PICA Volume 10, 2013 – 2015 is available for download.
On Friday, 17 March 2006, the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments at The Graduate School of The City University of New York presented a concert entitled Viva Regondi, likely the first all-Regondi concert in ‘modern’ times.
The Confession of Devorgilla
Arranged—and with an Introductory Note—by BENJAMIN BIERMAN
A small number of advertisements were included in PICA as a service to Concertina Players, the ICA membership and the people and players who gave their time and knowledge to create this publication. The advertisements appear below in the same order as they appeared in PICA.
Written by Allan W. Atlas
Chris Algar (email@example.com) is head of Barleycorn Concertinas (Stoke-on-Trent), which is generally thought to have the largest selection of concertinas in the world, including rare and unusual ones. A longtime Morris musician, he now plays Irish music with a couple of bands.
Allan Atlas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is on the Musicology faculty at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. His performance—together with mezzo-soprano Julia Grella O’Connell—of The Confession of Devorgilla (Music Supplement) can be heard at the online version of PICA.
Benjamin Bierman (email@example.com) is a composer-arranger-trumpet player with a wide range of musical experience. As a trumpeter, he has performed and recorded with the likes of B. B. King, Machito, Tito Puente, and Ray Barretto; as a composer—he is completing the Ph.D. in Composition at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York—he has studied with David Del Tredici, Tania León, and John Corigliano, and his Proximities for orchestra was recently accorded ‘special recognition’ by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Synergy Project competition. Currently a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Baruch College/CUNY, he arranged The Confession of Devorgilla for English concertina and mezzo-soprano on commission from the New York Victorian Consort.
Faye Debenham was born in Western Australia and immigrated to British Columbia, Canada. Though Vancouver was a step in a ‘working holiday’ around the world, it was there that she met and married Albert Debenham and, most latterly, enjoyed a career encompassing politics and government circles. Sparked in part by her husband’s tale of two grandparents of artistic merit—grandfather Edwin, a prominent Victorian photographer, and grandmother Marie (Lachenal), a kind and gentle lady ‘who played the concertina’, she undertook research on the Debenham family, which in turn led to research on the concertina and the partnership with her co-author, Randall C. Merris.
Roger Digby has been playing Anglo concertina for over thirty years. Playing in a fiercely English style when performing with Flowers and Frolics, he extends the instrument’s range far beyond its assumed limitations, stretching it most fully when accompanying the wide repertoire of Bob Davenport. He has a passionate belief in the integrity of traditional music.
Eric Matusewitch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Deputy Director of the New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission and author of the Manager’s Handbook on Employment Discrimination Law (Andrews Publications, 2000). The son of the late concertina virtuoso Boris Matusewitch (1918-1978) and himself an amateur concertinist, he often performed with his father during the 1960s-1970s, with programs at Carnegie Recital Hall and the New-York Historical Society among their many joint performances (yes, they do use a hyphen in New-York).
Randall C. Merris (email@example.com) is an economist at the International Monetary Fund and an amateur concertinist. He has been an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, has taught economics and finance at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University, and has consulted with Asian governments on economic policy and financial reform. He writes mainly on economics and occasionally on the concertina and its history, and he is the author of ‘Instruction Manuals for the English, Anglo, and Duet Concertina: An Annotated Bibliography’, The Free-Reed Journal, 4 (2002), which is also available online at <http://www.concertina.com/merris/bibliography>.
Harry Scurfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) plays and sometimes teaches the Anglo concertina. His repertoire includes adaptations of blues and early jazz, English traditional dance tunes, and raucous singing accompanied on the instrument. An interest in the broad range of possible contexts for the Anglo led, amongst other things, to a lasting interest in African concertina playing.
Tom Tonon (email@example.com) received a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Pennsylvania State University and an MA and Ph.D. in Aerospace and Mechanical Sciences from Princeton University. He has worked in several areas, including literature (writing), carpentry, factory assembly, liquid propellant rocket engines, thin film photovoltaics, and catalytic combustion, and is currently Senior Engineer at AIL Research, Inc., working in the field of liquid desiccant air-conditioning. He has several publications and patents in these areas, and is currently developing an acoustic pitch-bending technology for free-reed instruments.
CHRIS ALGAR has been dealing in concertinas for thirty years, having bought his first one in 1974, when he was a young school teacher. Over the years the concertina dealing increased, and finally, in 2001, he retired from teaching in order to devote all his time to it. His Barleycorn Concertinas in Stoke-on-Trent is generally thought to have the largest selection of concertinas in the world, including rare and unusual ones. Though for many years a Morris musician, he how plays Irish music in a couple of bands.
