Interview: English Composers Reinvented the Pastoral after WWI. Eric Saylor on How-&Why It Resonates

Mar 2, 2018

If you listen to my daily program, you might notice that I can't resist English pastoral music. You might not guess that I once thought of it as an indulgence, a guilty pleasure like gooey brownies (or, more to the point, sticky toffee pudding). I learned early on to equate "greatness" in music with Germanic thoroughness, and "significance" with cutting-edge spikiness. Musicology back then wrote off the English pastoral style as "a reactionary mishmash of escapism, sentimentality and nostalgia—a refuge for dead-enders and also-rans."

That description comes from a new book that convincingly refutes it. English Pastoral Music: From Arcadia to Utopia, 1900-1950 shows that the pastoralists formed "a serious and influential artistic movement" and created music that "covered a wide expressive and stylistic range." Far from being reactionary, their style was a "manifestation of British modernism." The book is a major re-assessment - and it was written not in England's green and pleasant land, but in Iowa's.

The author, Eric Saylor, is a professor of music history at Drake University in Des Moines. He's the scholar tapped by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses to write about Vaughan Williams in their main reference works and in a major new biography (in preparation). The scope is broadened, however, in English Pastoral Music.

Published last year by University of Illinois Press, the book places Vaughan Williams and other composers into their social, historical, and artistic contexts. It uncovers hidden depths in familiar works, and examines musical gems neglected even by addicts like me. Its prose is graceful, and its insights into the era so rich that they resonate with our own time and place.

They may be especially resonant for IPR listeners. Saylor's Iowa roots could seem incidental, but perhaps they helped him empathize that much more with the composers he was studying. He begins the book with childhood memories:

"When I was a child, my bedroom window overlooked a vast pasture bordered by trees, the Iowa River sluggishly curving around the far corner on its journey east. The midsummer whirr of cicadas and the distant rumble of trains, the springtime flooding of the river valley, the sight of a person fishing, or riding a horse along the edge of a treeline—they gave me an intuitive understanding of the understated power and beauty of the pastoral from an early age (even if I didn't always appreciate it). Many years later, when I first saw the English countryside - the backdrop for so many pieces of music that I had come to know - I was struck by the same sensation that Ralph Vaughan Williams described upon first hearing the music of Richard Wagner: 'the feeling of recognition as of meeting an old friend which comes to us all in the face of great artistic experiences.'..."

I asked Saylor about this passage when we talked; his answer is below.  I've edited the transcript for readability and organized it into six sections, followed by a "starter" discography:

1. Why "Arcadia to Utopia"?
2. English Pastoral Music and the First World War ("They don't want to escape into music —to them, the Romantic notion of art for art's sake seemed almost offensive...")
3. From "Genius" to "Community"
4. Modernism, Historicism, and the British Empire
5. The Germans, the French, Gender, and the English Countryside
6. English Pastoral Music and Politics: Left & Right, Leave & Remain (Bonus Question: How Would Vaughan Williams Have Voted in the Brexit Referendum?)
7. A Brief Discography: Some of Eric Saylor's Favorite Recording of This Music

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1. WHY "ARCADIA TO UTOPIA"?

Barney Sherman: The words "English pastoral" make a lot of us think of gentle rural scenery on shows like Downton Abbey and All Creatures Great and Small. But you explain that there was much more to it. In fact, your title ends with the words, "From Arcadia to Utopia." Let me begin by asking about that phrase.
 
Eric Saylor: Absolutely, what you described may be the most go-to images of the English pastoral, and TV and movies have exploited them a lot. If English pastoral music does get a mention in books on music history, it's usually as a representation of beautiful, gently rolling English countryside, dotted with little honey-colored Cotswold churches and strategically placed sheep. And there are certainly pieces that do that. Plenty of British composers in the early part of the twentieth century take a great deal of inspiration from the countryside, because they grew up there, or live there, or realize that it's an important touchstone for their audience.

