228 July-August 2013 Brian Piano music on Cameo Classics The

228 July-August 2013 Brian Piano music on Cameo Classics The
228
July-August 2013
Brian Piano music on Cameo Classics
In this issue:
NO sooner was it announced that the first
commercially-available recordings of music by
Havergal Brian were to be re-issued on CD by
Heritage Records, than another classic recording is
set to make a re-appearance on CD.
‘The most unlucky opera ever written’
- part 2 Malcolm MacDonald
Reviews: the Heritage CDs
John Whitmore, John Grimshaw
A conversation with Mark Stone
Peter Hill’s well-regarded recording of the complete John Grimshaw
piano music first appeared on Cameo Classics in
1981, supported by Douglas Young in the Double Piano recital review
Martyn Becker
Fugue in E flat. There had appeared to be
something of a Brian jinx associated with its first
appearance on CD however, as the original digital master had gone missing. The CD
therefore appeared using a transcription of an original LP version as its source, clicks
and all.
Now comes news of a re-mastering of the recording—not from the original master,
which is still lost, but from the transcription of a LP that has turned out to be in
excellent condition, and was then expertly refurbished by US restorer Curt Timmons. The result is as close to the original
recording as it is now possible to get, and is being re-issued by Cameo Classics as volume 8 in its British Composers Premiere
Collection, CC9016CD. For purchase details, contact David Kent-Watson on cameo36classics@gmail.com.
The Power of Robert Simpson
A new biography of Robert Simpson has been published by HBS member Donald Macauley.
Simpson was pivotal in the growing appreciation of Havergal Brian from the 1950s when he
worked as a producer for the BBC. Not only a BBC producer of course: he was a major
symphonic composer in his own right. Simpson’s work was (and is) greatly admired by fellow
musicians such as Herbert Howells, Edmund Rubbra, Lennox Berkeley, Michael Tippett and
Anthony Payne. He was a man of unshakeable principle who spoke out for enduring cultural
values, then as now under threat from ‘bogus commercialisation’.
Firmly in the classical tradition though modern in language, Simpson’s own music was much
influenced by Beethoven, Haydn, Nielsen and later, Bach and Bruckner. The book is available
together with further information at http://www.donaldmacauleybooks.com
Donald writes ‘I do hope you get as much pleasure in reading about this remarkable and gifted
man as I did researching and writing this biography.’
Accounts Scrutineer
FOLLOWING Mike Lunan’s joining the Committee as Membership Secretary, he can no longer properly act as the Society’s
Independent Scrutineer of the annual Accounts. It is a legal requirement that such scrutiny takes place each year in advance of the
AGM at which the Accounts are adopted.
Mike writes that the task is not onerous; the Treasurer supplies figures which are exemplary, laid out clearly and fully, making it
straightforward to trace items of income and expenditure. It is not required that this be done to the same standard as a professional
audit would attain - the requirement is that the Scrutineer is satisfied, having made reasonable checks and enquiries, that the figures
are true and honest. Mike has done this for the past several years, and it generally takes him about 6 to 8 hours, and that includes
walking to the Post Office to post the whole lot back to the Treasurer. A fee (£50 or £60 in recent years) is payable for this.
The work comes in one lump in early May. Apart from that there is nothing else to do apart from planning how to spend the £50 (or
£60).
The Chairman would welcome a volunteer for this vital position. Distance is no object, as witnessed by the fact that Mike lives in
Caithness. Please contact the Chairman at hbschairman@tesco.net.
NEXT ISSUE: The last part of Malcolm MacDonald’s article on the genesis of The Tigers, plus more.
1
‘The most unlucky opera ever written’: how Havergal Brian wrote
The Tigers – a narrative chronicle from inception to publication as reflected in his
letters to Granville Bantock and Ernest Newman—Part 2
Malcolm MacDonald
scheme – in which case he would require independent
music for it’. And the next day (24 February): ‘I think it
will be better for me to do Barber’s work as a separate
opera, when he has given it the touches I suggested to
him. My own libretto can be strengthened by the female
element if I keep the women introduced in the first act
running through the work instead of dismissing them in
the 1st Act’21.
IN part 1, Brian was robustly defending his libretto for
The Tigers…
(H. R.) Barbor, whom Brian at first generally referred to
as ‘Barber’ - though in later letters he uses the correct
spelling13 - seems to have offered Brian a piece called
‘Carnival’ which he thought could substitute for Brian’s
own Act I, or perhaps the Prologue. ‘I am not sure how
far Barber’s “Carnival” will fit my work’, Brian wrote to
Bantock on 16 February. ‘I should think there is quite
enough stuff in the 1st Act of what I have already done to
cover his work. Curiously enough, you did not discover
that my music has no nothing relationship with the
libretto & was written in spite of it. You remember my
showing you some songs at Moseley 10 years ago and a
Ballad – ‘Carmilhan’ – the former since published14. I
worked then on an idea. You put your hands across &
asked where the melody was. I say D--- the melody. Look
at the lovely melodies in my ‘English Suite’ and
elsewhere. Where are they now? Perhaps on some soft
sanitary paper in a ladies lavatory. You never can tell. At
present then I await Barber’s “Carnival” & if it can be
done I will fit it into the first act of my opera. There is a
very big aria in it which would suit Mullings15, and a
nonsense song which could be given to the Mayor16.
Barber might write another play to cover the II Act of
what I have done. You ought to hear it. It is all built on
one musical idea, & big stuff17. Would you be kind enough
to lend a room with a piano at the Institute18 on
Thursday night next19 at 6pm for 1 hour & I will meet
Barber and play the other stuff over. Meanwhile I shall
have received his “Carnival” and will know what to do
with it. […] Do you think Beecham would consider a
work before it was written?’.
