English Music Festival celebrates home-grown composers in Horsham

Pianist Paul Guinery is delighted to extol the virtues of English music at a special festival coming up in Horsham over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 8:05 am
Paul Guinery

Paul is offering a recital of English music for the English Music Festival.

“I have been involved since the very start of the English Music Festival. It’s a long, long running thing. I knew (founder) Em (Marshall-Luck) through music and she asked me to be one of the honorary vice-presidents because I am a great connoisseur of home-grown product.

“We are a funny nation. We undervalue our home-grown product, and that has always been the way. I think it is a kind of snobbishness really, to be perfectly frank. In the late 19th century, early 20th century, if you were an English singer you had to adopt a foreign name otherwise people would just not take you seriously. You had to take on a really florid Italian name rather than just being Doris Bloggs or whatever.

“But actually the BBC championed English music for a long time. But then in the 50s and 60s there was a change in policy at the BBC and they really looked towards the continent. English music seemed a bit insular to them – which of course it wasn’t. But really you can’t overestimate the role of the BBC in British musical life, and really after that English music really rather faded away. At the Proms, symphonies by British composers that were regularly performed just suddenly stopped.

“And Em felt there was a crusade to be fought here and she decided to devote a festival not just to British music, but to English music.”

And yes, there is just something about English music: “You know it when you hear it. It is often thought of as having a particular affinity with the English landscape, that pastoral nature of English music – but that is very, very vague in some ways.

“But I think it had, like a lot of countries, a huge injection from folk song when people really began to take an interest in the heritage of folk song and would go out into the fields to record the farmers singing or they would go into pubs to make recordings because otherwise these songs which were orally passed on were dying away and would have been lost. Vaughan Williams was instrumental in that and it fed into his own music, and I do think that gives English music some of its modal quality because these folk songs had very arresting tunes.”

In terms of recognition for English music, Paul believes things are now a whole lot better, but equally he believes there is still room for improvement: “I do find myself thinking ‘Couldn’t they find room in the Proms season for this particular symphony?’

“But English music has received a huge boost from recordings. When I was growing up, a lot of English music was not recorded or recorded just once, but that began to change in the 1970s when we had record labels that were dedicated to English music.”

Tickets available on www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk.

Friday, May 28: 5pm, St Mary’s Church, talk: Gustav Holst; 7.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Orchestra Of The Swan.

Saturday, May 29 : 11am, St Mary’s Church, Rupert Marshall-Luck, violin, Duncan Honeybourne, piano; 2.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Shakespeare In Song And Verse; 5pm, The Drill Hall, talk: Percy Sherwood; 7.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Armonico Consort; 9.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Paul Guinery, piano.

Sunday, May 30: 2.30pm, The Drill Hall, Aurora Trio; 5pm, The Drill Hall, talk: Memoirs of a Media Composer, Paul Lewis; 7.30pm, The Drill Hall, New Foxtrot Serenaders.

Monday May 31: 11am, St Mary’s Church, Gareth Brynmor John baritone, Christopher Glynn piano; 2.30pm, St Mary’s Church, The Bridge Quartet.