in Little St Mary’s Church in Cambridge. He had to arrange all the music and compose a Magnificat, the music of which no longer exists. The Pageant was clearly a success because it was repeated in Great St Mary’s Church on 5th December 1956. On this occasion, he also composed a Fanfare and Gloria for the scene in which the Angels appeared to the Shepherds. It’s scored for four-part mixed chorus with 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, harp and organ. Following a setting of the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo”, there is a three-part round of the complete English text. The music is simple, direct and very effective. The Pageant received a third performance in King’s College Chapel on 1st February 1958 for which Peter composed a new, more ambitious Gloria for choir and organ only.
The first substantial piece to be heard was Fantasy and Epilogue, two of his Four voluntaries for organ which were performed by Basil Ramsey, later to be Editor of The Musical Times, at New Court Congregational Church, Tollington Park, London N4 on Monday 3rd November 1952. Peter introduced the pieces in the programme:
“In style, they are intensely individual with an occasional glimpse of Hindemith. Chromaticism and dissonance freely abound, but in a very sane and logical way that reveals a firm diatonic basis. The Fantasy is sectional: a slow opening, a faster section introducing the main material, development, return of the opening section, and a concluding passage founded on part of the development. The Epilogue has a contrasted middle section for manuals only.”
As with many of his works, Peter often changed the titles and order of the movements. The presentation of the original work was quite staid with each movement being given a rather prosaic title:
- Introit (marked Lento: Rubato e molto espressivo)
- Offertory (marked Moderato)
- Postlude – Epilogue (marked Andantino grazioso)
- During the Sermon (Allegretto delizioso)
However, whilst revising the work in 1964, Peter added the sub-title “suitable for sundry occasions” and gave each movement a new title:
To this last movement, he added in pencil “NB Before starting: The door of the organ-loft should be locked from the inside.” This is hardly surprising, since it is a delicious popular dance. The Four Voluntaries, which last about twenty minutes, reveal Peter’s confidence in his handling of form and style and would be well worth hearing once again in recital.
Another short work for organ started in June 1952 is the Two Preludes on Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier and Who would true valour see. The first working title was Prelude and Passacaglia since the first Prelude was perhaps a homage to Bach from a twentieth-century perspective whilst the second is a Passacaglia, with a nod in the direction of Vaughan Williams. It is distinguished by the harmonic twist in the final bars that brings the music from an E major feel into a closing chord of D flat. Once again, there is a confidence in the part-writing that would make this short work a welcome addition to the organ repertoire.
In June 1952, Peter was invited by the Homerton College Madrigal Society to compose a choral work for their next Spring concert. At that time, the College was a Ladies’ Teacher Training College with a lively musical tradition under Allen Percival, later to be Principal of Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In response, Peter composed This Sorry Scheme of Things, a Cantata for ladies’ voices (sopranos and altos), a mixed semi-chorus and baritone solo accompanied by amplified harpsichord and piano. It may have been his original intention to orchestrate the accompaniment since the title-page mentions orchestra and states that “the accompaniment is arranged for piano, electric harpsichord (and percussion, if desired).” However, the orchestration appears never to have been undertaken. At this first performance, the baritone soloist was Norman Platt (later to be the Founder-Director of Kent Opera) with Thurston Dart at the harpsichord and Peter himself at the piano. From comments he made, it seems that Peter may have originally conceived the work in nine separate sections. The existing score, though, shows a through-composed work that must have been revised for the broadcast in 1957.
The Cantata is a setting of nine texts by a wide variety of writers and gives a partial insight into Peter’s political thinking during those years. Shortly before its broadcast in the first week of December 1957, he wrote:
“Mr Gaitskell said on the 2nd October 1957 when considering the future policy of the Labour Party: “We have to convince ordinary decent people who don’t think a great deal about politics. They are concerned about prices, jobs, rents, pensions and schools for their children. We are putting forward proposals on all these heads.” This echoes the attitude of Thomas Hood in his poem “Our Village”: parochial concerns. But concern about prices and jobs leads to the international race for markets and raw materials and thus to international conflict. But those that live in “Their Village” call this distantly “Foreign Affairs”.
It is a far cry from the dream Tennyson embodied in his poem “Locksley Hall” of “The Parliament of Man”, “The Federation of the World” and of “Universal Law”.
Is there a solution? Can Tennyson’s dream ever be realised?”
Alan Frank (then Editor of the Music Department of Oxford University Press) introduced the work in the Radio Times, describing Peter as one of the most versatile and refreshingly unacademic among the post-war group of young musicians at Cambridge. He considered that This Sorry Scheme of Things set an ambitious theme and that the composer had clothed his texts in straightforward music so that their argument may be readily understood. The cantata opens with a brisk setting of the anonymous text, Insanae et vanae curae, for women’s voices and semi-chorus. The marking is Allegro barbaro and the tonality is centred around B. This leads into a contemplative setting of No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Bronte in Peter’s seemingly favourite key of D flat. The first verse is sung by the solo baritone who is joined by the gentlemen of the semi-chorus and the women’s choir for verse 2. In the last verse, the baritone is accompanied by the chorus and instrumentalists. Then comes The Shadow of Dawn by the Victorian poet, William Ernest Henley. The music is introduced by the harpsichord and the semi-chorus sing mainly in unison. This leads into the most substantial section, a setting of Once to every man and nation by the American Romantic poet and hymn-writer, J. Russell Lowell. The first verse is written for the full complement of singers, while the baritone is accompanied by the semi-chorus in verse 2. The third verse is scored for the baritone soloist and the women’s voices, with the semi-chorus interjecting the words “vanae” and “insanae”. The final verse is sung by the baritone soloist after which the music leads into “Hast thou chosen, O my people”, also by J.Russell Lowell, which is declaimed by the baritone soloist. The music subsides into the key of A minor for a setting of Thomas Hood’s poem “Our Village” in which the music is marked Quasi presto, scherzando. It is, in fact, a huge choral scherzo in which the refrain introducing the village is sung by the women’s voices and the non-human inhabitants are listed by the semi-chorus. The seventh section mirrors the fifth, being a declaimed setting by the baritone of J.Russell Lowell’s text “Thou hast chosen, O my people”. The music moves straight into “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”, a setting for the baritone soloist of words from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. From this, the music leads into the final section, taken from Omar Khayyam, “Ah love, could Thou and I with Fate conspire to grasp this sorry scheme of things entire”. The baritone sings the first verse with music similar to that of the Emily Bronte setting. In the second verse, the choruses join the baritone before the music ends quietly in D flat major.
