Lecture Review

Malcolm MacDonald Lecture on Havergal Brian, BMIC, 2 February 2000.

This well attended Havergal Brian Society meeting at the British Music Information Centre was associated with the launch of Marco Polo's latest Brian CD , with Symphonies 11 & 15, Dr Merryheart and For Valour on Marco Polo 8.223588. With machine-gun rapidity, Malcom MacDonald delivered a brief but absorbing talk, sharing his erudition and deep knowledge of Havergal Brian in a way which was invaluable for orienting to the oddities in these four very different works. Malcom MacDonald is of course well known as Editor of Tempo and author of the Kahn & Averill books on Brian's symphonies. He told us that he is at the moment engaged in dealing with the 'artfully filleted' proofs of his article on Havergal Brian for the soon coming revision of New Grove.

It was possible to try to scribble down a few of Malcolm MacDonald's quotations and gems of his own: 'Brian's music contrives to be, at one and the same moment, monumental and subversive.' 'Undermining of apparent certainties is a dominant trait.' He told us that Brian had, in his younger days, been described as 'almost preternaturally observant of the foibles and follies of other people'. He found the world 'puzzling and paradoxical' with 'tragedy and farce occurring together'. Whilst Hans Keller had discussed 'integration of contrasts' in Brian's music, MacDonald thought that the composer had no interest in integration - he offered instead 'irony, parody, allusion and paradox'. 'Continually surprising, one of the oddest composers of modern time'. These characteristics are amply present in the new CD, 77 generous minutes, vividly recorded, of Brian's music, spanning nearly 60 years of his exceptionally long composing life.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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