Fading fame

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

The number of composers who succeed at first performances is large, and then the number diminishes steeply to the decimal point, which represents those who live for a time and those who seem destined to live while music lasts. Among these latter I place Beethoven and Brahms: my friends may make another choice. Bishop and Benedict were great in their day, but now are almost forgotten. Wagner had an hazardous climb, and was ignored by Sir George Smart when he submitted his Rule Britannia Overture, and he scaled another peak when twenty years later he conducted a Philharmonic Concert where formerly Smart had ruled.

About this time was born Oliver King, who for a time was distinguished as a pianist and composer: indeed, he was in 1883 awarded the Philharmonic prize for a Concert Overture. King’s career is typical of those of many other composers. In one sense the works of all such men are dead, but no more so than music written yesterday in no hope of performance. In the jargon of commerce, the supply is greater than the demand. The BBC is now for practical purposes a marketing board, and there may come a time when it will inaugurate concerts of former English orchestral successes: they would prove instructive, and might show that our powers of appreciation are less active than we in our hearts fondly imagine.

Might I suggest a beginning with the five piano concertos and the C minor symphony of Sterndale Bennett and the eight symphonies of George MacFarren5? And could not Sullivan be saved from eternal association with light opera by performances of his symphony in E and the cello concerto?

  1. If appearance on CD is the modern-day equivalent of a BBC broadcast, MacFarren's symphonies had to wait more than another 60 years to receive the attention HB thought worthy of them: they are now [1999] being issued on disc - not by a British company, but the German firm of CPO. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, December 1935, p. 206