Student performances of Beethoven, Delius and Wolf

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

I have previously noted Brian’s lively interest in musical events at the RAM and RCM, and his August 1934 column led off with an account of their recent performing achievements

Recent events at the Royal Academy and the Royal College of Music must give satisfaction to all who have at heart the welfare of music in England. That such a difficult opera to mount and produce as Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet should have been assailed by students of the Royal College is as astonishing as was the successful performance. Twenty years ago it would have been regarded as ‘impossible’. The opera itself was unfortunate also, for Delius himself told me that for a year it lay unopened on the desk of the intendant of a German opera house to whom he had sent it. But it is worthy of all the eulogies since bestowed upon it: the work is one long dream of loveliness. The famous entr’acte, the Walk to the Paradise Garden, was not in the original score, but was added at the suggestion of Delius’s friend, Sir Thomas Beecham. It is one of the greatest moments in orchestral music, and Beecham drew many disciples to Delius by including the beautiful poem in his programmes. I regard it as the finest pearl in all his works.

At the Royal Academy of Music, the serial performances of the complete string quartets of Beethoven, given by students of the ensemble class, constitute an achievement of which the directorate may be justly proud. The later quartets are among the supreme efforts in music, and a climax to the astounding genius of a composer whose art while he lived never ceased to develop. Beethoven’s colossal sense of architecture becomes core and more amazing as he moves through these later works, and he shows himself again the greatest master in musical strategy. I have recently1 had my attention drawn to the marvels of the slow movements in the Bruckner symphonies, and some of them certainly are astonishing: but if we class them as marvellous, then language fails us to describe the slow movements of these last Beethoven quartets.

They are miraculous: nothing like them has been known before or since. It was illuminating to give footnotes in the programme showing the contemporary works on which Beethoven was engaged when the quartets were being written: it was no less justice for Herbert Withers to describe the appalling poverty and circumstances in which the works were written. It was all well done, down to the smallest thing; and our thanks must take the form of asking for similar performances of the string quartets of Mozart and Schubert, two other men who bore a cross for music. I know no better place for the performance of these quartets than Duke’s Hall, where the atmosphere is decidedly sympathetic: here was no old man’s quartet, each player bearing the serious halo of tradition: rather there was youth, lithe as a gazelle, playing with all tenderness and colour these divine works.

The climax was reached at the RAM at the first performance of Hugo Wolf’s opera, Der Corregidor given entirely by the students and their professors, their devotion to the task going, as I understand, to the production of costumes and scenery. This self-help won a great reward, showing the vitality and broad outlook of our senior service in the cause of music. The success of Der Corregidor suggests further exploration into the unfamiliar and unknown.

  1. Brian is talking in relative terms — he had been advocating Bruckner for several years already ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, August 1934, p. 937