Brian did not use Barbor’s work in The Tigers, therefore;
nor did he write any independent opera on Carnival,
Jezebel or any other play of Barbor’s. He did not forget
him, however22, and in November 1918 composed two
‘scenas for baritone and piano or orchestra’ to texts by
Barbor, now unfortunately lost. After 24 February there
is no mention of The Tigers for quite a while – Brian had
other concerns both artistic and domestic in the
meantime – but on 23 December he once again reported
to Bantock ‘I am pegging away at my opera’. On 22
February 1919 he announced ‘I will be at the Institute on
Thursday23 at 5pm – with the finished opera!” and to
Newman he wrote on 24 February ‘I finished the opera
tonight’. At this point the work was still entitled The
Grotesques, for Brian mentions it under that title in a
letter to Bantock of 1 March, after having showed it to
Bantock at the Midland Institute. He continues: ‘Your
suggestion about the dramatisation of the ‘fair’ music is
a fine one & I’ll do it & we’ll have it most dramatic.
There is a much bigger thing follows the “Kelly” but you
didn’t hear it24. […] So I will get the work cleared up,
work out the fair business & let you know when I have
kicked off’. But only a week later he had apparently
finished compositional work on the opera for good, as he
reported on 8 March: ‘I finished the counterpointing of
the chorus in the “finale” last night; so with it ends the
creative side of things & now for the most interesting
period in its development’. (This is the same letter in
which Brian comments on discovering that there was a
real ‘Tigers’ regiment.) He also says: ‘Let me ask you to
believe that the characters do not represent anything or
A week later he had read Barbor’s work and was not
convinced it would be suitable: ‘Barber will not care, I
think, to wait so long as it will take me to set his work,
for I don’t find that much I have already done will fit his
work. He talked the other night of having his “Je[zebel?]
20” produced as a play, independently of the opera
____________________
13
Actually an understandable confusion if he first simply heard Barbor’s name spoken, and only later saw it written down.
14
Bantock moved from Moseley near Birmingham to the manor house of Broadmeadow in King’s Norton in 1907, so Brian’s ‘10 years ago’ should be at
least 11, and more likely 12. The Ballad for chorus and orchestra Carmilhan, on a text by Longfellow, is now lost, but was being composed in April
1906 and was probably completed by the end of that month or in early May.
15
Frank Mullings (1881-1953) was the leading tenor in the Beecham Opera Company (1916-20) and its successor, the British National Opera Company
(1921-29). In 1914 Brian heard Mullings sing in Holbrooke’s Dylan and wrote to Bantock ‘I would like to hear him sing some things of mine some day
– I’ve been on the booze with him several times’. The ‘big aria’ mentioned could be for Pantalon (a tenor) in Prologue Scene 2, but there isn’t anything
that could reasonably be described as a ‘nonsense song’.
16
17
There is no Mayor in Brian’s libretto as we have it: more probably he was a character in Barbor’s piece.
If Bantock had not heard Act II, though he had evidently seen parts of the score, that might seem to confirm it was written last; but Brian’s letter of 23
December suggests rather that Act II was already written before he started on Act III.
18
The Midland Musical Institute, where Bantock was Principal.
19
That would be 21 February 1918.
20
The word is illegible, but seems to begin ‘Je…’, and Jezebel – a tragedy in three acts by H. R. Barbor was published in 1924 (London: A. Brenton).
21
Should we perhaps conclude that Pamela Freebody and the haymaking girls had not yet made their appearance in The Tigers as first written?
22
Eastaugh (op. cit., p. 223-224) reproduces – without naming its author – Barbor’s worried letter of 21 May 1918 to Bantock; he was evidently being
bombarded with missives from Brian and did not know what to make of his habitual OTT style.
23
That would be 27 February 1919.
24
Does Brian mean ‘Wild Horsemen’?
2
anybody. You may have thought they did and perhaps in
some wild moment I wrote and may have identified
someone with them. The opera must be taken for what it
is worth at its face value – the characters are symbolical
of something deeper. Any thoughts of ink slinging at
one’s friends or the British Army must at once be
dismissed. Life is too short for either task’. In a letter to
Newman on 27 March he reports ‘I’ve done nothing more
with the opera – I enjoyed the delirium of creating it & –
it cannot happen again’.
orchestral performances coming off26 and I think it
advisable to perform my ‘Kelly’ variations from the
opera. I scored these several years ago & sent the score,
together with the score of an orchestral suite to
Beecham addressed at the Aldwych Theatre. I sent
several letters to Baylis27 asking for the return of these
if TB did not want them – but I did not even get a reply.
Since Baylis’ death I have not troubled and I don’t know
where the Beecham library is kept or who is in charge
of it. Will you give me a hand in this matter because I
am absolutely lost as to who to approach on the matter’.
