Havergal Brian and Leslie Head

Lewis Foreman

Havergal Brian and Leslie Head - Lewis Foreman Lewis Foreman introduces his correspondence with Havergal Brian, which took place between 1969 and the composer’s death in 1972. It accompanied the planning and organising of the Kensington Symphony Orchestra’s pioneering concerts which included music by Havergal Brian.

Before setting my correspondence with Havergal Brian into context, I hope readers will not be too bored by a brief fragment of musical autobiography to try to set my personal scene some thirty to thirty five years ago. I think younger admirers of Brian in particular need to appreciate how we felt then, before we can sensibly discuss the semi-professional performances of Brian’s music, which were the raison d’etre of our correspondence.

It is difficult to carry oneself back to the musical climate of the early 1960s, indeed before the Havergal Brian Society (and many other composer societies) was formed. At this time a much narrower repertoire of music was apparent and, when BBC interest was turning to the then European avant garde, it took enthusiasts a long time to effect what was a major cultural change by programming the early works of Elgar or Bax (almost unheard) or the revival of Stanford and Parry. For example the revival of Moeran’s Symphony in G minor was a notable event for British music lovers; at that stage it was unknown to most listeners. Yet there were knowledgeable and persistent producers in the BBC - including, of course, Bob Simpson - who were able, over perhaps twenty years, gradually to programme many of the big works including for example Brian, Bantock’s Omar Khayyam and Holst’s Cloud Messenger. Even George Lloyd, who in the 1960s many were not disposed to take seriously, was revived by a BBC house orchestra and its conductor Edward Downes.

I suppose my interest in Brian was first stimulated by the World premiere performance of the Gothic Symphony at the Central Hall Westminster, an occasion I am afraid remembered more vividly for the occasion than the music itself. In particular, the composer was in the audience and a steady procession of admirers stepped up to ask him to sign their programmes.
That was on Saturday 24 June 1961. The following year in that same hall, the Kensington Choir and Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leslie Head give the first London performance of Sir Arthur Bliss’s Coventry Festival commission, the choral work The Beatitudes. At that it time I knew neither Brian nor Leslie Head, but it was Leslie Head’s interest in pioneering programmes that brought me to visit and correspond with Brian during the last years of the composer’s life.

During the 1960s I voraciously explored music, and my list of works I felt I must hear became enormously long (disappointingly, still a few works remain on it, unheard). My personal discovery of music came about while I was at school with a couple of experiences that had the force of a blinding revelation - true "Road to Damascus" stuff. Others have told me they had similar experiences. The experience was not dissimilar to falling in love, and struck with similar force and unexpectedness. Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony, Walton’s First, Vaughan Williams’ Fifth, Sibelius’ First and Finzi’s Dies Natalis were all grist to my mill. These works, first experienced in middle or late teens, have never lost their power to enthral.

I only came gradually to Brian, largely because the music was not played or recorded, though I certainly worked hard at a limited repertoire of scores. Possibly it was Dr Merryheart that was my first love, and I still find myself whistling it round the house. But I very much wanted to hear the music for myself, for there appeared very little satisfactory commentary about it, and what there was, I did not altogether trust. This was an experience quickly extended to a large number of other composers. However, it was some time before I was led to the option of trying to put on concerts in order to explore this music, and recordings, including 78s and foreign LPs, initially yielded a rewarding harvest. The short-lived record library at the American Embassy and Hammersmith public library (then still lending 78s) found me avid users. It was a wonderful self-education which, in the space of perhaps three years, allowed me to teach myself much of the then acknowledged British and American music. But there was no Brian.

Then I became aware that there were collectors of off-the-air material, and I met a remarkable audio engineer, W H Troutbeck, whose business included the cutting of acetate discs. I soon became aware that he numbered among his clients Edmund Rubbra, Sir Adrian Boult and Harriet Cohen, the pianist. He was willing to act as intermediary with these and other artists to seek permission for their recordings to be cut for other customers. And so I managed to acquire some Brian; and also by swapping tapes with other enthusiasts it was possible to illuminate many of those recesses of musical history which had previously proved impregnable. Thus some Brian came to be added to my repertoire, and to my "singing in the bath" musical stock, and whetted enthusiasm for further investigation.

