Bath and its orchestra

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

This piece, on Bath and its orchestra, is one of many in which Brian discussed the desirability of properly founded municipal orchestras.

I have never been to Bath, which fact may perhaps qualify me to speak of the principle of orchestra maintenance. Bath is either typical or unfortunate, for I rarely pick up a paper without reading that its orchestra has either been engaged or dismissed. An explanation probably is that people dwelling at Bath are not quite sure about the value of music as an aesthetic accompaniment to the sheltered lives of some of the city’s residents; while as for the rest, they dispute among themselves as to the ‘letting’ power of music during the season.

We are told that an orchestra was established in Bath in the days of Beau Nash; but why repeat the doubtful truth, for if there was a band, the members of it perchance ‘doubled’ on a job in the kitchen? That was relatively the position of players in the days of Beau Nash; and people who have a like regard for the exponents of music can still be found in the ‘cultured’ centres of England. Can we ever hope for a crusader to come out of the West and proclaim a permanent orchestra on a twenty years’ plan? and have done with those pottering engagements for one or two seasons, which are only suitable for resorts that change nine-tenths of their population every fourteen days.

I am not unaware of the difficulties that beset a group of persons in a town seeking the establishment of an orchestra: they are often daring in their statements, and sometimes abusive of those who are almost persuaded. They should proceed by slow steps to the ultimate goal. If a townsman or a councillor is found admiring flowers in the parks, provided at communal expense, it would only need gentle persuasion to take him down the path to the empty pavilion where music might be heard. Of course, music has not the enduring quality of fossils in the town museum or of novels in the library, so the man might still need a little coaxing.

Still, I must admit that the omens are not propitious. Years ago, in musical Yorkshire, they established a permanent municipal orchestra, and it was proclaimed that the movement would soon spread south, east and west; but in point of fact, only one municipality followed suit, while in the city of light itself the terriers fought with such venom over the question that simple music-loving citizens had to conceal their identity1. The position is that the provision of music is a social service not forced on municipalities by the Government: so when the new council comes in. pledged to economy, it either refuses to move forward to new expenditure for music, or seeks to lessen the amounts of present commitments!

So, what will you? a musical Dictator in Whitehall imposing his will on reluctant municipalities, and thus bringing us a step nearer revolution; or adherence to the present system, under which one has at least the privilege of pointing the finger of scorn at presumably non-musical councillors!

  1. The "permanent municipal orchestra" was in Leeds; the municipality that followed suit was Sheffield ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, July 1936, pp. 833–835