But pastoral music has other antecedents and other possibilities. The term "pastoral" itself is not a musical one, but a literary one that goes all the way back to ancient Greece. The imaginary ancient land of Arcadia had the sort of fascination for the Greeks that filmic imaginations of the American Midwest have for directors today —a beautiful, gently tranquil countryside, with nothing disruptive or problematic. You can retreat to Arcadia to get away from the city, then go back to your terrible job in Athens a few days later on feeling renewed.

Later on, the Roman writer Virgil set poems in Arcadia, but he also writes about different versions of the pastoral. In his Georgics, he explores a pastoral setting that has a much harder edge, because in addition to being a poet, Virgil was a shepherd. As anybody who works with livestock knows, these are difficult jobs, often lonely, with a lot of potential for danger or exposure. So Virgil takes a more realistic approach to the countryside, describing it from the standpoint of the people who live in it.

These antecedents echo through the ages in many countries. But by the twentieth century, the British somewhat reinvent the pastoral. They come up with new ways of thinking about it that tie in not just with classical scenes, but also with their own landscape, which they see as being as idealized as those in ancient Greece.

In this distinctively English pastoralism, they also find a sense of what they're fighting for during the First World War, and also look ahead to when the war is over and they're trying to pick up the pieces. What could be coming in the future? What kind of better world might lie ahead? There's a utopian imagining of what this kind of music could convey as well.
 

2. ENGLISH PASTORAL MUSIC AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR

Barney Sherman: The book gave me a vivid sense of composers who served in combat in the War. You mention that Englishmen then in college were especially likely to be sent to the front, and that this cohort included a lot of composers. You discuss a number of them—could you list a few for us here?

Eric Saylor: Sure. Ralph Vaughan Williams served with the Royal Army Medical Corps as an ambulance wagon orderly. It was his job to bring the dead and wounded off the fields. Later on, he was put in charge of a heavy artillery battery firing 60-pound shells—it was horrific, and the noise that those things made is indescribable. Arthur Bliss also fought at the front —he lost his brother in the battle of the Somme after he himself was shot in it. Several other composers were injured, including E. J. Moeran and Ivor Gurney, and some were killed, including Ernest Farrar and George Butterworth, whose musical legacies were seen in a new light based on the sacrifice that they made.

Barney Sherman: In the book, you explain that much English music written during the Great War was jingoistic or militaristic, but that these responses didn't fit the experience of soldiers coming back from the front. You show how "the pastoral" let these composers find a way to respond in music that could be true to their battle experience but also be healing, for them and for other citizens. I'm getting a little complicated here...
 

Ralph Vaughan Williams, a year after returning from combat
Credit public domain; wikipedia

Eric Saylor: … well, it's a complicated thing. In the decade after the First World War, many people in Great Britain are trying to find ways to memorialize the fallen appropriately—to remember them without glorifying the war, because it's too horrific to glorify. And musicians want to find a way to do this that is respectful and introspective, yet that can have great meaning and power. The flexibility of the pastoral style let these composers re-imagine it as something that was meaningful for them and also had resonance with the people who were listening to it. Also, for some of those who fought in the war, their firsthand experience gave them an opportunity for catharsis, to work through their own feelings about the war which were often very difficult to share.

It's equally difficult to convey the type of horror that many soldiers faced. The stereotypical image we have of the First World War is of trench warfare on the Western Front. In its course, we see wholesale destruction of the outdoors, with huge trenches dug the entire length of Europe. We see no-man's land that is absolutely denuded and blasted, full of shell holes and mud and barbed wire and gassed people and dead animals. We see trees shattered, broken off midway through their trunks. This is a terrifying landscape, made horrifying by warfare— and these areas were rural. To watch this landscape being destroyed had an especially powerful impact if you came from the country, as many of these composers did.
 
