MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around

 57,903 reviews
   and more ... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here
Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             
Lord Berners by Peter Dickinson - January 2009 MusicWeb-International


Some items
to consider


paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas
All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Clarissa Bevilacqua plays
Augusta Read Thomas

all Nimbus reviews

Brahms Dvorak
Brahms 2 Dvorak 7
all tudor reviews



Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Discs for review may be sent to:
Jonathan Woolf
76 Lushes Road
Essex IG10 3QB
United Kingdom



By Peter Dickinson: Setting the scene

Lord Berners (1883-1950) was one of the most idiosyncratic and fascinating personalities in England during the 1920s and 1930s. He became an avant-garde composer with the music he wrote whilst living in Rome during World War 1. Balanchine choreographed his first two ballets and Ashton the next three; in 1931 he had the first exhibition of his paintings; in 1934 he published the first volume of his autobiography, and four novels had appeared by 1942. His writings are now back in print and all his music is available on CD. Lord David Cecil confirmed his genius as a polymath: ‘He was an extraordinarily gifted man. In whatever he took up he had a natural facility’.

Berners was commissioned by Diaghilev, designed costumes and sets for A Wedding Bouquet to a text by Gertrude Stein, and associated with some of the leading international artists. He kept a house in Rome but increasingly held court at Faringdon House becoming renowned for his eccentric activities such as using harmless dyes to colour his pigeons and building a useless Folly on the nearby hill.

Gerald Berners was actually the 14th Baron Berners – it wasn’t just a showbiz title like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, as his friend and colleague Constant Lambert had to explain in America. In 1950 Edward James remembered Stravinsky being asked who he considered the best British composer – he replied ‘Lord Berners’.

Critical Responses

There are several periods when Berners was in the news, initially as a composer but later as a polymath and eccentric. The first was when his early music was published and gained prominent performances – the years during World War 1 and into the 1920s when Berners was seen as part of modern music, even of the avant-garde. He brought an international sophistication to British music to offset the obsession with folk music, impressive enough in major figures such as Vaughan Williams but often tedious and provincial in the minor exponents. Then Berners’ contributions to ballet in the inter-war years were his principal route to a larger public, which was also kept informed of his eccentricities. From 1918 onwards there were articles from some of the leading critics, reflecting the initial impact of his music. During the 1920s and 1930s Berners was in the public eye when his travels and attendance at receptions as well as his latest works were reported in the press. After World War II there were obituary tributes in 1950 in the dark days of post-war austerity but by his centenary in 1983 he attracted more public attention. The record does not stop there since by the later 1990s virtually all his music was on CD, all his published writings were back in print, and there was a very readable biography by Mark Amory.

Berners first became known as a composer when he was an Honorary Attaché at the British Embassy in Rome from 1911 to 1920. He was Gerald Tyrwhitt until 1918 when he inherited and it was under that name that his music was first published in England by the house of J. and W. Chester in 1917.  Their association began with Tyrwhitt’s Trois petites marches funèbres for piano and he arrived with a fanfare and an impressive recommendation:

A British composer hitherto completely unknown in his own country is to be introduced by the publication of these three little humorous marches … The Little Funeral Marches [for a statesman; a canary; and a rich aunt] are humorous miniatures of a peculiarly British type, and they are clearly the work of a musician with an amazing insight into the musical techniques of our day. Daring as they are, these pieces never give the impression of deliberate or strained modernism; the hearer cannot help feeling their spontaneity and the sureness of touch which makes their meaning so convincing.


We are happy to record the testimony of one of the greatest living composers, M. Igor Stravinsky, who has voiced his appreciation of this work in an interesting letter to us recently. In M. Stravinsky’s opinion Mr Tyrwhitt is not only a composer of unique talent, but also a very typical and very representative character of his race.[1]


The composer’s manuscript dates the triptych precisely ‘Rome, May 13, 1916. Moon ¾ to full’ and at the head of the last piece he wrote: ‘enfin, nous allons pouvoir acheter un automobile’, which did not reach the published score. There was also an undated Italian edition of the Trois petites marches by a firm in Florence. This could have been a private printing overtaken by events when Berners was taken on by Chester who were given the copyright of this work for all countries on 30 June 1917. The first performance of the Three Funeral Marches was given by Berners’ friend and colleague Alfredo Casella at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome on 30 March 1917.[2] 

Then Casella encouraged Berners to use all three funeral marches in a group of five pieces scored for small orchestra and he conducted this version as L’uomo dai baffi  [The Man with the Moustache] for Fortunato Depero’s marionette theatre.[3] In 1919 Casella wrote The Evolution of Music: throughout the History of the Perfect Cadence with the last eleven bars of the third march provided as an illustration.[4]   

In 1919 Chester published Berners’ Fragments psychologiques, planned under the name of Tyrwhitt, but the two-page announcement in the Chesterian starts: ‘Gerald Tyrwhitt – now Lord Berners … ’ and mentions the Three Orchestral Pieces to be premiered by the Hallé in Manchester on 8 March under Eugene Goossens.[5] When the Chesterian advertised these pieces it referred to a great impression made by ‘the audacious, descriptive and ironic qualities of the music, no less than its profound originality’.[6] The piano duet version was given in Paris through the Société Musicale Indépendante in a concert of British music sponsored by Lord Derby at the Salle Gaveau on 25 April 1919. The French composer, pianist and writer Florent Schmitt reviewed the concert, mentioning Berners as the composer of the ‘notorious little funeral marches, played last year, the titles of which did not fail to scandalise some critics.’ Schmitt said he felt the influence of Stravinsky in the Chinoiserie and went on, revealingly, ‘but Lord Berners could not possibly deny his master’. In the Valse sentimentale he even found ‘a kind of prim sensibility. A crocodile would weep over it.’ The final Kasatchok was ‘extremely picturesque and alive, and reveals a remarkable virtuosity of technique’.[7]

Looking back, there must have been some strong reactions to the Funeral Marches, as Chester acknowledged in offering the Fragments psychologiques: ‘The work just announced will doubtless arouse violent controversy, and in order to illustrate how this new music is viewed by prominent critics, we cannot do better than quote the following … ’ Then came extracts from reviews of the Funeral Marches. Ernest Newman, writing in The New Witness, hailed ‘the spirit of irreverence’ allowing us to laugh ‘at ludicrous things’. He noted the ‘expansion of harmony, and of the harmonic sense that makes a thousand combinations acceptable to us which would have driven our fathers mad’. Like Alice in Wonderland it was ‘absurd but logical’.[8] The review that – very characteristically - Berners liked best came from Julien Tiersot[9] in Le Courier Musical. He must have been the scandalised critic referred to by the Chesterian. First of all Tiersot named the subjects – the victims - of the Trois petites marches funèbres then he went on:

I will not stop to enquire whether the period through which we are passing is one that permits of the railing at death, and making it the subject of jokes which are, moreover, out of fashion. I only draw attention to the first title as a contrast to the other two. It is evident that to the composer’s idea it is as gratifying to celebrate the funeral of a statesman as that of canaries or rich aunts – and all at a time when these men devote and exhaust themselves to serve their country and secure its victory. But no such considerations seem to have touched the young composer (a neutral no doubt), the author responsible for this indiscretion, who has known how to find in Paris a committee willing to admit his work and a public to listen to, and perhaps applaud it. But we protest in vain.[10]


In 1920 the Musical Times was running a series on Modern British Composers written by Edwin Evans.[11] The first article in the January issue, and the seventh in the series, was a thorough five-page study of Berners with music examples. Evans recognised that:

As a composer, Lord Berners stands entirely alone. He not only represents a special feature in our musical life but he combines it with a paradox. He has a sense of humour which corresponds to a national trait, but the manner of its expression is international. It is English fun with a Latin pungency, and the blend is sometimes a little perplexing … his works in this vein display a kind of tangential wit, at times ironic or even perverse’ … [12]


Evans found sentiment in the funeral march for the canary: ‘If there be irony in it, we prefer to ignore it and hear only its poetry.’ In Le rire, the second of the Fragments psychologiques, Evans missed Berners’ onomatopoeic reflection of the sound of people laughing. He noted that Le poisson d’or is dedicated to Stravinsky; that the sheet music is embellished with handsome decorations by the stage-designer Natalia Goncharova; and that the Three Pieces in their piano duet version have designs by Michel Larionov, who both worked for Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes.[13] Finally Evans pointed to the Fantaisie espagnole as Berners’ most important work to date. Overall it is clear that Evans understood exactly what Berners was about and recognised the importance of his work at this early date when the composer was thirty-six.

