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A Musical Wanderer - The Later Years of Granville Bantock
by Cuillin Bantock
220 pp, illustrations, publ. 2018
EM Publishing

Bantock kept diaries between the years 1911 and 1946. They were not the confessional kind, but rather a brief, factual record of the day’s events. He didn’t record every day and some of the things he included, such as the weather and the room numbers of hotels he slept in – wryly characterised as ‘less interestingly’ by Cuillin Bantock, the composer’s grandson – would not make for scintillating reading and have therefore not been included. The later years of the title cover 1938 until the composer’s death in 1946.

They chart his last, long world tour for Trinity College of Music, as well as his conducting engagements, the start of the War, composition of his last works – notably the Celtic Symphony, song cycles and the Third Violin Sonata and, for those interested in his recordings, his association with the Paxton Record Company. It’s quite appropriate that his grandson’s scientific expertise should inform his narrative, shedding light on Bantock’s life as much through what is not written as what is. The book is, I should add, a narrative with Bantock’s terse diary entries marked in italics.

The range of his examination work is especially notable; arduous, well paid but sapping of time to compose. He devoted a lot of time to watching films; Disney, Mae West, Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy and many other stars point not necessarily to a cineaste but to a man who enjoyed popular cinema in a most generous way. He saw 20 films in six weeks in New York, for example. He was also a habitué at Chinese restaurants, whether in London or New York. But this was as nothing when considering his bibliophilic tendencies, which surely eclipsed his well-documented amorous adventures in sheer volume and intensity - during the period in question, at least. He enjoyed books on travel, history, the East – thus far, predictable – as well as the novels of Conrad. He bought complete sets of books such as Scott’s Waverley novels (52 volumes for only 5/-) and was then compelled to buy bookcases to accommodate them, thus increasing the pressure on space, not least when he was living in a flat in Gloucester Road.

He moved residence every four years or so, and this on-the-moveness seems to reflect his own inveterate inquisitiveness and his travels on behalf of Trinity. Despite this, whether suffering bad luck with dogs or with damp things did not always go well for him. His health began to cause concern and there is much talk of his motions, and of what he called renewed attacks of dysentery but which his grandson thinks might have been colitis.

The diary narrative is broken up after a May 1940 chapter that discusses Bantock’s relationship with the American Muriel Mann journeying forward to ‘1 September 1960’. Here the past and future collide, the text briefly mentioning the circumstances in which he met his wife Helena – they first met in 1886 – and considering how much she knew about her husband’s affairs, notably with Mann and with the singer Denne Parker. She certainly knew about Parker: ‘I hate that woman who stole GB from me all those many years ago. But he came back to me, my beloved’ she wrote in her own diary when she was 92 and Bantock had been dead fourteen years.

Composition is alluded to, naturally, whether on dry land or on the High Seas. He completed orchestration of The Cyprian Goddess in January 1939 en route from Australia to Honolulu, where he was met by Fritz Hart. Works are started, such as the Third Violin Sonata, and then put aside for a year.

It’s inevitable, given the brevity of Bantock’s diary entries, that Cuillin Batock has recourse to the word ‘probably’ rather too often for comfort. He also has a tendency to assume Bantock thought this or that and often it’s a reasonable conclusion, but he can’t definitively know.

There are few errors that I noted. The violinist with whom he worked in Johannesburg was not Albert Ketèlbey (the accent is missing from the text) but his brother Harold, reputedly something of a virtuoso, and later a wheeler-dealer. Stanley Chapple was not 30 in 1939; he was 39. I’m assuming the Marjorie Hayward alluded to is not the violinist; if so, the dates don’t add up. There are several inconsequential typos, but one that will bring the reader up short, squinting – ‘fis’ for ‘this’ is the main one and appears several times.

There are some excellent photographs; inevitably these often date from earlier in the composer’s life, so we can see continuingly important figures such as Holbrooke and Alvin Langdon Coburn, pioneering Vorticist and Pictorialist photographer. But we can also trace his travels in Australia and America via photographs and printed programmes – he seems especially delighted to be photographed with the young American violinist Guila Bustabo in December 1938, for example - and scrutinise his income via relevant tables. There are valuable appendices of original works composed between 1938 and 1946, works he revisited during the same period, and arrangements of the works of others, such as Anthems and National and folk songs, and of Bach, Handel, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and many others.

This is an intriguing look at a compressed period of a composer’s life through the medium of diary entries that are brief and lacking in much colour. It says much for Cuillin Bantock that he has allowed these bare details to inform the narrative in so instructive a way. Read in isolation these entries would surely lack all sense of context; if footnoted, it would necessitate many times longer than the entries themselves. A Musical Wanderer has alighted on a perfect solution.

Jonathan Woolf

The book is currently available either by sending a cheque for £15 (including P&P for a single book sent to the UK) made payable to "EMF Endeavours" to: Em Marshall-Luck, PO Box 123, Clunton. Craven Arms, Shropshire SY7 7BP, or by emailing her at for her to issue a Paypal invoice if you would like to pay by credit or debit card; would like more than one book; or live abroad.

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