Samuel Liddle (1867-1951)  premier recording
Sonata in E-flat major, for violoncello and piano [1889]


The first movement of Samuel Liddle’s sonata is the most thoroughly worked out, reaching an impressive climactic ending. The second-movement scherzo is the most Brahmsian, and experiments with unusual textures and unpredictable, irregular phrase lengths. The ensuing Adagio cantabile, with its lovely lyricism and interplay between the instruments, is just long enough to merit consideration as a separate movement, although it ends inconclusively, and moves attacca into the Finale. Only in this final movement, scarcely longer than the Adagio that purports to introduce it, does one perhaps feel a lack of coherence (in spite of its memorable opening theme) and full exploration of the material - a composer straining to meet an imminent deadline?


Liddle is remembered, if at all, for a handful of vocal solos, written to complement his career as accompanist for prominent singers of the day, such as Clara Butt and Harry Plunket Greene. These include Abide With Me, How Lovely are Thy Dwellings, and The Garden Where the Praties Grow. His friendship with pianist and exact contemporary, Frederick Kiddle, was immortalized in verse by Harry Graham:


'With the cunningest collusion
And a deep desire to diddle,
Mr Kiddle courts confusion
With his colleague, Mr Liddle.'


He was friend and accompanist to the cellist W.H. Squire, for whom the Elegy was written, and both were fellow students of Stanford at the Royal College in the late 1880s. Apart from a Nocturne and Romance for violin and piano, and Three Sketches for solo piano, no other instrumental works of Liddle’s found their way into print. It is thus especially surprising and illuminating to discover a full-scale Sonata for cello and piano by Liddle, quite unknown to the musical world, and presumably dating from his final years of study at the College and written for Squire and himself to perform.


Alternating praise and condemnation, blunt harshness with tenderness and empathy, Stanford’s flamboyant style of composition instruction at the RCM was not for the faint of heart. Liddle’s cello sonata was written in the same year as Stanford’s own Op.39 Sonata, and it is tempting to draw parallels between the two works, to wonder whether Liddle’s sonata might have been a final year assignment at the RCM and one reason why he finished ‘top of the class’. Although the manuscript appears to have been submitted to Boosey for consideration, no publication resulted: the autograph is now in the De’Ath collection. On the cover, it is dated ‘midsummer 1889’ and the words ‘Boozey [sic] & Co. music publisher’ have been pencilled. The work may have stemmed directly from Liddle’s tutelage with Stanford, but its freedom from the latter’s influence and its intrinsic musical integrity and vitality are remarkable. Stanford always insisted that his students compose nothing unless they ‘had something to say’. Liddle certainly has more to say in this large-scale work than in any of his other instrumental works. No other work comes close to its dimensions and musical sophistication. The writing is bold and flamboyant, lyrical and poignant, technically demanding of both performers, and full of the extrovert ardour of youth.


 

© 2019 by Simon Fryer. All rights reserved.