Evans drew attention to admiring comments about Berners at exactly the same time from Goossens, another advanced British composer.  Goossens’ article in the Chesterian opened with a list of composers, most of whom have stood the test of time:

To the ranks of Ireland, Scott, Bax, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Bantock, Bridge and others whose work has infused new vitality into English music, and who have occasionally administered somewhat rude shocks to the delicate susceptibilities of our convention-loving public, we welcome yet another Englishman in the person of Lord Berners, more recent and more daring than any of his predecessors, a modernist whose work has already given rise to quite a storm of controversy.[14]


Goossens went on to attribute the character of these first works by Berners to his continental environment, and recognised their harmonic texture as:

 … uncompromisingly modern – I had almost written brutally modern. But it is a stimulating brutality, that of an iconoclast who hacks and hews and blasts his way over the shattered relics of nauseating mediocrity – a very hot-gospeller of modernism. Yet withal, a real strain of deep emotion … for he can at will touch the whole gamut of human emotion, despite his often forcible methods of expression. 


Goossens cited Berners’ sources as Prokofiev, Ravel, Casella and Malipiero as well as his friend Stravinsky but did not mention Schoenberg. He found the Fragments psychologiques ‘the real Berners’ with its ‘amazingly vivid intensity … unsurpassed by any contemporary piano music.’   

Another fellow composer who appreciated Berners was Arthur Bliss[15]:

The existence of a Berners is a very healthy tonic to a sick musical community. At all times a satirist is needed, especially when he can lay his finger unerringly on the fads and foibles of past and present fashions. There is no surer way of exposing futility than by ridiculing it … ’[16]


Three years later Bliss addressed American readers in Modern Music, the review of the newly-formed League of Composers based in New York: ‘Berners, it might be fancied, is most at home in the salon, whose rather languid brilliance he lights up with epigram and sally – he passes from one guest to another, picking the guard of each and lightly mocking the exposed weakness – a sometimes awkward but always salubrious visitor’.[17] Later that year in the same periodical, after listing the senior British composers, Edwin Evans related: ‘Among the new men Lord Berners finds himself in the, to him no doubt, exhilarating position of the doyen, owing to his career having begun comparatively late … His output is not voluminous but it is personal and significant, besides representing an angle of vision not unknown in other spheres of English artistic expression, but hitherto unaccountably missing in our music.’[18]

These assessments show that Berners’ music was understood to a remarkable degree by the more discerning of his contemporaries. Perhaps little has changed in response to his work – simply that its exposure has varied from time to time but, significantly, at this stage he was not known as an eccentric.


Another yardstick is the representation of Berners in the various editions of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians and it will be convenient to take these together. Edwin Evans wrote the entry for the third edition where Berners has one column plus a short list of works. At this point his most recent work was the opera Le carrosse du saint-sacrement produced in Paris in 1924 and Evans reported that ‘the most frequently performed of his works is the Fantaisie Espagnole, which seems to have secured a permanent place in the repertory.’[19]


By the time of the fifth edition of Grove, which appeared four years after his death, Berners got three columns written by Kenneth Avery, who recognised that the Three Funeral Marches with their modern harmony ‘led to the composer’s becoming known as a musical humorist – a designation that has obscured the technical skill and the implications of irony in his works.’[20] In A Wedding Bouquet Avery found that the Gertrude Stein text ‘fitted in perfectly with the patterns of the musical score’ and that the work was ‘generally recognised as one of the outstanding achievements in British ballet.’  Avery thought Berners’ later works had attracted less attention ‘because of his activities in other spheres’. He then went on to list the two London exhibitions of paintings and treated the novels and autobiographies sympathetically. He was generous to the last two ballets Cupid and Psyche (1939) and Les Sirènes (1946) that ‘gave the impression that the composer’s work was still neat and delightful’, although they were not regarded as a success at the time.

In the New Grove in 1980, Berners got two columns including a list of works and partial bibliography.[21] The author Ronald Crichton was discerning, finding that ‘Berners lived the life of an eccentric English gentleman’ and traced ‘irony, parody and repressed romantic feeling’ in his earlier music and in the ballets ‘a genuine gift for … good straightforward light music’. By the time of my own article in the New Grove 2nd edition in 2001, Berners had achieved four columns which included a list of works and bibliography.[22]

Going back to the 1920s, it is clear that Berners’ first position was within the British tributary of modernism. At this time the publisher J. & W. Chester put out what they called Miniature Essays about each of their composers. These were small booklets in English and French with a good photograph, an example of manuscript and a reproduced cover design from one of the composer’s works and in April 1922 Chester’s ordered 3000 copies of their booklet on Berners.

The anonymous six-page essay is admirably written and could hardly be improved on today. The writer confirms the impact of the Three Funeral Marches:

This first work at once created a stir in musical circles by the extraordinarily incisive individuality it revealed, and criticism, whether friendly or hostile, at any rate agreed unanimously in recognising the amazing maturity which gave this first effort … the appearance of the work of a practised hand. No critic … ventured to dispute its complete and masterly realisation.

He compares Berners and George Bernard Shaw, who kept up with Berners’ music and would later stay at Faringdon:

Both are embittered by the knowledge of a world that is unable to live up to their exacting idealism, which consequently turns into cynicism; but both have the redeeming sense of humour that can turn the worst human weakness into a jest.


And the writer has complete understanding of the defining feature of Berners:

He is the only composer so far who has been completely successful in musical parody, and if he cannot be said to have actually invented this genus of music, there is no doubt that he was the first to profit by the tentative efforts of other composers in this direction, and to make of the parody a thing of definite artistic value.


The tone may be laudatory but all Berners’ music before the opera is discussed with virtually complete understanding.

From 1926 onwards his ballets and his activities as a writer, painter and eccentric enlarged this initial impact. However, in British Music of Our Time, a symposium published in 1946 and widely accessible as a Penguin paperback, J. A Westrup provided a chapter on Berners concentrating on the music.[23] Like Edwin Evans, Westrup realised exactly what Berners is about. He rightly refuted labels like ‘the English Satie’ and mere ‘amateur’ and appreciated the sallies of the satirist. However he was wrong to think that there is an element of improvisation – Berners’ music was far too carefully calculated for that – but he may be right that his opera is ‘obstinately harnessed to the text’ with ‘whole tracts of accompanied recitative’. ‘A good production with first-rate acting might make the piece convincing but its success would owe comparatively little to the music.’ Meanwhile Le carrosse has not been staged in Britain and, apart from the recording of the BBC production in 1983, has been represented only through the Caprice Péruvien a short orchestral selection put together by Lambert. When Westrup enlarged Ernest Walker’s History of Music in England he described Berners as ‘a romantic at heart who made his name largely by music of a satirical character, which employs romantic idioms only to make fun of them.’ He felt that Berners had found his true metier in ballet.[24]

A year before the production of the opera, there was an interview with Berners, contributed by G. Jean-Aubry to the Christian Science Monitor.[25] He visited Berners at his house in London ‘in a room where I noticed some specimens of old painting, and where I noticed a clavichord’, and was surprised when Berners offered to play him the whole work lasting over an hour. Berners commented: ‘Although this is a comic opera, or, if you prefer it, a comédie musicale, I have laid aside the traditional overture or prelude, the utility of which I fail to see … My musical comedy is strictly between the rise and fall of the curtain. As regards style you will see that I have not adhered to the old tradition of different airs and scenes following each other.’ He felt that Prosper Merimée’s story unfolds in too continuous and concise a manner to do anything else and admitted that he had made cuts. Because he worked slowly he said that Le carrosse had taken him two years but he did not ‘think it would have been better had it been written more hurriedly.’ It is surprising to discover that at that time Berners was studying Hindu theatre and mentioned his plans for another opera on Sakuntala. The Recognition of Sakuntala is the best-known play by the Sanskrit playwright Kalidasa. Perhaps the reception of Le carrosse and its failure to achieve further productions, especially in England, was what discouraged him from continuing.

