Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Jane Joseph: An Appreciation written by Gustav Holst

I recently found this charming appreciation of one of Gustav Holst's pupils. It needs no commentary.
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Jane Joseph (1894-1929)
by Gustav Holst
XVIII The Younger English Composers
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Jane Joseph was born in London on May 31, 1894. She was educated first at Norland Place School, then at St. Paul's Girls' School, where she entered with an open scholarship in 1908, and finally at Girton, where she took her Classical Tripos. After leaving College she lived at home until her death on March 9, 1929.
It was my good fortune to be her teacher in composition. She was the best girl pupil I ever had. From the first she showed an individual attitude of mind and an eagerness to absorb all that was beautiful.
While at St. Paul's she wrote, among other things, her setting of 'The Carrion Crow'; then at Girton she composed the incidental music for a College performance of Yeats's 'Countess Cathleen.' This was later performed in London.
These are typical of most of her work, inasmuch as they were written for definite occasions. She, like the composers of the eighteenth century, wrote music because it was wanted. Many of her MSS. are pieces written for birthday or Christmas parties, for the first appearance of a school orchestra, for amateur theatricals, for a festival in a village church. There are beautiful things among them still unpublished.
This desire and capacity to do what was needed most were characteristic of her whole life. So, while at St. Paul's, she was not content to work only at piano and musical theory besides her ordinary school work, but made a point of learning whatever instrument was most needed in the orchestra: at one time the double bass, at another, the French horn.
Jane Joseph, more than anyone else I have known, had that infinite capacity for taking pains which amounts to genius. It was something instinctive in her, and it was combined with great sensitiveness and a passion for accuracy. In all her sayings and doings there was a complete absence of anything superficial or casual. No detail in a scheme was too small, and no scheme, however big, was allowed to be obscured by too much concentration on detail, whether the scheme were a charitable one for helping someone in trouble, organizing accommodation for visitors during a Whitsuntide Festival, or arranging a ballet.
Her powers of organization were well shown in her production of Purcell's ‘Dioclesian' in 1921. Purcell wrote some charming incidental music to a play of this name. As the play had not been considered worthy of revival, the music, which consists of isolated songs, choruses, dances, and so on, had also been neglected. Jane .Joseph, after careful preliminary study, contrived to weave all these fragments into a delightful out-door pageant founded on a fairy story, complete with lost princess, dragon and princely hero; and she achieved this with only one alteration in the words- 'she' was substituted for 'he' in one of the choruses.
The pageant was rehearsed in the morning and performed in the afternoon of a Whit-Monday' in Bute House garden. Many of the performers met for the first time that day. Each one was provided with written instructions, together with a plan of the garden. Not content with this, Jane had secretly prepared an alternative indoor scheme for the whole production in case of wet weather. The performance was such a brilliant success that it was repeated a few weeks later in Hyde Park and, some months later, at the 'Old Vic'. Each time important alterations had to be made with very little time for rehearsing or even for explanation. Only those who have had experience in such productions can appreciate the wonderfully smooth working of every detail and the splendid way in which each was fitted into the whole. Jane gave the minimum of worry to each person concerned by giving herself the maximum of hard work and forethought.
Working with her was made a constant delight by her courtesy- a recognition of what was due to other people and a real consideration for their feelings. Nothing gave her greater joy than the discovery of this sensitive courtesy in others.

Gustav Holst The Monthly Musical Record April 1 1931 p97-98 (with minor edits)
Jane Joseph’s works list to follow on a later post.

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