“November Woods”, Arnold Bax

Back during the summer heatwave I included Arnold Bax’s “Summer Music” in a seasonally appropriate playlist. Here via YouTube is a piece for this season:



Bax himself disavowed programmatic intent. According to Wikipedia:

November Woods, like several other symphonic poems by Bax, is inspired by nature. The composer disavowed any programmatic content, declaring that the work “may be taken as an impression of the dank and stormy music of nature in the late autumn, but the whole piece and its origins are connected with certain rather troublous experiences I was going through myself at the time….”.[3] The experiences to which he alluded were connected with the break-up of his marriage and his love affair with the pianist Harriet Cohen.[4] The untroubled second theme of the work may, according to the commentator Keith Anderson, suggest more tranquil feelings of earlier days.[5]

In the earlier years of his career, Bax was given to writing for very large orchestral forces.[6] November Woods calls for three flutes; piccolo; two oboes; cor anglais; three clarinets, one doubling bass clarinet; two bassoons, one doubling contrabassoon; four horns; three trumpets; three trombones; one tuba; two harps; timpani; cymbals; glockenspiel; celeste; and strings.[4] The analyst John Palmer comments that despite the large forces, Bax’s orchestration is among the most subtle in his entire oeuvre: “In the opening moments, quivering woodwinds, harps, and muted strings present a delicately shifting array of colors”.[4] Palmer draws attention to instrumental combinations, such as oboe doubling cello and viola playing with bassoon and cor anglais.[4]

After an opening that evokes a strong breeze, with harp glissandi and a swift and agile woodwind theme, a muted solo cello moves the melodic content forward. The main theme, a descending, chromatic, three-note figure, dominates the first part of the work, which is developed before the second subject, an andante con moto, in which harp and celeste add colour to a theme played by cor anglais, bassoon and viola. A central section, with pianissimo strings and high horns precedes a brief sonata form development and recapitulation. After a sonorous climax the music returns to the opening key of G minor and the work ends with the bass clarinet fading to a quiet finish.[4][5]

Prior Bax posts include excerpts from his memoir Farewell My Youth:  here on the forgotten and despised man of the Irish revolution, Darrell Figgis and here on a literary bus conductor ,  and here on a mystical experience in Donegal.


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