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An Introduction to the Life and York of Sir Granville Bantock
by Vincent Budd

This is quite an excellent resumé of the life and work of a most distinguished English composer and conductor; it succinctly fulfils its specific aim to be an introduction, yet does not claim to be more than that; in this way it will undoubtedly appeal to a wide cross section of musicians and those who have a particular regard for English music of the earlier part of the twentieth century. It does not set out to be an exhaustive, analytical or philosophical study, yet paradoxically, for this very reason, it succeeds in being a most readable and engaging dissertation: it wastes no words, does not offer speculation as to any hidden meanings behind the music and, rather like Bantock himself, comes to the point in a clear an unmistakable way. One of its considerable assets is the inclusion of some hitherto little-known photographs, several of which, almost more than any long-winded verbiage might have done, tell us about Bantock the men.

An admitted self-interest ought to be declared: in the mid-1930's the present reviewer, then merely a boy of about thirteen or so, first came under the spell of Bantock's music after hearing a performance of "Prometheus Unbound" by the then very celebrated Foden's Motor Works Band, conducted by Fred Mortimer. Even at that relatively inexperienced age and awareness of harmonic subtlety, there was something inordinately fascinating about Bantock's music, especially - at the time - the seemingly very individual flavour of the composer's harmonic vocabulary as it came over to someone just beginning to get to grips with the study of basic diatonic harmony and counterpoint. Bantock thus became an early enthusiasm of this writer, so that a chance for him to be introduced to the composer was indeed an honour, and an occasion, still most vividly and happily remembered. Some years later, taking part in a performance of the evocative "Hebridean Symphony" whilst a member of the Scottish National Orchestra reinforced this youthful enthusiasm, and the only personal regret has been that more such opportunities have not been forthcoming. However, there seems to be a parallel with Arnold Bax in many respects.

It is a widely recognised phenomenon that enthusiasts - for whatever human activity - tend to be puzzled why others do not invariably share their vociferous championing. I used to wonder why both Bax and Bantock were not as widely and frequently performed as I would have thought they ought to be. It was not until the Bax centenary in 1983 when almost the whole corpus of his music did get a fair re-assessment that one began, however reluctantly, to realise why such neglect had set in. It must seem churlish and, once having been so besotted by a particular composer, indeed more than a bit cruel, later to have to admit that one's youthful ardour has cooled. As a young and ardent admirer of Vaughan Villiams, he once said to me:..."It is very kind of you to say how much you admire my music, but, in another thirty or forty years time you may find that it might not appeal to you quite so much as it does just now, but when that day comes you must not think you are being disloyal to me, for you will find that very often one's tastes change as the years go by"....

This probably explains why some composers go out of fashion; at one time they might well have been sincerely and widely appreciated for what seemed just right at that moment; but another greater creative imagination comes along, or overtakes them and is ultimately seen to be the more lasting expression of a particular period in history. In the case of Bantock and Bax, and other equally deserving names, the real and lasting voice of English music was ultimately recognised as that, above all, of Elgar. Perhaps Bantock's once-fascinating orientalism, or Bax's celtic muse could never quite match up to that indefinable, but yet just so clinching an expression of the English spirit as Elgar or Vaughan Williams. Every age seems, in the last resort, to choose or unconsciously recognise just one voice to represent a particular era. This has happened throughout musical -- as indeed any other kind - of artistic history. So, much as I still admire Bantock, as I do Bax, I can appreciate just why he is no longer universally acknowledged, as enthusiasts such as Mr Budd would like to believe ought to be the case.

Mr Budd's booklet is very readable, but it has to be pointed out that there are not a few spelling mistakes which hint at a kind of malapropism suggesting the author has not wholly understood the subtle meaning of a word:.,. "now in his element with unreigned energy"... (surely it should be unreined ?) or: ... "with still no 'serious' academic post in the offering"... (when it ought to be the offing ?> and: . . . "what real scholarly extent is a mute question" (a moot question ?)

