A critic’s ‘remains’

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Some words on a fellow-critic
‘Music observed’ by AH Fox Strangways, Methuen & Co, Price 6s [30p]

This book is a collection of extracts from articles written by AH Fox Strangways, whom we have known as music critic of The Observer and _Music and Letters_4. They were worth collecting and printing as a miscellany, for they disclose the mind of a connoisseur responding to the quality of the work presented. We have a surprising diversity of erudition, for the critiques are maintained above banality and mere reporting by a constant infusion of expressions drawn from other quarters than music. His common sense assures him that no criticism will be accepted as final: that no critic in his heart of hearts believes himself omnipotent or that others think as he thinks. He never hopes to equate the views of the public, for in most instance a the critic writes in direct opposition to what the hand-clapping public is supposed to express. By virtue of his knowledge and training, the critic thinks it well to suspend judgement: but when critics and audience are in accord, well, it is a case for white gloves.

These collected writings disclose a man of singularly open mind and charming character, one who is prepared to give equal consideration to anything and everything, from the early Worcester manuscript to the latest comic song, and to take his interested readers with him. The discussions on the Wesleys, Elgar and Joachim, for example, incite not only new values but new historical perceptions. Naturally, the BBC and its assumptions come up for discussion: but there is no cuffing: we are only reminded that it is a new institution, still lacking a tradition and consequently entitled to some indulgence.

Hamilton Harty’s stand in defence of the Hallé Orchestra at the time of the formation of the BBC orchestra reminds us of the pitch of perfection to which Harty had brought it, for certainly it was the only body we had that could stand abreast with the famous Continental and American Orchestras. How Harty could bring himself to leave it remains a mystery. Hans Richter, after conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bayreuth Festivals for many years, regarded his appointment to the Hallé Orchestra as the climax of his career.

Steuart Wilson, who has selected these writings for publication, has written an appropriate preface. His gleanings will certainly stimulate thoughtful musicians, whether read in bed or out of it.

  1. Fox Strangways had just retired from the editorship of Music and Letters; he remained the Observer critic until 1939, and died in 1948, aged 48. ↩︎


Musical opinion, February 1937, p. 408