ALLAN ATLAS teaches music history at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, where he heads the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments. Among his concertina-related publications: Contemplating the Concertina: An Historically-Informed Tutor for the English Concertina (Amherst: The Button Box, 2003) and ‘The Victorian Concertina: Some Issues Relating to Performance Practice’, forthcoming in Nineteenth-Century Music Review,2 (Ashgate, 2005).
RICHARD CARLIN is the author of The English Concertina (New York: Oak Publications, 1977) and numerous articles on the instrument in such journals as Free Reed, Mugwumps, and The Free-Reed Journal. The present article is an outgrowth of a National Endowment for the Humanities Youth Award, which supported his project of recording and interviewing concertina players in England in 1975; he is currently Senior Editor for music books at Routledge publishers.
STEPHEN CHAMBERS collects and does research on early free-reed instruments, especially the concertina. Among the gems of his collection: Wheatstone & Co.’s very first concertina! He caught the free-reed bug at the age of eighteen, which disease seemingly runs in the family, as his great-grandfather had a three-manual American organ (with pedal board!) in the house, while his father’s ambition was to learn the piano accordion (World War II got in the way). Among his publications: ‘Louis Lachenal: “Engineer and Concertina Manufacturer”, Part 1’, The Free-Reed Journal, 1 (1999), and ‘An Annotated Catalogue of Historic European Free-Reed Instruments in my Private Collection’, in Harmonium und Handharmonika: 20. Musikinstrumentenbau-Symposium, Michaelstein, 19. bis 20. November 1999, ed. Monika Lustig. Michaelsteiner Konferenzenberichte, 62 (Michaelstein, 2002).
ROGER DIGBY has been playing Anglo for more than thirty years. A founding member of the infamous ‘Flowers and Frolics’, he was a central figure in the revival of English Country music, and still plays the repertoire of southern England. He has also taken the Anglo into other areas, and is as likely to play ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ as he is ‘The Shepton Mallet Hornpipe’. A thirty-year friendship with Bob Davenport, one of England’s leading traditional singers, continues today and stretches both Roger and the Anglo to their outer limits!
RACHEL HALL is a second-generation English concertina player who performs a variety of ethnic folk styles with the trio Simple Gifts. She is especially interested in the role of the concertina in the tradition of Jewish music. Her recordings with Simple Gifts include Other Places, Other Times (1996), Time and Again (1999), and Crossing Borders (2004). Rachel is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
J. KENNETH MOORE is the Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he oversees the curatorial care, display, educational programming, and funding for the Department of Musical Instruments. He currently serves on the boards of the American Musical Instrument Society and the International Committee of Musical Instrument Museums and Collections. Recent publications include: ‘The African Roots of the Banjo’, in The Birth of the Banjo (Katonah, NY: Katonah Museum of Art, 2003), and ‘Organology and the Museum Environment’, in Japanese Musical Instruments: Toward a New Organology—Proceedings of the 25th International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, Tokyo, 13-15 November 2001 (Tokyo: National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, 2003).
Anglo International, various artists. Folksounds Records, FSCD 70.
Your Good Self, Dooley Chapman. Australian Folk Masters, CS-AFM 001.
Anglophilia, Brian Peters. Pugwash Music, PUGCD 006.
Floating Verses, Mary Humphreys and Anahata. Wild Goose Records, WGS322CD.
(all issued in 2005)
One of the great advantages of an annual review-essay is that I can avoid the track-by-track approach (‘I liked Nutting Girl on the musical saw, but was less happy with Princess Royal arranged for sousaphone and swannie whistle’) and take a wider view. Also, in the opinion of our esteemed editor, I am not disqualified from musing on items where I had some slight involvement. Thank goodness for that, or a few tracks and a couple of suggestions would rule Anglo International out of bounds, and I would be unable to extol this extraordinary collection of music and musicians. It is tempting to jump straight into the superlatives: the most extensive … the most comprehensive … the most … but superlatives require comparison and there is nothing available with which to compare this 3-CD set. It goes beyond a compilation of Anglo players and stands as a definitive and encyclopaedic statement of what can be and is being achieved on the Anglo system. I make no apologies for a lengthy analysis of four themes which this collection suggests.
The idea began back in the 1980s when Alan Day approached a few musicians with the idea of a compilation showing the range of the Anglo. During the long time that the idea sat on the shelf a lot of changes took place: more players came to prominence, the new world of electronic communications established a network of international links and friendships, and the rarity of a double album became the commonplace of the boxed CD set. And how the playing came on!
