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MARION SCOTT

CRITIC, CHAMPION OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC AND WOMEN

By PAMELA BLEVINS

If the name Marion Scott is known at all today it is through her association with poet-composer Ivor Gurney whose work she championed and promoted from the time she first met him in 1911 until her death in 1953.

But who was this remarkable woman whose own life has been obscured by Gurney’s shadow? Was she really the ‘incompetent mulish old maid’ and ‘fragile fool’ of Gerald Finzi’s often quoted experience or was she a dynamic, visionary and witty woman whose gifts ranged from writing and music to business, public relations, education, social activism and a great ability to organize people. Was she indeed a repressed old maid or was she a beautiful woman who attracted young men to her and became for many a trusted confidante, mentor and friend?

It is a well-known fact that Finzi had difficulty in his dealings with Scott as he tried for many years to work with her to keep Gurney’s reputation alive. He found her uncooperative and often felt that she was placing obstacles in his way that prevented him from cataloguing Gurney’s manuscripts and getting his work published. His frustration with her is understandable but it fails to take into account what was going on in her life and why she appeared to be uncooperative and so possessive of Gurney’s papers.

By the time Finzi met Scott, probably as early as 1923, she was an established music critic, writer, champion of contemporary music, and lecturer.(1) She had already enjoyed a professional career as a violinist, having played in orchestras under the direction of Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Gustav Holst, Charles Stanford, Hubert Parry and Walter Parratt in addition to her formation of the Marion Scott Quartet in 1908. As the leader of the Quartet, which was made up equally of men and women, Scott’s main goal was the performance of contemporary British music.(2) The ensemble appeared primarily at Aeolian Hall in London and featured new music by Stanford, Walford Davies, Parry, William Hurlstone, James Friskin, Frank Bridge, Roger Quilter, Arthur Somervell and others. Her programming was praised for its boldness and diversity in presenting works that were ‘as unfamiliar as they were welcome’. Scott did not limit her choice of music only to quartets but varied her programmes to include trios and quintets as well as compositions featuring a pianist, vocal soloist or vocal ensemble.

Scott’s first instrument was the piano but after enduring several years of lessons with an uninspiring teacher, she discovered the violin and in it found a ‘faithful friend’ that brought her ‘close to Heaven’s door’. By the time she was 15, she was performing in public with her father, Sydney Scott, serving as her accompanist. She was an electric, appealing soloist who possessed the ability to excite such enthusiasm among listeners that she was routinely called back to play encores and was often rewarded with a standing ovation. Her gift was substantial enough for her father to purchase a fine Guadagnini violin for his daughter.(3)

Although she was only a teenager, Scott was already an entrepreneur who understood the importance of marketing and promotion, gifts that would serve her and others so well in the future. She believed in performing contemporary music and often introduced it to her audiences. Her liberal parents encouraged each of their three daughters, of whom Marion was the eldest, to dream and explore, question and challenge and to follow her own direction in life. Sydney and Annie Prince Scott were social activists who used their own wealth and influence to raise money for those in need and gave their financial support and energy to the temperance and suffrage movements.(4) From an early age, Scott was exposed to the inequities of society, particularly those affecting women. She found the harsh indifference to those less fortunate than herself intolerable and she worked throughout her life to change public attitudes towards women, not just in music, where she first encountered such prejudice, but in society at large.

In 1896, Scott entered the Royal College of Music to study violin with Fernandez Arbos, piano with Marmaduke Barton and composition first with Walford Davies and later with Stanford. She was one of only two women named in a partial listing of Stanford’s pupils: the other was Rebecca Clarke.(5) Like her friend Ivor Gurney, she was most comfortable composing songs, preferring texts by Robert Louis Stevenson above others.

Even though she was a student, Scott was in demand as a performer outside the walls of the college. In 1901, she achieved a dream she had held since she was 12 years old, that of performing on stage at Crystal Palace, which was a few minutes’ walk from her childhood home at Gipsy Hill. She participated in a chamber music concert and performed in the Schumann Quintet in E flat with Fanny Davies at the piano. She was a regular performer on the London recital circuit, participating in chamber music concerts that often featured music so new that the musicians had to work from the composer’s manuscript.

