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Playing at home.

Travelling into Gloucestershire after having been away is wonderful. If you approach from the south, up the M5 you see the Severn plain open up in front of you. If approaching from Cirencester, all know the fantastic view looking down over the city from on high before you descend past the Air Balloon.  Gloucester is a beautiful City. Standing proud in the centre is the cathedral, visible from the T-End (albeit blocked slightly by an unsightly transmitter and framed on one side by the police station). You do not miss this until you don't see it all the time as those who are exiled will appreciate.

Although not directly related to football this article will hopefully provide an insight into an area that should be considered when thinking about why we choose to support our local club. Sure, if we had grown up in Liverpool, or Manchester or London we may have supported one of the Super-clubs. But it is more than that angle of convenience that we support a club - otherwise why travel to away matches? No, there is something else about Gloucester that others too have found compelling that they chose to make a statement about it. What follows is the first in a series about culture in Gloucester(shire) and why it is such a great place. This article is a html adaptation of an essay written full of youthful pride, 3 years ago, about the land I am from and the music that is from there.   

To what extent the composers of Gloucestershire set out to confirm a nation?

That Bach was ultimately a local composer, yet his music is universal was what Vaughan Williams argued in the first lecture of his series in Pennsylvania.1 German domination of music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stemmed from Bach setting down the tonal basis upon which music in the subsequent centuries was founded upon. Bach constructed from his own musicality, and that of his Leipzig sensibilities a sound language which was recognised as what music should sound like, and because the locality provided him with resources such as hymn tunes sung by the 'folk', the accent of music was German. That local influences were said to affect local people with artistic traits in early twentieth century Gloucestershire were recorded as early as 1919 by a Boston (USA) periodical.2 The Cotswold hills, the River Severn with its flood plains, the Royal Forest of Dean, the gleaming cathedral in the county town and the view of the Malvern hills in neighbouring Worcestershire give Gloucestershire a beauty that is discussed in length in biographies about composers from the region. This rurality provided for Londoners and similar city dwellers an almost anthropological view of life in original England, and this was the pure view of the nation demanded at this time with Britain facing increased competition from abroad. This essay discusses if the composers of this area set out to further the rural view of England demanded by those to whom national pride was important and if Gloucestershire provided the resources that they used in satisfying this aim.

The combination of local elements to support a national aim can be seen most strongly in the music, most noticeably songs of the Gloucester born Ivor Gurney. His skills as both a composer and poet went with him to the front line of the nation's defence in the trenches of Flanders during the first world war. He wrote to Marion Scott of his nationalistic artistic aims of "...making Musical History for England out of Gloster stuff".3 Gurney's poetry reflects his fondness for the county in which he lived and walked. In The Old City Gurney writes of the landmarks and lists villages around his city, concluding nationalistically that

        If one must die for England, Fate has given
        Generously indeed for we have known
        Before our time, the air and skies of Heaven
        And beauty more than common has been shown,
        And with our last fight fought, our last strife striven
        We shall enter unsurprised into our own.4

Words and language are important when dealing with English music and nationalism, after all it was Rupert Brooke's Dymock in Gloucestershire that may be in a corner of a foreign field. There is however a debate as to how much the music itself supports rhetoric, such as the 'fighting' and 'striving' for the national cause as described above.

Gurney's song, In Flanders encapsulates some important issues relating to the problems music has in describing things which are extra-musical, for example the rural landscape to which England was looking to protect and be inspired from nationalistically. According to Banfield this song creates a melodic line that "...expresses the curves of the hills against the skyline...".5 Gurney's own words support this argument that a visible representation of the Gloucestershire landscape was a tool that he encouraged. To fellow countyman and composer Herbert Howells he wrote; "show us Tintern and the sunset across the Malverns and Welsh hills."6 There can however be different interpretations of such physical landmarks, for the curves of the Malverns allegedly depicted, contrast with the reading of the words in the poem. Gurney goes out of his way in of emphasising the words "By jagged Malvern". He does this by making the vocal rhythm itself jagged. He introduces the folk associated "scotch snap" figure, at this point, which is a reversal of the established dotted figure, and it is the only point in this song where this jagged figure is used. Not only does this contradict the melodic smoothness suggested by the melody and supported by Banfield, it contrasts with other Gloucestershire views of the Malverns. Howells, born in Lydney took a similar stance in taking great pride in his Gloucestershire roots to support his feeling of being an Englishman. "...we were all true-blue Gloucestershire folk," Howells said (making use of the term 'folk') "there's no Welsh blood in our veins."7 Similarly to Gurney, he was partial to the shapes of the landscape, saying of Vaughan Williams' Pastoral symphony that it gives "you a shape akin to such an outline of the Malvern hills when viewed from afar"8. Howells says that this shape is not of "..craggy heights", which contrasts to the emphasis Gurney put on F.W. Harvey's "jagged Malvern", above.