Anglo International consists of seventy tracks by twenty-five players and one band and is a few minutes short of four hours in duration. Nearly all of the recordings are specially commissioned, appearing here for the first time. All the archive material is previously unissued. There is an extensive illustrated booklet. Yet it is not just quantity—it is the range and quality of the music that is remarkable.
Much is traditional, largely, but not exclusively, Irish and English. The Anglo is a mainstream instrument in Irish music, and no player is more renowned than Noel Hill. An original choice for the vinyl album, Hill continues to play with emotion and sincerity, and such is his current stature that his recent CD Irish Concertina Two was greeted by a full-page feature in the Irish Times under the headline ‘King of the Concertina’, an article that was sensitive to Hill’s deep emotional involvement in and respect for his traditional culture. His three tracks here show precisely this, with The Lament for Limerick draining the emotions as surely as his set of reels fires them back up.
Very many Irish players would have fitted easily into this collection, and it is pleasing that there are some included who are not amongst the household names and whose presence emphasises the depth and strength of the music. Chris Sherburn, writing in the notes to his tracks, states, `If you play Irish music too fast, it can end up being incomprehensible. . .Nine times out of ten it’s not the note but the gap either side of it that counts’. Wise words, though Chris still gets a bit frenetic at times! Mary McNamara, however, is the perfect embodiment of what Chris means. She plays her pure, rolling Clare tunes with a string of paradoxes, being both relaxed and assertive, gentle and authoritative. Her three sets here are consummate musicianship.
The English tradition is represented by archive recordings of Scan Tester through to contemporary recordings of morris tunes—via Playford and old manuscripts—and some well-known jigs and polkas. John Watcham’s morris medley is an object lesson in how to use the left hand to support, underpin, and power a tune along. He is a bit of a recluse these days, so don’t miss a chance to see the Brighton Morris, where there’ll be another object lesson, this time in uniting music and dance into a single unit.
Like John Watcham, Roger Edwards is less active these days and like John he is another example of the correlation between good Anglo playing and the dance. Roger led Garstang Morris, who, during the time in which they flourished, shone out with their accurate, vigourous dancing and colourful presentation. Together with fellow-dancer and melodeon player Martin Ellison, Roger was a stalwart of the sessions in The Ship at Sidmouth and The Eagle at Bampton, to name but two. The music of clog morris differs from that of Cotswold morris, driving rather than lifting the dancing, and this can be clearly heard in Roger’s forceful and powerful playing of Double Lead Through. Roger also accompanies the Threlfall sisters, leading me happily to the next theme of Anglo International: the Anglo as song accompaniment, of which there are five examples.
Roger shows a decorated approach which contrasts with the ‘squeeze it and see’ method which is where I tend to start (and usually finish), but the guv’nor here as in all else is John Kirkpatrick. More than any other player, John is the absolute master of cross-rowing, not just for the tune (many of the Irish players here can be heard doing that), but for all aspects of both hands and in keys outside the home rows. This means that he is never constrained by push-pull mechanics and can do what he wants whenever he wants. His two songs here, though lightweight choices, show this to perfection, and it is also this complete technical dominance of the instrument that allows the staggering accomplishment of Mattheson’s Gigue, revisited from his first album a mere thirty-three years ago! And there’s more: John’s fourth set is Hen’s March to the Midden. This is a fiddle piece in which raucous bowing imitates the clucking of chickens. John matches this on the Anglo and adds in some pecking and scratching for good measure; this is a remarkable performance, typical of the inventive, intelligent humour and pure skill which, even in this company, maintains John Kirkpatrick as the Anglo players’ standard bearer.
