|Founder: Len Mullenger||
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
QUADRILLE WITH A RAVEN
Chapter 11: LESLEY AND ROSIE'S PUB
The room was again a basement, in a Victorian house, now demolished, in St. John's Wood Park which leads from Ordnance Hill to Swiss Cottage. However it was fairly spacious and had a view of the garden, though it was inclined to be on the damp side. It was immediately christened "The Aviary', after the celebrated limerick by one of Peter Warlock's circle:
A vice at once strange and unsavoury
After moving in I went out to explore the neighbourhood, and just down the road found a very agreeable pub called The Prince of Wales. I was however allowed to discover, after living for two years in an honest working district like Camberwell, that all the inhabitants of St. John's Wood apparently wore morning coats with cornflower buttonholes, striped trousers and grey top hats. I felt I would never be able to live up to this sartorial standard. My arrival had coincided with the Eton and Harrow cricket match at Lords!
Mo Brown told me a typical story about Bertie Rodgers. When working on the Joyce programme in Dublin they shared a hotel room. Mo Brown woke up in the middle of the night to hear Bertie talking to himself: "A fine fellow you are now. Drunk again - and buying drinks, not just for yourself only, - no, for every Tom, Dick and Harry - dirty great foaming pints - passing them over the heads of the crowd - and you couldn't wait to walk there - oh no, had to take a taxi." Bertie had been a Protestant minister in Northern Ireland and occasionally suffered from such attacks of conscience.
I left the BBC at the end of September, and began work at the ISCM office straight away. It soon became clear that, while enough money was coming in for the secretary-typist to be paid, there was not going to be sufficient for my salary as well. The 1SCM office depended entirely on subscriptions from the various country sections, and these often arrived in a most haphazard way. The best payers were the East European countries, presumably subsidised by their governments; the worst were the so-called "rich" countries, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S.A., whose country sections depended entirely on private patronage. Still, I was prepared to let things ride for the moment; I had received a lump sum from the BBC when I left them, and as I had officially been a member of their staff for ten years (six of which had been spent in the army) I was paid the sum due for the entire period. But I could foresee difficulties ahead. Meanwhile the work was interesting, useful and not too exhausting; Edward Clark had excellent ideas and great experience, but he was not easy to work with. When a letter arrived from one of the foreign sections which required a decision I invariably asked Edward for his advice; sometimes he merely grunted, but if I took a decision myself he then accused me of going behind his back. The work also entailed organising concerts of the British section of the 1SCM, the London Contemporary Music Centre, and for this particular season (1948-9) we had the support of the BBC; Sir Stewart Wilson made us a generous offer which allowed us to choose the programmes and the BBC would provide the finance.
My relations with my musical girl-friend had not been going too smoothly, and matters came to a head over, of all things, an Ascot geyser. I had been looking for a place where we might set up house together, and had found a house in St. John's Wood which was empty apart from a family occupying one floor. Though I had very little money, I was prepared to try and raise a mortgage to buy the place, which would not have been impossible in those days, but my friend flatly refused to move in as there was no Ascot geyser. So we parted.
About this time I was introduced in Rosie's pub to a red-haired girl who mostly came in at week-ends. She was called Lesley Gray, and she worked as a Welfare Officer for the LCC (now GLC). She came from an Irish family; her father was a Protestant and her mother a Catholic, and this division of the family had led her to give up Christianity entirely and join the Communist party in the 1930s. She did this more because of its anti-Fascism and its social aims than anything else, and in fact she had resigned from the party in 1943 because she could not accept their materialistic philosophy. For a time she worked as an actress in the company of Nancy Price (usually known as Nancy Half-Price for obvious reasons) at the Little Theatre in London. During the war she had been an air-raid warden; her flat at Swiss Cottage had been destroyed by flooding, and the ARP had requisitioned for her a small flat at 44 Ordnance Hill, exactly opposite Rosie's pub.
We soon became attracted to each other and thought about marriage. This was rather complicated as Lesley had been married before, at an early age, chiefly in order to get away from her family and home in Scotland. She had left her husband some time earlier, but he refused to give her a divorce. However she was fairly certain that he was already married at the time of going through the ceremony with her, and that her marriage to him was therefore invalid. Yet she was reluctant to start proceedings against him. Unfortunately his name was a rather common one; but a young lawyer friend of hers, Jack Geddes, undertook exhaustive researches into the possible first marriage, and eventually gave it as his legal opinion that there was no obstacle to Lesley and me getting married. This was not to happen until the summer of 1949; meanwhile, at her insistence, I spent most nights at her flat rather than in my damp basement, but kept this on for working in during the day. I was already only working part-time at the ISCM since no salary had yet been paid me, and I wanted to finish “Gold Coast Customs", of which I had been promised a performance the following May.