Jean-Aubry, whose poems Berners had set in his Trois chansons, also wrote an article on the opera for the Chesterian.[26]  He spent most of the discussion – in rather quaint English - on the source of the text from Merimée, another of whose stories gave rise to Bizet’s Carmen. The story of Le carrosse had previously been used as La Périchole (1868) by Jacques Offenbach. Jean-Aubry recognised that Berners’ fluency in Spanish idioms qualified him ideally to deal with a comedy in a South American setting. He went further:

Because he started his artistic career with productions of a small size and of a parodistic character, the author of the Fantaisie Espagnole is still regarded by certain ‘weighty’ music lovers as an amiable amateur only … A study of the score and orchestration of Le carrosse will convince the most incredulous of the fact that Lord Berners’ works are something quite different from the praiseworthy pastimes of an aristocrat.


At this stage Jean-Aubry was still awaiting the production in Paris but his study of the piano score increased his ‘admiration and sympathy for a composer whom I regard … as one of the foremost in England today, and one of the best qualified to convince the Continent that the musical powers of the English are not merely a paradox, as some of us are fond of saying’.

            Berners maintained his musical connections with Paris that gave rise to performances. Le carrosse, staged in 1924 and again in 1925, was given in a triple bill with Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat and La chatte by Henri Sauguet (1901-89).[27] When Philip Lane asked Sauguet about Berners in the 1970s he replied:

Son gout était celui d’un homme très civilise. Il avait un sens très aigu de la drollerie et du paradoxe. Il était aussi un homme d’un grand sensibilité et d’un grande bonté. J’étais alors de mon début un tout jeune confrère inexperimenté; il m’a tout de suite témoigné de l’attention, ou l’intéret et m’a aidé de son amitié.[28]


In 1926 The Gramophone ran a symposium and asked a number of well-known public figures about their favourite music and musicians. Many responses were drearily unimaginative but Berners replied:

My favourite song is ‘The Last Rose of Summer’; my favourite composer Bach; my favourite tune is the third of Schoenberg’s Six Pieces, because it is so obscure that one is never likely to grow tired of it (which you must admit is as good a reason for preferring a tune as any other); and if by ‘singer’ you mean any kind of singer then the one I prefer is Little Tich. But, on the other hand, if you mean merely concert singers, please substitute Clara Butt.[29]


It was December 1926 when Berners made his London debut with the first of his five ballets. The Triumph of Neptune was written for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with choreography by George Balanchine[30] and a scenario by Sacheverell Sitwell, based on situations close to traditional English pantomime and depicted in coloured prints.[31] In January 1925 an article by Berners was published in the Evening News entitled: ‘Happy Hampstead as a ballet! Why not? – Some Suggestions for Diaghilev’. He speculated that since Diaghilev had asked him rather than Rutland Boughton, Holst or Elgar to write the music that ‘the kind of ballet he has in view is not to be a serious one, and that it will be satirical rather than romantic. He may even be intending to parody some of our most cherished national characteristics. And perhaps in this he is guided once more by his unerring instinct, because there is nothing an English audience seems to enjoy so much as seeing itself laughed at on the stage.’[32]

It was from this point that Berners addressed his British public – he had found himself as a ballet composer. His early miniatures were for Rome; Le carrosse was for Paris and now seems transitional; finally, through ballet, he indulged his hedonistic temperament in a more conventional idiom that lasted the rest of his composing career, made him a natural film composer, and brought him into contact with all the arts allied to the world of fashion in ways that he found so congenial.      

            Eight years later, when Berners’ second ballet Luna Park was receiving its first concert performance in the Proms, there was a preview in the Radio Times from Sacheverell Sitwell, who had provided the scenario of The Triumph of Neptune for Berners and Diaghilev. Sitwell thought that Berners’ reputation as a composer was now being compromised by his first London exhibition of paintings – and the books were yet to come. He thought Berners typically English in being active in more than one artistic medium and cited William Blake and Sir John Vanbrugh as predecessors.[33] Sitwell saw ‘plenty of able painters but a dearth of good composers’ urging:

Lord Berners must paint less and compose more … the hope of music in our country lies in his hands and in those of Constant Lambert and William Walton. This will be the more evident as time goes on and it is a pity if, during these years, Lord Berners does not add to his too scanty opus list … it will be the loss of one of the few opportunities given to English music in our century’.[34]


It is obvious that the Sitwells would value their immediate colleagues and friends. They were Walton’s patrons; Lambert was part of the group; and they cannot have been much interested in music arising from provincial English folksong.

It was during the 1930s that stories of Berners’ eccentricity became inseparable from everything else. One of the most discussed sallies was dying the pigeons at Faringdon. On 25 November 1937 Berners asked Stravinsky to thank his mistress, Vera Sudeikina, ‘for having sent the colours for the pigeons. They are magnificent and add a tropical touch to this wintry country.’[35]

The inter-war years were Berners’ heyday when he could pursue all his activities untrammelled. But it could not last and the negative impact of the war on Berners is discussed in several of the interviews in this book. An inevitable post-war landmark was his death in 1950 and the tributes that followed.  The Times delineated his personality in now familiar terms: ‘Versatility was his most evident characteristic, for apart from his gifts as a musical composer, novelist, painter and a collector of pictures, he was a dilettante of the Walpole or Beckford type, with a witty tongue and a taste for the bizarre.’[36] First Childhood suggested that the flippant and ironical manner ‘in his writings, musical and other, was largely self-protective’. Finally: ‘Lord Berners was a small, quiet man, with watchful eyes, a closely clipped moustache, and a demure expression. The impression he gave was that of great sensibility, carefully guarded, and that his devastating wit in speaking and writing was a sort of sublimation of his boyish propensity of practical mischief.’  The Times made no reference to the legendary anecdotes but did report that the building of the Folly at Faringdon had been made possible ‘only by an appeal to the Ministry of Health’.

Berners’ old rival for over fifty years, Harold Nicolson, found it difficult to write his obituary without thinking that Berners himself was at his side ‘laughing at some of the passages, parodying their style, adding fantastic variations of his own’. He summed up:

Nobody who knew Lord Berners will forget him; he remains in the memory as a gay and, in a way, formidable person. He might have been happier had he lived in another age, but his curiosity was so vivid that he was unable to detach himself from the novelties of his own. His talents were so dispersed that he failed somehow to get his centre into the middle. He was a perhaps belated type of cultured eccentric, a gifted aristocrat. Yet his patrician qualities showed themselves in something more than contempt for vulgarity; they showed themselves in delicate consideration for the feelings of the friends he teased.[37]


On 16 February 1951 there was a concert of music by Berners on the BBC Third Programme conducted by his friend and colleague Constant Lambert who died at the age of only forty-five the following August.[38] He also gave the preceding twenty-minute talk and a second concert was broadcast two days later. In his talk Lambert covered all the familiar aspects of Berners’ public persona – everything that has attracted and amused people ever since. He cited the harmless dyes colouring the doves at Faringdon; various anecdotes such as how Berners tried to keep a railway carriage to himself by wearing dark glasses, beckoning people in and then reading The Times upside down; his fits of melancholia so that one night he exploded a paper bag in the night to frighten his guests who came out of their bedrooms in disarray. Lambert defended Berners against the charge of dilettante just because he had mastered more than one art form; and, when he conducted in America, Lambert enjoyed telling people that Lord Berners was not just a showbiz title.[39]

Lambert thought that A Wedding Bouquet ‘lacked the brilliance of The Triumph of Neptune’ and said that pieces like the funeral march for the rich aunt ‘gave him the reputation of being a farceur and nothing beside. It was not until The Triumph of Neptune with its exquisite snow scene that he began to be taken more seriously and not until A Wedding Bouquet that people realised that though his tongue was often in his cheek his heart was just as frequently on his sleeve’.[40]

In 1934, when his Music Ho! was published, Lambert described Berners as a parodist and added: ‘It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the Spanish national style was invented by a Russian, Glinka, and destroyed by an Englishman, Lord Berners; for after the latter’s amazingly brilliant parody of Spanish mannerisms it is impossible to hear most Spanish music without a certain satiric feeling breaking through.’[41] This is an over-statement arising from Lambert’s denigration of national schools of composers as artificial, especially the English variety. Nowadays it is difficult to view Berners in those terms after hearing the over-the-top parodies of Peter Maxwell Davies or John Adams. 

