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

  • Jazz on TV – More than Peter Gunn


    Wednesday morning, 9/27/17, I’ll be hosting a special 3-hour program as part of the Jazz marathon/Station Fund Drive. Jazz on TV is a follow-up to my program last year, Jazz on Film. The focus is on legit jazz created (or sometimes repurposed) for TV shows. Although the bulk of jazz TV soundtracks come from the […]

  • Lesley Kernochan swings by WTJU, Sep 23

    National touring artist Lesley Kernochan will stop by WTJU this Saturday morning, September 23, around 9:30 (edt) for a live session. Lesley Kernochan is currently an Americana singer/songwriter with occasional bursts of comedy, swing, pop, and jazzy mouth trumpet. Within each unique song Lesley’s versatile voice brings music to life that is intelligent, achingly beautiful, […]

  • 9/19/2017

    New Blues & Soul News – 9/19/2017 Chickenbone Slim – The Big Beat (Self-produced): Chickenbone Slim, sometimes known as Larry Teves, is a big town musician who is more at home with front porch, down-home, and often sly notions about life. He composed all of the songs on offer and his singing as straightforward as […]

  • New Jazz Adds – 9/19/2017

    New Jazz Adds – 9/19/2017 Kei Akagi Trio – Contrast & Form (Time & Style Jazz): Educator/composer/pianist Kei Akagi offers his 14th release as a leader. He is accompanied by Shunya Wakai (bass) and Tamaya Honda (drums). This particular project was composed over a three year period and includes a re-imagining of Wayne Shorter’s “Limbo” […]

  • Will Overman pays a solo visit to WTJU, Sep 21

    Will Overman will stop by WTJU this Thursday afternoon, September 21, around 5:30.  In addition to some upcoming shows in the area, Will be releasing a solo album in early October.

  • Juliana Daugherty stops by Folk & Beyond, Sep 21

    WTJU joins University Programs Council for another September Series at The Garage.  Kicking things off September 21 will be Juliana Daugherty, with opener Alice Clair.  As a special treat, Juliana will stop by WTJU that afternoon at 4:30 for a live session during Folk & Beyond.