Bennett the journalist

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Cheap reprints of musical literature, published under an appropriate general heading, would be welcomed by the present growing body of students of music, too many works by distinguished authors and composers are unavailable, except at the British Museum and at similar not easily accessible places. One such work, Joseph Bennett’s Forty years of music, came recently under my hand1, and I find it excellent as a book of reference: moreover, it is interesting in giving us glimpses of Sullivan passing along life’s way and in presenting us to the great JW Davison, the self-conscious music critic of The times, who edited and owned what from presentday standards was a poor rag called _The musical world_2.

Hueffer, another Times critic, had a shot at weekly musical journalism on his own, but his paper, though more pretentious than that of Davison, soon petered out3. With evidence of these and other similarly produced magazines, we must conclude that musical journalism is beyond the ken of music critics of the eminent variety. Bennett tells us of the failure of a really great effort at musical journalism, backed by a firm of music publishers of infinite resources: but that died in infancy, probably because its chief nurse was a famous music critic who was thought to have an overwhelming following4. Bennett laments that if the music publishers had only carried the baby for another year, it might have lived to a lusty youth.

Bennett has an interesting chapter showing the incorruptibility of musical criticism in England: but it makes rather sad reading, because of the persons involved. We see the approach of Samuel Wesley bearing timidly his offering, also the discomfiture and hasty departure back to Germany of Henry Hugo Pierson, whose cash was diverted to a charitable cause. But why should musicians think that music critics could be anything else than honest? Perhaps at one time some were not. Ernest Newman told us recently that some artists persist in thinking that music critics are ‘approachable’ if proper methods are used. A certain lady invited him to dine à deux at a fashionable hotel: his reply in French — J’aime votre joue sanglante’ — must have seemed enigmatical, but it translates into quite understandable English.

But musical journalism has never had much influence on music, and Bennett’s book would not be worth reprinting except for those parts that tell us something incidental to Chopin, Mendelssohn, Verdi, Schumann, Brahms, Berlioz, Wagner, Liszt, Gounod, Paganini, Thalberg, Sims Reeves, Wesley and Best. These were men who either lived in or visited England during the long Victorian age, which infallible youth calls upon us to despise.

  1. Bennett (1831-1917) was a noted Victorian critic and librettist of Sullivan’s Golden legend and Hamish MacCunn’s recently-revived Jeannie Deans↩︎

  2. Davison (1813-1885) was known for his disapproval of such modernists as Schumann, Gounod and Wagner. His The Musical world folded in the 1880s: the journal for which Brian wrote in 1904-1908 revived its title and format. ↩︎

  3. Francis Hueffer (1843-1889) was an early authority on the music of the Troubadours. Brian may be referring to his deputy editorship of The academy, or his volume of Musical Studies↩︎

  4. Unidentified. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, March 1936, p. 490