Like Gurney, Scott was also interested in poetry. One year after completing her studies at the R.C.M. in 1904, she published her first and only volume of poetry, Violin Verses. Employing her marketing skills, Scott secured generally favourable reviews for her slim book in eight British newspapers and journals. In 1906, Scott along with Emily Daymond and Aitken Crawshaw founded the R.C.M. Union for students which marked the beginning of Scott’s long professional association with the college.

As she entered her thirties, Scott was building several careers — secretary of the R.C.M. Union, free-lance musician, entrepreneur and writer/lecturer. She created a series of talks on music history designed to appeal to general audiences and courses on the technical aspects of music for those interested in more serious study, which she offered for a fee. Simultaneously, she and her sister Stella were acting as surrogate mothers for their toddler niece Audrey Lovibond whose mother, the youngest of the Scott sisters, had died two weeks after her birth in 1908.

Scott was daring and bold at a time when women were expected to know their proper place in society and not stray from it. While most women raised in Victorian England worked in low-paying traditional jobs and were biding their time until a suitable husband presented himself, Scott was having love affairs and enjoying success in several careers. She led a busy and diverse social life that included meetings of the exclusive Beloved Vagabonds Club, concerts, theatre performances, parties at her parents’ home, European holidays, suffrage meetings and gatherings with her friends to plan a new venture, the Society of Women Musicians (SWM).

The first meeting of the new society was held on 11 July 1911, shortly after Scott first met Ivor Gurney, then a new scholarship student at the R.C.M. News of the event spread rapidly when Scott’s promotional skills resulted in the appearance of more than a dozen articles in major London newspapers and music periodicals. As Scott and co-founder Gertrude Eaton envisioned the organisation, it would promote a sense of cooperation among women in different fields of music, provide performance opportunities and advice and would even help women ‘with regard to the business side of their professional work’. Scott, Eaton and their council established an organization that had no political agenda. It was open to men, who were encouraged to join as dues-paying associate members. As members, they were able to attend debates, performances and meetings and have their music performed at SWM concerts.

Gurney’s arrival at the R.C.M. quickly caught Scott’s attention and they soon became friends. Scott took great interest in the gifted student whose presence perhaps dulled the pain she endured in the aftermath of her failed relationship with composer Ernest Farrar earlier in the year. Scott was clearly impressed by Gurney and encouraged and supported him in all of his interests. When he was away from London, they corresponded regularly and Scott had the vision to save all of his letters. During the war when Gurney was serving at the Front, they formed an unusual partnership which resulted in the publication of Gurney’s first volume of poetry, Severn and Somme thanks in part to composer Thomas Dunhill, another of Scott’s friends, who had connections at Sidgwick and Jackson. ‘You have given me just what I needed, and what none other of my friends could supply to keep me in touch with the things which are my life,’ he wrote to her in the spring of 1917.(6) By this time, Scott had fallen in love with him.

The war years were difficult for Scott. She was in a constant state of anxiety over Gurney and poured a tremendous amount of time and energy into corresponding with him and taking care of his needs as best she could from a distance. She arranged performances of his music and publication of his poetry in newspapers. Her health was often poor and she suffered a number of serious illnesses including colitis, rubella and mumps, which is dangerous in an adult. She had several injuries, at least one surgery and nearly died in the summer of 1916. Her family was also beset with illness during the war and her sister Stella also came close to dying from appendicitis.

After the war, Scott embarked on a new career as the London music critic for the Christian Science Monitor, an international daily newspaper based in Boston, Massachusetts.

She made her debut on 4 January 1919 with a two-part survey of "The Musical Situation in Italy" and "English Notes" containing eleven short notices and reviews.

For the most part her articles and criticism for the Monitor were anonymous — she was known only as the ‘Special Correspondent’ although occasionally, she did receive a by-line. In the early years of her association with the Monitor, she sometimes covered as many as six to eight concerts a month and wrote feature articles as well. For example, in January 1920, she published three major articles — ‘John Ireland and His Work’, a profile of Thomas Dunhill and part one of a two-part series on ‘British Violin Sonatas’ — and covered eight performances.