These two high points now lead me smoothly to those tracks where the Anglo boldly goes into repertories way outside the usual orbit. The working title for this collection was ‘The Versatility of the Anglo’, and this is remarkably displayed: from Mozart to Monk (Thelonius) via Handel, Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, and much more. The long gestation period of the project saw the extension of the Anglo into previously unknown territory, but it is not an entirely recent phenomenon. John K’s first recording of the Gigue was in 1972, Andrew Blakeney-Edwards was playing Scott Joplin in the early 80s, and Fred Kilroy, recorded here in 1976, had always played a wide range of material, taking an approach which amazed all who heard it. This is the first time that any of Fred’s music has been commercially available. Alan Ward, editor of the magazine Traditional Music, wrote about Fred in the very first issue in 1975. Ward is a recognised authority, and I have no doubt he is the reason that there are many recordings of Kilroy in the National Sound Archive of the British Library. In 1975, Ward was playing with Webbs Wonders, whose Anglo player (Tony Engle) and fiddle player (Peta Webb) had been members of Oak, one of the first bands determined to play English Music in an English style. Engle was an admirer of Tester, and Ward well knew the method of playing that Kilroy dismisses as ‘under-developed (sic!)’. In the interviews that form the foundation of Ward’s article, Kilroy suggests that his way of playing (which recalls the Duet system) was once much more common, but sadly there is no evidence beyond these reminiscences. Nevertheless the basic point is correct: the Anglo is still normally played along the rows with a traditional repertory, and anything else is still unusual. But for how much longer? Players who listen to the virtuosity on these CDs will surely strive to stretch their proficiency to enable this variety of music.
These ambitious tracks (Andrew Blakeney-Edwards’ Maple Leaf Rag defies belief!) are more than just party pieces or novelty items. They are presented with the same honesty and integrity as everything else. There is a tendency in Folk Clubs for performers to have a ‘naughty number’, something which shows what jolly chaps they are and how they can let their hair down. I can scarcely spend a few minutes in a club these days without recalling the oft-misquoted and even plagiarised words of Gully Jimson in Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth. (A wonderful book! How’s this for opening lines: ‘I was walking by the Thames. Half-past morning on an autumn day. Sun in a mist. Like an orange in a fried fish shop’.) In response to a critic’s analysis of his artistic work, Jimson replies that ‘Well, it’s like farting Annie Laurie through a keyhole. It’s clever, but is it worth the trouble?’. From a different cultural background comes the story, doubtless apocryphal, of Leonardo da Vinci. Asked by a patron to create a masterpiece, Leonardo took a pencil and drew a perfect freehand circle. The point here is that technique, cleverness, and skill are not enough in themselves. They have to serve the music, as exemplified by John Kirkpatrick. These less-thancustomary Anglo performances do just that; they don’t simply show that it can be done, but that it can be done without mocking or undermining the material. They are more than just clever technical exercises. They are genuine performances of real music.
The final theme that Anglo International brings into the spotlight concerns the use of the Anglo with other instruments. It can be argued that the Anglo is perfect for solo performance, having its own built-in accompaniment and rhythm section. The solo performances here certainly don’t lack anything! The Anglo also presents its player with a range of choices, particularly in chords. These can be constructed and inverted at will, emphasising fifths, creating bass patterns on the bottom, all things unavailable to the one-button/one-chord mechanisms of the melodeon and most accordions. This can be lost if the other musicians choose to put in what you have chosen to leave out! Accompaniment can also take away the Anglo’s briskness, and Scan Tester is presented here in the company of a piano accordion. Piano accordions can be vibrant and exciting (listen to Jason Price of Dartmoor), but too often they are bland and slushy. Scan’s playing is smothered by musical syrup when the accordion joins in. This is an observation rather than a criticism of two friends having a tune together in an informal setting. Sessions are for enjoyment and sharing—and best not recorded!
And while I’m on the subject of sessions and other instruments, let’s demolish the guitar! Pausing only to observe that those who play it well do not use conventional tuning and avoiding the question of authenticity (where the reductio ad absurdum would have us all damning the modern introduction of the pipe and tabor), we must all nevertheless know the cloth-eared guitarist. Most traditional tunes have a very simple chord structure, so our guitar-playing friend is bored stiff by the end of the first A part and begins to introduce an exciting new range of interesting chords. By the beginning of the B part he is also bored by the simplicity of the rhythm (he’s not listening to its subtleties), so he livens it up with some snappy syncopation and cross-rhythms. By the second time through, while those in charge of the melody are desperately trying to restore Jenny Lind to the manner in which she is accustomed, our guitarist friend is abducting her off to a gypsy encampment somewhere east of the Russian Steppes. As the evening proceeds ever more noisily, he makes off for his car and sighs of relief are heard, but these are premature as he returns with his small portable amplifier because he ‘can’t hear himself play’. If only the rest of us were as fortunate! Perhaps one day someone will come with his or her rope-tensioned military drum, and the two will go off and play amongst themselves. Harsh? Unfair? Yes, of course; and sessions are remarkably tolerant places. On record, however, there are serious questions that need to be asked of the strummed stringed instrument whether it has four or six or even eight. Just what is it adding? Is it actually helping the concertina or is it detracting? There are a few tracks here where the question must be put.