Many considered this to be one of Peter’s most important works and it received some favourable reviews. The BBC’s New Music Panel was quick to accept the work for broadcasting in a letter from Frank Wade dated 15th June 1953. Eric Blom, writing in The Observer, noted that “Mr Tranchell’s musical idiom is often enterprising without ever going to extremes and it has a decided personal flavour.” The Times’s anonymous critic – could it have been William Mann, an old adversary of Peter’s from undergraduate days? – commented that “Peter Tranchell is a composer with something to say even if he is a little erratic in his way of saying it.” He noted its similarity with “….other modern extended choral works in being founded on an anthology of poems linked together by a somewhat tenuous line of thought epitomised in the title. The ethical core of this latest instance of the anthology-cantata is provided by verses of James Russell Lowell, but the best music is to be found in the setting of a poem by Emily Bronte, in a choral scherzo after Thomas Hood, and in a final verse of Omar Khayyam that embodies the title. He also noted the colourful contribution of the instrumentalists: “Tranchell writes for the harpsichord figuration that will not blend with the piano or with the voices, uses it sometimes as colour, but more often avails himself of its silver stridency to add momentum by its sheer impact on the more solid textures.”
For the broadcast in December 1957, the baritone soloist was Hervey Alan, the harpsichordist Raymond Leppard, and the pianist was Joseph Cooper. The BBC Singers were conducted by Leslie Woodgate. Peter was not happy with the performance and wrote to his parents: “… the BBC broadcast of my cantata ‘This Sorry Scheme of Things’ was lamentable. For a start, the BBC’s economy does not permit more than one ensemble rehearsal. It was under-rehearsed, nobody suggested that I should play it through to the conductor or attend a chorus rehearsal, the pianist played no end of wrong notes, the harpsichord was miked too close, the tempos were all wrong, none of the continuity passages I had written was used, and the words were of course inaudible. When I heard the broadcast I was so angry that words failed me.” An unhappy ending to a work in which Peter had invested so much of himself.
Early in 1953, Peter composed one of his most attractive and frequently performed instrumental works: Friendly Grotesques for piano duet. The piece was written for Fitzwilliam House’s May Week Concert on 3rd June 1953 and was intended to be an interlude between the two parts of Handel’s Acis and Galatea. At that first performance, the pianists were Thurston Dart and Allen Percival. For subsequent performances, the order of the four movements changed as did their titles. However, on the first night, they were:
- Tempo di turkey-trot
- Collapso: Tempo di Rhumboid
- Valse Hoqueteuse
- Fox-trot glissant
The second movement quotes from Schubert’s well-known Marche militaire, while the main theme at the start of the last movement is a quotation of one of the main themes of the first movement. As one would by now expect, the piano-writing is highly idiomatic and demanding, while the dance rhythms engender a great sense of fun. For performances outside Cambridge, the tongue-in-cheek titles were replaced by more serious ones. For a performance by Peter and David Epps at Monkton Combe School in July 1959, the movements were entitled:
- Allegretto (Tempo di Turkey-trot)
- Allegro di molto
- Allegro leggiero
While at the concert given to inaugurate the Lecture Hall of the newly-built Fitzwilliam House in November 1963, when the pianists were Peter and David Atherton, the movement headings were:
- Tempo di Turkey-trot
- Valse d’ivresse
- Pas a quatre mains gauches
The other major work of 1953 was In a Sunday newspaper, a song-cycle for baritone and piano. Composed in September 1953, it took words from various newspapers of 9th August, from all of which Peter had to seek permission. The cycle lasts about twenty minutes and was intended for Norman Platt, though it seems unlikely that he ever sang the songs in public. The titles of the eight songs are:
- Four foot skeleton found at High Wycombe
- Week-end weather
- Savings drop again
- Your own horoscope
- Police use hoses against seven hundred
- Women walk out of court
- A seal named Celia
- County Cricket
The whimsy of the texts is well-matched by the lightness of touch in the music, with the piano accompaniments setting the scene for each little tale that is about to unfold. In the third song, the composer instructs the singer to sing “with the joy of a huge joke” the news that withdrawals had exceeded savings. The fourth song sets a somewhat risqué horoscope that Peter would undoubtedly have enjoyed, while the sixth song has a text with bowdlerised alternatives, reminding us that the songs were composed before the legalisation of homosexuality. The songs (omitting 3 and 4) were given their first performance by Peter Lehmann Bedford and Michael Pilkington at Park Lane House on 30th April 1960. Later, in July, the same performers gave them in Munich from where Peter Lehmann Bedford wrote to tell the composer that one young lady in the audience had cried at the end of Number 7.
1954 saw the composition of Daisy Simpkins or The Spinning House, the first of Peter’s Concert Entertainments. These were to combine the two musical elements that most attracted him: the music of the popular cabaret song, as exemplified by his long involvement with Footlights, within a theatrical or quasi-operatic setting. Daisy Simpkins was based on a couple of historical incidents set in Victorian Cambridge. The libretto was by Harry Porter, an old friend and collaborator from Footlights and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College. He gave the background to the story in an introductory note:
By a charter granted to the University by Elizabeth I, the Proctors were given power to arrest in Cambridge “public women, procuresses, vagabonds and other persons suspected of evil”. Women so arrested were tried by the Vice Chancellor in the Spinning House (formerly on the site of the Police Station in Regent Street) which was also the prison to which they were committed, usually for three weeks, if found guilty. The usual charge was that of being in the company of a member of the University. The court was not open to the public, there was no jury, and the prisoner was not allowed counsel. Naturally, this proctorial power was greatly resented in later days – by the town and by many sections of University opinion. The debates on the legal and moral issues involved reached a climax in two cases in 1891 which occasioned much controversy and even questions in the House of Commons. The stories of Jane Elsden and Daisy Hopkins can most conveniently be found in D.A.Winstanley’s “Later Victorian Cambridge”. This Entertainment is based on these two incidents, though they have been telescoped into one. For anyone who thinks that such matters should not be treated in this way, here is part of a Leader in the Cambridge Independent Press for February 1891: “that it should be in the power of the Proctor to imprison women on suspicion and to haul them before a secret court, where they may be condemned without legal evidence and without any of the guarantees of fair play which the law provides, is a state of affairs much more suitable for comic opera than for everyday life in the year of grace 1891.”
