Great goings-on in the war years

In the Summer of 2000 I had the great pleasure of meeting James Gillespie, editor of The Clarinet Journal, during the International Clarinet Association (ICA) convention in Oklahoma. James asked me if I would like to contribute a regular column – an invitation that I found both humbling and daunting! The following ‘Letter from the UK’ was first published in September 2008 in The Clarinet Journal, the official publication of the ICA.

A friend sent me an old concert programme recently that really got my antennae buzzing! The concert in question took place on Wednesday, August 19th 1942 at the National Gallery in London. In fact between October 1939 and April 1946, the great pianist Dame Myra Hess was responsible for organising nearly 1,700 concerts at the National Gallery. The war had caused the gallery to close and all the paintings were moved out to a secret location, with the exception of one painting each month which was put on special show. But Myra Hess had the inspired idea of using the space for daily chamber concerts in order to lift the spirits of the beleaguered Londoners. It worked; many thousands came each day to hear the concerts and were indeed inspired by their message of hope.
This particular concert featured, as so many did, Hess herself, on this occasion playing Mozart’s Sonata K.331, followed by the great Serenade for Thirteen Winds. The players involved (under the collective title of The London Wind Players) reads like a music-historian’s dream. The two clarinettists were Pauline Juler and George Anderson. Pauline is well known for her early and impressive performances of the Finzi Bagatelles which inspired the composer to write his Concerto for her – but she never played it. Pauline was about to get married and she decided to give up playing the clarinet for good. She was the daughter of an Harley Street doctor and, by all accounts, a musician of charm and wit. But she did suffer from frequent memory lapses; ‘my forgettery’ as she called it. Pauline Richards, as she became, lived out her life in the delightful Suffolk village of Pakenham and died in 2003. (More about Pauline later.) The other clarinet player was George Anderson, a pupil of Henry Lazarus, who although seventy-five in 1942, was still teaching at the Royal Academy of Music. In fact he remained there until his death in 1951 and taught, among many others, John Davies and Georgina Dobrée. 

The two bassett horn players were Walter Lear and Richard Temple-Savage. Lear, like so many clarinet players, enjoyed a very long working life. He was professor of clarinet at Trinity College of Music for fifty years and played, intermittently, at Covent Garden for seventy-one years! It is thought that he might have given the first performance of the little known York Bowen Phantasy Quintet for Bass Clarinet and String Quartet. (Readers will find much concerning Temple-Savage in my article of May 2005.)

The horn section appearing on that memorable concert date also boasted some very well known names: Dennis Brain, Norman del Mar and Livia Gollancz. Livia (daughter of the publisher Victor Gollancz and still very much alive) was a direct contemporary, fellow student and friend of Sir Malcolm Arnold.
Talking of Sir Malcolm, the Third Arnold Festival is just around the corner, in mid October. As usual his clarinet works will be represented: this time it’s the late and compelling Divertimento for two clarinets (played by two of my pupils, Charlotte Swift and Jonathan Howse) and the miniature Fantasy for Clarinet and Flute (written about the same time as his haunting score for Whistle down the Wind and bearing many resemblances). 

And so back to Pauline. A number of years ago I was sent an interesting work, which I’m ashamed to say has lingered in my ‘awaiting action’ pile for some time. It’s a big neo-romantic clarinet sonata by Charles O’Brien. I finally played it the other day and discovered it to be very much worthy of attention. O’Brien was a Scottish composer born in 1882 (two years before Brahms wrote his Opus 120 sonatas). Though written about fifty-five years later in 1939 it is in fact quite Brahmsian in style (or perhaps ‘Stanfordian’) and is in the wonderfully appropriate clarinet-friendly key of E flat. It turns out that O’Brien first sent it to Pauline for her recommendations. She evidently suggested a major revision of the final movement and that is now the published version (The Hardie Press, Edinburgh). But she didn’t give the first performance. That privilege was entrusted to Keith Pearson (another John Davies pupil) who recorded it for the BBC in 1966. There’s nothing too technical in it, so if you have a place for a big romantic sonata, do give this a go!