Protecting British musicians’ jobs

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

The Incorporated Society of Musicians was trying to limit the number of visiting foreign virtuosi in an attempt to ‘protect’ the jobs of British musicians.

Despite the alleged phlegm of the Englishman, he can be made to follow a craze very successfully. A large section of our public was like clay in the hands of Lord Northcliffe, who, notwithstanding his own pronounced nationalism, herded thousands into Albert Hall to hear Marcel Dupré, a Frenchman then almost unknown, play the organ. I do not think the cult of the organ was advanced one iota in the process. The same thing happens with tenors and conductors: not to mention symphony orchestras and eminent composers on the stage at the Coliseum. The fervour dies down and soon we are as we were, with rows of empty stalls at concerts of pure music. The only thing that would happen if guest-artists were excluded would be the disappearance of those occasional outbursts of musical fervour which may or may not add a few steadfast adherents to the cause.

Probably this is pure pessimism, for by some means or other music has advanced considerably during the past seventy years, and will continue to do so notwithstanding all efforts to restrain the exposition of it within national limits. The work of Wagner, Berlioz, Liszt, Brahms, Strauss and Elgar defies restraint: and somehow or other we shall succeed in hearing the best exponents of their art. In contrast to the policy of the ISM, I should like to allude to the spirit of enterprise in music shown by guest-artists who subsequently settled amongst us, - August Manns and Charles Hallé.

Going further back, we have John Christian Bach, the youngest and favourite son of the Immortal John Sebastian, who in twenty years accomplished more for music in London than any society ever has yet done. He spread a love for genuine music in London by making instrumental music popular, and was the first public performer on the piano in London. As if to rebuke the ISM for its attitude, which in its ultimate conclusion postulates independence of all foreigners, there was broadcast on Sunday, January 3rd, a performance of several orchestral symphonies, a piano concerto and some songs by John Christian Bach1. Mr Percy Pitt conducted. Of course, members of the ISM are quite entitled to take up any attitude they choose towards foreign music and musicians: but it remains to be said that their view is not endorsed by all English musicians.

  1. Brian had considerable admiration for the music of JC Bach, and wrote a feature article on it in Musical Opinion for July 1929. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, February 1932, p. 395