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John C. Dressler
Granville Bantock: A Guide to Research
Published 2020, Hardback, 426 pages, £95.00
ISBN 978-1-942-95479-8
Clemson University Press

I am an enthusiast (not a fanatic) of Granville Bantock’s music. However, it is based on the adage of knowing what I like and liking what I know. Nowadays, poor Bantock rarely gets an outing in the concert hall or the recital room. The notable exceptions are English Music Festival events. To be sure, there are several CDs and LPs devoted to his music (in print and deleted), including the 4-CD package featuring his magnum opus, Omar Khayyám (1906-09), is a work I have yet to explore in detail, yet for a composer of his undoubted stature there is precious little information ready to hand to form the basis of an in-depth understanding of his life and achievement.

Any study of this composer is hampered by the lack of a definitive biography, such as exists for Parry, Stanford, and Dyson. Much has been written about Bantock, but most is hidden away in library stacks and institutional archives. Only some of this material is available online to researchers and interested listeners. The problem has always been, where to begin. That challenge is solved by this new book.

John C. Dressler’s Granville Bantock (1868–1946): A Guide to Research is a triumph for the advancement of Bantock scholarship, appreciation, and reappraisal (which must always be ongoing). This present volume will have an immediate appeal to musicians who may wish to gain background knowledge before embarking on a recording project or a concert performance. Then there are specialists planning to prepare editions of unpublished works. Another crucial audience for this book is programme and CD liner note annotators - and even record reviewers! It is for anyone who wishes to explore episodes in Bantock’s life and times and work. This will include students who might choose Bantock as the subject of their research and may one day add a dissertation or thesis to the precious few which currently exist. 

This Guide to Research is hardly bedside reading for the ‘average’ music lover (whoever they may be) but it is an essential tool that will, or should, be found on library shelves in universities and music conservatories around the world. However, it is also a book that ‘amateur’ Bantock enthusiasts will want to save up for. It will certainly help me to explore and examine several orchestral works that are amongst my favourite British symphonies and tone poems.

The earliest biographical details of Granville Bantock are found in Round the World with ‘A Gaiety Girl’ published in 1896. This was a book jointly authored by the composer and Frederick George Aflalo (a British Zoologist!). It is effectively a light-hearted travelogue of the show’s global progress. Bantock was A Gaiety Girl’s musical director and conductor. For historians, the first major work about the composer was by H. Orsmond Anderton, Bantock’s long-time personal secretary. This is one of the Living Masters of Music series and was published 1915. This study is a snapshot in time, as the composer was to live for another 31 years. Anderton also contributed many essays and articles to contemporary music journals and newspapers. These are noted in Dressler’s Guide to Research.

In 1972, the composer’s daughter Myrrha Bantock wrote Granville Bantock: A Personal Portrait (Dent). This is exactly as the title states, rather than being an analytical survey. The same year Trevor Bray submitted his doctoral thesis, Granville Bantock: his life and music. It is usually regarded as being the ‘seminal academic study’ of the composer. Unfortunately, I have not seen a copy of this document as it is not yet been ‘cleared’ for digitalisation (why not?) and Cambridge University is long way to travel. An extract from this thesis was published by Triad Press in 1973 as Bantock: Music in the Midlands before the First World War.

In 2017 Michael Allis issued Granville Bantock's Letters to William Wallace and Ernest Newman, 1893-1921 (Boydell and Brewer). I have not read this book, but understand much space is devoted to Bantock and Wallace’s development of the ‘modern British symphonic poem’ as well as ‘fascinating details of the musical culture in London, Liverpool and Birmingham.’

Further important contributions to Bantock scholarship are two volumes by the composer’s grandson, Cuillin. The first is a booklet length study Never Lukewarm: Recollections of Granville and Helena Bantock (EM Publishing, 2012) which is a ‘vignette’ of the composer and his wife’s last years. It is written from the perspective of a ‘family’ memoir, complete with photos, ‘random thoughts and memorable quotes.’ A more involved study is A Musical Wanderer - The Later years of Granville Bantock (EM Publishing, 2018) which is a ‘narrative of the contents of GB’s set of diaries’ from 1938 to 1946. There is a need for more diary entries to be published: he began writing them in 1911.

In 1947, several leading musicians and other interested parties, promulgated a Bantock Society. A statement of the objectives and aims agreed at the launch were ‘published.’ (Musical Times, January 1947). Studying library catalogues, it is difficult to discover what if anything, they published. It was not until 1996 that a Bantock Society Journal appears. Prior to this, there was a Newsletter. In 2013 the Society was ‘relaunched’ but appears to have relapsed into total desuetude - which is a pity. Nevertheless, there is a crying need for the few Journals that were issued to be scanned and put online. Details of articles published here are scattered throughout the Guide to Research.

Which brings me to the Bantock website. This has fallen by the wayside too. A few scattered remains are available on MusicWeb International, but apart from that nothing. Even the Way Back Machine at the Internet Archive does not help. Surely a composer as significant as GB demands a functioning society or, at the very least, a working webpage?

