Priaulx Rainier (1903-86) - The Bee Oracles

Recorded live on 15th February 2013. Duration 19 mins 55 secs

Priaulx Rainier (1903-86)
The Bee Oracles

Rainier and Lutyens admired one another, perhaps for features they shared: independence and determination. In other respects they were unalike. Rainier worked slowly, producing a new work, usually on a small scale, every couple of years. Perhaps because of that, her music seems intensively woven; it is certainly intensively pulsed.

She wrote this work, setting a poem by Edith Sitwell, ‘The Bee-Keeper’, for Peter Pears to sing at the 1969 Aldeburgh Festival. Her choice of accompanying ensemble – flute and oboe, violin and cello, harpsichord – may have been influenced by a work by a composer she admired, Elliott Carter’s Sonata for four of these instruments (omitting the violin). But equally, the bright sharpness of high woodwinds, the glide of the strings and the buzz of the harpsichord, to mention only some of the qualities she draws from this group, all fit the gilded magic of the poem and of its apian subject.

Introducing a broadcast of the work, Rainier mentioned how it is based on two parallel rhythms, one in the vocal line, the other created by the instruments in short patterns to counter or support the vocal rhythm, these producing ‘a honeycomb of sound’. Within that honeycomb, the moments of congruity, when instrumental attacks are lined up to coincide with a sung note, have a particular force.

At the same time, Rainier takes up the poem’s invitation to generate a broad-gauge honeycomb, of formal segments, with each of the different elements given its own variation, the whole interleaved with variations on the opening ‘Incantation’. The result, at once intricate chamber composition and spell, is fascinating, and yet this work, too, has not been heard since 1983.

Paul Griffiths © 2013

Born in South Africa, Rainier left the country when she was seventeen to take up a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music as a violinist. Africa did not, however, leave her. African heat and African rhythms (insect as well as human) are there in her music, along with the poise she gained from her long residence in Britain and from her training with Nadia Boulanger, once she had decided, in her thirties, she must compose. She did so with determination and precision, in a relatively small output of pieces most often on a chamber scale.

James Oxley - tenor
Mark Heron - conductor

Conrad Marshall - flute
Rachael Clegg - oboe
Richard Casey - harpsichord
Benedict Holland - violin
Jennifer Langridge Cello

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