The Palermo 1SCM Festival took place in April 1949. The Italian Radio were providing the orchestra, and the preliminary rehearsals took place in Rome. Edward Clark and Elisabeth Lutyens went directly to Palermo, and my job was to supervise these rehearsals. This proved rather complicated, as no proper rehearsal schedule had been worked out, and all the conductors naturally wanted as much rehearsal time as possible; a Czech conductor who had been sent over to conduct a work by one of his compatriots demanded eight rehearsals and then disappeared into the night. Fortunately I was helped by Carlo Maria Giulini, then assistant conductor of the radio orchestra; he was extremely practical and sensible and I have been grateful to him ever since.
I was fascinated by Sicily, with its mixture of cultures ranging from Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Byzantine to Arab and Norman. I wish we could have stayed in Palermo itself where one could see all sorts of curious sights, such as an octopus tied up with pink ribbon in the fish market, but the Ente Turismo installed us in a nondescript luxury hotel a few miles outside the city. This could only be reached by walking through a most appalling slum (a sickening contrast), and the buses which were supposed to take the delegates to the concerts in the Teatro Massimo were invariably late, which meant that we missed the beginning of the concerts. The Palermo authorities had surpassed themselves in the production of the Festival programme; they had insisted on making the English translations themselves, resulting in some masterpieces of prose. W.R.Rodgers was particularly unfortunate; he had written the libretto for a short opera by Elisabeth Lutyens called "The Pit"; it was based on a mining disaster and was being performed in the Festival. At our request he had sent an excellent synopsis of the action to our London office, which we then forwarded to Palermo. This was translated into Italian and then back into English for inclusion in the programme with some strange results, such as: "In a coal-mine there happened a rock-slide. Two men anda boy were invested seriously. One of the miners, gravely wounded, after a short painful agony, dies. The sorrowing and bewailing crowd of wives and women rush to the place of mishap".
Constant Lambert arrived in Palermo to conduct the British works in the Festival.. After a period of depression early in 1947, he had married Isabel Delmer whom he had known before the war, and he now seemed much happier. But he was not in a good state of health and it was as much as he could do to conduct the rehearsals and concerts. I had to supervise the rehearsals and also act as interpreter at the interminable delegates' meetings, so I saw little of Palermo except the interior of the Teatro Massimo. The second part of the Festival took part at Taormina, where we were put in another luxury hotel with a spectacular view; but the concert hall, in the hotel itself, was not very satisfactory. To escape from this rather artificial atmosphere Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Luigi Nono and I would often prefer to go into the village and consume a humble plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine while conversing in a variety of languages.
After the Festival Constant remained in Sicily to finish a piece for the British section of the ISCM, Trois Pieces Negres sur les Touches Blanches for piano duet. I went to Milan where Dallapiccola had organised a congress of twelve-note composers. The London Times music critic, Frank Howes, seemed amused that the delegates, on one of their free evenings, were taken to a performance of The Tales of Hoffmann at the Scala. But the congress, probably the first of its kind, was well worth while and led to further co-operation between composers of many countries
The first performance of "Gold Coast Customs" was due to take place on l7 May 1949. In some trepidation I asked Edith Sitwell herself to come and hear the music. For this purpose I borrowed my landlord's drawing-room, which contained a grand piano and seemed more suitable than my “aviary”, but I heard afterwards that she had found it desperately cold. At least she approved of the music. I had asked Constant to conduct the work, but he preferred to share the speaking part with Edith. The performance took place before an invited audience in the Concert Hall of Broadcasting House; while in Palermo Constant had finished his "Trois Pieces Negres sur les Touches Blanches" for the same concert. The pianists in both works were the Peppin twins, Geraldine and Mary, who had recently made their concert debut and were young and glamorous-looking. Constant and Edith sat at a table; Edith in a long gold cloak; Constant conducted Edith, and at times appeared to be conducting the conductor of the orchestra as well. The performance went very well and the audience seemed to be impressed; at any rate the BBC immediately arranged two further studio broadcasts of the work later in the year. I must confess that I had miscalculated the power of the loudspeakers in the Concert Hall, so that the voices of the reciters were sometimes drowned by the orchestra; in the later broadcasts the reciters sat in a separate studio with a view of the conductor.
As Lesley's lawyer friend had given his opinion that there should be no legal objection to our marrying, we arranged the wedding for my 34th birthday, 26 August 1949. We were married at the Marylebone Registry Office, and afterwards had a party at 44 Ordnance Hill. At that time Lesley only had the small flat over the garage - we were unable to get the use of the studio till the following summer - so the party was held in the yard outside. It was fortunate that the weather was fine, as a large number of friends came along, including Constant and Alan Rawsthorne. A double bass player who was a good amateur photographer climbed on to the wall and took some pictures of the scene.