Another element, as I mentioned, is that the pastoral gave them a way to look forward. The people who come back from the war wanted to get away from the horror they saw. But to try to work through their issues, many of them want to do it in a way that's going to create a better world. They've returned to their village or city and seen that a generation of young men have been killed; indeed, that millions upon millions of people have died during this conflict— and they wonder, what was that death for, what was that slaughter for? The only satisfying answer they can give is that we did this so that we could have a better world. The question then arises of how we create a better world. So they don't want to escape into music —to them, the Romantic notion of "art for art's sake" seemed almost offensive, the kind of thinking that got us into the war. But the fundamental response of the pastoral composers to this dilemma is to try to find a way to bring beauty back to it; as musicians, they do it through creating something that can be beautiful.
 
That doesn't mean that the musical style they embrace is superficially pretty or sentimental. This is deeply intense music. When I was a kid, I knew when my parents were really mad at me: they didn't yell at me but would get that low, quiet voice that was very even and steady. You paid attention because it was so intense and powerful and focused when they spoke to you that way —you couldn't help but listen. A lot of English pastoral music has that same quality. It is quiet, but it is intensely quiet. It is someone with something to say, who makes you listen not by drawing attention to themselves but by making it so plain and simple and direct that you can't help but be moved by it.
 

When I was a kid, I knew when my parents were really mad at me: they didn't yell at me but would get that low, quiet voice that was very even and steady. You paid attention because it was so intense and powerful and focused when they spoke to you that way —you couldn't help but listen. A lot of English pastoral music has that same quality.

 

3. FROM "GENIUS" TO "COMMUNITY"

Barney Sherman:  That is a great comparison! Let me return to what you said about how they reject the ideal of art for the sake of art— the Romantic concept of the heroic, solitary "genius" who scorns bourgeois culture and transcends ordinary mortals. Instead, you say, these composers came to see themselves as part of their community. They felt they had a responsibility to create art that resonated with their fellow citizens. Could you say more?
 
Eric Saylor: For these composers, the notion of being above the masses is gone. They want to find a way to integrate themselves into society. You can see this very easily in tracing the way their styles develop. Vaughan Williams's first two symphonies, written before the war, are each about an hour long. But his first major work after coming back from the war, his Third Symphony, the Pastoral, is about 35 minutes. It's in a much more consolidated style. What was maybe a little unnecessary, maybe a bit more self-indulgent, is gone. It's pared down to its simplest elements.
 

We also find music that ties into references that are important to people in British culture generally, and to those who fought in the war specifically. Vaughan Williams, at about the time he wrote the Pastoral Symphony, writes a one-act opera called The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains. It's based on an episode taken from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress—a well-known book in pretty much any English household at this point in time. We also see Arthur Bliss turning to texts by people like Wilfred Owen, the great War poet. This is uncompromising, powerful writing that absolutely rejects the romanticizing of war, and instead tells you exactly what happens when you watch someone die, exactly what happens when you go "over the top" [their term for jumping out of a trench to charge into battle]. Bliss put that text into a musical context where it could be made plain to people, and he does that ironically enough by coupling it sometimes with very gentle, pastoral music that lets him mitigate the difficult text.

 

4. MODERNISM, HISTORICISM, AND THE BRITISH EMPIRE

Barney Sherman: This pastoral musical style was - as you put it so well - often derided as reactionary, but you make a powerful case that it was in fact a "manifestation" of British modernism. Now, when I was in college, we were taught that music history moved forward in a single direction towards dissonance and complexity. We could rank composers by how much they progressed in that direction—composers who explored more dissonance and complexity were "ahead of their time" and were considered good or important, while composers who preferred tonal harmony were conservative, second-rate and not important. That definitely included the English pastoralists if they were mentioned at all.  Could you say more about that?

Eric Saylor: The way you were taught was a standard mannerthe notion that as music progresses it automatically is moving towards greater complexity. But it's become a somewhat discredited line of thought, which is sometimes referred to as historicism, in which everything is aspiring towards greater levels of complication or sophistication. And art, music, architecture, literature or whatever you have that doesn't do that was considered, by definition, reactionary.

