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REVIEWS

Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven 1781 – 1802

Daniel Heartz

W.W.Norton & Company 2009-04-19 Hardback pp. 866, including index and appendices.

Price: £45

 

The book is the final work in a trilogy by Daniel Heartz commencing with Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School, 1740 - 1780 (published 1995, now out of print) and followed by Music in the European Capitals: The Gallant Style, 1720 – 1780. The book takes up the story where the earlier one left off and ends appropriately in 1802, by which time Haydn had virtually stopped composing and Beethoven was soon to alter the musical landscape with his Eroica Symphony, No.3.

 

It is surely significant that this book should appear in 2009, the year in which we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn.

 

In reviewing this large work I felt the need frequently to refer to the earlier volumes, especially the first in the series. This was particularly the case with Haydn since inevitably I was looking at the book from the perspective of that composer’s contribution in the period under discussion. Haydn is after all the thread that links all three composers in music and beyond.

 

The canvas is so vast that one has to come to terms with the chronology from the outset. Mozart (having died in 1791at the age of 35) should be the logical starting point for the book, which indeed it is with the composer’s return to Vienna. There are a little over three hundred pages falling under the general heading Mozart 1781 –1791. We come to Haydn specifically at chapter 4 (page 307) Haydn: The 1780s. The Beethoven section commences with chapter 7 (pages 675 to 789).

 

Important compositions from all three composers are discussed in depth within the general chronology. In the case of Mozart we are soon into a treatment of opera in Vienna with discussions of Idomeneo and Die Entführung. Symphony No. 36 (Linz) of 1783 is given extensive treatment since this is “the gateway to Mozart’s greatest symphonies,”. Here, as in the discussion of all instrumental works, it would be of help to have the scoring given at the outset. Heartz rightly points to the rare appearance of trumpets and drums in a symphony’s slow movement. (Haydn in fact introduces both in the slow fifth movement of his 60th Symphony Il distratto of 1774.) With Symphony No. 40 we are told that later Mozart added two clarinets to the wind section, re-scoring the oboe parts appropriately. Apart from this instance, Mozart used the full scoring we find in five of Haydn’s late London Symphonies only in his Symphony No. 39 in E flat.

 

On page 232, final paragraph, we have: “The String Quintet in D, K.593, begins with that rare thing in Mozart’s chamber music (but not in Haydn’s), a slow introduction.” This I found odd in view of the close attention given to the quartets of both composers. In fact with Haydn we find a slow introduction to a string quartet (as distinct from an entire movement in slow tempo) only in Opus 71 No. 2.

Mozart also uses the device in his so-called Dissonance quartet, the last of the six quartets dedicated to Haydn. I wrote to Professor Heartz and raised this point, amongst others. His response was typically humble; I quote from his letter dated 10 April 2009: “…it is simply wrong when applied soley to chamber music. And I don’t mind if you quote me in admitting my mistake.”

 

Turning to the Haydn symphonies, chronology requires that detailed coverage should commence with No.75 (circa 1780), which indeed it does. Were you to look for that extraordinary Symphony No. 64, with its affecting slow movement, you will not find it here nor in the earlier book of 1995. In the treatment of the string quartets Heartz rightly commences with Op. 33 with some reference to earlier works in the genre. The late choral music too is subjected to a searching analysis.

 

Coverage of the keyboard trios is less rigorous. In the case of the great E flat trio (Hob. XV: 22) the extensive first movement is treated in one, short sentence. On the other hand, Heartz gives sound reasoning why he is not comfortable with the late Sonata in D Hob.XVI:51.

 

Some may have difficulties with the chronology. Thus, into the Beethoven section at page 679 “A Rhine Journey” we are back with the Mozarts: “Cultural and economic ties as well as geography linked the various political states of the Rhine Valley. This context can be explored from a specific vantage point hitherto neglected in music studies: the letters Leopold Mozart sent home to Salzburg describing the trip he and his family made down the Rhine in the summer of 1763.” I have to say, having read the book more than once, that this sort of thing does not trouble me particularly.  

