Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The maligned Sir Granville Bantock

Here is an extract from a splendidly tumid piece of writing:

Sir Granville Bantock probably has the unenviable distinction—with less than a handful of other arguable challengers—of being the most unreasonably neglected composer in the whole pitiable chronicle of neglected 20th century British music. He is truly the supreme musical Ichabod of our Isles and the almost complete disappearance of his works from the repertoire of his country is one of the strangest and perhaps saddest musical biographies of recent times. The winds of cultural opinatry and the gravities of critical mythologising have condemned him to a limbo of fabled ingloriousness and he is left as nothing much more than a fleeting footnote in the histories of British music: his foibles and idiosyncrasies have been exaggerated and his gifts minimised, misjudged, and precondemned; characteristic idioms glibly recast into mannerisms, influences reduced to imitation, and critical marginalisation all too easily transfigured into musical fault in the shallow doctrines of accepted musical historiography.

Supreme musical Ichabod in a limbo of fabled ingloriousness, eh? This is fighting talk from a brief introduction to the neglected composer’s life and works (actually a ten thousand word essay) by Vincent Budd, a noble attempt, almost certainly doomed, to rescue the reputation of Bantock from the ‘unfounded, beggarly, and ignominious inscriptions cast upon his name down the years’.

One cannot but admire the author’s conviction and the vigour with which he expresses it, but ‘the winds of cultural opinatry and the gravities of critical mythologizing’ have clearly had a strongly deleterious influence upon me, for although I am deeply impressed by the flow of his prose I am not convinced by his argument. To be fair, I suppose I might be more open to the view that Bantock’s music has ‘enduring and commanding glory’ and that it ‘stands by itself majestic, mighty, and magnificent for all to hear’ if I had actually heard any of it.

However, he was clearly a remarkable man, and one cannot read about his life without feeling some affection for him. Here is a photo of the dear old fellow just about to audition as an extra for Lawrence of Arabia (presumably not the David Lean film, as Bantock died in 1946); whether he got the job is not recorded).

Although ‘there were palpable streaks of malevolence and moral ambivalence in his character… some of his behaviour had deeply unhappy consequences for those closest to him… and he had one known extra-marital liaison… which had a profound effect on his wife and children, all of whom obviously loved and cherished him deeply’, perhaps we should not judge him too harshly, and his biographer may be right in saying resoundingly that ‘his neglect owes little to the intrinsic quality of his work, and much more to do with the unluck or misjudgements associated with the blinding mythic tyrannies of taste and fashion… his music should be freed from the stale blinkeredness of our cultural treadmills; his weathered laurels discarded and replaced with a new sweeter smelling wreath’.

True or not, that’s a nice bit of purple prose.

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