You mustn't think that this course "Men and Music" is going to be a serious business. It will consist mainly of light-hearted reminiscences about some important figures in 20th century music, from which it is possible you may gain an insight into their characters and personalities. You will, moreover, hear many interesting examples of their music, in most instances played by the composers themselves: this is always revealing. If the creators of music are also competent performers, then it should follow that their interpretations of their own music must be authentic. Whereas painters, sculptors and writers (except playwrights) create their works of art once and for all, (and who dare meddle with them is a villain, and does so at his peril,) musicians on the other hand depend on others to perform, to recreate the music, a set of circumstances, which is ,at one and the same time, the attraction and despair of the art. Until only very recently, it was accepted as quite normal that any composer could take up the work of another composer and re-work and re-write the "Mona Lisa" the way he would like it to be done-resolving the famous enigmatic smile into, say, a direct leer at the Beatles or if Somerset Maugham re-wrote Shakespeare sonnets in Bow-bells cockney with some Joyceian comments of his own. Among performing musicians there is a growing sense of responsibility towards the great masters: a desire to make their performances as authentic and as near the original as possible. There is, too, such a gulf between serialism and electronic music and the classics, that to combine the two in a single composition is really unthinkable. I am told that anyone offering a programme, nowadays to the B.B.C. which includes transcriptions will find they are now no longer acceptable. Anyway, if the future of music lies in electronics, this will kill not only the transcriber, but also eliminate the performer.
At this year’s summer school I will give a series of talks on noted composers who gave concerts of their works at the Glasgow Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music, it might be just as well to tell you, at the start, how the Society came into existence, something about the people who ran it, how it came about that some of the greatest composers of our time were patrons, and gave performances to the Society, in a relatively insignificant town like Glasgow (insignificant, artistically speaking).
In 1928 I settled again in Scotland, after two years in Canada, and was appointed organist and choirmaster of a Presbyterian Church in the centre of Glasgow. In the church there was a very fine 3-manual organ, and on it I gave a number of organ recitals: respectable works like Bach Preludes & Fugues and Choral Preludes, Karg-Elert’s big Op. 66, (which occupied three evenings) and transcriptions I had made (for I knew no better!) of Stravinsky’s, "Sacre du Printemps”, Strauss’ "Don Quixote", Elgar's "Falstaff" and other orchestral works which had not yet found a place in the programmes of the Scottish Orchestra. I got a bright young student friend of mine, Patrick Shannon, to assist me in these orchestral transcriptions, to the extent of placing himself inside the organ case, and banging cymbals, side drums, triangles, castanets and so on, at appropriate places in the score. Of course, nobody knew he was there, and I didn't fail to make a flowery gesture with hand or foot to show the audience it was all my own work. The music-liking Glaswegians (it would be an exaggeration ever to call them music-lovers) began to sit up and take notice at Chisholm and his unique orchestral organ. The upshot was that Pat Shannon and I became confirmed partners in musical crime, and one extravagance led to another.
Pat was a gifted and versatile young musician, playing piano for a sketchy living (in bioscope, cafe, pub and music hall): he was also a fine organist, played all percussion instruments, and - given a week's notice - was prepared to tackle any string, wood-wind or brass instrument ever invented. He had administrative ability, could write good press copy: also “elecute” or recite with no mean ability. He lived with his sister and widowed mother at 116, Nithsdale Road, Pollokshields, and his mother adored her brilliant, harum-scarum and altogether lovable son. Mrs Shannon was a kindly little Irish woman with a warm enchanting brogue, who played both violin and viola, and later became a most valuable member of our various Active Society ensembles. Pat and I were inseparable buddies. What fun we had together. We next launched a series of what we called “National Musical Recitals” - again in the Kirk - roping in some singer friends of ours, using the church choir and gradually building up a performing unit of keen, talented and adventurous young musicians. With Pat playing the orchestral parts on the organ, and I the solo piano parts, we performed the Delius concerto "Nights in a Garden in Spain", Medtner's second concerto, Bartok's first, the Franck’s "Symphonic Variations" and "Les Djinns". To keep up the reputation of the organ itself we had, of course, to find a new recruit to play percussion in the organ case.
All that I remember about this new chap is that his face was covered with pimples, and he had a lisp: more to the point - he couldn't count rests properly. There was a revealing incident when Miller, or whatever his name was, crashed his cymbals fortissimo in a quiet bit in a slow movement: after which disaster, Pat and I decided it was safer to let the organ look after its own reputation, and dispense with uncontrollable extra-musical effects.
