Worry not: you have not been brought you here to hear me sing the praises of "the most justly neglected composer in history"
If you don't like the music of Elgar, Holst or Vaughan Williams, you aren't likely to think much of this guy. Come to think of it, even if you do …
It's just his eccentricity and his life story that appeal: there are a few points where I feel a certain affinity. These have nothing to do with the fact that he's usually remembered as the composer of one of the largest symphonies ever written (The Gothic, available on the Marco Polo label) and as a great geriatric prodigy (though that gives me hope that I may produce something worthwhile one day, having lived only half his span so far).
"When I was 80, if somebody had told me I was going to write 22 more symphonies
and two operas before I died, I'd have said they were bloody daft!"
A Potteries lad from a poor but musical family (he added the middle name after William Havergal, of Aylesbury, 18th Century choral composer), he was largely self-taught (some would say it shows). When he started to make a name for himself, a local businessman, annoyed that Finland had given young Jean Sibelius a life pension, while the Potteries did nothing to help their rising star (some would say there was a good reason for that), offered to settle a certain regular sum on our William. Gratefully, he stopped working and spent all the money on wine and women and very little on song. His benefactor, incensed, withdew the money. Brian went back to work. The money was soon resumed — and so was the high life.
And that was the pattern. But, when he worked, he rarely made any effort to make money from his labours and rarely seemed bothered to promote his music, preferring to move on to the next project straight away: hence his flustered benefactor's resuming the flow of dosh more than, in retrospct, might seem wise. Indeed, he spent a lot of time when at his poorest on the utterly impractical Gothic, without any intention, let alone expectation, of having it played.
I know I've left it a bit later in my life but I too am trying to be creative, am working (or "lower-middle") class, self-taught and possessed of very little talent. So, if you read this and my half-hearted appeal, and are filled with an urge to emulate that Potteries businessman of a century ago, I shall promise to be equally irresponsible with your money.
You might just go down in history, if only as a footnote.
The Gothic is worth a listen, having some sublime (and some ridiculous) moments, but it was written more as an exercise than for performance. It waited half a century for that, leading to the immortal 'trousers' quote. And the first English Suite is a fine piece of light music, premiered at the Proms and deserving a far better performance than the well-meant but atrocious sound of the Hull Schools Symphony Orchestra.
The middle period symphonies, around 8, 9 and 10 are pretty good too but I reckon if there's one work that deserves a place in the repertoire, it's the Violin Concerto (also available on Marco Polo). Strictly speaking it's the second concerto, as he left the first on a train and never got it back. This is a reworking of what he could remember.
Having sprinted across Leicester to retrieve my novel from a coach, I can sympathise. I have never been a fit person.