Banfield points to another place of In Flanders which although may seem small, is important in assessing the validity of these composers visual approach. Harvey's poem describes;

                        Where the Land is low.

Gurney took this to mean the Severn plain and not the flatness of Flanders as the poet intended. Gurney therefore set music to the poem which he thought was appropriate, but was in fact wrong.
Another example of this kind of misreading, was of Vaughan Williams's Pastoral Symphony, which written in 1922 meets with a demand of a public trying to put behind them a bloody war by appearing to have English rural qualities.( Howells's description above illustrates this). However, revealed later by Ursula Vaughan Williams the "cow looking over the gate" in this symphony was most likely a French cow and a French gate, for it was the French landscape of the war and not the English one that inspired the piece. This information was not revealed at the time though, as it would not have been in the interest of nationalism to know the truth behind this popular piece of music.

This leads us to a number of problems in relating rhetoric about music, to the music itself, and therefore nationalist intention to the end product. Not only is Gurney misreading the text he is setting, but other composers are providing different descriptions of the same piece of land. And with Vaughan Williams's Pastoral Symphony, listeners are not receiving what they should from the music. Howells appreciates these problems when telling his brother of the second of his Three pieces for violin and piano (1917) that "You or anybody else, would fail to say 'That music is Chosen Hill!'"9 (with Chosen Hill being to the north-west of Gloucester). Is this confusion a failure of the composer or a failure of the abstract nature of music? It appears though that the important thing about this "audio visual" music as a nationalistic device, is what the music is perceived to be about rather than what it is about.

The attempt of physical description of landscape was not the only tool these composers used in trying to support in music the language of they used in asserting their pride and agendas for England. They tried to utilise what they perceived as distinctly national, and musically national, characteristics and employ them in their music. One of the most important of these characteristics was found in folksong.

Folksong, in its pure state is regarded to be the organic material on which music is founded. Evolving at the same time as speech it allegedly contains the archetypal gestures that define a musical language, and because of this close relation to spoken language, it can be seen as a useful device in forwarding Herder's theories on the relationship between nation and language. C. H. H. Parry, (another Gloucestershire composer of the period) says of the features of English folksong that they "are characteristic of the race", and that in pure folksong there was nothing "common or unclean". This is undoubtedly nationalist sentiment by the musician.

The antiquarian and nationalistic aims of the folksong collectors (of which Vaughan Williams and the Cheltenham born Gustav Holst were two) was perceived to be building a "database" of rural Englishness. This had not before been available to English composers as national folksong had been available to, and used by, composers in other European countries previously. The major discovery made by Cecil Sharp and the other folk collectors was of the fact that they were modal. These modes effectively died out when the tonal system of major and minor keys were established by Bach, in his Well Tempered Klavier, as the scientific and obvious system that music should be based on. Not only were these modes perceived as English in that they came from the rural population, but a point that many writers on the subject fail to mention is that because modes are pre-tonal, and therefore from before German musical domination, their subsequent use by composers can be seen as anti-German nationalism.

Vaughan Williams rarely quoted from folksongs in his own music (although exceptions can be found in works such as Norfolk Rhapsody ) instead the composer recreates the mood of folksong. For example, modes often have a flattened leading note, and to give the impression of modality a composer would flatten the seventh degree of the scale (the leading note) in the key in which he was writing. In his Songs of Travel Vaughan Williams uses these resources to create a cycle in which the rural life and singing about it are dominant. Gurney's songs too offer the folk-like qualities mentioned, and Holst also was influenced by the style. Described as a failure by his daughter, Holst's Cotswold Symphony was written to celebrate the countryside he loved, but was written before he had discovered folksong, and this perhaps was a missing element.10

Such nationalist sentiment of this music may however, as with the use of landscape be built on falsehood. Although at the time Sharp and Vaughan Williams believed that the folksong discovered in England contained "the spiritual life blood of the people"11, the idea that all English folksongs are distinct from those of Wales for example (which lies beside Gloucestershire) has now generally been disproved.12 In this case it is probably also valid to argue that folk music from Gloucestershire is not distinct from any other county from England or Wales. This may account for Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for strings being described as a " a land mark in English string writing"13 when the piece was inspired by folksongs heard in Cardiganshire.
The basis on which national music is founded and its perceptions therefore can be seen as sometimes completely different. Elgar is seen almost unanimously as an English composer, and is to this day still exploited as such. A party political video cassette recording was sent to homes across the country by the Referendum Party this year in preparation for the 1997 General election. As the presentation comes to a close and the summary of our national sovereignty being under threat is being made, the sound of Elgar's Enigma Variation No.9 is unfurled as if it were a flag. This very piece allowed Howells to " hear, 'see', and feel whatever is best in and about us"14. But Elgar was not from Gloucestershire, although his Worcestershire home shared a similar set of geographical features. This may not be problematic however, for he had more claim on them than Vaughan Williams who moved form his birth-place, almost in Wiltshire, to Surrey when two years of age. It appears then that the "Gloster stuff" of Gurney that was said to be used for the benefit of the nation may not have been of all that much importance specifically. The border counties as a whole (not only Gloucestershire) being of equal stature for they provided much of the literature of the time on which many songs were written, especially that of A.E. Housman, with the Gloucestershire born composer C.W. Orr for example setting the majority of his songs to words by him.

