Ann Martin-Davis



Ann Martin-Davis - Heaven-Haven; The Songs of Peter Pope

From Classical Music Magazine

Pope sees the light

Pianist Ann Martin-Davis says some composers’ output slips justifiably into oblivion, but in the case of Peter Pope, he was genuinely lost.

That loss begins to be repaired with the release on Nimbus of Heaven-Haven - The Songs of Peter Pope, performed by Martin-Davis and the mezzo-soprano Susan Legg.

Like so many musical mysteries, this one began with the discovery of a box of scores in an attic. ‘There were bits and bobs of curious English music, but all the things written by Pope completely stood out,’ Martin-Davis says. ‘We knew this fantastic music had to be recorded.’

Further investigation revealed that the composer and his brothers were educated at Uppingham School and with the help of cellist Judith Mitchell, for whom Pope had written a work, Martin-Davis tracked down Pope’s widow, Noreen, to a nursing home. Noreen, a former piano teacher, invited her visitor to play Ravel duets with her and threw light on the mysterious Mr Pope, who had died in 1991.

The musical career had begun auspiciously enough: studies at the Royal College of Music with John Ireland and then in Paris with Nadia Boulanger - cut short by the Second World War and Pope having to head for Spain on a bicycle as the Germans entered the French capital. After service in the Royal Army Medical Corps in North Africa and Italy, Pope wrote a piano quartet which won him instant acclaim. Augeners offered to publish anything he wrote. But then there was silence.

Martin-Davis discovered that when Pope met Noreen she was a member of a severe Christian sect, the Raven-Taylor Brethren, which regarded the creative arts as sinful. He decided to forsake his career for marriage. He may also have been a believer. ‘You would not give your life up for something unless you were convinced by it,’ Martin-Davis says. ‘It is extraordinary'.

‘Suddenly he was erased from public life. There is no music from 1950 until 1968, and when he left the sect in the 1970s it was too late for him to relaunch his career, particularly when you think that the music of that time was Boulez and Stockhausen. This music, which is incredibly attractive, would not have been the thing', but quite rightly, she regards the songs as at least as strong as Ireland’s. 

© Phillip Sommerich