A NATURAL ARISTOCRAT
'Cardus - Celebrant of Beauty' by Robin Daniels,
read by ROBERT ANDERSON
Neville Cardus became cricket coach at a major public school before he glorified the Manchester Guardian with his evocative writings on the game. He might have admired the consistency with which I as schoolboy was sent in first to take the shine off the ball and had an invariable batting average of two. I can only regret that he had no chance to describe what may have been the longest over in cricket's history. It was delivered by my young brother as bowler, when his head master was glimpsed approaching the field to be benign but critical spectator. The result was an attack of nerves and such a series of hectic wides as threatened to prolong the over till the shadows lengthened and dusk began to overtake the game.
So it is more as musician that I have read Cardus. I began with Ten Composers soon after publication, and have dipped much since. Daniels posits Shaw, Newman and Cardus as the three finest music critics England has yet produced. Few would disagree: it is just a matter of relative order. For Daniels the warm humanity and unfailing generosity of Cardus, expressed in a limpid prose that verges often enough on poetry, gives him the edge. Daniels is right to regret that Cardus never wrote the major book on music criticism he had in mind. By contrast Shaw went on to become our major dramatist since Shakespeare, and Newman's magisterial advocacy of Wagner (not a Cardus favourite) in half a dozen books wonderfully supplements more ephemeral work.
If Shaw has been my joyous but unapproachable mentor in his teeming vitality and endless coruscations, leavened by the sonority of Milton and the bold intellectual flights of Shelley, Cardus's writing was inspired by Ruskin, Wilde and Pater. Indeed the last gets quite the longest of the eighty-odd chapters in the book. Daniels quotes liberally from all three, and from a galaxy of authors I have encountered but superficially if at all. Indeed the book gives quite as vivid an impression of Daniels's mind as that of Cardus.
It is indeed astonishing that Cardus became so complete a master of the language after upbringing in a household where most of the female members pursued Mrs Warren's profession, and a brief schooling that offered little and gave almost nothing. His progress from the man so shy he hardly dared knock on his editor's door to the confident raconteur at the Garrick of his maturity and latter days says much for his basic Lancashire grit and the easy malleability of English society at its best. And how fortunate he was in the period to which he was fated to display his gifts.
He was present at the first performance under Richter of Elgar's Symphony No 1. Few conductors have approached Beecham, a personal friend. Kreisler was on top form throughout much of his career, while Jacqueline du Pré appeared to astonish with her death-devoted genius his later life. Schnabel was magisterial if sometimes wayward in complete series of Beethoven sonatas, with the fastidious Curzon, alternating Brahms in D minor and B flat for successive years, to maintain the noble lineage. Above all there was Kathleen Ferrier, the Lancashire lass and ex-telephone operator, who delighted and moved the world till struck down by cancer. I miss mainly Kirsten Flagstad, who features in the book not at all, though she was as great a musician as any of the time.
Cardus was spared the intrusion of unworthy music on to the arts pages of our newspapers. If demos has decreed that all sounds are equal, Cardus might well have developed a sterner vein of criticism in defence of standards he had come to recognise as unassailable. Democracy has shown that it can undermine a civilization in two or three generations. Cardus, brought up in the back streets of Manchester, was a natural aristocrat who never lost the common touch and whose example we can certainly admire and possibly hope to emulate. Robin Daniels has shown the way.
Copyright © 3 July 2009 Robert Anderson,
BOOK INFORMATION: CARDUS - CELEBRANT OF BEAUTY