Gems Rediscovered features unknown and unrecorded works for viola and piano from lesser-known composer of the Romantic tradition. It is Delos’ pleasure to highlight these composers on The Delos Insider:
For many years, Benjamin Dale (1885-1943) was known more as an administrator; fortunately, this perception is changing to include his talents as a composer. He showed early promise, with his first orchestral composition, an overture, performed when he was 14 years old in 1900. He entered the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) that same year, studying composition with Frederick Corder, professor of composition and also known for his published history of the institution. Corder’s appreciation for the music of Richard Wagner certainly influenced his teaching; subsequently, Dale’s own compositions reflect the lush and harmonically complex textures of the mid- to late-19th century. He was appointed professor of harmony at the RAM in 1909 and named its warden in 1936.
Dale was stranded in Germany at the outbreak of World War I and interned there until 1918. During that time he busied himself by composing entertainments for his fellow prisoners. Upon his release, Dale worked as an administrator and examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in Australia and New Zealand. He wrote a number of works during this period, although his most well-known pieces were written much earlier.
The Romance on this program is the second movement of three of the Suite in D Minor for Viola and Piano, Op. 2, composed in 1906. This particular work was a favorite of Lionel Tertis, one of the first internationally known violists and a fellow alumnus of the RAM. Tertis liked the work so well that, upon his request, Dale orchestrated the last two movements. The Romance was a constant part of his concert repertoire and also a favorite encore. The initial marking, largo, quasi fantasia, is certainly apt, imparting a surreal feeling to the listener, beginning on a D major triad in the piano in first inversion. Furthermore, the piano’s initial gestures include ties over the bar lines in the score, as well as uneven divisions of the beat; the effect of this and the inverted chords is a general “wash” that keeps the listener somewhat disoriented until the first entrance of the viola at the end of measure 4.
Dale deftly shows the viola’s many timbral colors, with its initial entrance in the lower range, and an unexpected G# on the strong beat blending with the dark colors implied by the correspondingly low register of the piano. A large ternary form, this work’s first section is very lyrical. The B section is much more rhapsodic and technical, with both the viola and piano performing flashing scale passages and wide leaps, both with new material as well as brief references to opening gestures. The final section is a near-verbatim repetition of the first, with the viola and piano fading, both tonally and rhythmically, into the same “wash” that begins the piece.
— Program notes by Dr. Amy Engelsdorfer, Assistant Professor of Music, Luther College