This letter raises several conundrums. As we have seen,
the ‘Kelly’ Variations was being orchestrated in February
1918 with a view to interesting Beecham, and was
presumably sent off to him then (thus ‘several years
ago’). But what of the ‘orchestral suite’ sent ‘together’
with it? It looks suspiciously as if this was English Suite
No. 2, which has heretofore been firmly dated in 1915
and presumed lost since sent to Beecham that year,
never returned, and never located despite searches of his
library. Thus in a letter of 16 October 1915 to Bantock,
HB says he had recently ‘sent it in for an orchestral
competition of which Beecham is the principal
adjudicator. I did it out of loyalty to him’. Did Brian
conflate two different occasions when recounting the fate
of English Suite No. 2 to Reginald Nettel nearly thirty
years later?28 Sending a score to an ‘unknown
Competition Committee’ (as he refers to it later in the
same letter) is not the same as sending it to Beecham at
the Adelphi Theatre. Did the committee return the Suite
to Brian, and did he then send it direct to Beecham
separately in 1918? Or is this a distinct, entirely
unknown ‘orchestral suite’ (because 1918 is too early for
it to have been English Suite No. 3)?29 The difficulties do
not end there. Whether or not Newman came to Brian’s
aid, the fact is – or would seem to be – that he eventually
got the score of the ‘Kelly’ Variations back, since it was
premiered under Sir Dan Godfrey in 1924. If the ‘Kelly’
Variations, why not English Suite No. 2 (or whatever
suite it was)? Or maybe – vertiginous thought, but not all
that unusual in Brian’s career – he didn’t get the ‘Kelly’
Variations back, and was forced to make a new
orchestral score?30 In fact, this may well have been the
case, for on 13 March he told Newman not to ‘bother
about the scores I sent Beecham. I was in town
yesterday & was informed by Mr Felix Goodwin31 –
who has control of the Beecham library – that neither of
This account anchors the actual composition of The Tigers
in a time-frame of early February 1917 to 7 March 1919. In
fact there were to be no further developments with it for a
considerable interval, and henceforth mention of the
opera virtually disappears from his correspondence with
Bantock. Not, however, from his letters to Newman.
Perhaps because the Beecham Opera Company was
already in financial difficulties and unable to take on such
an ambitious work, Brian left his draft un-orchestrated;
after moving in mid-1919 to London, then Eastbourne,
and finally to Lewes he did, however, begin to make a
proper vocal score. On 22 October he wrote to Newman ‘I
am slogging at my opera trying to get the vocal score
ready by Xmas & send it to Beecham. I have never
worked under such difficulties before & there are
moments when I find myself wondering if the game is
really worth a dead candle’. This 1919 vocal score is,
presumably, distinct from the one made at Moulsecoomb
in 1926-27; or maybe it formed the basis for it. There is
nothing to tell us whether it was finished or abandoned, or
whether it got sent to Beecham. After this, perhaps
because of his own acute financial straits, or his unsettled
life, or because his imagination had been seized by the
need to begin composing an even more ambitious work –
the Gothic Symphony – he then allowed the opera to
languish in draft for nearly ten years, though he was
certainly on the lookout for ways in which its music could
be exploited. For example, in December 1921, Brian
allowed a 4-bar extract from the opera to be published as
a supplement to Volume 1, No. 5 of the magazine Fanfare,
edited by his friend Leigh Henry, under the title Fanfare
from ‘The Grotesques’25.
Much earlier in that year – on 10 March, by which time he
was living in Marine Square, Brighton, Brian had written
to Newman asking if he could help retrieve scores
previously sent to Beecham. ‘I have several promised
____________________
25
The extract includes a reference to ‘Colonel Toby’, evidently an early identity of Sir John Stout. See Newsletter No. 10 (1977) for a description of the
tiny manuscript. [Reproduced on the front page of this edition. –Ed.]
26
Presumably referring to the forthcoming performances of Festal Dance, Fantastic Variations on an Old Rhyme and In Memoriam, all of which took
place during 1921.
27
Donald Baylis, Beecham’s secretary and by 1913 general manager of his opera company. Alan Jefferson, in Sir Thomas Beecham, a Centenary Tribute
(London: MacDonald & Jane’s, 1979), pp. 128-9, has suggested that Baylis was in fact an illegitimate son of the conductor’s father, Sir Joseph
Beecham, and thus Thomas Beecham’s half-brother.
28
See the account in Nettel, Ordeal by Music (OUP: 1946), pp. 65-66: ‘Beecham’s complete indifference to routine tasks was remarkable. In 1914 [sic]
Brian sent him three scores, one of which (his Second English Suite) was never returned. At the time of Beecham’s threatened bankruptcy diligent
search was made for this score among his effects, without result […]’. This passage is reproduced unchanged in Nettel’s Havergal Brian and his
Music (Dobson: 1976), p. 51.
29
Nettel does mention three scores, so maybe the list was English Suite 2, ‘Kelly’ Variations and ‘Unidentified Orchestral Suite’? A possible contender
for the latter work might be the lost Three Comedy Dances – Brian’s arrangement of the Three Illuminations for small orchestra, which had occupied
him just before starting work on The Tigers.
30
It is probably worth reminding readers that Brian’s autograph full scores of the ‘Kelly’ Variations and of all five of the Symphonic Dances are lost.
The scores of the Variations, Wild Horsemen, Green Pastures, Gargoyles and Shadow Dance were reconstructed by me for Cranz & Co. from the
existing sets of parts in 1971-72. There were no parts for Lacryma, which thus remained unperformable until the recovery of the full score of The
Tigers itself.
31
For whom see Brian’s obituary-reminiscence printed as part of On the other hand, by La main gauche, Musical Opinion, March 1935, p. 494.
3
the Dances through subscriptions. He discusses this in
one of the few letters to Bantock that specifically
mentions Tigers material, on 4 May: ‘The subscriptions
will not go beyond publishing the 5 dances two of which
I played to you at the Institute34. I call them
my things could be traced.’
On 6 May he acknowledged receipt of a parcel from
Newman: ‘I am so glad to have your letter & parcel and
know that you like the work. The opera is full of things of
that sort – that I sent to you. I shall turn the whole thing
into a series of suites for orchestra, or piano – just do the
reverse of Granados’32. Evidently the parcel contained
some of the Symphonic Dances in short or piano score,
for on 23 December Brian informed Newman ‘that the
Dances you saw last May April from the opera which
came into being through you & B are to receive their
baptismal fire at a Goossens concert. I heard from G this
morning. I don’t know how it will be done for at present
only two of them are scored and I want to find someone
who will stand the [indecipherable word] of this
production as far as the material is concerned & [two
indecipherable words] it. Perhaps we might have the
opera put on some day when it is a complete work.