 

In this short review I have tended to concentrate on the music. This must not be allowed to distort the overall impact one has from reading the book at a measured pace – that one may do from beginning to end (I found it difficult to put the book down at times leading to many a late night!). But I suspect most readers will want to “dip” into its many absorbing pages. This I have just done in respect of The Creation (21 pages): “Moderato in A and in 2/4 time, the Terzetto has a melody that begins exactly like the duet “Là ci darem la meno” in Don Giovanni (also in A and in 2/4 time, Andante). A sketch Haydn made for the melody shows he did not begin with the resemblance to Mozart but only ended up with it.” This has the human touch for me; I hope others will feel the same.

 

The index is comprehensive, the binding excellent. The book is a treat to use and in this reviewer’s estimation worthy to stand alongside its two predecessors.

 

 

A review for the Haydn Society of Great Britain.

 

JV 12/05/09

 

Joseph Haydn - Life and Works

Franz Joseph Haydn, lithograph by A Kunike, showing the composer without the wig, to which he was generally habituated.

A 4 CD compilation by NAXOS (2003), one of a series commenced in 1999 featuring a number of composers. Written, produced and narrated by Jeremy Siepmann, there are a number of supporting actors taking the parts of Haydn, Elssler, Mozart, Rebecca Schroeter, Salomon and others. The discs have a CD-ROM component extending the overall presentation media.

This is an ambitious enterprise. As Siepmann points out in the preface to the accompanying booklet (146 pages), “Unlike the standard audio portrait, the music is not used here simply for purposes of illustration within a basically narrative context. Thus we often hear whole movements, which may be felt by some to ‘interrupt’ the story; but as its title implies the series is not just about the lives of the great composers, it is also an exploration of their works - and there are many pieces which can succeed in their purpose only when heard whole. Likewise, the booklet is more than a complementary appendage and may be read independently, with no less interest or connection.”
We have to be grateful to Siepmann for taking up the Haydn cause. Both in the booklet and on discs the author takes great care to set Haydn in his rightful place as one of the most important and influential composers in Western musical culture.
The CD content is listed at the beginning of the booklet. There are some minor errors: Op. 55/2 in the wrong mode, Op. 76/3 in the wrong key; and later, in the text, Symphony No. 52 in the wrong key. A real howler appears on page 78 where the short Missa Rorate coeli desuper (he means the Missa Cellensis, Hob. XXII/5, presumably) is described as “offputtingly long” and “not top drawer”. Such errors, sadly, are not uncommon these days. One can also disagree with some of the author’s opinions. Thus, the Theresienmesse is “a flawless masterpiece”, whereas the “Creation Mass ... does not maintain the standard of its late predecessors”.
(This part of the text resembles so closely the analysis of Rosemary Hughes in her Master Musicians “Haydn”, that one is entitled to wonder a little.) Those of us who are intimately acquainted with the masses would come to a different conclusion.
On page 50 we have “...the almost Lisztian B minor Sonata, L47”. Anyone familiar with so-called 19th century romanticism in music than with Haydn of the fortepiano or harpsichord may find this sort of thing somewhat difficult to swallow. In the “Chamber Music” section two pages are rightly devoted to the “Piano Trios”.  “.. these were perhaps the most neglected of all Haydn’s great works”. Few will disagree with that; but then a little later we have “The cream of Haydn’s chamber works is to be found in the string quartets and a handful of the piano trios”. A large hand indeed to accommodate some sixteen such works.
To the discs themselves and we find Siepmann with his clear diction and obvious enthusiasm for the task. We start with a quote from the ‘Oxford’ Symphony. From then on the progression is more or less chronological.
Personally I have little to quibble about over the choice of works apart from the fact that a lesser known “masterpiece” might have been used instead of the average crop of popular “nicknamed” works. Here perhaps more could have been done to reveal “Haydn the inaccessible” (Tovey). The music of other composers appears appropriately to illustrate reciprocal influences and references - C P E Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
Most of the musical examples are from NAXOS’s own stable. I thought at first that this might explain why a C P E Bach sonata and an early Haydn sonata were recordings on a modern concert grand. Then I saw that for Trio XV:25 (Mvt. 3: Rondo all’ongrase) The London Fortepiano Trio appeared courtesy of Hyperion Records. This is more or less an exception, however, since most of the examples are taken from recordings on modern instruments.
This is not the place to argue in depth for and against the use of period instruments in Haydn. I would submit, however, that in a presentation such as this one should aim for the sound as well as the sense.
This is more likely to be achieved, surely, by using appropriate instruments? Listeners to these discs who are not familiar with the clavichord, fortepiano or harpsichord in Haydn will be none the wiser. In particular I find a good opportunity missed when representing one of the six English Canzonettas - “Piercing Eyes”. Listening to this I am transported to a modern concert hall with its Steinway concert grand rather than to the late eighteenth century.
Despite my reservations concerning the use of instruments, it has to be said that the choice of music fairly represents Haydn’s range. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to hear the finale to Act One of La fedeltà premiata, ‘Aiutatemi, son morta’ (1780)’.
The symphonies, as might be expected, are used as the backbone to the chronology. Out of the 28 music examples there are quotes from 11 symphonies, 4 quartets, 2 keyboard sonatas and 1 keyboard trio. The commentary does justice to Haydn’s diversity both in music and as Kapellmeister extraordinaire, with his flair for diplomacy, wit and gluttony for hard work. It was also good to have Siepmann emphasize the composer’s early struggles. I have often found a complete ignorance on this point, as if Haydn had been born on a red carpet surrounded by ancestral musicians.
Predictably, both The Creation (Siepmann ends with ‘The Heavens Are Telling’) and The Seasons are represented. Having early on emphasized Hadyn’s voice training (the Kleine Orgelmesse comes in here), I would have welcomed one of the late masses - the Harmoniemesse perhaps - as showing that Haydn was not all done in after having completed The Seasons, as is frequently stated.
It is far from easy on four discs to accomplish a representation of Haydn’s life and work. Siepmann sets himself a mammoth task (he is the author of the other works in the series). On the whole, he brings it off with a fair degree of success.
 

