A British musical league

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Brian, ever mindful of the problems of British composers, often pressed for a revival of the British Musical League:

Perhaps I am a trifle jealous of the artist, who is often aided by judiciously placed press-matter, and in America by costly advertisements. No such course is open to American or to English composers, who are left to the casual notices of critics, when space can be spared from the mention of artists, the reviews of books, and appreciation of gramophone records. I remark also that rarely is the quality of the music spoken of more than once, though the artist gets away with it every time! I do not wish to be ungracious, but composers do provide the material, good or bad, out of which the Shaws weave some very comfortable garments, and through which the favoured few among artists live in affluence. What baffles me considerably is that neither in England nor in America is there a society approximating to the German Allgemeine deutsche Musikverein, which exists for the purpose of bringing forward the works of unknown and little-known German composers. Something similar was attempted when the Musical League, more than twenty-five years ago, gave festivals in Liverpool and Birmingham. It included among its members many musical notabilities, and certainly it should never have been disbanded, for good work lay before it.

What Germany would have done without its Musikverein, and the influence of Liszt, cannot well be estimated: it became the centre of German musical culture. All that is best in present-day German art was heard recently at Zurich, including, may I gallantly say, the work of Germany's most brilliant woman composer, Trude Rittmann, a young lady of twenty-four1. Other works were by men known and unknown in England, and I noted one by Wolfgang von Bartels2, whose music to Galsworthy's beautiful mystic play, (‘The Little Dream’, was an outstanding feature when that play was given in Manchester twenty-six years ago3).

The drift of my remarks is that similar good work could be done in England by a new Musical League. I suggest a revival of the old league by those who played their part for the two successful festivals held in Liverpool (1909) and Birmingham (1913). They are, I believe, quite free from official association with either the BBC or the Triennial Festivals. It may be that Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Hugh Allen, Sir John McEwen, Sir Granville Bantock, Sir Landon Ronald, are higher placed than they were twenty-five years ago, but a committee comprised of these men would at least win the trust of the young composer.

  1. This name is an enigma to me - any information gratefully accepted! ↩︎

  2. (1883-1938). The work in question may have been his Frauentanz for baritone, chorus and orchestra. ↩︎

  3. It looks as if Brian should have written ‘twenty-one’ - authorities seem to agree that Bartels’ music was first used in a production in 1911. ↩︎

Musical opinion, July 1932, pp. 826–827