Composers, like other artists and all manner of people of creative abilities,
might be likened to an iceberg. There are those, overall relatively few in
number, but of universal celebrity and renown: who rejoice in the brilliance
reflected at the tip of the iceberg; but there are vastly more, often of
substantial weight, who contribute to the stability of the total mass, who
remain beneath the surface of public acclaim. Inglis Gundry, a name at once
familiar, yet tanatalisingly unfamiliar, is one of the latter.
This book, as its sub-title suggests, is perhaps not quite a comprehensive
autobiography, but more a series of pleasant and absorbing recollections
of a lifetime - and a long one at that - spent in the pursuit of music. Born
in London, yet of Cornish background, the author's account of his early years
makes absorbing reading. Unlike most, or at least many English composers,
he enjoyed a good start in life; coming from a well-to-do family; a public
school upbringing and then going on to Oxford and preparing for a career
in law before turning to music. These early chapters make the better reading.
The book progresses and tells of war-time exploits in the Navy, and as the
story unfolds we are told of the author's growing involvement with music
and the time when, at last, he was able to devote his time to being a composer.
Since this is primarily a book of memoirs and not a self-critical exposition
of the music itself, it is not possible to make even a very superficial
assessment of Gundry's place in the history of twentieth century English
music. Although his name has indeed been known at least since the 1940's,
few really 'public' performances have been accorded to him. This has been
the situation that so many of his generation have found; yet sheer determination
and the urge to self-expression, despite the often demoralising indifference
in high places, has doggedly triumphed. This in itself is something to be
Being a book of personal reminiscences, an autobiography in miniature, as
it were, it is perhaps to be expected that the first person singular should
be at the fore-front of the narrative. Nevertheless, reading a person's own
account of himself can become tedious. Repeatedly to come across the first
person singular pronoun: "I", "my", "me" or "mine", smacks faintly of narcissism.
If composers, authors and others, who needs must write about themselves could
employ some other impersonal, more passive way of putting it, there would
not then be the impression that they are perhaps being too self-indulgent.
This is really the only flaw in Gundry's book; in which almost every chapter
begins in more or less the same way: ... "my third opera" ... "my school
opera" ... "my ninth opera" ... and so on. It would have been more fluent
to the reader if he had chosen chapter title of a more varied phraseology.
Perhaps the Prince of Wales goes a little too far in the opposite direction
of self-deprecation with the familiar phrase, such as:- "One feels that this
is a good idea" ... but it is a phraseology that we creative artists especially
might do well to emulate now and then. Apart from this singular irritation,
the book is undoubtedly a good read, and should be an encouragement to any
composer who has ever felt disillusioned. The philosophy throughout Gundry's
long life has obviously been to keep on going at all costs; he exhibits an
innate and admirable optimism; not least in having chosen that most difficult
of all musical forms to bring to fruition:opera.
Inglis Gundry has a large web-site here