Concert Notes

Bruce Montgomery’s Concertino for String Orchestra

Notes by TŌN violinist Shaina Pan

The Writer/Composer
English composer Bruce Montgomery wrote mostly choral and film music, but was also known for his classic crime novels and short stories which he wrote under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin. Born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1921, he went on to study modern languages at Oxford while also an organ scholar and choirmaster. After graduating, he became a teacher at a boarding school, and it was during this time when he began writing his crime novels, as well as his first choral and concert works. It was not until almost a decade later that he would establish himself as a film composer.

The Intersection of Language and Music
Montgomery never strayed far from the intersection of language and music; in addition to scoring nearly 40 films, he was also known for writing novels with many musical references and backdrops. There were common elements between his life and his art; the protagonist of his famous Gervase Fen novels is a professor at an Oxford-like institution, and his novel Frequent Hearses is set in a film studio. His novel Swan Song is set during a production of a Wagner opera. Montgomery himself wrote a children’s ballad opera called John Barleycorn and two additional dramatic works which were never finished because he was preoccupied “writing filthy film scores and stinking stories for the popular press,” according to his friend and collaborator, Kingsley Amis.

His Sole Instrumental Work
Concertino for String Orchestra, completed in 1948, is Montgomery’s sole instrumental work. After its first performance, a review described the piece as “a graceful, flowing, three-movement work, well written, economical in notes and notable for a lyrical lento espressivo of imaginative warmth.” In particular, the second movement “moves the listener with its thoroughly English mixture of pensive nostalgia,” according to biographer David Whittle. Of Montgomery’s choral and concert works, the Concertino for String Orchestra is the only one that is widely available as a recording.