Memento mori: Mrs Samuel Courtauld

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Mrs Samuel Courtauld was the inaugurator, along with Malcolm Sargent, of the Courtauld-Sargent concert series, which flourished for several years after her death, and of whose adventurous programmes HB greatly approved.

The death of Mrs Samuel Courtauld came as a painful surprise to a great musical public, who had only during the past few years been made aware of her influence for good in the art; and it must remain an abiding sorrow to these whose work and position she had advanced by her magnanimous efforts. We are told, rather inelegantly, that her attachments and activities were in no way ‘shoddy’: it were better said that her instincts in music were true and direct and her sympathies as wide as her kindness. Of the latter I give a simple instance.

Although she can have only known my name, and probably may have heard a little of my music, I was often the recipient of a picture postcard from her when abroad, and on two occasions I received autograph letters asking me to attend her receptions at Portman Square. These things may have been common: I do not know: but I choose to think that Mrs Courtauld had a divining spirit in music that looked beyond the work of those who were already on the road to recognition and performance. I regret now that I never went to Portman Square: my excuse to myself was the work of the morrow, but may it not have been a double dose of that fatal hesitancy that does not lead men to success?

I did not attend the memorial service to Mrs Courtauld primarily because I feared a similar experience to that which I have suffered on previous occasions of a like nature. Perhaps my fears were ill founded, but it is a fact that what should be a meeting of friends silently and decorously offering their homage, has developed into a society function. It is time that someone protested. I find the press photographers and reporters in force at the entrance to the church, and they have no compunction in approaching those who are presumably mourners for their names, how to spell them, and distinctions (if any).

To this is often joined execrable singing from a badly balanced choir, indifferent organ playing, and the clergy fussy and pleased with a congregation of so many notabilities, often the address is ill conceived and inappropriate, considering the varied religious beliefs of those present. I shall welcome the day when the memorial service reverts to what it was, more or less, only a few years ago: a gathering of distant relations and friends who for various reasons find it impossible to be at the committal.

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, February 1932, pp. 397–8