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BRITISH COMPOSERS IN LITERATURE

Further to Don Roberts' 'note' several detective authors have mentioned real composers in their writings. Dorothy L Sayers' series detective Lord Peter Wimsey, "a pianist of some skill and more understanding," plays a "crooning" melody by Parry in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928), in the later Gaudy Night (1935) he sings various songs from the Elizabethan period, then beginning a revival, the names of Morley and Tobias Hume being mentioned. In Busman's Honeymoon (1937) Anglican evensong settings by Edward Bunnett and Charles Villiers Stanford are alluded to.

Sayers enjoyed music as an amateur and was friendly with such eminent musicians as Percy Whitlock, Donald Tovey, Alfred Reynolds and Antony Hopkins. Bruce Montgomery, who wrote detective stories under the pseudonym of Edmund Crispin, was also a composer of church and film music. Crispin's Frequent Hearses (1950) is set in a film studio and there are mentions of Geoffrey Bush (who later co-authored with Crispin the short story "Who Killed Baker?") and Ireland, presumably John Ireland, who not many years before had written the superb score for The Overlanders. George Dyson's Evening Service in D is characterised in Crispin's The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944) as "theatrical but nice" and in his Holy Disorders (1946) as "a battle of religion and romance."

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon alludes to no real British composer, but at least two of the many "spoof" Holmes stories do: Nicholas Meyer's The West End Horror (1976: set in 1896) introduces Sir Arthur Sullivan, also W S Gilbert and Richard d'Oyly Carte, as characters. James Miles short story "The Worcester Enigma" brings Holmes and Elgar together, supposedly in 1888, and offers a "solution" of the mystery of the Enigma Variations. Several other crime novels allude to the Enigma Variations, including T L W Hubbard in his A Baton for the Conductor (1957) , a comedy thriller in which an eminent conductor is kidnapped and his place taken by a senior civil servant who is a compulsive "conductor" of gramophone records. Only once do the two confront each other and they disagree violently over Delius' music.

The "revival" of John Christopher Smith jnr's (real) opera The Fairies in a music festival in V C Clinton-Baddeley's Only a Matter of Time (1969) is not of course contemporary with the composer; but we may conclude by recalling that Jane Austen's Emma (1816), described by some as a detective story before its time, contains an allusion to J B Cramer who was a contemporary of Austen and though of foreign birth was English by adoption.

Notes

1 BMS News 68 pp 199-200

2 See my article Elgar and Crime Fiction (also on this site) in the Elgar Society Journal Vol 7 No 6 (Sept 1992), pp7-8. None of the stories referred to therein - nor indeed two fairly recent non-crime works of "faction" featuring Elgar - are of course contemporary with the composer.

3 Louis MacNeice was the dedicatee of one of Norman Demuth's symphonies (Ed.).

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