Politics of music

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

I have alluded above1 to what I think is becoming a menace to musical life in England. It seems to me that our musical youth and our amateurs are all being tailored by the window-dressers of Langham Place, and if things continue as they are now going our music will take the form laid down by those propagandists who think they are on safe ground when repeating in spirit what has gone forth from the GHQ of music in England.

Where are the rebels? men who have made music live through the ages. Any tendency towards musical despotism eventually produces sterility, for the obvious reason that independent thinking is not encouraged. Certainly our Press is fast becoming the greatest enemy of music, for so many writers now run in double harness, and only rarely does one read anything that does not concern a past or a future broadcast. Obviously, then, it follows that what has found favour in the eyes of one becomes the faith of most others. That I think is where the danger lies; and, subject to the inevitable changes coming from health and death, what we now enjoy or endure must go on, for with the BBC there is no Dissolution, — only a Commission, seemingly composed of ex-Civil Servants, and they are renowned for taking the safe course, which means No Change.

There is, however, one man — Thomas Beecham — who has the ear of the news-editors, and they print what he says without deference to their own music ‘columnists’. My unfortunate reflection, however, is that Thomas Beecham is like Bernard Shaw, both whip us only to the point of a pleasant and warming tingle. We are amused, and there’s an end on’t: no marching on Westminster and no offer to take the Premiership of music for the next five years.

  1. In a remarkably acerbic few paragraphs entitled ‘British Music and its Patrons’, reprinted in Volume I of the Selected Writings. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, November 1935, p. 109