REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » BERNERS: Wedding Bouquet / Luna Park / March
"It's hard no to recommend this disc wholeheartedly..."
Lord Berners (1883 - 1950)
The Right Honourable Sir
Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners in the peerage of England, and
a baronet, was born on 18th September 1883 at Apley Park, near Bridgnorth, shropshire,
the son of Commodore the Hon. Hugh Tyrwhitt (third son of Emma Harriet,
Baroness Berners in her own right) and Julia Mary Foster. (The title is one of
few in the British peerage that can pass through the female, as well as the
male line.) Educated at Eton, and later in Dresden, Vienna, France and Italy, mainly in pursuit of knowledge of languages to equip
him for the diplomatic service, he succeeded his uncle in 1918, assuming the
additional name of Wilson by Royal Charter a year later. He served as honorary attache
in Constantinople and later in Rome, but on his elevation, relinquished these posts,
returning to England and his inheritance, several country estates, and
lived the rest of his life, ostensibly as a country gentleman. This, however,
was only on the surface. He was a man whose music drew the highest praise from stravinsky,
and whose not inconsiderable literary and painting skills were to make him 'the
versatile peer' in the national press, but it was as a composer that he wished
to be remembered.
The earliest music of Berners
is the most avant-garde in style, being entirely made up of songs, in English,
French and German, and piano pieces, many of which were published under his
original name, Gerald Tyrwhitt. In 1924 his only opera, Le carosse du Saint-Sacrement,
was given in Paris in a triple bill with works by stravinsky and Henri sauguet.
Two years later, his first ballet, The Triumph of Neptune, to a scenario
by sacheverell sitwell, was produced by Dyagilev's Ballets Russes. He was one
of only two British composers, the other being Constant Lambert with Romeo
and Juliet, to be commissioned by the great impresario. From now on his
music became more accessible but never lost its original flavour and
distinctive style. It had shed its avant-garde 'skin' with the orchestral
triptych, Trois morceaux, Fantasie espagnole, both first performed in
1919, and the Fugue in C minor of 1924. In fact, his music was deemed
accessible enough to be considered for a C.B. Cochran revue, with the ballet Luna
Park, in 1930. The last three balletic works were written in collaboration
with Frederick Ashton as choreographer and Constant Lambert as musical
director, A Wedding Bouquet, Cupid and Psyche and Les Sirenes, Lambert
and the young William Walton were the only two British composers with whom
Berners felt a sympathy. Not for him the pastoral school of Vaughan Williams
and Hoist. Both Walton and Lambert probably helped with the orchestration of Triumph
of Neptune, and Walton certainly received regular amounts of financial
assistance from Berners for many years, even up to the composition of Belshazzar's
Feast, which is dedicated to him, and it was Berners who had the idea of
composing a musical illustration of the Rowlandson print, Portsmouth Point, and
indeed wrote one. It now appears as the last movement of his chamber piece, L 'uom
dai Baffi, written for an Italian puppet play and comprising, otherwise,
arrangements of some of the piano pieces mentioned earlier. That Walton made a
more substantial and lasting work out of the idea would have pleased Berners
almost as much as if he had done so himself.
During the 19405 Berners
involved himself in one other medium, cinema, contributing a polka and a
song, Come on Algernon, to the 1944 Ealing production, Champagne
Charlie: and writing two complete film scores for The Halfway House (1943)
and Nicholas Nickleby (1946). For all three, Ealing's musical director,
Ernest Irving, provided the orchestrations, but again they are unmistakably
Berners in language and style. After this film, he wrote nothing of note for
the last four years of his life. He suffered bouts of depression, and, in the
words of his friend John Betjeman, finally 'turned his face to the wall and
died' on 19th April 1950.
This was a sad end to a life
that not only produced much work of quality but that gave so much pleasure to
others. The visitors' book at Faringdon, his country house, lists the famous of
three decades -Shaw, Wells, Huxley, Beerbohm, the Mitfords, the Sitwells and
others. His eccentricities (all carefully calculated to amuse - or offend!)
were legendary. From the clavichord in the back of his Rolls-Royce to his habit
of dyeing the local pigeons exotic colours (this continues to the present day)
-all had their individual raison d'etre, at least for him. His dislike
of pomposity revealed itself in a wealth of stories, like the one of the woman
invited to luncheon to meet the P of W, being rather disappointed when the
Provost of Worcester was presented in place of the Prince of Wales whom she had
been expecting, or the woman who declared once too often that she 'had been
sticking up' for him. Berners responded that he, in turn, had been sticking up
for her; someone had said that she was not fit to live with pigs -and he said
that she was. But all these fripperies were incidental to his art. When not
composing music he would write short humorous novels (six in number), three
volumes of autobiography (one unpublished) and stage two exhibitions of his
paintings, in 1931 and 1936.