The absolute opposite is the formalised, rehearsed arrangement where the concertina is leading a group. This may be a bit too contrived for some tastes, but I defy anybody not to be energised by the tracks led by Jody Kruskal and Bertram Levy. Interestingly, both these players are American, and this approach is better suited to the smoother, more flowing dance music of that country. In Ireland where a similar approach has often been taken by concert bands the result is invariably dull and lifeless with more than a touch of the Annie Lauries.
The change of title to Anglo International (further justified by players from South Africa and Spain and tunes from France) does raise the inexplicable omission of Australia. Fortunately, 2005 also saw the release of recordings by Dooley Chapman made in 1981-1982, and they are wonderful. Australian rural music is similar in style to that of England, and it is no surprise that tunes from such as Sally Sloane, Harry Cotter, and Sam Holland have been taken up by English players. I expect that some of Chapman’s tunes will be similarly received. This CD is, however, much more than a collection of tunes; Dooley Chapman is another highly competent Anglo-playing dance musician, and in one of the spoken passages he is politely critical of players who can’t play to the dancers: ‘Even many players… you put them out to play for the dance and see where they are, see if they’re onto the step or what are they doing’. This observation, like that of Chris Sherburn, should be repeated as often as possible!
Chapman’s approach is similar to that of Scan Tester, though Chapman crosses rows more often. Both play brightly and crisply, use octaves and occasional bass notes, and bring up the end of a phrase with a little more bellows pressure. Both are also willing to take a popular song, strip it down to its bare bones, and recreate it as a dance tune; and there lies the real similarity: even when not intended for dancing, this functional purpose is the bedrock of their music.
I expect everyone has at one time sat with friends and chosen the world’s greatest sports side, eight records for a desert island, or (my favourite) the ‘Table from Hell’ at the staff Christmas Dinner! Anglo International immediately starts a discussion of who should be there but isn’t and who should go to make room for them. This is more evidence for the current strength of Anglo playing, and two names that have been mentioned in this context are Anahata and Brian Peters, both of whom issued CDs in 2005. When other musicians talk of Anahata, someone invariably says something like, ‘I’ve never heard him make a mistake.’ A great accolade. Musicians live with mistakes; they are a constant presence, lurking in every bar of every tune, and unless they are strident wrong notes they generally pass unnoticed by everyone except the player. Yet audiences are quick to notice a bland, timid performance. Mistakes are most likely to occur when you are pushing yourself to the edge of your ability; this is when the music is exciting, and it’s what audiences want. It is the tight-rope that we walk. ‘To be afraid to make a mistake is the worst mistake you can make’, as your Maths teacher should have taught you! I recently received some private recordings of The Rakes in one of their extended line-ups made from the mixing desk at a ceilidh. It is fantastic, driving, invigorating music, but it is full of ‘mistakes’. The fiddles take off on glorious flights of fancy that crash land or disappear in mid-air, but for every one that goes wrong two others go right and the result is compelling listening. It must have been fantastic to dance to, and I’ll wager few if any dancers spotted the errors. What they will have been aware of is the pure excitement and that is much more important.
If Anahata is sometimes guilty of excessive caution, he and Mary Humphreys have one great quality: they listen. When Anahata plays melodeon tunes from Suffolk, it is clear that he has listened to a lot of playing by the very best in this field. It is a studied performance. Similarly Mary Humphreys’ singing style is firmly embedded in a knowledge of traditional singers, and this makes her a lot better singer than many of the more fashionable and lauded divas, though it won’t get her much airplay on Radio 2. They have done their homework, and this is a sure foundation, though my earlier comments on accompaniment apply here as well. Mary and Anahata are gifted multi-instrumentalists, but how does this serve the music? Their best tracks are those most simply presented, and when the cello comes in there is a distinct suggestion of a well-known Scottish tune wafting through from the next room.
Brian Peters’ many followers will be pleased with Anglophilia, a nicely balanced and wide-ranging selection of material presented with panache and vitality. Most competent Anglo players can achieve the strongly rhythmic way of playing utilising the bellows direction, but the reverse, achieving total smoothness despite the double action, is much much harder and only successfully achieved by a hard-working few of whom Peters is a fine representative. Indeed, this CD’s many instances of very accomplished bellows control is its outstanding feature. (Different names for the same tune and different tunes to the same name are common enough instances, but I am staggered to find that Brian has a tune other than the usual one under the title The Black Cat Piddled in the White Cat’s Eye. I know this as one of the many names for Brighton Camp, which Dooley Chapman calls The Billygoat! There’s a Ph.D. dissertation here somewhere.)