Anyhow – I show how much I believe I owe to you for
stimulating this thing […]’.
5 Symphonic Dances
for Orchestra
They are only from the opera I wrote in B’ham & I think
the printed scores & a piano edition could be put on the
market now very cheaply. I should not publish the
orchestral material unless I get promises of more subs.’
Eventually this scheme was abandoned – Brian reported
to Bantock on 13 June that he had been unable to raise
enough subscriptions – and so the Dances remained
unpublished. But some at least of the opera extracts were
eventually performed, and were indeed almost the only
music from The Tigers to be heard before the opera’s
studio premiere in 1983. The Symphonic Variations on
‘Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?’ was first performed in
Bournemouth under Sir Dan Godfrey in February 1924,
while Wild Horsemen and Gargoyles were premiered
under Bantock at the BBC’s Thames Wharf Studio in
March 193435.
It would be interesting to know which two of the Dances
were already scored: that remark belies the statement in
the opera full score that all five were orchestrated in 1922.
It’s possible that the two were the ‘two new scores
finished’ that he had mentioned in a letter to Bantock on
20 August; and on 19 September he sent Bantock ‘a
couple of scores’, unspecified – though it appears from a
later letter that one of these was English Suite No. 3. On
15 January 1922 Brian wrote to Newman that ‘I have had
to rearrange all my affairs to score those things for
Goossens which I gave to you [these 3 words added in the
margin, apparently replacing ‘wrote you about’ although
that phrase is not cancelled] – at this moment I don’t
know which he wants or how many of them’. To Bantock
on the 22nd, in what had become a habitually vaguer vein,
he declares ‘I’ve finished a number of scores’ without
mentioning either Goossens or the Dances. On 8 March,
thanking Newman for the help he had given in a dispute
Brian was having with Breitkopf & Härtel, he said he
would ‘like to show appreciation in some way. I always
said that I would put your name across the opera you
inspired33. I don’t think it ever will be completed. There is
no scope for such a thing in this country & the prospects
seem more & more remote now that Beecham has left the
field. It is the most unlucky opera ever written. It has
brought a sheaf of bad luck in its train. […] Even the
dances which I took out & scored for Goossens – one
hasn’t ever heard of the resumption of the Goossens
Concerts since he agreed to perform these dances in
November last. I don’t profess to look at these things as
you, psychologically – I only think it d--- funny that so
much evil follows my work. How the d--- is it – I didn’t
write it with an evil mind. […]’
Godfrey’s performance of the Variations brought Brian a
letter from a member of the audience that really got
under his skin, and this was the proximate cause of his
writing the long self-justifying letter to Bantock of 10
March 1924 which begins with the account of Beecham
and Newman suggesting he write an opera already
quoted. Brian then continues (with emphatic
underlining and quintuple exclamation-marks): ‘With
T.B.’s blessing I got to work and by the end of
November the libretto was written & I was well away
with the opera – the first act was finished in the
following February. Of course I played most of the
music to you at various times. [The letter-writer claims]
my opera was ‘inspired’ by a lady I met in Birmingham
while I was at the National Shell Factory working
there!!!!! […] I did not go to the National Shell Factory
until April 1917 – when most of the opera was written.
There is no lady in the opera at all except a creation of
my own imagination. […] The choicest bit, really very
choice is that the Variations out of the first act played
recently by Godfrey had been much influenced by
Gustav Holst!!!! My reply to that is, that the only work
by Holst which I have heard, was performed in 1913 at
the B’ham Town Hall – the same night that Harrison36
produced my ‘Doctor Merryheart’ & I’ve heard nothing
of Holst since. My impression of his work was that it
was unusually brilliant & there was a fine joke in the
finale & this was confirmed recently in some work I did
for Curwen in proof-reading37.
©Malcolm MacDonald 2013
Goossens’s venture eventually collapsed from lack of
funds, but Brian then tried to raise the money to publish
To be concluded in NL 229
____________________
32
Granados’s opera Goyescas was developed from his eponymous series of piano pieces.
33
To ‘put someone’s name across’ was Brian’s usual phrase for dedicating a work. In the event The Tigers bears no dedication.
34
No indication when this may have happened, but they may have been the two which were already scored in 1921.
35
Gargoyles had previously featured in a BBC New Music Rehearsal, conducted by John Ansell, in December 1927.
36
Julius Harrison. The concert took place on 3 January 1913.
37
Holst’s work was Beni Mora. Interesting that Brian seems to have proof-read the score published by Curwen. That he afterwards got to know a great
deal more of Holst is shown by his various writings about him for Musical Opinion.
4
A Conversation with Mark Stone
John Grimshaw talked to Mark Stone at this year’s AGM about the baritone’s
career, and his recordings of Havergal Brian’s complete solo songs.
MS: Well, I came up with the idea of recording the complete
songs of Quilter because when I was at music college, I had
copies of a few of the songs and I quite liked them: and no-one
else seemed to be singing them, so I thought it would be a
good idea to collect them together, there must be about thirty
or so. So when I got copies of all 142 songs(!), I thought I
should put together a project to record them. We approached
Onyx but by the time we got around to it, my contact had
moved to Sony. So we release a double-CD of Quilter songs
which sold in moderate and perfectly-acceptable numbers, but
not enough for Sony to continue the project. So I thought that
it couldn’t be much more effort to continue the project myself.
There was a lot more work—but by that time I’d already done
it!
JG: I believe you started off in the financial world?