But today we are seeing that modernism manifested in many different ways. You can easily say that Arnold Schoenberg is very much a modernist, but so is Claude Debussy, and their music sounds nothing alike. That is because they're growing out of different national traditions and training, and because the state of music in France was very different than the state of music in Austria. So what is modern? What is the most cutting edge? What is the "most new" is going to differ depending on where you're at and at what point in time.

England is an interesting case because even though in the early twentieth century it's the most powerful nation on the planet—it had colonized the better part of a quarter of the globe—that economic system of imperialism had led to a manner of thinking where they saw music as being like any other commodity. You can't grow oranges or tobacco in the county of Kent, so you go to Spain for your oranges and Cuba for your tobacco. When you have an economic system that's based on going to other places and taking stuff, it's not too far a reach to think, "All right, where is the best music being made? If we want instrumental music it's being made in Germany, so let's import German composers or string players. If we want opera, the best opera obviously is in Italy, so bring Italian singers over to perform Italian opera."

In that way, the British had come to think that musicians were foreigners. On top of that, British social mores suggested that you couldn't be both a gentleman and a musician, because musicians are servants. It took quite a while to overcome those prejudices. This was happening by the early twentieth century, thanks to the development of a musical infrastructure in England, and growing professionalization of music as a respectable profession, and the ability of certain really significant composers to rise above the rest—people like Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frederick Delius and others. Music begins to get a little more respect, but because the state of music was that much more conservative, we didn't at this point have a particularly well-developed or distinctive existing English School of Music.

But make no mistake: what Pastoral composers are doing is trying to push forward the state of what is contemporary music in Britain. And they do it very forcefully with styles that draw upon different aspects of English folk song, of Tudor church music, of French Impressionism. They re-assemble these in various interesting combinations to come up with something entirely new, and that speaks very strongly to qualities that are important to British cultural and musical life in the early twentieth century.
 

5. THE GERMANS, THE FRENCH, GENDER, AND THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE

Barney Sherman: That's fascinating about importing and the empire! Let me ask about changes in English ideas of the German and the French in music. You write that before the War, the English would sometimes put down pastoral styles for being "too French," which they felt to be too "soft" and also "effeminate"—and British men in this era were very much wanting to be "manly." But with the First World War, Germany has become the enemy and France has now become the ally—did that have any influence on how the British felt about the music of these countries?

Eric Saylor: There is a bit of that. For the British, from at least the 1890s on, the big point of comparison in terms of overall power is Germany. The British are constantly comparing themselves against them in terms of military might, economic power, and cultural sway. In music, they're looking to create a style or a musician capable of achieving respect from the Germans. That's what they want more than anything else, and they constantly come back to that point of comparison. German music at the time often has powerful Romantic qualities, and some English composers are trying to match that—Edward Elgar in his symphonic works and Vaughan Williams in his first two symphonies as well.
 

Ravel in 1906, two years before Vaughan Williams came to study with him.
Credit Public Domain; Wikipedia

But I think your observation about the French is an important one. The French are the old enemy, the main sparring partner, but because of the events leading up to the First World War, the French and the British become somewhat reluctant allies under the entente cordiale. And the Germans are being seen more and more as a potential existential threat to the nation, in no small part because they have a very strong go at challenging British naval superiority in Europe. So some interest in cultural exchange between the British and the French begins in about the first decade of the twentieth century. Vaughan Williams, for instance, studies privately with Maurice Ravel for about six months in 1908, which was a very unusual choice given that Vaughan Williams was three years older than Ravel, and that Ravel was an up-and-coming figure, not yet a legend. He was by no means an obvious choice. Other British composers are also becoming interested in what's coming out of France, notably John Ireland and Frederick Delius.

