Two interpretations of The Cenci (2)

William Newman

Havergal Brian’s The Cenci and Berthold Goldschmidt’s

_Beatrice Cenci _ Part 2 : The lives and musical development of Brian Goldschmidt - William Newman

The lives of Brian and Goldschmidt

Havergal Brian was born on the 29th of January 1876 to Benjamin Brian, a potter’s turner, and Martha, his wife, in the village of Dresden, Staffordshire, now part of the sprawling conurbation of Stoke-on-Trent. He was christened William and attended local schools where he quickly displayed a love of music, having his first formal music lessons at the age of 11 8. At twelve years old, he left school and had a series of clerical jobs, none of which lasted very long 9, not least because of his obsession with music and because of a refusal to bend to the social requirements of work—an attitude which later made his life considerably more difficult than it would otherwise have been, and which can be felt in the obstinate/determined lack of attention to accepted norms in his music.

He married in 1899 and had five children, but left his wife in 1913 for Hilda Hayward, who had been a maid in his house, by whom he had a further five children. Astonishingly, the children of his second marriage were unaware of his first marriage and of the existence of their half siblings until the day of Havergal Brian’s funeral.

In 1909, a local businessman, Herbert Robinson, out of sheer philanthropy, offered Brian £500 a year to enable him to devote himself entirely to composition and, as Brian was currently earning a mere £130 a year as a representative of a timber firm, the offer was eagerly accepted. It cannot be said that this generosity spurred Brian on to greater efforts in composition and his desertion of his wife some years later led to drastic reduction in the assistance which Robinson was willing to supply.

The disruptions caused by the First World War, the responsibilities of a second family, the substantial reduction in Robinson’s assistance, his move to London and his lack of social skills put enormous financial pressure on Brian which only lessened after he gained the post of Assistant Editor of Musical opinion, which post he held from 1927 to 1940. He wrote an astonishingly wide range of articles for Musical opinion, praising, for example, Schönberg, Mahler and Bruckner long before the British musical establishment accepted them.

To make ends meet he also engaged in music copying and was responsible for preparing the percussion parts for the first performance of Varèse’s Amériques in 1925, a work which made a deep impression on him as he showed in a later article in Musical opinion 10 and which may well have had an impact on his own writing for percussion.

In 1940, Brian obtained a job in the Ministry of Supply in which he remained until 1948 when, at the age of 72, he retired with the Civil List pension with which he had been rewarded eight years previously 11. He was now free to write music full-time and this he did to an extraordinary degree, composing a further 27 symphonies and four operas before ceasing composition at the age of 92. He died, still in his full mental faculties, four years later in 1972.

Berthold Goldschmidt’s early life was very different to that of Brian’s, but it cannot be said that he suffered any less in his later life. His privileged background led him to private music lessons and, after a period at Hamburg University, he entered the Berliner Musikhochschule, the director of which at the time was Franz Schreker, under whom he studied composition with fellow students, Ernst Krenek and Alois Haba. Although Schreker’s music was by this time not as radical as it had been, he was a liberal teacher as is perhaps illustrated by the varied compositional styles of his pupils 12.

On leaving the Hochschule, his career advanced rapidly, successful compositions being followed by a publishing contract with Universal Edition and a contract as advisor, composer and conductor at Darmstadt under Carl Ebert as general director. However, at the age of 30, Goldschmidt’s buoyant career was punctured by the entry into power of the National Socialists and, at an interrogation in 1935 by a civilian member of the Gestapo, who happened to like Goldschmidt’s music, he was advised to leave Germany immediately

He came to Britain where he married Elisabeth Karen Bothe, whom he had been forbidden to marry in Germany. His early years in the UK were very difficult, but in 1944 Goldschmidt obtained a job with the BBC working for the German Service presenting music banned in Germany. He worked for the BBC until 1947, at which time he applied for and received British citizenship.

