LETTER : Bringing Elgar's sketches to life

Share
Related Topics
From Mr Humphrey Burton

Sir: Nobody will be more curious than me to hear Elgar's sketches for his Third Symphony in performance (Letters, 3 March). I've had a special interest in Elgar's music since producing Ken Russell's Monitor film in the early Sixties and in 1978, when I was head of BBC TV's music and arts department, I obtained the then Director General's blessing - and that of Elgar's trustees - to have the sketches performed in a television feature. I announced this plan in a lecture delivered to the Royal Society of Arts.

Word came that Sir Adrian Boult, then 89, disapproved of the project. Boult had been the BBC's director of music in the 1930s when the BBC commissioned Elgar to write a third symphony. He was later present at Broadcasting House when Elgar's daughter handed over the unfinished sketches to Sir John Reith. His authority was difficult to challenge.

A second communication, from the musicologist Christopher Kent took, away my appetite for the fight. Kent did his PhD on Elgar's compositional methods. He had already emphasised that, in his view, it would be "ill- advised and morally questionable" for anybody to tinker (Elgar's words) with the sketches. Privately he informed me that his detailed studies revealed a wretched state of affairs. Elgar's inspiration was drying up, it seems. Only a quarter of the sketches were written on 1930s manuscript paper. The rest of the material came from deep in the composer's bottom drawer - fragments of unfinished compositions dating back three decades and more. To have them played, I was made to feel, would prove deeply embarrassing to the posthumous dignity of England's greatest composer.

The case is puzzling in the extreme. Two contemporary witnesses (Fred Gaisberg of HMV and the violinist Billy Reed) describe the symphony's four movements in some detail -after a private violin and piano run-through. Elgar's improvisatory keyboard skills would certainly have played a part in forming their judgements. But another witness, the writer Basil Maine, reported later that the experience was "so clouded and fleeting that it could not possibly be repeated by means of the sketches alone".

My project was shelved. So I shall be listening to Anthony Payne's Radio 3 Elgar documentary on 19 March with an intense curiosity, mingled, however, with a certain sense of unease that Elgar's intellectual bones are, after all, to be disturbed.

Yours sincerely,

HUMPHREY BURTON

London, W14

6 March

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine