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Something Fishy?

Updated: Jan 15

A young Eric Fishwick practises conducting with a hairbrush, his left hand calling for greater expressivity from the first violins [Fishwick Family photograph used without permission]

As the bicentenary of the birth of Yorkshire-born, but Dorset resident, composer Eric Fishwick [1895-1962] approaches [full biographical appreciation by Dr Stanton Fisher HERE], record companies are gearing up for the inevitable celebrations, with at least two recordings of his short but dense orchestral masterpiece Wortley Hall in the pipeline and several Thrupiece Philharmonic concerts at an advanced planning stage. [It is believed but not yet confirmed that these will not be conducted by Maestra Irina Legova whose antipathy to English music is well known and whose inability to interpret it proven beyond peradventure.*]

* "Before the interval, Maestra Legova led the orchestra in what can only be described as the most perfunctory, dismal and wrong-headed reading of Moreland's 35th "English" Symphony ever to have assulted an auditorium's acoustic. To say it was unidiomatic is to entirely miss the point; this was music making of the kind only Ms Legova can achieve; the equivalent of driving a combine harvester through a flock of flightless geese." [The Dorset Critic, Autumn 2016]. Fishwick's idiom is, of course, notoriously hard to get right. Theodor Adorno surely gets to the heart of the problem when he writes:

Considering the style of Fishwick’s ouvre as a whole, it is perhaps best decribed as radical anti- formalist ecclectic eschewing as it does both the traditional tonal pastoralism of the English school and the strict mathematically-derived atonality of the New Viennese [Schoenberg/Webern] School whilst embracing the possibilities of the polystylistic microtonality of the Italian neo-baroque revisionists. In other words it is “irredeemably messy”.

Tankersely where Eric Fishwick was born and spent his early years - not quite the metroplis Halifax was

Inevitably, as interest in the composer increases, scholarship will "follow the money" with University Afpuddle musicologist Professor Che-Sing Grants reportedly working on a new biography [provisional title: The Eric Fishwick, I Never Met and Never Knew"] and uncovering - it is widely believed - enough new material about the composer's early life to justify a substantial publisher's advance.

However, anyone hoping for lurid discoveries of a Tchaikovskian, Lisztian or Wagnerian nature is likely to be disappointed. Thus far the most controversial documented issue in Fishwick's life is his unwillingness as a toddler to visit his great aunt Ida who, he later disclosed, was "warm, friendly but smelled of stale piss"**. It is more than likely says Ay Dolatry [President of the Eric Fishwick Appreciation Society] that Professor Grants will talk up any new material to promote interest in what is probably just a rehash of fairly familar stuff.

** Disgusting as this might sound, it was not uncommon for people of a certain age to carry a domestic odour. Inside toilets were rare and a visit to the outside privy in mid-Winter - especially for those who had been sewn into their underwear "for the duration" - was a complex and rarely attractive prospect [see Dan Bladderthwaite [1994] "Ee by gumm it's nippy out there: A history of ablution practices in Yorshire before 1939" [Threadbone Press]]. On the subject of Eric Fishwick it should be noted that Highgrove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians states "his life was an open book and one in which few pages were inscribed with anything more memorable than a page number and the occasional full stop".

The two recently rediscovered landscapes. Are they evidence of a greater geographical curiosity and an exposure to more cosmopolitsn influences than hitherto acknowledged

One potentially interesting new lead, however, comes in the form of two recently rediscovered landscape paintings believed to have been sketched by the composer in or around 1920. One depicts the view from his bedroom window in the Tankersley cottage from which his music-loving parents operated their mobile cat shearing business and one a Florida scene painted when it is believed the composer was visiting distant American cousins on their highly profitable orange groves. Though scholars have been aware of this visit, documentary proof that the composer's bayou-inspired Oranges and Lemons Suite was written there has been hard to come by and this, Professor Chei-Sing Grants' book will claim, is definitive.***

Yorshire amateur music making as the older generations of Fishwicks might have known it: "Do you know your monkey's pissed in my beer? No but you sing it and we'll all join in"

*** Others, however, have claimed that the piece was composed in London in 1922 - a contention given credence by the fact that the piece quotes verbatim the peal of St Clement Danes Church from which the eponymous nursey rhyme takes its cue.

Fans of Eric Fishwick will hope that a bicentenary re-evaluation of his compositional output will go some way towards re-establishing him in the pantheon of great Dorset composers. Though he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Dorset Academy of Music in 1960, by then almost forgotten by the general public Eric Fishwick died in a private nursing home in Purse Caundle on 10 November 1962, leaving behind only four completed works and a half bottle of Glenmorangie.

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