Sunday, 16 April 2017

Cyril Scott: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’s Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’ Clearly, he had met many of these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests. In the case of Cyril Scott, the amount of personal knowledge by Brook is less clear. It may be that he relied heavily on the composer’s autobiography, My Years of Indiscretion (1924).
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest second hand books about music that I bought in the days before the internet, it served as my introduction to a wide range of composers and their music.  I include several footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of Cyril Scott.

THE minor works of Cyril Scott (1879-1970) have been so successful during the past thirty years or so that ninety-per-cent of the musical public in this country regard him solely as a composer of intriguing little songs and piano pieces, and completely ignore his major compositions. [1] This is not due entirely to obstinacy on the part of either the public or the management of our symphony orchestras, for his smaller works are more easily appreciated and, on the whole, play better than his more ambitious efforts, but I cannot help feeling that Cyril Scott has been neglected to an unwarrantable extent in recent years. [2]
He was born at Oxton, Cheshire, on September 27th 1879 [3] and inherited a burning love of music from his mother, who was his first teacher. At the age of twelve he went to Hoch's Conservatoire at Frankfurt [4] to study the piano under Lazzarro Uzielli, [5] and for over four years his great ambition was to become a professional pianist. Shortly before his seventeenth birthday, however, he changed his plans completely and decided to concentrate upon composition, so instead of going to Leschetizky [6] in Vienna as he had originally intended, he returned to Frankfurt to study composition under Iwan Knorr. In the congenial company of such other English students as Roger Quilter, Percy Grainger, Balfour Gardiner and Norman O'Neill [7] the artistic life was so pleasant that whenever he returned home he found the polite society of the English provinces profoundly boring, and this was in no way relieved by his family's disapproval of his Bohemian mode of life. His ‘fantastic’ ties and long hair provoked a great deal of caustic comment among the more conventional of his neighbours.
Soon after the completion of his first symphony, [8] he returned to Germany for the first performance of it at Darmstadt. Willem de Haan [9] had conducted the first two rehearsals, but Scott was to have conducted the final one and the performance himself. In his autobiography [10] he tells us that ‘. . . although with considerable energy I waved my arms to and fro in the air, the sounds produced from that body of players bore no resemblance whatever to my symphony for all one could tell they might still have been tuning their instruments. They looked at me, it is true, but the more they looked, the more bewildered they became. It was useless for me to glance at Herr de Haan for some light on the matter he sat in immovable discomfiture in the corner of the room, his face shaded by his hand. I was dumbfounded; and in the hopes of bringing my players into line, waved my arms about even more energetically than before, but all to no purpose. Then, with a burning face I realised the truth: I had never learnt to beat time!’
Eventually, Scott appealed to de Haan to conduct for him, and then everything went smoothly. The symphony had a mixed reception: half of the audience applauded; the other half hissed, though it made a good impression upon the conductor [11] of the Frankfurt Palmengarten symphony concerts, who expressed a desire to give the second performance of the work, but never did.
His student days over, Scott was persuaded by his friends to give a piano recital in Liverpool and then to set up as a teacher of that instrument in the same city. His father gave him a hundred pounds so that he could take rooms and make a start. The net result of the recital, however, was a couple of pupils and an old gentleman who paid him half-a-guinea an hour to play Bach to him once a week.
A friend then arranged for him to meet Richter [12]. Scott called on the eminent conductor and played him his Heroic Suite. While he was so doing, Richter uttered such ejaculations as ‘most original ‘, ‘finely orchestrated ‘, ‘splendid harmonies’ and so forth, and finally informed Scott that he had written a great work. Shortly afterwards, Richter performed the Suite at Manchester and Liverpool, and although it was not particularly successful, Scott soon became a personal friend of the conductor.