The Entertainment was originally scored for mixed chorus and two pianos, with three principal soloists – soprano, tenor and bass – and a host of small solo parts. Although in one act, the fourteen numbers make up a kaleidoscope of scenes. The first number for male-voice chorus sets the scene with the undergraduates listing the pleasures of Cambridge life and determining to organise an excursion out of Cambridge. In the second number, the Proctor (bass solo) introduces himself and his office. In a short recitative, Daisy (soprano) sees Cayley, her undergraduate lover. He (the tenor soloist) sings of his love for Daisy in the third number. She responds in number four and they sing of their love together in number five. In the sixth number, the Chorus of Light Ladies, having observed Daisy and Cayley together, comment how dangerous the situation for young ladies is in Cambridge. On seeing the Proctor, they flee the scene. The seventh number is worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan, with the Proctor being joined by his two Bulldogs. It begins with the Proctor questioning the two men and their replies being in the style of a “psalm-rhythm of Collegium Regale”. This leads into a song for the Proctor in which the Bulldogs echo the last words of every line, or make their own comment upon it. In the course of the song, an undergraduate is asked about the young female he’s with and the Mayor’s wife is also stopped and questioned. At the end, the Proctor spies Cayley with Daisy Simpkins, “a young woman who has been warned.” He also wonders if “they are going to join that dubious excursion of undergraduates who are taking the coach to Shelford for dinner. Tho’ I learn from the Landlord, they have also booked for breakfast!”
Number eight begins with the whole chorus urging everyone to climb aboard the coach. In the middle, there is a duet on the nature of sin for Daisy and Cayley. The number ends quietly with the chorus joining the two lovers. At the beginning of Number nine, the chorus are enjoying the ride out to Shelford. Suddenly, the Proctor stops the coach and in a quickly-shifting scena takes Daisy into custody in the Spinning House, the Vice-Chancellor reads the charge of being in the company of a member of the University and, as Daisy protests her innocence, he sentences her to three weeks’ imprisonment. The number ends with a reminiscence of Number seven as the Vice-Chancellor and the Proctor maintain their right to protect the young men while the two Bulldogs add their comments at the end of every line. Number Ten is the Prison Sequence. The Matron introduces herself and installs Daisy in cell number 3. Meanwhile the other female inmates advise Daisy not to incur the Matron’s wrath while, at the same time, calling for more coals, more light, more bread and more meat. All of these the Matron angrily refuses.
In Number eleven, Daisy complains about the conditions in the Spinning House, only to be told by the Matron that she is “a woman of no importance”. On the contrary, retorts Daisy, “I am of the greatest importance!” and in her aria, she sings “I stand condemned, not as Britons should, by twelve men true and good. I stand condemned by spies and villainy, by lies and tyranny.” In the confusion caused by one of the inmates fainting, Daisy finds a loose bar in the window of her cell and makes her escape. The number ends with the male-voice chorus exulting: “She’s escaped to her Fenland home; she’s gone as quick could be; she knew it best in her interest to be back at home and free!” Number twelve continues without a break. Four lesser characters are introduced by the male-voice chorus. First, the Mayor of Cambridge expresses his delight that Daisy has escaped so that the matter can be dealt with by a civil court. Then, a Justice of the Peace expresses similar feelings with the hope that Parliament may become involved in changing the law. The Senior Proctor tries to convince us that he is waging “a war against the armies of the night”. Finally, the Vice-Chancellor insists that they are only saving the undergraduates from harm. The four voices gradually come together in a quartet in which each maintains his point of view. The full chorus joins the quartet as the music gets faster. Suddenly, it stops and a male voice shouts out: “They’ve copt her!”, whereupon the music resumes to the words: “Daisy’s been arrested. Shame! Shame! Shame!” The Justice of the Peace remarks that Daisy will now be tried in public and by Jury. Daisy picks up the music of her aria in Number eleven, this time to the words “I stand for trial, but now as Britons should, by twelve men true and good.” Supported by the full chorus, the number comes to a triumphal conclusion. Number Thirteen – Trial and Release – begins with the conclusion of the trial. The Justice of the Peace asks the Foreman of the Jury for their verdict and receives the reply: “we find the prisoner guilty. But we would like to add a rider. We do not think she should have been put in there in the first place; therefore we believe her to be almost innocent!” At this, the Justice sentences Daisy to “twenty-one days imprisonment. But as she has already been in custody for that period awaiting the trial, the prisoner, though guilty, is set free!” At this, the chorus ends the number in a chorus of laughter.
The first performance at Corpus Christi College’s May Week Concert on 13th June 1954 “received rapturous applause”. Peter, though, was unhappy with some aspects of the work, particularly the final chorus which he thought ended too abruptly. While he immediately lengthened that, “with further sanctimonious words which don’t appear in the libretto”, it took him many more performances and several years before he made any further revisions. One of those performances was as part of an all-Tranchell concert at Avery Hill College in South-east London on 2nd July 1963, when the other works in the programme included The Joyous Year and Friendly Grotesques. Peter had always hoped that the work might be staged as an operetta (all the performances were given in concert version) and he wrote out a long description of his mis-en-scene. It would have involved a large cast on stage, with singers in the pit with the two pianos. The production would have involved elaborate lighting effects, back-projections, half-way cloths and gauzes. In the Summer of 1971, Peter and Harry Porter hired the Senate House with the intention of mounting a production there for which he would have made several revisions, including an additional aria for Cayley, and even orchestrated the work. Sadly, though, they could not cast the work as they would have liked nor could they obtain the administrative and practical assistance which such a project would have needed. There was also the realisation that it would have cost them each around £200 which, at that time, Peter confessed that he did not have.
For his final concert in Caius in 1989, Peter chose to perform Daisy Simpkins for the last time. In a letter to the Organ Scholar, who was to conduct, Peter wrote “I am against unnecessary pauses between numbers (unless applause is expected) since the dramatic surge of the piece is better if it keeps its momentum as an entity and doesn’t collapse into a mere series of songs, duets and choruses.” He also advised that “Cayley has to be a real tenor with a hearty voice” and, to this end, he transposed Cayley’s aria up a third to give it more of a heroic quality. At this time too, the Proctor’s role was revised so that it could be sung by a tenor instead of a baritone. He also insisted that the audience should sympathise with the Proctor, who might appear to be the villain of the piece, “and even suspect because of his austere charm that he may be the hero. We should appreciate his sincerity and singleness of purpose.”
Daisy Simpkins, in its time, was one of Peter’s most popular and successful works by dint of its fast pacing, its witty lyrics and its marvellous music. Whether it would work away from Cambridge, where its topicality and in-jokes could be appreciated, is another matter. However, the music is worth hearing and, in consequence, the piece is worthy of more performances.