(JCV: A review for the Haydn Society of Great Britain 2004.)

Rachmaninoff - Symphony No. 2 in E minor

(National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland - Alexander Anissimov)

The available recordings of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony confirms, if confirmation were necessary, that this work continues to be among the most popular of the composer’s orchestral works.
A recording made in March 1997 with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland under Alexander Anissimov conducting, and issued by Naxos gives, a feast lasting nearly one hour. Gone are the days when one had to relinquish exposition repeats on technical grounds - fitting the music to the side of a 78 r.p.m., for example. Even so, here we have another recording which does just that. In fact, of the seven recordings I have only one, that with the Royal Philharmonic and Vernon Handley (Tring) gives the repeat; even a Chandos recording marked “complete” omits it.
And so, what are we missing through these omissions? For one thing, a second hearing of the all important “motto” as laid bare in the exposition at [5] (Boosey full score) and which may seem to challenge Medtner’s comment that: “Rachmaninoff is so profoundly Russian himself that he is in no need of folk music.” (I recall some years back hearing this tune trumpeted from loudspeakers at the Royal Welsh Show Ground as a party of visiting Cossacks entered the main Arena on horseback!)

To judge the span of a work by the time it takes to perform it - clock tempo I once heard it called - will not do. Our perception of a performance can often be misleading when referred to the clock. Take for example the recordings of Mozart’s 40th by Toscanini and Furtwangler. The perception may be that Toscanini (as was his way) is faster than Furtwangler, but the reverse is the case.
I wrote recently in connection with the Rachmaninoff Fourth Concerto (Newsletter 43) that tempo is crucial to the performance. I could be in danger of stating the obvious. On the other hand I should not like to give the impression that tempo is simply metronomic. As I have indicated, two performances of the same work may differ widely in their duration in time, but rubato and phrasing play a significant role in judging the success of otherwise of an interpretation. Criticism itself is a dangerous occupation for at best it might be an idiosyncratic response, at worst incompetent. (I have never recovered from Hagin’s dismissal of Elgar* in two sentences! Many other great composers fared little better.)