'Pure Englishness' that is claimed, is often contaminated by cross border references. The German influences of Wolf confuse Orr's position as a purely English composer. A series of three articles in the Christian Science Monitor. Boston, U.S.A., from 26th July to 9th August 1919. The writers name is not given., and the time that Vaughan Williams spent in France studying with Ravel may account for the often impressionistic techniques he used. The French inspired Pastoral Symphony opens with a series of fluctuating consecutive intervals which could be argued to recall the organum writing style that existed before German musical hegemony, but is also similar to devices utilised by the "musician Franšais"; Debussy. Vaughan Williams is said also to have been influenced by the Norman grandeur of Tallis. However, one of the most famous of all Normans, William the Conqueror launched his "Great Description of England" in 1086 from Gloucester, where the first performance of Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis (another description of England) was made. Despite Howells's claims of Englishness above, Palmer argues for strong Celtic/Welsh traits in him and Parry, Vaughan Williams, and Holst, with one of these characteristics being a strong identification with place15. The complex position of Gloucestershire and other land areas often mean that claims about belonging and style are confused, resulting in an English musical language, which although intended by what these composers say in words, is structured on a base which is insecure.

In question too is the nation that was trying to be represented and promoted by these composers. For if city ills were trying to be removed by looking to the countryside then the City is not being portrayed as part of the nation. Indeed many faces of the nation were not represented and even Vaughan Williams propagated the "Two Nations" of the nineteenth century by leaving out references to popular culture (association football) in his Housman setting of "Is my Team Ploughing".16 Mass interest in the game since the days when Parry played at public school meant that the game was viewed in an ill light.
The composers of Gloucestershire did set out to confirm a nation from the materials they had to hand, but it was not a nation that in truth that existed in representing all of the people of either England or Britain and the material that inspired it was also sometimes of doubtful origin. Nationalism however thrives off of these over emphasised stereotypes, often founded upon inaccuracies and therefore if these composers failed in an honest and pure confirmation of a nation it is a failure that and music as an abstract art should have been expected. In terms of creating a perceived national music however, they have succeeded.

Valley Boy
June 1998


Bibliography
Anonymous. The Gloucestershire Group in the Christian Science Monitor. Boston, U.S.A. from 26 June to 9th August 1919.
Banfield, S. Sensibility and English Song. Cambridge University Press. 1988
Boyes, Georgina. The Imagined Village. Culture, ideology and the English Folk Revival. Manchester University Press 1993.
Frogly, Alain. (ed.) Vaughan Williams Studies. Cambridge University Press. 1996.
Gammond, Peter. Sleeve notes for a recording of Elgar' Introduction and Allegro. EMI June 1991
Gurney, I.B. Poems by Ivor Gurney,1890. Chatto and Windus 1937.
Palmer, Christopher. Herbert Howells. Novello 1978.
Palmer, Christopher. Herbert Howells. A Centenary Celebration. Thames 1992.
Vaughan Williams, R. National Music. Oxford University Press. 1934.
Mellers, W. Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion. Barrie and Jenkins. 1989.
Hurd, Michael. The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney. Oxford University Press. 1978.
Stradling, Robert. England's Glory: Sensibilities of Place in English Music, 1900-1950.


1. Vaughan Williams. National Music. p5
2. Anonymous. The Gloucestershire Group in the Christian Science Monior.
3. Gurney, I.B. Letters (1913-22) to Marion Scott, quoted by Banfield (1988,p180).
4. Gurney, I.B. The Old City (Gloucester). in Poems by Ivor Gurney, 1890-1937.
5. Banfield, S Sensibility and English Song p191.
6. Gurney in an undated letter to Howells, quoted by Palmer (1992. p46)
7. Howells in an interview with Palmer in Herbert Howells. (1978. p11).
8. Howells study of Vaughan Williams's Pastoral symphony in Music and Letters 1922 quoted by Palmer (1978. p73)
9. Howells in a letter to his brother (19th January 1917) quoted in Herbert Howells Palmer (1992, p49)
10. Holst, Imogen. The Music of Gustav Holst and Holst's Music Reconsidered. p6
11. Vaughan Williams National Music. p23
12. Frogley, A Constructing Englishness in Music, p10
13. Gammond, Peter. On a sleeve note for an EMI recording of the piece in June 1991
14. Howells quoted in Palmer (1992. p309)
15. Palmer, C Herbert Howells. A Centenary Celebration. p135
16. Stradling, Robert. England's Glory p9


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