A specifically musical estimate of Berners – with no reference to the legends of eccentricity - was provided by Colin Mason in the Listener in advance of the BBC concerts conducted by Lambert.  He focused on a new definition: ‘Lord Berners was always a miniaturist, and the miniaturist in music has never been so fortunate as his counterpart in literature or the other arts’. He cited Wolf and Chopin as composers who also had to overcome the disadvantages of working mainly on a small scale; saw Berners’ ballet scores as ‘sequences of miniatures’; and, like Westrup, judged that ‘in ballet he found the metier that offered the happiest outlet for his musical personality and exposed fewest of his limitations’. However, Mason found Berners’ earlier music more significant, although he wondered how to take its humorous side and asked whether there is ‘a Berners manner’. In this connection he mentioned ‘the English Satie’ label. In looking back at the advanced early works, Mason, like other critics, saw them hiding a repressed sentimentality that emerged later in the ballets. He recognised Berners’ musical professionalism in spite of his enjoyment of a variety of other accomplishments. ‘Although his works will occupy a very minor position in the history of music of our time, when they were written they attracted the attention of masters far greater than himself. For us today they are like cocktails – not satisfying for those hungry for the big things in music, but very pleasant occasionally for the musically well fed.’[42]

Similar things were being said about the work of Satie at that time. Then, gradually, the interest of Cage, Feldman and some of the avant-garde revealed Satie as more central than had been suspected. It is the devotion of Gavin Bryars and other experimental composers to the cause of both Satie and Berners that implies an expanded relevance for Berners in the twenty-first century. 

Only a month after Berners’ death there was an obituary tribute from John Betjeman, who knew Berners well. He started off: ‘Lord Berners was well known as a musician, painter and writer’ then he considered the novels and memoirs:

If the word ‘light’ were not used today as a term of opprobrium for whatever is understood and spontaneously enjoyed I would apply it to Lord Berners’ novels. His two volumes of autobiography were light only on the surface. The second, describing his life at Eton, was I think the best book he wrote and one of the few school stories likely to last.


Betjeman confirmed what Berners’ friends interviewed here would later say: ‘There is little doubt that of the three arts he practised, he liked his music best. By that he hoped to be remembered.’

Betjeman went on to describe life at Faringdon and its setting and concluded: ‘Envious dry blankets who did not know him … may regard him as a relic of a civilised age. They can think what they like, the dreary form-fillers. They can preach their dry economics or expound their comfortless faiths. They cannot be expected to understand the pleasure and thankfulness those people feel who had the privilege of his friendship’.[43]

The appreciation of Berners in all his dimensions has long gone beyond those who knew him. But, of course, the label of eccentric remains. In his self-portrait as Lord Fitzcricket, in Far from the Madding War, Berners admitted this: ‘He was astute enough to realise that, in Anglo-Saxon countries, art is more highly appreciated if accompanied by a certain measure of eccentric publicity.’[44] In 1980, Peter J. Pirie in The English Musical Renaissance dealt with Berners in one revealing sentence: ‘a slight but attractive talent, more memorable as a great eccentric’.[45] Frank Howes, in his earlier study of the same subject, mentions Berners in a single sentence with a group of ballet composers.[46]

Although some of Berners’ ballets had held the stage more or less continuously, the 1972 Purcell Room recital felt like the start of a revival. The first step was to persuade John Betjeman to take part. I had attended a reading he gave at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, discussed the idea with him then and wrote with more details on 19 June 1972 saying that John Woolf of the Park Lane Group would like to put the concert on. His reply on 24 June was not encouraging:

I’m afraid I’m never very good immediately after giving a lecture and I could not concentrate when I saw you. Now I can … I am very glad there was quite a lot of interest in Lord Berners, but I fear I am so heavily committed with both writing and television work that I just cannot take on anymore for at least six months.


I sent him more details and asked what his fee would be. He replied:

It’s not the money, it’s the time. We will have to wait until the beginning of next year before I know where I am.


Since the date of 8 December was already booked and I was anxious to keep to it, I appealed to Robert Heber-Percy, Lord Berners’ heir. He spoke to Betjeman and may well have mentioned Berners’ hospitality to him and his wife for so many years. It worked and Betjeman’s next letter came on 24 July:

I have entered the details in my diary for December 8th. Please drop me a line so that we can arrange a meeting here at drinks time, some time during that month. If you would like to make the selection we will discuss it together.


I sent some material in advance and he responded on 21 November:

I think it is very good. If I am to do an introduction to begin with, which may be a good idea, I would mention his house, his love of painting and his fundamental gloom. The poems I had forgotten about, and they are great fun. Sometimes they are halfway between Edward Lear and Harry Graham,[47] but a thing like ‘Red Roses’ is entirely on its own, and I think it would make a perfect end as you suggest.


I went to 43 Cloth Fair at 5.00 pm on 5 December. Betjeman opened the door himself and in one breath said: ‘Come in it’s this fucking laureateship I’m getting six hundred letters a week would you like tea or whisky it’s malt!’

I had met Betjeman over lunch earlier than this but he was so surrounded by television people that we had got nowhere. This time I had him to myself after his secretary left. I settled for tea rather than whisky; the discussion was constructive – as long as I was going to provide all the material; and, since it was raining heavily and he was concerned about how to cope, I took him in my car to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

At the Purcell Room concert on 8 December Betjeman duly delivered the readings in his inimitable style; my sister Meriel Dickinson and I gave all the songs; and Susan Bradshaw and I shared solos and one set of duets, the Valses bourgeoises. Robert Heber-Percy sent furniture and pictures from Faringdon to transform the stage of the Purcell Room. The occasion was covered by at least five newspaper critics: in those less Philistine days there were more of them and they had more opportunity to attend concerts and space to write about them.

Ronald Crichton found the look of the Purcell Room ‘a nice change from what we normally see there’ and noticed ‘quite an aroma of country house life’. He found Berners ‘more parodist than satirist, and parodists love what they poke fun at … There was a soft heart behind the quizzical monocle.’ He realised that Max Beerbohm had understood Berners. The programme reproduced his 1923 drawing of Berners at the clavichord entitled: ‘Lord Berners, making more sweetness than violence’.[48] Crichton went so far as to say that ‘perhaps the best musician of them all was the Laureate, reading in his perfectly cadenced voice … ’[49]

Meirion Bowen also reacted to the occasion: ‘an epoch and a society were brought back to life … Among this gallery of eccentrics Lord Goodman looked a commonplace figure which is saying something … ’[50] But he felt that Berners had failed to ‘tap the potential of an idiom spiced so astringently with the atonal sounds of Schoenberg and with the chromatic inflections of Debussy and Ravel. Perhaps life was too comfortable … ’[51]

Max Harrison took the music seriously and was not overwhelmed by the audience. He thought Berners’ pieces were ‘brief, clever, to the point like successful party tricks. And they do work.’ In the Lullaby from Three English Songs he found a ‘repressed vein of romanticism which even the straight-faced foolery of ‘Red Roses and Red Noses’ cannot quite conceal.’[52]

For the composer Anthony Payne, who would later complete Elgar’s Third Symphony, the occasion ‘had the air of an official revival … We may lament the fact that he divided his energies between composing, writing and painting and this division of labours did undoubtedly prevent him from making a definitive statement in any of the three arts, but whatever he did had the stamp of effortless individuality.’ He also found that ‘if Berners’ style is a mask there is warmth beneath the mask’.[53]

It seems odd that critics found it difficult to accept what Berners actually did rather than what he might have done if he had not been so versatile. Christopher Norris caught the BBC broadcast, thought that a ‘worthy revival was spoiled by an over-developed sense of social occasion’ but got through to the music: ‘The concert did prove impressively how much of Berners’ more serious music can be rescued from the period appeal of its surface charm’.[54]