Wedding party outside home at St John's Wood 26-8-1949
left to right
As a post-nuptial present for Lesley I wrote the Poem for 22 strings. The texture of this was suggested by a work of the Polish composer, Andrzei Panufnik, his Lullaby for 29 Strings and 2 Harps. Panufnik was living in Poland at the time, some years before his dramatic defection to the West, and in the pre-Gomulka era all Polish composers were expected to base their works on folk-song. So in his work a folk-tune gradually descends from the highest register of the violins to the lowest depths of the double basses, with a dense and highly chromatic accompaniment. I liked the idea of a work for a number of solo strings, and in fact had been asked to write such a work by the Dutch composer Gerhard Schurmann for an orchestra in Holland; but my piece is strictly twelve-note and does not use folk-songs. In form it is more like the growth of a plant or tree becoming increasingly animated after a very quiet start, rising to a climax, then collapsing and reviving in a different manner - an idea which I was to express again later in my "Finnegan's Wake" setting. In the event the Dutch performance of the Poem did not take place, and it was first performed by Hermann Scherchen at the Darmstadt Summer School in 1950.
The BBC is normally helpful to members of its staff who have recently resigned by engaging them as outside producers, and early in 1950 I was asked by them to produce a comprehensive series of orchestral, choral and piano music by Liszt. I was thus able to fulfil Constant's long-cherished desire to conduct the Faust Symphony; he also conducted the rarely heard Funeral Ode, La Notte, and the first performance of the Grand Solo de Concert for piano and orchestra. This previously unknown version of the Grosses Konzertsolo for piano solo had turned up in MS at an auction at Sotheby's and I was asked to identify it. I obtained a photostat of the MS, which only contained the orchestral score, and was able to fill in the solo part from the solo piano version.
As a result of this series, a letter appeared in the Radio Times from Dr. Vernon Harrison suggesting the formation of a Liszt Society to publish, perform and, if possible, record his lesser known works. I seized on the idea and at once approached a number of people who were interested in or had worked actively for Liszt - Louis Kentner, the great Liszt pianist, Constant, of course, the Hon. Edward Sackville West, who had written a radio play "A Pipe for Fortune's Finger" about Liszt, Ralph Hill and Sacheverell Sitwell , both biographers of Liszt. and William Walton. Our President was Professor Edward Dent, the friend and biographer of Busoni and I was the Hon. Secretary. I contacted Schotts, who had published many works of. Liszt's in his lifetime, and they agreed to print a volume of the late piano works, including the first publication of the Csardas Macabre and many of the late works such as Nuages Gris, Unstern and the3rd Mephisto Waltz. These were only available in the Breitkopf Collected Edition of Liszt's work and had long been out of print. Further volumes followed over the years, as well as a number of public performances and, although I had to retire from the secretaryship in 1962 owing to pressure of work, I am glad to say that the Society is still functioning actively publishing works, arranging Liszt piano competitions, and doing propaganda for Liszt's music. In addition many famous pianists such as Louis Kentner and Alfred Brendel have recorded works published in the Society's volumes; and in 1960 I wrote a letter to Sir Thomas Beecham on behalf of the Society, as a result of which he made his famous recording of the Faust Symphony. I think that the Society is at any rate partly responsible for the greater appreciation of Liszt as a composer today, not only in England but in other countries as well.
Apart from the BBC fees for arranging the Liszt programmes, our financial situation was rather tricky. Lesley was still working for the LCC as a welfare adviser, but she was only able to bring home £6 a week, as her left-wing views barred her from promotion to higher office. As no money had come in from the ISCM, I had resigned from the Secretaryship in the summer of 1949. (The money I was owed was eventually paid to me by Benjamin Frankel out of his own pocket; he succeeded Edward Clark as chairman of the British section of the ISCM). I was given some work as a deputy teacher at the Royal College, but was not allowed to join the staff as the authorities were frightened that I might "infect the students with atonality" as they put it. For the same reason I could not get work writing incidental music for radio or films, as the producers were afraid that I might produce a twelve-note score. Unfortunately Lesley had to give up her job in the summer of 1950, as continual early rising and the pressure of work were beginning to affect her health. However I was commissioned by Philip Inman, the son of Lord Inman, to write two books, Twentieth Century Counterpoint and The Music of Liszt, for their small publishing firm, William and Norgate, of which he was chairman, and the advances from these supported us for the moment. There was no book on either subject in English at the time, and I have been told that many people have found both books useful. I also did some broadcasts for Anna Instone and Julian Herbage on a programme called "Music Magazine". I have a slight speech impediment which I thought might prevent me from speaking properly, but in fact it was not noticeable.
I had been asked by Erik Blom, the editor of the fifth edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music, to write a new article on Schoenberg for it. I wrote to Schoenberg in 1948 in order to obtain information about his recent compositions and writings, and took the opportunity of sending him a list of works that had been performed in the BBC Third Programme since 1946 by himself, Berg and Webern, and also by younger atonal and twelve-note composers such as Dallapiccola, Elisabeth Lutyens, Rene Leibowitz and Fartein Valen. I reproduce his reply.
