Given that the WCSSs took place in a school, this post contains important information from the perspective of Caroline Mustill, who was a student at Cranborne Chase for both events. Mustill’s significance to this project, however, goes far further than her teenage years, since, for example, she managed the Pierrot Players, and has also been close to Birtwistle, Davies and many other prominent artists since the 1960s. When I approached Mustill she suggested that I interview Stephen Pruslin too, and I am grateful to her for organising our three-way meeting.
The discussion began with some general comments about the WCSS, the first of which was Mustill’s observation about the small children present:
Stephen Pruslin then cut across the conversation with his thoughts about the feel of the event and the significance of the WCSSs. ‘Even while we were all there, it already felt legendary’:
I’m intruigued by the notion that this was an event that ‘would be remembered’, a topic to which we returned later in the conversation:
Such comments problematize my casual (and frequent!) use of the word ‘significant’. In the case of the WCSSs their ‘significance’ is reflected neither in column inches nor in scholarly citations. To what extent is the importance of an event predicated on its exclusivity? If ‘everyone was there’ then no matter its importance at the time, there is little need to publish its details, for who of importance does not already know? On the other hand, it’s faulty logic to assume that the lack of widespread knowledge of the events is indicative of the events’ importance. To some extent these are questions that are less important to me than consideration of musical responses, since on the whole composers are less articulate in prose than in music. Nonetheless, I came to this topic of research partly because there were works, programmes and aesthetic connections that didn’t make sense, and that now, after some research, make much more sense. I wonder what those who are under 40 and who attended the Wigmore Hall on the 13 December 2009 made of this programme?
Machaut Hoquetus David
Harrison Birtwistle Double Hocket
JS Bach Three Fugues from the Art of Fugue – Contrapunctus VII
Harrison Birtwistle Lied
JS Bach Three Fugues from the Art of Fugue – Contrapunctus XII
Harrison Birtwistle Verses
JS Bach Three Fugues from the Art of Fugue – Contrapunctus XVII
Christian Mason New Work (World première tour)
Ockeghem Ut heremita solus
With my critic’s hat on, I found Mason’s composition a work that projected a clear sense of its place in relation to the history of situating Bach and Birtwistle side-by-side: it was brighter, shinier, and more exuberant than other works on the programme (or indeed the works by Birtwistle or Davies before the late 1960s); it also made me want to sit down with a score and contemplate Mason’s technique, which struck me as able to comment eloquently on the music of an earlier era, particularly in those moments when the facility of his technique qua technique seemed palpable.
But I digress. What did the event mean to the girls at the school?
Mustill asks Pruslin about how ‘well known’ the composers were:
Mustill continues, with some observations about the attendance at Invitation Concerts:
Mustill continues, now with information about how well ‘the three’ were connected and with some information about how others (John Telford, Michael Nyman) knew Birtwistle. She begins with Davies:
This raised the question of the Melos Ensemble. How did they come to take part?
Pruslin, full of anecdotes, raises Emanuel Hurwitz:
Later, looking through the programme, Pruslin notices the listing for his performance of Mozart with Hurwitz:
Pruslin’s Hurwitz digression, though not directly relevant to the Summer School, is, as Pruslin says, exactly the kind of anecdote that, because it’s not a topic in itself, information that’s well contained here:
Writing of blogs, Mustill had listened to the recordings here and comments about the party that ended the 1965 WCSS:
All those I have interviewed to have spoken about ‘Biddy’ Mackintosh with the highest regard:
I gave a copy of the concert programmes to Mustill and Pruslin, who went through, mentioning works that they recalled as most interesting.
Mustill on the outdoor concert, Friday, 21 August 1964:
Mustill gives an insight into the concert venues at the school:
Pruslin on his lecture on Mozart’s opera, 20 August 1964. His comments here are less about the content of his lecture, than that this lecture was the moment that lead to the libretto for Punch and Judy. Indeed, Pruslin here recounts telling Birtwistle about structural problems with Don Giovanni that precipitated the collaboration.
These comments suggest that the investigation of music theatre and opera at the time needs to be a broad one. It also traces a strand of the music theatre story that is separate from the ‘Opera in Music Today’ discussion, back to the WCSS.
Bethany Beardslee, whose performance of Pierrot is well remembered, also gave performances of Babbitt’s Philomel, which Pruslin recalls:
(LS100090, 21’54″ and 23’08″)
Pruslin continues, talking now about Babbitt, whose classes he had attended. This is not the side of Babbitt one expects:
The mythology that surrounds serialism and Princeton has been written about by many others, most notably by Joseph N. Straus (‘A Revisionist History of Twelve-Tone Serialism’ in American Music Journal of the Society for American Music (2008), 2:355-395 Cambridge University Press). The implications for the study of music composed in the UK have not yet been explored thoroughly. Babbitt’s influence during, for example, his UK visit (brought by Lumsdaine, Gilbert and Banks for the SPNM composer weekends), is far from clear. ‘Modal’ and ‘tonal’ writing within ‘serial music’ in the UK (for example, as found in Venn’s study of Hugh Wood) are too often predicated on systems that are, a priori, in conflict rather than, for example, registral or contrapuntal working. Aria for Edward John Eyre is an obvious decendent of Babbitt’s Philomel.
For an interesting interview with Babbitt about Philomel, see here:
We come, again, to Tragoedia:
But no Stravinsky:
The end of the WCSSs was raised, with Pruslin giving a straightforward answer. Immediately the conversation shifts to the genesis of the Pierrot Players:
I asked about works that, although not strictly works of music theatre, nevertheless responded to the ideas of music theatre in terms of drama or rhetoric:
It was Mustill who brought up the financial backing needed to write opera:
Were there any late night concerts or informal events?
To return to the earlier topic of Darmstadt, Pruslin recounts his experience performing at the famous School, where he performed Tippett:
He continues with an anecdote about Tippett years later:
How did Tippett fit into the WCSSs:
One of my continuing questions is about the age of those who participated, and how this differed from Darmstadt:
The underlying question is about ‘institution’:
What of Gilbert’s comment about the WCSSs as a place where new conventions were formed?
The interview with Mustill and Pruslin is particularly interesting for their close friendship with Birtwistle and Davies. The parts of the conversation posted here are those relating most closely to the WCSSs, but the conversation also included much less relevant material. Of the latter, the topic that returned several times was food, and of Birtwistle and Davies as excellent cooks exploring food at the time when British food was markedly changing, with rationing a thing of the past and influences from Europe becoming popular.
The name Melanie Daiken came up as an attendee who isn’t listed elsewhere on this blog.