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    Arnold Cooke’s Chamber Music With Piano: Contexts, Stylistic Evolution And Performance

    Davies, Harvey (2022) Arnold Cooke’s Chamber Music With Piano: Contexts, Stylistic Evolution And Performance. Doctoral thesis (PhD), The Royal Northern College of Music in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University.


    Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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    With no substantial biography of Arnold Cooke available, little is yet generally known of the life which gave rise to some 180 compositions, nearly a third of which is chamber music: this music is similarly unknown. The new four-CD collection of previously unrecorded works, performed by The Pleyel Ensemble and released on the label MPR, contains fifteen premières which I chose according to two criteria: 1. To provide typical examples of instrumental music, from across Cooke’s long career, as yet commercially unrecorded. 2. To represent each of the instrumental combinations with piano frequently used by the composer: piano and strings, piano and wind, and mixed wind, strings and piano. Together with these recordings, this supplementary study allows, for the first time, a comprehensive perspective to be taken on the composer’s output. It builds on the work in the two most important pieces of Cooke scholarship to date; Eric Wetherell’s monograph of the composer written for the British Music Society in 1999, and Alan Poulton’s annotated works list in volume 1 of his ‘Dictionary-Catalog of Modern British Composers’ published in 2000. The recorded repertoire is placed in the context of Cooke’s life via a biographical sketch and an examination of his personality, musical vocabulary and aesthetic, knowledge of all of which are essential to understanding the creative urge that produced it. These elements are drawn together in a first attempt to describe the development of Cooke’s mature compositional style as demonstrated by the recordings. Although sometimes criticised for being too derivative and conservative, a first ever collation of reviews of publications and performances of Cooke’s music, almost invariably positive in tone, aims to debunk this perception, whilst recognising the traditionality of Cooke’s musical language. These findings are borne out by exploration of the newly-recorded repertoire. The thesis, alongside the new public access to many works which the recordings provide, advocates Cooke’s output, seeking to rescue it from its current state of obscurity, whilst offering conclusions as to how that state has come about.

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