For May Week in June 1955, Peter le Huray asked Peter to compose something for St Catherine’s College. The title-page of the new work read
Twice a Kiss
An Entertainment in one act
Maurice Holt and Peter Tranchell
The libretto was by Maurice Holt, an undergraduate from St Catherine’s, who recalled that he offered to write a book possibly set in the Restoration – “I'd been reading Wycherley and thought the period deserved a re-run. I wrote it during the vacation, inventing the story, and Peter chose the title.” Peter told his parents that it was “a good libretto. At least, it was good after all the tinkering & improvement I demanded of him. He was very good-natured, & made all the adjustments good-humouredly.” The work, which lasts about 45 minutes, is written for seven solo singers accompanied by piano and electric organ. The cast consists of:
Knipp (house-boy to Sir Robert) (baritone)
Susan (a servant) (mezzo-soprano)
Sarah (Sir Robert’s ward) (contralto)
Sir Robert Asymptote (a pompous knight and a would-be playwright; although a jealous husband, he is secretly given to amours) (baritone)
Lady Asymptote (Sir Robert’s wife) (soprano)
Sir Peter Parallel (a gallant in debt to Sir Robert) (tenor)
Mr Honeywood (an actor and the proprietor of a playhouse) (bass)
For a revival by the Amateur Dramatic Club in the Lent Term of 1982, when the role of Honeywood was sung by Christopher Purves, who went on to enjoy a distinguished operatic career, the word “Entertainment” in the title was changed to “Charade” and Peter provided an introduction:
The scene is the principal chamber in the London house of Sir Robert Asymptote during the late 18th century.
Sir Robert fancies himself as a philanderer and a playwright, but his wife is watchful and his play is pitiful. If he had money to hand, he could induce someone to perform the play, but he has lent a large sum to Sir Peter Parallel and cannot get it back. His ward, Sarah, is an heiress, but her inheritance is out of reach until she comes of age or gets married. Should she marry Sir Peter, Sir Peter’s debt could be paid and Sir Robert’s play could be promoted.
Sir Robert therefore gives a party in the hope that Sir Peter will offer for Sarah, and Mr Honeywood will offer for the play. But things turn out differently. Sir Robert puts his foot down, only to relent when he is assured that his objectives may be gained in another way.
In the Prologue, Knipp, the house-boy, refers to the old rhyme: Once a miss, twice a kiss, three times a letter, four times something better; upon which the plot is loosely hung. Susan, the housemaid, finds an anonymous letter of assignation. Is it for her? Is it from Sir Robert? She hides it in a bowl of flowers – where Sarah promptly finds it.
The wit and the tone of the piece is set by the Prologue, spoken by Knipp:
Whereas the art of opera can create
A work that’s fit for any gourmet’s plate.
The author and the composer humbly wish
To offer you a much more trivial dish.
Theirs is a tale occasioned by a letter,
Proceeding, through a kiss, to something better.
The composer begs that you forgive it if
The music sounds a little bit derivative.
The author craves your pardon for a plot so thin
And both now bid me leave you, that we may begin.
The music proceeds in a lightly accompanied rhythmic recitative interspersed with solos, duets and ensembles. For the revival, it was suggested that the organ part might be orchestrated. However, Peter felt that the entire accompaniment would have to be recast in order to do that, something he did not have time for when it was being discussed. The work is quite delightful and would be well worth a modern revival with a professional cast. The only problem would be that it would have to be part of a double bill and what would you pair it with?
One solution would be to do an all-Tranchell programme and pair it with Murder at the Towers, another concert entertainment (lasting about 40 minutes) composed at the same time. It was based on the short story of the same name, taken from This Other Eden, by E.V.Knox. He was one of four distinguished brothers and was himself a well-known poet and satirist, who had been the Editor of Punch from 1932 to 1949. It was stipulated that the author’s and publisher’s kind permission should always be acknowledged in all publicity. For the final performance at Gonville and Caius College in June 1986, Peter noted that “this Detective Cantata or Concert Entertainment was composed in 1955 for the May Week Concert of Fitzwilliam House held on 6th June in the Concert Room of the University Music School in Downing Place. In the first version, the parts of Bletherby Marge and Inspector Blowhard were for soprano and tenor respectively.” For the 1986 performance, Peter had recast the roles (and the plot to accommodate the change of sex) as tenor and baritone. Maybe he no longer saw his detective as a Miss Marple figure but more of a Sherlock Holmes. In a letter to his parents, Peter described the story as very cynical and, in a letter to Christopher Dearnley, then Organist and Master of the Choristers at Salisbury Cathedral, who had hoped to programme the work at the Southern Three Choirs Festival in 1966, he wrote: “The audience is not necessarily convinced by the solution, especially when it turns out the dead man was not murdered but had committed suicide and the detective is the sole legatee of the deceased.” Before and after this nub of story is a choral prelude and a conclusion uttering a rather wry philosophy. Since Peter had compiled his own text, which was greatly appreciated by E.V.Knox when he attended the performance at the Salisbury Festival, can we perhaps glimpse some of his own political attitudes – just as we can in his choice of texts for This sorry scheme of things? Or was he attempting to show his youthful performers and audience that there was a harsher world outside Cambridge? These two couplets from the final philosophical chorus give us an example of the sentiments being uttered:
……peace means a slump
so that war is an essential to commerce!
when national economy
kills international bonhomie,
it doesn’t leave the world much hope!
The revised work is written for three principal soloists: a narrator, the Police Inspector and the detective. Peter described his ideal chorus – 24 singers (if there were no slackers) made up of 8 sopranos (who divide in one scene), 6 mezzo-sopranos and 5 each of tenors and basses – from which are drawn a large number of small solo parts making up the country house-party and the servants. In a letter to Peter le Huray in April 1976, Peter emphasised the need for the chorus to enunciate (a favourite word of his when dealing with choruses) very carefully so that not a word is lost. Of the two pianists (he invariably played Piano 1 in most of the performances) he asked that they should be capable of the lightest of touch. An awful lot of delicacy is required. The effect (as you doubtless recall)(since le Huray had played Piano 2 in several performances) should be overall witty and soufflé-esque!
Including the opening and closing philosophical choruses, the work comprises eighteen numbers, made up of recitatives, arias and choruses, each of which is given a title:
No.1 Chorus – Philosophical Introduction
“some people are well liked, while others are liked less”
No.2 Recitative (arioso) The Narrator describes The Likely Victim,
“Mr Ponderby Wilkins, a man so rich, so ugly, so cross and so old that even the stupidest member of an amateur chorus could not expect him to survive beyond the Second Recitative.”
No.3 Chorus – Motives for Murder
All the members of the house-party and the staff – the Step-sister, the Mayor, the Niece, the Cook, the House-maids, the Secretary, the Butler and the Gardener – step forward to explain why they might have killed the victim.
No.4 Recitative – The Crime is discovered
The body of Mr Ponderby Wilkins is discovered in the shrubbery by Mr Porlock who phones Inspector Blowhard. He decides that this is a case for Sir Bletherby Marge, the famous amateur detective, who lives nearby. He jumps into his car “and reached The Towers within an ace of his life (and several other people’s as well)”.
