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McCabe in Conversation

Composer John McCabe talks to the Chief Music Critic of the Birmingham Post, Christopher Morley

7. Glock's blacklist

 << Continued from part 6 

Christopher Morley. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichCM: You're in the happy situation John that quite a large proportion of your music has actually been recorded. Perhaps you have more in proportion of your works actually recorded than some contemporary composers have. Your music is serious but approachable, and you aren't a bandwagon jumper - you don't take on any styles which are fashionable or anything like that, so we could say that your music is accessible, which is always nice for a piece of music to be. But I have the feeling that that led to a certain amount of neglect of your music from the London branch of the BBC during the William Glock era. Am I right in thinking that?

JM: Yes, well I think that's a fair comment. I had quite a lot of support in Birmingham from the people at Pebble Mill and from Manchester for many years, but the London BBC - it was many many years before I had a Prom performance - actually it was Notturni ed alba with Louis Frémaux and the CBSO. I always feel Louis Frémaux's been rather overshadowed by Simon Rattle's great achievements, but Louis actually did a wonderful job ...

CM: He was the foundation upon which the whole thing was built.

JM: That's right.

CM: We owe a lot to him ...

JM: Yes.

CM: Shameful actually, and I'm going on the record as saying that.

JM: Thank you for that, because that's why I mentioned it. But that was the first one, and that was after Glock had left. Now I'm told that I was on Glock's blacklist, which was of composers who - it was not that you couldn't broadcast them anywhere in the country - but they were not going to be supported by London. I haven't met Glock - I don't think I would dare mention it, but he's always denied that there was a blacklist, but there's sufficient compelling evidence to suggest that there was. There are one or two instances which suggest very strongly that there was - witnesses who are really unimpeachable in the circumstances.

JM: I admire greatly a lot of what William Glock did. He transformed the Proms and made it a much more dynamic part of not only the British musical scene but the international one. He brought Boulez over as a conductor and I admire Boulez's conducting enormously, and I remember when Boulez first came over - he did Haydn's London symphony and Schubert 5, and I thought he did them wonderfully well. He doesn't seem to conduct those these days, probably because he's too busy doing Mahler and so forth. And those revelatory performances of La mer and other Debussy pieces at the time. I quarrel with much of what Boulez says and has done in the past, but nobody is going to deny me my appreciation of those things. John McCabe. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichIt was terribly exciting, and he brought in the avant garde, but what he also did, which I think was a crime, was to make it exclusive - that the modern music had to be of that particular kind, which was what we now call 'cutting edge'. Nobody seems aware that the cutting edge is extremely blunt these days! [laughter] The contemporary music festivals which have been doing 1960s music since 1960 are still doing 1960s type music as if it was new, and it's all been done, and didn't really last all that long - it's largely been discredited. It was very exciting to be part of that, and I used to run concerts in Manchester at which we tried to catch up with things which hadn't been done, like Schoenberg's 4th quartet I remember putting on three times, because it's an absolutely central work - I don't like it much now, but it hadn't been done in Manchester, and that should have been done. So we caught up with things, and it was very much the Glock ethos, and it was very exciting, but at the same time it sort of said 'oh, well that old Vaughan Williams stuff, we don't want all that: old-fashioned.' Nielsen didn't appear at the Proms as I recall, except very occasionally at the instigation of a couple of producers at the BBC in London who were so keen that their enthusiasm carried something through into the programmes. And there were many examples - Frank Martin was frowned upon - Panufnik was frowned upon. It was music which was tonal was really not accepted. Alan Rawsthorne, actually, was one of the very few exceptions, and Glock was a great friend of Alan and I think was very fond of him. So he sort of allowed this one exception. It was so narrow, and that is what I didn't like. I did suffer from it, but I think I always had the view that if I was patient and kept doing my own thing, trying to do my work as well as I could, it would come through. You have to be very patient if you're a musician. You have to be terribly patient.

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Copyright © Christopher Morley / John McCabe, August 29th 1999

McCabe in Conversation

was recorded at the 1999 Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts in Wales. The whole talk is also available as a Real Media presentation.

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