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11 - ‘I am a “modern” in this, but a Britisher too’: Howells and the Phantasy

from PART IV - Howells the Modern

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Phillip A. Cooke
Affiliation:
Lecturer in Composition at the University of Aberdeen
David Maw
Affiliation:
Tutor and Research Fellow in Music at Oriel College, Oxford, holding Lectureships also at Christ Church, The Queen's and Trinity Colleges
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Summary

British chamber music during the first half of the twentieth century was convulsed with a ‘phantasy mania’. The competition for ‘phantasies’ inaugurated by W. W. Cobbett in 1905 was enthusiastically received and became the first of a series that continued under differing aegises through the next four decades. The genre that it spawned was also taken up outside this context, both through Cobbett's own commissioning and through the independent interest of composers beyond his sphere. In a short period of time, the genre had established itself; yet it did not long survive Cobbett's death in 1937 and had all but entirely vanished in the postwar period.

Cobbett's idea with the competitions was to encourage the writing of short chamber works of modest technical demands. The first competition specified a string quartet in one movement not exceeding twelve minutes in length: ‘The old English Fantasy may be suggested as a typical form which presents possibilities of modern development.’ Cobbett intended the phantasy label to refer to the Tudor-Jacobean consort-and-keyboard genre, the fantasy; the initial ‘ph’ was his own faux-archaising touch. he later confessed that at the time of advertising his first competition, his own knowledge of the ‘old English Fantasy’ was ‘very restricted’; and it is highly unlikely that those taking part in the early competitions were any better informed. The fantasy repertoire was not yet published, and knowledge of the works in early sources was limited to a very small number of experts.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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