Most readers of this book review will know something about the composer and his work. However I was impressed by John Dressler’s succinct overview printed in the ‘Preface’ of this book: ‘Granville Bantock (1868-1946) was a British composer, arranger, editor, music department administrator, competitive singing promoter and adjudicator, world traveller, lover of life, literature and philosophy, radio talk presenter, champion of works of other rising British composers over his own, husband and father.’ In other words, he was a regular polymath. His best-known work is probably the Hebridean Symphony, but his accomplishments are hardly well understood and appreciated save amongst the most dedicated enthusiasts of British music.

Granville Bantock (1868–1946): A Guide to Research is divided into three principal formal sections. After the preface and acknowledgements there is a short biographical sketch which gives a basic overview of Bantock’s career. This is followed by the first main portion, ‘Works and Performances’ (W). This accounts for nearly half of the book’s length. Then, the ‘Discography’ (D) contains all known recordings of Bantock’s music, past and present, and in all media save streaming. This includes both commercial and archival material. The third section is the ‘Selected Bibliography’ (B) noting archival sources, dissertations, general and biographical references, reviews, and obituaries. The book concludes with an exceptionally detailed Index, cross referencing all musical works and most of the individuals referred to in the text.

First, turning to the main catalogue, I was amazed at just how much music Granville Bantock wrote. Each piece has been allocated the conventional ‘W’ number (as for many of these volumes). This is true for every work from large scale choral piece through to the most obscure choral arrangements and even drafts. Bantock’s Sketchbook has been allocated a single number: W546. In total there are some 637 works listed. I wonder if consideration has ever been given by the ‘Bantock Estate’ to introducing a unique reference letter such as GRB like Graham Parlett’s ‘GP’ prefix for Arnold Bax’s music.

The index is comprehensive, and as noted above is the ‘go-to’ place to begin research. It includes the titles of all works, many contemporary musicians, and luminaries, as well as current musical historians and performers. 

There are three routes to references: the index, the individual section devoted to the work, and the ‘W’ entry itself. If using the index, the reference is simply given a page number, so the reader must scan through the text to spot the relevant search term. Coming from the ‘Works and Performances’ section, the unique bibliographical ‘B’ or ‘D’ discography number is given.

As an example of the working process, I took my favourite Bantock work, A Celtic Symphony.  Facts not stated in Dressler’s book are noted here in square brackets. The index referred me to p.150 as the starting point and I discovered that the work (W383) was composed as late as 1940 [Finished 16 September 1940] and was dedicated ‘To [my old pupil] Clarence Raybould’ an English conductor, pianist, and composer. (see Jürgen Schaarwächter’s Two Centuries of British Symphonism, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2015, p.843). Details of movements are not included, nor the duration, which is about 20 minutes.  It is not mentioned that this work was scored for six (my italics) harps or for pianoforte, both ‘ad lib’. How many orchestras can manage the former! According to the Guide, the manuscript is untraced but was published by Novello. I found a reference to a holograph/score ‘owned’ by Goodwin and Tabb 1953 (Schaarwächter, op.cit. and the Catalog of Copyright Entries: Published Music, Third series, January-June 1954). The Guide states that the work’s premiere was a BBC broadcast performance on Saturday 1 August 1942 during a BBC Scottish Symphony [Orchestra] Concert conducted by Clarence Raybould [broadcast from Glasgow]. I found this concert listed in the Radio Times. It is noted there that this was the ‘first performance.’ Dressler then lists a further nine ‘selected’ performances of this work between 1952 and 2013. There may have been several more.  In this example, there are no reviews cited of the premiere or subsequent performances.

I turned now to explore the ‘D’ numbers – the discography. These are referenced in the ‘Works’ section and the index. I know and love the one splendid modern recording of Bantock’s A Celtic Symphony: Vernon Handley and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Hyperion CDA 66450. This CD was issued in 1991 (not 1990 as noted here, which was the recording date): it was coupled with A Hebridean Symphony, The Witch of Atlas and The Sea Reivers. This was subsequently repackaged in 2007 as a part of a six-CD set of Bantock’s Orchestral Music (CDS 44281/6).  Dressler mentions a 78rpm record (Paxton GTR 113/4) of A Celtic Symphony. This featured the London Promenade Orchestra, conducted by Walter Collins. It is assigned no date but was probably 1949. This recording of the Symphony was subsequently re-released in 1959 on Paxton LPT 1003. This two-LP set also included the Comedy Overture: Frogs of Aristophanes and the Women’s Festival Overture. This latter piece (listed here as W386) is also titled the Overture to a Greek Comedy. The ‘work’ entry states that the manuscript is untraced, and the overture remains unpublished. I wonder what the London Promenade Orchestra played from. There is another entry (W388) for a ‘Comedy Overture to the Thesmophoriazusae) literally meaning ‘The Women Celebrating the Festival of the Thesmophoria’) by Aristophanes. This is shown as being undated and sketches only. Was this an early draft of W386?