MS: Well, I kind of drifted into finance. I studies maths at
university with a desire to become a chartered accountant. Then
when that didn’t do it for me, I went into corporate finance with
one of the big banks. After seven months, I decided to take the
great leap; this was in 1993. I’d sung as a boy and I didn’t have a
family at the time, so it was a good time to abandon everything,
I think.
JG: And so to the Brian songs. What did you first think when
you saw them? Be honest!
MS: What I thought then as now was the variety across the
songs; I get the feeling that he was experimenting. There are
some very traditional-sounding songs, and then some quite
peculiar ones.
JG: I think he was caught between the need for selfexpression, and the desire to sell them, as they were mostly
written at a time when he was finding it hard to support
himself.
JG: Did you find that the music business picked up quickly? Or
slowly?
MS: I went to music college, although bizarrely, the day after I
handed in my notice at the bank, I was head-hunted for an
accountant’s job! As music college didn’t start for a year, I did
the job part-time, along with work as an ad-hoc chorister at
Opera North. I spent three years at the Guildhall, singing in the
Barber of Seville, and a triple-bill of German opera.
MS: It’s like in the symphonies, when he was obviously
thinking in huge gestures. It’s hard when looking at the three
lines of a song setting to get a feel for the sweep that he was
thinking about.
JG: What was your first professional engagement?
JG: How do you prepare a song for recording?
MS: Opera North again: Escamillo in Carmen.
MS: I always write the CD notes first before I go into the
recording studio, as if you write them afterwards, you may
come across interesting
facts that might have
affected the way that you
interpreted them. So I like
to find out about the history
of the composer and the
song, and then look at the
poem. So in a way, the
music, and how it lies in the
voice is probably the last
thing to be thought about.
JG: You’re now becoming known for English song: how did you
decide that you’d want to make this your own?
MS: I liked art-song in general, but I couldn’t imagine why
anyone would want a disc of me singing lieder when there were
German singers doing it much better, and equally, I thought
that English song was as good as German lieder, but neglected.
At Guildhall, we sang lieder, Italian arias—but no English songs.
Which is bizarre, because I think you need to learn how to sing
in English—even if you are English. Going abroad, a lot of
people say that English singers who go to work in their
languages, even though they have no idea how to speak the
languages, they have very good diction, because they think
about it in a different way. You have to think about the diction
of a language completely separate to understanding it.
JG: Did you find any of the
songs in particular had
something special to them?
JG: Do you find that there’s much demand for you to give
English song recitals, or are you asked more to do other things?
MS: Yes, there are some that I thought would fit well in a
recital, when I was recording them—and I still think that—and
also, the ones that weren’t immediately obvious to me as a
performer, I come back to them and think, ‘yes, there’s really
something about them’; for example, the two Blake songs on
disc 2. They’re peculiar, but wonderful. Some of the songs’
word-settings are taxing, but they don’t sound as peculiar as it
felt at the time!
MS: More English song in this country, certainly. I don’t think
that there’s a big market for song recitals anyway: I think people
are more interested in opera galas, Carmina Buranas… But
there’s a wealth of repertoire that I’m still just starting to
investigate.
JG: Yes, it’s a very rich field; there’s just so much that’s not
performed at all.
JG: Does Brian fit into the canon of English song writers?
MS: He fits in as well as Delius fits in—which is not very well!
He stays in a particular style for about three songs, and then
the next few are completely different. That makes him very
difficult to categorise because the songs are so different. Some
of the early songs sound like Brahms, and some of the later
ones like Wolf. So maybe he doesn’t fit in well with the English
song tradition.
MS: In the twentieth century, thinking about art-song in
general, I think England had the crème-de-la-crème of what
was being composed; we should be very proud of it.
JG: So how did the idea of setting your own record company
come about, and what appeared to be a comprehensive attack
on the English song repertoire?
©Mark Stone 2013, abridged, photos Martyn Becker
5
The Heritage LSSO release
John Whitmore and John Grimshaw reminisce about ‘an ideal introduction to
Havergal Brian’s art’
impractical scores with the occasional kitchen sink thrown in
for good measure. Well, some of these observations may contain
elements of truth but none of them apply to any of the works
featured here. I don’t sit in the camp that claims that Brian is a
great composer but I object to him being dismissed out of hand
because of unfounded misconceptions and generalisations. His
huge output was admittedly inconsistent but at his best Brian
has something to say and he’s worth hearing. Brian has been
treated rather shoddily over the years by the musical
establishment (whoever they may be) and he deserves more
respect and credit for his achievements. There’s some fabulous,
uplifting music to be heard on this Heritage set. Be warned some of it can become addictive!
Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
The First Commercial Recordings
Symphony No.10* [18:07]; Symphony No.21
[29:08]; Symphony No.22 (Symphonia Brevis)**
[9:10]; Psalm 23** [15:47]; English Suite No.5
(Rustic Scenes) [22:28]
Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra
conducted by
James Loughran*, Laszlo Heltay** and Eric Pinkett
with Paul Taylor (tenor) and the Brighton Festival
Chorus (Psalm 23).
rec. 18-19 July 1972 and June 1974, De Montfort
Hall, Leicester; Hove Town Hall, 10 April 1974.
HERITAGE HTGDC 256/7 2 CDs [95:02]
Symphony No. 10 is permanently engraved on my mind and has
been since encountering it on the original Unicorn LP. It opens
with a gripping march and fragments of this opening theme
form the basis of everything else that follows. The music is often
meditative in nature but there’s always an underlying menace
about it. There are passages of utter stillness that catch the ear.
