June 23, 1951 | Filed under:

A notable Leeds survey of British music

By ERNEST BRADBURY

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In Leeds Town Hall this evening, the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra begin a Festival contribution of seven concerts devoted to British music. It is important to regard this scheme, and the idea behind it, in a proper light, and not merely as a cap-touching effort dutifully contrived for a special occasion, or as an admirable but misplaced piece of patriotic sentiment called forth by the Festival of Britain.

England as Das Land ohne Musik was for too long a pretty fiction – invented, ironically enough, by those musicians whose compatriots made quite a tidy living out of the supposedly non-existent English musical scene. Folly there no doubt was, in music as in other walks of life during the 19th Century. Intellectual complacency was manifest in almost all branches of the art. At a time when the German heritage was doubly sure, our own composers lacked inspiration. From the cleansing winds of Romanticism, blowing strongly into the camps of Weber, Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt by the youthful Wagner, they were singularly immune. Nor was much musical discernment to be found in the judgement that later applauded “The Golden Legend” and frowned on “The Gondoliers.”

Intellect imprisoned

In this mental environment where the harmonies disclosed in Hymns Ancient and Modern were also considered suitable for the expression of all proper em-

otion in music, was the intellect imprisoned, the mind drugged, not only against innovation but against resuscitation. Musical editorship of the period period revealed a melancholy desire to efface or dilute all that was strong, fresh and free, in harmony and in rhythm, from our heritage of the past. The line of glorious invention reaching from Dunstable to Purcell through the Golden Age of the Tudors was broken. To this very day many of our school-children are taught to sing a completely wrong version of Morley’s “It was a lover and his lass.” But the hour is reputedly darkest before the dawn. Music in the land is again a living force, and has been since German domination ended with the death of Brahms. We are too modest. The German appellation still lurks in too many minds.

Leading the world

And to counter it, it is best to state simply and unequivocally that Britain today leads the world in the vigour and variety of its musical composition. Perhaps we

know too little of American music, as we know almost nothing of contemporary Russian. But the great revival of interest in folk-music and modern writing, led by the towering personality of Vaughan Williams, has itself proved sufficient stimulus to great achievement, linking as it does, the past with the present. And to this, much more has been added. The scheme so well envisaged by Mr. Maurice Miles, then, is not a tribute only, but an assertion, a proclamation that is homogeneous with, but not contingent on the Festival. As may be seen from the admirable brochure complied by the Leeds City Librarian’s staff, which is now available, music in all its aspects is to be heard in Leeds. Mr. Miles and the Y.S.O. are notoriously fitted to present English music that ranges from Purcell to Rubbra, that includes both Elgar symphonies and a slice of the very latest English opera – Vaughan Williams’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

But the scheme goes beyond that. Church music and organ music, madrig-

als, songs, chamber music and light opera are all represented that the fair flowering of England’s musical Renaissance may be known. A challenge

And finally the scheme presents a challenge to the people of Leeds, and to all those who profess and call themselves musicians. Not so long ago, a concert of English music, to be given by Sir Thomas Beecham in London, was cancelled for lack of public support. Will Northern audiences prove themselves more resolute? Shall this outstanding Leeds Festival, so boldly planned and worthily prepared, be more honoured in the breach than the observance? It would ill become us to think so. For he will be wise who, enjoying this music, takes full advantage of an opportunity that may not occur again. This feast, as Shakespeare had it, “shall gentle his condition,” each man to his humour.