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Mentions In Books

Tunes of Glory: Richard Aldous (Malcolm Sargent Biography) Hutchinson 2001
The BBC, in 1952, recognising that the department was performing unsatisfactorily, had tried to introduce radical reform. A new Music Division had been created under Dick Howgill as the first Controller. He streamlined administration but followed a ‘safety first’ policy and deferred to Maurice Johnstone, the forceful Head of Music Programmes (Radio). Johnstone, another failed composer, had been private secretary to Sir Thomas Beecham before joining the BBC in 1938. His bluff common-room sociability fitted in well at Yalding House. His frighteningly narrow musical preferences centred on minor English composers such as Rubbra, Alwyn and Bliss. Glock, a prominent writer on music during the 1950’s and later Controller of Music, was astonished to discover that Johnstone not only rejected most contemporary European composition ‘in a spirit of moral indignation’ but ‘also informed me, without apparent regret, that he had never heard the St Matthew Passion and that he did not set much store by chamber music’. (Ref: Glock ‘Notes in Advance’)

P181- 82:
At Albert Hall Mansions, Sargent bawled Johnstone out ‘fortissimo con fuoco’ for engaging guest conductors, allocating Proms programmes and reorganizing the orchestra’s schedule without consultation. “You are just the conductor,” Johnstone responded. “The Controller is the BBC’s musical director and you have no official jurisdiction over the symphony orchestra’s work beyond the work you conduct.” A flabbergasted Sargent told him that “one of other of us will have to go.” Johnstone, resolving that it would not be him, told Howgill immediately afterwards that he was happy to lead the charge on Sargent’s dismissal. For six months, he worked on a long memorandum headed ‘The BBC and Sir Malcolm Sargent’. Vitriol and spite leak from every paragraph of a document which argued that Sargent was uncommitted to the BBC and should be replaced by Rudolph Schwarz. “A strong tree will carry a cankerous branch for many years”, Johnstone concluded, “but its natural growth is crippled.” (Ref: BBC Written Archives.)

Johnstone’s memorandum was the beginning of the end for the Chief Conductor. MJ constantly briefed against Sargent and goaded him into criticism of the Music Division. In February 1955, Sargent took up the orchestra’s complaints about having to work too hard …………. ”Mind your own business”, Johnstone replied, adding that players always grumbled in the winter and usually took matters into their own hands by pretending to be ill ………….. Dick Howgill, as Controller, was happy to let Johnstone wield the knife against Sargent, whilst keeping his own hands clean. He refused to reprimand his deputy, who continued to send Sargent abrasive letters and dismissed the Chief Conductor’s claims that he was out of touch, with the familiar suggestion that he should spend more time behind a desk at Yalding House.

The final breakdown in Sargent’s relationship with the Music Division came on a matter so personal that Maurice Johnstone’s intentions can have been nothing short of vicious. Sargent was to conduct Alfredo Campoli and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the RFH on 11 May 1955 in the first performance of the violin concerto by Bliss. A studio recording was scheduled for the next day for broadcast, but no one had told Sargent. The previous August he had told Howgill that he was conducting at the RFH on 12th May with Pierre Fournier performing three cello concertos with the LPO. The performance was to be in aid of research into polio, the illness from which Sargent’s daughter had died.

Two months before the concert, Sargent received an extraordinary letter from Johnstone demanding that he withdraw from the ‘rival’ concert and seek permission in writing before taking future outside engagements. …..Sargent said to Howgill: “At heart, I get a feeling, which is not only personal but is suggested to me by people who should know, that MJ really would like me out of the BBC.” (Ref: BBC Written Archives)

William Glock’s impact on the Music Division was immediate. Younger staff, sympathetic to his ideals, were recruited, including Alexander Goehr, David Drew and Leo Black. ….Glock’s most controversial appointment was Hans Keller, a musicologist who used pseudo-Freudian systems of analysis and was, according to taste, either a genius or a charlatan. Maurice Johnstone told Glock that Keller would join the department ‘over my dead body’. Keller arrived in September 1959 and Johnstone left shortly afterwards, the first victim of Glock’s coup.

