The Choral Broadcast

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

No matter who sets out to arrange an Empire broadcast of representative English choral music, the facts of inclusion and exclusion will weigh as heavily on his head as a king’s crown. Some may have thought that the recent broadcast at the Albert Hall was arranged by the Folksong Society, because of the preponderance of folk tunes; but actually it was arranged by the Master of the King’s Music [Sir Walford Davies], which will account for its tunefulness.

The idea of giving a bunch of short pieces from Plantagenet to Victorian times was most happy, though it entailed the omission of works by Byrd, Morley and Wilbye; and the continuing selection to modern times was made curious by the omission of anything representative of Elgar, a former Master of the King’s Music. The modalists seem to have secured a majority. I was astonished to see that brilliant and fascinating tune, Hunting the Hare, set down as a Welsh tune, and I will not be so ungracious as to suggest the coincidence of Sir Walford himself being Welsh; but I have convinced and corroborated myself from my youth up, when I first whistled it, that the tune is as Irish as the Shannon, and quite as beautiful.

I base my conviction on my early experience in playing Irish traditional dances2. I care little for purely literary references or authorities, but Kidson3 himself only includes the Hare among melodies doubtfully Welsh. The fact or belief that the melody was played by Welsh harpists who roamed England and Ireland proves nothing, for doubtless they supped on the music and mead of the countries they visited. The test is the construction of the melody itself, and I feel sure that it was originally a pipe tune.

The first coming of Hunting the Hare is lost in the mists of the past. It was published in England as The Green Gown in 1654 and later it appeared in other places. At the end of the eighteenth century, The Green Gown had changed into the sable of Hunting the Hare. I feel a little piqued about this latest Welsh appropriation, for if things go on like they have been going, even England will no longer stand where it did: There’s that lovely Welsh air known as The Bells of Aberdovey, said to be the work of an Englishman named Charles Dibdin and first heard on the stage of Drury Lane in February, 1785. The Land of my Fathers would perish to a man before admitting that as a fact, though they might waver if I could prove that Dibdin’s birthplace (Southampton) and place of interment (Camden Town) were within the proud Principality! […]

  1. Presumably with George Hawley’s band in Stoke. ↩︎

  2. Frank Kidson (1855-1926), a founder member of the Folk Song Society and prolific author on British folk and popular music. ↩︎

From a longer On the Other Hand item

Musical opinion, July 1938, p. 855