One such passage (great pianissimo playing from the orchestra)
eventually erupts into a furious storm which then quickly
subsides. The changes of mood and pace are what make this
symphony so special. A violin solo takes us into the world of
English pastoral music but Brian then engulfs the mood of
serenity and calm with one final cataclysmic upheaval before
the music quietens down again. The composer then delivers the
most astonishing and hair-raising of endings: the violin returns,
the mood becomes dark, lonely and introspective and the work
finishes with a question mark hanging over it. This is a
tremendous symphony and the inspired performance is as good
as you could reasonably expect from a youth orchestra. Some of
the playing is jaw-dropping in its brilliance. The sense of danger
and discovery is tangible. Martyn Brabbins has recently
recorded the 10th for Dutton but despite the higher level of
orchestral execution his version seems to lack the magic and
atmosphere conjured up by Loughran in Leicester. Incidentally,
you can sample the 10th symphony and watch extracts from the
LSSO recording session on YouTube at this link: http://
youtu.be/9f7_wiFeDIU
THIS Heritage release, due to
be launched in September
[but available to members
now: see order form in NL
227.—Ed.], restores to the
catalogue
the
first
commercial recordings ever
made of Havergal Brian’s
music and for its historic
significance alone the 2 CD
set deserves a warm
welcome. Symphonies 10 and
21 were recorded by Unicorn
in 1972 and the coupling was
available on vinyl and then
briefly on a rather dry sounding CD reissue some years later. The
works on the second CD were recorded by CBS in 1974 but have
not been reissued since the original CBS Classics LP release in
1975. The Heritage audio engineers have used the original
masters as a starting point to produce this reissue.
Brian is accused of composing mammoth, overblown
impractical works but this can be brushed aside by listening to
Symphony No. 22, running as it does for just over 9 minutes.
Written in 1964/65 when he was in his 80s, the general mood is
one of menace and impending doom. Had it been written in the
late 1930s it could be argued that it was the composer’s reaction
to the imminent outbreak of war. The march rhythms, so typical
of Brian, conjure up visions of the military and the gathering of
dark clouds. Moments of repose are regularly brought crashing
down and the ending is magical - it’s another question mark
“what next?” The work has less immediate appeal than the 10th
but it’s one of those pieces that can quickly get under your skin.
An awful lot happens in its highly compressed time-span.
Heltay’s performance is superb and the LSSO rises to the
challenge. The recent Naxos version by Alexander Walker has
superior orchestral playing but there’s not much in it, and the
LSSO is in no way totally outclassed. Walker also adds an
irritating pause between the two movements thus destroying
the continuity of the symphony and he totally misses the mood
of foreboding at the very end. Laszlo Heltay generates more
atmosphere and bite and in truth the thinner string tone of the
LSSO allows the listener to hear more inner detail compared to
the luxuriant, smooth sounds generated by the Russian forces
on Naxos. The LSSO versions of 10 and 22 are still arguably the
ones to go for.
I urge potential listeners not to be put off by the fact that the
musicians involved are amateurs. “Schools orchestra” - the very
term can send a shiver down the spine. It conjures up thin,
painful strings and crude, out of tune playing. Well, to quickly put
that concern to bed, the Leicestershire Schools Symphony
Orchestra made commercial LPs for the Pye and Argo labels
under the direction of Sir Michael Tippett, Sir Arthus Bliss and
André Previn just a few years before these Brian sessions took
place. In the 1970s the orchestra’s patron and regular conductor,
Sir Michael Tippett, compared it favourably to the National Youth
Orchestra. Despite occasional lapses of intonation and a few bars
where the youngsters are stretched close to their limits their
playing is really quite remarkable in terms of its musicality,
technical assurance and poise.
As far as repertoire is concerned I can think of no better
introduction to the varied sound world of Havergal Brian than
the music that is on offer here. We have two short but
magnificent symphonies (10 and 22), an attractive choral work
and a quirkily original orchestral suite. Thrown in for good
measure is the only currently available recording of the very
approachable Symphony No. 21.
Many sceptics have an entrenched view of Brian as being a selftaught amateur, big on ideas but small on content and ability.
He’s the man who produced music with so many lines of
confusing counterpoint that all you end up hearing is an opaque,
grey, orchestral mush. He also specialised in composing massive,
Symphony No. 21 is good natured and pastoral in mood. It’s less
angry than many of Brian’s pieces and there’s something very
6
genial about it. The heart of the symphony is the beautiful slow
movement which in turns can be elegiac and then grave with
sudden outbursts of brass sonorities underpinning the stringladen texture. This music is a nod in the direction of Vaughan
Williams and the string section copes very well with the exposed,
legato writing it is asked to deliver. The ensuing scherzo is
mercurial and playful, allowing the orchestra to display its
virtuoso capabilities to the full with its scampering woodwinds
and imposing horns. The finale has passages of Brianesque
grimness and anti-romanticism about it but there are also some
light, melodious interludes (lovely work by the flautist). The
momentary lapse in string ensemble at the very beginning should
have been given a retake but no matter - Eric Pinkett’s realisation
of the work is well worth hearing. Towards the end he propels the
music forward and in his hands the symphony comes to a
glowing, optimistic close.
In summary, this set could convert some new listeners to
Brian’s music. The playing is never less than good and it is often
brilliant. This should be in the collection of anyone even
remotely interested in British music. Bravo!!
©John Whitmore 2013
FOR Havergal Brian fans of an increasingly-advancing age,
these pioneering recordings have a favourite place in the mind
that can never quite be superseded by their later companions in
the still-growing Brian discography. I have described in an
earlier Newsletter my first exposure to Brian that came with the
LP issue of this recording of symphony 10 in 1973. I found the
opening of the symphony one of the most memorable things I
had heard and it was not long before I was set by it on the path
of trying to collect recordings of as many Brian works as
possible. That disc was soon followed by the other LP remastered here together with the justifiably-lauded Lyrita
recording of symphonies 6 and 16. Surely there have been few
modern composers so lucky in the quality of the performances
that launched his or her presence on disc. One wonders whether
the subsequent Brian revival would have achieved half the
speed it did without such impressive and approachable
“samplers” of his large output.