No.5 Aria – The Detective’s Musings
Marge describes several of his previous successful cases.
No.6 Recitative - Police Consultation
Marge and Blowhard consider the evidence.
No.7 Aria – The Alibis
Blowhard admits that every member of the house-party and the household has an alibi which is supported by witnesses.
No.8 Recitative – The Detective’s First Ploy
Marge organises a picnic for everybody with champagne and lots of different sandwiches.
No.9 Chorus – Agrestic Comestibles
all the different sandwiches at the picnic are listed
No.10 Recitative – The Detective’s Second Ploy
Marge leaves the company on the pretext of fetching his pipe. On his return, he finds that the party has started on the champagne.
No.11 Chorus – Picnic Potables
This begins with a fugue on words associated with the opening of a bottle. There follows a section, marked Amoroso, in the rhythm of a Habanera di Brindisi, listing the various makers of champagne. Finally, as the party becomes more and more drunk, the Fugue and the Habanera combine.
No.12 Recitative – The Detective’s Discoveries
Marge reveals that he has found footprints by the body.
No.13 Aria – The Detective’s Theory
Having examined all the household’s shoes while they were at the picnic, Marge declares that they all fitted the footprints. Moreover, everybody’s gloves had on them woollen hairs from the muffler by which the body was suspended. In short, he declares, everybody was involved in the murder.
No.14 Recitative – Decision to make an arrest
Blowhard arrests everybody and, because his Black Maria only holds four people, has to take them off to prison in a charabanc.
No.15 Chorus – Departure to Prison
The Chorus departs happily confident that justice will set them free.
No.16 Recitative – Denouement
We learn that the house-party and the servants have been tried, found guilty and hanged. Not long afterwards, Marge and Blowhard revisit The Towers, now empty, to look for Marge’s favourite pipe which this time he has really lost. Behind a hollow panel, they find a letter from Ponderby Wilkins: “I am the most unpopular man in England! I am about to commit suicide by hanging myself in the shrubbery! If Sir Bletherby Marge can prove it a murder, committed by the whole houseparty that I intend to invite, I bequeath him all my possessions!” “How extraordinary!” exclaims Inspector Blowhard. But Sir Bletherby Marge just smiled.
No.17 Chorus – Philosophical Chorus
“It’s a small world, with too many people in it!
Half a dozen less won’t matter
For when they’re in their tomb
There’ll be more room
For the other people left to grow fatter!”
No.18 Chorus – Finale (in Canon)
In which the entire company bids farewell.
Peter was usually reticent about his compositional methods but he was invited to give a pre-concert talk before the performances in Salisbury in 1966. As a result, he jotted down some thoughts pertaining to the composition of this work. He claimed that by inflecting one or more notes of the major scale, he could illustrate the deviousness of destiny as did Wagner with his Zaubermotif in Parsifal:
F Gflat A Bflat; C Dflat E F
In fact, the four note motif F Gflat A Aflat is the seed of all the music in Murder at the Towers.
In addition, there are a number of musical quotations that may be noticed during the course of the work. When the body is found in the shrubbery, there are references to Johann Strauss’s waltz, Tales from the Vienna Woods and the plainsong Dies Irae melody; when the Niece gives her alibi as rowing on the lake you can hear a reference to the Eton Boating Song; and as the arrested people are taken away, Peter quotes from Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius: I go before my judge. He also relished the opportunity for some descriptive word-painting and referred to Marge’s car changing gear, to a tennis service, the chugging of the Black Maria and the pig-food machine.
Murder at the Towers is witty, singable and thoroughly enjoyable; an example of Peter’s creative musical and literary talent at its best. It is well within the scope of most amateur choirs who can muster three soloists and two grand pianos.
A major event took place on Wednesday 22nd February 1956 when the first performance of Decalogue (Variations for brass, percussion and organ) was given at a Cambridge University Music Society concert, conducted by Allen Percival, in St John’s College Chapel. Peter had originally considered writing a tone poem based on the Ten Commandments for soprano and full orchestra. He had even written out the title page and inserted the orchestration and bar lines before changing his mind and composing an ensemble piece for two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and organ. For the first performance, he provided the following programme note: “The programme of this work is taken from Exodus 20. A tremor is followed by a mysterious hush (“And God spoke”). The plain octave implies “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”
The theme consists of the notes sounded at a performance of the two trumpets from the tomb of Tutankhamon. (“Out of the land of Egypt”). It is first heard already varied to convey “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” The other variations follow without a break; “Shewing mercy unto them that love me”; “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”; “Remember the Sabbath day”. In this latter variation the glockenspiel is first heard and the sound of a coin falling on a drumhead (thirty pieces of silver) is intended to suggest betrayal.
Then: “Honour thy father and thy mother”; “Thou shalt not kill” announced by a quotation of Wagner’s “murder” motif in the tuba; “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. The latter starts with a concord to which a third note adds dissonance. The organ manuals are heard here as an intrusive element to the work. Elsewhere only the pedals are used.
Then: “Thou shalt not steal” in which a trombone ostinato represents an apparent innocence suddenly abandoned for a section of conflicting rhythms; “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is a fugato; “Thou shalt not covet” employing Wagner’s “Ring” motif to signify worldly greed; and a finale reprising the idea “Shewing mercy to them that love me” and embodying Wagner’s motif “redemption by love”. In this, however, may be heard the mills of God grinding slow but sure. At the end, the noise dies away, the theme appears in its basic form and the work closes with the plain octave “I am the Lord thy God”.
In an early undated draft of the work, Peter listed the notes of the trumpets found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. The silver trumpet could play the three notes E, G sharp and C above middle C, though the third note was somewhat flat, while the copper trumpet could play the three notes B, D, and F sharp, starting a 7th above middle C. At the same time, he jotted down a melody which he described as a “Cambridge folk-song”. And, in a note to himself, he characterises each Commandment:
|Prologue||(wind, earthquake, fire)|
|1. No other Gods||(still small voice)|
|2. No graven images||(loud)|
|3. No taking Lord’s name in vain||(laughing)|
|4. Keep Sabbath||(soft)|
|5. Honour Father and Mother||(nobilmente)|
|6. Not kill||(brutal)|
|7. Not adultery||(voluptuous)|
|8. Not steal||(scherzo)|
|9. Not bear false witness||(pompous)|
|10. Not covet||(ironic)|
|Epilogue||(thunderings, lightnings, noise of trumpet, mountain smoking)|
It is regrettable that one of Peter’s more ambitious works, lasting about twelve minutes, should have received only the one performance.
