LORD BERNERS - CRITICAL RESPONSES
By Peter Dickinson:
Setting the scene
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’.
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
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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’.
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’.
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’.
The review that – very characteristically - Berners liked best
came from Julien Tiersot
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:
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.
In 1920 the Musical
Times was running a series on Modern British Composers written
by Edwin Evans.
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:
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’ …
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.
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
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:
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
Goossens went on
to attribute the character of these first works by Berners to
his continental environment, and recognised their harmonic texture
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
Another fellow composer
who appreciated Berners was Arthur Bliss:
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 … ’
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’.
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.’
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
the New Grove in 1980, Berners got two columns including
a list of works and partial bibliography.
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.
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.
anonymous six-page essay is admirably written and could hardly
be improved on today. The writer confirms the impact of the
Three Funeral Marches:
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:
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:
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
The tone may be
laudatory but all Berners’ music before the opera is discussed
with virtually complete understanding.
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.
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.
year before the production of the opera, there was an interview
with Berners, contributed by G. Jean-Aubry to the Christian
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.
whose poems Berners had set in his Trois chansons, also
wrote an article on the opera for the Chesterian.
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:
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’.
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).
When Philip Lane asked Sauguet about Berners in the 1970s he
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
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
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.
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
and a scenario by Sacheverell Sitwell, based on situations close
to traditional English pantomime and depicted in coloured prints.
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.’
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.
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
Sitwell saw ‘plenty of able painters but a dearth of good composers’
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’.
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.
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.’
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.’
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
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
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.
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
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.
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’.
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.’
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.
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.’
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.
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:
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.
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.’
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’.
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
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’.
Frank Howes, in his earlier study of the same subject, mentions
Berners in a single sentence with a group of ballet composers.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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,
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!’
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.
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
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’.
Crichton went so far as to say that ‘perhaps the best musician
of them all was the Laureate, reading in his perfectly cadenced
voice … ’
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
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 … ’
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.’
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’.
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’.
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 …
was in touch with Betjeman again and sent him a copy of the
LP recording A Portrait of Lord Berners.
He responded on 15 February 1979:
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 … ]
done. Yours ever,
many ‘verys’ in this letter [handwritten and underlinings]
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’.
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.
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.’
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’.
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.
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.’
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.’
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
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
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.’
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.’
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.
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’.
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.
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
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.’
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.
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’.
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.’
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
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.’
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’.
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!
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.’
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”’.
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).
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.’
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.’
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:
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.
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’.
© Peter Dickinson
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: http://www.boydell.co.uk/43833921.HTM
, October 1917, 156.
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
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
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’
, ‘Red roses and red noses’ and ‘Come on
Algernon’ sung by Mary King.
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,
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
of Berners’ Fantaisie Espagnole
(then called Spanish
) 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
, 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
, May 1919, 292.
Florent Schmitt (1870-1958), French composer, pianist and
Ernest Newman (1868-1959), ‘the most celebrated British music
critic in the first half of the twentieth century’. The
New Grove Dictionary of Music
Julien Tiersot (1857-1936), pioneering French ethnomusicologist,
folksong collector and writer.
, February 1919, 259-60.
Edwin Evans (1874-1945), critic who wrote for the weekly Pall
and from 1933 the Daily Mail
in London, he was an enthusiastic and well-informed promoter
of Stravinsky and contemporary British and French composers.
Edwin Evans, ‘Modern British Composers VII: Lord Berners’,
, 1 January 1920, 9-13. Evans also quotes
from his own article in the Outlook
, 25 October 1919.
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.
, December 1919, 65-68
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
. 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.
Arthur Bliss, ‘Reviews of New Music: Lord Berners’, Musical
News and Herald
, 25 June 1921, 817.
Arthur Bliss, ‘Berners and Bax’, Modern Music
1, No. 1, February 1924, 26-7 [also in Bliss on Music
ed. Gregory Roscoe, Oxford University Press, 1991, 46].
Edwin Evans, ‘Who is next?’ Modern Music
, Vol. 1, No.
Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians
edition, ed. H. C. Colles, London, 1927.
Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians
edition, ed. Eric Blom, London, 1954.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
edition, ed. Stanley Sadie, London, 1980.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
edition, ed. Stanley Sadie, London, 2001.
Sir Jack Westrup (1904-75), musicologist and conductor, Professor
of Music at Oxford 1947-71.
Ernest Walker, J. A. Westrup, A History of Music in England
ed., Oxford, 1951, 352.
Profile and interview with Berners, Christian Science Monitor
Boston, 31 March 1923. Gifford, table 9.
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).
Francis Poulenc admired Le carrosse
. Poulenc Correspondence
, 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.
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.’
