English Miniatures

Review of the Recital with Eric McElroy, Piano, and Joe Chu-Yu Yang, Violin, on Friday, 16th February 2024, at the Curhaus, the Parsonage of St. Stephan, Stephansplatz 3, Leosaal, 1010 Wien.

Photos by Wolfgang Geissler and Wolfgang Buchta

By Wolfgang Geissler

Eric McElroy is no stranger to us. Nearly six years ago, on 19th March 2018, we enjoyed a Piano Recital at the British Embassy entitled “The Slaughter of the Times: English Piano Music and the First World War”, which was introduced to us thus:

In the early twentieth century, England witnessed a proliferation of musical composition, establishing a distinctly English style and repertoire for the first time since the Renaissance. The proverbial “Land ohne Musik” (“Country without Music”) suddenly became home to a bevvy of composers.

Then, it was Eric’s first visit back to Vienna, where he had lived for three years.

Two years later, on 7th October 2022, Eric returned to Vienna, once again at the British Embassy, and on that evening, we enjoyed a brilliant concert I gave the title “A Little Night Music”. This time, he brought with him the magnificent violinist Joe Chu-Yu Yang.

In his introduction, Eric told us that the English, for various reasons, are not as proud of their musical heritage as they should be. He is passionate about remedying this. Ironically, neither Eric nor Joe is British. Eric is American, and Joe is Taiwanese. Still, where else but in front of the members of our society should these pieces of English music be performed in a society that stands for cultural exchange?

Now, some 18 months later, Eric and Joe are back. This time, it was at a different venue, the Curhaus, the Parsonage of St. Stephan, in the Leosaal (organised thanks to our Secretary-General Jochen Ressel).

What an evening it was! Listening and watching the breathtaking virtuosity of Eric McElroy on the piano and Joe Chu-Yu Yang on the violin.

That’s what happens in big business.

After a very brief introduction of last night’s event with Eric and Joe, Prof. Dr Kurt Tiroch told us the following anecdote:

In April of last year, members of the Austro-British Society spent several days in Scotland and had the opportunity to experience the unique, friendly, and generally awe-inspiring country. The trip in October to Uganda to see the gorillas was another unforgettable highlight of last year’s travels. At the end of April, our members will again visit the Greater London area. This time, the focus will be on visiting the English automotive cult brands and headquarters of Red Bull Racing (an English company with Austrian ownership) in Milton Keynes and McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, as well as the famous Formula 1 racetrack in Silverstone.

So far, so good. Our President, Prof. Dr Kurt Tiroch, however, initially encountered some bewildering obstacles, particularly on the way to Woking.

The story involves a representative from McLaren, a company based in Vienna, travelling to London to seek permission from the board of directors at McLaren in the UK for this visit to the McLaren Technology Centre. After spending only two hours in London, the representative then flies back to Vienna. This scenario highlights the bureaucratic nature of large corporations, where even simple tasks like obtaining permission for a visit require significant time and effort. It underscores the formalities and processes often involved in conducting business at this level.

One positive outcome: We have a date for our next visit to McLaren in Erdberg: 14th May, 2024.

Exploring the Musical Worlds of John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, Malcolm Arnold and Ian Venables.

The realm of classical music is a vast tapestry woven with the unique voices and creative expressions of composers from various epochs and cultures. Among the rich pantheon of British composers, Ivor Gurney, Ian Venables, Malcolm Arnold, and John Ireland stand out as luminaries, each contributing distinctive hues to the canvas of musical artistry.

John Ireland emerges as a poetic voice, his compositions evoking the timeless beauty of the English countryside. With romantic lyricism and evocative melodies, Ireland’s music transports listeners to ethereal realms where the sights and sounds of nature come alive. His songs, lyrical and expressive, resonate with a sense of nostalgia and longing while harmonically exploring lush chromatic textures. Ireland’s works are atmospheric, imbued with mystery and contemplation, inviting listeners to immerse themselves in vivid musical landscapes. From the haunting strains of his Piano Concerto in E-flat major to the enchanting melodies of “The Forgotten Rite,” Ireland’s music captivates the imagination and stirs the soul.