A work of a very personal, almost private, nature followed. Peter’s settings of two poems by the Greek poet, Constantine P. Cavafy (though Peter spells his name with a K) were composed in the late Summer of 1956. Although described as being for tenor and piano, the vocal range makes the songs more suitable for a baritone. They are united by a sense of memory and loss; in particular, the loss of a lover. The music is richly chromatic and almost melancholic, with the piano writing, especially in Voices, being demanding and virtuosic while, in Grey, the textures are much sparer. In fact, there are passages where the impression is given of a single line supporting the voice. There is nothing in Peter’s writings to suggest why he should have been drawn to the poems, nor that the songs were ever performed. Certainly, the final copy, in ink, has no pencil markings to indicate that it had ever been used. Yet, the two songs have a poignancy that merits a hearing.
One of the highlights of the year in Cambridge was the annual Summer show “Let’s Make a Ballet”, put on in the Arts Theatre by the pupils of Mari Bicknell, who had been a member of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet after being taught by Tamara Karsavina. On marrying a Cambridge academic, she had settled in the city and established an ambitious and successful Ballet Workshop. For her annual show, which was inspired by the success of Britten’s Let’s Make an Opera, she would commission music from young composers and she called on her many contacts in the theatrical world to design sets and costumes. In a letter to Peter dated 25th November 1956, she outlined the story of Persephone as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses with a suggested list of the dances and their timings. It was proposed that the ballet, to be called Spring Legend, should have three short scenes and last about 15 minutes. She ends her letter: “I’m immensely glad that you are a quick composer as well as such a co-operative one.” From this scenario, Peter drew up a detailed list of the dances with their timings and their moods. For example, he described Persephone’s first entry as “small skipping jumps (6/8 sort of thing).” Each major character was given a musical motif which could be adapted to suit the dramatic situation on stage. The score, for solo piano, was written in Peter’s typically virtuosic style. Yet, although Phyllis Palmer is credited in the programme as the pianist, there exists only Peter’s pencilled score with all its crossings out and corrections, dated 17th April 1957. There is, seemingly, no fair copy in ink. In Mari Bicknell’s letter, there is a vague reference to a tape recorder. Did Peter perhaps record the piano score and was his tape recorded performance used for the shows in the Summer of 1957? The ballets were well received in The Stage which wrote that “Peter Tranchell has cleverly seized in his music the possibilities for drama and ballet, and the lively and varied moods of the music give opportunities to the music that are well taken.” The reviewer concludes that the music appears to have been composed for the ballet rather than the ballet designed for the music. The ballet was repeated, again with success, in the Summer of 1960.
Peter’s interest in the organ had never waned and when Peter Le Huray, his friend and colleague, asked him for a new work, his interest sparked immediately. The result was the Organ Sonata (1958), one of his most important and ambitious works. The Sonata has three movements marked Preludio, Andante ostinato and Tu es Petrus in Fuga. In a note for a performance by John Scott in Caius Chapel on 24th April 1983, Peter wrote: “The Sonata was written for Peter Le Huray who gave its first performance in a live broadcast from Salisbury Cathedral on 31st March 1960. The Preludio is in the manner of a perpetuo moto. Against a tinkling continuum of semiquavers, rhythmically repeated chords are heard. The top note of each chord forms a series which comprises the musical letters of the name, Peter Geoffrey Le Huray. The rhythms are the morse-code equivalents of the non-musical letters. This melodic rebus (forwards and backwards) gives rise to subsequent themes. When the morse-code is dormant, the simpler rhythm of “Peter Le Huray” is used. The Preludio is in ternary form. The Andante is a set of variations upon a mean ostinato. The final movement, opening and closing with the Antiphon Tu es Petrus, contains a fugue. The subject is derived from material in the Preludio and the antiphon re-appears in various versions.” While the time-signature is 4/4, the quavers are often 3+3+2 and the periodic appearances of the plainchant melody, over a rather irreverent oom-cha-cha accompaniment, remind us that Peter never strayed too far from his populist inclinations.
In recent years, the Sonata has been taken up by one of Peter’s Organ Scholars at Caius: Norman Harper who was there in the early 1970s. He has given several performances of the work in recitals in among other places, Westminster Abbey, the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge and, in September 2005, the Chapel of Gonville and Caius College, which was packed with Peter’s former pupils and friends. From his experience of performing the work, he has provided the following observations: The registration is not specified by the composer in any detail, though there are suggestions of balance. For example, the Preludio contains instructions as en dehors and equal manuals. However, the choice is sxplicitly left to the player as to whether to use loud or quiet registrations for each movement. The Preludio seems to need gentle, clear and contrasting colours, with the pedal heard at 8’ pitch only, ideally independent of the manual stops. 16’ pedal tone can, of course, be used, but the clarity of the line and its thematic significance might well be a deciding factor, as in a Bach trio movement. A conventional romantic approach suits the Andante ostinato, especially in the build-up to the two climaxes, which can both be made to sound intense and dramatic without approaching the weight of full organ. Clarity of texture should be the best guide. At bar 170, the nostalgic Peter le Huray theme (transposed up a major third) seems to call for an enclosed solo reed, such as a Clarinet or a Corno di Bassetto, set against typically English string tone. Even so, there are bound to be many alternatives: in a classically voiced organ, flutes or mutations plus a gentle tremulant might yield a more expressive melody-line than a reed-stop, though it is not difficult to imagine the composer’s preference. Again, the Finale may be registered entirely conventionally as an introduction and fugue. The sheer agility of the pedal part demands promptly speaking stops, and there is still an energetic lightness to the music, which encourages the player to avoid heaviness, even in the triumphant closing pages. Peter considered this to be one of his most important works. It is certainly one of his most ambitious and listening to it is an engrossing experience.
As Director of Music at Fitzwilliam House, at that time without a building that they could call home, Peter was somewhat dismayed when they asked him to compose a setting of the musical parts of the Communion Service. He attended the 1959 Carol Service held in the Chapel of Ridley House and was not impressed. As he reported to his parents: “So I have quite a pretty task. To write a H.C. setting for a paralytic choir under a charlie of an organist in a dead room, which can be performed with the minimum of rehearsal and no common-sense. Well we must (as the Archbishop of Canterbury doubtless puts it) have a bash.” The title-page shows that the work was composed for “congregation, choir (SATB), organ and instruments, if desired.” The instruments being two trumpets. Unlike his earlier setting, this one is eminently singable with simple and straightforward harmonies. The Creed is a unison setting, and there is music for the Sursum Corda and the Versicles before and after the Gospel. As in the Book of Common Prayer, the Gloria comes at the end and there is a Final Amen. In a letter to his parents dated 10th March 1960, Peter reported that the first performance had gone quite well and later in the month he tells them that it had been so popular that it is going to be performed again.
