Constant Lambert: An Appreciation on the 50th Anniversary of His Death

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An appreciation on the SOth anniversary of his death by Robert Matthew-Walker

Constant Lambert died in London on 21 August 1951, two days before what would have been his 46th birthday. The versatility of such a brilliantly gifted musician outshone virtually all of his contemporaries: a composer, an experienced conductor, an expert on ballet and writer on music. This widely cultured man was a son of the painter George Washington Lambert, another son, Maurice, became a sculptor. Constant Lambert's wife, Isabel, who married Alan Rawsthorne after Lambert's death, was a noted painter. The artistic climate into which he was born, brought up, and married into, provided him with the perfect artistic environment.

In 1922 William Walton dedicated Facade to the 16-year-old Lambert, who had first enjoyed success when Diaghilev commissioned a ballet score from the 20year-old composer, having learned of his progress at the Royal College of Music under Vaughan Williams and Reginald Owen Morris. The result, Romeo and Juliet, was choreographed by Bronislava Niijanska and premiered in Monte Carlo by Diaghilev's company in 1926.The fine new all-- Lambert Chandos CD on their 9865, by the State Orchestra of Victoria under John Lanchberry, has Romeo and Juliet, Pomona and an early Overture. The Late Night Prom on 29 August included the first performance of Edward Shipley's and Giles Easterbrooks reconstruction of an early Piano Concerto, the virtually complete draft of which dates from 1924.

Lambert's second ballet, Pomona, from 1927, received an equally distinguished premiere from Bronislava Nijinska in Buenos Aries. By then Lambert had become a welcome visitor at the Sitwells' and his adorable setting for Solo Piano, Contralto, Mixed Chorus and Orchestra of Sacheverell Sitwell's evocative poem The Rio Grande, heady with a rich tropical atmosphere and propelled by a crisp and assured assimilation of middle-1920's jazz styles, has not lost its appeal. The Rio Grande was premiered under Lambert in 1929, the solo piano part being played by the great conductor Sir Hamilton Harty. The original performers made an excellent recording in January 1930, the year Lambert became the first Musical Director of the new Sadler's Wells Ballet. It was in this capacity that Lambert added many outstanding scores to the ballet repertory, including his own Horoscope alongside works by Arthur Bliss, Gavin Gordon and others.

Despite Lambert's heavy conducting schedule he published his brilliant "study of music in decline", Music Ho!, in 1934; with its sympathetic treatment of jazz. His son Kit inherited his father's appreciation of popular music, becoming manager of the famous English rock band The Who before his own untimely death. …