Thursday, 14 June 2012

A Rudel cantata

The Rudel legend has a knack of inspiring minor works, often by long-forgotten artists. Here’s another one: Rudel. A Dramatic Cantata, composed for the 1891 Chester Music Festival by Joseph Cox Bridge (libretto by Frederic Edward Weatherley).

Dr Joseph Cox Bridge (1853-1929), described in one reference work as ‘a celebrated organist and a composer of some merit’, was part of an English musical family (his older brother was Frederick ‘Westminster’ Bridge). He was organist at Exeter College, Oxford, then at Chester Cathedral from 1877, and became Professor of Music at the University of Durham. Besides the Rudel cantata he also composed oratorios, a string quartet in G minor, anthems, songs, part-songs and piano music.

A review in The Times (27 July 1891) offered a synopsis that suggests this rendition strays somewhat from the standard story:
Rudel, a troubadour of Provence, is beloved of a Norman damsel, Felise, whose praises he sings, and whose portrait he shows at a baronial festival in England, whereupon an English knight, Sir Guy, claims the lady as his wife, and challenges Rudel to combat. Rudel slays his opponent, and, feeling that his blood will form an insuperable barrier to his wedding Felise, takes upon him the vow of a Crusader, and joins a party of knights on their road to the Holy Land. Passing through Normandy on his way to the East, however, he meets his lady love, and learns from her that Sir Guy was not her husband, but only a rejected wooer who determined to wreak his revenge by separating her from Rudel. The hero, bound by his vow, continues on his journey to the Crusades, Felise promising to pray for his welfare and safe and speedy return.

The introduction uses ‘three old English melodies, the very ancient “Summer is icumen in”, the dance tune “Cheshire rounds”, and the Elizabethan “Carman’s whistle”.’ The reviewer goes on to say that 'its principal defect' is 'a lack of tenderness in what may be styled the sentimental portions'. That'll be a 19th-century English composer for you, then.

The score has yet to appear in full online, but at least one copy of it is available for purchase.

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