At this time, due to failing health, Patrick Hadley was considering retiring from the Professorship in Cambridge and from his position as Precentor of Gonville and Caius College. Under his influence, the College had long had a tradition of performing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Paddy greatly admired the music and it was an opportunity to invite young ladies into the College to sing alongside “the chaps”. Paddy had involved Peter more and more in College life and had invited him to one of their performances since it is clear that he saw him as his successor at Caius. Following this concert, he wrote to Peter on 27th June 1959: “We’re all of us longing for an op. from your pen. Now you’ve heard us, you’ll be knowing the kind of thing we’re good at.” And he makes helpful and practical suggestions on how to write for male voices:
“Don’t write for unaccompanied TTBB (as they mostly mistakenly do; why, God and they only know), but for TBrBs accompanied in three parts, as a general principle, just those three parts into which the natural male voice naturally divides. That, of course, doesn’t mean to say that you never divide the Ts, just as you won’t never divide the Br and the Bs when you feel like it – indeed you may go into 6 or more parts for a special effect. Furthermore, don’t neglect the falsetto gear, i.e. you can send my Ts up to D, a ninth above middle C, but no louder than mp; the f limit is about A flat, possibly A, but rarely; and be kind about the tessitura. (That falsetto gear, by the way, lasts until about the age of 30, the age limit in which Rugger and Rowing is confined.) And, of course, have resourceful fun and games (descanting effects etc) with the accompaniment.”
In a letter to his parents dated 25th August 1959, Peter revealed his intentions: … “Paddy Hadley has asked me to write a work for the chorus of Gonville & Caius College. I am preparing a libretto for myself based on an amusing adventure story by the Greek writer Lucian, 125 A.D. A very successful collaboration, I must confess, – as there is no disagreement as to any single thing.” With an increased work-load at Caius, he confesses in his Christmas letter that he is only a third of the way into the libretto. By 14th February, he was getting worried about how behind he was getting with a work due to be performed in May Week. Yet by March 10th, he was looking forward to finishing Lucian, half of which was with the duplicators.
It was Peter’s classical education that had led him to the Vera Historia of Lucian of Samosata, a city on what would now be the Syrian-Turkish border, who has been described as the first novelist of Western civilisation. His True Story is an imaginative and fantastical account of space travel and of whales large enough to devour ships. Peter took a number of episodes from the book and initially laid out the tale into four parts:
Part 1: The Behest and the Caressed
Lucian and his friends are advised by the doctor to take a holiday. They sail away in a ship but, losing their bearings, arrive at an unknown island where tragedy befalls them in a curious vineyard.
Part II: The Arrest
A whirlwind carries the ship up into the sky to the Moon where Lucian and his crew are arrested. They assist King Endymion in a battle against the people of the sun and afterwards learn of the unusual organisation of lunar society.
Part III: The Oppressed
On regaining the terrestrial sea, the ship, with all aboard, is swallowed by an enormous whale. Two survivors from a previous shipwreck are found living in the monster and are rescued when the company eventually manage to get their ship out again.
Part IV: The Blest and the Rest
A beautiful island turns out to be the abode of the Blessed Dead. Rhadamanthus, the Eternal Judge, permits the party (in spite of being alive), to make a brief stay provided that they keep the peace. Unfortunately, one of them attempts to elope by boat with Helen of Troy, and the Damned, incarcerated on a neighbouring island, stage a mutiny at the sight of her. The living Greeks, deemed to have broken the peace are ordered to leave. They sail home refreshed. Their doctor, in the meantime, has died of overwork.
However, by the time the libretto and the music had begun to take shape, the work had evolved into five main sections with a number of sub-sections:
- The Outset
- Bad Weather
- An Inscription
- An Unusual Vineyard
- A Misadventure
- No.3 A
- A Storm
- No.3 B
- The King of the Moon
- No.3 C
- The Battle
- Lunar gratitude
- No.3 D
- Lunar Society
- Lunar Children
- Lunar Love
- No.4 A
- The Whale
- A melancholy Supper
- The Old Man’s Story
- No.4 B
- The Old Man’s Farewell
- Paradise scented
- Paradise sighted
- The Court of the Dead
- A fruitless visit
- An elopement
- News of a rebellion
- The Heroes’ Alarm
- A Sea Battle
- A revival of Arts
- The Culprit’s apology
- Orders to depart
- Good advice
The large number of characters involved in all these scenes gave scope for two main solo parts and a number of smaller roles, as well as a male and a mixed chorus. Peter had been expecting to conduct the performance, but, on this occasion, he found it easier to play the piano and allow the Organ Scholar, Martin Neary, to conduct. As he commented in a letter to his parents: “I hope it won’t have turned his head to have been on the podium.” As always, there are some marvellous tunes and some delightfully witty lines and verses as these two examples show:
Socrates was chopping some logic
when he had to answer the call.
But it shocked his scruples
To leave his pupils
Without refuting them all.
Aeneas was being pious
and Virgil was at his side.
They were checking the details,
But they left them unverified.
Following the broadcast of the Organ Sonata at the end of March 1960, Peter told his parents that he felt proud: certainly proud enough to essay another work for the organ. His Three Voluntaries to be played during Holy Communion are marvellously concise pieces of counterpoint. Yet, sadly, they appear not to have been performed in public. Perhaps the title is rather off-putting. Had Peter called them Three Meditations, they may well have found a performer. The first Voluntary is described as Variations upon Kyrie. It consists of three variations with an Intermezzo separating the second from the third. The first variation is marked Moderato, ma con moto e rubato. The writing is canonic between the upper and tenor voice, while there is a free part in the alto voice. The pedal has the line which feels like a cantus fermus. The second variation is chordal based on the theme of the opening, while the third variation is again contrapuntal. Peter writes that the first and second variations can be repeated at this point if desired. The second Voluntary is described as a Variation upon Agnus Dei. There are four variations, the first of which, marked Andantino, is reminiscent of a chorale prelude. The second variation is marked Moderato and is contrapuntal, while the third has the theme in inversion. The final variation is marked Lento and his chordal with the theme in the left hand. The final Voluntary is described as Variations upon Sanctus and has two variations followed by a coda. The first variation is marked Lento and is in three-part counterpoint with the theme in the left hand. The second variation is marked Andantino and the writing is chordal. The coda is again chordal, though the harmonies are more modernistic. These are three well-written and attractive pieces which would make fine additions to the organist’s repertoire. They fully merit being heard.
