English music only – foreigners need not apply

English music only – foreigners need not apply


norman lebrecht

March 06, 2011

The English Music Festival is launching its own record label with unperformed and under-performed music by indigenous composers, starting with world premieres of violin sonatas by Sir Arthur Bliss and Sir Walford Davies.

All jolly nice, green and pleasant, any other cliché you care to pluck. EMF appends a list (press release below) of all the decent chaps they are dusting off for public reconsideration. All are English as teacakes and, in many cases, twice as insipid. Not a dissonance, or a foreign accent, among them.
Where, you wonder, is the variety, the receptivity, the generosity of the English spirit? With the exception of Gustav Holst, who was of part-Swedish parentage, all the composers on the label are mutton-chops bulldog breed, representing an Olde England that no longer exists and maybe never did. There were always minorities in the land, boosted by invigorating waves of refugees. 
None of that infusion is discernible here. None of the gifted and influential Hitler refugees – Goldschmidt, Reizenstein, Wellesz, Gal – nor any of the Stalin fugitives who made their lives in this country and enhanced ours – Panufnik, Seiber, Serly and more. All erased by EMF.
The selection is not so much anachronistic as borderline offensive. If this label were a political party, it would be isolated and banned. EMF needs to rewrite its credentials, fast.
English Composers



New record
label revives overlooked works by British composers


This spring sees the launch of a
new record label devoted exclusively to English music – EM Records – whose
debut album includes
two major world-première recordings.


Violin Sonatas by
Arthur Bliss and
Henry Walford Davies have languished in manuscript form for over 100 years.
They were both given their première concert performances by Rupert Luck and
Matthew Rickard at the 2010 English Music Festival in Oxfordshire, and were
given a rapturous reception by an enthralled Festival audience.  EM Records presents these two passionate and
heartfelt Sonatas alongside the opulent and darkly turbulent Violin Sonata by


The new record company has been set
up in association with the English Music Festival (www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk).


The company’s Managing Director, Em
Marshall (also founder of the English Music Festival), describes the mission of
EM Records as “fulfilling the EMF’s goal of celebrating and preserving
neglected works by British composers, especially those from the early years of
the twentieth century – the ‘golden renaissance’ of English music.”


She says the company “will release
a mixture of live recordings from the Festival together with studio recordings,
giving listeners the chance to experience the fullest possible range of the EMF’s
work. In keeping with the unique spirit of the Festival each disc released by
EM Records will contain at least one world première recording. We want to ensure that no English works worthy of
hearing are ever again left unavailable to listeners.”


EM Records is a ground-breaking enterprise, presenting
repertoire that, though previously unrecorded, is vital, vivid and powerful;
and, through its commitment to this endeavour, complements the pioneering work
of a leading and internationally-acclaimed Festival.


are already underway for future releases. These include the World Première
recording of

Gustav Holst’s The Coming of Christ (which received its first contemporary performance in

EMF) performed by the City of London Choir under Hilary Davan Wetton; and a
recording of

Roger Quilter’s piano music, performed by David Owen Norris. Also
forthcoming is a live recording, to be made at the 2011 Festival, of part-songs
Rawsthorne, Haydn Wood, Robin Milford, Finzi and Holst, performed by the Syred Consort
under their conductor, Ben Palmer.


Contact Em Marshall, Director, EM
Records, for more information or interview. em.marshall@btinternet.com 





  • Barry says:

    Would you receive a new record label aimed at overlooked French composers with sneers about garlic and frogs? Of course you wouldn’t.

  • Joung Cook says:

    I am discovering Dunhill, Templeton, Richardson, Barthe, Pitfield, Elgar, and Nicholas pieces for oboe and piano. It took some digging to be able to find and purchase the music. I love to play them yet did not find much recordings available to listen to them. I must admit that there indeed are English smell and taste in the music, which, I also must admit, is much much better than that of English food. I am not an English, however. I guess I need not apply…

  • Alison says:

    Five minutes on Google will reveal web sites, record labels and organisations devoted to Jewish music and just about any other specific type of music you care to mention.
    Did you get out of the wrong side of bed this morning or something? And how do you feel about the MOBO awards?

  • Herbert Pauls says:

    I have been reading your books and articles for years and often find them illuminating and fascinating. But perhaps you go to far here? This festival, and now record label, is not a political party and therefore does not need to be banned. To even hint at such is patently ridiculous. Marshall has a passion for a certain area of repertoire, which I welcome because I, like many, enjoy it too. Sure, she could take in, say, romantic Swedish composers like Atterberg, but why? However, Hans Gal is a very good idea since there is a strong British connection and he could be made to fit into the festival’s mandate.
    So the EMF prefers the less dissonant offerings of the 20th C. Why is that bad? All it means is that, in the anthropological sense, Marshall is focusing mainly on composers who best spoke the harmonic and tonal language of their time. If you want background on those who invented more esoteric idioms, you can go to the history books which tend to focus on that side of 20th C music. There you will find that you are certainly not the first person to laugh at the composers championed by the EMF.
    This is really a historiographical issue. How do we define the 20th C? Marshall helps provide a strong alternative view of the sort that you will find in very few overviews of 20th C music, but one that probably tens of thousands of music lovers welcome since it is along the same lines as the tastes of the owners of Chandos, Hyperion (and, from an Americal perspective, Albany), and we all know how successful they have been with connoisseurs of new and unusual repertoire.
    My parents were Russian-German immigrants. I am a Canadian. I say, long live the English Music Festival!
    (sorry for the long post… bad manners, I know)

  • James Stapleford says:

    I don’t really think there is a need to be so mean-spirited. Why should every festival cover every possible angle? To take just your two most celebrated examples, Goldschmidt emigrated to England at 32, Panufnik at 40 – and neither would be described as British composers, irrespective of their contributions to the UK’s musical life, and I’m not sure they should be required to take up valuable time in a festival which only has a limited numnber of concerts and specifically exists to promote English composers of the early years of the 20th century. You may not feel that the music of Bliss and Walford Davies is worth such scrutiny, but no doubt many do, and no concert series can be all things to all people. We know you enjoy stirring for stirring’s sake, but it does get tiresome…

  • Philip Mitchell says:

    “Borderline offensive” sums up the comments of Norman Lebrecht rather than the efforts of the English Music record label. He needs a little of the generosity of spirit he so readily denies to the praiseworthy efforts of others. The new label apparently stands condemned on just the evidence of its first four announced recordings which, even if the criticism was valid, is hardly a fair trial. No, clearly there is a deeper agenda of disapproval here.