Recently, I purchased the complete string quartets of a composer who
was then unknown to me: Daniel Jones, a lifelong friend to Dylan Thomas.
Unlike with Thomas, his art is not identifiably Welsh, but it is suffused
with the dark overtones so much in evidence in British music. I made
the purchase primarily on the strength of the performers, the Delme
String Quartet, reasoning that anything this fine quartet records probably
merits my attention. While I suspect Jones will remain in obscurity,
that's more a reflection of listeners' tastes than the quality of Jones'
music. The liner notes describe him as "arguably Wales's greatest
composer", an accolade I take to be akin to being "the tallest building
in Witchita." Nonetheless, judging from these quartets, Jones's music
is an intellectually and emotionally complex landscape.
A brief article on musicweb (
http://www.musicweb-international.com/Jones_Daniel/) notes that Jones'
was part of a "lost generation" of composers who generally relied on
dodecaphonic techniques but retained a sense of tonality; ergo they were
eschewed by both traditionalists and the avant-garde. This was probably
accentuated in Jones's case by his life as an outsider from the British
and international music world: particularly as he grew older, he declined
to travel more than a few miles from his Welsh country home (he had
studied on the Continent in his youth). Toward the end of his life,
however, he was pleased to have been invited to the Donaueschingen
Festival to discuss metre, and invitation he was unable to accept.
I've wondered about his influence on 20th century music, and would
appreciate any comments on the subject from List members. Jones's music
made extensive use of metrical complexity (he even wrote a Sonata for
Four Kettledrums) while managing to avoid being overly demonstrative:
in his quartets, complex metres flow naturally. According to the liner
notes, his metrical complexity "had a profound effect on several mainland
European composers", but it fails to list any names. Could anyone supply
some names here? I'd also be interested if anyone could place Jones's
music in the context of 20th century music.
In addition to being a fine composer, Jones also was a highly accomplished
individual. His linguistic skills made him useful to the Bletchley Park
crowd, so he worked was a cryptographer of Russian, Roumanian and Japanese
at Bletchley Park during World War II. One might imagine that such a
variously accomplished individual might have had numerous options at the
end of the War, but at the War's end he nonetheless devoted himself to
composition. Curiously, perhaps, I find, on first listening, at least,
that the quartets that stand out in my mind are his first, and last (his
eighth). By twentieth century standards, these quartets are reasonably
approachable, but the first is as close as Jones got to Schubertian
sunniness without, in my mind, a sense of being youthful. The eighth
is a rather different, darker matter, written when Jones realized he had
not long to live: in fact, it remained unfinished at his death, though
he added some significant annotations to the score the day he died. It
speaks of the import he attached to the string quartet genre that he
declined three attractive commissions to write this farewell quartet.
In any case, the quartet is richly evocative, but lacking the drama of,
say, Shostakovich's final quartet. Giles Easterbrook, who helped finish
the work after Jones's death and wrote the liner notes for the CD set,
called the premier performance, "the most poignant moment of my life".
I think there are quite a few people on this List who would value this
largely unheralded music, and I think Jones's stature as a composer
would have been assured if he had written nothing other than these eight
quartets. I lack the time and probably the sophistication to write a
serious review of his quartets, so to spice things up a bit, I'll make
the following offer to those on the List who regularly post reviews (you
know who you are!). In return for your intent to review these works,
I will send you my copies of the CDs, subject only to the following
1) You agree to return the CDs to me within three months;
2) Your word not to make illegal copies of the recordings.
Retired gentlemen with time on their hands might be ideally suited to
Email me privately if you'd like to take up my offer. Given the expense
and vagaries of the international postal service, I'd prefer to limit
this offer to residents of the United States, although that's not
necessarily cast in stone. Lest some think the second of my conditions
obnoxious, I'll note that a couple of years ago, I lent someone my
recording of the Smetena string quartets performed by the Panocha Quartet.
On receiving them, the recipient asked if I would mind if he copied them.
This man probably earned more money than the four members of the quartet
combined, so I could only reply, yes, I would mind, and resolved never
again to lend him a recording.
[log in to unmask]