(We listened to: Cavatina, The holy boy)

Ivor Gurney emerges as a poignant figure, his compositions serving as windows into the depths of his soul. Born in Gloucester, England, Gurney’s music carries the imprint of his personal struggles with mental illness, as well as his profound reverence for the English countryside. His melodies, infused with the spirit of English folk tunes and the whispers of nature, resonate with a lyrical beauty that captivates the heart. Harmonically, Gurney’s works traverse the landscapes of tonality and modal exploration, enriched by lush chromaticism. Themes of longing, nostalgia, and the sublime beauty of the natural world permeate his oeuvre, manifesting in evocative works such as “The Western Playland” and “Severn Meadows.”

(Chanson la triste, A Folktale, Humoreske , A Romance, In August)

Ivor Gurney was also an accomplished poet. Please read the three poems I selected for you:

Bach and the Sentry

Written in October-November 1916 by Ivor Gurney

Watching the dark my spirit rose in flood

On that most dearest Prelude of my delight

The low lying mist lifted its hood,

The October stars showed nobly in clear night.

When I return, and to real music-making,

And play that Prelude, how will it happen them?

Shall I feel as I felt, a sentry hardly waking,

With a dull sense of No Man’s Land again?


Written in February 1917.

Pain, pain continual, pain unending;

Hard even to the roughest, but to those

Hungry for beauty . . . . Not the wisest knows,

Nor the most pitiful-hearted, what the wending

Of one hour’s way meant. Grey monotony lending

Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes

An army of grey bedrenched scarecrows in rows

Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.

Seeing the pitiful eyes of men foredone,

Or horses shot, too tired merely to stir,

Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.

Men broken, shrieking even to hear a gun. –

Till pain grinds down, or lethargy numbs her,

The amazed heart cries angrily out on God.


Written in January 1917.

Only the wanderer

Knows England’s graces,

Or can anew see clear

Familiar faces.

And who loves joy as he

That dwells in shadows?

Do not forget me quite,

O Severn meadows.

Malcolm Arnold, a titan of British composition, commands attention with his eclectic style and dynamic range. Spanning a vast musical landscape, Arnold’s oeuvre encompasses symphonies, concertos, film scores, and chamber music, reflecting his boundless creativity and versatility. His bold and memorable melodies pulsate with rhythm and vitality while harmonically traversing the realms of tonality and dissonance. Drawing inspiration from diverse sources, including English folk music, jazz, and avant-garde techniques, Arnold’s music defies categorisation, embracing a kaleidoscope of influences. From the stirring melodies of his nine symphonies to the iconic scores of films like “Bridge on the River Kwai,” Arnold leaves an indelible mark on the tapestry of British music.

Professionally, for the first part of his life, he was a trumpet player inspired by no one less than Louis Armstrong, whom he met in a jazz club in London.

In contrast, Ian Venables embodies the spirit of contemporary British composition, blending traditional tonal language with modern sensibilities. His music unfolds like a lyrical narrative, characterised by melodic lyricism and expressive depth. Venables’ melodies, imbued with emotional nuance, traverse a spectrum of human experience, from tender intimacy to poignant introspection. Harmonically rich and colourful, his compositions embrace lush harmonies and inventive use of chromaticism and modality. Through works like “Songs of Eternity and Sorrow” and “Through These Pale Cold Days,” Venables invites listeners on a journey of emotional exploration, celebrating the beauty and complexity of life.

(Three pastoral pieces.)

The musical worlds of Ivor Gurney, Ian Venables, Malcolm Arnold, and John Ireland offer a kaleidoscopic panorama of British music, each composer contributing a unique palette of colours and textures to the symphony of human experience. Through their melodies, harmonies, and emotional depth, these luminaries enrich the fabric of classical music, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire and enchant audiences around the world.

The evening continued in a joyous atmosphere, which I trust Wolfgang Buchta and I have aptly captured in the photo series. This was not without good reason. Not only were we treated to an exceptional performance by two highly talented artists, but we also once again savoured the top-notch service of Café Ministerium, which provided us with a delectable selection of canapés and an abundance (oodles!) of Hochriegl sekt!

Indeed, it was an extraordinary affair that only the Austro-British Society can deliver to its members! (© Our Vice-president, Dr. Alexander Christiani!) My sympathies lie with those who were not present last night!