- Granville Bantock's Letters to William Wallace and Ernest Newman, 1893–1921: 'Our new dawn of modern music' ed by Michael Allis
Recent years have seen an interesting trend in the increasing number of books delving into the music and lives of the less-celebrated British composers. Instead of the traditional biography, a listing of a composer's works (and the obligatory critique), more and more often shadowy musical figures are having the spotlight turned on their lives, compositions and music-making via their personal correspondence. Such compilations are proving extremely useful not only in breathing life into neglected composers and their activities, but also providing lively and vivid additions to the bigger social and historic picture.
In this excellent new publication from the Boydell Press, an informative thirty-six-page Introduction sets the scene with additional short introductory paragraphs of fascinating background material to each clutch of letters selected from 1893 to 1921. All this generous information gives the reader an immediate and almost three-dimensional picture of the lives and times of numerous intriguing dramatis personæ.
Although the title draws its reader particularly to the interaction between composers Granville Bantock (1868–1946), William Wallace (1860–1940), and the noted music critic, Ernest Newman (1868–1959), we also find a panoply of other persons of the era (such as Joseph Holbrooke, 1878–1958) gliding in and out of the narrative. Thus, the collection is a veritable treasure trove for those wanting to know more about the composers and musical tastes and programming of that era of British music performance, particularly of contemporary orchestral and choral works. In this selection of almost 300 letters, we find composers commenting on each other's music and that of other contemporary composers, both critical and complimentary, as the workings of orchestras and music colleges of the era are revealed.
Most of the letters are extracted from Bantock's long and cordial friendship with William Wallace, an early protagonist of the symphonic poem in Britain. Beginning in 1897, Bantock constantly encouraged him, until 1901 when an unfortunate occurrence caused a rift in the friendship. "Wallace turned round on me and said he should go home to London at once. I said I should consider such an action as an insult to my hospitality. He persisted and I warned him if he went, it would be the last time … he went, and understands that there is to be no intercourse between us again". Subsequent letters indicate that at some stage later, the rift was gradually repaired.
Bantock's friendship with the critic Ernest Newman is also illuminated in their lively correspondence which began in 1899 and reveals a warm and mutually rewarding respect. The letters tell us much of the music-making in those times and are delightfully peppered here and there with touches of humour, for example when Bantock tells Newman (29 November 1905) that "Sibelius arrived last night, & I met him at Victoria. He is a good fellow, & was fined over £2 for smuggling cigars". Bantock was an early admirer of Sibelius's music, promoting his work and commenting in 1921 about his final visit to England that he "is just the same affectionate old fellow".
This and similar collections are valuable pieces of historic mosaic that will help in filling out a yet bigger and more vivid picture of the past. This volume is especially recommended for those interested in or researching British music of that era—as the subtitle of the book has it: "Our new dawn of modern music". [End Page 335]