EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY VIOLA MUSIC FROM ENGLAND AND GERMANY: FROM POST-ROMANTICISM TO MODERNISM
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In the early twentieth century, the viola began to gain status as a solo instrument with the appearance in England of the virtuosic violist Lionel Tertis. Because of a lack of music for viola at that time, such English composers as York Bowen, Arnold Bax, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arthur Bliss and William Walton began to write viola music for Tertis. Meanwhile, in Germany, the well-known composer and virtuosic violinist and violist Paul Hindemith wrote and premiered several viola sonatas and concertos. Viola music became even more developed later with William Primrose, the legendary Scottish violist, and all the works written in the early twentieth century have remained significant in the viola literature.
Although this new viola music appeared in both countries during same period, it developed along different lines in each country. Because they were under the influence of earlier periods and traditions, the English composers who associated with
Tertis wrote their music in a Romantic style, with expanded harmony, various colors of sound and timbre, and lyrical melodies. Hindemith, as a composer himself, employed a more Modernist style, using atonality and angular melodies, which represented German trends at that time. I have given three recitals, of which the first two were divided between selected English music and German music. Although I originally intended to focus solely on music by Hindemith and music written for Terts, I decided that in order to give a more complete view of the national trends of those two countries, I included Rebecca Clarke's Sonata, Lachrymae by Benjamin Britten (dedicated to William Primrose), and Max Reger's Suite for Viola. Rebecca Clarke was herself a fine violist, and her sonata's Romantic style is also representative of the English trends of viola music. Lachrymae was written with a different concept and shows more modernity than had ever before occurred in England, though it still differs from the modernity of other countries. Max Reger's Suite is in a truly Romantic style, yet it is old fashioned in ways that differ not only from Wagner or Strauss, but also from English music of the period. In my last recital I wished to pay homage to Tertis, with a program consisting entirely of music written for him. For the finale, Arthur Bliss's Viola Sonata was especially chosen because it provides interesting similarities and contrasts with earlier English music in the Romantic style.