Of course, putting together a compilation or issuing old recordings of a veteran player is very different from releasing your own CD. Brian, Anahata and Mary represent the small number of survivors struggling to make a crust in the dwindling and often moribund world of the ‘Folk Club’. At the end of the gig you hope for two things: that enough people will ask the organiser to book you again and that you’ll sell enough product to stay alive. Given the fact that a lot of audiences rightly want a relaxed evening out and not a lecture on the transmission of Bothy Ballads, this can lead to ‘popularising’ the music, forcing in variety, playing a ‘naughty number’ and very soon you’re farting Annie Laurie through a keyhole. Yet another tight-rope for the poor struggling guest artist! Dan Quinn and Will Duke are therefore quite remarkable, though their two excellent CDs, Wild Boys and Scanned are outside the time frame of this review. They present their
traditional music without any compromise or concession in the way they think it should be performed, and they are tremendous musicians and singers. Between songs they wallow in anarchic chaos reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy; they seem to have nothing prepared and no idea of what to do next! The musical performance is, however, immaculate, and they break the set up with genuinely funny songs delivered in total deadpan seriousness, which in Dan Quinn’s case is pure Billy Bennett via Freddie McKay. They prove that straight traditional material can provide a highly enjoyable evening’s entertainment. Mind you, they won’t make it onto Radio 2 either, though no one would deny Will Duke’s rightful place on Anglo International, even if his tracks there are a trifle diffident, being a little short on his usual confident flow.
So was 2005 the year of the Anglo? I think so. I remember my first ICA meetings back in the 1970s when it was all English system, music stands, and formal arrangements. This was a glimpse of a vanishing world where this was the norm for concertinas and where a folk tune would only be played if it was in a book arranged for four players (and then it was probably Annie Laurie). I used to drive Ken Loveless to his annual performance—presiding over the AGM—and he never even took a concertina with him. On my first arrival I was greeted with a scene worthy of Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell: ‘An Aaaaannnnngglloooooow!!!!???’ The attitude to Angloplaying was that of Dr Johnson to women preachers and performing dogs: ‘It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’ The change in emphasis in recent years has been monumental. The rise of the Anglo, playing by ear, and the move away from formal arrangements have transformed the music, the playing, and the expectations. The Anglo now dominates; and while there are virtuoso players on other systems (some of their names begin A.A.), there are not enough of them to raise the sights of the many other players. This is the real strength of Anglo International. It raises the bar and shows the breadth and depth of what is being achieved. It is an inspiration to all players of all systems and all instruments.
The Music of Dickens and his Time. The Seven Dials Band.
Beautiful Jo Records, BEJOCD-9 (1996).
Reviewed by ALLAN W. ATLAS
A few years ago a documentary film-maker, knowing of my interest in both the concertina and the representation of music in Victorian literature,1 asked me if I would be interested in supervising the musical soundtrack for a documentary about Charles Dickens. I declined the invitation, and provided him with a list of people who, I thought, were more suitable to the task. As it turned out, the project came to naught (for lack of funding). But had I known about this recording then, I would surely have recommended that he get in touch with Beautiful Jo Records, the Seven Dials Band, and Dave Townsend in particular.
Briefly, this is a delightful recording, one that deserves wide circulation among both concertinists and anyone interested in Victorian culture in general. Its twenty tracks offer a collection of songs and tunes that are either cited in one or another of Dickens’s novels or have words by Dickens himself.
Concertinists will obviously be most interested in the four tracks that cast the spotlight on Townsend (who also wrote most of the arrangements): No. 1, ‘The College Hornpipe,’ which Dickens cites in both Dombey and Son and David Copperfield; No. 4, Joseph Warren’s arrangement for English concertina of Sir Henry Bishop’s famous ‘Home, Sweet Home’, which song Dickens knew well by virtue of his having mounted a production in 1833 of Bishop’s opera Clari, or The Maid of Milan (1823, words by the American John Howard Payne), in which the tune appears (we also know that Dickens enjoyed playing the piece on the accordion);2 No. 10, ‘The Fine Old English Gentleman’, a textual parody by Dickens of a well-known popular song (published in The Examiner in August 1843); and No. 18, ‘The Workhouse Boy’, another parody, this one of ‘The Mistletoe Bough’, and cited by Dickens in Bleak House. And it is on tracks 4 and 10 that I will concentrate.
