Tuesday, 8 December 2009

How they Make Music at Morley College

A Chat with Mr. Holst and a Sight of his Work there
Part 2
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. This is the second instalment. It is presented as in the magazine with a few minor edits.

Morley College at Work.
A couple of girl students were waiting - and yet we were twenty minutes before the time that College was due to open. I was given a seat, and a little confabulation took place between professor and students.
"And so you've come to let me hear how you've got on. Right! Well, let's get to work. Oh! Miss Eggar, please, you're not supposed to be here just now. You kindly won't listen, will you? This is unofficial". I did my best to imitate the Cheshire cat, and presently was allowed to come into existence again when the female soloist for the concert went through her two Brahms' songs with great sweetness of voice and simplicity of style. After that, I was summoned to the piano lid to look over the Dioclesian score, while Mr. Holst went through it with a student copyist, explaining where the cuts were to come; and by that time a student-composer had arrived with the manuscript of a song.
"Brought a song? All right. Brought, your wife to sing it? She couldn't come. How are we to manage? Well, here's a singer" (the copyist was hailed) -" You come and have a try. But you're not very great at reading, are you? Oh! Miss Eggar- you'll come and help, won't you? "
"But I'm not a singer".
"But then you can read. Come along- I do so want to see what this song's like. Now then, quite slowly. Ah - we'd better read the words through first”.
So we found that it was Bridges' Love on my heart from heave'n fell, and having all got our bearings, we slowly piped through the first verse of the beautifully clear, but by no means ordinary manuscript. Ques­tions and comments from Mr. Holst, accompanying, suggestions as to tempo from the composer, and several repetitions, made the song begin to take shape, and when a tenor joined the ranks of the singers we got a quite substantial performance, before the Class which wanted our room began to dribble in.
There was still some time before the Choir was due to come, so I was piloted upstairs to hear Miss Lasker giving a piano lesson in the Concert Hall. Mr. Holst disappeared, and in course of time returned with the Choral Class in his train, and having got these people to dispose themselves on the platform (which was rather disconcertingly arranged for theatricals), he proceeded to take them, with Miss Lasker's pupil tackling the piano part, through the Choral Fantasia.
By this time, people bearing instruments of all kinds had been stealing in, and Mr. Holst, telling the company to collect round the piano for a talk about the music, spied his Male Soloist (met out in Salonika), and called him up to go through his songs. After which he remarked, “Well, now, you won't want to hear what I've got to say to these people- I think you had better come downstairs and see the Vice-Principal, Miss Brennand, and get her to tell you something about the College, and then you can come back when we've started rehearsing".

The "Old Vic's” Offspring.
Accordingly, we descended into the depths, and found Miss Brennand in the big social room, where I was very kindly provided with an easy chair and a pile of reports. These explained (which was not news to me) that the Morley Memorial College developed out of work begun at the Royal Victoria Hall (affectionately, the "Old Vic"), in 1882. It was the" Old Vic” weekly popular scientific Lectures which kindled a desire for more systematic teaching and led to the institution of classes. These were largely made possible through the assistance of the late Mr. Samuel Morley, and the present building was opened as the Morley College for Working Men and Women, in September, 1889, "and from that date women students have been admitted on a footing precisely similar to that of the men" (Cambridge University please note!)

"Advanced Study".
The first object 'of the College is stated to be­ "To promote the advanced study by working men and women of subjects of knowledge, not directly connected with or applied to any handicraft, trade, or business". Clearly, then, music is a most appropriate subject, and it must have been those brave words, "advanced study," which stiffened the back of Mr. Holst when he took the burden of Morley's music upon his shoulders thirteen years ago and firmly declined to pander to the then existing taste. At any rate, the constitution of the College was on his side from the very first, and now that he has won the proper place for music, there is ungrudging recognition of its value to the student community.
Turning over some recent reports I lighted upon records of music studied and performed. They included Handel's Acis and Galatea, Beethoven's Second Symphony, Mendelssohn's Hebrides, Bach's Magnificat, parts of Purcell's Fairy Queen, and his Dido and Aeneas, the overture to The Magic Flute, Schubert's Rosamunde Music, a movement of a Schumann Symphony, one or two Haydn symphonies, a Mozart symphony, Dvorak's Mass in D, and many other works of foremost value. Then I read of the disorganisation of the War period, when first the teacher of the Elementary Harmony and Singing Classes, Mr. Cecil Coles, joined the Queen Victoria's Rifles, and subsequently Mr. Holst himself went off to Greece as musical organiser of the Y.M.C.A in our camps there, upon which Dr. R. R. Terry came to the rescue of his Morley students.

An interesting paragraph ran as follows:-" The music students had for some time past asked whether they might study some of Mr. Holst's compositions. At last their request was granted, and he gave them some of his most difficult work to study-the Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda. As in the course of things, the choir asked the meaning of 'Rig Veda,' Mr. Holst arranged that Dr. Mabel Bode should come and talk to the music students at their usual social gathering. A most inspiring lecture was given, followed by a performance of the very difficult songs, which were sung again with the greatest success at the June concert”. “Advanced study,” indeed, and intelligent study, moreover.

To be continued

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