He then became best known as a conductor, particularly with the BBC Scottish Orchestra with whom he conducted the first performance outside Denmark of Nielsen’s Saul and David at 48 hours’ notice and with whom he conducted the four major orchestral works he wrote in the 1950s. He conducted the first recorded performance in the UK of Mahler’s third symphony in 1959, an event which contributed to the Mahler revival in Britain. He also acted as an advisor to Deryck Cooke on the orchestration of the reconstruction of Mahler’s tenth symphony and conducted the first performances of it.

From 1958, feeling ignored, out of sympathy with the spirit of the times and with his wife in poor health, he ceased composing for 24 years, only recommencing in 1982 as a revived interest in his music was slowly emerging. Composing vigorously thereafter, he died on 17 October 1996.

Musical development of Brian and Goldschmidt

Brian’s development as a composer is not easy to track as performances of his works remain rare, much of his work remains unpublished and seminal works, particularly from his early period, have been lost. Nothing survives from the 19th century, although, in addition to songs, a requiem had been written, and an anthem submitted for comment to Elgar had received cautious praise 14.

Brian, who had changed his Christian name to Havergal in his teens

But of more significance to his development was the impression made on him of a chance hearing of a rehearsal of Elgar’s King Olaf in Stoke Town Hall in 1896 17. By this time, Brian had undergone the only sustained personal music tuition he was ever to have, paying the pedantic Theophilus Hemmings for lessons in harmony and counterpoint.

The early Burlesque variations on an original theme (1903?) and the English suite No 1 (1902-1904?) do not reflect a distinctive style; but the reconstructed Psalm 23 (1904?

However, press comments at the time make clear that a new voice was emerging 19, though, as always with Brian, there were also less than positive reviews. In 1907-08 a Fantastic symphony was written, which for some years was known as his First symphony, the middle movement(s) of which have been lost.

There remains a mystery as to what happened to the early Brian works which were lost. Brian was notoriously, and oddly, careless with his works, having lost his first violin concerto on a train, and the whereabouts of the full score of his largest work, a massive setting of the first two acts of Shelley’s Prometheus unbound (1938-44) lasting over four hours, are unknown.

It seems possible, however, that his first wife, either accidentally or in an act of revenge, disposed of his early unpublished works. It should, perhaps, be added that Brian was convinced at various stages in his life that burglars were breaking into his house and interfering with his music 20.

Not surprisingly, Brian’s War experience was not a shining success and he was quickly invalided out of the army which he had joined as much for a source of income as anything else; but his experiences were put to good use in the writing of his comic opera The Tigers (1917-29), an extraordinary melange of burlesque, satire, grief at the suffering in the War and social and musical parody. The full score was lost (again!) but turned up in the offices of a popular music publisher in Soho in the late 1970s.

Overlapping this unlikely opera, Brian engaged himself in writing the work for which he is best known, his Gothic symphony (now known as his Symphony No 1). This massive work, lasting almost two hours and requiring some 700 performers, was completed in 1927 and, astonishingly, found a publisher in Cranz, who produced the full score in 1932. This colossal symphony in many ways stands alone in Brian’s canon, marking a quite new seriousness of purpose, but also an all-inclusive ambition (matched only by Mahler’s eighth symphony) which could hardly be repeated 21.

It is not the purpose of this dissertation to cover the symphonies of Brian 22, but the next four symphonies (1930-37) can be seen as representing a consolidation of lessons learnt in the construction of The Gothic. Leaving aside Prometheus unbound, which even Brian could not have imagined having a staged performance, a further four operas were written between 1950 and 1957 and these, together with his last 27 symphonies can be said to represent the final, incredibly productive phase in Brian’s musical output.

In this period his music, though still bearing the musical fingerprints of his earlier work, be-comes more compressed and personal in statement, with productive discontinuities (ie leaps from musical idea to idea without transitional passages), as John Pickard called them 23, present on a scale which at first seems bewildering. Similarly, Brian’s strenuous contrapuntal writing takes some getting used to, not so much because of its complexity, but rather for the difficulty in following parts aurally when often no particular line seems dominant and when a line can move disconcertingly from part to part.

