Priaulx Rainier, Cello Concerto


Priaulx Rainier, Cello Concerto - Part 1 of 2

Priaulx Rainier was born on 3 February 1903 at Howick, Natal, South Africa, of English-Huguenot parents. Her early childhood was spent in a remote part of the country near Zulu land, where the liquid language and music of the indigenous people, the sounds of wild animals and the calls of the birds were to prove a lasting influence.

As a violin student, at the age of ten, she entered the South African College of Music and, under the stimulating influence of the Principal, W. H. Bell, played a great deal of chamber music. In 1920 the University of South Africa Overseas Scholarship brought her to the Royal Academy of Music where she studied violin. Subsequently she settled permanently in London.

Priaulx studied briefly with Nadia Boulanger in Paris followed, before the outbreak of theWar.

She also met Michael Tippett at Morley College which thereby became a centre of considerable activity. Here Priaulx became acquainted with Tippett himself, as well as with the conductor Walter Goehr; the critic and administrator William Glock, the composer and teacher Matyas Seiber; the concert promoter Gerald Cooper; the singer Peter Pears, and many others. She was especially at home in the company of writers (David Gascoyne, Arthur Waley), artists (Lucian Freud, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson), and dancers (Pola Nirenska).

Among her many friends Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson occupied a special category. Their ideas about space-construction and geometric forms of abstract art found a receptive listener in Priaulx as she herself forged her own style; moreover Hepworth's belief in the reality of the world of ideas, and of the new vistas opened up by abstract scientific thought, struck forcibly home with the composer; who went so far as to buy a studio in St Ives, where Hepworth and Nicholson lived. There was, however, a primitivism at the heart of Rainier's music which called for particularly personal expression, and which was at variance with the tradition of Western classical music. As long as she used notes of determinate pitch it was necessary for her to come to terms with tonality; for pitched notes imply tonality if not necessarily a key The risk she ran was that her use of chromaticism might become uncontrolled, chaotic.

In June 1982 the University of Cape Town honoured her with a Doctorate in Music (Honoris Causa).

Priaulx Rainier died in France on 10 October 1986.

Priaulx Rainier, Cello Concerto - Part 2 of 2

Priaulx Rainier's Cello Concerto was written for a Prom Concert held on 3 September 1964, where it was introduced to the world by Jacqueline du Pré and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Norman Del Mar (at the same concert, du Pré played Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto with the same orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent, the year before she made her famous recording of it under Sir John Barbirolli.) It has been claimed that du Pré "loathed every second" of the Rainier concerto, "not only because of its idiom, but also because it was technically beyond her".

Priaulx Rainier's largest work of that period was the orchestral suite Aequora Lunae, a continuous piece in seven sections, each one descriptive of one of the Moon's seas. It was dedicated to Barbara Hepworth, whose acquaintance she made in the summer of 1949 when she stayed in St Ives, Cornwall, using a fisherman's loft as a studio. She remained a close friend of Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. She claimed that only sculptors and architects fully understood her music. Another work premiered at a Prom Concert was Ploërmel (1973), an evocation of one her favourite places, Ploërmel in the North West of France, near the mouth of the River Loire. It uses an orchestra of winds and percussion, including timpani, tubular bells, hand-bells, antique cymbals, high and low gongs, xylophone and marimba.

Her violin concerto, Due Canti e Finale, was commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, who performed it at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves. Menuhin described Rainier as "having a musical imagination of a colour and variety scarcely to be believed". On the other hand, after hearing her music, William Walton commented that she "must have barbed-wire underwear". Concertante for Two Winds and Orchestra was written for and dedicated to Janet Craxton and Thea King and was premiered at the Proms in 1981.

There have been infrequent performances of Priaulx Rainier's music as they are difficult for both performer and listener. Premieres of her music were not always adequate, reducing the chances of there being further performances. Her complete chamber music was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1976. She was awarded a Doctorate in Music (Honoris Causa) by the University of Cape Town in June 1982. She was also a passionate gardener and ecologist who helped design, and planted the exotic plants in, Barbara Hepworth's Sculpture Garden in St Ives. Her last work, Wildlife Celebration, was commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin and performed in aid of Gerald Durrell's Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Priaulx Rainier died on 10 October 1986 at Besse-en-Chandesse in France, aged 83. The date was the 70th birthday of David Gascoyne, the poet to whose words she had written her Requiem of 1956.

Most of her music manuscripts are now housed at the J. W. Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town.

On 28 March 1987 a concert in celebration of her life and work was held at Wigmore Hall. A pictorial biography, Come and Listen to the Stars Singing, written by June Opie, was published in 1988.

Her centenary on 3 February 2003 was marked by a special program on Australia's ABC Classic FM.

Her "lost" early String Quartet (1922) was given its world premiere on 8 September 2004 at the Tate St.Ives Visual Music Week.