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Sir Arthur Bliss - Beatitudes



Following demobilisation from the army in 1919, Bliss wrote four exploratory essays in sonority and textures, including Madam Noy and Rout. They accorded him a short-lived reputation as an enfant terrible but they can also be said to have paved the way for his first large-scale orchestral work, the Colour Symphony. The ‘witchery song’ Madam Noy (1918) is written for soprano, flute, clarinet, bassoon, harp, viola and double bass, a bizarre variation on the old nursery rhyme ‘Old Mother Hubbard’. Rout is used in the old sense of popular revelry, and is a vibrant score evoking the snatches of song which might be caught by someone watching a carnival from an open window. Bliss made up a series of nonsense syllables for the soprano soloist chosen for their phonetic effect. For the rarely encountered scena for contralto and orchestra, The Enchantress , the text was supplied by Bliss’s poet friend Henry Reed, who had suggested a setting of the ‘Second Idyll’ of Theocritus, in which Simætha, rejected by her lover Delphis, uses witchcraft to entice him back into her arms. Bliss was ‘Master of the Queen’s Musick’ when he was commissioned to write The Beatitudes for the Festival of 1962 to mark the opening of the new Coventry Cathedral. The first performance was beset by problems. Scheduling difficulties chiefly connected with the premiere of Britten’s War Requiem, meant that there was no possibility of staging The Beatitudes in the cathedral. A substitute venue was hastily arranged and Bliss’s major choral piece made a hugely unsatisfactory debut in Coventry Theatre on the evening of 25 May 1962. In this hugely successful Proms broadcast from 31 August 1964 the lyrical passages are particularly affecting. Especial highlights are Bliss’s ecstatic treatment of Herbert’s ‘Easter’ and the sensitivity which he brings to the directly communicative handling of ‘I got me flowers to strew thy way’. Also quietly impressive is the rapt realisation of Taylor’s ‘O Blessed Jesu’ which culminates in an imposing, calmly spacious closing ‘Amen’.

Sir Arthur Bliss - Beatitudes


"The live Proms performance of The Beatitudes, in decent mono, is superior to the solo alternative. Heather Harper shines in her solos." BBC Music Magazine, March 2016

"Aficionados should waste no time in hearing Mike Clement' s judicious tape transfer and restoration of Arthur Bliss's powerfully compassionate cantata The Beatitudes. The composer obtains hugely spirited results from his two excellent soloists, soprano Heather Harper and tenor Gerlad English." Gramophone, August 2015

“The more I listen to this work the more I believe it is a major work that deserves revival. It is very well proportioned and Bliss' pacing of the drama of the work shows mastery and experience. The writing is very typical of the composer - from jittery side-drum writing and jagged brass to wonderfully angular lyrical melodies. As ever, Bliss writes complex and demanding parts for all the performers and he uses a far higher level of dissonance and harmonic complexity than might first be imagined. For a long time I have felt that Bliss is a composer who does not get the acclaim and recognition his finest music richly deserves. The Beatitudes finally 'came home' to Coventry Cathedral on 22 September 2012 - a performance yet again promoted and broadcast by the BBC - and I am kicking myself that I missed that broadcast. Along with The Olympians this is the Bliss score that is crying out for a modern - preferably studio - recording. Until then, and indeed after, this Lyrita archive recording is a valuable and much to be treasured document… Another Lyrita triumph.” Nick Barnard,

“The sound on these Richard Itter recordings is very good, especially considering their age and that they derive from broadcasts… Intending purchasers need have no qualms on sonic grounds. Mike Clements has been responsible for the tape transfers and restoration work; clearly he has done a fine job. Paul Conway’s notes are excellent and all the texts are provided, with the exception of Rout – for which they’d be of no real use, anyway… I’m sure that the release of these recordings is the result of long and patient negotiations over copyright and royalties. The persistence of the negotiators has been well worth it on the evidence of this and the previous release and the prospect of further CD releases from the collection of over 1500 Richard Itter recordings is a mouth-watering one. This new series could become as important in its own way as were the original Lyrita releases of neglected British music.” John Quinn,