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Sir John Barbirolli's reply to a letter from Colin Scott-Sutherland - April 1962


Last Modified March 5, 2001 

30 April 1962

Colin Scott-Sutherland: Can you recall the opinion of Sir Arnold's Music - in particular the symphonies - voiced by other famous composers such as Kodaly, Sibelius, not of this country?

John Barbirolli: I regret to say he is practically unknown abroad - as are so many other British composers of note - and I do not suppose any of the eminent composers you mention had even ever heard of him.  (Editor's Note: How could Barbirolli make such a claim?)

CSS: When you recorded the Third for the British Council, was this Sir Arnold's Choice?  Was it his favorite work at that time, and if so, can you recall why?  Was he pleased with the recording?

JB: That was his choice at that time.  He attended all the recording sessions and was, I know, immensely pleased with the recording.  I have a lovely letter from him somewhere about this.

CSS: Do you consider the Symphonies to be his greatest work?

JB: I think, in some ways, yes but I think perhaps his most perfect work is "The Garden of Fand".

CSS: Can you recall any memorable performances of his music which gave him great pleasure?

JB: Yes, I think it was perhaps the performances we gave of his 6th Symphony (perhaps if not so great as the 3rd, a very lovely work).  It unfortunately, in this unromantic and insensitive age, does not seem to find much favour with the musical pundits of today.

At Cheltenham and the London Proms, a few weeks before he died, he had a great ovation in both instances, especially at the Albert Hall in London, which I know gave him very deep pleasure as he had been so neglected in his last years and I feel very happy that I was able to give my old friend this measure of pleasure and consolation at the end of his life.

A few days after his death he was to have proposed my health at a dinner to be given me on the completion of my first ten years with the Halle Orchestra, and I believe almost the last words he ever put on paper was the draft of his speech on this occasion, which is now a treasured possession of the Halle Society.  Of course, the dinner never took place as I could not bear the thought of sitting there with my old friend so suddenly taken from us.

CSS: Would you say that Miss Cohen had influenced his creative work greatly?

JB: With regard to this I can only say that I know she meant a great deal to him practically during the whole of his life.

Copyright   Colin Scott-Sutherland

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