Friday, 14 December 2018

The Tale the Pine-trees knew

Wintry weekend coming up, colder than usual this side of Xmas. So a visit to Arnold Bax The Tale the Pine-trees Knew (1931), particularly relevant after Martyn Brabbins’s outstanding Bax November Woods at the Barbican (Please read my piece Internal Landscapes here).  There is no explicit programme,  but Bax wrote about climbing a mountain in Ireland . "Anyone going up from the South the sea is hidden by the landward bulk of the mountain itself, so that when it bursts into view at a height of almost 2,000 ft, the sudden sight of the Atlantic horizon tilted half-way up the sky is completely overwhelming." Thus the chords in the introduction, one after another looming upwards, pausing briefly before continuing. As the ascent draws near, the pace speeds up, energized. A bright woodwind figure enters. Though the ostinato tread remains, it's now no longer dominant : elipticak string lines suggest spaciousness, small bright figures tantalize. The lively second theme fades into a quieter passage where horns echo, much as they do in mountains.  More ascendant figures, now lighter, as the central section approaches.  Excitement mounts : brasses call, timpani rush : grand crescendi, suggesting panoramic expanses, before the final section, where the chords gradually diminish in force, the pulse decelerating. A whimsical wind figure suggests something magical remains as stillness descends once more.  So what is the "tale the pine-trees know?"  This is no Strauss Alpensinfonie where the peaks extend way above the treeline and elements become hostile, nor a Sibelius tone poem where cosmic forces are unleashed.   But neither is it comfortable scene painting.  The ending is abrupt, open-ended, to the extent that David Lloyd-Jones checked the manuscript and Barbirolli's markings, repeating the first four bars of fig. 57 on his recording.

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