Monday, 17 August 2009

Charles Villiers Stanford: Tennyson, the Isle of Wight and Stage Intrigue.

A short extract from the composers fascinating and often extremely funny Pages from an Unwritten Diary. Stanford manages to deal with student ‘howlers’, a meeting with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and back-stage intrigue in under five-hundred words.

IN THE CHRISTMAS vacation of 1879 I was saddled with the appalling burthen of examining some thousand papers on music for the local examinations of the
University. Knowledge of the art at that time amongst the youth of the country was limited in extent and superficial in quality. The dullness of the process of paper-marking was however relieved by some 'howlers’ which still live in my memory:
notably the names of three oratorios, which were cited in answer to a request for the names of some of the choral works of Handel and Mendelssohn. The three novel titles were Jacabenus, a portmanteau word for Judas Maccabaeus and Jack and the Beanstalk which was worthy of Lewis Carroll himself, another version of the same oratorio dubbed Judius Macabeth, and best of all a modest general-servant title of a score, which would only need to be written to command instant success, and even acceptance at the Albert Hall, Eliza.
I migrated to the Hotel at Freshwater [1] to get some Atlantic air in the intervals of this penal servitude. From my window I saw on the first morning a figure in a large cloak with a broad-brimmed wide-awake [2] pounding up the avenue in the rain and wind, in company with a young man and a grey Irish deer-hound. It was Tennyson. I had already had experience of his kindness, when I was an unknown student at Leipzig. He had heard of me through his sons, and asked me to write the music for Queen Mary, [3] when that tragedy was produced by Mrs. Bateman at the Lyceum Theatre. His friendly intentions were defeated at the last moment by the conductor who, as it appeared, desired the commission for himself, and by the manageress who discovered rather late in the day, and after I had been instructed what instruments were available and had scored it accordingly, that there was not sufficient room for the players without sacrificing two rows of stalls. Tennyson privately, and without telling me a word, offered to pay for the loss of the stalls for a certain number of nights, but his offer was refused. When the performance took place, there turned out to be as many players in the orchestra as the score required. It was my first experience (and unhappily not my last) of stage intrigue. Henry Irving, who played Philip, but who had not at that time any voice in the management, was as perturbed about the matter as the poet himself, and took care when Becket [3] was produced in 1893 to make more than ample amends for the disappointment.
Charles Villiers Stanford Pages from an Unwritten Diary (London, 1914) p.229 [with minor edits]

[1] Small town at the western end of the Isle of Wight
[2] A broad-brimmed, low-crowned felt hat.
[3] In 1876. The music for the actual performance was composed by a certain Robert Stoepel, who, according to Jeremy Dibble, had wanted to write the score for Tennyson’s play.
[4] Becket Op.48 This music to Tennyson’s play was composed in 1892.


Seamus McGilvray Harrington said...

These remind me of the undergraduate music history student who informed me, on an exam short-identification, that Marcia Funebre was "one of Mozart's lifelong friends."

Dr. J. Marshall Bevil said...

These remind me of the time that the undergraduate music history student informed me, in an exam short-identification answer, that Marcia Funebre was "one of Mozart's lifelong friends." No doubt, he got the subtitle of the slow movement of _Eroica_ confused with Marianne von Genzinger, a friend of HAYDN.

Dr. J. Marshall Bevil said...

Then there was the music history student who, probably thinking of the Medieval sequence incorrectly, wrote on his exam paper that the Te Deum was "syllables made up by the monks when they forgot the words of chants: 'De-um, de-um, te-de-um,' etc."