Malcolm MacDonald

Comment - Malcolm MacDonald

In the latest episode of Harold Truscott’s reminiscences, I find especially fascinating his disclosure that Brian planned a "Buster Keaton Overture" in response to seeing Keaton’s performance in One Week. Mr Truscott wonders what became of the portion that was written, what "other things" the music went into, and when.

Taking these questions in reverse order; the early 1920s would seem to be the most likely date for this piece — and if Mr. Truscott knows any way of determining when One Week was first released in this country, that would help to give us a terminus ante quem. There are some vague and tantalising references in the Bantock letters to several scores being worked on simultaneously at this period, though few are ever individually named: no doubt they included the Third and Fourth English Suites, the lost Tales of Olden Times, and perhaps the Symphonic Dances from The Tigers, but the Keaton Overture might be one of them. (For example, on 19 September 1921 Brian sent Bantock the completed English suite No 3 with the comment ‘I have three or four other scores on the way — I get little time for them".)

As to what the Keaton music "went into", the finale of English Suite No 3 and some parts of No 4 seem to be the only possibilities among the works we know — unless Brian made use of the material substantially later. The Scherzo of Symphony No 3, perhaps? Its symphonic scale should not conceal its fundamental kinship with the line of humorous scherzo-like works stretching from Festal Dance to The Tinker’s wedding. But it’s doubtful if we shall ever know. There are no such sketches at Shoreham — in fact I do not think anyone claims to have seen any Brian sketches whatever of earlier date than The Gothic, and those at Shoreham commence with Symphony No 2. "Sketches for a Buster Keaton Overture" should certainly be added to the list for the Society’s Investigations Officers to track down — but I can’t say I give much for their chances!

NL 35 / © Malcolm MacDonald 1981

Newsletter, NL 35, 1981