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Frederick Septimus Kelly was one of Australia's great cultural losses of World War One: a composer the equal of Vaughan Williams, who survived Gallipoli but was cut down in the final days of the Battle of the Somme. His music – crafted entirely in his head, and only committed to paper once perfected – displays touching lyricism and profound invention. Even during the war, he never stopped writing music: on troop ships during long ocean crossings, in training camps, in the trenches of Gallipoli, in a military hospital recovering from war wounds, in a bombed-out cellar barely 300 metres from enemy lines in France. This album presents his complete catalogue of orchestral works, many recorded here for the first time.
Born in Sydney, ‘Sep’ Kelly’s precocious musical talent quickly moved beyond his local piano teachers, and he was sent to boarding school in England at Eton. There, alongside his advanced musical training, he began a career in rowing – a sport in which he would win a gold medal at the 1908 Olympic Games. From Eton to Oxford to conservatorium studies in Frankfurt, he excelled as both pianist and composer, writing his first symphony (which he modestly titled a Suite) in his mid 20s. The work, here renamed German Symphony, displays an astonishing fluency and command of orchestral colour, with hints of Brahms and Mahler and finishing with a magnificently extravagant fugue.
Tantalisingly, we know from Kelly’s diaries that he composed at least two other symphonies, but never wrote them out. Three months before his death, he spoke of his many compositions ‘waiting to be written – but there is no time to get them down on paper.’ We do, however, have two major orchestral works which highlight the depth of the talent which was lost to us. The first of these is a Serenade of transcendental beauty for flute, harp, horn and strings, written at sea, on a journey home to Australia: the first movement on the Indian Ocean, the second off the coast of Western Australia, the third in the Great Australian Bight, the fourth off the coast of Victoria and the fifth off the coast of NSW.
In the Elegy in memoriam Rupert Brooke, Kelly pours out his grief in the wake of the death of the poet Rupert Brooke. The two had become close friends en route to Gallipoli, but Brooke was to die of septicaemia before they reached the Dardanelles. The music, composed in a dug-out with bullets whistling overhead, recalls the haunting beauty and strange tranquillity of Brooke’s funeral, conducted by moonlight on the eve of battle in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros, the air perfumed with wild sage and thyme.
1 Elegy in memoriam Rupert Brooke
2 I. Allegro con brio
3 II. Waltz
5 IV.Introduction and Fugue
7 The Somme Lament arr. Christopher Latham*
1 A Coin for the Ferryman* arr. Latham
Two Organ Preludes arr. Latham
2 Prelude No. 1 on ‘Good King Wenceslas’ (Christmas Prelude)*
3 Prelude No. 2*
Serenade for flute, harp, horn and strings
4 I. Prelude
5 II. Idyl
7 IV.Air and Variations
8 V. Jig
Douglas Mackie flute, Marshall McGuire harp, Geoff Lierse horn
Songs of Love and Loss arr.Latham (tks 9-11, 13) and Kelly (tk 12)*
9 It Is Not Dawn Till You Awake
10 Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day
11 Music, When Soft Voices Die
13 Crossing the Bar
Andrew Goodwin tenor (tks 9, 11, 13)
Christina Wilson mezzo-soprano (tks 10, 12, 13)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Benjamin Northey, Johannes Fritzsch(CD1 tk 1) conductors
* World premiere recordings