Friday, 7 March 2008

Gerald Cumberland: Set Down in Malice

In this short extract from this witty volume – written in 1918 - Cumberland, a journalist is discussing a massive choral work by Granville Bantock (probably the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayim) with Dr Vaughan Williams and Dr. Cyril Rootham.

“I have a very bad memory for the names of public houses and hotels (though I love these places dearly), and I regret that I am unable to recall the name of that very attractive hotel in Birmingham where, early one evening, Dr Vaughan Williams, travel-stained and brown with the sun, walked into the lounge and began a conversation with me. He had walked an incredible distance, and though, physically, he was very tired, his mind was most alert, and we fell to talking about music. He told me that he had studied with Ravel, and when he told me this I reviewed in my mind in rapid succession all Vaughan Williams's compositions I could remember, trying to detect in any of them traces of Ravel's influence. But I was unsuccessful. To me he, with his essential British down-rightness, his love of space, his freedom from all mannerisms and tricks of style, seemed Ravel's very antithesis.

Like myself, he had come to Birmingham to listen to music, and the following evening, after we had heard a long choral work of Bantock's, we had what might have developed into a very hot argument. With him was Dr Cyril Rootham, a very charming and cultivated musician, and both these composers were amazed and amused when, having asked my opinion of Bantock's work, I became dithyrambic in its praise.
"But I thought you were modern?" asked Vaughan Williams.
"I am anything you please," said I; "when I hear Richard Strauss I am modern, and when I listen to Bach I am prehistoric. But why do you ask?"
“Moody and Sankey," murmured Rootham.
Vaughan Williams laughed.
“Good! Damned good!”He exclaimed, turning to his companion.
“You’ve got it. Hasn't he, Cumberland?”
“Got what?”
"It's him. Bantock, I mean. Now, don't you think to concede us this one little point: don't you think that this thirty-two-part choral work of Bantock's is just Moody and Sankey over again? Glorified, of course: gilt-edged, tooled, diamond-studded, bound in lizard-skin, if you like: but still Moody and still Sankey."
I clutched the sleeve of a passing waiter and ordered a double whisky.
“One can only drink," said I.” And when people disagree so fundamentally as we do, whisky is the only tipple that makes one forget."

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