Your letter of October 27. was very enjoyable for me, because of many, very good news.
(Something of the kind suggested in Schoenberg's postscript was done by Josef Rufer in the appendix to his book, Composition with Twelve Notes).
Thereafter we kept in correspondence until his death in 1951 and, through Philip Inman, I was able to arrange for the first British publication of "Style and Idea" and the first publication of "Structural Functions of Harmony" His last letter was written to me shortly before his death. Julian Herbage had asked me to find out if Schoenberg would be willing to make a contribution to "Music Magazine" on any subject of his choice. His reply was characteristic.
Your message that the BBC will ask me for a lecture, to be spoken on a tape has suggested to me at once a subject: "Advice for Beginners in Composition with Twelve Tones. Unfortunately, when I conceived this I had forgotten that television is not so general in use in England than in America. Thus I don't know whether this lecture which will use many musical examples, coming into effect only if one reads them, is acceptable for the BBC. There would still be a possibility to print in a cheap manner sheets containing the examples if the BBC can distribute them in time. Namely the examples will bring so many changes the improvement of which is perhaps less easy to realise by the ear than by the eye. I must admit that this lecture will be very technical and direct itself to the higher educated musician, to those who can apply the advice I give them in their composition. Thus it is much less theoretical or aesthetical than technical compositorial. Of course, musicologists might profit therefrom and add much of the knowledge I procure them to their tools of criticism. Besides, it will clarify many problems of this technique and prove how much inspiration must contribute in order to create a real work of art. Please tell me as soon as possible, when about this lecture should be delivered. Perhaps BBC suggests something herself where I can use my newly published records or some which have been privately made.
I learnt later that Schoenberg actually began to write a script for the programme; his pupil Leonard Stein, now Director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at U.S.C., Los Angeles, gave me a copy of it in 1976.
The editing of "Structural Functions of Harmony" (which was not published until after Schoenberg's death) presented some difficulties. Though Schoenberg's English was fluent, it was also highly original and could sometimes be obscure, especially in discussions of technical matters; in order to make his words clearer to the reader I inserted alternative terms in brackets, while keeping Schoenberg's original wording intact. I also compiled a glossary showing the difference between Schoenberg's technical terms and those normally used in either England or America. The American publishers of the book felt that I had not gone far enough and wanted me to rewrite Schoenberg's language completely where necessary, but I replied that I was unwilling to act as Rimsky-Korsakov to Schoenberg's Moussorgsky by "tidying up his work", and they accepted that. I had the support and help of Leonard Stein throughout.
After the first performance of "Gold Coast Customs", Edith Sitwell wrote me a very kind letter, which was reproduced in her Collected Letters.. and also in Elizabeth Salter's "Edith Sitwell - Fire of the Mind". From then on Lesley and I were often asked to lunch with her at her club, the Sesame Ladies' Foreign and Imperial in Grosvenor Street. Sometimes the three of us lunched alone; sometimes we were part of a large party of poets and writers, such as T.S.Eliot, Osbert Sitwell, Stephen Spender, Arthur Waley, Dylan Thomas, John Heath-Stubbs, Sydney Goodsir-Smith and David Gascoyne, as well as Sir Kenneth Clark, her agent David Higham, Alan Pryce-Jones, literary editor of The Times, and various old ladies whom Edith took under her wing. We also carried on a fairly long correspondence for the next few years during her absences from London, whether at the family homes at Renishaw in Yorkshire and Montegufoni in Italy or during her American trips. Edith also sent us all her publications as they came out.
In June 1950 I went to Brussels as the British delegate to the ISCM Festival in a vain attempt to extract the money due to me; However while I was there I was able to attend the first performance of Webern's last completed work, the Second Cantata Op.31. This was conducted by Herbert Hafner, a charming and highly gifted Austrian conductor who died a few years later from a heart attack while actually conducting a performance; his wife, Ilona Steingruber, was an equally gifted singer who sang the title part in the first recording of Berg's Lulu.
In August, Lesley and I went to Darmstadt for the first performance of the "Poem for 22 Strings" (Opus 18). This took place on 25 August, the day before my 35th birthday. Only composers under 35 were entitled to be performed at the Summer School, so I just scraped home. 25 August was also the 50th birthday of Ernst Krenek, who was at Darmstadt that year; the students gave him an early morning serenade with one of his own works on that day. The performance of the Poem under Hermann Scherchen went very well; thereafter he took an interest in me and gave many performances of my works and I wrote a number of works specially for him. Edgar Varese was also at Darmstadt; it was the first time he was recognised since the 1920s, and it marked the beginning of his present reputation. He played us a record of four of his works from the Twenties and we had many long discussions. It was in Darmstadt that I also met for the first time the post-Webern generation of composers - Boulez, Nono and Stockhausen.