The orchestra has a whale of a time in the English Suite No. 5.
This is almost light music but not quite. Brian continually adds
some quite bizarre twists and turns into the fabric and the music
isn’t always as straight forward as it would appear to be from the
titles he has given to the four movements. The opening Trotting
to Market bounces along quite nicely but then we keep
encountering pauses and gear changes. Do the horses keep
stopping for a break or do the cart wheels keep falling off? Either
way it’s very congenial, as is the closing movement, Village
Revels, with its high spirits, attractive folk dance tune and blazing
final bars. The two central movements are the most satisfying and
original. The Restless Stream is quite remarkable. Written for
woodwind and percussion (with horns included at the very end)
the music bubbles away but there is something quite
uncomfortable and sinister lurking underneath the surface. This
short intermezzo could have been penned by Nielsen in one of his
stranger moods. The highlight of the suite is the stunning Reverie
scored for strings alone. Running for the best part of 10 minutes
this dark elegy is English to the core but it treads a different path
to the likes of Vaughan Williams and Elgar. This is Brian at his
most inspired. This is intensely grave and searchingly tragic
music, expertly scored and beautifully played by the LSSO string
section.
Brian’s Psalm 23 has its foundations firmly rooted in the English
choral tradition. Despite being tuneful, confident and uplifting
the work seems to be missing all the usual Brian fingerprints of
originality. It’s structurally sound and enjoyable to listen to but
it’s hard to make any huge claims for it. The Brighton Festival
Chorus and tenor soloist Paul Taylor sing confidently throughout
but the orchestra, by its own superlative standards, sounds
slightly less secure than usual. Some entries are tentative and the
flute and oboe intonation could have been improved. Maybe the
players didn’t quite have the notes under their fingers. However,
it’s still a good performance. Heltay captures the spirit of the
work and the orchestra and choir clearly understand and enjoy its
idiom.
So now to the quality of the CD transfers. The Unicorn 10/21
coupling taped at De Montfort Hall was always a good recording
on vinyl but rather less appealing when it was reissued on CD.
The Heritage transfer is excellent with a natural balance, clarity,
warmth and good clean bass. The off stage trumpet and horn
solos both sound as if they come from another world and all the
climaxes have tremendous presence and bite. This is analogue
sound at its finest. The CBS LP was never very easy to enjoy with
its scrawny, fizzy strings and over-bright percussion. The
Heritage transfer is a miraculous improvement. Symphony 22
and Psalm 23, although recorded in Hove Town Hall, sound very
similar in quality to the Unicorn De Montfort Hall sessions. The
chorus in Psalm 23 is clean and imposing with wonderfully clear
diction. The ruinous end of side distortion encountered on the LP
is absent, thus giving the climaxes plenty of air. The engineering
in English Suite No. 5, supervised by a different producer, is more
“Phase Four” in its approach. Everything is very closely recorded
and there are a few extraneous noises to be heard (bow taps and
the like). However, there’s no doubting the physical impact of the
music making - glorious horns, highly detailed woodwind and
clear percussion. The string tone is bright and sweet and the
cellos and basses are imposingly realistic.
The Unicorn-Kanchana disc of symphonies 10 and 21 did have a
brief CD incarnation in the 1990s, though it did not remain in
the catalogue for long. The CBS LP did not even enjoy that new
lease of life and for many years the whereabouts and even the
existence of the master tapes were in doubt. At least two
members attempted to track them down in the CD era but
without any luck.
The present issue has been made possible by the persistence of
HBS members John Whitmore and Martyn Becker. As the notes
with the CD make clear, John was a member of the LSSO at the
time of the recordings and has more recently fulfilled the role of
LSSO Archivist. It was his persistence that finally tracked the
master tapes to the Sony Powergate storage facility in London.
Martyn Becker was the committee member who contacted
Heritage Records, since they had recently reissued some
Unicorn-Kanchana Delius discs in a boxed set and we thought
they might therefore be interested in reissuing the Brian 10 & 21
from the same source. The rest is, as they say, history.
There will be more reviews than mine in the pages of the
Newsletter, so I’ll try to be brief. Suffice it to say that in forty
years of listening to these performances, I have never heard
them in such clear sound as they enjoy on these discs. The detail
one can hear that never really came through on black disc
makes one wonder all the more about the sheer ability of these
young players. Just listen to the playing of the vivace of
Symphony 21 where the agility of all the players comes together
to absolutely electrifying effect. The performances are
amazingly alive for what was totally unfamiliar music in a
difficult style.
In each case where there is a more modern professionallyplayed commercial release, there are moments where these
performances still reveal more to the music and the recordings
of symphonies 10 and 22 and English Suite 5 can certainly hold
their own as alternative interpretations against Martyn
Brabbins, Alex Walker and Garry Walker respectively. Indeed,
the performance of Psalm 23, although not quite so clearly
recorded to my ears, is a better and more organic performance
overall than that by the RLPO and Chorus with Douglas Bostock
on Classico. Symphony 21 remains so far the only recording,
though the signs are looking good for that not to be the case for
too much longer...
In short, even if you have the original LPs or the earlier Unicorn
CD then you should acquire these re-mastered versions. Forty
years on, they are a testament to what was achieved as a result
of the strong advocacy of Robert Simpson and a reminder still
how much we all owe to his belief in Brian, and his desire and
ability to get some of the music recorded so that others could
come to hear and love these works.