She used her powerful position as the London correspondent to introduce and promote the music of her British friends and colleagues regularly in America. Her belief in Herbert Howells’s future as a composer is easily measured by the number of articles and reviews she devoted to him in the Monitor. She wrote occasionally about Gurney, Arthur Benjamin, Sydney Shimmin, Charles Stanford, William Harris, Hubert Parry, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Thomas Dunhill while reviewing performances of music by Edward Elgar, John Ireland, Gustav Holst, Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, George Butterworth, Armstrong Gibbs and others, including music by European and American composers. She also covered special events such as the First National Congress of the British Music Society in 1920, acting as a reporter as well as critic.

Scott set herself a punishing schedule. Not only was she working for the Monitor, she was writing numerous other free-lance articles, working at the R.C.M. Union, lecturing, organizing concerts, serving as mentor to another generation of young composers and performers, playing an active role in a variety of societies and organizations, raising her niece and acting as legal guardian and friend of Ivor Gurney, who had been committed to an asylum in 1922. Eventually, she cut back on the amount of work she did for the Monitor, and by the mid-to-late 1920s, her articles signed MMS or Marion Scott appeared only occasionally. She ended her association with the newspaper in 1934.

In addition to her essays, articles and criticism, Marion Scott wrote programme notes for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Haydn Orchestra and for the Royal Philharmonic Society, delivered papers to the Musical Association (now the Royal Music Association), produced broadcasts for Music Magazine, and wrote entries for Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, Cobbett’s Chamber Music Supplement, and Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Scott established herself as an international authority on Haydn, publishing dozens of articles and studies about him between 1930 and 1952. She published her own editions of Haydn’s music with Oxford University Press. From 1919 on, her writing on a broad range of musical topics appeared in Music and Letters, The Music Student, Music and Youth, The Musical Quarterly, The Listener, The Music Review, Monthly Musical Record, Music Magazine, The Musical Times, Music Bulletin, Royal College of Music Magazine, Radio Times, The Sackbut, Daily Telegraph, Observer, Christian Science Monitor. She published several hundred articles, essays, critical pieces, programme notes, book reviews and lectures.

Scott’s activism on the part of women convinced the BBC in 1930 that women instrumentalists should be included in the newly formed BBC Orchestra. Scott and three other members of the Society of Women Musicians dared to approach the BBC hierarchy and demand, tactfully but firmly, that all musicians be auditioned behind screens to give women an equal chance to be judged on their ability and not be dismissed without a hearing because of their sex.

Marion Scott published her only full-length book, Beethoven in 1934 under the J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. imprint as part of the Music Masters Series. This 343-page illustrated biography remains a classic study of the man and his music. The book met with both critical and public acclaim, the degree of its popularity underscored by the fact that it was reprinted nine times: 1937, 1940, 1944, 1949, 1951, 1956, 1960, 1965, 1974 (in a revised version by Sir Jack Westrup). Although Scott’s Beethoven was replaced in the series in 1985 by Denis Matthews’ study, her book is still in demand today and is often quoted by contemporary writers discussing the metaphysical, or new age’, perspectives of Beethoven’s life and work. Her brief study of Mendelssohn later appeared in the Novello series of Biographies of Great Musicians.

In 1936, she became the editor of the R.C.M. Magazine, a post she held until 1944, carrying the publication through the ‘disheartening difficulties of five war years’, which she ‘surmounted by unyielding energy and courage [and] her untiring vigour and noble scholarship’, according to Sir Percy Buck, her successor.(7) Scott and her family left London in August 1939 to wait out the war at Bridgwater, mainly out of concern for her mother who was in her late eighties. After Mrs. Scott’s death in 1942, Marion returned to her bomb-damaged home on Porchester Terrace where she had settled some years earlier with her niece. In 1945, Scott sister Stella suffered a devastating stroke and her care fell to Marion, who was nearing 70, and to Stella’s husband, who was not in good health himself.

