The case of the two Havergals

Lewis Foreman

Lewis Foreman

A few weeks ago [1996] I visited a new postcard fair that has started to meet in West London, and among various purchases I acquired a job lot of concert programmes for £2. Among these were two wartime programmes for the Harrow Philharmonic Society. Nicely printed programmes they were too, of what appeared to be a well organised and developed organisation. In the prospectus for 1941-2, my eye was immediately caught by the name Havergal Brian. There announced for June 13 1942 was ‘Movements from English Suite No 1’. Two concerts later appeared a fascinating British programme of Stanford, Dyson, and Somervell’s ‘Normandy’ Variations for piano and orchestra. Had the concerts ever taken place? Were there any more like it?

I rang Harrow Central Reference Library, but the local history department had no files relating to wartime musical activity. However, the librarian gave me a phone number for the present Harrow Philharmonic Choir. I phoned and the secretary pointed out that the present day Harrow Philharmonic was not the same as the wartime organisation. She offered to make an announcement at the next rehearsal, and within a few days I was given the phone number of a member of the wartime choir, now 93.

I phoned the lady who was bright and vigorous in voice at least, and gave me much information about the choir. She could not remember the concert but told me that the conductor Henry Havergal (no relation to HB), then in charge of music at Harrow School, had ended his career at the Royal Scottish Academy in Glasgow. I rang the music librarian at Glasgow who told me that Henry Havergal’s widow is still alive and living in Edinburgh. The phone number was quickly forthcoming.

Nina Havergal was another delightful lady, quick in recall and a fount of knowledge. She reminded me she was Henry’s second wife and quickly pointed out there was no relationship to HB. The old Harrow Philharmonic had not survived the departure of Henry Havergal, to Winchester School, in December 1945. Yes, she had a bound volume of the programmes and they were within reach of the telephone, and yes, there was a note on the HB performance, though the date was not as announced in the prospectus. She would send me a photocopy.

So to fill in a small piece of the jigsaw of HB’s story, his only orchestral performance in Harrow, certainly while he was living there, took place in the Speech Room of Harrow School on Saturday 18 July 1942. One presumes that HB was present, though the programme gives no clue. Two movements from English Suite No 1 were given (programmed as just English Suite): ‘Characteristic March’ and ‘Valse’. The conductor contributed the following note:

‘The works of Mr Havergal Brian, now a resident of our district, ought to be better known, and I suspect that they would be better known were it not for the fact that his particular genius requires for its expression not only the full resources but the fullest legitimate technique of the modern orchestra. I have read the scores of his enormous undertakings with immense interest and I hope the performance of part of an early and relatively slight work may be a forerunner of a more ambitious essay in the future. It reflects something of the England of the more luxurious days, of thirty years ago.’

The concert in the event was an all English affair, part of the two concerts in the prospectus having been rolled up together, starting with Stanford and Somervell. The Brian was sandwiched between Dyson’s In honour of the city and Parry’s Blest pair of sirens.

The list of works performed at the end of the final season shows no other Brian and so we may conclude that an intending champion found his energies diverted into other channels; the tale of two Havergals was not to be.

NL129 / © Lewis Foreman 1997

Newsletter, NL 129, 1997