About this time a friend of mine, the Irish writer and scientist William Reid McAlpine, visited me and read aloud some passages from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, a book I had never been able to get to grips with. Hearing the words read aloud made all the difference, and I was particularly taken with Anna Livia's final monologue, the death of the river in the sea and her subsequent resurrection as dew and rain on the hills. Bill explained to me the form of the book - the cycle of life - and I decided to set part of the final monologue for speaker (an Irishwoman, preferably from Dublin) and orchestra. To avoid making the work impossibly long I had to cut out the middle section about the children Shem and Shaun; but as I found a passage after this where Joyce returns to the same thought as in the opening passage, I managed to retain the continuity of ideas I showed the text to Scherchen when he visited England during the winter, and he agreed to perform the work in Germany during the following year. I called it "The Riverrun" after the last and first word of the book.
In 1951 Lesley and I again went to the Darmstadt Summer School, where I had been asked to lecture on English 12-note music. It was held simultaneously with the ISCM Festival in nearby Frankfurt. We attended some of the concerts in Frankfurt, which entailed late-night coach journeys back to Darmstadt and was rather exhausting. However the Frankfurt programme did include the first performance of the Dance round the Golden Calf from Schoenberg's Moses und Aron - a most exciting experience.
The young Australian pianist Gordon Watson, a pupil of Egon Petri, intended to celebrate the 140th birthday of Liszt, 22 October 1951, by performing the Transcendental Studies complete in the Wigmore Hall, and he asked me to write a sonata for him for this occasion. I decided to write a virtuoso piece-fiendishly difficult, I'm afraid - more or less in the form of the Liszt B minor sonata but in a twelve-note idiom. I sent the music off to Gordon piece by piece as I wrote it, and he told me afterwards that if he had received the whole sonata at one go he would have despaired of ever learning it. While I was writing this work I had a very curious experience; three times while the music was progressing in a certain direction something told me to stop and write something completely different, and each time I heard the next day of the death of someone with whom I was connected, either as a colleague or a friend. The first was the death of Schoenberg on 13 July 1951; he was nearly 77 so it was not unexpected, but it came as a shock as I had only just received a letter from him, written while apparently in good health.
The second death was even more grievous. Constant had been working on his ballet Tiresias, which was due to be produced at Covent Garden in July; he had finished the music, but had had to call in various friends and colleagues, including myself, to help him to write out parts of the full score from his indications. I was unable to go to the premiere, as I was in Cheltenham for the first British performance of the Poem by the Boyd Neel Orchestra at the Festival of British Contemporary Music. The Press criticisms of Tiresias hurt Constant very much, and produced angry letters to the papers from the Sitwells and other friends of his. He was not well at the time, and kept having fainting fits for no apparent reason. On one occasion I was sitting with him in the George in the early evening when he had had little or nothing to drink. He suddenly felt unwell and I took him home by taxi. In August he came to a party in our studio after conducting a Prom; at the end of the party he suddenly passed out and had to be lifted into a car. We assumed that he must have been exhausted. The very next day he and Isabel, together with Lesley and I, had lunch with Edith Sitwell; he was in sparkling form, as if nothing had happened the night before. But a few days afterwards I received a late-night phone call from Denis ApIvor, who is a doctor as well as a composer, telling me that Constant had been taken to the London Clinic in a state of delirium. I telephoned his flat in the morning and was told that he had died in the night. This was a terrible shock; I could only walk aimlessly round the yard outside our house for the rest of the morning.
Constant died three days before his 46th birthday. Apparently he had been suffering from diabetes for some time but had always refused to see a doctor. (Isabel only called in Denis Aplvor because he was a personal friend). - Some curious phenomena occurred after Constant's death; at his memorial service Louis Kentner was intending to play his Aubade Heroique on the organ, but the instrument refused to emit a single note during the service, although it played quite normally afterwards. Constant had always loathed organs. Then, in the following January concert of the Society for Twentieth Century Music, which included Constant's Li-Po poems in the chamber ensemble version, and his piano concerto, a large black cat appeared on the platform and sat there throughout the performance. At the end of the concert it stalked off and was never seen again. Like myself, Constant was a great cat-lover and once did a broadcast for Music Magazine on 'Cat - the Friend of Man".
The third death, in September, was that of Cecil Gray. I had not known him as well as Constant, but we had many conversations over fifteen years, and I admired his writing very much. He was only 56; I think he became very depressed after Constant's death.
Gordon Watson's performances of the Transcendental Studies and my Sonata were very successful, and both he and I got good notices in the Press. Shortly afterwards I went to Dusseldorf for the first performance of The Riverrun. Scherchen and I had worked out a somewhat makeshift (I'm afraid) German translation of the text - Joyce must be the hardest author in the world to translate into another language - but at any rate it gave the sense of Joyce's words. The orchestra under Scherchen played the music well, but I was somewhat alarmed when the statuesque lady, looking rather like Brunnhilde, who was the speaker, instead of murmuring gently "Soft morning city" on her first entry, spat out "Sei gegrusst, STADT!" with real Teutonic venom. Scherchen found a more suitable speaker for the second German performance, in Mannheim the following year, and once he even performed it in English on Rome Radio with a male speaker; the work was not really heard properly until it was done later with an Irish speaker.
