A Gaze Cooper Celebration in Nottingham

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Walter Gaze Cooper: Philip Collin (piano), Hilary Olleson (oboe), Chris Harris and James Hogg (violins), Anna Maguire (viola), Anthony Desbrulais (cello), St Peter’s Church, Nottingham, 26.10.12 (RB)

Sonatina op. 5
Nocturne op. 56 no. 2
Storyette op. 8a movements (Invitation to the party; A disappointment; A surprise)
Romantic sketches (Set 1) op. 8b (Harvest Moon; Falling Leaves)
Humoresque op. 23 no. 4
String Quartet movement Elegie op. 74
Sonatina for oboe and piano op. 86
Piano quintette op. 31 Seasound – A Rhapsody of the Sea

All composers start off as small fish in even smaller local pools. Worth, chance, circumstance, politics, wealth, personality and fashion result in some rising to be recognized as ‘big beasts’ on an international stage while others – the vast majority – do not. From the perspective of history it may well be that some of the great names will sink and others with ‘merely’ local reputations will rise. What is good is that such placements and rankings are revisited through revival, recording, documentation, study and reappraisal.  The absolutes of yesterday and today need to be challenged by each generation.

This free entry concert took place in a church dating from 1340-1485 in the pedestrianised heart of Nottingham. It opened a fresh view on the music of a Nottingham composer who enjoyed a measure of national and even international success during his lifetime. Since his death his life and works have almost completely disappeared from our musical world. Hearing this music I am sure that there is enough alluring grain and fibre there to demand further exploration, study, recordings, preservation and pleasure of and in his music. The Oboe Concertino can be heard on Cameo.

Gaze Cooper (GC) was born at Long Eaton, Nottingham in 1895 and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Benjamin Dale, Eaglefield-Hull and Frederick Dawson. He founded and conducted the orchestra which became the Nottingham Symphony and became the main musical mover and shaker for Nottingham musical life. From 1925 he taught both privately and at the Midland Conservatory of Music. Two of his pupils spoke affectionately about GC and their memories of him at various points in the concert. His compositions include eight symphonies (one premiered in Stettin), four piano concertos, concertos for violin, oboe, horn, double bass, bassoon and viola, two ballets, overtures and other orchestral works, an opera, chamber music and songs. He was also a keen collector of ancient Chinese, Greek and Egyptian art works. You can find further details here.

What of the music? Well, it is all engagingly tonal and concise; melody meant something to this composer. Some of the music played was gently unassuming and some of it much more. The three movement Sonatina was in pretty much in the same constellation as Mozart with occasional excursions towards Beethoven. The impressive Nocturne shook off this lighter finery and presented something in an aristocratic manner between Chopin and Medtner. The very short Storyette was in three charming movements – lightly accomplished music as if from the books of Arthur Ransome. Harvest Moon took us back to the world of the Nocturne, magically sustained by Philip Collin who was strongly at the centre of the concert throughout. By contrast its companion was the skittering Falling Leaves. Humoresque was cheerful, jaunty even, with earnest asides. The Fate motif from Beethoven 5 appeared as a subtle allusion. The single movement String Quartet, Elegie took us into a more complex world. The writing is moonlit and intricately complex, almost tentative. The mood and manner recalls the wistful witchery of the string quartet writing in Warlock’s The Curlew.

After this came the Oboe Sonatina. This again is in three movements. It was eloquently put across by Hilary Olleson – very much the singer in this serenade set against a moodily melodramatic Gothic backdrop. Collin and Olleson were equal partners in this work with plenty of interest from both piano and oboe. The writing is as ever succinct – no padding. Lastly came the Piano Quintette Seasound. This is again in a single movement running to about 12 minutes. I found this particularly impressive. Its character is akin to the Elegie. The writing is darkly romantic – again a fine and intense web of sound. There are some Hollywood-like tempestuous episodes: all scudding clouds, crashing combers and black crags. I can imagine this as an accompaniment to a reading of Poe’s The Mystery of Arthur Gordon Pym. It’s a very satisfying piece,but it was a pity we were not given the dates of these works to help us place them in musical history. The concert had no interval and was over by 12.10.

The concert was the brainchild of Chris Pilkington with whom I have been in fitful correspondence over the years ever since I wrote to the local paper asking for information about GC back in the very early 1990s. GC’s name first came to attention under a long entry in one of the orchestral catalogues of The Composer’s Guild of Great Britain. This event had been two years in the planning, and Chris and the other players and speakers can take satisfaction in this concert which deserves to lead to more live events and recordings.

The concert which was part of a Saturday morning coffee series was informal. Tea, coffee and biscuits were served and could be supped and eaten during the concert in a friendly relaxed atmosphere. I noticed a few children around with their parents even if the majority of us were over fifty. There is something to be learnt here if we want to keep and broaden audiences for good music.


Rob Barnett