... Similarly the author lapses into an unlovely vernacular: ..."his pal William Wallace" or: . . ."he re-entered civvy street".... (suggesting that an apprenticeship at the RAM was some kind of 'military' service ?) Additionally he appears to coin some words of his own: 'opinatry', 'blinkeredness' and so on... and while students in their class notes for a degree dissertation might, as a kind of shorthand, write: "Mid-Cl9th" for "nineteenth century", this is not usual practice in good printed literature. While quoting the full names of some conductors and other recorded performers of Bantock's music, (Anthony Collins, Dolf van der Linden, Julian Lloyd Webber, for example), the brass band conductors are merely quoted with a kind of army-nominal-roll style prosaic initial: 'G.Brand' 'J.Watson' and 'C.Lamb' but Sir Harry Mortimer, an honour, alas! that Kr. Mortimer, OBE was never accorded, despite numerous recommendations to a succession of prime ministers.  

Still, this is a useful contribution to our knowledge of a neglected English composer, and is to be commended


Arthur Butterworth

and Gary Dalkin adds 

Vincent Budd is an enthusiastic evangelist for the life and music of Sir Granville Bantock, and though this is an amateur publication, he is currently working on a full-length biography of his subject. This is clearly long overdue, as the bibliographical note at the back of the booklet informs us that there are only two books about Bantock in existence: a long out-of-print volume published as early as 1915, when the composer still had another 31 years to live, and a 'personal portrait' by the composer's daughter Myrrha, issued in 1972, also out of print.

Given that anyone who goes to the trouble to seek out this booklet must have at least a passing interest in Bantock, Budd does spend rather too long preaching to the converted. With only 23 pages of main text (there are 7 pages of good b/w photos, 6 pages of annotated discography, notes and prefatory pages making up the total) more concentration on the actual facts of Bantock's long life and extensive careers as composer and academic would not have gone amiss. A little more proof-reading would have helped: there are actually some words scored through half-way down page 31, and some of the extensive, over-wrought sentences might have been scaled down. I like Budd's enthusiasm for a subject he considers unfairly disregarded, and I have every sympathy - I have argued along exactly the same lines myself regarding film music, science fiction and Christianity - but lines such as the following don't help.

"If the recent 50th anniversary of his death was met with only minimal recognition in the hegemonic echelons of our musical polity…"

The sentiments are laudable, and yes, it is perfectly grammatical English, but it comes over as pretentious, pompous and ponderous. Not the prose to win anyone who thinks Bantock old-fashioned and irrelevant. Of course, I'm the kettle calling the pot black here, guilty myself of over over-writing, over-enthusing and over-indulging in attacks on various establishments. I also know how difficult it is to get all the mistakes out of self-published work, so having delivered all the criticisms above, I'm now going to ask you to forget them.

What Vincent Budd has done is delivered a small service to British music, as hopefully his finished full-scale biography of Bantock will do a greater service. He has given an outline of the composer's life from 1868 to 1946, listed the major works and offered brief opinions on a whole range of pieces, and given food for thought and an encouragement to buy those few available Bantock CDs. In other words, to explore for oneself. Actually I have the CD which couples the Pagan Symphony with Bax' Tintagel and the Northern Ballads 2 & 3. Its BBC Radio Classics 15656 91592 with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Sir Edward Downes. Available at budget price, the 1984 recording is an excellent companion to Budd's booklet, and the music is thoroughly engaging.

Note: The author is the editor of the Bantock Society Journal and may be contacted at Seallaidh Bharraidh, Polochar, the Isle of South Uist, the Outer Hebrides, HS8 5TR, or by phone at 01878 700755

The Bantock Society web-site

The Chairman is Mr Ron Bleach, 48 Ravenswood Road, Redland, Bristol, BS6 6BT

Reviewer - Gary S. Dalkin

The book is only available direct from the author. It is priced £6 00, plus 50p p&p (Europe 75p, ROW £1). If you would like to order a copy please include your details, enclose it with your cheque, payable to 'Vincent Budd', and post to 2 Seallaidh Bharraidh, Polochar, Isle of South Uist, Outer Hebrides, SCOTLAND HS8 5TR Please write clearly.


Arthur Butterworth

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