Early in 1952 some friends suggested the formation of a Society for 20th Century Music to give performances of modern "classics” as well as works by younger composers in the old Hampstead Town Hall. Such an undertaking would be unnecessary today, but at that time it was impossible to hear works by Schoenberg, Berg, Webern and even Bartok, either on the BBC or in London concerts, and Stravinsky was only represented by his three early ballets. We formed a small committee and managed to persuade the BBC to repeat most of our programmes in the studio, so that in most cases the artists were willing to reduce their fees for us; this was necessary because of the small seating capacity of Hampstead Town Hall. We asked the Mayor of Hampstead to open the series with a short speech; he said that he had little knowledge of 20th century music, but had heard that morning two very beautiful examples of it at the funeral of a fireman, Walford Davies "God be in my Head" and Solemn Melody. The orchestra then burst into one of the most dissonant pieces ever written, Varese’s Octandre.
In addition to the composers just mentioned there were works by Dallapiccola, Peter Fricker, Roberto Gerhard, Elisabeth Lutyens, Bernard van Dieren, Alan Rawsthorne and many others. In the final concert Edith Sitwell recited "Facade" and refused to take a fee, although the hall was sold out. In the same concert. Gordon Watson played my sonata and also took part in Schoenberg's "Ode to Napoleon". I introduced him to Edith, and they soon became firm friends. Unfortunately, as the series as a whole lost money - there was not yet sufficient support for modern music in London - our first season was also our last. But at least we had blazed a trail which anticipated the splendid achievements of William Glock when he later became Head of Music at the BBC.
Edith had presented me with a copy of her poem about the atom bomb, The Shadow of Cain, when it was first published as a separate volume, and I now decided to complete my trilogy of works for speakers and orchestra by making a setting of it; as in Gold Coast Customs I used a male chorus in addition to the speakers. We decided to promote the first performance of this ourselves. Edith was due to leave for an American trip in November, so we had to give the concert while she was still in England. She asked Dylan Thomas to share the speaking part with her; on the only date when she was available both the Festival Hall and the Albert Hall were booked for other concerts, so we gave the concert in the Palace Theatre on Cambridge Circus - not ideal acoustically, but possible. The manager of the London Symphony Orchestra, who were playing for the concert - I had many friends among the principals - advised us that as we were giving the first performance of a new work we might as well combine it with out-of-the-ordinary rather than repertoire works, so the first half of the concert consisted of works that were not often played at that time - Berlioz' "Corsair" overture, Bartok's second piano concerto with Gordon Watson as soloist, and Liszt's symphonic poem "Hamlet". Robert Irving conducted the first part, and I conducted "The Shadow of Cain" in the second. In this the speakers were placed off-stage, as in "Facade", and their voices were heard through a loud-speaker. Robert Irving acted as conductor for the speakers. Edith evidently approved of the music - "You've done it again!", she said to me - and the concert was a success artistically if not financially; the musical public was still unused to going to hear unfamiliar works.
On her way to America Edith wrote me the following letter:
"Just a word (as I roll from side to side, up to the heavens down to the floor of the ocean). It has been a greatly exciting week. I am more profoundly proud than I can say of having been a part of the concert - above all, proud of the magnificent music of "The Shadow of Cain", and of its dedication. Who could hear that music, and not know it to be a very great work indeed? I believe the audience was profoundly moved and impressed. Everyone who has written to me was overcome. Thank you, dear Humphrey, a thousand times....I shall miss you both more than I can say during my five months' exile. I wish (underlined) you were coming to America. Oh dear! The ship is rolling, and I must stop."
The LSO decided to include The Shadow of Cain in a series of Winter Proms which they were giving early in the following year. Edith was still in America, so Dylan spoke the entire poem and I conducted it again. This performance was broadcast by the BBC. We had some correspondence about the positioning of the speaker - the LSO wanted him to be on the stage this time - and Dylan wrote me this letter about it:
The main reason I thought my presence on the stage unnecessary was the reaction of the audience, and the press, last time. No-one, for a moment, suggested that not seeing Edith and me was any loss. The whole piece is so hideously dramatic that the sight of a little fat speaker on the stage would, I think, detract from the dramatic value - (though it may, of course, add to the horror).
In the end Dylan did appear on the stage, his feet hidden by banks of flowers. After the concert we - had a party at our studio; Dylan danced wildly, like a faun, and stuffed sausage rolls down the ladies' cleavages. Two policemen, hearing the noise, looked in and soon joined the party. When most of the guests had gone Dylan told us a long story about the funeral of his father, who had recently died. Apparently Dylan returned home with the hearse three days after the funeral had taken place, having been God knows where meanwhile, to the great alarm of his mother who said to him: "You'll do that to me when I go!" After that Dylan went to America, and I never saw him again.