As I have said phrasing is all important. I have had the acquaintance of pianists capable of throwing off the most complex solo piano scores who, when confronted with a Mozart Andante, failed to hold the piece together. The problem of phrasing with an orchestral score is, of course, compounded by the demand for orchestral balance. This is one of the difficulties I have with the Asimov recording: in places I have the impression that whatever may be happening to the forward movement of the work some elements of the orchestra appear to belong elsewhere.
This feeling of dissection, in the first movement at least, at once leads to the Tchaikovsky connection. (Here echoes of the Manfred Symphony more so than the 5th., I feel.) There are undoubted similarities between the two composers but Rachmaninoff’s indebtedness to the Tchaikovsky is less significant than is often made out in my opinion. Certainly the older composer would not have allowed himself to get away with the dismissive ending to the first movement. I am all for the snap ending to a coda (crotchets in favour of semibreves) but this final chord always leaves me with the impression, when this long movement  finally comes to an end, of its composer having given up on it!  (By all accounts Rachmaninoff spent far longer composing this movement than the other three and was said to have found the work tedious at times.)

The scherzo comes second and is another example of the orchestral hybrid Rachmaninoff had evolved for two of his symphonies. In the Third Symphony Rachmaninoff economizes by using the procedure to telescope both scherzo and andante in the same movement of a three movement work. The idea of juxtaposing fast with slow in the same movement goes back, particularly in smaller works, a long way. In classical times Joseph Haydn may be found to have tried more or less everything under the sun, and Brahms certainly has it in two important chamber works too. But orchestrally Rachmaninoff produced a very convincing movement which generally poses few problems for interpreters. This recording is no exception.

For the adagio Rachmaninoff uses the clarinet in a way which has to take one back to the 2nd Concerto. Again, in proportion to the overall span of the work, the recording under discussion takes a slow tempo by the clock. It is wholly appropriate in this instance for one certainly needs time to ponder this heartfelt music. For me the affinities are not so much with Tchaikovsky as with Dvorak of the middle symphonies - slow movement from No. 6 particularly. In both orchestration and motivic elements I find Rachmaninoff comes close to Dvorak at times and to a lesser extent, Brahms. (The links with Brahms are extensive in the context of both composers total output, especially in the case of the songs and piano works. Take Brahms’s very early F sharp minor Sonata and put it alongside Rachmaninoff’s youthful First Concerto in the same key.)


The finale goes at a literal Allegro vivace as if it were a train making up for lost time. If it achieves this it does so to a certain extent at the expense of the music. I simply had the overall feeling that the expansiveness of the earlier movements was being sacrificed in the fast finale. At least this was my imopression on the first few hearings. Later I was not so sure. In the case of a recording there is opportunity to subject the performance to repeated hearings. In this way the matter of one’s own “mood” can be taken into account before “sounding off”; this is not the case with live performances. And so how often do we have a critic’s review that is more a reflection of his or her receptive condition at the time rather than a reliable appraisal of the performance?
I cannot say this recording of the 2nd Symphony realy convinces  me as others have; on the other hand, I should certainly not like to be without it in my collection..

In conclusion, I should like to say something about minor key symphonies in general and the key of E minor in particular.

Rachmaninoff’s proclivity for the minor key in his orchestral works is evidenced by the fact that all the symphonies and the concertos are in minor keys.
By Rachmaninoff’s day it was incumbent upon a composer to make a strong personal statement through the symphony. At least, this is what we are led to believe. But were Haydn and Mozart (and composers before them) less concerned with personal expression through music than were the so-called romantics? Are we not sometimes shocked to find universal human emotion spread out through both time and race? Mozart achieved something obviously tragic in his late G minor Symphony.
But Haydn, who had a different perspective from Mozart where minor keys were concerned, could achieve deep pathos within the confines of a major key work as is obvious in many of his slow movements. Take just three examples: the beautiful largo from Symphony No. 64, the contrasting moods in the capriccio from Symphony No. 86. In the case of Symphony No 99 we even have reason to believe that he was mourning the loss of his dear friend Marianna von Genzinger.

Beethoven in his two minor key symphonies, the fifth and ninth, seems to be expressing a mood of defiance rather than pathos. It is only when we reach Schubert’s B minor Symphony (Unfinished) that we find anything suggestive of what Tchaikovsky was to achieve in his two late symphonies. But whereas in the Schubert B minor we have something sensibly cosmic in its grief (to my senses, at any rate) the Tchaikovsky B minor (Pathetique) comes across as a deeply personal utterance. Rachmaninoff never comes close to Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique in this sense. The first symphony, for all the personal anguish its composer experienced as a result of a bad first performance, is more a heroic work than a pathetic one. (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay” Rachmaninoff is said to have written on the original score.) The Second Symphony is hardly a pathetic symphony either, and the Third is unique in its blend of reminiscing and bittersweet power.