In due course I met the conductor Leslie Head and his Kensington Symphony Orchestra. This orchestra was a mixture of students and good amateurs, and had notable professional stiffening for their public concerts. Coups had included the first UK performance of the full version of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. Some very famous names had been associated with it, for example John Georgiadis had led the orchestra in the late 1950s, and it was a significant pioneering musical force for over a quarter century, only ending in 1985, among the last productions being staged performances of Stanford’s opera Much Ado. The orchestra still exists, recent performances including a notable concert performance of Korngold‘s Die tote Stadt, but Leslie Head’s exploring zeal has never really been matched.
L istening again to the tapes of those early concerts, one is amazed at how much was achieved, at how good the best performances were, and even when the playing was below par, how wonderfully felt-through were Leslie Head’s interpretations, in what were effectively creator performances. Some later performers of these works who were hailed as pioneers were actually building on Leslie’s example, for the tapes of many of his performances later became the demo-tapes which were used to promote professional performances and recordings of this repertoire, particularly Bax. But to listen to Leslie’s performances of say Elgar’s King Olaf, Bax’s Spring Fire, Stanford’s Requiem and Bliss’s Adam Zero was to encounter a musician who was a natural in the repertoire from the point of view of tempo, style and balance. Charles Corp singing "King Olaf’s Dragons" in Leslie Head’s 1973 performance of King Olaf for me still catches more of the excitement of Elgar’s score than any other performance.

Was Brian best-served by pioneers who were less than technically top-line? In my view he was, for without those performances there would have been much slower progress and, although a certain body of negative criticism would have been avoided, to achieve performances during the composer’s lifetime seems to me something very worthwhile. As I have already argued, there were many positive aspects of Leslie Head’s work, in the case of Wine of Summer not the least being the discovery of the wonderful young baritone soloist who was none other than Brian Rayner Cook.

Leslie was perhaps best-known for the KSO’s associated opera company, Opera Viva, which in its day drew considerable critical bouquets. Its production, by Tom Hawkes, of Louisa Miller, found Andrew Porter writing in the Financial Times "Leslie Head was a true Verdian conductor and the production one that any German opera-house would be proud to possess." The company came to assume the role of helping young singers over the abyss between finishing their studies and establishing themselves on the operatic scene.

I was only intermittently associated with the operatic side of Leslie’s activities, although this included no less a work than Berlioz’s Les Troyens à Carthage with a then unknown Sarah Walker. But, in 1983, Opera Viva won the Westminster Arts Council’s then annual promotion of one of its funding clients in a distinctive concert, and I devised a programme of extracts from British operas written between 1876 and 1916 which was subsequently issued on two LPs (Opera Viva OV 101/2). I only mention this interest in opera because, as we shall see, Leslie was to put on two concert performances of operas by Brian which in their day allowed one to gain some idea of Brian’s operatic achievement.

The first full programme I ever proposed to Leslie Head was for the concert given in Kensington Town Hall on 11 December 1969. To my suggested programme of Stanford’s Clarinet Concerto, Brian’s Wine of Summer and Bax’s Seventh Symphony, Leslie added what was only the second UK performance of Walton’s Capriccio Burlesco, which at that time had still not been published. This was an enormously ambitious undertaking on what was a minute budget - I seem to remember the total outlay was £165!

The problem was that there were no performing materials for Brian, and if it were to be played there was no option but to prepare them oneself. This took me to John Davies, Music Librarian at the BBC, and from time to time bassoonist in the KSO. In those days Davies ran a liberal BBC regime which, without direct cost to the BBC, underpinned much of the pioneering by organisations such as the KSO, and thereby has an honourable name in the development of the wider repertoires with which we are familiar today. Without him the KSO performances of Brian could never have come to fruition. Sadly, he was to die all too soon, on 31 August 1972 (the KSO promoting the only memorial concert on 5 March 1974, broadcast on BBC Radio London).
I t became apparent that the BBC Music Library had passed some of the Brian material required on to the British Museum (now British Library) and once I was able to assure John Davies that the performance was "on" he undertook to get a microfilm from the BM more quickly than would have been possible if I had applied direct (in those days there were long delays with such services). Many questions; the only thing to do seemed to be to go to see the composer, which Leslie and I did in July 1969. Brian wrote within a few days:

11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, 16 August 1969
Dear Mr Foreman, Recently when you and your colleague were here concerning ‘Wine of Summer’ I omitted to tell you that a vocal Score of the Symphony, originally with the Full Score, is now at the British Museum . I understand that vocal Score was thought to be sketches of the Symphony hence its presence in the ‘BM’
Best wishes, Sincerely, Havergal Brian

Subsequently I went to see Brian again, with a further list of points Leslie wanted raised. While these were mostly to do with the availability of scores there was one issue which intimately concerned the performance. The score just said voice - we needed to know whether Brian wanted a baritone or a contralto. I put the question and Brian looked at me in disbelief as if we were not speaking the same language. "But this is a philosophical work" he said "I’ve never heard a woman philosophise"!

11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, 27 Oct. 1969
Dear Mr Foreman, About ‘Wine of Summer’. This is described for Baritone & orchestra. The vocal Score (for the singer) was mistakenly sent by the BBC to the B. Museum. A week ago I signed an authority for the Librarian of the BBC (Mr Davies) to obtain from the B. Museum such music of mine as was required by the B.B.C. So there should be no difficulty of you obtaining the Vocal Score of ‘Wine of Summer’. I explained to the librarian of the BBC over the phone what had happened and what was required for the Vocalist Singing in Wine of Summer. I hope this will help you.
Sincerely, Havergal Brian

As the score and the vocal score were obtained and I started to write the parts, I kept Brian informed of progress.

[post card - a coloured photograph of Stonehenge]_
11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex
Thank you & delighted with your news. Shall be glad to see you anytime - other than Sat or Sunday - after 2 any afternoon.
HB, 3rd Nov 1969_

I went to see Havergal Brian again.

11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, 10th Nov 1969
Dear Lewis Foreman, Let me correct a mistake I made yesterday. It was not a friend of yours who wrote to me from America but a friend of yours who gave my address to the correspondent who wrote to me.
We were glad of you visit. When you come again please ask me to show you the photos in my room of Richard Strauss and Hans Richter.
About the Douglas poem. The verses are of ten lines each. If you have a permit for the Reading Room of the B.M. why not consult the poem obtainable there? If you have such a permit you can obtain a temporary permit to the Reading Room at the Secretary’s Office by calling and asking for it. I am sending what you asked me to write for the programme of the Concert on Dec 11th. I have omitted all academical references to the Symphony - written [so] that any and all can understand. I will look up the Douglas letter giv[ing] permission to use his works and send you a copy of it.
Sincerely, Havergal Brian

[Brian’s hand, in pencil]
_I Symphony ‘Wine of Summer’.
The poem ‘Wine of Summer’ by Alfred Douglas must have been written in Sussex, for years ago he lived with his mother the Marchioness of Queensbury at a house not far from Lewes. The poem is of a subjective Nocturnal type quality distinction such as is met with in much of Shelley’s poetry - particularly the Indian Song ‘I arise from dreams of thee’. Th6 word ‘Wine’ only occurs once in ‘Wine of Summer’ and has no relation to the Common Noun of that name.
The Symphony was composed at Upper Norwood: the first sketches were finished on Sunday April 18 1937.

II The Symphony is Scored for a large modern orchestra and Baritone soloist.
It opens with a short quiet passage for the orchestra leading to the theme announced by the Soloist with orchestra to the opening words of the poem: "The Sun holds all the earth / and all the Sky" On this theme the Symphony continues the music varied by changes of rhythm and tonality, but interrupted by several dramatic episodes by the orchestra. The climax of the Symphony is contained in the closing bars where the Soloist sings: ‘I must hence. / Far off I hear night / Calling to the Sea’ accompanied by the full power of the orchestra in which is heard broken fragments of the opening theme of the Symphony_.

