Skøn kæmpe-musik uden flip / Lofty musical colossus no freak: the Schmidt performance, 1980

Jørgen Falck

Skøn kæmpe-musik uden flip / Lofty musical colossus no freak: the

Schmidt performance, 1980 - Jørgen Falck

From the Danish paper ‘Politiken’, 27 May1980, idiomatically translated by Paul Rapoport

Over the centuries people had dreamed of bringing their whole world into lofty motion with a mighty hymn carried by one thought: to praise the creator - or to sing the praises of nature, the universe, or the powers that keep our whole world together. Characteristically for our western culture, the songs of praise with such noble thoughts had to be staged in the biggest possible display of power, as we experience it in Gustav Mahler’s 8th symphony and on Whitsunday in the Englishman Havergal Brian’s colossal Gothic Symphony from 1927.

One could have expected a freak of unusual dimension. After all, a call for upwards of 1000 singers and instrumentalists is almost more than one can take seriously. And the experience in front of the heavily vibrating radio loudspeakers, which spewed out this unique concert from the Royal Albert Hall in London, was a magnificent experience! — and a great artistic triumph for Ole Schmidt, who provided the mammoth work with a performance that was if anything shatteringly distinctive. And so it was natural that the 5000 people in the hall went wild with enthusiasm after two hours of having in the literal sense been drenched in music.

First and foremost, the work is noteworthy for it, fine timing. The English Mahler, which Havergal Brian can rightly be called, links up his ideas with the same sure feeling for dramatic-psychological effect as that of the theatre’s great directors. In addition, the majority of his musical ideas - his images - sound fascinatingly original, beautiful, and captivating. Indeed, just to hold together the mass of ideas he works with is an achievement. And when he realizes his intentions with a sure command of the enormous array of human voices and instruments that he wanted to hear in a full display, we are confronted here with something mere than a phenomenon. Havergal Brian was hardly mad! He was a true musical creator, who obviously thought and acted in music.

The work’s absolute highpoint centres around the principal movement — the fourth, in which the choirs sing the Latin Te Deum text (We praise thee God). And aside from the strange middle movements, the second and the fifth, nothing is felt to be cloying. Gothic Symphony is really a monumental work and I think there are some of us who would most willingly experience it in a live — and preferably reduced — performance over here. The music is actually of such a significant inner stature that a demand for nearly 1000 participants would be unnecessary.


Newsletter, NL 29, May 1980