New Publications – Tertis, York Bowen, Ireland and Alwyn | Michael Freyhan

A Second Lionel Tertis Album- Joseph Weinberger 2013

Not only was Lionel Tertis a great player but a formidable fighter for the acceptance of the viola as a solo instrument. He made it a point of honour to increase the repertoire, focusing especially on the provision of short recital pieces with piano. To this end he made countless arrangements of works deemed suitable for the viola and composed not a few original ones himself. With the passing of the fashion for such occasional pieces many of them have fallen out of print or are known only in recordings. In 2006 John White published two volumes of Tertis ‘Favourites’ (Lionel Tertis, The Early Years, Bks 1 and 2, Comus Edition 2006) and A Lionel Tertis Album (Josef Weinberger 2006). This year he has added seven more titles to the collection, one of them an original work, in A Second Lionel Tertis Album (Josef Weinberger 2013). As we learn from John White’s Preface Tertis’s mission was clear: “I consider it as a pious act to grab music for the viola . . .”  Tertis’s fingerings are given in the piano score, but they do not appear in the viola part, which is treated as an urtext. They are certainly idiosyncratic and personal to Tertis, showing how deeply he cherished the sound quality of every note. The subject is thoughtfully discussed in the Preface, with quotations from William Primrose.

York Bowen Fantasia for Viola and Organ & Poem for Viola, Harp (or Piano) and Organ- Joseph Weinberger 2009

Viola with organ accompaniment is an unusual sonority found in two early works by York Bowen. The first, a Fantasia, was premiered in 1906 by Tertis and the twenty-two-year-old Bowen. A review quoted in the editor’s Preface discovered “nothing in the accompaniment to prevent it being played on the pianoforte”, but this would make the character and instrumental blend incomparably different. Carelessly I missed the first performance but, through the publication of this rarity, I am hoping to have another chance to hear it! Six years later came the Poem for viola, harp (or piano) and organ, showing a more adventurous harmonic language and further creative maturity. In both works the viola writing is consistently romantic. The manuscript is dated 10 April 1912, well after the performance by Tertis, composer and harpist Miriam Timothy given on 9 June 1911. Evidently, barring other distractions, the composer spent 10 months making improvements.

John Ireland Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor (transcribed for viola)

In 1915 John Ireland started work on his Second Violin Sonata. It was premiered in 1917 and, just one year later, performed as a Viola Sonata by Tertis, partnered by the composer. According to the Wigmore Hall programme the work was arranged by Ireland, but elsewhere Tertis is widely credited as having made the transcription. John White’s Preface examines the history of the work and performances given by Tertis. The music is both romantic and tightly knit, with the musical line carried forward on the back of strong, rhythmic motifs. One can readily understand Tertis’s desire to ‘kidnap’ this intense and well-structured work. The original compass is of necessity reduced, but octave doublings are added, where appropriate, to take the place of the bright violin E string sound.  The piano part remains unaltered, leaving the pianist responsible for finding the colours and balance which best match the viola register and timbre. It is to be hoped that modern viola players will welcome this fine Sonata and take it into their repertoire, following Tertis’s example. 

William Alwyn Selected works for Viola and Piano

“Selected Works for Viola and Piano” completes the canon of William Alwyn’s compositions for viola available in modern editions. There are two Sonatinas, written in 1941 and 1944 but with the material of the inner movements common to both. “Two Preludes” are teenage works demonstrating a keen interest in the interplay of harmonies. “Two Pieces”, from the same period, complement each other perfectly and, whether intentionally or not, commend themselves as teaching material.  Alwyn’s arrangements of negro spirituals make a characterful addition to the anthology.

These new editions have been thoroughly researched by the editor, with helpful background information given in the Prefaces. The accuracy is commendable, and players can have confidence in the musical text. It is normal for the music of one generation to be considered ‘dated’ by the next and it may take several generations for neglected gems to be rediscovered. The music must, above all, be available and in print, and John White’s untiring efforts to reinvigorate the viola repertoire of the last century, giving the lie to those who say there is no repertoire, is ensuring the continuation of Tertis’s work.