Friday, 18 December 2009

How they Make Music at Morley College

A Chat with Mr. Holst and a Sight of his Work there
Part 3

The Lighter Side.
But the lighter side of the Art is not excluded. English Opera as She is Wrote, is the title of a work produced in 1917, and rehearsed during an air-raid. The composer of this remarkable work- (rumour has it that there were several composers) "boldly wrote his first five acts in the five great styles of his predecessors in operatic tradition, reserving the over­whelming revelation of his own New Tradition for his sixth and last act". The success of the com­bined Traditions was so immense that the opera was repeated some ten or eleven times, and will never be forgotten by those fortunate enough to be present.
Then on another occasion there was the first per­formance of a Futurist Symphonic Tone Poem in H, when Mr. James Brown introduced the work to the audience, and Mr. Holst conducted with two batons.

A Talk about the Music.
Having made these gleanings, I betook myself to the Hall again, and found Mr. Holst in the centre of an eager audience of performers, vocal and instru­mental, talking to them about the music for the concert. Brahms' Song of Destiny was his theme when
I slipped into a back seat, and he was having an accompaniment passage played through in skeleton ­on the piano to show the chord progressions (" the sort of thing," as he explained, "that you wouldn't expect to find before the XIXth century"), and another passage to show the curious effect of duple rhythm in 3-time.
Then came the Choral Fantasia, and a grand opportunity for that "inventive" faculty which the loss of the notebook required. I came to the conclusion, as I listened, that the audience in the lorry probably did not go to sleep during the invention of the History of Music. I give the improvisation more or less as it dropped conversationally from its author.
"This Fantasia seems to have been a study for the Choral Symphony", he began. "Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, and the Choral was the ninth. I'll just tell you a few things about them that will help you to remember better than dates. Actual dates aren't so very important for you. Beethoven has been called the Father of Modern Music (so have a good many people). You will understand what is meant if you look upon Bach and Handel as the culmination of contrapuntal music applied for orchestra and chorus. Before 1600, there was no orchestra. During the seventeenth century, the orchestra was beginning, and German music was coming into being. The Germans have always been eminent in orchestral music. For about a hundred-and-fifty years you have music for orchestra and chorus being written. After 1750, purely orchestral music developed.
Between 1750 and 1820, you have the work of three great composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, whose musical centre was Vienna. These composers thought a great deal of outline and clearness, and a great deal of dignity of form. As a boy, I looked down on all that. I daresay some of you don't feel that it's very important. But you must under­stand what point of view these great people had in writing. Now Beethoven, who was the youngest of them, came to maturity at a time when the validity of forms and authority of all kinds was being questioned. It was the period of the French Revo­lution, and if you look on Beethoven and the French Revolution as doing the same sort of thing in their different ways, you will see what Beethoven stands for in the history of music. He freed the Sonata Form. Haydn and Mozart thought of their work in harmonic sections, and when it's not their best work the result's a bit prim. Now Beethoven's First and Second Symphonies are just Haydn. But the Third takes us into a new field. Up till then, a Slow Movement had been a placid, graceful, rather happy affair: the Slow Movement of the Eroica is a Funeral March. The whole Symphony, moreover, is twice the length of a Haydn - everything on a much larger scale. And so he went on thinking greater and greater things, till he wrote the Seventh Symphony, which is the greatest of all.
In the Ninth, two of the movements are in the form of an Air with Variations, and you can easily trace the resemblance between the air of the Finale of the Symphony (this is how it goes…) and the tune of the Choral Fantasia, which is also in Variation form.
The Fantasia itself is in two movements. The first is given to the Piano, and is in improvisation style, ending on a dominant seventh. At this point, the join of the two movements, there is a curious mark in the score, and this note: 'At this place the director of the music is to give a sign to the orchestra'. It does not say what sort of sign he is to give, and you must remember that at that period the conductor was not an estab­lished person, and the 'Director of the Music' was probably the first violin, or some competent musician who sat at a harpsichord with the score, ready to come to the rescue at critical moments.
Well, now it's time to get on to rehearsing, but just one thing about the end of the Fantasia. Those of you who took part in the Italian Opera Scene of famous memory will remember the convention of the endless ending. Well, listen to this ­(Mr. Holst ran over the formula on the piano -Tonic, Sub­mediant, Subdominant, Dominant; Tonic, Submediant, Sub­dominant, Dominant). It's just what Beethoven does for his Coda here. Of course, it's deplorable, but people unconsciously conform to the convention of their day, and Beethoven's audience never thought any the worse of him for giving them what they expected. And - there are probably things which we are doing today about which in a hundred years, people will wonder how we could go on repeating such worn-out stuff. Now the Register, please, and then we'll start on the Bach."

"I always do learn from my Pupils."
The Register was taken, and the Bach chorus was pronounced “on the whole, good. Basses, I want a little more of you. Move in a little-it will be a help to you if you get nearer the 'cellos".
He descended from the desk and came over to his Interviewer. "What would you like us to do now, as you've got to leave at 9 o'clock?" The Inter­viewer thought it would be interesting to hear the Brahms. “Certainly". He turned to the per­formers "We'll take the Song of Destiny next ...” There was a fluttering of music as the Brahms was sought. The conductor wheeled round again to the visitor, “Did you see that? Their faces fell! Some of them don't like Brahms -they'd like to go on singing Bach all night! …And to tell you the truth..." [Here he told me the truth] "Ha, ha! But I always do learn from my pupils."
He mounted the desk again, and all too soon the clock pointed to the fatal hour of nine. I crept towards an inconspicuous exit just as the wind were being exhorted not to hurry. But this advice was not enough to save them from disaster. A stop was necessary, and they were condoled with for the lack of the trombone which would have made their passage clearer.
"We'll go back to... You have no letters? Oh… Yes, what did you say? Yes, "free from care". Free from care. That's it. Start at "free from care". And with those happy words ringing in my head I made my way to Waterloo Station.


infonerdtoo! (",) said...

that's nice.. keep it up.. :)

Morleylibrary said...

Very pleased to find 'How they make music at Morley College' as I am the library manager (and unoffical archivist) at Morley College. Am collecting anything to do with Gustav Holst for our archive, and look forward to more discoveries.