Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Granville Bantok: An Anecdote by Josef Holbrooke

Josef Holbrooke’s controversial, eccentric but ultimately essential study of Contemporary British Composers (1925) is crammed full of interesting opinion, stories and anecdotes. Holbrooke knew virtually everyone that mattered in the musical world even if he was not always on the best of terms with people. The present short anecdote is presented as a good example of his story-telling. To understand the references to Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony, two things need to be borne in mind. Firstly, this work is programme music: the first half depicting the moods of the sea in the Hebrides and the second being a musical description of a remembered pirate attack on the islanders.  Secondly, there is a long passage for the solo trumpet play playing a high F – it is the most dramatic moment in the symphony – but also the most demanding.  It is one of the most thrilling moments in British music. At the conclusion of this battle the music become once again poetically descriptive of the sea and landscape, however the trumpet call can still be heard.
The whole of Bantock’s ‘Hebridean’ Symphony can be found on YouTube, but the ‘offending’ trumpet piece can be heard halfway through the third movement.

‘Many stories are told and known of Granville Bantock's waggery and sense of fun. The well known one of the chess friend he left playing one night while he went upstairs for a cigar, but went to bed instead and left the player to fall downstairs, and get out of the house in any old way he could, is easily beaten by the perfervid joy with which I heard of the principal trumpet player, who, in Liverpool at a rehearsal of the composer's Hebridean Symphony, was not playing. On my inquiry, and my loud praise of the player of the extremely persistent trumpet call in this symphony (sometimes, insistently, I think, for two hundred bars on a high F !), I was told that Valk, the usual man, was no longer a trumpet player.
"Why?" I inquired in amazement.
"Oh, you see," said the leader, "he played in the first rehearsal of this symphony, and as a result he is now a viola player. His lip and jaw are now strained beyond repair: he will never play the trumpet again”.
“Indeed," said my informant, "I have had to give this man extra pay, otherwise he would not take the job on. We have, as a result of this, had an ultimatum by all local trumpeters - who, when engaged, ask what the programme contains, before they sign on for it. A very heavy premium is wanted now for playing in this work by trumpet players! "
On my inquiry of my friend Bantock as to why the trumpet was so strident even after the orchestra had died down, he explained to me that the fight had gone "round the corner"!’

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