The rediscovery of The Tigers

David J Brown

David J Brown From Newsletter 14, November/December 1977

I must delay no further in telling you the wonderful news that the full score of The Tigers, Havergal Brian’s first, most spectacular and strangest opera, has been recovered completely intact and undamaged after being lost for perhaps 30 years. It happened as follows:

Several people, including Malcolm MacDonald at the January 1977 Meeting [of the Havergal Brian Society], had suggested that The Society should offer a reward for information leading to the location and recovery of Brian’s ‘lost scores’, of which the full orchestral manuscripts of The Tigers and Prometheus unbound are only the largest and most important of many. During this year we received an anonymous donation of £500 for the express purpose of a reward fund. Accordingly, towards the end of November, as a first step to publicising this as widely as possible, we sent letters to the editors of over a dozen music and record magazines announcing the reward and mentioning these two works by name. By now the letter may well have appeared in several places, but on the morning of 7 December, I was unaware that it had yet been published anywhere.

I was all the more surprised, therefore, to receive a telephone call at lunchtime that day from Mr John Underwood of Southern Music publishing Co Ltd, 8 Denmark St, London to say that in answer to my letter in that day’s issue of Music week they were in possession of the score of The Tigers. I was taken aback, to say the least, and carefully inquired whether he was refering to a copy of the published vocal score. However, he confirmed that these were very large bound volumes of manuscript, clearly entitled The Tigers by Havergal Brian. Most fortunately, Denmark Street is within ten minutes walk (or, on this occasion, run) from my office, and I very soon saw for myself that at last the elusive score was missing no longer.

Mr Underwood and his colleague Mr Allan Dann were perfectly agreeable to handing the score into my keeping which they duly did later that day. It hardly needs to be said that these two gentlemen deserve our heartfelt thanks for the speed and selflessness of their response, and I am pleased to say that a recompense suitable to the spirit of the season has been made to them.

The score fitted the description which had always been given, being bound in three volumes, within massive dark green covers. The page size is 17 3/4" by 12 3/4" [approx 450mm x 330mm], volume 1 containing 156pp; volume 2, 130pp; volume 3, 174pp; and the opera is written in the familiar green ink, now slightly faded in places, on 40 stave manuscript paper throughout. It should be noted that the title The Grotesques does not obviously appear anywhere in the score. However, the much more powerful lamp that Malcolm MacDonald has in his office than I have at home has revealed that under the stuck-over leaves upon which Brian wrote the titles on the first pages of Vols 1 and 2, he inscribed The Grotesques on the original paper.

The score will, of course, be the subject of detailed analysis and examination for many years to come, but it seemed to me that the most essential initial task, apart from recording the circumstances of its rediscovery, would be firstly to reproduce any commentary Brian gives about the genesis of the work, and secondly to publish details of the instrumentation of each separate section or numbered scene of the score. This is given not only for its intrinsic interest but as a permanent printed record for anyone interested in giving a partial or complete performance in the future [and appears here].

Brian’s comments on his opera are confined to an inscription at the end of Vol 1, but fortunately this is quite explicit: ‘The sketches of the opera were written in Erdington, Birmingham (97 Edwards Rd) during 1916-1919. Five of the dances were scored at 14 Marine Square Brighton in 1922. A (vocal) piano score was (from the sketches) written at 130 Hillside, Moulsecombe, Brighton in 1926, 1927. In London the Full Score was taken in hand in the summer of 1928 (August) commencing with the second Act, then the third and finally the first Act, which was completed on Saturday afternoon July 20th 1929 at 5pm at 16 Wykeham Mansions, Rosendale Road, West Dulwich SE 21.’ In addition, the conclusion of Act 3 bears the note ‘Easter Day 1929’.

The page numbering given above comprises the total number of sides of musical manuscript in each volume. However, Vol1, which contains the Prologue and Act 1, actually has pages numbered by the composer 1-152. The discrepancy is caused by pp 81a-81d between pp 81 and 82, these being a section of the orchestral movement from the prologue known from the set of parts Brian prepared for concert performance as Wild Horsemen, entirely deleted from this concert version but known in outline from the published vocal score. These bars from Wild Horsemen which is, incidentally also so entitled on the full score, are now seen for the first time in their orchestral colour. There are no pagination problems with Vol 2, which contains Act 2 in a straightforward numbering of pp 1-130, but Vol 3 contains firstly the two dance-movements Gargoyles and Lacryma on pages numbered 1-37, followed by Act 3 which occupies 137 pages starting again at no 1.

This is very much a preliminary report on this incredible find, in which I have concentrated very largely on things previously quite unknown rather than, for example, the plot and staging details familiar from the Cranz vocal score… Now that it is at least possible for it to be performed in its entirety, we must hope that the existence of this glittering comic leviathan, this immense amalgam of cockney banter, musical parody, massive scenic effects and many-levelled balletic symbolism (is it coincidence that the poetic heart of the work, the ballet movements Gargoyles and Lacryma, consists of the coming to life, successively in malevolent and benign form, of the gargoyles on a (Gothic?) cathedral?) comes to the attention of a producer or designer whose imaginative vision matches Brian’s own.

NL14 / © David J Brown 1977

Newsletter, NL 14, 1977