Art rewards and values

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Art rewards and values

The rewards of literature and music vary as the winds blow. Byron averaged during the most productive period of his life £1200 a year, and then likened his publisher to Barabbas for his pains. Goldsmith was cast in a different mould, for when he received a hundred guineas for his Deserted Village, he reckoned it out at five shillings a line, and accounted himself unworthy of so great a reward. A songwriter has recently been telling a newspaper feature writer that he netted £16,000 for a war-time song, or say £1000 a line; and that the tenor who song it picked up £10,000 in gramophone royalties. In war-time it was occasionally very comforting to have a rendezvous with a music publisher.

Recounting these things will not, I hope, make serious composers weep. Hugo Wolf did not receive more than £16 for all the songs he wrote; and similarly poor Schubert, who was starved by his countrymen while living, and in death they tear him limb from limb to provide a feast for those who do not know and care less whence the music comes.

However, art values are the vital concern of civilisation, for without them all would perish; and certainly no serious musician ever expects to see art songs running neck by neck with those that sway the pulsing crowd. Their origins are as vastly different am their facial characteristics: one comes from a soul overflowing with poetry, whilst the other is a sad mixture of sob-sentiment and money-getting. The gulf between the art-song and the sob-song can never be bridged; nor will the serious composer entranced with his art ever burn with jealousy or envy the lot of his humble brother, burdened with £16,000 made out of a single son. What shall it profit a man! Johnson sat behind a screen eating scraps from the rich table provided by a publisher for the popular literary hacks of Fleet Street.

Music and money are an ill-assorted couple: but consideration of their relations might, among other things, explain the empty seats at Leeds [where Beecham had just presented a Delius Festival to disappointingly small audiences - MM]. As I see existing economic difficulties, it is a struggle between those who retain financial advantages secured during the war and those who lost them. In the case of performers of music, their popularity has been advanced by gramophone advertisement and the ease with which they can flit from one country to another. Mr James A Forsyth, somewhat complacently, tells us that visiting celebrity artists will during the season walk off with a million and a half of money. This, in my opinion, represents so much money that would he better spent in attendance at concerts given by local artists. The visiting artist has not the superlative qualities suggested by the difference in fees: they represent the spending power of people in the mass urged by a common impulse, aided by the restrictions imposed by the Home Office on the admission of other aliens. Permits follow suggestions of artistic preeminence, of the worth of which officials may be as ignorant as an Eskimo. If the artist has not been here before and has no sponsors, well, he is simply unlucky.

The unwritten masterpiece

I read recently in a western paper a very poignant article written by a man who deserves a fur coat in Fleet Street or an invitation to Hollywood. It was the tragedy of a doctor of music who had been compelled to wander the world - first class rail and boat - examining for a college of music. The plaint was, according to the emotional writer, that all the time the worthy doctor would have chosen the rugged path to fame by writing masterpieces in a lonely cot by the hillside. ‘Debunking’ is now quite a respectable word, used regularly by the best reviewers, so I may be allowed to debunk the sentiment that suggests delay in the production of masterpieces in music owing to the exigencies of travel. Poverty, real hard poverty, may thwart a man’s best efforts: but travel and comfort cannot be blamed for the masterpiece that was not written, nor can the necessity of earning a living. Masterpieces are not born of wishes, even though the wisher may bear all the insignia of learning. The most modest may at times have flights of fancy, but it is the poorest type of bunk to suggest that a man might have produced masterpieces if only he had had the leisure.

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, November 1934, pp. 110–1111