An even more interesting tribute came from the composer Michael Nyman, later to become widely known as a kind of English minimalist and for film-scores such as The Piano (1993). He also heard the broadcast, knowing nothing of Berners, and responded: ‘I am forced to ask why the post-Berners generation (he died in 1950) has had to be deprived of this fascinating, original and wayward music’. Nyman appreciated Berners’ stylistic diversity and asked: ‘Was Berners, then, just (just?) a gifted, instinctive, somewhat whimsical, eclectic musician, unable to find a ‘consistent’ style (the ultimate sin of a composer)? Instinctively one feels that the pre-1920 piano pieces are the ‘true’ Berners. They are certainly independent and individual, written in an unclassifiable variant of the atonality which was then current … [55]

I was in touch with Betjeman again and sent him a copy of the LP recording A Portrait of Lord Berners.[56] He responded on 15 February 1979:

I think the record of Gerald Berners wholly delightful. He would have liked it too. Thankyou so very much for sending it. As well as being a very kind man he was very modest. I think he cared for his music more than any other of his accomplishments, and that is why he would have liked the record and its sleeve of Faringdon [his painting for the Shell poster – see plate … ]


Well done. Yours ever,

too many ‘verys’ in this letter [handwritten and underlinings][57]


As the edition of the Collected Piano Music and Collected Songs neared completion I asked Betjeman if some of what he said at the Purcell Room with some sentences from the letter above could be used as a preface to each volume and he readily agreed. When the volumes were sent to him he commented on 5 July 1982: ‘I think the production of the two-volume edition of Gerald Berners’ songs and piano music is perfect and worthy of Gerald’s genius’.[58]


An international dimension was added at the 13th Autunno Musicale at Como on 8 September 1979 when Berners’ music reappeared in Italy. With the support of the British Council, there was a recital of songs and piano music, a round-table with Sir Harold Acton, Robert Heber-Percy, Gavin Bryars and Jack Buckley, and an exhibition. This was in communist-run northern Italy so concerts were free and people came and went as they pleased on the edge of the lake.[59]

By the time of the centenary in 1983 there was more interest in Berners than in 1972 when the Purcell Room recital was not quite sold out. The Wigmore Hall programme, again promoted by the Park Lane Group, was full on 25 September and so there was a repeat at the Purcell Room on 16 October. This time John Betjeman was not well enough to take part and Timothy West gave a wider range of readings, which I again chose. Meriel Dickinson and I were responsible for the more-or-less complete songs and solo piano music. Robert Henderson felt it was ‘a rare and notable virtue’ of the programme that it ‘never overplayed its hand’. In the early piano works, ‘beneath their amusing anti-romantic surface there is both a conscientious and sophisticated mind at work’. The programme was ‘an amiable, witty and affectionate centenary portrait of a man who was not only a distinctively picturesque figure in the musical life of his time but, whatever his gifts as composer, writer or painter, earned himself a lasting place in the gallery of English eccentrics.’ [60] In a preview earlier Henderson concluded that ‘Berners is best viewed whole; not just as composer but as novelist in his sequence of social comedies and author of two elegant volumes of autobiography, and as painter in mild imitation of early Corot, of whose work he owned a fine collection’.[61]

Ronald Crichton reviewed the centenary offerings from BBC Radio 3, which included the first opportunity to hear Le carrosse since 1924. He remarked on the Spanish colouring and the ‘remarkable assurance with which the self-styled amateur Berners handles voices and orchestra for operatic purposes – spitefully fast or unctuously slow, the voices ride naturally on the instrumental commentary. One can’t think of another English composer who could have done this. But in no real sense is Le carrosse an English opera.[62]

Gillian Widdecombe also admired the opera as ‘the most impressive thing I have heard so far … an amazing piece for 1923’. She felt Berners was badly served in sharing BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week with Lambert whose music was ‘similar but more substantial’. She came close to summing up: ‘For Berners and his friends, novelty was exciting, and frivolity was no less creative than seriousness. It was fun to champion the arts, and to dabble in all of them.’[63]

Michael Hurd also responded to the opera as ‘a very deftly turned piece that might well be effective in the theatre, even if it is a little short on action … Berners, it would seem, was a born man of the theatre’. But Hurd regarded Berners as ‘no more than a pleasant footnote in the history of British music’ and concluded that had Berners ‘remained Gerald Tyrwhitt it is doubtful if we would be celebrating his centenary at all. His gift for making his life a newsworthy fantasy has remained useful to the end. – even now it is this that has caught the limelight.’[64] Twenty-five years later, Berners’ artful use of publicity – if that is what it was - seems ahead of its time. Nowadays the media provides a barrage of detail about celebrities regardless of what it is they are supposed to be famous for. Look at the careers of John Cage or Andy Warhol - not to mention the idols of pop. However, writing in 1998, Hurd recognised that: ‘Though wealth and social status conspired with a certain emotional diffidence to allow Berners to pose as a dilettante, there can be no doubt that his musical achievements were those of a true professional.’[65] Meirion Bowen remembered the Purcell Room concert in 1972 but still found Berners ‘a splendid dilettante’. He ‘attracts attention mainly as a clever miniaturist and as a deflater of all and sundry’.[66]

Simon Mundy got it right - it could hardly be put better - in asserting that Berners’ dabbling in composition, writing and painting ‘was accomplished enough to put many professionals firmly in their place. It is an extraordinary attitude of the present day to assume that if a man does one thing well he is an expert and is respected, if he does three things well he is dismissed as an amateur and treated with lofty condescension. Lord Berners had the further disadvantage of nobility … Perhaps now his centenary has awakened the curiosity of a generation that never knew the gossip-column view of Berners, his real achievements and not just his eccentricity will be remembered.’

Michael Ratcliffe, in a feature in The Times, focused on Berners’ versatility and thought he was best remembered for A Wedding Bouquet where he had also designed the costumes and sets. He discussed Far from the Madding War in some detail as ‘a hard bright jewel from a dark hour … beneath the jokes is a desperate sense of futility at the pointlessness of the war’. The novel ‘is much tougher than Firbank or Beerbohm … and closer to Peacock and Waugh: it may be enjoyed for its own sake and as a kind of companion prologue to Waugh’s Put out more Flags (1942), a comparison with which it has nothing to fear. It is a find, a lost classic, and a perfect way to begin the savouring of Lord Berners.’[67]

It was unusual for a centenary tribute to end with a fanfare for one of Berners’ novels. When they originally came out they were well received but since then the literary establishment has ignored Berners completely. I remember questioning the distinguished poet John Heath-Stubbs about his writings: he knew something about them but rated them as ‘very slender’. Soon after the centenary Stephen Banfield’s two-volume Sensibility and English Song was published. He felt Walton’s Façade had brought ‘a welcome breath of fresh air into the English drawing room’ but that Berners ‘brought an even fresher one’. He recognised his parody and satire and found his song output to be ‘striking and significant for its range and diversity’. In the second of the Three English Songs, ‘The Lady Visitor in the Pauper Ward’ to a poem by Robert Graves, Banfield detected ‘music of social criticism: a new voice in English music’ and went on to discuss Britten from this point of view.[68]

A notable exception to the silence about Berners’ books, until the 1998 reprints, is a thorough article from Julian Cowley in 1995 under a revealing title: ‘The Neglected Satirical Fiction of Lord Berners’.[69] He started with Nancy Mitford’s characterisation of Berners as Lord Merlin in The Pursuit of Love and soon diagnosed: ‘Arguably, Berners’ addiction to pranks has been largely responsible for the neglect of his work’. Cowley compared his novels with the savagery and breakdown of Waugh’s satires and the social detail satirised in Anthony Powell but: ‘Berners’ writings are closer to fables, stylistically simple, yet embracing the improbable in order to shed light on the familiar. The portentousness of modernism does not suit his temperament; the more playful aspects of the European avant-garde inform his tales of change, loss and cultural impasse.’ Cowley considered the fiction in some detail without reference to the then unpublished French and German volumes of autobiography or Berners’ play The Furies. In The Camel he perceptively saw the animal itself as inhabiting ‘a fictional space like a disjunct figure on a Magritte canvas’ - an example of the kind of incongruity that appealed to Berners and does not have to be explained. However, the camel can be connected to the East and it is perhaps a reflection of dedicatee Penelope Betjeman’s interest in India. Cowley neatly connected the brightly coloured flies released in The Romance of a Nose with the multi-coloured pigeons at Faringdon and found that the image ‘hovers in the midst of the exquisite, the hilarious and the grotesque. Those uncomfortable categories have perhaps conspired to exclude Gerald Berners from serious attention as composer, painter and writer … His fiction employs dislocatory strategies of romance, fantasy and parody as a means of challenging the philistinism and complacency of a society persistently subordinating creativity to authority and routine’ – and one result was war. In that sense Berners was providing a kind of social criticism.

