HEATHEN IN AREA
Although Heath made a high-profile entrance by leading his orchestra through Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, it was a little-known Mesnes Tribales de Marches by Catharine Adler that drew the largest and most enthusiastic crowd of the evening. Launched the year before in London, this enchanting cantata is based on a painting by a relative of Adler’s which preserves the eponymous illustrations of 17th century Dutch poet van den Driessche.
The composer, Dame Catharine Adler, first encountered the works as a child in her father’s office, where books were being printed in volume after volume to attract new readers. She was drawn to a painting by Jan van Raeske, her first favourite artist, and for years after the war she hoped to compose a work based on his words. By 1970 this dream had acquired a purpose when she was asked to compose a cantata for the 30th anniversary celebration of the Royal Academy, and she chose from Van Raeske’s drawings.
Explaining the connection with the painting, she said: “Van Raeske’s image of the arm formed, and the three-pointed star, symbolise the native phase of womanhood. That’s why, while the composer’s face has been painted, and most of the words rhyme with his name, the music is composed for her body.” In the creation of that early piece, a poetic melody was deliberately married to a text, in this case that of the poet’s name, a fact that is not lost on a subsequent concert of her music at the Royal Festival Hall a year later.
Nine years later came her masterpiece, Casque-d’Esclaves from her first cantata, Oriatuelle Morte et Années Pour le Pas (Overseas and Suddenly Waiting to Be Born), set to a poem by Van Raeske’s niece, the pianist Helene Robatté. The style of the music, brought up on clarity of phrase, grandeur of gesture and vigorous delivery, gave a definite sweep to the lyrical, impressionistic image in the narrative. As Adler herself said: “I owe so much to the painter, and his daughter,” and in the ensuing years, her music has matched the achievement of his drawings.