Friday, 4 December 2009

How they Make Music at Morley College

A Chat with Mr. Holst and a Sight of his Work there
Part 1 by Katharine E. Eggar

This fascinating, if humorous, description of an interview with Gustav Holst is well worth republishing. It was written by Katharine Eggar in the Music Student, Volume 13 (1921), 359–61. It is a long article so I will ‘blog’ it in three installments. It is presented as in the magazine with a few minor edits.

Of course you know where Morley College is? Next door to the ‘Old Vic’ in the Waterloo Road, Lambeth. And that being so, my journey to it from Campden Hill, by way of Ham­mersmith, is only to be understood by unmasking the dark designs of Mr. Holst when he consented to be 'interviewed' on the subject of his Morley College work. If you were to ask him to explain, he would say briskly, "Always bribe your interviewer. So of course I bribed her - with an egg for tea."
So our interview started (would that all interviews had such a pleasant background!) over a - well, to be brief, a scrumptious tea at Hammersmith, was continued under difficulties in Stations, Lifts and Tubes, and reached its final stages at the College itself.

How the Composer Invents.
At tea, I must confess, our attention wandered to other subjects of mutual interest, but when we recollected the serious business of the occasion, I learnt that Mr. Holst had been connected with Morley for about thirteen years. When I asked him whether any special circumstances had led to his being appointed to what has been such a remark­able piece of work, he said characteristically, "Oh! somebody died, and so I went there". Then I noticed a worried look coming over his face, and after diving about in half-a-dozen pockets, he remarked that he had lost his notebook. "All the things I was going to say to the people to-night. What can I have done with it?" More vain searchings, and I said soothingly that no doubt he could remember what he had put down. "Oh! but I never remember anything. I call my note­book my memory. No, it's not to be found. Well, I must invent something. I'm always having to invent things. The best bit of inventing I ever did was an impromptu ‘History of Music’ one night during the [Great] War, out in Salonika". His voice took a dreamy tone. "It was in the dark ... we were waiting for the lorries... nothing to do while we waited ... so I started talking a History of Music. I couldn't see anybody, you know - only the ends of lighted cigarettes. I just went on talking to the cigarette ends. I don't know whether anybody listened ... " He started, and looked at his ·watch. "I say, if you're quite done? I think we ought to be getting under way".

Interviewing under Difficulties.
The first piece of line from Hammersmith runs in the open, and is comparatively quiet, so we were able to continue our conversation without much difficulty to begin with, and I learnt that Morley College has a Choir of about sixty, a Sight-singing Class of about forty, and an Orchestra of about fifty.
"In the orchestra," said Mr. Holst, "we have everything but Bassoons and Trombones. The Bassoons, however, I'm glad to say, are coming along. Oh yes, they're learning. And the Trombones we don't want. So we get along very nicely, though we want more 'Cellos and Basses. Then we have twenty-five students in the Elementary Harmony Class under Mr. P. J. Collis, and seven in the Advanced Harmony Class. There are elementary, intermediate and advanced Violin Classes working with Miss Bodkin, which take about forty students, besides individual lessons. For Singing, we have about thirty students taking private lessons with Miss Twiselton, and then there are about six taking private lessons in Piano".
"Only six for Piano? That seems very few," I said. "Ah, but you see we can't get any more in. "We turn from twenty to twenty-five students away every year. And the old ones don't want to leave off".
By this time, we were getting into the Piccadilly regions, and the noise of the train was becoming frantic. Still, as long as words were distinguishable, it was incumbent on me not to waste time, so I pulled myself together and shrieked, "'What are you going to rehearse this evening?" He appreciated the effort I had made, and leaning forward earnestly towards me, he shouted back, "I think I ought to tell you THE WORST about Morley, before we get any further." The roar and rattle rose to a climax, and above it he yelled in a whisper, "WE WANT A NEW BUILDING, AND THREE NEW PIANOS".

The Concert Programme.
The train rushed into Piccadilly Circus Station, and in the comparative quiet of thrusting our way to another platform, he went on, "You know, it's perfectly dreadful, we have to put some of the audience in an adjoining room at concerts, and we have to give our lessons in rooms just before they are wanted for c1asses and as to the pianos, well, you'll hear them this evening."
Before we reached the Waterloo Road, I had gleaned what was being prepared for the next concert.
“With the Choir, we're doing Beethoven's Choral Fantasia. And we're using a new translation and new chorus parts, both done by Morley-ites. Then we're doing three Choruses from the Bach B minor Mass (and we shall be doing more from that later on), Brahms's Song of Destiny, two Madrigals and an arrangement of ‘Green grow the rushes’, by one Gandy of the Advanced Harmony Class. We always do something by a Student at the public concerts. The orchestra are doing two movements of the Seventh Symphony (Beethoven), and there will be four songs-two Elizabethan, and two of Brahms, by two of our students.
Oh! and this is rather interesting. After next concert, we're going to do the Incidental Music to Purcell's Dioclesian. Not the Masque, The Inci­dental Music, which has never been done. So we're having a tremendous task of copying; all being done by students. And here we are”. We brought up at a wide doorway under a sculptured arch, which Mr. Holst assured me "we don't look at " -reverence for the founder no doubt preferring other memorials of him than the symbolic group dimly visible as we waited. The door opened and in we went. Mounting the steep stone stairway, we reached a classroom, set out with desks and a venerable grand piano.

To be continued

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