The historian and Shakespeare scholar A. L. Rowse came to know Berners at Oxford during the war through David Cecil and wrote a whole chapter about him in a book of memoirs, which came out after the centenary.[70] He regarded First Childhood as ‘the delicious volume of autobiography which is the best of his books’ but undermined his case by admitting that he had not read The Camel which Harold Acton apparently called ‘a rococo pastiche of a Victorian moral tale with macabre undertones’. Rowse considered Count Omega to be ‘a rather nightmarish fantasy’ reflecting the manic-depressive side of Berners’ make-up. But he remembered Far from the Madding War because he was with Berners in Oxford when it was written and was well aware of the thinly disguised characters. Mark Stein summed up for the youngest generation: ‘He was far more than a patrician eccentric, great wit and popular socialite. He was true Renaissance man, whose music, books and paintings demonstrate far more than just a great sense of humour. His technical skill is obvious and even his worst self-indulgences show great originality.’[71]

Following the attention given to Berners in his centenary year of 1983, there were various landmarks during the 1990s. This was when several new recordings came out and Wilfrid Mellers responded to A Wedding Bouquet by finding it less close to Stein than Virgil Thomson’s operas.[72] He saw Berners as ‘a quintessential English Eccentric’ and summed up by finding him ‘a remote survival from a very old England who disappeared, like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, into the thin air of a wide grin, a crazy joke (often in a foreign language), and a cosmopolitan musical stylisation’.[73]

By 2000 there were enough recordings for Berners to be Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death – on his own and not shared with Lambert as in 1983. Major events took place in 1998/99 - the publication of the biography by Mark Amory and the republication of First Childhood and A Distant Prospect in the USA and the UK along with the Collected Tales and Fantasies. The volumes of Berners’ own writings were presented without any editorial or biographical material so a new generation of readers had to find its own bearings. The American response was revealing although Berners’ admirers in the later 1930s had included Bernard Herrmann (1911-75), who would later write the classic scores to the Alfred Hitchcock films, when he was on the staff at CBS radio. And before that Marc Blitzstein (1905-64), whose 1929 lectures included: ‘If Bliss is the bad boy of England then Lord Berners is the Puck … a delightful combination of Anglo-Saxon and Latin. His music is extremely witty, droll and keen; he has little use for profundity, although it is quite possible that his philosophy of life, if he has any, strikes the note of depth through the indirect shaft of satire.’[74]

Richard Dyer, reviewing First Childhood and A Distant Prospect in the Boston Globe, set the scene: ‘America has not forgotten Lord Berners because he was never known here … What makes the books memorable is the clarity of Berners’ unforgiving memory, his sense of character and eye for detail, his judgement, his wit, his voice, his slant. The familiar story is told from a point of view that still sounds fresh and modern more than sixty years later – and it is bracingly free from self-pity … he creates entertaining artifice by facing down uncomfortable facts.’[75]

David Finkle in the New York Times found more than meets the eye in Berners: ‘Although he must have hoped that his works would be regarded as benign mockery by both peers and Peers, Berners also clearly meant to point a well-manicured finger at the gloomy detachment that lurks beneath this sort of comedy. Today’s readers, without Debrett’s at their elbows, may miss out on some of the fun, but should still delight in the humorous texts as they unfold – and get a second kick from their bitter, bracing aftertaste. That’s because Berners, like Max Beerbohm (an obvious influence), excels at a particularly British sub-genre: melancholic whimsy.’[76]

Twenty years earlier, responding to the Unicorn LP, Donald Ritchie, in San Francisco, began optimistically: ‘Lord Berners was one of England’s finest composers’. Then he too considered why the Americans had never heard of him. He found obstacles in Berners’ eccentricity, his ironic humour and his versatility but he ended up by regarding him not as ‘the English Satie’ but rather plausibly as ‘the Ronald Firbank of music’.[77] Then Ritchie expanded the legends by quoting Consuelo Vanderbilt who apparently remembered Berners – a new slant – as playing a harmonium whilst being chauffeured in his car![78]

The Amory biography brought Berners to a wide audience outside the musical world: it has been described as a best-seller. Noel Malcolm summed up: ‘The real legacy of Lord Berners is threefold: his music … his marvellous childhood autobiographies … and his life itself. The last of these, alternately silly, sparkling and touching, has waited nearly fifty years for a biography to do it justice.’[79] Reviews went over the usual stories without adding much to the established canon, although Alan Hollinghurst wrote a carefully considered estimate in the Times Literary Supplement. ‘There is often an element of revenge in Berners’ humour – on neighbours, friends, bores – and the satirical portraits in his novels led to a good deal of prevaricating correspondence; he wanted both to offend and to remain in the right. He preserved copies of different drafts of letters, which suggests a peculiar mixture of self-doubt and calculation. The effort of shutting out despair, regret and guilt with oddity and frivolity made him look selfish and silly to some, to others not quite human, though that may have been part of his charm; Siegfried Sassoon found him “consistently inhuman and unfailingly agreeable”’.[80] 

Noel Annan in a substantial article in the New York Review of Books saw Berners as part of the tradition of the English ‘vogue’ novel with antecedents in Thomas Love Peacock and Aldous Huxley although Berners used this form as fantasy of the kind found in Firbank and H. H. Munro (Saki).[81] Annan asked if a Berners revival was on the way with, apparently, no awareness of what had been achieved for his music. He preferred Far from the Madding War to First Childhood: ‘The talk is astonishingly faithful to the Oxford gossip of those days: you can hear the exact tone of voice in which the witticisms were delivered. There is also an almost serious theme, namely that war consists in destroying everything of beauty, which is why Emmeline’s war work consists of picking apart a rare and valuable fourteenth-century piece of German tapestry. War, in fact, should prevent anyone taking anything seriously.’ Annan saw this novel as fitting in with Cyril Connolly’s magazine Horizon with ‘the same determination not to glamorise the war and to proclaim the supremacy of personal relations and art above politics.’[82] Like Michael Radcliffe, Annan compared Far from the Madding War with Waugh’s ‘devastatingly serious’ Put out more Flags but unfavourably. He quotes Waugh as regarding ‘the whole world in which he and Berners moved – its jokes, its malice, its relentless desire to be amusing and amused – with an Augustan conviction of original sin. The friends of Berners were so agreeable, so loyal, so charming, but they were aboriginally corrupt. Their tiny relative advantages of intelligence, taste, good looks, and good manners, he said, were quite insignificant.’[83]

Waugh overstated his curmudgeonly case. Berners made some sketches in justification of Firbank which relate to his own situation as shown in the interviews which now follow:

Ronald Firbank is frivolous par excellence. Frivolity combined with beauty, humour and fantasy. One should not expect to find in his work any weighty sociological or philosophical judgements, any more than one would in the books of Edward Lear … There is a good deal to be said for frivolity. Frivolous people, when all is said and done, do less harm in the world than some of our philanthropisers and reformers. Mistrust a man who never has an occasional flash of silliness.[84]


Berners once wrote: ‘There is a legend that Our Lord said “Blessed are the Frivolous, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” and that it was suppressed by St Paul’.[85]

© Peter Dickinson

Credit: Reproduced from Lord Berners: Composer, Writer, Painter by Peter Dickinson. Published in 2008 by the Boydell Press in hardcover at £25 (ISBN: 978 1 84383 392 5, 224pp plus 44 colour and 15 b&w illustrations). For more information please see:

[1] Chesterian, October 1917, 156.