The tonality of E has never been a popular one with composers. Whilst there is no shortage from all the great symphonists of works in E flat major, few had touched E or E minor (Joseph Haydn wrote one in E minor - the Trauer - and two in E major; Schubert sketched a symphony in E). But it was Brahms who opened the floodgates with his Fourth Symphony. Thereafter examples came from Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff and Wauhgan Williams.

This aversion for the key of E, I have discussed with a number of composers over the years. Some said the reasons were obvious, others hadn’t a clue. In another context, one ageing and still flourishing pianist has no time for the repeat of the exposition in a Schubert Sonata, another older sage would not dream of performing the work without the repeat. Such is the food of our musical thought. With these examples in mind, critics take heed!

From our list of E minor symphonies we have the full gamut of expression from Brahms through to Tchaikovsky. Both had the cyclical form in mind (for a definition of cyclical I should need to write another full essay). Brahms’s Fourth is an exercise in passacaglia from beginning to end, Tchaikovsky uses a motto throughout. Two works sharing the same key, but that is all! Dvorak’s From the New World Symphony follows Tchaikovsky in using a motto figure throughout. However, I would describe Rachmaninoff’s E minor as motivic rather than “motto driven”.

Rachmaninoff (again like Brahms) was an outstanding performer and a greater craftsman, in my opinion, than Tchaikovsky. But I have to say I find comparisons between works of art themselves somewhat invidious. In my understanding and love of music there is room for them all. When I was once asked to rate Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony against his Third I could only reply that the Third fills the sort of place I might expect from a great composer. In other words, contrary to much critical opinion at the time, the Third for me follows gratefully from the Second - one is not “better” than the other.

(JCV: A review for the Racmaninoff Society 2001.)

 

Joseph Haydn Piano Trios Vols. 1 & 2 Florestan Trio (Susan Tomes piano, Anthony Marwood violin, Richard Lester cello). Vol. 1 (recorded 27-29 March 2008) CDA67719; Vol. 2 (recorded 9-11 February 2009) CDA67757. Hyperion Records Ltd., 2009. £9.99 each.

The two compilations contain eight works from Hob. XV, Nos. 24 to 31 inclusive.  The numbering within Hoboken’s XV grouping is not necessarily chronological so that, for example, there is some argument as to the order of composition within this set, mainly to do with No.30 & No.31. That they are all late works within this final eruption of trio composition towards the end of Haydn’s prolific career is not in question.

The point has been well made by Charles Rosen (The Classical Period Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Faber 1971, page 351) and others that the keyboard trios are among the most neglected group of works from the composer’s output. It is sometimes assumed, because these pieces were labelled by Haydn himself as sonatas for piano with violin and cello accompaniment, that they do not compare favourably with the trios of Mozart and Beethoven. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Perhaps a new nomenclature should have been found for these works? The late H.C. Robbins Landon’s frequent use of the phrase “a kind of” might suggest something of the sort? See below.)

In his The Piano Trio (O.U.P. 1990, pages 18-19) Basil Smallman writes: “Mozart’s system, when expanded by Beethoven, became the accepted ideal for virtually all later trio composition. But Haydn also, by example of his masterful piano writing and structural inventiveness, exerted a profound influence on the future of the genre, aspects of his style reappearing transformed in the work of trio composers of the succeeding generation.” And again from Rosen: “. . . but with the exception of the great E major and B flat Trios, all of Mozart’s are thinner in style and less interesting than the best dozen or sixteen of Haydn’s.”

Indeed, I would contend that the fifteen or so Haydn trios written between the years 1789 to 1795 exhibit an astonishing variety of invention unmatched in any other genre of the composer’s output. The piano writing in many cases ranges far beyond anything Haydn achieved for the solo instrument, informing composers of the “succeeding generation” and beyond in both style and technique.

