Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Simon Callaghan, the music of the Derbyshire-born Roger Sacheverell Coke has started to emerge from the obscurity in which it has languished since the composer’s death in 1972.
Despite showing considerable early promise, Coke remained an outsider in British musical life. Following studies at Eton (until 1931), he took private lessons with Mabel Lander (piano) and Alan Bush (composition) rather than attending university or music college. Coke credited Bush for helping him to find his musical voice, and cited Arnold Bax as a major influence, but his musical sympathies also extended to Bruckner, Mahler and Rachmaninov at a time when all three were deeply unfashionable among musical cognoscenti. His piano concertos nonetheless attracted widespread attention, with performances in Bath and Bournemouth, and BBC radio broadcasts of the second concerto in 1934 and the third concerto in 1939.
The three cello sonatas featuring on this disc frame the years 1936 to 1941, a very productive period in Coke’s life in which he also composed his second symphony (dedicated to Rachmaninov), the third and fourth piano concertos, a set of 24 preludes for piano, the opera The Cenci, the second and third piano sonatas, the first violin sonata, the Poem for cello, piano and small orchestra, as well as several sets of songs and other smaller pieces. This output is all the more remarkable given that Coke was already showing signs of the mental illness that would have a major impact on his creativity in later years, regularly leading to his hospitalisation for several months at a time.
The second cello sonata in C major op. 29 coincides with a decisive moment in Coke’s compositional development. While in the throes of composing the sonata in October 1938, Coke decided to destroy of a number of early works he now regarded as immature – notably his first symphony and first piano concerto – an action reported in the Sheffield Telegraph (11 October 1938) presumably after a tip-off from Coke himself. Perhaps for this reason, the work seems to have held a particular significance to the composer, leading him to programme it in at least 19 concerts until 1964 (by comparison, the first sonata appeared in 13 concerts and the third sonata achieved only 5 outings) and issue a printed edition under his own imprint in 1951.
Dedicated to Coke’s mother Dorothy, the first cello sonata op. 24 received its first performance at Brookhill Hall on 27 June 1936, in which the composer was joined by the Sheffield-based cellist Alan Morton. The London premiere followed at Aeolian Hall on 10 December that year in a concert consisting entirely of Coke’s music, including the second piano sonata op. 26 and the Ballade for solo piano op. 27. Cast in four movements, the sonata exhibits many of the hallmarks of Coke’s music.
Composed towards the end of 1941, the third sonata was ‘affectionately dedicated to Kinkie Halswell’, an individual whose identity remains unknown.
Like its two predecessors, the sonata received its premiere at Brookhill Hall, in a concert on 27 May 1942, once again featuring Alan Morton and the composer. By this time, Coke was suffering from longer spells of mental instability, and received treatment for depression and schizophrenia.
Simon Callaghan’s début concerto disc for Hyperion’s lauded Romantic Piano Concerto Series features the world premiere recordings of Roger Sacheverell Coke’s concertos with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins. Watch the trailer here.
The CD reached #3 in the Official Classical Charts (remaining in the Charts for 3 weeks), the Top 10 in the Classic FM Charts, and featured as November CD of the Month on Colchester Classics and MusicWeb International!
Watch the trailer here.
Read programme notes here.
Little is known about Derbyshire pianist and composer R.S. Coke though he was clearly valued during his lifetime and there is an entry about him in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Artists who admired his work include Eugene Goossens who conducted Coke's opera "The Cenci", Sir Henry Wood who conducted the composer's first symphony (broadcast on the BBC) and the Brosa Quartet who performed his chamber music. He was a friend of both Moiseiwitsch and Rachmaninov and dedicated his 2nd Symphony to Rachmaninov with his permission. Watch the trailer here.