Friday, 6 September 2013

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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(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!)

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