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ClassicsOnline Home » KETELBEY: In a Persian Market (Ketelbey, Noble, Prentice, Geehl) (1917-1939)
The Music of Albert W. Ketelbey, Volume 2
Sanctuary of the Heart / In a Persian Market
There are few pieces in the light orchestral repertory to equal
Sanctuary of the Heart in emotional tension. The excitement in the music seems
inappropriate for the vague religious sentiments expressed in the single stanza
written in 1924, though for this recording of 1928 a chorus was added
paraphrasing the Kyrie eleison of the Anglican liturgy. Now that details
of Albert Ketelbey's personal life have been revealed in John Sant's book on
the composer, a hidden autobiographical programme suggests itself.
The extravagantly romantic but very English main theme, which sets the
words "I wandered alone in a strange land", surely stands for
Albert himself. At the age of fourteen he was sent from Birmingham to London to study, and promptly
returned to Birmingham suffering from
homesickness. Back in London, he eventually met Lottie Siegenberg, a passionate Jewish actress,
as represented here by a phrase from the Kol Nidrei, a chant used in the
Jewish liturgy .At the second statement of this phrase, it takes its bass from
the main theme (Lottie becoming dependent on Albert?). The piece ends with the
main theme transformed to joyousness, by adopting the 12/8 rhythm of the Kol
Nidrei - the phrase “fill all our hearts with love" connoting
Albert falling in love with Lottie. The imagery of the poem also symbolizes
unity between the Anglican Albert and Jewish Lottie, drawing on phrases from
the Book of Common Prayer version of Psalms CX/V and CXXXVII:
"When Israel came out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from among the strange
people, Judah was his sanctuary," "By the waters of
Babylon we sat down and wept... How shall we sing the Lord's song in a
strange land?" Albert and Lottie were duly married, and when Lot tie died in 1947, Albert
wrote a short elegy called Remembrance, which quotes the main theme of Sanctuary
of the Heart, thus affirming the personal significance of the piece.
Two other religious meditations in this collection are specifically
Roman Catholic. One of the inspirations for in a Monastery Garden was
the Franciscan priory at Chilworth, while The Sacred Hour has a choir
chanting Ave Maria. These two songs were adaptations of earlier orchestral
pieces, and as with all the vocal texts in this collection have words by the
composer himself. They are sung by two of the greatest singers from the Antipodes, the Australian Peter Dawson and Oscar Natzke from New Zealand. The words for The
Sacred Hour may have been written specifically for Dawson, as this recording made in
September 1932 pre-dates the publication of the sheet music by six months.
A Dream of Christmas also ends on a religious note, with traditional English
Christmas hymns. Here they are used to represent the peculiar mixture of sacred
and secular of a British Christmas, with the carols appearing alongside fairies
and the pantomime wolf from Little Red Riding Hood in a child's confused
dreams. Both the recording and the sheet music were issued for the Christmas
market in 1926. The music bears an invitation for the audience to join in with Christians,
awake, but the pitch is uncomfortably high for community singing. The
technical reason for this is that the hymn is accompanied by the tubular bells,
an instrument which was normally restricted to a diatonic scale of E flat
major. Thus bell pieces from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to Bells across the
Meadows (1921) are invariably in that key, and Christians awake has
to be played three semitones higher than normal.
Unalloyed fairyland is the subject of In a Fairy Realm, a suite
written for the Harrogate Festival in 1927. As with other pieces in this
collection, fairies are characterized by the sound of the celesta, and here it
is joined by harp, muted strings and muted brass to evoke a secret hidden
world. It begins with a slow introduction, The Moonlit Glade, with the first
theme on solo horn not heard till bar 31. The indistinct scene is enhanced by
elusive tonality, as the melody shifts down a tone with each phrase. Then comes
a waltz, The Queen-Fairy Dances, where the first strain is highly idiosyncratic
in rhythm, harmony and scoring. Two sections in a more conventional idiom
follow, and the dance ends with a delightful scampering scale in the woodwinds.
The finale, The Gnomes' March, recalls Tchaikovsky's ballet music in the
clarity of its melodies and orchestration.
A fairy also appears in the title of the song Fairy Butterfly, written
for the soprano Florence Smithson while she was appearing in Puss in Boots at
the Drury Lane Theatre at Christmas 1915. This
music was later metamorphosed into the movement The Garden Fete in the
suite In a Lover's Garden, the ethereal butterfly being brought to
ground in a heavy-footed waltz. The song King Cupid was written for the
same pantomime, using as its model The Pipes of Pan from The Arcadians,
the song which Smithson had made famous.
Another probable product of Ketelbey's wartime work in the theatres of
the West End is the intermezzo scene In
a Persian Market, although it was first advertised in 1920 as an
"educational novelty". The composer had an anecdote about its use
during a musical show, and it remained a standby for oriental scenes throughout
the twentieth century, being used in classic sketches by Morecambe and Wise and
the Two Ronnies, while its educational function in "music and movement"
classes continues both in Britain and Germany. The princess portrayed by the big romantic theme is a
cousin of the princesses in Stravinsky's Firebird (where the music is an
actual Russian folk-tune). The opening march has the same distinctive melodic
intervals, A -Bb -E, as the oriental intermezzo Wonga, which Ketelbey
had used in music for the play Ye Gods in 1916. For this recording, the
composer added a new 22-bar section representing the call to prayer.
Following the success of In a Persian Market, Ketelbey returned
to an oriental theme in several pieces. In the Mystic Land of Egypt
(1931) is one of the most impressive, taking the lead from the earlier work in
its forthright march and broad romantic melody. The vocal contribution comes
from a high baritone serenading his love, and the present recording includes
the exotic orchestral colour of two mandolins. The piece is unified by a short
descending chromatic scale, heard in the very first bar and recurring sometimes
in the melody, sometimes in the harmony, until it is finally played upside down
in the last three bars - an attractive musical device, though hardly Egyptian.
More convincing in its orientalism is Algerian Song (1925). The first
tune uses an unusual mode, and the third is replete with arabesque-like
twiddles. Although the composer did publish versions for full orchestra and for
military band, the lean texture suggests that the original inspiration was for
the present combination of just violin and piano. The mellifluous violinist,
Albert Sandier, was probably also the leader of the Concert Orchestra which
Ketelbey's former employer Columbia allowed him to recruit for definitive recordings of his major
works, including several on this disc.
Ketelbey as composer, poet, conductor, accompanist, and finally, in the
delightful Wedgwood Blue (1920), as soloist. Though this piece is
sometimes incorrectly described as a gavotte, it certainly has the poise of that
eighteenth-century dance, here enhanced by the composer's own busy piano decorations.
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KETELBEY: In a Persian Market (Ketelbey, Noble, Pr...