Berners' musical output was
small by most standards and the case is often made that if he had had to earn a
living from the arts, he would have produced more. This is debatable. Less in
doubt is that his art was well appreciated amongst his fellow artists, -and
aristocrats. Osbert Sitwell summed it up by writing that in the years
between the wars he did more to civilise the wealthy than anyone in England.
Through London's darkest drawing-rooms, as well as lightest, he
moved. a sort of missionary of the arts. Not a bad epitaph -that is, if Berners had not written one of his own.
Here lies Lord Berners, One of the learners.
great love of learning May earn him a burning.
Praise to the Lord! He seldom was bored.
Wedding Bouquet is undoubtedly
Berners' most original and successful work. Some might say unique, since choral
ballets are rare indeed. Borodin's Polovtsian Dances form just one scene
in an opera, and stravinsky's Les Noces is strictly a dramatic cantata
with dancing. The influence of stravinsky, however, is an ever-present one.
first performance took place at sadler's Wells Theatre on 27th April 1937, with
scenario, costumes and set designs by Berners himself and choreography by
Frederick Ashton. (The striking backcloth, incidentally, was copied from an old
rug in Gertrude Stein's home in France.) The cast included Ninette de Valois as Webster,
Margot Fonteyn as Julia and Robert Helpman as the Bridegroom, while Constant
Lambert conducted. It was Berners' own idea to create the work, even though he
had originally intended it as a choral concert-piece, basing it on the opening
pages of Gertrude Stein's play They Must. Be Wedded. To Their Wife of
1931. It was Lambert's idea to give Stein's description of the play's
characters in the programme (and piano score), and Stein's to add an extra one -
Pepe, named after her own Mexican dog. In this original production the words
were sung by ten solo singers from the opera chorus. From 1941 onwards,
initially because of wartime restrictions, the chorus was replaced by a speaker
at the side of the stage. The first to undertake this was Lambert himself;
later reciters lacked Lambert's formidable gifts in this kind of enterprise (he
always considered himself the best performer of the Facade poems) and
there is little doubt that Berners' original idea of a sung text by a small
group of singers is by far the best one.
words do not explain the action in any real sense, but provide an atmosphere
and amusing commentary for the characters. In her Everybody's Autobiography,
Gertrude Stein comments on the first performance in her inimitable way:
all went so very well, each time a musician does something with the words it
makes it do what they never did so, this time it made them do as if the last
word had heard the next word and the next word had heard not the last word but
the next word.
combination of neat, funny dances, the inconsequent relevance of the words, the
splendid characterization, Ashton's delicacy and lightness, all make the ballet
a connoisseur's piece. The critic Arnold Haskell called it one of the most
complete works in the repertoire. Berners, Ashton and Gertrude Stein have
collaborated so closely that it is not possible to say where the one begins and
the other leaves off.
ballet is set in the garden of a farmhouse near Bellay, a French provincial
town. Preparations are in progress for a wedding feast. The opening music is
vivacious and festive in character, but stops abruptly as the curtain rises and
a voice is heard to announce: This is now act one. Webster, the maid,
shows signs of considerable anxiety. A group of peasant girls and boys arrives
for the celebrations, followed by the official guests, including Josephine, 'a
rather equivocal character', and her friends Paul and John.
In the course of an elegant Tranquillo,
the singers refer sentimentally to the fact that one brother has saved the
lives of two others from drowning -an obscure incident referred to slightly
earlier. The vivacity of the opening returns representing the determined
pursuit of Ernest by Violet. Ernest is unwilling. The music again comes
to an abrupt halt as an alto exclaims: Therese, I am older than a boat and
there can be no folly in owning it. The movement is resumed as the chorus
mutter repeatedly: There can be no hesitation.
The pace lessens to an Andantino
and another guest's arrival is announced. This is 'the slightly demented
Julia' .A modern Giselle, she has been "ruined" by the rakish
Bridegroom, and is accompanied by her dog Pepe, a black and tan Mexican
terrier. Pepe protects her from a would-be suitor. As one of the Bridegroom's
past mistresses, Julia is not too happy at the coming event.
subsequent Allegro, mirroring advances by another male guest, is brought
to an end by the opposition of Pepe - a welcome excuse for Berners to bring a
Spanish touch to the score. Josephine who 'is excessively devoted to Julia'
tries to console her in a sentimental scene for orchestra alone, which
re-introduces the Tranquillo heard earlier.
bars of recitative - They all talk as if it were alarming - precede the
arrival of the bridal procession. The Bride appears to cries of Charming!
