The Scottish viola

I was very excited when the UL recently received a brand new William Alwyn related recording. As William Alwyn archivist it’s always thrilling to hear new recordings, but this one is quite special. Called The Scottish viola, the cd is a tribute to Alwyn’s friend, the Scottish viola player, Watson Forbes. Born in 1909, Forbes was an enormously influential figure. Well known as a soloist, he was also a hugely talented chamber musician and teacher. He is now probably best known for his skills as an arranger re-arranging a vast corpus of music both for his beloved viola, and for the cello.

Alwyn and Forbes became friends while studying at the Royal Academy of Music. They would both later teach there with Forbes becoming the Head of Chamber Music. The two men also collaborated on musical projects – Forbes was intrigued by some Alwyn arrangements of folk songs (MS/Alwyn/1/3V/11), and re-worked the arrangement to be played on the viola. Also featured on this disc is the Pietro Nardini violin concerto (see below) transposed and arranged by Forbes for viola and piano. This work has an interesting background. Originally composed for violin and harpsichord, it was arranged for viola and string orchestra in the eighteenth century, re-arranged for violin and orchestra in the nineteenth, and then by Watson Forbes for viola and piano in the twentieth.

Forbes was to be the dedicatee of several Alwyn works including Ballade. As yet unpublished, Alwyn’s Second sonatina (also known as Short suite II) for viola and piano is featured on this disc transcribed from a manuscript originally in Watson Forbes’ archive. Another copy of the manuscript is also preserved in the Alwyn Archive complete with Forbes’ amendments (MS/Alwyn/1/3V/6).  

There are further CUL links on the disc too. Robin Orr’s Sonata for viola and piano is also featured. Robin Orr was Professor of Music at Cambridge from 1965-1976, and we have the score of this sonata here. We also have a manuscript for an earlier, and still unpublished, viola sonata.

And as if the disc wasn’t already packed with Cambridge connections the violist, Martin Outram, is a Cambridge alumnus. Martin studied at Fitzwilliam College, and now follows in Watson Forbes’ footsteps as a Professor of viola at the Royal Academy of Music.

The disc covers a wide variety of music contrasting Watson Forbes’ own arrangements of standard works in the classical repertoire with modern, innovative works often written for Forbes, himself. It’s well worth a listen.



About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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