The English are now trying to be able to compete with everyone in music, but they're not quite sure of the best way to do that. If you copy the Germans, then how much are you in thrall to them? If you copy the French, we don't necessarily like to do that because, well, they're the French. So people are trying to thread a very thin needle somewhere between the two. If you have too much that's in debt to the Germans, then you're going to be seen as nothing more than a second-rate knock-off of Mahler or Strauss. But if you're too close to the French, then that might seem maybe a little "effeminate"—not strong, manly, powerful music. Today we don't generally make those kinds of gendered associations—at least, not if we expect to be taken seriously—but they were very much front and center in the early twentieth century in Britain. German music had clear forms, strong cadences and powerful rhythms, whereas this new French music that's coming out is very gentle, with flexible rhythms and meters, weak cadences, and softer instruments. It seemed to them more "feminine" in its sound—and yes, that would be the term that was used in the day.

The English pastoral allowed British composers to compensate for this. It was okay to write this softer, somewhat French-inflected music, so long as you look "manly" while you're doing it, because it's set in a healthy outdoor setting. That's also why you don't set it in some kind of abstract, imaginary kind of pastoral landscape —if you can put it in England, you give a sense that it's good, hearty English music. To be sure, the fact that it's the English countryside might also explain why the edges soften and things are a bit more gentle. If you go out to a place like Dorset or Gloucester or the West Country, you see these beautiful gently rolling hills, and sheep's pastures and quiet little stands of trees, a tranquil point of escape.

Barney Sherman: This seems a good point to bring up that amazing passage about growing up in Iowa that begins your book. Could you say more about it?

Eric Saylor: I can still remember flying into England for the first time and seeing the little patchwork of fields that were marked off by hedgerows and by walls, and the gently rolling farmland and the green everywhere, and I realized, Gosh, this is a lot like coming home. I had recently been living in Arizona. which was obviously a completely different environment —a desert, with a built-up city in the form of Phoenix. So to go an entire continent away and feel like I was returning to roots was a really striking experience for me. It gave me a sense of belonging—an intuitive link with the types of things that many of these composers in the book also took for granted, and grew up with. It was part of their lives when they were young, and sometimes when they were older, finding these places that they go to as retreats to compose, where they found inspiration and sustenance. For them, it wasn't just the imaginary kind of escape that the Arcadian pastoral presents; these composers really understood what it was.

6. ENGLISH PASTORAL MUSIC AND POLITICS: LEFT & RIGHT, LEAVE & REMAIN

Barney Sherman: To a very different topic: the politics of English pastoral music in its day were not simple— they didn't map easily onto the typical divisions of left versus right. Could you say more about that?

Eric Saylor: I think that's fair. Many of these composers share certain experiences. They're likely coming from at least an economically stable background, and many of them are educated at similar kinds of institutions, like the Royal College of Music in London. But also, they are all coming up at a time when the notion of creating a distinctively English music, which represents what England is, almost transcends the notion of the political. I don't mean that it's apolitical music, and I'm not trying to suggest that there is no sense of being political in being English. There most definitely is. But you can see people who are interesting paradoxes.

Compare Ralph Vaughan Williams to Benjamin Britten. A colleague of mine at the University of California-Riverside, Byron Adams, had a wonderful phrase describing Vaughan Williams, that he's "born in the foothills of the aristocracy." He's not an aristocrat himself, but he can trace his ancestry to the Wedgwoods of pottery-making fame and the Darwins; Charles Darwin was his great uncle. That's a well-set-up upper-middle-class family, and yet Vaughan Williams in many ways adopts views that are very strongly influenced by Morrisonian socialism. He's very much a left-leaning figure for his time and place, much more so than you would expect from somebody of his class.
 

Benjamin Britten's close friend.
Credit By Allan warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Britten, by contrast, comes from a very humble middle-class upbringing in coastal England, but winds up later in his life being very close friends with the Queen Mother. And he's at least friendly with Queen Elizabeth, and eventually is the first English composer who is made a peer [with a seat in the House of Lords], Lord Britten of Aldeburgh. So he in some ways has more establishment-leaning qualities, even though he is also a gay man at a time when that is illegal in Britain. He's also a pacifist at a time where that is deeply on the out.

