|Havergal Brian's life|
Brian: as I knew him (3) - Harold Truscott
This article appeared in the Havergal Brian Society Newsletter 34, March/April 1980
In November 1958 the Brians moved from North Harrow to Shoreham-by-Sea on the Sussex coast. But that move was very nearly never made. In 1954 I went from individual piano and harmony teaching (which was very poorly paid) to school teaching at Sandwich Secondary Modern school. But I had no recognised teaching certificate and so, after two years at Sandwich, Kent Education persuaded me to do a course at a teachers training college. Purely to get a certificate I spent a year at Bretton Mall, which was a miserable waste of time for me and a nightmare for my wife; but I got the certificate and, as it happened, never needed to use it for, towards the end of the year, I got a post as lecturer in the Music Department of Huddersfield Technical College. This went through a period as a College of Technology and in 1970 became a Polytechnic. From there I retired as Principal Lecturer 18 months ago.
When I knew that I was going to Huddersfield, naturally I
wanted to make arrangements to sell my house at Deal. Equally naturally, I told Brian of
my plans. He was delighted for me and interested for himself and Mrs. Brian. They wanted
to move either to the sea or near it, and they both expressed interest in seeing the house
and Deal as a town. So it was arranged that they should come down for a day; this they did
and they were both enchanted (this was the word that Mrs.Brian used) with Deal and very
taken with the house, which was kept in good repair and which we had improved considerably
since we bought it in 1954. They went away to think about it, and about a week later Brian
wrote that they felt fairly sure that they would like to make the move, but that they
would like to see the house again.
From time to time Brian and I discussed composers. He had moods about this. Sometimes it was obvious that he just did not want to discuss music at all, and any attempt to do so was blocked immediately. At times he would insist on talking gardening, which was all right if my wife was present, and all wrong if she wasnt. He knew it was a subject that did not interest me, and I feel sure he got a somewhat malicious pleasure from continuing to talk about it to me. Once I set out to get a little of my own back. I have an inordinate love for silent films, and I knew from various things he had said that he had little or no interest in films at all. So, before he could start on gardening, or some other subject that bored me, I started talking about silent films; he had once said that he thought Chaplin was the best of them all not that he had seen much even of him, but it was the thing to say.
Anyway, he stood this for longer than I expected, and after about
½ an hour, he suddenly said "Youve an amazing memory and youre
very vivid, even if you do seem to have spent half your life watching films. I could
almost see what you were describing". I was taken aback, and before I could say
anything he went on: "I only once remember seeing a film that really made me laugh,
and I cant remember what it was or who was in it. It wasnt Chaplin. I do
remember that it was short, and it had to do with someone putting together a prefabricated
house, and at one point the house revolved in a gale. I nearly collapsed at this
chaps attempts to get into the revolving house". He laughed as he spoke.
And this film had made its impression on Brian. He told me
eventually that shortly after he saw it he began to plan an overture which sprang into his
mind directly from his reaction to this film, but that he never finished it, and that what
he had written went into other things. I wonder what other things and when. He
would never tell me. It seems that we nearly had virtually a Buster Keaton Overture from
Brian (it would have been actually his second comedy overture, and those to The
Tinkers Wedding and The Jolly Miller the third and fourth) but
what sort of music that would have drawn from him it is impossible to say. What can be
said is that comedy of the order of an artist such as Keaton projects all sorts of things
beyond and around itself. I have often wondered what became of the original of
Brians unfinished overture. Probably it did not get beyond the sketch stage, but it
should still exist somewhere, unless it is another of the "lost" works, or it
was hidden away and never recovered.
I have referred elsewhere to my disappointment at the fact that
Brian wrote so little piano music, and that in his later years he did not write any large
scale work, such as a sonata, for it. I once suggested to him that he should, and here is
his answer, in a letter dated 27 October 1949: "I am sorry
that your suggestion of a Piano Sonata makes no more appeal to me than if you asked me to
write a concerto for that damnable crossbreed Saxophone. I have used pianos in my
third and fourth [now second and third] symphonies
only for the dramatic amplification of the orchestra and to impart a tone colour of
which the orchestra itself is incapable not because I wanted to see 3 women sitting
at the piano with their elbows crooked. So that was
that; I was amused at his assuming that the pianists in the symphonies would automatically
be women rather as Belloc in his essays and novels would sometimes refer with gentle
sarcasm to his reader (singular) who was always female. In the same letter, on quite a
different subject: When Adrian Boult suggested that I
should write my reminiscences I told him they were better unwritten for if
they were written nobody would believe them.
All this, it is true, took place after I had received the letter I am quoting. In this letter Brian went on: Your reference to Reger is interesting for up to now I have not seen nor heard a note of Regers music. I threw up my organ work at 26 [that is, in 1902] and parted with my library at the same time- I shouldnt think anything of Regers had been published then. Of course, by 1902 a good half of Reger's total output had been published. Later, I told him that the Op 57 Fantasy and Fugue was written and published in 1901, which shook him. For the moment I did not answer the letter, leaving what had to be said until I saw him again, with results of which I have already written in my second article, continuing the letter: At that time I had not reached the plane necessary to understand J.S.B. - although I did play a number of the shorter fugues. Understanding J.S.B. came through my study of the B minor Mass and hearing a performance of 'St. Matthew' Passion under Hans Richter. It is strange, though, that there should appear a Reger mannerism. When the two last Fugues were issued a lady wrote to me, after seeing them, and said she thought I was much influenced by Berlioz, and Keys, to whom the first fugue is inscribed, said he thought Mussorgsky might have written the third fugue in C minor. So there we are.
Yes, there we are. Brian was proud of his memory, but there were times, I think, when it was definitely cloudy, either intentionally or genuinely. So where are we? So far as the lady and Robert Keys are concerned, I must say that, for my part, neither Berlioz nor Mussorgsky have ever suggested themselves to me in connection with the piano Preludes and Fugues. The Reger mannerism, of course, is in the Double Fugue for piano a type of writing which is similar to some of Regers, although the sound is not. But, unique though Brian is, there is one earlier composer I have encountered who at times, and in one work especially, did get some of the sound that we find in The Gothic. That work was written in the mid '80s, when Brian was about 10 years old. I realise, too, that some way back I began to write of discussions Brian and I had about other composers, and I got sidetracked. Both of these items will be treated in the next article.
981119 Havergal Brian - the official website HOME