John Foulds: April-England
John Herbert Foulds (1880-1939) was an English composer who, for the most part, has largely been forgotten in history. His pastoral English style can sometimes see him on British ‘Light Music’ compilations, however his works are seldom performed live. Foulds tried to bring East and West together, with some of his biggest projects exploring Indian music traditions. In 1935, Foulds travelled to India to collect folk music, meet musicians and aim to acquire some inspiration.
Foulds’ skills are not to be undermined, however. His orchestrations and use of colourful textures make his larger works some of the most jaw-dropping from the English Musical Renaissance. Perhaps his best-known works are Three Mantras (1919) and Dynamic Triptych (1927).
April-England was fully realised as an orchestral work in 1932. Foulds had to campaign to the BBC Orchestra to play and broadcast it, which they eventually did in 1934. Although only around 8 minutes in duration, April-England is symphonic in its approach. Foulds’ rich and sonorous textures speak for themselves throughout this light orchestral work. The work is littered with small details in the melodies and decorations which add to the mystical and mysterious atmosphere.
The original version of April-England was actually for solo piano, but it is hardly surprising that Foulds decided to orchestrate it. On the orignal front cover of the score, Foulds wrote this to explain what the piece is all about:
“The boundless fecundity, opulent burgeoning of Springtime.”
The flowing melodies, opulent textures and highly effective orchestration adds to April-England’s charm. The climaxes are very controlled and only let you see half the picture before bouncing off into a new charming melody. The glorious fizzing from around the orchestra creates such an exciting and welcoming atmosphere. After a long build up of textures, timbres and harmony, April-England closes with glorious brass fanfares before the final sweep of the bows.
It’s a shame that John Foulds’ music is not heard in concert halls in today’s world. His music is charming, experimental in some cases, and always full of character. April-England is no different, and is one of his more glorious orchestral pieces.
Ⓒ Alex Burns