So these people are full of paradoxes and contradictions. They don't map easily because, like so many people, they're very complicated. And the notion that that pastoralism represents some kind of politically conservative mode, which is usually how it has been portrayed, is simply not the case. True, we can find applications of it that are indeed somewhat idealized visions of an imagined golden age. But in other cases, they are looking at the past with very open eyes, putting the rose-colored lenses very firmly to one side and trying to take an assessment of what that past actually was like and what the repercussions for it are. And as we've discussed, in other cases they are very much looking forward, imagining a world that could be. Now, those are very powerfully political views, but again, as you quite rightly say, they don't map on to very simplistic distinctions of left and right.

"...these people are full of paradoxes and contradictions. They don't map easily because, like so many people, they're very complicated. And the notion that that pastoralism represents some kind of politically conservative mode, which is usually how it has been portrayed, is simply not the case."
 

Barney Sherman:  Let me ask about the foremost current issue in Britain that doesn't map onto ordinary left-versus-right divisions—namely, Brexit. Does the English pastoral style relate to what's at issue?

Eric Saylor: I think to a certain degree it does. I think for many people the pastoral style recalls a sort of idealized version of England, a way that they wish life could be or imagine having once been.  Even though the vast majority of people in England live in cities, the notion of England as this beautiful little country full of mountains green and so on is a very persuasive one and indeed a very pervasive one. A lot of the way the English see themselves and their country is built on this notion of a rural idyll, rather than a modern urbanized post-imperial type of state where, in fact, most people live in cities. People don't like that way of defining themselves; they like to turn to older models of what things used to be like.

There was a recent example of that, if I could share with you, in the book:

 "On 27 July 2012 the opening ceremonies for the XXXth Olympiad took place in Stratford, East London, commencing with a pageant (Isles of Wonder) directed by Danny Boyle. It opened on a scene of nineteenth-century rurality that perfectly embodied a Platonic ideal of English pastoralism. As a boy soprano sang the opening lines of Hubert Parry's 'Jerusalem,' men in cloth caps played cricket, women tossed apples, and children danced around Maypoles. Beekeepers tended their hives as waterwheels slowly revolved near thatched-roof cottages; horse-drawn drays passed wooden fences and hedgerows; sheep safely grazed in wildflower-dotted pastures. The entire 'village' rested snugly in the shadow of an English mountain green. topped with a massive oak tree (and slightly less conspicuously, a Union flag). And while this pastoral landscape was soon displaced by the Industrial Revolution's smokestacks and smelters, there is something inherently odd about the assumption that this antiquated, idealized country setting was an appropriate - even expected - way to launch an Olympic Games set in the urban, commercial, and political heart of England."

 The notion that for this most cosmopolitan of cities we start off with an image of a nineteenth-century rural village is part of the paradox at the heart of how a lot of people see Pastoral music. It is closely tied to and representative of the countryside, but that could not have existed without the opportunities that the cities provided.
 
Barney Sherman: Apologies for asking, but here goes: would Vaughan Williams have voted Leave or Remain?

Eric Saylor: I'm always hesitant to guess what dead people would do, but I feel pretty confident saying that he would have voted Remain. Vaughan Williams was not a narrow "Little Englander." He could say things occasionally that made it sound as though he favored British music over other types, though that depends on the audience and on the type of music he's talking about. But far more common and more notable is the way that he talks about the concept of nationalism. To him, it is a means of trying to engage with your own country in a way that says or represents something that other places don't do—not a way of setting yourself apart, but a way of bringing something new to the international table. You can have something that is distinct to your own cultural tradition that you want to share with other people, and that can be worthy of taking its place alongside other well-established traditions from elsewhere in Europe.

Also, if they can turn to things that they do well and can take some pride in, that's a way of encouraging more English citizens to take their places as musicians on a level that allows England to participate, and to be taken seriously abroad. And it can also strengthen social bonds at home.