In the Spring of 1959, the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain announced that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under its Music Director, Meredith Davies, planned a series of public rehearsal performances of contemporary works by Midland composers in Birmingham Town Hall on January 1st and 3rd and May 1st 1960. On 28th September 1959, two days before the closing date, Peter submitted the score of his “very brief (but, I hope, exciting and amusing) Scherzetto. It lasts only two minutes if taken up to speed. The piece has never been heard before as it was only completed a week or so ago.” On March 19th 1960, he received a letter from Colin Ratcliffe, the Orchestra’s Concert Manager, “Owing to lack of public support, we had to cancel this series in early January.” As Peter wryly commented, “Perhaps they would have attracted more financial support had they invited pieces from Midland Bank composers!”
However, on 7th June 1960, Peter received a letter from David Willcocks, the Conductor of the Cambridge University Music Society: “The CUMS Committee approved my suggestion yesterday that we should include your “piece” in next season’s programme.” He went on to wonder if the work could be extended so that it can take the place of a normal concert overture – either by adding two more short movements and making a suite of it – or by developing it in some other way. Peter duly complied and the new three-movement work was given its first performance in the Guildhall, Cambridge, on Wednesday 8th March 1961. Peter was apprehensive about the performance, writing to his parents: “Tonight the C.U. Musical Society has its concert. The ‘Scherzetto’ by me which is billed to open the evening (its first performance) has not been properly rehearsed, owing to a number of accidents & rehearsal-time lost. I only hope it won’t be too much of a fiasco.” By this time, each movement had been given a title: Il Moderato, Il Pensieroso, L’Allegro and the composer’s programme-note was written with his tongue firmly in his cheek:
“The last movement was written in 1959 to be suitable as an encore at the end of any successful concert. In 1960 were added the preceding movements in which all the material derives from L’Allegro.
“The sequence of events in Il Moderato is: an Introduction; a First Subject (begun by solo violin and harp, and closed by a Ritornello formed of a descending sequence); a Second Subject (started by trombones and continued by sporadic interventions from a variety of instruments in turn); a varied reprise of the First Subject concluding as before with the Ritornello; a Third Subject (at first on low horns and bass trombone) treated anti-fugally, which takes the place of a Development; a Recapitulation of all three subjects together; a Non-coda, concluded by the Ritornello, so changed as to show the movement’s relationship to the theme of L’Allegro
“Il Pensieroso begins with a number of slowly moving chords, whose internal organisation adumbrates L’Allegro and whose juxtaposition reflects Il Moderato. These chords form the framework of the movement. After their initial statement, the main theme appears in four versions: the first is a clarinet solo; after a longish episode, the second and third versions are heard joined together and more heavily scored; an interpolation for side-drum solo and a variation of the episode lead to the fourth version in the cellos. An oboe solo reveals the relationship of the main theme and the slow chords (which now conclude the movement) to the theme of L’Allegro.
“L’Allegro is in simple Rondo form with the theme varied at each return. It has two episodes, each of which develops aspects of the theme.
“For the serious-minded, the three movements in turn are intended to symbolise Frustration, Initiation or Lustration, and Fruition and Integration. For the light-hearted, the work is written throughout in a manner which, it is hoped, will not prove unamusing. It is an experiment in seeking the ends of Tragedy through the medium of Comedy. Hence the name, Scherzetto. It should not be necessary to read these notes during the actual performance, and they are written to enhance, not to ensure, enjoyment of the work.”
Judging by the plaudits, the music was well received and deservedly so, for it is an important and attractive work in Peter’s output. It is scored for an orchestra of 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, percussion (comprising xylophone, glockenspiel, cymbals, bass drum, side drum, harp and strings (with lots of divisi passages) and lasts about twelve minutes. Musically, Scherzetto is important because Peter’s prime interests of melody and rhythm (especially dance rhythm) are now fully integrated into his personal style. Interestingly, he must have become aware about this time of Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16. The third movement, Farben (Colours), consists of chords changing seamlessly. Peter’s use of the chords to frame Il Pensieroso (and also in sections of his next work, The Joyous Year) show him attempting the same effect. In his working notes as he composed the first and second movements, he noted a tone row and its derivatives:
G, A, B, D, E, A sharp, D sharp, G sharp, C sharp, F sharp, C, F
and used the word “Dancey” to describe one section. In the second movement, he described the harmony of the chords as “organum a la RVW” scored Farben-wise with interpolations on percussion (especially timp) and harp. Continuing, we find that the Finale contains “sumptuous Dancey combined with Latin-American ostinato and theme going on simultaneously.”
At some stage, Peter wrote an undated raison d’etre of Scherzetto:
“It had long struck the composer that while most great solo performers could gratify the tumultuous applause at the end of their recitals with a selection of encores, orchestras never did. In the twentieth century, orchestras appeared to be non-plussed by applause, and could only stand up sheepishly, sit down, stand up again, and so on, while the conductor and leader bowed in every direction, shook hands, embraced, kissed, went away, came back, and repeated the ridiculous scene, not unlike French relatives meeting or parting at a railway station. Stimulated by these thoughts, the composer conceived the idea of writing a set of short merry pieces each specially suitable as an encore at any orchestral concert. However, nobody wanted such pieces and a performance of the first was only possible if two further movements were added. At the time, the composer was contemplating Handel’s cantata-trilogy, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato, with a view to arranging it for male voices. The composer saw that he already had his own L’Allegro in the presto Scherzetto which would serve as Finale. He could work in reverse order and add an Il Penseroso movement preceded by an opening Il Moderato. The title Scherzetto would then embrace all three movements. Later, Kenneth Macmillan, the choreographer, requested that the three movements be incorporated in the composer’s score for the ballet “Ages of Love”, where they figured, with the Presto extended, as numbers 8, 9 and 10. The ballet, re-entitled “Images of Love”, was performed by the Royal Ballet Company in 1964 at the Royal Opera House and subsequently in America.
The composition process was the same in each movement using the same basic musical point of departure, in a manner rather akin to the game of constructing limericks upon a given name or place. In this case, the initial nugget of musical enquiry was the semitone displacement. What happens if you have a tune which starts in G and almost immediately switches its tonal centre to F sharp? What sort of a tune can you get if you start with the dominant note of a scale and follow it with the semitone above or below?"
Scherzetto was given a further performance on 1st December 1982 by the CUMS Second Orchestra, conducted by Grant Llewellyn, a pupil of Peter’s at Caius.
Although Peter had taken up his Fellowship at Gonville and Caius College in 1960, his first year had been relatively duty-free. From September 1961, following the decision of Patrick Hadley to resign from his Cambridge duties, Peter would find time for composition more restricted and he would have to choose carefully the commissions he accepted. In hindsight, this may have been a decision that he regretted since he had shown in the 1950s that he was capable of producing a number of remarkable works. Henceforth, the bulk of his output would be for performances within the College.