Landmark Events

Erik Chisholm’s road to recognition: Landmark Events

 An ambitious programme to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Erik Chisholm’s death on 8th June 1965 is now on view on the website. Many major events, spread over a three-month period, are planned in the UK, South Africa and China.  Russia may be added to the list.

 I am delighted by the breadth and spread of the current programme in Scotland which began last month with a magnificent performance of Chisholm’s violin concerto.

Review and details of the BBC broadcast in early June to come.

 I am fortunate to have been in at the beginning of the Chisholm revival, and recall here some landmark events along the way.

It all began in 1988 when I met Ronald Stevenson at Kaikhosru Sorabji’s funeral. Ronald, who died recently, knew my father well, having worked with him at the College of Music Cape Town from 1963 to 1965.

 Ronald’s solution was “Find a first rate Scottish pianist and being asked by me where I might find him/her was told “go talk to Murray McLachlan, he is your man”…and indeed he was, and still is. The first CD Erik Chisholm Piano Music was funded by the three Chisholm daughters. Ten more Piano CDs followed, initially on the Dunelm Records Music for Piano series produced by Jim Pattison and later continued by Stephen Sutton on his Divine Art label. 

 The next major happening was the foundation of the Erik Chisholm Trust in 2001. In 1998, having recently retired from my post at Southampton Medical School, I visited the College of Music, Cape Town.  There I found seven trunks of Chisholm music, placed in the basement after his death.  Sorting through this music set me on the road I still travel. 

I decided the way forward was to establish the Erik Chisholm Trust. I was joined then by a terrific team of colleagues who over the last 14 years have worked for the Chisholm cause. Most of the foundation members are still there but along the way we have been blessed with new talent. We became a driving force for the recognition of my father’s music.

 The Chisholm Centenary celebration in 2004 featured amongst many events, a Glasgow University Study Day & a major concert, Murray McLachlan’s Wigmore Hall debut.

This present celebration, commemorating his death 50 years ago, again includes a Study day (see programme) and the recent wonderful performance of Chisholm’s violin concerto with violinist Matthew Trusler, and the BBC SSO conducted by Michael Collins

Chisholm Opera, of which there are twelve, also plays a major part in these commemorative events.  In Cape Town in 2004 The Pardoner’s Tale and Dark Sonnet were performed. This time we are being treated to the first orchestral performance of Simoon.

 Publication of John Purser’s’ Biography “Chasing a Restless Muse” by Boydell and Brewer in 2009 is another major landmark in Chisholm’s progress to recognition. It will shortly be released as a library edition E book; hard copy is still for sale on the ECT website at £20.00.

 The next big step forward along this difficult road is the ECT website. Set up on IOW in 2002 and still based there, the depth and range of its coverage of Chisholm’s life and music under the direction of the Webmaster for the past 2 years is astonishing. The most recent development has been scanning all EC’s piano music, organising sales on-line of the scores and available CDs, now totalling 15.  Not a great source of income, but terrific as a medium for spreading the message. We get very enthusiastic letters from people who have met Chisholm music for the first time through this medium. For example, a recent customer, on receiving Music for Piano Volume 5 wrote:

Just a note to say thank you for sending the CD so promptly. This is really the first time I have listened to your father’s music at any length.

It really is extraordinary! His neglect is very hard to understand. I’ll be introducing him to friends who I know will not have heard this music. I stumbled across him a few years ago listening to a radio programme about Bartok and it mentioned his visit to Scotland and meeting your father and his influence on him. Then recently I was given a CD on the Divine Arts label and when I went on the website I discovered the recordings of your father’s music. An unexpected joy, I will definitely be buying the other volumes or asking for them for my birthday next month! I am listening to the CD as I type this. Wonderful stuff . Thank you again.

 What comes next? Who knows when Chisholm, described as an undeservedly forgotten Scottish composer will become deservedly acknowledged? 

He is being recognised next month on South Africa’s Fine Music Radio as Composer of the Week. I believe that the time is not too far away when such a tribute will be awarded by our own radio stations.  Undoubtedly a programme of events such as the one we are about to enjoy in Scotland next month will hasten such a process.

Morag Chisholm


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