According to Dressler there are no more recordings of A Celtic Symphony in existence.  It would have been good to have had references to record reviews in the ‘Discography’ section, instead of in the main entry/index for the work.

For most researchers, the bibliographical cross references are of considerable interest. Clearly the number of citations varies from work to work. For many compositions there is the discrete section ‘References to Specific Works’. Here, the student of Omar Khayyám (W133) has a massive 79 entries to absorb and guide them on their way and Bantock’s best known orchestral work, the Hebridean Symphony (W398), has 22. For a study of the tantalising Two Scottish Pieces for piano (W541) there is a single reference in the ‘Works and Performances’ section to an article in The Gramophone August 2009. Alas, this seems to be for the CD Songs of the Isles (Meridian CDE84570) rather than the disc of Rediscovered Bantock’ (SOMMCD 0183).

As A Celtic Symphony is one of Bantock’s most significant works, it has a section devoted to it. Alas, there are only three citations. Two are reviews in The Gramophone of the Paxton recordings (1949 and 1960) and one is a slightly off-tangent comment by Ivan Hewett in the Daily Telegraph (9 September 2013).

Additionally, (from the ‘Works and Performances’ entry) there are a few other general references including the above-mentioned Jürgen Schaarwächter’s Two Centuries of British Symphonism, the American Record Guide (September/October 1991) and the Penguin Guide to CDs (1999), both for assessments of the Hyperion CD.  Interestingly, W.A. Chislett’s discussion in The Gramophone (February 1960) is cited twice (B296 and B403). On p.241 I chanced upon La musica classica inglese by John Allitt [2006]. It was not incorporated in the cross referencing. This Italian book includes ‘historical and analytical remarks’ about several Bantock works including A Celtic Symphony.

Other possible reviews that could have been included were the Birmingham Post (27 November 1967) and The Stage 12 March 1953. One crucial document omitted from the bibliographical cross referencing are the excellent liner notes by Michael Hurd provided for the Hyperion CD. At least I could not find it…

Finally, like all books of this nature, it pays to check any given reference before citation.

So, what is my conclusion about this ‘worked’ example? I guess that I feel that more references could have been included for A Celtic Symphony, but space was most likely the major constraint. Then there are one or two facts that seem unclear (or maybe lacking or plain wrong). The citations included in this Guide will provide a great starting point for further surveys and critiques. By utilising all the information provided here, it would allow the music historian to write a reasonable programme note and a small amount of reception history, but it is a long way from enabling them to create a thorough study. Achieving the latter will require examining many of the other general references contained in this book, and most likely visiting several libraries and repositories.

One key feature that I would have appreciated is a Chronology. Ideally, this would show dates, important events in the composer’s life and times and compositions completed and premiered. I guess that I would have been satisfied with just a chronological list of works. There is no distinct alphabetical list of works either, but this has been compiled into the cumulative index. I would have siphoned off all the Bantock Society Journal essays and articles into a separate bibliographical section. Lastly, Bantock’s The New Quarterly Music Review could have benefited from its own section. I could find no mention of this publication in the index, despite it being an influential, if short lived, achievement by the composer.

I have previously noted my big concern about Bibliographies and Guides to Research in general. In the digital age, many more references are made to web-based material or online databases of journals and news media. I guess few commentators consult ‘hard copies’ of the Daily Telegraph or The Times these days. These databases are usually curated by large organisations but it is with some of the more ephemeral websites that problems could arise. It is often possible to find what is needed on the invaluable Way Back Machine. On the other hand, many websites disappear with no ‘forwarding’ address. The Bantock Society webpages are a case in point. John Dressler has few web citations in this book, but one does wonder how many of these ‘addresses’ will still be available in 20-30 years.

This hardback book is a high-quality production, with a strong spine and robust covers. The font is clear and sufficiently large for ease of reading. There are only two illustrations (a photo of Granville and Helen Bantock and a musical sketch), both printed onto the page, and not bound in as a plate. The front cover features a well-known portrait from a cigarette card (W.D. & H.O. Wills).

John Dressler is currently Professor Emeritus of Horn and Musicology at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. As well as practical music lessons lectures in several 19th and 20th century musicological studies. He gained his Masters and Doctoral degree from Indiana University as well as holding a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Baldwin-Wallace College, Ohio.

In addition to his academic work, Dressler plays horn with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra and substitutes with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. He is organist at Benton First United Methodist Church in Benton, Kentucky. He has previously assembled ‘bio-bibliographies’ and ‘guides to research’ for Gerald Finzi, Alan Rawsthorne and William Alwyn.  His latest project is a similar guide to research on the lives and works of Ruth Gipps and Phyllis Tate.

There is no doubt that Granville Bantock (1868–1946): A Guide to Research is a major tool for those interested in the composer’s musical success. The amount of solid study and detailed research that has gone into its production is clearly reflected in the high price of £95. With any project like this, it is so easy for users to suggest that this or that should have been done differently. Errors and discrepancies can and do creep in. The fact is that this is an invaluable reference document which will become the standard reference work and enrich ‘Bantock Studies’ for many years to come.

John France



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