Friday, 6 September 2013

William Boyce: a third rate, derivative composer - I like him!


William Boyce (1711-1779) was born 26 years after GF Handel, but wrote exactly as if he was Handel; I, at any rate, cannot distinguish the styles.

Boyce would only be placed in the third rank of composers, since he is neither one of the greats (e.g. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven); nor one of the rank below, who include many originators (e.g. Vivaldi, Haydn, Weber) - but he would be among the likes of Locatelli, JC Bach, and Hummel - that is to say composers who retain a lasting but minor place in the concert and recording repertoire.


To be exact - the best of Boyce is as good as second rank Handel - which is very good indeed; but he cannot rise to the stratospheric heights of Handel, especially in lyrical mode (examples of the stratosphere: the slow movement of 'Oboe concerto' No. 3 in G min; the solo aria 'Ombra mai fu' from Xerxes; or the trio 'The flocks shall leave the mountains' from Acis and Galatea).

But, despite all this, I like Boyce very much - specifically his 'symphonies' and overtures; and listen to them often, with delight and without getting bored - something which certainly does not apply to the likes of JC Bach, Thomas Arne, or even Charles Avison (for whom I have a special and parochial affection as the best composer from Northumberland).


Boyce therefore presents an interesting case study - as an example of just how good you can be when creating within the constraints of a great artist - almost as a pastiche; and the answer is very good indeed.

My preference would be for third rate composers to do what Boyce did, be unoriginal but very good - rather than trying, via formal innovations or 'novelties', to pass themselves off as 'great'/ first rank composers in the way of most 20th century classical musicians and also perhaps some of the earlier romantics such as Lizst, Mahler; or even Richard Strauss in his 'experimental' modes such as Salome, or Verdi in Falstaff.


(Parenthetical Explanatory Note: I would put Strauss and Verdi in the second rank, except in their experimental work; when I would drop them down to the fourth rank, due to as acting as cleverly pretentious betrayers of their own genius!)



dearieme said...

Which Strauss?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - The one mentioned in the previous paragraph - the German one.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Mahler I would put in the first tier, as his work has an ability to transform the state of the listener in ways that few have approached. His 2nd and 3rd symphonies are extraordinary in that regard. When I saw a video of Bernstein conducting, tears were rolling down his cheeks, as the potency of the music could not be denied their due.

I know, some find Mahler either too much or to disquieting for their sensibilities. I am not amongst their rank. Mahler is visceral, potent and direct. The emotions of the listener are played as surely as the instruments. He holds nothing back. To listen to the last movement of the 3rd symphony is to experience a wondrous ecstasy, which upon completion leaves me in a perfect silent awe.

Kristor said...

I, too, have always loved Boyce. A wonderfully amiable man.

If you like Boyce, you will probably also like Fasch. Highly recommended.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - I'll give him a serious try.

If I like him, will that make me a Fasch-ist?