I was talking earlier about how the English were constantly trying to compare themselves to the musical traditions of the Germans and the French. Vaughan Williams studied in France with Ravel, but before that, he studied in Germany with Max Bruch. He was the inheritor to these grand European traditions, and he's not somebody who wants to cut England off from the rest of Europe. But how can you be both English and international? This is an issue that Vaughan Williams thought about quite a lot over the course of his lifetime. He wrote about it in several essays, and he's not necessarily consistent in the way he expresses it.  But he is consistent in the sense that he believes that English musicians will not gain anything by isolating themselves. He'll encourage people to learn and start their careers at home first—that's probably where you're most likely to succeed. Then, by all means, once you've established your own way of creating art that is based in that local tradition that you perhaps know best and is most natural for you, then go ahead and draw upon anything from France, from Germany—or from China, he says—anywhere you like. You'll still be assured of maintaining your own distinct voice.

"...he's not somebody who wants to cut England off from the rest of Europe.... how can you be both English and international? This is an issue that Vaughan Williams thought about quite a lot over the course of his lifetime. ...he believes that English musicians will not gain anything by isolating themselves."
 

Barney Sherman: To return to our own time, many artists, including classical musicians, are trying to address the national traumas of our era. Can artists today learn something from the pastoralists about how to do that in a way that resonates with the broader public? Or is that kind of connection no longer possible—is our culture now too fragmented?

Eric Saylor: That's a great question. I don't think that it's beyond us, but there's always a difficulty in trying to balance expressing a political or an ideological view with creating great art. That's because if you're trying to use art to further an ideology or political perspective, it can easily collapse into being little more than propaganda. Even the best composers have failed at this -  Brahms and Beethoven both tried in various pieces, and with all due deference, they fell short. I think it tends to work better if you can have an attitude that looks at what the political issue means. Who does it affect, what's the ultimate impact that it's going to have? Rather than arguing yea or nay on the side of something, explore the meaning. What does it mean to have lost someone? What does it mean to want to try to build a better world? What does it mean to imagine a landscape that is protected and beautiful? What does it mean to live in a city but be fascinated by the country? These are issues that obviously have huge political and ideological ramifications, but they also have very powerful and longstanding artistic fascinations. So you don't necessarily have to come down incredibly hard on one side or the other for it to have an impact. You just have to express what the effect is on you. Maybe some people will agree, maybe some won't, but it's not necessarily your job to convert their way of thinking. It's just getting them put in a direction so they know what to think about.

Barney Sherman: Eric Saylor, thanks so much for coming in to talk with us.

 
Eric Saylor: My pleasure, thanks.

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Eric Saylor's book, English Pastoral Music: From Arcadia to Utopia, 1900-1950 is even more fascinating than an interview can convey; it's a book very much worth reading for yourself. I asked Dr. Saylor to suggest a few recordings if you want to explore this music - his discography is below.

 

7. A BRIEF DISCOGRAPHY: SOME OF ERIC SAYLOR'S FAVORITES

* Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony no. 3, A Pastoral Symphony - The London Philharmonic led by Sir Adrian Boult, who in 1922 conducted the premiere. (Decca, mono, recorded 1952). OR:

* Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony no. 3, A Pastoral Symphony - The London Symphony Orchestra led by André Previn (RCA 60583, rec 1990).   

* E. J. Moeran: Phyllida and Corydon  - "A wonderful realization on the Chandos label, with the Finzi Singers directed by Paul Spicer." (Chandos 9582; Amazon link).  

* Ernest Farrar: English Pastoral Impressions, Heroic Elegy, and other orchestral works - The Philharmonia Orchestra led by Howard Shelley (Chandos 9586)  

* Gerald Finzi: In Terra Pax - on an album called In Terra Pax: A Christmas Anthology featuring the City of London Choir and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra led by Hilary Davan Wetton, and also including works by Vaughan Williams, Holst, Howells, Warlock, Rutter, Leighton, and more (Naxos 8572102; Amazon link)   

* Herbert Howells: Piano Quartet in A Minor - "Closer to home, an album by the Ames Piano Quartet called British Piano Quartets, with multiple works from the early century." (Albany TROY 910-11; Amazon)