Constant had resigned from the chief conductorship of the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1947, but remained as artistic adviser till his - death. With his unique knowledge of all the arts it was obvi-ously impossible to replace him by any one person, and so the Ballet set up a committee under the chairpersonship of Ninette de Valois to advise them on all artistic matters.The members were William Goldstream and John Piper (art), Myfanwy Piper and Sacheverell Sitwell (literature) and Arthur Bliss and myself (music). Choreographers usually like to choose their own libretti, designers and composers and, while the committee did not produce any very brilliant ideas, it at least prevented some disastrous mistakes. For example I arranged for Malcolm Arnold to be commissioned to write the music for the Coronation ballet Homage to the Queen, and this was to bear fruit later on. I was glad to remain in touch with the ballet, and the “expense fee” which Covent Garden paid me for attending committee meetings was a useful addition to my rather meagre income. The committee functioned till 1957 and was then disbanded as being no longer necessary.
In the summer of 1952, Lesley and I made a trip to Germany and Austria. "The Riverrun" was to be performed in Mannheim at the beginning of May, and the Poem at the ISCM Festival in Salzburg at the beginning of June. In the intervening time I had arranged to give some lectures on English music for the British Council in various North German towns, and so after the Mannheim performance, which went very well, we took the train to Hamburg, which housed the headquarters of the British Council. On arriving there I was astonished to find that the rather junior official who had arranged the lectures had failed to clear the question of my fee with his superiors and was expecting me to lecture for nothing; I had to take the matter to a very high level in the British Control Commission before I could be paid a proper fee and be given travel warrants to the various places I had to visit. The composer Tom Eastwood, who was then the British Council representative in Berlin, helped me by arranging for us to be flown to Berlin where I was to give a lecture. This was only four years after the Berlin airlift and West Berlin was by no means the gaudy and jazzy place it has since become.
We then continued our journey to Salzburg which I was glad to find unchanged since before the war. The Poem went well under a Norwegian conductor. While we were there, discussions which took place, chiefly between the younger Commonwealth delegates, led eventually to the resignation of Edward Clark as President of the ISCM and the removal of the Central Office from London to Baden-Baden. Though Edward was a man of great experience, he found it difficult to carry on all the work with the help of only one secretary.
In 1951 I had written a somewhat absurd setting for speaker, flute, cello and guitar of Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat" as a Christmas present for some friends who were staying at Ordnance Hill at the time; in return they presented me with a copy of T.S.Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats”. Some time later, a performance of The Owl and the Pussy-Cat was given at a charity concert in Nottingham, organised by Reggie Smith in aid of the Nottingham Playhouse; the cast included Douglas Byng, Paul Scofield, Peter Ustinov and many others. The regional director of the Arts Council was in the audience and asked me if I would write two further settings of cat poems for the same combination, as he wanted an interlude for a poetry reading tour of various Midland towns which he was organising. The tour eventually took place in 1953; as speaker I was lucky to get Ian Wallace, who is not only an excellent singer, but a fine comic actor as well, and the players were George Crozier, Freddie Phillips and Joy Hall. I set two poems from T.S.Eliot's book, Macavity and Growltiger; the tour went to such towns as Kettering and Northampton, and Lesley and I caught up with it in Birmingham, where we also met the poetry readers, Valentine Dyall, an old friend, and Daphne Slater. The Cat Poems were performed without a conductor; apparently Ian Wallace, standing in front of the players, gave the beat to them with-his heel. Since then he has given many performances of them in his inimitable manner, and I dedicated the Eliot settings to him; his quilted smoking jacket and big dark eyes gave him an agreeably cat-like appearance.
Scherchen now asked me to write a purely orchestral work for him, and I decided to attempt a symphony. This posed certain problems; the classical symphony depends to a great extent on contrasts of key which cannot be realised easily in twelve-note music, and neither Schoenberg nor Berg had completed a twelve-note symphony, though they both thought about it. (Webern's Symphony is another matter, being on a miniature scale, with its first movement a double canon and its second a set of variations). I decided to use classical forms to a certain extent. After a slow introduction, there is an Allegro in Sonata form with two subjects; the recapitulation is the inversion of the exposition. This leads into a slow movement in ABA form which sinks down to the lower depths at the end, and is followed by an intermezzo in the form of a free fugato with continually increasing dynamics and speed until it reaches the finale, a kind of rondo which eventually comes to a climax and breaks off. A slow Coda ends the work in the mood of the introduction. Much of the music is violent and explosive; Stalin was still alive at the time I wrote it, and I felt that a third world war was imminent. So the work is a kind of protest piece It is not as long as some symphonies - under 25 minutes. It is based entirely on the BACH theme (Bb-A-C-B natural), its inversion and a transposition; this is the note-row which Webern used in his String Quartet Op.28, but the sound of the two works naturally differs a great deal.
