George Henschel

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Good luck took me home early that evening when dear old George Henschel was singing again before the microphone. I had not heard his voice for several years, but it bore all the traits of kindliness I recognised when he received me so pleasantly at his studio9. Sir George was then in high spirits and very communicative, and I left him with a sheaf of happiest memories. He was born a matter of eightyfour years ago at Breslau in Silesia10, but years go for little with men such as he. On the other hand, fiftyseven years in England have made him very English.

Talking no more of years or ages, I have a delightful recollection of George Henschel singing the title-role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Up to his time the oratorio had grown to be sung in a traditional style, after the manner of a Church service, hut his interpretation changed all that! Another impersonation I well recall is that of Mephistopheles in Berlioz’s Faust. So I am not surprised to learn that he is always singing, as he was when he showed me in and showed me out.

I should like also to tell those who have come after something of the Henschel Orchestra and Symphony Concerts which ran at St James’s Mall in London, many years before Wood had begun his career at Queens Hall. In those days orchestral music in London was a triangular affair between Manns at the Crystal Palace, Henschel and his orchestra, and the Royal Philharmonic Society. His knowledge of Brahms and Wagner is profound, and extends to the smallest detail of their works; and an abiding memory is his singing of the part of Hans Sachs in a concert performance in Leipzig before Die Meistersinger had reached the stage.

He has written large-scale orchestral and choral works; and as a singer of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, with himself as piano accompanist, his fame is a matter of history. Of the many published songs he has written, Young Dietrich is the best known. Like Schönberg, Wood and Berners11, SirGeorge Henschel is a painter of distinction, and to this consoling art he has of late years devoted the hours formerly given to conducting. He is said now to be writing his autobiography in doggerel verse under the title of ‘Young Blood’. The musical life of England is all the richer for George Henschel.

  1. There seems to be no means of putting a precise date on this meeting. ↩︎

  2. Henschel, naturalized in 1884, knighted in 1914, died later this same year [1934]. In his astonishingly active life, he had not only been the first Hans Sachs (at the age of 18!). but the first conductor of the Boston Symphony orchestra, as well as a pretty prolific composer whose music, one suspects, cannot be as uninteresting as its neglect would suggest. His Musings and Memories (1918), a book of reminiscences, contains fascinating chapters about holidays spent with Brahms, with detailed records of their conversations. ↩︎

  3. How many other critics of the time would so easily have lumped these names together? ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, April 1934, p. 591