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David Heyes

Ruth Gipps: The Ox and the Ass Op. 71 for double bass (or double bassoon) & piano

Ruth Gipps: The Ox and the Ass Op. 71 for double bass (or double bassoon) & piano

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About the Composition

Originally scored for double bass and piano, or double bass and chamber orchestra, this exquisite miniature has a beautiful pastoral mood making great use of the lyrical and singing qualities of the double bass. The poem for the 'Carol' has an obviously Christmas theme, but the piece was intended to be played at any time of year and displays the soulful and cantabile qualities of the double bass throughout its three octave range. 

The Ox and the Ass was also arranged for Contra Bassoon and Piano by the composer and it was recorded in 1997 by the American player Susan L. Nigro on Little Tunes for the Big Bassoon (Crystal Records CD348). 

The edition is published with piano accompaniments for both solo and orchestral tunings. Also playable by contra-bassoon and piano, and a solo part is included. 

A version with chamber orchestra accompaniment is available from Recital Music. 

The Ox and the Ass was completed on 26 October 1988 and is dedicated to Russell Killick, who gave the first private performance in December 1990 with the Salon Orchestra at the Royal Artillery Officers' Mess. 

The first public performance was at Wells Cathedral School on 12 June 1999 by Alexandra Hengstebeck (double bass) and Mark Cracknell (piano). 

About the Composition

Ruth Gipps was a self-declared rebel all her life and was one of Britain's most prolific female composers, producing well over 100 works including five symphonies, numerous tone poems, six concertos and various chamber and choral works. 'I've suffered from being unintentionally rather conspicuous. My mother was Swiss and it was natural for me to wear bright colours but polite English society doesn't really go for large, jolly, wide-hipped and colourful females like me.' 

She was a composer, conductor and professional musician at a time when the profession was male dominated and she became an unwitting pioneer, campaigning ardently for British music and musicians all her life. 

Ruth Gipps was born in Bexhill-on-Sea on 20 February 1921 and her prodigious musical talent was discovered at the age of three. By the age of ten she was playing piano concertos with local orchestras and her first compositions were published in 

1929. At the age of 15 she was awarded a place at the Royal College of Music, London to study composition with R.O. Morris and Ralph Vaughan Williams, oboe with Leon Goossens, and piano with Arthur Alexander and Kendall Taylor. She won a number of composition prizes at this time and her tone poem 'Knight in Armour' was conducted by Sir Henry Wood at the Last Night of the Proms in 1942. 

She played oboe and cor anglais with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1944-5) and subsequently began a conducting career which was certainly an unusual step for a woman in the 1940s and 50s. Undaunted, she founded the London Repertoire Orchestra in 1955, which she ran until 1986, the London Chanticleer Orchestra in 1961, and was offered conducting work with the London Symphony Orchestra, Boyd Neel Orchestra and Pro Arte Orchestra. 

Alongside her conducting and composing commitments, Ruth Gipps spent much of her life as a Professor of composition and harmony, including appointments at Trinity College of Music (1960-66), Royal College of Music (1967-77) and from 1977 as Senior Lecturer in Music at Kingston Polytechnic (now University). In 1967 she became the second woman to chair the Composers' Guild of Great Britain and was awarded an MBE in 1981. 

Dr Jill Halstead, a leading academic writes: 'Stylistically her work parallels the other British composers of her generation who were influenced by the folk song revival and the new Franco-Russian movement. Her style is easily accessible and rich in character, marked by use of highly melodic tonal/modal themes and vibrant orchestration; harmonically her work can be chromatically complex yet never fully leaves the realms of tonality.' 

Ruth Gipps died on 23 February 1999 at the age of 78. 

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