- Granville Bantock's Letters to William Wallace and Ernest Newman, 1893–1921: "Our New Dawn of Modern Music." ed. by Michael Allis
Having completed their studies at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in the early 1890s, Granville Bantock and William Wallace set out to revolutionize British music, producing explicitly Wagnerian works such as Bantock's one-act Celtic opera Caedmar and Wallace's Pre-Raphaelite symphonic poem The Passing of Beatrice (both premiered in 1892). The pair would soon form part of what may be viewed as a larger group of composers that also included Joseph Holbrooke, Rutland Boughton, and Arnold Bax. Connected personally either by their studies at RAM or through their association with the Midland Institute's School of Music in Birmingham, their music was also united by its (post-)Wagnerian, Lisztian, Straussian, and later Debussyan practices and aesthetics as well as a shared interest in Celticism. The music critic Ernest Newman was also part of this group, at least for a time, having espoused similarly progressive musical ideas, and he was part of the Midlands circle that orbited around Bantock in particular. Traditional narratives of the English Musical Renaissance have marginalized this group of composers, but a renewed interest in them has recently begun to show just how significant they were to British music before World War I. This new collection of letters, edited by Michael Allis, between three key figures in this RAM-Midlands group is, then, to be welcomed and will contribute to this ongoing reassessment.
Preceding the letters is an insightful introduction by Allis that provides important biographical information on the three figures involved, situates them, their work, and their ideas in context, and fills in some missing details that cannot be discerned from the letters themselves. In addition, Allis identifies four key themes that emerge from the correspondence: Bantock's and Wallace's compositional practices, their discussions of significant composers of the period, strategies to promote their music and their vision of "modern" music more widely, and their contributions to music journalism and criticism.
With regard to compositional practice and aesthetics, Allis explains that Bantock and Wallace were united by the belief that music should be led by the poetic "Idea" (pp. 4, 8) and that they were both dedicated above all to the genre of program music. Their shared aesthetic agenda is most clearly expressed in the composers' tone poems and other orchestral works composed in the two decades straddling the turn of the century. It is these works, Allis argues, that constitute their most significant contribution to "modern" [End Page 106] music of the period, and it is also their use of "end-focused," "rotational," and other "deformation[al]" structures that leads Allis to situate them in the context of "the 'first active phase' of musical modernism," with composers such as "Sibelius, Mahler, Strauss and Elgar" (p. 6).
The correspondence itself is really in two parts, with Bantock's letters to Wallace confined to the years 1893–1900 and Bantock's letters to Newman dating almost entirely from the period 1899–1921. There is also a gap of over three years in the correspondence between Bantock and Newman, from the end of 1913 to the start of 1917, owing to a disagreement. Allis indicates that there were further letters, at least between the two composers, but confirms that none of these have survived. Neither have any of the letters to Bantock from Newman and Wallace, with the exception of one from Newman.
The resulting one-sidedness of this volume is inevitably frustrating at times, but Allis's impeccable work as editor ensures the elucidation of the letters' contents so far as possible. To this end, his copious footnotes throughout the text, as well as his short introductions to each year of letters, identify and explain a whole host of references in the correspondence that would otherwise be difficult to decipher. These include references...