<< -- 2 -- Roderic Dunnett WHISPERS OF HEAVENLY DEATH
'On one of the MSS, which was clearly not by Austin himself, I
thought the writing rang a bell. A quick check of facsimiles in the Vaughan
Williams-Holst correspondence suggested it was almost certainly by RVW,
and both Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer's widow, and his leading
biographer, Michael Kennedy, were able to authenticate the handwriting.'
How 'Whispers of heavenly death' came to be overlooked and remain among
Austin's papers is easy to imagine :
'In the early l900s,' Lee-Browne explains, 'members of the Frankfurt
"Gang" (the group included Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter and Norman
O'Neill, all pupils of the Prussian-born Iwan Knorr, who also taught Pfitzner
and Ernst Toch) and other young composers often got together in London,
usually at Balfour Gardiner's house, to compare notes.'
'My grandfather -- who made the arrangement of The Beggar's Opera
admired by Elgar and was a prolific composer himself (Austin's overture
Sea Venturers was also heard at this year's Three Choirs; his Symphony,
premièred in l913, is being recorded this autumn) -- was frequently
called on, as one of his generation's leading baritones, to try over, and
give his opinion on, other composers' songs.
'It's likely that Austin and Vaughan Williams (accompanying from the
full score) ran through it at one of the group's meetings, and that RVW
gave the manuscript to Austin, either to criticise, or in the hope that
he would perform it. Certainly Austin had copies of and performed other
early Vaughan Williams pieces, including Songs of Travel and an early
cantata, Willow Wood. '
Copyright © 25 October 2001
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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