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Havergal Brian on Music - Volume I: British Music Edited by Malcolm MacDonald

440 pages - Toccata Press - £19:50 Amazon


While Havergal Brian was toiling away at his Gothic Symphony in a Brighton council house, he was supplementing his income writing on music. It is often forgotten that Brian was a composer/journalist following in the tradition of Schumann. Brian's articles, reviews, editorials, personality profiles and columns of comment on contemporary musical events, appeared in numerous journals most notably Musical Opinion of which he was Assistant Editor from 1927 to 1940. Malcolm MacDonald has assembled material for a projected series of six volumes commencing with this collection of Brian's writings on British music.

The work of many British composers is covered - especially Elgar, Delius and Bantock - for all of whom the writer had particular affection. The book's chief asset is that it focuses attention on forgotten works that might profitably be explored by our more adventurous independent recording companies.

Of course, Brian was writing in a more leisurely age. Editors today would surely frown on the rather florid and discursive style. One often has to wade through much hyperbole and commonplace irrelevancies before arriving at the golden nuggets - a more ruthless editorial deleting process would have been advised. Nevertheless there is a lot of very interesting material here. There is Brian's eyewitness account of the burning of the Crystal Palace in 1936 and his recollections of those who had been there including Berlioz, Wagner, Bruckner and Elgar. His reflections on Elgar's Third Symphony has relevance today and his mixed feelings about Billy Reed's memories of Elgar (Elgar as I Knew Him) are included. So too are his perceptive thoughts about the works of Delius, but there are also his less than flattering views of the work of Eric Fenby which no doubt will raise many hackles.

Overall however one must admire Brian's ceaseless championship of British music.

The book covers the work of: Bax, Albert Coates, Coleridge-Taylor, Walford Davies, Dyson, Foulds, Balfour Gardiner, Holbrooke, Holst, Hurlstone, Scott, Sorabji, Vaughan Williams, Haydn Wood, Britten, Arnold Cooke, Billy Mayerl, Walton and Warlock. He also covers the work of the BBC plus events at major music festivals and profiles leading orchestras, choirs and brass bands.

An interesting if sometimes exhausting read.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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