Charming! Charming! To the strains of an infectious waltz tune, two
bridesmaids dance together under the bridal veil. A photograph is taken of the
Wedding Group. But the perfected poise of this scene is disrupted by the
spoken mutterings of the chorus: Josephine may not attend a wedding. Although
the festivities start again, it is obvious that all is not well. Julia's
affection for the Bridegroom and Josephine's sympathy for Julia each
precipitate a scene. Cries of bitterness, and Josephine will leave are
heard from the chorus. The climactic cries of Josephine, Josephine,
Josephine lead into a general hurly-burly.
when Josephine has been removed with some difficulty can the Bridegroom really
enjoy the proceedings. He dances a tango with a chorus of his former
mistresses which includes most of the ladies present. As the tango subsides
and the guests leave, Julia is left alone with only Pepe for comfort. The waltz
returns, as if remembered in a dream, as hushed cries of bitterness never
cease to remind the audience of what has gone before.
the music gradually lessens in pace and dynamics, Julia stands alone looking at
the empty stage around her, and the curtain falls.
discovered March in piano score in a chest stored in the basement of
Berners' home in the early 1970s, since when it has been published in the Collected
Works for Piano 5010 album issued by Chester Music in 1982. However, it is
unlikely that Berners saw the piece as a solo piano item, and from the fact
that its lowest note is close to the lowest note on the tuba (F sharp) it is
not too much to suppose that he had brass, or another large instrumental group
in mind. I have therefore scored the piece for brass ensemble and dropped the
key by a semitone (to B flat minor) so that it can follow the Fanfare he
wrote in 1931 more easily. (The Fanfare ends on an F major chord.)
terms of dating the piece, (various dates have been put forward over the years)
it might be fanciful to suggest that because of its slightly oriental character
it comes from Berners' time in Constantinople. Conversely, since he wrote a disappointingly lack-lustre
Gilbert and Sullivan inspired operetta there called The Egyptian Princess, this
humble march would seem too good for that date.
Luna Park, a 'fantastic ballet in one act' was commissioned for
C.B. Cochran's London revue of 1930, and first performed at the London Pavilion
in March of that year, with scenery and costumes by Christopher Wood, book by
Boris Kochno, and choreography by George Balanchine. The scene is set in a
freak pavilion in Luna Park. A showman enters and bows to the audience. He raises
the curtain of the first of four niches revealing a man with three heads; in
the second stands a three-legged juggler, complete with billiard balls, while
in the third a one-legged ballerina is posing, and in the fourth, a man with
six arms. All the freaks dance in their respective niches, after which the
showman bows to the audience, turning down the lights as he retires.
The showman gone, the four
performers appear from behind the curtain of their niches, revealing themselves
as normal human beings -the freaks were fakes -and proceed to dance an Adagio,
followed by individual variations for the ballerina (Alice Nikitina) and
the six-armed man (Serge Lifar). In the end they all decide to leave the circus
and go out into the wide world; and so they silently slip away. However, the
showman returns all set to give the second performance. He opens the curtain
mechanically, without even looking, revealing, in turn, two heads, a set of
billiard balls, a solitary leg and four arms waving wildly. Laughter from the
stalls prompts the showman to turn around to see what has happened. Horrified,
he leaps into the niche behind him and pulls down the curtain.
The work has obvious links
with Petrushka, La boutique fantasque, Coppelia and L ' enfant et les
sortileges in terms of subject matter. Musically, Berners produced a
succinct score that matched the action, and gave distinct characterization to
each of the characters. In the Adagio and first Variation, in
particular, he mimicked similar sections of Sleeping Beauty, and in the
reprise Coda brought back the main themes in fine Broadway style. In
this respect, the work could be said to be Berners' equivalent of Stravinsky's Scenes
de Ballet. The work has been rather neglected in the theatre since its
first performance, but some of the music was used in 1932 for Foyer de Danse,
to choreography by a young Frederick Ashton, who danced it with Alicia Markova
in a Ballet Rambert production at the Mercury Theatre.
Last Albums Viewed
BERNERS: Wedding Bouquet / Luna Park / March