Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald
Until recently it has been left to Sir Thomas Beecham to enliven the world of music with jeux d’esprits, bons mots (or more colloquially, ‘wise cracks’), which newspapers all over the country quote with avidity. The observant reporter, needing variety, has now begun to put on the tape the sayings of Sir Henry Wood, and with growing success as regards quotation. At Manchester recently Sir Henry told the assembled Luncheon Club that municipalities, which already supply picture-galleries and parks, should add concert halls, permanent orchestras, and nightly concerts at popular prices. What a vision! And horse-riding in the park next morning would round off the twenty four hours splendidly.
But seriously, I am in favour of more music in the presence and less on tap, though I fear we may have to do with little of both if someone does not arise and stay war. The possibility of more music by municipalities will come when we can multiply the like of Alderman Garden of Brighton, who can get the money for all the schemes he puts forward. He may show that orchestral music is as vital as the green-belt.
But after all, how many municipalities have picture galleries and parks? Why, I occasionally pass through a number of townships in the delectable county of Oxford where they do not light the streets at night for fear of raising the rates! And the councillors are by no means uneducated men. What we want is a musical missionary who will cause these backward classes to see the light: and even if he were driven hastily from places where retired farmers and professors from the city rule the roost, he could call again in a few years time, and find the same stagnation! When Leeds first founded an orchestra, others, it was said, would soon follow; but forty years have passed, and we may well ask, Where are the others?
Unfortunately, art and aldermen do not run well in double harness. That Leeds orchestra had a sorry existence, being the shuttlecock of contending political parties, with rarely sufficient money for the necessary rehearsals. Only once since the incident at Leeds have I noticed any widespread enthusiasm for a similar enterprise, and that was when Sir Thomas Beecham got into his head the idea of orchestras and opera houses in every big city, with municipal support again! The idea was at length abandoned, but not before Sir Thomas had addressed a meeting, interested and mildly enthusiastic, in the Lord Mayor’s parlour at Birmingham.
His words were eloquent, and those present moved almost to the depths of their pockets, when the speaker, finishing, took a pipe from his pocket and nonchalantly asked, ‘Has anyone here got a match?’ A more appropriate ending would have been a march round the city. But Birmingham had to wait many years for its City Orchestra, whilst the historians still trace its inception to the man who lighted his pipe and at the same time a torch. Music everywhere is for the moment a vision. We pour out the dear old clichés about the well-equipped and long-established opera houses and orchestras of Germany, believing thoroughly in their worth: but ‘our friend on my right’ still continues to snarl, ‘And how much better off are the people in Germany for it?’
On the other hand, by La main gauche
Musical opinion, April 1937, p. 583