Sept. 4, 2012
Northwest music professor authors book about British compositions
Dr. Stephen Town, professor of music at Northwest Missouri State University, is the author of a new book, titled “An Imperishable Heritage: British Choral Music from Parry to Dyson,” which surveys the choral-orchestral music of the English Musical Renaissance.
Published by United Kingdom-based Ashgate Publishing Company, the book examines selected works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Gerald Finzi, Edmund Rubbra and George Dyson. Town collates the substantial secondary literature on the composers with his own studies of their manuscripts to shed new light on the compositions. His close study of the sources allowed him to identify for the first time instances of similarity and imitation, continuities and connections among the works.
The book is the culmination of nearly a decade of research and writing by Town, who also conducts Northwest’s Tower Choir.
“I have been researching and studying for many years what we consider the monumental works in music – that is, choral symphonies or choral-orchestral essays based on the symphonic form,” Town said. “The paradigm for these kinds of works was Beethoven’s ninth symphony, in which the composer took the symphonic structure of four movements and added voices to the last movement. Thereafter, many composers added choral movements to their symphonies, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams who wrote a choral symphony with every movement having singing in it. At any rate, the composers that I examine in my book are following the trends established in the 19th Century.”
Town said he was inspired to begin the project after he was selected in 1993 as a recipient of the prestigious Ralph Vaughan Williams Research Fellowship, which is given to a North American scholar by the Carthusian Trust of England. Town lived in Charterhouse (Godalming, Surrey), the school Ralph Vaughan Williams attended as a boy, and traveled daily to the British Museum in London where he accessed Williams’ manuscripts. Since that time, he has returned almost annually to conduct archival research at the new British Library.
“Investigating this material is like finding a goldmine,” he said. “It’s not that people didn’t know it was there, but scholars hadn’t really gotten around to examining the manuscripts.”
Town had finished reading a paper at a conference at Charterhouse in 2000 when a commissioning editor from Ashgate attending the lecture approached him with the idea of writing a book about Vaughan Williams.
A major thrust of his book, Town said, is a comparison of the published and recorded musical works against their manuscripts and what the manuscripts reveal about the finished product.
“I was able to immerse myself in this voluminous collection of autograph manuscripts by Vaughan Williams,” Town said. “I became interested in his predecessors and successors. Originally, I wanted to write a book only on Ralph Vaughan Williams, but I became interested in other composers and it changed the focus of the book.”
He added, “The works that I discuss were chosen because I found anomalies in the manuscripts that didn’t equate with the published versions or the recorded versions of these works.”
A come-and-go celebration of Town’s book publication is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, at the Northwest Alumni House. No purchase is necessary and hors d’oeuvres will be served.
For more information or to order copies of the book, click here.
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