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
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.