Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Phantasy & Fact: Mr Cobbett’s Unique Services to Chamber Music.

I recently found this excellent appreciation of the great 'promoter' of chamber music in the United Kingdom, Walter Willson Cobbett. This article is taken from the pages of The Music Student published on 17 January 1917.

It is difficult for various reasons to write on the subject of one so intimately connected with the work of The Music Student as is W.W. Cobbett. Even without this intimate connection, there are difficulties of superabundance of material and of the enthusiasm aroused by his personality and his work. Though rapidly approaching the close of his seventieth year (he was born on July 11th 1847, Mr Cobbett is still in spirit and in mind a young man. His great passion in life – Chamber Music - he approaches with all the ardour of a novice, though with the discretion and balance of a veteran. Of the various competitions he has inaugurated and conducted, providing both the money and the work from his own resources, it is necessary to speak only in passing.
In this direction he has not only established for himself a world-wide reputation; he has done a far greater and more useful work, for he has restored and developed a characteristic British Art form and has proved to the world and to England herself, that our country is not behind others in the highest and most subtle creative faculty. The art-form and the name of “Phantasy” was obtained form the Elizabethan composers, who however, spelt the name ‘Fantasie,’ and treated it in a somewhat free and easy way. Mr Cobbett modernised the spelling, and at his instigation many young composers encouraged by the competitions, have modernised the form. His methods have stirred and directed the powers of many of our young composers, who have found in Chamber Music a medium of expression congenial to the British nature.

Catholic Mind and Education
By nature as well as by education Mr. Cobbett is broad-minded and very catholic in his tastes. Most of his education was acquired in England but in his ‘teens he had the advantage of a long stay at Caen in Normandy, where he studied along with some young Frenchmen, attending lectures at the Faculté and getting a thorough insight into French literature. This gave him a taste for French life and letters which has never left him. From Caen he went to Frankfort-on-the-Main, where he spent six months receiving instruction from a German pastor, whom he describes as a typical Teuton. This worthy was so thorough that he committed the whole of his Greek and Latin dictionaries to memory; but he never in Mr. Cobbett’s recollection, made any reference to Greek or Latin literature.

The Soul of Chamber Music
Mr. Cobbett’s musical interest up to this time had been slight, although he played the violin to some extent. On his return home, however, his interest in Chamber Music (an interest that has gathered strength with the flight of the years) was aroused through attending Dando’s Quartet Concerts at Crosby Hall and Ella’s Musical Union Concerts at St. James’ Hall. From that time forward his solace from the cares of business has been the playing of Chamber Music, his ambition being to make practical acquaintance with every work of capital importance in the literature of the art, whilst his hobby since his retirement from these cares, has been the exhaustive study of the possibilities of Chamber Music, and its propaganda as part of the essential scheme of life. By word and his example, by his lectures (particularly to the Music Association) and by his own practice, he has constantly urged that the essential soul of Chamber Music is to be found in the home rather than the public performances, however beautiful these may be;; for the mere hearing of it cannot give the permanent satisfaction which arises from the actual participation in the work.
He is only a degree less interested in orchestral music, and was for nine years leader of the Strolling Players Amateur Orchestral Society.

Literary Propaganda
Literary work of various kinds in connection with his main subject has come in Mr. Cobbett’s way, and he has dealt with it in the same thorough and public spirited manner as his more purely musical work. To the later edition of Grove’s Dictionary he has contributed no less than sixty articles, including the one written on the Joachim Quartet. He has also written for the Musical Times (on Bohemian music) and for T.P.s Weekly, but his chief journalistic interest (apart, of course from The Music Student) has been to the Musical News. To this journal he has contributed many scores of articles, reviews, concert critiques and miscellaneous paragraphs. For an amateur to write so largely for a professional journal is quite unusual and note worthy, but it is the quality rather than the quantity which has been most striking. From the earliest days of the paper, Mr. Cobbett’s contributions were invariably marked by a real conception of the position and thoughts of the professional man.

A Favourite Theme
A favourite theme of Mr. Cobbett’s is that of the necessity to study literary culture alongside of musical culture, and he has offered prizes for essays on the subject. Another favourite theme is that of Cremona violins, the craftsmanship of which he finds very attractive. Thought not a collector, he has acquired four instruments of the first class, selected for their tonal qualities, and made by Stradivari, Guarneri, Montagnana and Stainer (viola).
As an organiser, Mr. Cobbett has won wide recognition, and is on the Councils of Trinity College of Music, the Musical Association, the International Musical Society, Society of British Composers, King Cole Chamber Music Club, the Professional Classes War Relief Council and the Committee for Music in War-time. The last of these he was to some extent instrumental in forming, and acted as Secretary during the first year of the war, the meetings being held at his house. Can it be wondered that all who are concerned in the production of the Music Student are pleased and proud to be associated with so active and enthusiastic a musician.?

Colleagues Appreciation.
At the last meeting held on December 9th 1916, the Directors of The Music Student, Ltd., passed the following resolution:-
“That a very heart vote of thanks be tendered on behalf of The Music Student, Ltd., to Mr. W.W. Cobbett, for his valuable contribution to its activities, as shewn in the Chamber Music Supplement, which publication for the past three-and-a-half years has been rendered possible solely by his generosity and literary ability.

The Music Student January 1917 p.190

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