Buried Treasure

In the Summer of 2000 I had the great pleasure of meeting James Gillespie, editor of The Clarinet Journal, during the International Clarinet Association (ICA) convention in Oklahoma. James asked me if I would like to contribute a regular column. These personal reflections are now reprinted with his permission. The following ‘Letter from the UK’ was first published in March 2002 in The Clarinet Journal, the official publication of the ICA.

Regular readers will now know of my interest in discovering and promoting ‘buried treasures’ of the clarinet repertoire. I wonder how many know the name of the English composer Robin Milford? Milford was a contemporary of Gerald Finzi and his music is much in the same mould. Connected to a number of famous educational institutions, he began as a pupil at Rugby School (where the composer Arthur Bliss had studied previously), went on to the Royal College of Music where his teachers included Holst and Vaughan Williams, and later taught at Ludgrove and Downe House schools. But, since his death in 1959, his work has been largely forgotten. At this present time, there is only one Milford clarinet work in print: the Lyrical Movement written in 1948 for the clarinettist Alan Frank. Frank was editor at the Oxford University Press (OUP), and co-wrote the famous Thurston and Frank Clarinet Method. The Lyrical Movement, first published by OUP, subsequently went out of print and is now re-published by Thames Publishing. It is well worth a look; a delightful movement, rather sad and wistful but elegantly written for the instrument. In addition, in 1933 Milford wrote a Concertino for Clarinet and Strings but this, sadly, has been lost. The Phantasy Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet was also composed in 1933, and in 1948 a Trio for clarinet, cello and piano for Pauline Juler, a top clarinettist of the day.

As well as the Lyrical Movement I also knew of some lovely pieces for flute and piano so a year or two ago, I decided to undertake some research into Milford’s work. This research took me to the famous Bodleian Library in the heart of Oxford. The Bodleian own many of Milford’s manuscripts and I was very excited about what I might find there. It is a very grand and dusty place and before I was allowed in, I had to sign a document swearing never to burn the place down (yet another wonderful old Oxford University tradition!). It is an intimidating building. You don’t see any books or manuscripts – they are all kept well-hidden in deep vaults. You have to make a request, in writing, to the rather severe librarian, and, after a long wait, the item will finally be brought to you. But the long wait in that stark annex was well worth it! Among the manuscripts I asked to see was the Clarinet Quintet; twenty-four pages of neat pen-and-ink writing. The second page bears the interesting inscription, written in pencil in Milford’s hand, that ‘the material of this piece furnished me later with the 1st movement of my violin concerto’. (This particular work was written some four years later, but I suspect it has probably received few performances since its first under the baton of Clarence Raybould in 1938.) 

Milford’s closest living relative is his niece, Marion Milford. My friend Christopher (Kiffer) Finzi, Gerald’s son, knows her well and offered to contact her for me. It has taken about four years to do so! But, to my delight, a few weeks ago I received a letter from Kiffer saying that she was very pleased indeed to give my publishing company, Queen’s Temple Publications, permission to publish the Clarinet Quintet. The piece is somewhat rhapsodic in character and the clarinet writing is highly characteristic, and not too demanding. It begins ‘pp’ and ends ‘ppp’ but journeys through moments of great lyricism and drama. Alan Frank may have played it, but sadly he died a few years ago, and I can find no trace of any performance. Perhaps one of the educational establishments with which Milford was connected might be the venue for the ‘first’ performance, nearly seventy years after the Quintet’s composition! I hope clarinet players around the world will wish to explore this small but significant unknown musical treasure.