- British Music and Literary Context: Artistic Connections in the Long Nineteenth Century by Michael Allis
Contributing to the ever-diversifying field of interdisciplinary scholarship on nineteenth-century British music, Michael Allis’s exploration of the “vibrant and diverse musical-literary correspondence in this period” (p. 6) breaks new ground by engaging with “specific British composers and their works” (p. 2). Allis thus expedites the canonization of the compositions of Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Granville Bantock, and Edward Elgar, whose text settings, literary collaborations, and programmatic compositions are explored in the five main chapters of this book. Allis states that the “literary perspective” is adopted “as a ‘way in’ to appreciating selected late nineteenth-century British composers and their music” (p. 3). His other purpose is to elucidate the modern reception of the musical-literary connections he proposes.
The scholarly erudition of this book is unimpeachable, and Allis’s literary voracity is expressed through long, indented quotations whose frequency is almost excessive. With their frequent subheadings, the chapters’ interiors can be discursive; enriching as many of the digressions are, some, like the background on Elgar and Ernest Newman (pp. 200–5) and the discussion about the Straussian parallels of In the South (pp. 249–52), call for compression or even excision. The density is leavened by the lucidity of Allis’s prose and the frequency of both musical and tabular examples.
Chapter 1 chronicles the collaboration between Parry and Robert Bridges (1844–1930) on the Invocation to Music (1895). Allis partly attributes the disagreements, and Bridges’ ultimate disillusionment and publication of an alternative version of the poem in 1896, to misgivings about Parry’s declamatory approach to text setting. Instructively, Allis includes Gustav Holst’s setting of the 1896 Invocation text to represent Bridges’ favored approach.
In Chapter 2, Allis surveys Stanford’s numerous Tennysonian works and includes some fascinating evidence of Tennyson’s manner of reciting his own poetry: figure 2.1 (pp. 68–71) shows Parry’s transcription of Tennyson’s recitation of the Choric Song from The Lotus-Eaters, on which pauses, breaths, and vocal intonations are annotated. The discussion of Stanford’s Symphony No. 2 in D minor, subtitled “Elegiac” and prefaced by section 70 from Tennyson’s In Memoriam, is undermined by flimsy parallels between music and text that epitomize the hazards of speculative or un-solicited musical-literary connections. Allis likens “the stuttering rhythmic dislocation that introduces the second idea” of Stanford’s first movement to “Tennyson’s ocular uncertainty” (p. 118), expressed through haunting images such as “hollow masks of night,” “Cloud-towers,” and “shadowy thoroughfares of thought.” These images seem several worlds away from Stanford’s jaunty thematic preparation, whose sforzando diminished sevenths are jocular, not phantasmagoric. More outlandish still is the suggestion that [End Page 757] Tennyson’s concatenation of images had any bearing on Stanford’s slow movement, in which “the cello solo in bar 64” and “the agitated viola repetitions in bar 128” (pp. 118–19) generate little more consternation within the pastoral idyll than a fence post or a nettle.
Chapter 3 attracts particular curiosity because of the unfamiliarity of its musical repertory: songs by Bantock, followed by Fifine at the Fair, a substantial orchestral work based on a dramatic monologue by Robert Browning (1812–89). Allis counteracts allegations of the non-specificity of Bantock’s musical portrayal in Fifine with a “closer reading of the music that an awareness of Browning’s poem might generate” (p. 134). Allis’s detailed mapping of Bantock’s musical representation onto the text is informed by the dynamic relationships that inhere in any dramatic monolog between speaker and poet, and between speaker and reader: “Bantock’s Fifine can be seen as an effective exploration of the speaker-narrator’s voice, the relationship between the speaker and his character/auditors, and specific poetic imagery” (p. 9). The parallels Allis draws between music and text are generally persuasive. His analysis of...