Malcolm MacDonald makes the point 24 that the thick contrapuntal writing of Schönberg’s First string quartet, op 7, poses similar problems for the listener; problems which Berg helped to explain in his famous essay of 1924, Why is Schönberg’s music so difficult to understand?. Moreover, Brian’s habit of making significant musical statements in the lower depths of his orchestra requires a degree of reorientation for listeners.

Certainly, the level of inspiration in the later symphonies is uneven, but it is interesting in reading the Havergal Brian Society _News-letter_s to see how little agreement there is on which symphonies are those which could be regarded as lesser works. Certainly, none give ready access to their emotional continuity. In these later symphonies, Brian seems to be maintaining a dialogue with himself. This is not to say that he was not delighted when his later works got performances, but the ellipses so disturbingly found in much of this music are part of the character and emotional life of Brian.

It has been argued, not least by critics who cannot be bothered to undertake the research which their more illustrious predecessors did as a matter of course, that these difficulties in listening to Brian were a result of incompetence and/or his misfortune in not hearing much of his music performed. This is demonstrably not true. A late, lightweight work like the Comedy overture The jolly miller (1962) illustrates that Brian could still write much more conventionally structured music when he felt it appropriate.

He was not an easy man to understand, but for those who persisted, he was a fascinating human being. Likewise, it is hardly surprising that his music does not give up its secrets readily, but the rewards for those who persevere are not inconsiderable.

Because of their narratives, Brian’s later operas are, perhaps, more readily accessible than the late orchestral pieces, and they can help the listener to a more clear understanding of these more abstract works.

Goldschmidt’s musical development was rather more conventional and his formal musical education greatly contributed to his early, mature composition - In 1925, he wrote a Passacaglia for orchestra which won the Mendelssohn prize, the jury being the extraordinary grouping of Schönberg, Pfitzner, Schnabel and Schreker 25.

Like much of Goldschmidt s work written before 1935, the Passacaglia was thought to have been lost until a copy was handed to the composer at a press conference in 1994 26. It is an immensely assured and searching work for a 22 year old, with vivid and unusual orchestration. Almost simultaneously with this work, his first string quartet and a concert overture, Komodie der Irrungen, were written, receiving much acclaim.

His early works show a remarkable stylistic originality with direct influences difficult to discern. Certainly there is no trace of Schreker in his music, nor did he ever flirt with the serial techniques of the Second Viennese School, although he worked as a coach with singers for the first performance 27 of Wozzeck.

Although far from being a conservative figure like Pfitzner, his comments in an interview with Anne Schneider [^28] towards the end of his life are revealing: ‘I was never a twelve-tone composer, even at a time when my fellow students were in thrall to the theory. I had resolved to stick to my own course, which often caused problems vis-à-vis my colleagues, who would say: ‘Berthold, it is impossible to write like that any more’. As it turned out, I was not entirely wrong.’

One of his early influences was clearly Busoni whom he met in 1921

Although his early works showed an individual voice, they showed some generic similarities with the pre-Brecht music of Weill and some of the brittle quality of Gebrauchsmusik. Indeed, if a criticism can be made of his compositions prior to 1935, it is that the music has rather too much surface glitter and too little emotional depth, though the Passacaglia and his Piano sonata of 1929 showed a tougher approach.

On arriving in London, he continued composing, notably a Second string quartet, and completed his Ciaccona sinfonica which reflects, particularly in the short slow middle movement, a more direct response to the difficult circumstances of his life at that stage than had been apparent in most of his prior music. A more carefree score (though the subject has a anti-fascist narrative) was written as the ballet Chronica for the Kurt Joos company (originally for two pianos) in 1938 31.

In 1948 he wrote the incidental music to a broadcast of Shelley’s The Cenci for the German service of the BBC, hence creating the idea of a subject when a competition was later announced for an opera to celebrate the Festival of Britain. Between 1953 and 1955, concertos for violin, clarinet and cello were written and premiered by the BBC Scottish Orchestra conducted by the composer. Although upset by the failure of The Cenci to get a performance, he wrote his rich Mediterranean songs in 1958 and then, for reasons given earlier, ceased composing for 24 years.