I should like to quote Rosen again in respect of the C minor Trio No.13. Referring to the opening variations from this two movement work: “It is one of the finest examples of Haydn’s ability to create an emotion that was completely his own and that no other composer, not even Mozart, could duplicate—a feeling of ecstasy that is completely unsensual, almost amiable.” And from the same work, bars 179-181 of the finale—pure Haydn!

With all this in mind one often senses a lack of adventure when groups come to record the Haydn Trios—after all, they have only to step back a few paces from “Gypsy Rondo et al” to confront some of the finest of Haydn, as in the D minor No.23 and E flat No.22.

The eight works under review exhibit no less a wide diversity of style from the “Mozartian” E flat major No.30 (first movement) via the Beethovenian C major No.27, the Schubertian E flat minor No.31 (finale) to the almost outlandish synthesis of Baroque and late-classical in the E major No.28.

The Florestan perform on modern instruments and so may be compared with other recordings by leading exponents using similar instruments, including the Beaux Arts Trio and the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt. The two just mentioned vie well with Florestan and all have their own subtle approach to interpreting these masterpieces. (The point to be noted in respect of these late keyboard trios is the influence upon Haydn of the development in piano manufacture taking place about the time of the composer’s two visits to London, 1791 to 1795. This is extensively documented by the late Robbins Landon in the third volume Haydn Chronicle and Works—Haydn in England 1791 – 1795.)

The two CD sets follow the chronology from Hoboken XV commencing with the D major, No.24, the first of the three trios dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter. This work includes a long first movement (there are repeats of both exposition and development/recapitulation) followed by two very short movements, the third of which (Allegro, ma dolce) peters out almost as if Haydn had lost interest. The first movement contains a number of examples of the pause or fermata (a favourite device with Haydn) immediately prior to which, on this recording, the pianist adds effective decoration.

The famous G major (No.25) has earned its popularity from the finale familiarly referred to as the “Gypsy Rondo”. But Haydn had already achieved something similar in style with the finale of the A major No.18. Of course the reasons behind the Gypsy Rondo’s popularity are not difficult to fathom, yet there are equally fine, even greater (word used advisedly) works in this late setting, notably the one in the unusual key of E major, No.28.

As one who came to the trios first as a pianist using modern instruments, advancing (in my opinion) by degrees to the fortepiano, the Florestan ensemble sound better integrated to these works in some instances than the other two groups just mentioned. (It is interesting to note that in 2006, when I reviewed the first collection of Trios by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, I pointed to that ensemble’s frequent use of rubato as something more akin to performances on period instruments. And now, on comparing this group with Florestan in No.31, I have to admit to finding the former more pedestrian, despite their performance occupying less time by the clock.)

The two Trios No.25 and No.26 are given enjoyable performances with due regard to their contrasting features. In general the group take the trios at a lively pace, no more so than in a highly energetic rendering of the C major, No. 27.

From the two sets, the E major No.28 impressed me most of all not least for honouring the exposition repeat. This is one of those masterpieces that have slipped past the pundit’s ear, but for the connoisseur of Haydn this is surely one of his most innovative creations?

I have some slight quibbles with Florestan in relation to dynamics. If anything they err on the side of “ff” rather than “f” and “p” rather than “pp”; and, in places, “sfz” where I would be content with “f”. Even if one had access to Urtext editions, let alone the original scores, we might enter into endless debate on interpretation when using modern instruments. For example, I could point to instances in the two E flat works No.29 and No.30 where to my ear the music becomes a little uneven. By this I mean dynamic contrast that appears ill fitted to a particular passage. However, this is purely a matter of personal taste; the musicianship and execution are of the highest order.

It is to be hoped that listeners to these recordings will be encouraged to explore some at least of the other mature Haydn Trios (go to the Beaux Arts for the complete trios). They will not be disappointed: look particularly at the E flat major No.10, the E minor No.12, the C minor No.13 (take the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt for a beautiful performance of this work) and the E flat major No.22. A veritable feast awaits you.

We should also mention the excellent accompanying notes written by Robert Philip.

John Vetterlein
July 2011

“Tankerness Now and Then”: Kathleen Keldie (author & publisher) 2012.

