Henry Cotter Nixon – Rescued from Obscurity

Count on Toccata Classics to bring another obscure composer to light. And count on that composer’s music being worthy of our attention.

Henry Cotter Nixon spent most of his career at the fringes of the British musical scene and was considered to be a provincial composer. Most of his compositions are melodies (simple songs), but there are some orchestral works, including what may be the earliest British symphonic poem, Palamon and Arcite.

This album is the first installment in a traversal of Nixon’s orchestral compositions. His catalog includes three concert overtures, three works for violin and orchestra, and an assortment of single-movement works for orchestra, so I anticipate another two or three installments in this series.

The Concert Overture No.3, Jacta est Alea was written sometime in the 1880s. Stylistically, I heard the influence of Brahms and Mendelssohn — not uncommon for British composers of the late Victorian period. And yet, there’s something else there that made this overture more than just a pale imitation of its influences. Nixon had a finely developed sense of the dramatic. The overture doesn’t neatly fall into a traditional sonata-allegro form, but it works. And that’s what counts.

To me, the 1889 Romance for Violin and Orchestra sounded a little too much of its time, especially with its sweetly delicate melody. Solo violinist Ana Török brought out all the emotion written into the music without letting it veer too far into late Victorian sentimentality — a performance I truly admire.

So what of Palamon and Arcite, perhaps Britain’s first symphonic poem? This 1882 five-part composition is the strongest work of the three, and definitely worth the price of admission. Nixon’s 47-minute piece is a beautifully composed drama that is both imaginative and inventive. The melodies are finely drawn, without a hint of Victoriana. Nixon seems inspired by Beethoven, creating musical gestures of real emotional power. His use of brass throughout the work is especially effective.

Quite frankly, I don’t really care if Palamon and Arcite is the first British symphonic poem or not. That may prompt one to listen once out of curiosity, but I think this work deserves more. Palamon and Arcite is a substantial work that stands up under repeated listening, especially with the strong, committed performance Paul Mann and the Kodály Philharmonic Orchestra deliver.

Palamon and Arcite is more than just a historical curiosity. This is music that can — and should — be enjoyed on its own terms.

Henry Cotter Nixon: Complete Orchestral Music, Volume One
Concert Overture No. 3, Jacta est Alea; Palamon ad Arcite, Symphonic Poem; Romance for Violin and Orchestra
Ana Török, violin; Kodály Philharmonic Orchestra; Paul Mann, conductor
Toccata Classics
World Premiere Recordings

More Recent Posts

  • Reber Piano Trios – Refined Elegance

    Napoléon-Henri Reber may be almost unknown today, but in the 1850s he was a well-respected pedagogue and composer (Jules Massenet studied with him at one time). Although he wrote four symphonies, and several comic operas, Reber had an affinity for chamber music, which constitutes the bulk of his catalog. Three of his seven piano trios […]

  • Pierre Bensusan stops by WTJU, March 31

    WTJU is pleased to join The Prism Coffeehouse in presenting world renowned guitarist Pierre Bensusan in concert this Friday evening, March 31, at C’Ville Coffee. (Details)  Pierre will actually stop by WTJU that afternoon at 4 (edt) to share a few tunes off his latest release, Encore (much of which was taken from his past […]

  • WTJU & CJS Present Restroy, Apr 12

    WTJU joins the Charlottesville Jazz Society in presenting Restroy at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church in Charlottesville on Wednesday, April 12.  The concert will start at 8 pm. (Details)  For more information, call Gary at (434) 249-6191 or visit cvillejazz.org. Led by composer and bassist Chris Dammann, Restroy dives into the intersection of modern jazz, improvisation […]

  • New Jazz Adds – 3/27/2017

    New Jazz Adds – 3/27/2017 Billy Childs – Rebirth (Mack Avenue): Composer/pianist Billy Childs has an amazing list of accomplishments whether from composing, arranging or performing with musicians from a truly broad spectrum of styles. He looked forward to this recording as one in which he would work in a new setting, both in terms […]

  • Darol Anger Fiddles Around WTJU, March 30

    Legendary fiddler Darol Anger will stop by WTJU this Thursday afternoon, March 30, at 5 (edt) for a visit to Folk & Beyond.  In town for a series of workshops and a concert this Saturday night, April 1 (details), Darol has kindly agreed to carve time out for the WTJU listeners. Born in 1953, Darol […]

  • SPICMACAY at UVA on Lambeth Live, March 31

    Three members of SPICMACAY at UVA will put on the March 31 edition of Lambeth Live (heard each Friday night from 8-9 on WTJU), and you are invited to be part of the studio audience for this FREE concert broadcast! 350 Emmet St N, Charlottesville on ye olde GPS will get you to the large […]