We got the choir to sing a difficult work like Kodaly's "Psalmus Hungaricus” with one of our own boys, Logan Annand doing the sole tenor part. Annand was an ambitious singer, whose intonation could be distressing, and he had a habit of cupping his right ear in his hand as though trying to sell coal in the Cowcaddens. His enthusiasm and eagerness to learn new works amply compensated for these little foibles. One of his most accurate performances was in the difficult "Sonata Vocalise" of Medtner where the voice is used as a solo wind instrument -without words; it requires, however a voice of beauty and great purity of tone to bring it off successfully, and our Logan’s voice was more noted for quantity than quality.
I invited Ian White, a rising young Scot musician, private music master to Lord Glentanar of Aboyn, to give a full recital of his compositions. Whyte's vital - if dour, musical - if uninspired, self assured - if slightly condescending, personality was a new and exciting experience for us, and we saw at once the possibilities of having guest artists. If we could get some really Big Shots to play for us, it should be possible to increase the range of our concerts and thus attract a wider public. The big problem was finance, for none of us had more than two beans to rub together, and the silver collection we had taken at the church, just about paid for the printing of the programme.
We got around this difficulty by inviting the Glasgow music-liking public to subscribe in advance to our proposed series of concerts. We moved to the Stevenson Hall, in the old Athenaeum School of Music which was licensed for concerts. A few of the bigger concerts were given in the St. Andrews (Berkeley) Hall. At no time did we have more than 200 people in the audience - which I thought pretty skimpy at the time – although a member of the Schonberg group later told me that 200 was for them a maximum audience for their Vienna Contemporary Music Concerts.
The first foreign composer to accept my invitation to give a concert of his own works was Kaikhosru Sorabji, a Parsi musician residing in London about whom I will have more to say. Sorabji was very charming, very gracious, very friendly and even appeared a little hurt when I offered to pay his out-of-pocket expenses. This was all right with Pat and me - two ambitious young men with nothing in their pockets who desperately wanted to promote contemporary music. Let me say right now that apart from Sorabji (who had pots of money anyway - his Dad was a millionaire) we gave all our distinguished visitors as large a fee as we could afford in addition to paying their travelling expenses and hotel bills (if for some reason or other private hospitality was not available). On the other hand, in the ten years of its existence, none of our local performers ever got a penny for their services - there just wasn't any money left over.
We wrote to a number of top musicians all over the world telling them what we proposed doing, and asking them if they would become office-bearers of our Society. Nobody refused; so here is a list of our office-bearers:
|President:||Her Grace the Duchess of Atholl - Katharine Murray|
|Vice Presidents:||Sir R S Rait, Principal of Glasgow University|
|Sir D M Stevenson, Bart. - A millionaire bod, who tossed a tenner to us once, but only once.|
|Dr. W G Whittaker, Professor of Music at Glasgow University|
|Hon Vice President:||Francis George Scott|
|Hon Secretary:||Patrick Shannon|
|Hon Treasurer:||A M Chisholm (My brother)|
|Hon Vice Presidents:||Bela Bartok (Budapest)|
|Sir Arnold Bax (London)|
|Sir Arthur Bliss (London)|
|Alfredo Casella (Rome)|
|Professor E J Dent (Cambridge)|
|Frederick Delius (Grez-sur-Loing, Fontainebleau, France)|
|Bernard van Dieren (London)|
|Edwin Evans (London)|
|Cecil Gray (London)|
|Paul Hindemith (Berlin)|
|Jean Sibelius (Helsinki)|
|Kaikhosru Sorabji (London)|
|Karl Szymanowski (Warsaw)|
|Ernest Toch (Berlin)|
|Sir Donald Tovey (Edinburgh)|
|Sir William Walton (London)|
We announced our first series of 12 concerts at an all-in subscription of 21/-. I cannot now remember all the composers we invited to perform at our 1930/31 series, but the other day, I came across a list of those we asked - for our second series, 1933/32: their number included:
Manuel de Falla, Paul Hindemith, Maurice Ravel, Ernst Krenek, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Percy Grainger, Arthur Honagger, Ildebrando Pissett, Alban Berg and half a dozen English composers.
As you will see from the summer school prospectus quite a number of these famous composers did accept our invitations and it is about them and their music that I shall be talking to you during the next two weeks.
It is 24 years since the Active Society became Inactive, and you might like to know what has happened in the meantime to some of our bright boys:
One earned fame as a novelist, another is a Musical Director of the BBC, a third a noted pianist and fourth a Professor of Music.
One of our committee members turned out to be a German spy, and just escaped the chopper by fleeing to America: our cellist edited a volume of the Penguin "Great Crimes of the Century” and finished up in jail himself, and the boy who played the cymbals inside the organ, Patrick Shannon, turned religious and is now…. hold it!. .... the Bishop of Aberdeen.
The letterhead of the Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music dated October 1931
The Hon Secretary is shown as Diana Brodie, Erik’s first wife, instead of Patrick Shannon