The Halle Tradition: Michael Kennedy
‘Early public concerts in Manchester, in 1744, included music by Reverend William Felton – ‘Felton’s Gavotte’ or ‘Farewell Manchester’. This tune is quoted by Johnstone in his tone poem ‘The Oak and the Ash’, first performed by the Halle Orchestra in 1953, at a concert to mark the centenary of the City’s Charter.’

‘The outbreak of the Second World War on September 3rd 1939 led to a government ban on assemblies of people in entertainment centres’ (for fear of air raids) and…..the Free Trade Hall (home of the Halle since 1858, and also shared by the BBC Northern Orchestra) was taken over for use as a store. ‘The Halle Society’s executive met on Sept 13th and 18th and decided to continue the 81 year tradition of concert giving. Maurice Johnstone (by then at the BBC) agreed to serve on a special programme sub-committee, and it was decided to hold a series of Sunday afternoon concerts in the Paramount Cinema, Oxford Street, Manchester, at special low prices.’

It’s interesting that a rift broke out between RJ Forbes, another sub-committee member, and MJ over MJ promoting a concert in Southport in March1940. MJ and Malcolm Sargent (then chief conductor of the Halle) were on the same side against Forbes, who, they felt ‘was acting in a dictatorial manner by making all arrangements, later in 1941, for a series of concerts outside Manchester, sponsored by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust. It was felt by other members of the committee that Forbes had a bias against Sargent’ (Sargent had been largely instrumental in getting MJ onto the committee, in order to get closer co-operation with the BBC.

Kennedy writes that ‘MJ was sympathetically aware of the musical situation in the north of England (BBC Northern Orchestra players were also on the Halle’s books).’ MJ drew up a draft plan of employment structure for the Halle Orchestra players and their salaries. MJ was worried that the powerful position of the CBSO and the Liverpool Philharmonic might damage Manchester without the Halle/Northern Orchestra cooperative scheme being revised.

The Henry Wood Proms: David Cox
In 1952 ‘Maurice Johnstone’s appointment to be Head of Music Programmes (Sound) was recommended by Malcolm Sargent – which, in fact, was somewhat ironic, as later events proved!’

‘One of the first things that Johnstone did was to omit Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs from the last night in 1953. MJ’s internal memo reads:
“Being a badly constructed piece of music, merely a selection, it is an unworthy end to a fine series of concerts which covers the best in music from 1700 to the present day. Its jingoism is out of date, and latterly its vestige of musicality has been destroyed by an enthusiastic but unthinking section of the audience…. We are determined to end the Proms in a more dignified but less communal way.”

There were huge public protests. Hoardings were defaced with ‘WE WANT SEA SONGS’ in large black letters.

It was decided to reinstate them as an encore!!

The BBC Symphony Orchestra: Nicholas Kenyon
(The Sargent/Schwarz Era 1950 –1962)
In February 1952 Richard Howgill became the BBC’s first Controller, Music, when ‘Music Division’ was established. He was surrounded by like-minded associates. Maurice Johnstone, who had been Head of North Region in Manchester, became Head of Music Programmes(Sound) and Eric Warr became Assistant Head.

Johnstone was a composer, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the orchestral repertoire and the ability to create attractive programmes, which made him the central figure in the department.

As a friend and associate of Sargent’s, he had been brought down to London as H of MP(S) on Sargent’s recommendation and insistence. It was ironic that, as Sargent’s man, he should be the first to become frustrated with the chief conductor’s lack of rapport with Music Division, and the most eager campaigner for his replacement. Dick Howgill wrote to Basil Nicholls, Director of Sound Broadcasting, that “Sargent….should not think he can overrule the Head of Music Programmes (MJ) or me, or appeal to some higher authority by virtue of his public prestige.”

Johnstone home page



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