[2] Alfredo Casella (1883-1947), leading Italian composer and pianist. For more details about the solo piano music see Peter Dickinson, ed., The Collected Music for Solo Piano, London, 1982/ 2nd ed. 2000.

[3] See interviews with Harold Acton, who was there, Chapter 4, and Fiamma Nicolodi, Chapter 18, Philip Lane has scored the two pieces which Berners did not use as Intermezzo 1 & 2 to make a set with all three Funeral Marches, all three Fragments psychologiques and Portsmouth Point. Recorded on Marco Polo 8.223711 (1998). The British premiere of L’uomo dai baffii was given by Aquarius under Nicholas Cleobury at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 1 November 1983. That concert ended with Cleobury’s arrangements of Berners’ Three Songs, ‘Red roses and red noses’ and ‘Come on Algernon’ sung by Mary King.

[4] Alfredo Casella, L’evolution della musica: a traverso la storia della cadenza perfetta (parallel texts in French and English), London, 1924; new edition enlarged by Edmund Rubbra, as The Evolution of Music (English only) London, 1964.

[5] Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), British composer and conductor, descended from a remarkable Belgian family of musicians. He was the brother of harpists Sidonie and Marie and oboist Léon Goossens, worked in the USA and Australia, and was knighted in 1955.
The premiere of Berners’ Fantaisie Espagnole (then called Spanish Fantasy) was given at the Proms under Sir Henry Wood on 24 September 1919 and Goossens included it in a significant concert given in the Queen’s Hall, London, on 7 June 1921. He launched his orchestra with a programme that included the first concert performance in London of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps.  See Eugene Goossens, Overture and Beginners, London, 1951, 156-164. Two weeks later the programme was repeated but without the Berners. However, Goossens conducted it in a programme of British music with the Berlin Philharmonic in December of the following year. Overture and Beginners, 318.  

[6] Chesterian, May 1919, 292.

[7] Florent Schmitt (1870-1958), French composer, pianist and critic. 

[8] Ernest Newman (1868-1959), ‘the most celebrated British music critic in the first half of the twentieth century’. The New Grove Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed., London, 2001.

[9] Julien Tiersot (1857-1936), pioneering French ethnomusicologist, folksong collector and writer.

[10] Chesterian, February 1919, 259-60.

[11] Edwin Evans (1874-1945), critic who wrote for the weekly Pall Mall Gazette and from 1933 the Daily Mail. Based in London, he was an enthusiastic and well-informed promoter of Stravinsky and contemporary British and French composers.

[12] Edwin Evans, ‘Modern British Composers VII: Lord Berners’, Musical Times, 1 January 1920, 9-13. Evans also quotes from his own article in the Outlook, 25 October 1919.

[13] Natalia Gontcharova (Goncharova)  (1881-1962) and Mikhail (Michel) Larionov (1881-1964), who lived together then married in 1955, were leading figures in modernism in Russia but they left in 1915, settled in Paris and became French citizens in 1938. By then they were neglected but there was a revival of interest in their work in the early 1960s. Larionov drew cartoons of Berners who made sketches himself of his friends at this period in Rome. 

[14] Chesterian, December 1919, 65-68

[15] Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), Master of the Queen’s Music, 1953. In ‘What Modern Composition is aiming at’, a paper read to the Society of Women Musicians on 2 July 1921, Bliss said: ‘In England many names shine forth, of which the most conspicuous are Vaughan Williams, Holst, Goossens, Bax, Ireland and Berners.’ Bliss went on to show that in England composers are individuals rather than groups such as the Russian Five or the Parisian Les six. Thus ‘Holst the mystic, Bax the romantic, Ireland the rugged, Goossens the exquisite, Berners the satirist, all add their quota to the stream of national music that looks like flowing with nobler current than that of any other country.’ As I remember, London, 1970, 250.

[16] Arthur Bliss, ‘Reviews of New Music: Lord Berners’, Musical News and Herald, 25 June 1921, 817.

[17] Arthur Bliss, ‘Berners and Bax’, Modern Music, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1924, 26-7 [also in Bliss on Music, ed. Gregory Roscoe, Oxford University Press, 1991, 46].

[18] Edwin Evans, ‘Who is next?’ Modern Music, Vol. 1, No. 3, 3-6.

[19] Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 3rd edition, ed. H. C. Colles, London, 1927.

[20] Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th edition, ed. Eric Blom, London, 1954.

[21] The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1st edition, ed. Stanley Sadie, London, 1980.

[22] The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, ed. Stanley Sadie, London, 2001.

[23] Sir Jack Westrup (1904-75), musicologist and conductor, Professor of Music at Oxford 1947-71.

[24] Ernest Walker, J. A. Westrup, A History of Music in England, 3rd ed., Oxford, 1951, 352. 

[25] Profile and interview with Berners, Christian Science Monitor, Boston, 31 March 1923. Gifford, table 9.

[26] G. Jean-Aubry, ‘Le Carrosse du saint-sacrement’, Chesterian, June 1923, 244-51. Berners’ opera was produced at the Champs-Elysées, Paris, on 24 April 1924. The Times called it: ‘An unqualified success…Lord Berners’ music makes the work an unalloyed enjoyment’. Lane, CD booklet Marco Polo 8.225155 (2000). The BBC broadcast was on 18 September 1983. That performance, in an English translation by Adam Pollock, with soloists and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Cleobury is on CD Marco Polo, 8.225155 (2000).

[27] Francis Poulenc admired Le carrosse. Poulenc Correspondence 1910-63, ed. Myriam Chimènes, Paris 1991, 227. There is also a reference to Denise Duval, who worked closely with Poulenc, preparing the title role for the performance on 2 June 1948, 648, n7.

[28] Lane MS 54-5. ‘His taste was that of a very civilised man. He had a very acute sense of the ridiculous and of paradox. He was also a very sensitive and very kind man. I was then just beginning as a very young inexperienced colleague; he immediately noticed me, became interested and helped me through his friendship.’

[29] ‘The last Rose of Summer’ is an Irish tune with words by Thomas Moore: it appears in the opera Martha by  Friedrich von Flotow (1812-83). Berners quoted the first line, with drunken adjustments, for the Sailor’s return in the Polka in The Triumph of Neptune; he arranged Bach’s Christmas chorale prelude In dulci jubilo BVW 729 for A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen, an anthology of piano arrangements by well-known composers (Oxford University Press, 1932); the Schoenberg piece is the third of Sechs kleine klavierstucke, Op 19 (1911) from his free atonal period; Little Tich (Harry Relph 1867-1926) was a versatile music hall comedian short in stature and with six digits on each hand who became a sensation in London and Paris; Dame Clara Butt (1872-1936) was the celebrated contralto. Elgar wrote his Sea Pictures for her and she carried his Land of Hope and Glory far and wide. Sir Walford Davies (1869-1941), Master of the King’s Music, also used the name of Schoenberg provocatively. His pioneering BBC talks Music and the Ordinary Listener began in 1926 and when he was pressed by his radio listeners to broadcast the names of his favourite composers he gave: Bach, Beethoven, Billy Mayerl and Arnold Schoenberg. Peter Dickinson, Marigold: the Music of Billy Mayerl, Oxford University Press, 1999, 9-10.

[30] George Balanchine (Balanchivadze) (1904-83) Russian-American dancer and then influential choreographer who choreographer Berners’ first two ballets: The Triumph of Neptune (1926) and Luna Park (1930).

[31] The Triumph of Neptune was premiered at the Lyceum Theatre, London, on 3 December 1926 under Henri Defosse. The 45-minute work was a major success and music from it was used again in Le Boxing and Waterloo and Crimea, both with Ballet Rambert in 1931. Philip Lane added more music for David Bintley’s ballet Mr Punch and the Street Party (1979). The Suite has been regularly performed and recorded: the full ballet is on Marco Polo 8.223711 (1998).

[32] Lane MS, 60-61.

[33] Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), playwright noted for The Relapse (1696) and architect whose buildings included Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.

[34] Sacheverell Sitwell, ‘British Composers at the Proms (5): Lord Berners’, Radio Times, 11 September 1931, 556.