This handsome, individual homespun book is in A4 format hardcover of 486 pages, 35mm thick from cover to cover, and weighing in at 2.2 kilos. An acknowledgments page is followed by four comprehensive pages listing 463 properties alphabetically and numerically (by page). A short introduction appears next on page ix. At the back of the book there are 12 pages of maps from the Ordnance Survey large scale 1:2,500 series published in 1882.

The book, without ISBN, is a limited edition of 800 copies at £25 each with profits (as stated on the back cover) going to Macmillan Cancer Support.

The author writes in her introduction: “Starting in March 2011 I have collated information on the peoples and places in Tankerness from a variety of sources and brought it all together under one umbrella”. To have completed this task in so short a time is a remarkable achievement in itself.

The order of presentation is based on the author’s geographical approach to her “house to house” enquiries and which she kindly outlined for me in an e-mail:

“The first house (West Burnside) is the most westerly in the parish and the last is the most easterly (Millbrae).

“I actually followed the road on the route that the postman takes for his mail run. This goes left into Tankerness at the junction just above the airport, in and out of every house to just past Whitecleat and then doubles back to go down the Yinstay Road, where Burnside is the first house. The route then goes all around "the back of Tankerness" and the north side of the Loch of Tankerness to Rerwick.

“There is a double back again to join on at Upper Lidda and around the south side of the loch, continuing left at the Mill and left at the top of the hill to a handful of houses out on a limb (Breck, Crofty, Twiness, Nessie). Going back from there to where the road forks at the top of the hill and go right to Southhouse/Groatsetter roads. The last part entails going back along the Deerness Road from Groatsetter to nearly the junction above the airport again and following the houses straight along the Deerness Road to Sebay and Millbrae.”

The survey includes images of all houses in Tankerness as at 2012, including those under construction although the cottages at the Hall of Tankerness were not photographed individually. The absence of any text in the case of a given property would indicate the occupants preferred not to take part – as Kathleen points out in her introduction, she respected the will of those who wished to be excluded from the project.

It is interesting at all points of the “tour” to make reference to the O.S. maps at the back of the book and to compare these with the current O.S. “Explorer” series at 1:25,000 scale. (These maps may be viewed online by way of Bing Maps - mentioned below.) Thus, it will be seen that of the properties appearing on sheet CVIII.12 (page 466), six of the listed 13 named properties do not appear in Kathleen’s account. Some of this may be accounted for by the positioning of the airport at Grimsetter east of where the Burn of Wideford crosses the A960. Others, such as Gill south of West Burnside, may just have simply fallen into ruin. (The use of satellite aerial maps provided by Google and Bing would make an interesting source of verification on many of these points.)

The social interest forms the backbone of the book with valuable census information given for each property clearly delineated alongside the body text, but in a distinguishing font. As the author herself points out “No two people tell the same story”. And this is what makes the book of absorbing interest, namely our differing views on a shared environment.

From an historical point of view we may rightly assume, I think, that we are in the main immeasurably more affluent today than were folk of two or three generations back. But this survey of Tankerness, both from a narrative and a pictorial point of view, reaches well beyond the subject of property and ownership. There are a number of images that display the subtle (often rugged) beauty of the sandstone upon which, and from which, a good deal of Orkney is built, together with the weather dominated, open landscape of sea and sky, the features that drew me to Orkney way back in 1970.

The abiding message to be drawn from this survey is the rapid change that is taking place here in Orkney generally, particularly over the past two decades. I am sure Kathleen had this in mind when she chose the title “Tankerness Now and Then” for this implies transience. Equally impactive would be “Tankerness Then and Now”, which leaves the future open for conjecture.

Today, our modern houses may be more comfortable inside (due to thermal insulation etc.) but they hardly pretend to emulate the practices of the past that built from locally acquired materials – to mention only in passing the “domestic” wind turbines that appear to be sprouting up all about. And so, to some extent, what the landscape will look like in ten or even five years time is anybody’s guess.

But whatever way you look at it, this book is an invaluable and highly readable reference source for the area. We should all be grateful to Kathleen Keldie and her small team for undertaking this worthwhile task, expertly carried through. 

John Vetterlein
Rousay
January 25 2013


 

 




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