Please enjoy these videos of our St Andrews conference concert of Martin Shaw’s music. A programme with notes and performer bios is attached below. The content in these videos is performed by Joel Clarkson, Emily Fleming, Lucy Hellawell, Andrew Macintosh, Sarah Moerman, Gerard O’Reilly, and Theo Wilson. Musical arrangements by Parker T. Gordon; arranged, performed, and recorded with permission from the Martin Shaw Trust and Faber & Faber. The published works of Charles Williams are in the public domain. Recorded by Amy Sansom and University Media Services. This concert was produced as part of the conference Engaging with Twentieth-Century Pageants with funding from the University of St Andrews School of English and CAPOD.
It was thrilling to collaborate with a chamber ensemble of University of St Andrews student and staff musicians for the conference concert, which was also presented free to the general public. The concert featured Martin Shaw’s music from T. S. Eliot’s The Rock (1934) and Charles Williams’s Judgement at Chelmsford (1939/1947), specially arranged from the manuscript full scores for this event.
Martin Shaw (1875-1958) was a prominent twentieth-century composer of concert, sacred, and theatre music. Composing over 300 published works, Shaw earned a reputation for producing high quality music with professional and amateur groups alike. He and his wife, Joan, were frequently involved in writing and directing pageants.
Please follow through to the Martin Shaw Trust to learn more about this influential composer.
The music composed for The Rock is a remarkable example of pageant music composed for performances indoors. Historical pageants, which typically were performed outdoors at a historical location specific to the event (e.g., commemoration of a battle, anniversary for the founding of a town, celebration for the consecration of a cathedral, recognition for the construction or destruction of a castle), were often accompanied by music orchestrated for instruments that could be easily heard across an open space. Practical solutions to this dilemma varied: military bands, brass bands, large choirs (often 100+ singers), or even recorded and amplified music. Pageant music by Shaw’s close friend Ralph Vaughan Williams for E. M. Forster’s Abinger Pageant (also 1934) and England’s Pleasant Land (1938) was composed for a military band. Other outdoor pageants made great use of pipes and percussion. Brass fanfares became a standard device for indicating new episodes or announcing the entry of a major character. On rare occasions, a piano or string instruments would be used, but the sound would doubtless dissipate, barely heard by the audience or performers, without amplification. With the freedom granted by an indoor space (although still constricted by the limitations of the orchestral pit size), Shaw readily wrote his pageant music to include strings.
After the success of The Rock, T. S. Eliot was commissioned to write Murder in the Cathedral (1935) for the Canterbury Festival, which was an immediate hit with Festival audiences and later went on to even greater success in London and further afield. The revival of religious drama in the late 1920s and early 1930s is largely to the credit of George Bell (1883-1958), a Dean of Canterbury Cathedral and later Bishop of Chichester. With the popularity of the Canterbury Festival, new commissions encouraged playwrights to experiment and produce new works of religious drama in verse and prose. Subsequent commissions included Charles Williams’s Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (1936), Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Zeal of Thy House (1937), Christopher Hassall’s Christ’s Comet (1938) and Sayers again with The Devil to Pay (1939). However, the outbreak of World War II interrupted the Festival and many other arts events.
With The Rock‘s popularity among the religious arts community and its function as a fundraising enterprise for the Diocese of London’s Forty-Five Churches Fund, the Diocese of Chelmsford began making plans in 1938 to revive The Rock in celebration of the upcoming 25th anniversary since the Diocese’s founding in 1914. Rights disputes between The Forty-Five Churches Fund, Eliot, and Shaw hindered the plans for reviving The Rock. Shaw was happy for the production to go forward (at this time, Shaw was the Music Director for the Diocese of Chelmsford – the first to hold such a position) as was Eliot, although he had allowed the text of the pageant play to fall out of print. The Fund believed that they owned the rights because they had commissioned the play; however, this was never the case for the similar Canterbury commissions. Ultimately the rights dispute led to the Diocese of Chelmsford commissioning their own new pageant play, Judgement at Chelmsford by Charles Williams.
Rehearsals for Judgement at Chelmsford began in 1939, but the outbreak of war halted the production. It was published in pamphlet form by Oxford University Press in 1939 and again after the war in 1946. Charles Williams had died in 1945 and never saw the work performed. In 1947, the Diocese of Chelmsford endeavoured to produce the pageant play again, this time with the aim of raising funds for the church’s war relief funds. The pageant play was produced by Gwen Lally, a well-known pageant master, and reviewed by E. Martin Browne, who directed The Rock and all of Eliot’s subsequent plays and was a major figure in the revival of British religious drama. Given the constraints of post-war rationing, the production did not fare well, but Shaw’s music survives as a rich example of his creative orchestrations and his gift for memorable melodies.
More to come soon….