Compositions

Orchestral Works

Chisholm's Violin Concerto was given its 1st performance in Cape Town in 1952 by Szymon Goldberg and performed later at the 1953 Edinburgh Festival, with soloist Marc Rostal and the BBC Orchestra conducted by Ian Whyte. This is a Hindustani work and plans are under way for a Hyperion CD.

His two piano concerti show clearly he was a composer of great diversity: his first, The Piobaireachd sings of the bagpipes while the second The Hindustani composed nearly 20 years later strongly evokes the sounds of another world. Many of his large orchestral works have been written for string orchestra and the solo piano. From the True Edge of the Great World is one such example.

The Piobaireachd Concerto

First performed in 1935 with the composer at the piano. Quotes from reviews of early performances show it was very well received.

“Erik Chisholm as a composer has never been at a loss for ideas and the score of the concerto is marked by steady application on the part of all concerned. Interest is properly shared by orchestra and soloist, the ideas are often happily treated and variety of colour and effect has been carefully provided. The Scherzo worked up towards the close to a brilliant climax. The finale also finished brilliantly and included plenty of vivacity”. - Glasgow News, 1935.

“Undoubtedly one of the most ambitious attempts at a large scale work in a Scottish idiom from the pen of a native composer. Of Erik Chisholm’s originality there can be no question. The concerto is no mere stringing together of snatches of idiomatic Scottish phrases, but a skilful piece of workmanship in which the resources of the full orchestra and the solo instrument are well exploited”. - Evening Times, 1940.

“The concerto was full of Scottish character. The composer himself played the solo part in brilliant style” - The Scotsman.

It took 60 years for this work to return to the concert platform. Read in Archive Section of the performance at the RASMD Glasgow in 2000.

Piano Concerto No. 2

The Piano Concerto No.2 was first performed in Cape Town in 1949 and in the following year was broadcast on the BBC Radio Third Programme. It was enthusiastically received by the critics, Ernest Newman writing of it ’I was particularly intrigued by the skill with which the composer has managed to fuse Hindustani modes of expression and European ways of thought and factors of design into a single organic whole. I was greatly intrigued by it’.

It had many performances and broadcasts in the composer’s life time but after his death, was not heard again until 2007 when it was specially recorded by the BBC SSO for broadcast one evening in ‘Scotland’s Music”, a BBC Radio Scotland’s series of weekly programmes. It is exciting to report the release in March 2012 of the Hyperion CD of Piano Concertos No.1 & No.2 with the BBC SSO, pianist Danny Driver; conductor Rory MacDonald. It has received many outstanding reviews - see Recordings.

From the True Edge of the Great World

Where is “the true edge of the great world”? The Celt has it in the isles of the west, in Tir nan Og, the home of the ‘ever young’. Certainly these Preludes have a powerful, youthful vitality and are more substantial as individual pieces than the word ‘prelude’ might imply. Their abiding characteristic is I think one of harmonic spaciousness – indeed if someone (more than likely) will cite Mikrokosmos as comparison, I would happily suggest Makrokosmos as nearer the mark. Based on melodic characteristics of the music of the Gael (although the melodies are taken from a collection of Eriskay songs by the American, Amy Murray) rather than recognisably specific melodies in varied settings, they span a wide perspective – from the toccata-like opening Port a Beul (mouth music to dance to) and the expressive bird-song of the mavis with its quasi-Japanese tints – to the palm-green-like intensity of “Sea Sorrow” and the dark fantasy of the “Hour of the Sluagh”. They relate in some measure to the delightful Scottish airs for children on the earlier disc, developed to musical sense, a kind of glossary of the musics of the Celtic peoples. - Colin Scott-Sutherland

Pictures from Dante

Notes taken from Purser’s Chisholm Biography.

This major work in two movements was completed in South Africa in 1948 and dedicated to Sorabji. It received its first performance in 1952 from the Vienna Radio Orchestra under Kurt Woess. The first South African performance was on the 30th of August 1960, as part of the final concert for the South African College of Music Jubilee celebrations. Purser's comments that, along with Wallace’s symphonic tone poem, The Passing of Beatrice, it brings us into the world of Dante with more vision and less bombast than Liszt, and does honour to Dante and Doré in full measure.

In September 2009 the Royal Scottish National Orchestra recorded the work and the CD on a Dutton Epoch label was launched in November 2009. See Recording section for details and reviews.

The Adventures of Babar

The Adventures of Babar, Suite for Orchestra, commissioned by the BBC, was broadcast by the BBC Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult in 1942. Based on the books by Jean de Brunhoff and scored for full orchestra and Narrator, the work consists of prologue, epilogue and the following six episodes:-

  • Babar’s Wedding
  • Celeste and the Savages
  • Babar and Celeste at the Circus
  • The Old Old Song of the Elephants
  • Battle of the Rhinoceri and the Elephants
  • Fete

The narrator starts the work with the prologue “One day the sirens went” giving the work a wartime twist. The musical rendition of the alerting air raid siren followed by enemy planes and bombs falling and the final all-clear was so realistic that the BBC Officials refused to broadcast it as it might be taken for the real thing and cause panic.

It had several performances after the war with the air raid in place, including one in the National Gallery, Washington DC. It was a great success and a commercial recording was to follow but all that exists now is an archival recording made in 1952 by the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra, conducted by the composer.

Recently the ECT learnt that the autograph score with parts was in the BBC Library in London where it must have lain since the 1942 broadcast. This is a very special score having being decorated by Chisholm with cut outs from the Babar book he had given his middle daughter Sheila.

In 2009 Morag Chisholm visited the library to see the score and some months later was given a bound copy which she presented to the University of Cape Town Music Library. Subsequently she was given a complete set of parts, so the stage is now set for a modern performance of this lively amusing work, ideal for a children's musical event.

Read an account of the BBC Radio 3 Music Matters interview in News & Events. You can also listen to Morag Chisholm's interview via this link.