The Mendelssohn scholarship

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

When Cecil Rhodes left so much of his fortune to found scholarships, he is said to have expressed a hope that holders would become Colonial farmers, or perhaps seek similar robust and adventurous careers. The greater number have become teachers! When the Mendelssohn Scholarship was founded, doubtless the desire was to increase the number or quality of our native composers. How far have the pious wishes of the donors been fulfilled? Two names stand out above all others; Sullivan, who is destined to be remembered by his light operas, and d'Albert, whom one of the daily papers described as 'the famous German composer'. The others cannot be said to have distinguished themselves as composers, though, three are accounted successful teachers1.

There is one who to my mind remained a potential great conductor, - Swinnerton Heap, but the fates or interests forbade him chances and development. My powers of perception are veiled, but it seems to me that the holders of some scholarships, however marked their incipient genius, become aliens, among their own people, after-care or encouragement being too often denied them. This condition of things is not peculiar to England, and it may be politic to find an example in France. When Berlioz, on the expiry of his holding the Prix de Rome, returned to Paris, he was quickly up against the 'old gang', as Lord Randolph Churchill, the son of a duke, irreverently called the Elder Statesman who stood blocking the way for the display of what he and some others thought was political genius. Randolph was crushed but Berlioz eventually triumphed over all the pedagogues and their claims for their protégés.

  1. HB was presumably thinking of Frederick Corder, George Dyson and SP Washington. A distinguished non-holder was Percy Grainger, who was offered the award and then was refused it when he proposed to use it to study Oriental music! Composers who have gained it since Brian wrote include Malcolm Arnold and David Blake. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, April 1932, p. 590