11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, 14’ Nov. 1969
Dear Lewis Foreman, I would be glad if in my writing about the Symphony requested by you an alteration might be made by you.
I wrote____passages apart from several interruptions from the orchestra alone or something like that
I wish to alter it to:—
apart from several important passages for orchestra alone which emphasise the argument of the poem
I am puzzled how the close of the Cadenza for Solo Violin got onto the Clarinet stave.
Please make sure[?sense] of my errors and correct.
If it is no trouble I should like to see a proof of the writing about the poem & Symphony.
In my reference to Shelleys famous poem ‘I arise from dreams of thee’ It is labelled by Shelley Indian Serenade please see I’ve written correctly. I enclose a copy of the Douglas letter you need.
Sincerely, Havergal Brian

[Havergal Brian longhand copy]_ _ Copy of Douglas Letter
1 St Ann’s Court, Mizells Avenue, Hove 2, Sussex, May 17’ 1937
Dear Mr Brian, I understand you want a letter giving my formal permission to use the words of my poem ‘Wine of Summer’. Accordingly here it is and please take it that you are at liberty to use my words to set to music in the case of’Wine of Summer’ or any other of my poems or Sonnets. By all means come any day that suits you by the train you suggest. If you give me a couple of days notice I shall be delighted to give you lunch & we can go to Murdoch first. But I understand that this will not be before July. All best wishes & lam greatly looking forward.
Yours ever Alfred Douglas

At about this time I published an article about Brian’s symphonies ("The Symphonies of Havergal Brian" Tempo Autumn 1969 no 33 pp 24-30), and I sent a copy to Brian.

11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, 21st November1969
Dear Lewis Foreman, I am surprised & overwhelmed this morning by so unexpected tribute by you on my Symphonies. Bless you & thank you. To coincide with what you & Leslie Head are doing & what you have done for the Douglas Symphony is most appropriate and I hope it will be appreciated in the performance in the Concert on Dec 11th at Kensington.
Sincerely, Havergal Brian

11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, Sunday Night Nov 23 1969
Dear Lewis Foreman, Forgive my slowness. I did not find your letter & programme until last night when I was looking at ‘Composer’. All that you said is splendid & has my approval.
So I can only hope that your enthusiasm and Leslie Head’s will have great success.
If you can send me a couple of those red printed handbills I shall thank you.
Best wishes, Kindest greetings, Sincerely Havergal Brian

Brian sent a copy of the handbill for the concert to Harold Truscott at Huddersfield, whose response Brian sent on to me.

11 Atlantic Court, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, 28 Nov l965
Dear Lewis Foreman, Thank you for the Hand Bill. I sent on several weeks ago to Harold Truscott & I enclose his letter because I know nothing about tapes; only that you have promised me a tape of ‘Wine of Summer’. I shall be pleased if you will send me two copies of the Programme of the Concert on Dec 11 when ready. I hope you checked all that I quoted from Douglas poem for I find myself making slips.
Best wishes, Sincerely, Havergal Brian

Enclosed was the following letter from Truscott to Brian (reproduced by permission of Guy Rickards on behalf of Margaret Truscott)

School of Music, College of Technology, Huddersfield, Yorks, 25/11/69.
Dear Havergal, many thanks for letter.
We know about the concert with Your ‘Wine of Summer’. What an ambitious programme. I shall not be able to attend the concert, but I would very much like a taped recording of the Stanford Concerto, Your No. 5 and the Bax No. 7. The Stanford is a magnificent work, which I heard Fred. Thurston do on two occasions, and I would love a recording of it. The Bax No. 7 I only heard once, at its first London performance, and I thought it splendid then. And your No. 5 - well, you know what I think of that. I do not know who would be in charge of the recording - perhaps Bob Simpson? - But I would willingly supply a tape or pay for the copy, whichever is preferred.
I do hope it all goes well. Best wishes to Mrs. Brian and you, Sincerely, Harold.

I am most grateful to Jean Furnivall for her enthusiastic agreement to the publication of Brian’s letters to me - LF