Smyth: The Wreckers Overture

Vitals: 3333 4231 T+3 hp org str (normal woodwind doublings incl. picc, eh, bcl, cbsn). Trumpets in C. Percussion instruments are: triangle, tambourine, snare, cymbals, bass drum.

Available through the Royal College of Music library (along with the other readily available selection from the opera, “On the Cliffs,”) via the contact library@rcm.ac.uk . The parts were well-printed on good paper and not cramped. It was typeset and very legible. Paying the loan fee was no big obstacle, but needed to be done by credit card over a phone call to the RCM’s business office.

A score is of the overture is available on IMSLP via https://imslp.org/wiki/The_Wreckers_(Smyth,_Ethel), and there’s at least one recording on YouTube:

It’s a bit rollicking and simple at the beginning, but has some good sophisticated writing and is a good, challenging piece for a professional orchestra, outstanding community orchestra, or conservatory. Here’s a review of a 1994 recording of the full opera, in Gramophone magazine.

Tracking it down involved the generous help of several experienced and savvy people – read on, if you’re curious.

Stumbling across the YouTube link (and entranced by her other works, including the concerto for Horn and Violin, and Serenade), I looked for it on Kalmus, Luck’s, Zinfonia, the Fleisher Collection, NY Public Library and Eastman. With no luck there, I wrote the helpful folks at Educational Music Service who tend to know more than most (and who I try to buy from when I can). I’m still a member of the College Orchestra Directors Association, and a posted on their list to see if anyone there had some leads.

Past CODA president Rebecca Burkhard wrote me that she’d performed the two selections, and recalled renting them from EAM. They used to represent the parts in the US, but these had been withdrawn since that performance. Clint Nieweg recommended (1) writing the librarian of an orchestra that had recorded it (providing the librarian’s name since he knows who’s who). He also found a performance by an orchestra in London several years ago, and (2) sent me information (from that orchestra’s website). Like an episode of a good TV show, the two leads tied into each other tidily.

Following lead 1, The BBC Philharmonic’s librarian, Ed Russell, said that Novello had printed them in the UK but they were now out of print and possibly represented in the US by Schirmer (though they’re not on any Schirmer list, and Kim Rabaglia from Schirmer confirmed that they don’t represent the piece). Ed also wrote that “In 1935 the composer attended a BBC studio session where she made corrections in our parts; I’m not sure if these corrections ever went to her publisher, they are not represented in the IMSLP score.”

Following lead 2, I wrote Peter Fender, conductor, composer, workshop leader, and intellectual force: I don’t know him personally, but I am very impressed by everything he’s doing (quantity and quality, including typesetting other works by Smyth). He said that for the performance in question (in 2012, which also included “On the Cliffs”), he’d rented it from a company that no longer rented the parts, instead directing him to Bruce Davidson, the nephew of Ethyl Smyth. An email to the Davidsons got a swift reply from Zoe Davidson who wrote that Bruce Davidson, then their son Andrew, had maintained the parts for a while. However, both Bruce and Andrew had found meeting the many requests involved problematic, and had given the set to the Royal College of Music a few years ago.

This led me to RCM Orchestra librarian Josephine Lappin, who, on receiving the set from the Davidsons, had followed up with the BBC, ensuring the parts the RCM library lends out are consistent with the markings made by Ethyl Smith around the 1935 BBC recording session. Jo was great to work with, and I look forward to next time I can borrow a work from the RCM.

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