At a time when most people were already retired, Scott continued her research on Haydn, her free-lance writing, lecturing and her active participation in different organisations including the Royal Music Association, the Royal Philharmonic Association, the Society of Women Musicians, the Musicians Benevolent Fund, the Critics’ Circle, the London Society Music Centre and the Haydn Society. She continued to live a demanding life in spite of her increasing ill health and the responsibilities of her family while at the same time trying to deal with the demands of Gerald Finzi who had no idea how busy Scott’s life was. But it wasn’t only her full schedule and ill health that made Scott a reluctant and sometimes unwilling participant in Finzi’s quest to keep Gurney’s reputation alive. She was possessive of Gurney’s manuscripts and his letters that filled trunks in her home because they were all she had left of him aside from memories. To give up a single piece of paper connected with Gurney was a sacrifice she was incapable of making even years after his death.

Scott’s health broke down completely in July 1953 when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She was too weak to venture outdoors but continued her work on Haydn, relying on friends to go to libraries and conduct research for her while she continued to write at home.

Scott’s condition worsened in November and on Christmas Eve 1953, she died, just two days shy of the sixteenth anniversary of Gurney’s death.

In a tribute to Marion Scott, her friend Herbert Howells wrote: ‘She was never robust. A frail appearance threw into brilliant relief an unflagging vitality. Sheer grit and will-power compensated for the lack of physical strength. In no one else have I known fragility so neutralized by steel-like courage. So it came about that so-called "strong" men accepted her as their equal. The most masterful and domineering musician I ever knew once confessed that the only woman he feared was Marion Scott. It was his way of admiration and tribute.’(8)

Marion Scott’s achievements were many and varied but it was her commitment to Ivor Gurney and their unusual partnership that kept her name alive. As a result, her own considerable and vital contribution as an insightful commentator on British music during the first half of the twentieth century has been overlooked until recently. Efforts are now being made to explore the wealth of music history that she preserved and to make it available to contemporary audiences. Pamela Blevins © 2002

 

 

Notes

1. It is likely Scott was the moving force behind the first performance of a composition by Finzi, the premiere of his By Footpath and Stile at a British Music Society concert on 24 October 1923 at the Contemporary Music Centre.

2. Members of the quartet were Herbert Kinze, second violin, Ivor James, cello, Sybil Maturin, viola, Scott, first violin with pianists William H. Harris and Harold Darke and singer Maria Yelland joining them when needed.

3. At the time of her death in 1953, Scott still owned the violin.

4. Scott was half American. Her mother, Annie Prince (1853-1942) was from an old Salem, Massachusetts family of explorers, adventurers, entrepreneurs whose history in the New World dates back to 1639. Annie was reared in St. Petersburg, Russia, where her father ran a large family import-export enterprise. Sydney Scott (1850-1936) was a gifted young man who qualified as a solicitor before he was actually old enough to practice. He was also an accomplished musician and a long-standing member of the Society of Psychical Research (as a debunker of the paranormal), where one of his close friends was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sydney and Marion shared a metaphysical philosophy and practice of life. The Scotts were married in St. Petersburg in 1876. Marion was born in 1877 (died 1953); Stella in 1881 (died 1949) and Freda in 1884 (died 1908).

5. Quoted in Stephen Banfield’s Sensibility and English Song, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 38.

6. Ivor Gurney to Marion Scott, 2 April 1917, R.K.R. Thornton, Ivor Gurney Collected Letters (Ashington: MidNAG/Carcanet) 1991, p. 240.

7. Scott’s father died in 1936 and Ivor Gurney died in 1937.

8. Herbert Howells, Marion Margaret Scott: 1877-1953, Music and Letters, April 1954.

Marion Scott was born on 16 July 1877. Just an aside - she was born at Lewisham as was Ernest Farrar on 7 July 1885.Their friendship came later at the RCM. It is also interesting that the Farrars moved to Yorkshire where Marion had relatives in Leeds and Scarborough and that she and Ernest ended up performing together up there.

 


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