Messrs. Boosey & Co. (as the firm was then known) [13] published a number of Scott's early songs, but just as the young composer felt that he was establishing himself, Arthur Boosey [14] sent for him and exclaimed bluntly: ‘I daresay you are quite clever, but your things don't sell. You must consider our arrangement at an end.’  This sudden disappointment might have had a serious effect upon Scott's work, but fortunately Mr. W. W. A. Elkin [15] asked to see him, and he eventually became not only Scott's publisher but a personal friend for many years.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] Cyril Scott’s catalogue is large, and covers a considerable range of genres. This includes four operas, four symphonies, more than a dozen concerted works, a vast corpus of chamber music, songs, piano pieces and choral works. Unfortunately, he is now only recalled for one or two pieces such as dream-like ‘Lotus Land’ and idyllic ‘Lullaby’, both character pieces. 
[2] In recent years, record companies (Chandos and Dutton deserve special mention) have released a wide range of Scott’s music. All the Symphonies has been issued, (No.2 in its revised Three Symphonic Dances form) as well about half the concertos, a wide conspectus of the major chamber works and about two-thirds of the piano solo music. Clearly there are major gaps in our appreciation of the composer, for example, the operas, the choral music and the songs.
[3] Oxton is on the Wirral Peninsula, part of the historic county of Cheshire. It is a suburb of Birkenhead.  Much of the area has been designated a conservation area.
[4] Hoch's Conservatoire at Frankfurt, founded in 1878 by the German lawyer and philanthropist, Joseph Hoch (1815-74)
[5] Lazzarro Uzielli (1861-1943), was an Italian pianist and music teacher.
[6] Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915), was a Polish pianist and teacher. In 1878 he established his piano school in Vienna. Famous pupils included Mark Hambourg, Paderewski and Artur Schnabel.
[7] Typically known as the Frankfurt Group. Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter, Percy Grainger, Balfour Gardiner and Norman O'Neill all studied during the late 1890s at the Hoch Conservatoire in Frankfurt with German composer Iwan Knorr (1853-1916). All of them became important, if sometimes neglected composers. The best remembered is Percy Grainger.
[8] Cyril Scott: Symphony No.1 in G major. This work was composed in 1899 and dedicated to the poet, editor and translator, Stefan George (1868-1933). It was first heard at Darmstadt in Germany, on 8 January 1900 played by the Darmstadt Opera Orchestra conducted by Willem De Haan. The Symphony has been released on Chandos CHAN 10452 (2008).
[9] Willem de Haan (1849-1930), was a Dutch conductor and composer.
[10] Cyril Scott wrote two important autobiographies. The first was My Years of Indiscretion, Mills & Boon, Ltd, London 1924 and Bone of Contention: the autobiography of Cyril Scott, The Aquarian Press, London, 1969. They are to be treated with care!
[11] The Frankfurt Palmengarten is one of two botanical gardens in the city. There was a tradition of Symphony Concerts being held there. The conductor was a certain Max Kampfert (1871-1941).        
[12] Hans Richter (1843-1916), Austro-Hungarian conductor. He was born in Raab (Gyor) in Hungary, studied at Vienna, assisted Richard Wagner at Budapest and Vienna. He was the first person to conduct the complete Ring cycle at Bayreuth.  Richter spent much time in London between 1877 and 1910: he was conductor of the Halle Orchestra between 1899 and 1911. Hans Richter retired to Bayreuth and died there in 1916.
[13] Still an active company, ‘Boosey & Hawkes originated from the 1930 merger between two great family businesses, Boosey & Company founded in the 1760s, and Hawkes & Son founded in 1865. Both were involved in music publishing and the manufacture of musical instruments. From 1930 the merged company continued this twin business activity for many decades until 2003 when the instrument division was sold, leaving Boosey & Hawkes focusing solely on music publishing.’ (B&H Website, accessed 18 March 2017)
[14] Henry Boosey. In fact, Scott/Brook appears to be referring to Arthur Boosey (1857-1919). 
[15] Mr. William. W. A. Elkin (1862-1937), was music publisher based in London. He was founder of Elkin & Co. and friend of the composer. 

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