About ‘The Fine Old English Gentleman’ I’ll be brief: it shows Townsend doing what he does as well as any player of the English concertina on the planet: devising full-voiced chordal accompaniments on the instrument (here a tenor-treble).
The rendition of the Warren arrangement of ‘Home, Sweet Home’, on the other hand, raises a number of questions (which are not the same as qualms) about ‘performance practice’. And here I’ll do no more than ask the questions, leaving it up to readers and players to begin thinking about the answers.
First, Warren published his arrangement as the opening number of a series titled Popular Melodies with Variations by 1859 at the latest, and I would speculate that he might have composed it more than a few years (perhaps more than a decade) before that.3 This raises the following question: would Townsend (who substitutes a harp for Warren’s piano accompani-ment, something certainly in keeping with Victorian performance practice)4 have better served the music by playing the piece on a ‘period’ instrument, one that more accurately reflects the way the concertina would have sounded at that time? Indeed, should he have used such an instrument throughout the recording, in order to give us a better sense of just what the Victorian ‘soundscape’ was like? But if the answer is yes, we open up a can of worms. For allowing that Warren might have written his arrangement as early as the 1840s, should we further ask that the piece be performed on an instrument with brass reeds, one with meantone tuning (that is with its E flats and A flats pitched higher than its D sharps and G sharps, respectively), and with an a’ equal to 452.5Hz?5 Should we also insist that Townsend have used an instrument with, say, four-fold bellows and played using four fingers of each hand, since the combination of the two might well have produced at least some differences in terms of articulation and phrasing? And should we insist that all the other musicians have been playing on ‘period’ instruments? As I said, here I will do no more than ask the questions.
Second, Townsend gives us only about half of the piece. Warren’s arrangement consists of the main theme (Bishop’s melody) and three of his own variations on it (Ex. 1, page 54).
Townsend, however, plays only the theme (and without the repeat of the first strain, to which a mid-nineteenth-century musician would eagerly have added some ornamentation), all of variation 2, and the conclusion only of variation 3. Now, I need hardly be told that this recording is not about Warren’s Home, Sweet Home in particular or even the concertina in general. Yet given the paucity of recorded examples of the English concertina’s Victorian repertory,6 could we ask that the concertinist who would record a piece from that repertory give it to us in its entirety? Needless to say, both performer and record producer have every bit as much right to say ‘No!’ and order their priorities as they will, just as the mid-nineteenth-century performer—who had a very different notion about the composer/performer relationship than we do (he/she was far less ‘up-tight’ about things)—would have done.
Finally, although it is certainly Dave Townsend’s presence that will attract concertinists to the CD (just as it is for our reviewing it here), there is no shortage of other wonderful material on it. Two of my favorites: Margaret Knight’s beautiful rendition of ‘Some Folks who have Grown Old’ (she accompanies herself on the harp), from The Village Coquettes (1836), an operetta by Dickens (libretto) and the musician John Hullah, who would become famous for his reforms in music education, and Chris Watson’s performance of ‘The Ivy Green’, on which Dickens collaborated with his brother-in-law; Henry Burnett (words and music, respectively) and which he would use in Pickwick Papers. In addition, we should cite the very informative notes by Tim and Edna Healy.7
In all, Beautiful Jo Records and everyone involved in the production of this valuable CD—and there can be no doubt that Dave Townsend was the driving musical force behind it – deserve a rousing round of applause.
1. Two of my publications in this area deal specifically with the concertina: ‘George Gissing’s Concertina’, Journal of Musicology, 17 (1999), 304-18, and ‘Collins, Count Fosco, and the Concertina’, Wilkie Collins Society Journal, n.s., 2 (1999), 56-60. Thanks to the efforts of Robert Gaskins, both of these are now available online: http://www.maccann-duet.com/.
2. It is interesting to note that the full title of Warren’s arrangement is Home! Sweet Home! Sicilian Air; the reference to the ‘Sicilian Air’ is a reminder that Bishop (1786-1855) originally published the tune anonymously under the title ‘Sicilian Air’ in an 1821 collection titled National Airs. He used the song a third time in his ‘operatic drama’ Home, Sweet Home, or The Ranz des Vaches of 1829. On the popularity of the song in the nineteenth century—aided by Jenny Lind making it a staple of her repertory in the 1850s—see Nicholas Temperley, ‘Ballroom and Drawing-Room Music’, in The Athlone History of Music in Britain, 5: The Romantic Age, 1800-1914, ed. N. Temperley (London: The Athlone Press, 1981), 125-26, and Derek B. Scott, The Singing Bourgeois: Songs of the Victorian Drawing Room and Parlour,2nd ed. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), 11-15; for its popularity in the United States, see Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002), 179; see also, Nicholas Temperley and Bruce Carr, ‘Bishop, Sir Henry (Rowley)’, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, rev. ed., 29 vols., ed. by John Tyrrell and Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 2001), iii, 125-26.