©John Grimshaw 2013
7
“Apologetio
Piano recital mini-review
The enterprise and courage of Messrs Cranz in issuing
such a large opera as “The Tigers” demands a word
from me as librettist and composer.
Martyn Becker attended
AN unique conjunction took
place in May 2013: possibly
the first-ever pair of
conflicting
Brian
performances, neither of
which was anything to do
with the HBS!
In my youth I was stirred by the campaigns of
Marlborough. Later I fell under the spell of Napoleon’s
career, indeed I read everything I could find about him
from Bourrienne’s Memoirs to Lord Roseberry’s “The
last Phase”.
Though what I say might be disputed, it is my opinion
that no writer on Military matters has surpassed the
late G. W. Stevens, whose brilliantly written Despatches
sent to the “Daily Mail” from Germany during the
manoevres of the German Imperial Army under the
Emperor William II or of Lord Kitchener’s Soudanese
Black Brigade at the battle of Atbara are amongst the
most vivid things ever written in modern journalism.
How long I thought of an opera.
While the English Music
Festival was playing host to
Gavin Stevens
the Legend, two of Brian’s
piano works were given their first outing in the depths of
rural East Sussex on 25th May.
Local pianist Gavin Stevens included the Prelude and Fugue
in C minor and John Dowland’s Fancy as the opening items
in the two halves of his first-ever solo recital, at the Union
Church in Heathfield. The opening unison moto perpetuo of
the Prelude can be a challenge to any pianist, and Stevens,
while not totally on top of all the notes at all times, still gave
an assured reading of both this and the Dowland prelude,
which were both warmly applauded by an almost capacity
audience.
Almost thirty years ago Sir (then Mr) Thomas Beecham
suggested that I should write an opera for him on one of
Ibsen’s little known dramas – “The Lady from the Sea”.
Some time later Arnold Bennett ached with enthusiasm
to write the necessary libretto. He offered me a libretto
on the subject of “Anthony and Cleopatra” – which was
written for a French composer but I never saw it. Then
Herr Julius Walther – the famous tenor – sent me a
libretto based on Maxim Gorki’s “De Profundis” –
Walter had acquired the dramatic rights – for an
opera, but I did not write it.
©Text & photo: Martyn Becker 2013
Letter to the Editor
I recently discovered a copy of the vocal score of The Tigers
being offered for sale on the Amazon website and duly
purchased it. When it arrived I discovered that it had
originally been owned by Kent County Libraries and still
contained the borrowing sheet inside the front cover. The
dates are interesting since it was borrowed a number of times
between May and November 1981, at the end of March in
1995 and in June and July 1991. Since the work was recorded
and broadcast in 1983 I have wondered whether the earliest
borrowings reflect preparations for that event. If anyone
remembers borrowing this score it would be very interesting
to hear from them, particularly if they were involved in the
preparations for the broadcast performance (which is of
course shortly to appear on the Testament label).
One particularly interesting feature of this score is a preface
written by Brian which I had been unaware of and reproduce
below:
During the war, I chanced to meet Sir Thomas Beecham
who again mentioned the opera I had promised him
years ago. The reminder was sufficient to set the torch
alight once again and I plunged into “The Tigers” as a
distraction from war horrors. Granville Bantock heard
the work as it was written. I was in the habit during the
early years of the war of having tea with him several
times per week in his room at the Midland Institute
Birmingham. At that time the work only existed in
pencil sketches; for almost ten years it remained so,
though I still continued to hear the tramp of an army.
Havergal Brian”
©Martin Grossel
President Martyn Brabbins
Vice Presidents Myer Fredman . Lionel Friend . David J Brown . James Kelleher . Malcolm MacDonald . Leslie Head
Officers
Dr John Grimshaw Chairman; 37 Leylands, Viewfield Road, London SW18 1NF john.grimshaw@tesco.net
Mark Henegar § Vice Chairman; 132 Watling Street, Telford TF1 2NH +44(0) 1952 271600 henegar.markd@gmail.com
Gary Jobsey Treasurer; 3 Barnsway, Kings Langley, Herts WD4 9PW treasurer@havergalbrian.org
Damian Rees § Secretary damian_rees@yahoo.com
Committee members (§ Scores subcommittee member)
Martyn Becker Webmaster/Editor, Newsletter; 113 Peartree Lane, Bexhill-on-sea, E Sussex TN39 4NS martyn.becker@havergalbrian.org
Mike Lunan Membership Secretary; 15 Castle Gardens, Barrock St, Thurso KW14 7GZ membership@havergalbrian.org
Kevin Mandry Recordings librarian; 9 Cherry Tree Court, Dee Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2JW kevinman@btinternet.com
Jeremy Marchant § Acting chair, Scores subcommittee jeremy.marchant@havergalbrian.org
Prof. John Pickard Archivist & Estate/UMP Liaison john.pickard@bristol.ac.uk
Martin Anderson . Rev R Leonard Hollands . Dr Jürgen Schaarwächter European representative j.schaarwaechter@t-online.de
www.havergalbrian.org UK Registered charity 275793. UK Data Protection Act 1984, §33(3) The Society holds electronic membership records. Would any member objecting
to personal data being held in this form please notify the Secretary.
Newsletter The deadline for input into Newsletter 229 is 15 October 2013. Contributions to the Editor on any aspect of Brian or his music are welcome in any form. Articles or letters in the Newsletter express their authors’ opinions, which are neither necessarily shared by the Havergal Brian Society nor express its policy. Copyright is asserted at the end of
each article. The remainder is copyright ©The Havergal Brian Society 2013. Please contact the Editor for permission to use material, which will usually be given.
The order form appears in every odd-numbered issue; it can also be downloaded from the website members’ area.
8
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