‘The last Rose of Summer’ is an Irish tune with words by Thomas
Moore: it appears in the opera Martha
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
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,
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
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).
Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), playwright noted for The
(1696) and architect whose buildings included
Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.
Sacheverell Sitwell, ‘British Composers at the Proms (5):
Lord Berners’, Radio Times
, 11 September 1931, 556.
Igor Stravinsky, Selected Correspondence edited and with
Commentaries by Robert Craft
, London, 1984, 157.
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
of Orford (1717-97), MP, collector and writer on a remarkable
variety of subjects, known primarily for his posthumously
Harold Nicolson,‘ Marginal Comment’, Spectator,
28 April 1950, 568.
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.
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.
Constant Lambert, ‘Tribute to Lord Berners’, BBC Radio 3,
16 February 1951.
Constant Lambert, Music Ho!: a Study of Music in Decline
London, 1934; Penguin 1948, 67, 78, 123 & 139.
Colin Mason, ‘Lord Berners: a Miniaturist in Music’, Listener
8 February 1951, 236.
John Betjeman, ‘Lord Berners: 1883-1950’, Listener
11 May 1950, 839.
Far from the Madding War
, 128 (1941); 408 (1999).
Peter J. Pirie, The English Musical Renaissance: Twentieth-century
British composers and their works
, New York, 1980, 121.
Frank Howes, The English Musical Renaissance
1966, 318. Howes joined The Times
in 1925 and was chief
music critic from 1943-60.
Harry Graham (1874-1936), English writer of light verse.
Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956).
Ronald Crichton, ‘Lord Berners’, Financial Times
Arnold Goodman (1913-1995), influential London lawyer and
advisor to Harold Wilson’s government who negotiated improved
government sponsorship of the arts.
Meirion Bowen, ‘Berners’, Guardian
, 9 December 1972.
Max Harrison, ‘ Lord Berners: Purcell Room’, The Times
9 December 1972.
Anthony Payne, ‘Betjeman gives reading of Berners’ wit’, Telegraph
9 December 1972.
Christopher Norris, ‘Radio and TV’, Music and Musicians
February 1974, 31.
Michael Nyman, ‘Last Week’s Broadcast Music’, Listener
27 December 1973.
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.
Berners’ painting of Faringdon Folly (1936) was used as a
poster advertising Shell petroleum products. See The Shell
, 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.
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
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.
Robert Henderson, ‘An Evening with Lord Berners’, Daily
, 26 September 1983.
Robert Henderson, ‘The Bubbling-over Berners’, Daily Telegraph
10 September 1983.
Ronald Crichton, ‘Lord Berners Centenary/BBC Radio 3, Financial
, 20 September 1983.
Gillian Widdecombe, ‘Lord of Music and Mischief’, Observer
25 September 1983.
Michael Hurd, ‘Civilising the Wealthy’, Times Literary
, 14 October 1983.
Michael Hurd, CD booklet notes: Lord Berners – Songs Piano
Music; Ian Partridge (tenor), Len Vorster (piano); Marco Polo
Meirion Bowen, ‘Berners’ Centenary’, Guardian
, 26 September
Michael Ratcliffe, ‘Lord Berners, that most versatile Peer’,
, 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.
Stephen Banfield, Sensibility and English Song: Critical
Studies of the Early Twentieth Century
, Cambridge, 1985,
Julian Cowley, ‘The Neglected satirical Fiction of Lord Berners’,
Journal of Modern Literature
, XIX, 2 (Fall 1995), 187-200.
A L Rowse (1903-1997), Friends and Contemporaries
London, 1989, 47-74.
Mark Stein, ‘Centenary of Lord Berners – a brilliant man’,
, April 1983.
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989); Four Saints in Three Acts
(1934), The Mother of Us All
Wilfrid Mellers, ‘Visionary Gleams’, Musical Times
October 1996, 17.
Information from Howard Pollack: forthcoming biography of
Richard Dyer, ‘Revisiting the Life of Lord Berners’, Boston
, February 1999.
David Finkle, ‘Twitting the Twits’, New York Times
24 October 1999.
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
Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877-1964), American heiress, first wife
Duke of Marlborough
Noel Malcolm, ‘The Lord of many Talents’, Sunday Telegraph
15 March 1998, 15.
Alan Hollinghurst, ‘An Unconveyable Aesthete’, Times Literary
, 20 March 1998, 18-19.
Noel Annan (1919-2001), ‘The Camel at the Door’, New York
Review of Books
, Vol. 46, No 15, 7 October 1999.
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
; and Philip Toynbee, Tea with Mrs Goodman
also selected by Arthur Koestler.
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.
Berners archive, notebook 67A/Bryars, complete. Amory, 93-4,
Berners archive, notebook 5/Bryars.