Dickens himself tells us that he played Bishop’s ‘Home, Sweet Home’ on the accordion in a letter of 22 March 1842 (from Baltimore) to his friend (and biographer) John Foster: ‘You can’t think with what feeling I play Home Sweet Home every night, or how pleasantly sad it makes us’ (conveniently quoted in, among other places, the notes that accompany the CD). On Dickens and music, see Lillian M. Ruff, ‘How Musical was Charles Dickens?’, The Dickensian, 68 (1972), 32-33; James T. Lightwood, Charles Dickens and Music (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1912); Mary Burgen, ‘Heroines at the Piano: Women and Music in Nineteenth-Century Fiction’, in The Lost Chord: Essays on Victorian Music, ed. Nicholas Temperley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 42-67, which, though not devoted exclusively to Dickens, draws upon his works frequently.
3. See the British Library’s online catalogue of printed music: http://blpc.bl.uk, which dates the entire series of twenty-nine pieces from 1859-1862. My own copy of the piece (plate number: ‘C.W. & Co. 1791.’) was issued only in 1905 or later, since its title page locates Wheatstone & Co. at 15 West Street, Charing Cross Road. In addition, the running ‘footer’ at the bottom of each page refers to the series as ‘Popular Aires’.
4. No less a musician than Hector Berlioz praised the combination of concertina and harp in his Grande traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes, rev. ed (Paris, 1855), 287; see Allan W. Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 39. Still another Parisian critic who enjoyed the concertina-harp combination was Henri Blanchard, who expresses his opinion in a favorable review of a concert by William (piano), Henry (harp), and Auguste (concertina) Binfield at the Bains de Tivoli in April 1856; the review appears in Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris, xxiii/17 (27 April 1856), 131. Townsend also uses the combination effectively in his recording of the ‘Serenade’ from Bernhard Molique’s Six Characteristic Pieces, Op. 61 (1859), on the CD Concertina Landscape. Serpent Press SER006 (1998), which I reviewed in ‘Concertinas 1998-1999: A (Brief) Essay’, The Free-Reed Journal, 2 (2000), 53-54, where I raise some of the same questions. We might also note that the combination was not limited to the recital hall and drawing room, as witness the remarks in Henry Mayhew’s interview with a fifteen-year old concertina player in this issue’s HISTORICAL DOCUMENT.
5. It was to a’ = 452.5Hz that both the Philharmonic Society Orchestra and the piano manufacturer Broadwood tuned around the middle of the century and from 1852 to 1874, respectively; see Alexander John Ellis, ‘The History of Musical Pitch’, Journal of the Society of the Arts, 28 (1880), 330, 335-36; reprinted in Studies in the History of Musical Pitch: Monographs by Alexander J. Ellis and Arthur Mendel (Buren, 1968), 47, 52-53; see also Arthur Mendel, ‘Pitch in Western Music since 1500: A Re-examination’, Acta musicologica, 50 (1978), 87 (where it is noted that the a’ = 452.5Hz represents the ‘mean’ for the Philharmonic tuning). In addition, a Wheatstone & Co. price list from the mid-1910s lists the a’ = 452.5 (though expressed as ‘C = 540’) as the standard tuning for Wheatstone concertinas; the price list is reproduced online at: http://maccann-duet.com .
6. In addition to Townsend’s recording of the Molique ‘Serenade’ (cited in note 2), there are the two fine CDs by Douglas Rogers (on an instrument dating from 1858), The Great Regondi: Original Compositions by the 19th Century’s Unparalleled Guitarist & Concertinist. The Giulio Regondi Guild: Douglas Rogers, concertina; Julie Lustman, piano; David Starobin, guitar. Bridge Records, BCD 9039 (1993) and 9055 (1994).
7. Given the intense musicological research now under way on the representation of music in Victorian literature, it is no doubt time for a new assessment of music in the works of Dickens (see note 2). For a comprehensive glimpse into that new research, see The Idea of Music in Victorian Fiction, ed. Sophie Fuller and Nicky Losseff (Aldershot: Ashgate, forthcoming), which, surprisingly, includes no contributions on Dickens.