In 1982, at the urging of Gervase de Peyer, for whom he had written his Clarinet concerto, he started composing again, writing a Clarinet quartet at the age of 79. As recognition increased, so Goldschmidt engaged in an extraordinary further 14 years of composition, which, though not as prolific as Brian’s final years, was at least of equal merit.

Works included two further string quartets, chamber music for a range of instruments and more orchestral songs. Music of this last period of composition shows little difference to that of his earlier British period. The music tends to be more concise than that written in Germany, though prolixity is not a vice of which Goldschmidt can be accused at any stage of is life. In general terms, despite his difficulties (and 22 members of his family perished in the Holocaust 32) much of Goldschmidt’s later music shows a diminution in the use of dissonance and a lyricism not always apparent earlier.

Goldschmidt always made clear that he did not regard himself as a political composer, maintaining that ‘in music without a text you can express nothing political’, though he added, hardly surprisingly, citing Beethoven’s Eroica, that political events can affect composers 33.

As mentioned earlier, there are elements of more direct emotion in his music than he would overtly admit, but his urbane and ironic approach to life was very different to the intensely personal approach of Brian (even though neither man wore his heart on his sleeve) and this makes much of Goldschmidt’s music more immediately accessible; the converse of which is that his music could be said to be more predictable than that of Brian, by which no value judgement is implied.

NL 145 © 1999 William Lawrence Newman

  1. Havergal Brian talking to Robert Simpson and Jeffrey Anderson in Schaarwächter, Jürgen, ed HB: Aspects of Havergal Brian (Ashgate, 1997) [hereafter ‘JS’] p121 ↩︎

  2. Eastaugh, Kenneth Havergal Brian: the making of a composer (Harrap, 1976) pp27-29 ↩︎

  3. MacDonald, Malcolm The symphonies of Havergal Brian, 3 vols (Kahn & Averill, 1974-83), III p154. See also Brian, Havergal Havergal Brian on music, Volume 1, British music, ed Malcolm MacDonald (Toccata Press, 1986) ↩︎

  4. Eastaugh op cit pp293-294 ↩︎

  5. (i) Matthews, Colin Berthold Goldschmidt: A biographical sketch, Tempo 144 (March 1983); (ii) Berthold Goldschmidt, ed Silke Hilde and Winfried Jacobs (Boosey & Hawkes, 1996) ↩︎

  6. Nettel, Reginald Havergal Brian and his music (Dennis Dobson, 1976) p13 ↩︎

  7. JS p35 ↩︎

  8. JS pp276-277 ↩︎

  9. Eastaugh op cit p230 ↩︎

  10. Though Brian’s setting of the first two acts of Prometheus unbound, for enormous forces and at over four hours in length, could well have challenged The Gothic for ambition. Perhaps the full score, like that of The Tigers, will reappear one day ↩︎

  11. Malcolm MacDonald’s fine three volume analysis of Brian’s 32 symphonies is a remarkable and perceptive achievement (MacDonald op cit↩︎

  12. JS pp93-101 ↩︎

  13. JS p399 ↩︎

  14. Keeffe, Bernard Introduction in programme for Berthold Goldschmidt: A musical celebration. Concert, Wigmore Hall London, 27 March 1997 ↩︎

  15. Goldschmidt, Berthold Berthold Goldschmidt talks about his life and music. Note accompanying the recording The Goldschmidt album, Decca Entartete Musik CD 452 599-2 ↩︎

  16. Keeffe op cit _ (28) _The Goldschmidt album p8 ↩︎

  17. Matthews, Colin Berthold Goldschmidt: Orchestral Music, Tempo 148 (March 1984) pp12-16 ↩︎

  18. Allenby, David and Keeffe, Bernard Chronological biography, in programme for concert, 27 March 1997 ↩︎

  19. The Goldschmidt album ↩︎

Newsletter, NL 145, 1999