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<<  -- 2 --  Roderic Dunnett    WHISPERS OF HEAVENLY DEATH

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'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. '

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Copyright © 25 October 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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