[35] Igor Stravinsky, Selected Correspondence edited and with Commentaries by Robert Craft, London, 1984, 157.

[36] William Beckford (1759-1844), of Fonthill Abbey, the rich Lord Mayor of London, MP, novelist, collector and eccentric; and Horace Walpole, of Strawberry Hill, 4th Earl of Orford (1717-97), MP, collector and writer on a remarkable variety of subjects, known primarily for his posthumously published memoirs.

[37] Harold Nicolson,‘ Marginal Comment’, Spectator, 28 April 1950, 568.

[38] Constant Lambert (1905-51), British composer, conductor and writer. He conducted Berners’ last three ballets; wrote his influential study Music Ho! (1934); and dedicated his Music for Orchestra (1927) to Berners.

[39] Berners wrote a letter himself to the Daily Herald on 21 November 1946: ‘Now I am neither rich nor a dilettante. In my case, I would seem to be less of a dilettante than the writer of the article who doesn’t know his facts ’. Lane MS, 121; Gifford, table 9.

[40] Constant Lambert, ‘Tribute to Lord Berners’, BBC Radio 3, 16 February 1951.

[41] Constant Lambert, Music Ho!: a Study of Music in Decline, London, 1934; Penguin 1948, 67, 78, 123 & 139. 

[42] Colin Mason, ‘Lord Berners: a Miniaturist in Music’, Listener, 8 February 1951, 236.

[43] John Betjeman, ‘Lord Berners: 1883-1950’, Listener, 11 May 1950, 839.

[44] Far from the Madding War, 128 (1941); 408 (1999).

[45] Peter J. Pirie, The English Musical Renaissance: Twentieth-century British composers and their works, New York, 1980, 121.

[46] Frank Howes, The English Musical Renaissance, London 1966, 318. Howes joined The Times in 1925 and was chief music critic from 1943-60.

[47] Harry Graham (1874-1936), English writer of light verse.

[48] Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956).

[49] Ronald Crichton, ‘Lord Berners’, Financial Times, 11 December 1972.

[50] Arnold Goodman (1913-1995), influential London lawyer and advisor to Harold Wilson’s government who negotiated improved government sponsorship of the arts.

[51] Meirion Bowen, ‘Berners’, Guardian, 9 December 1972.

[52] Max Harrison, ‘ Lord Berners: Purcell Room’, The Times, 9 December 1972.

[53] Anthony Payne, ‘Betjeman gives reading of Berners’ wit’, Telegraph, 9 December 1972.

[54] Christopher Norris, ‘Radio and TV’, Music and Musicians, February 1974, 31.

[55] Michael Nyman, ‘Last Week’s Broadcast Music’, Listener, 27 December 1973.

[56] A Portrait of Lord Berners: Songs and Piano Music. Meriel Dickinson (mezzo); Bernard Dickerson (tenor); Susan Bradshaw, Peter Dickinson, Richard Rodney Bennett (piano). Unicorn LP RHS 355 (1978). All first recordings, later available on CD Symposium 1278 (2000) along with historic transfers including Berners as pianist.

[57] Berners’ painting of Faringdon Folly (1936) was used as a poster advertising Shell petroleum products. See The Shell Poster Book, introduction by David Bernstein, London, 1992, Faringdon Folly (1936) number 64 of 92. Jack Beddington at Shell commissioned some of the most prominent British artists to contribute to his remarkable series. There was no Shell Guide to Berkshire cited by Amory, 152.

[58] Peter Dickinson, ed., The Collected Music for Solo Piano, Chester Music,  London, 1982/ 2nd ed. 2000; The Collected Vocal Music, Chester Music,  London, 1982/2nd ed. 2000.

[59] Pioneri Sconosciuteri della nuova musica: Lord Berners.  Salone Villa Olmo, 8 September 1979. Meriel Dickinson (mezzo), Susan Bradshaw and Peter Dickinson (piano). Other pioneers represented in the festival were Grainger and Sorabji.

[60] Robert Henderson, ‘An Evening with Lord Berners’, Daily Telegraph, 26 September 1983.

[61] Robert Henderson, ‘The Bubbling-over Berners’, Daily Telegraph 10 September 1983.

[62] Ronald Crichton, ‘Lord Berners Centenary/BBC Radio 3, Financial Times, 20 September 1983.

[63] Gillian Widdecombe, ‘Lord of Music and Mischief’, Observer, 25 September 1983.

[64] Michael Hurd, ‘Civilising the Wealthy’, Times Literary Supplement, 14 October 1983.

[65] Michael Hurd, CD booklet notes: Lord Berners – Songs Piano Music; Ian Partridge (tenor), Len Vorster (piano); Marco Polo 8.225159 (2000).

[66] Meirion Bowen, ‘Berners’ Centenary’, Guardian, 26 September 1983.

[67] Michael Ratcliffe, ‘Lord Berners, that most versatile Peer’, The Times, 3 September 1983. It was Waugh’s Put out more Flags that took off Auden and Isherwood as Parsnip and Pimpernel following their departure for the USA in January 1939. But the novel has a convoluted plot and a multiplicity of characters that makes Berners seem the essence of simplicity.

[68] Stephen Banfield, Sensibility and English Song: Critical Studies of the Early Twentieth Century, Cambridge, 1985, 378-82.

[69] Julian Cowley, ‘The Neglected satirical Fiction of Lord Berners’, Journal of Modern Literature, XIX, 2 (Fall 1995), 187-200.

[70] A L Rowse (1903-1997), Friends and Contemporaries, London, 1989, 47-74.

[71] Mark Stein, ‘Centenary of Lord Berners – a brilliant man’, Shropshire Magazine, April 1983.

[72] Virgil Thomson (1896-1989); Four Saints in Three Acts (1934), The Mother of Us All (1947).

[73] Wilfrid Mellers, ‘Visionary Gleams’, Musical Times, October 1996, 17.

[74] Information from Howard Pollack: forthcoming biography of Blitzstein.

[75] Richard Dyer, ‘Revisiting the Life of Lord Berners’, Boston Globe, February 1999.

[76] David Finkle, ‘Twitting the Twits’, New York Times, 24 October 1999.

[77] Donald Ritchie, ‘The Return of the Eccentric Lord Berners’, San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, 15 July 1979. Ronald Firbank (1886-1926), primarily a novelist with a highly individual style. Berners was Firbank’s literary executor. See also interviews with Daphne Fielding, Chapter 6…; Lady Betjeman, Chapter 12…; and Lord David Cecil, Chapter 14…

[78] Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877-1964), American heiress, first wife of 9th Duke of Marlborough

[79] Noel Malcolm, ‘The Lord of many Talents’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 March 1998, 15.

[80] Alan Hollinghurst, ‘An Unconveyable Aesthete’, Times Literary Supplement, 20 March 1998, 18-19.

[81] Noel Annan (1919-2001), ‘The Camel at the Door’, New York Review of Books, Vol. 46, No 15, 7 October 1999.

[82] Berners contributed to Horizon in 1942 and he was one of twenty-one writers invited to respond to a questionnaire about Books of 1947. He chose: Barker Fairley, A Study of Goethe; Robert Liddell, A Treatise on the Novel; and Philip Toynbee, Tea with Mrs Goodman, also selected by Arthur Koestler.

[83] Berners and Waugh had a difficult relationship. Amory, who edited The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, London, 1980, diagnosed: ‘Perhaps one seemed too fierce, the other too silly; for different reasons, neither was an easy friend.’ Amory, 142.

[84] Berners archive, notebook 67A/Bryars, complete. Amory, 93-4, quotes.

[85] Berners archive, notebook 5/Bryars.


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month

November 2022
Bach Orchestral Suites

del Cinque
Del Cinque Cello sonatas

Fujita Mozart
Mao Fujita Mozart

Stanczyk Acousmatic Music


October 2022

Berg Violin Concerto
Violin Concerto Elmes

DEbussy Jeux
Debussy Jeux

Romantic pioano masters
Romantic Piano Masters

The future is female - Vol 2
Volume 2 - The Dance

impromptu harp music
Complete Harp Impromptus




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.