As Scherchen paid no commissioning fee, I needed to have something to live on while writing the symphony, and so undertook the translation of "Composition with Twelve Notes" by Josef Rufer, who had been Schoenberg's pupil and assistant in Berlin in the 1920s; it was the first really authentic exposition of Schoenberg's methods. This was the first time I had translated a complete book from the German, and I did not find it easy; fortunately I had the advice of Erwin Stein, an early pupil of Schoenberg whom I had known at Universal Edition in Vienna before the war. He had been living in London since 1938, working at Boosey and Ha wkes; his-daughter Marion is a pianist who was married first to the Earl of Harewood and later to the one-time Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe.
The symphony was first performed at a concert given by Hamburg Radio in the autumn of 1953 under Scherchen; the programme also included the second piano concerto by Schoenberg's Greek pupil Nikos Skalkottas. The symphony seemed to be well received; it was performed on the BBC in the following year by Sir Adrian Boult, who later recorded it with the LPO under the auspices of the British Council. It was also performed in Paris at a concert of British music from all periods, directed by the Belgian conductor Franz-Andre. I wanted desperately to go to this performance but had no money for the journey. Fortunately my mother helped me without (I imagine) telling my father. In the event my appearance at this concert had important consequences ten years later.
In the spring of 1954 I was invited to attend the Festival of Twentieth Century Music in Rome. I had recently set three poems by my friend Jocelyn Brooke - better known as a novelist - and these were performed there by Emelie Hooke, a well-known exponent of modern songs; she was the only singer in England at that time who could tackle Webern's music. These songs are rather more abstract and less romantic than most of my music up to that time; I had been experimenting with some of the methods of Boulez and Nono, but was brought back to my normal style by a demand from Scherchen to write a short piece for piano, strings and percussion, "twelve-note but simple", to be played by students at a Jeunesses Musicales Festival in Donaueschingen. I wrote a Concertante which has been played by students in many countries, even including those of the Royal College of Music; it was probably the first time that twelve-note music resounded within those hallowed halls.
"The Riverrun" at last reached England in 1955, with performances in Liverpool and London under Scherchen. I had great difficulty in finding an Irish actress who - was willing to tackle Joyce's text; even Louis MacNeice confessed himself baffled and could not recommend anyone. Eventually I met an actress at, of all unlikely places, a party given by some psychiatrists who were friends of Edith Sitwell's. Her name was Jean St. Clair, and she obviously had a very good idea of what the text was about. She gave an extremely intelligent performance, though possibly her voice was on the light side for the portrayal of a woman of seventy. At any rate Scherchen was pleased with her, and she could be heard without the aid of a microphone.
Gordon Watson had asked me to write a piano concerto for him, and I began it in the winter of 1954-5. A friend and neighbour of ours in St. John's Wood, the conductor George Weldon, included it in the programme of a concert he was due to conduct at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1955. At the same time I was asked to write a piece for horn and strings for Dennis Brain to play at the Aldeburgh Festival in June. This meant that I had to work on both pieces at once, a thing I dislike doing and, as neither work had a commissioning fee, I had to do hack work as well in order to keep us both alive. I finished the Aubade for Aldeburgh on time, but George Weldon had a preliminary rehearsal for Cheltenham with his orchestra about a month ahead of the concert date. As I simply could not finish the full score (which had to be written on transparent paper) in time for this, Weldon had to be content with going through three-quarters of the work at the preliminary rehearsal. When the material came back to my publishers I found that one orchestral player had written on his part: "Wait for the next gripping instalment!" However the work was ready in time for the later rehearsals, and for the performance which went very well although the orchestra made a tremendous din in the over-resonant Cheltenham Town Hall. Unfortunately Gordon Watson was unable to play the solo part as he was on an Australian tour, but Clive Lythgoe stepped in at short notice and gave an excellent performance.
This concerto is one of a few works which I wrote in the middle of the 1950s which does not use strictly serial technique but is freely atonal; others are the Jocelyn Brooke songs and the Aubade. The concerto also differs from some of my earlier works in being less indebted to Viennese romanticism and more extrovert in style; Bartok is probably the chief influence here, and the work is bright and cheerful on the whole, with an introduction for percussion alone and an interlude for piano and percussion between the scherzo and the finale.
"Night Music" had been included in the programme of the Three Choirs' Festival at Hereford by the enterprising conductor Meredith Davies, so that I had three works in British festivals that year. (I don't think the Hereford clergy liked "Night Music" very much; one deacon was heard to mutter: "Ungodly music”). On my 40th birthday, 26 August, Lesley and I invited my parents round for drinks and snacks. We were desperately short of money, and needed to do urgent repairs to the studio; under the terms of the lease we are responsible for all inside and outside repairs and, as the house is over 140 years old, these are frequently necessary. When I explained the situation my father replied: "Go and see my solicitor". After that I never again asked my parents for money.