Football and Music

Hans Keller

  • The Tongs and the Bones: The Memoirs of Lord Harewood
    Weidenfeld, 334 pp, £9.95, October 1981, ISBN 0 297 77960 5
  • Putting the Record Straight: The Autobiography of John Culshaw
    Secker, 362 pp, £8.50, November 1981, ISBN 0 436 11802 5
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mastersinger: A Documented Study by Kenneth Whitton
    Oswald Wolff, 342 pp, £15.00, December 1981, ISBN 0 85496 405 3

Why this reviewer for Harewood’s autobiography? Despite extreme dissimilarities, the two of us share utterly unrelated, central preoccupations – music and football, with football, too, being drawn into our professional lives. The difference is that whereas I – a born musician with an infantile passion for football – insist on the lack of relation to the extent of avoiding musical metaphors in my writings on football and footballing metaphors in my musical writings and teaching, Harewood actually attempts to integrate his heterogeneous passions, at least theoretically.

The ex-President of the English Football Association and of Leeds United considers that Don Revie ‘was a rare leader of men. He welded together an ensemble – that is what a team is – which was the envy of others, and he and I used sometimes to talk into the night about how you build football teams and operatic ensembles and then inspire them so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. (Don couldn’t take the idea that singers went off in mid-season to sing elsewhere and yet remained loyal members of an ensemble!)’ Evidently, old Don overrated both the degree to which opera houses fight each other and the likely unapproachability of footballers who had the chance of earning innumerable dollars in the close season.

Practised as a writer, or at least as a musical journalist, Lord Harewood has produced an autobiography which not only confines itself to matters of genuine interest, both public and human, but is so singularly sensitive to people’s feelings that, in the end, it poses a psychological problem: where did his aggression go? The question was posed by a psychotherapist of my acquaintance, and my answer is that I really do not know, since the author even manages to turn his unfavourable criticisms into almost loving observations – or, if not loving, then certainly deeply understanding.

Not that his comprehensive sensitivity is without ill effect on his style and indeed the precision of his thought: ‘I have tried, probably unsuccessfully, to avoid the trap of feeling obliged to refer to all the friends and colleagues whom I would not like to offend; in the end, lots remain unmentioned and I must face the consequences.’ The over-cautious triple negative has tied up the author in a knot which conveys exactly the opposite of what he means: if he hasn’t avoided the trap of feeling obliged, he has referred to everybody and has no consequences to fear. Altogether, Lord Harewood’s style can, at times, be ‘disconcerting’ – to use the book’s most frequent verb He says ‘as opposed to’ when he means ‘as distinct from’, and ‘ambivalence’ when he means ‘ambiguity’. One is, in fact, tempted to remark that his English as one knows it is better than some of these pages suggest, and the same is true of his German, which (with the publisher’s help) does not often appear without a minor mistake.

Nevertheless, the book is eminently readable – above all, because it throws light on a personality four of whose character traits make Harewood so exceptional a human being that the character study he provokes in the reader can only prove rewarding. Pronounced musicality is a trait which, in normal circumstances, is nothing to write home about. But where the home itself is, musically speaking, abnormal, music’s fate cannot fail to fascinate. For musically, there is no doubt that George’s childhood was underprivileged Even as unconventional and not so royal an ex-king as the Duke of Windsor, after inquiring whether Lord Harewood was competent at his Covent Garden job, ‘could not resist saying: “It’s very odd about George and music. You know, his parents were quite normal – liked horses and dogs and the country!” ’ And Harewood writes: ‘We went regularly before the war to parties at Buckingham Palace. There were Levées, celebrating my grandmother’s birthday, at which a Guards Band played; I was regularly given “In a Monastery Garden”, joined now in my affections by the Londonderry Air.’

It needed the death of his grandfather, King George V, to acquaint him, during the procession, ‘with its constantly repeated Dead March from Saul and Chopin’s Funeral March, each of which I took to my heart’: and the procession became ‘the most impressive part of the funeral’. I have no doubt that if Lord Harewood had grown up in a normal environment, he would, as a matter of course, have become a musician – whereas his musical undernourishment and malnutrition resulted in a passion for the gramophone, on the one hand, and, on the other, in his reading, as a prisoner of war, Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians ‘up to S, when I was moved’ (to Colditz). One might indeed venture that he is the only human being of his musicality who is not a musician, even though his various jobs have got him as close to musical professionalism as a non-musician can get.

There is nothing more boring to read about, and nothing more exciting to experience, than unconditional honesty. Fortunately, when you read these memoirs, you don’t read about it: you read it, and hence experience it. And it is again within his noble social context, whose gentle dishonesty is a virtue that has forgotten its sinfulness, that this character trait makes itself incisively felt, the more so since it is combined with a trait that normally inhibits honesty – to wit, tact. But then Lord Hare-wood’s tact is not of the ordinary, amiably hypocritical variety. Though it will no doubt have been promoted by his breeding, it equally clearly springs from that innate empathy with, and concern for, other people which is the most exceptional trait of them all, and which was put to the severest possible test – morally speaking, with sensational success.

That test was the effect the break-up of his marriage had on his friend, Benjamin Britten, and the effect Benjamin Britten’s reaction had on him. It is, in fact, Britten’s reaction which, in my own view now, makes me a desirable reviewer of the book. For it so happened that in the intricate situation which preceded the end of Harewood’s first union and the overlapping beginning of his second, I found myself, humanly, emotionally, in a comparable position to Britten’s: acutely conscious of profound feelings of friendship towards both Marion Thorpe (the former Countess of Harewood) and the Earl of Harewood himself, I had to face Britten’s problem – except that, to my mind, there was no problem: friendship was friendship and did not imply, involve, necessitate, any identification with one party at the expense of the other. On the contrary, since friendship meant, inevitably, identification with either party, any ensuing conflict was endopsychic, my own problem.

That was not Britten’s solution: ‘When I got back to London [from the Holland festival] there was a curt note from him saying that my behaviour to Marion had alienated him so much that he was putting an end to our association. That seemed to be that, and of course he was entitled to behave as he chose, however much at variance with his professed determination not to take sides it might seem. But it was a little surprising a month later to open the visitor’s book at Harewood and find that he and Rostropovich had stayed there with Marion just before the Holland Festival, in my absence and without a word ever being said.’ And this ‘surprise’ was the only negative feeling towards Britten which George Harewood seems to have been able to muster. I must confess that on Harewood’s behalf, I myself still feel cross with Britten, perturbed, upset, deeply baffled. Harewood merely records ‘the disturbed feelings that his ending of our friendship left behind. That this hurt me abominably I do not deny, but I could never feel that he was on that account wholly in the wrong; and my belief in him, my admiration for what he achieved and my affection for him as a human being remain quite undimmed.’

George Harewood loves dictionaries; he has himself edited, and contributed to, encyclopedic undertakings. He may therefore be interested to learn that he can be described as a personified dictionary entry – a simultaneous, crystal-clear definition of both meanings, and of each separate meaning, of the adjective ‘noble’. No member of the nobility mentioned in this book seems to have evinced a remotely comparable mental development.

Where Harewood seems a born professional musician, self-bred as an amateur, the late John Culshaw was the born musical amateur, whose eventual breeding was to become ever more professional. In 1967, his last year as a gramophonist and the projected last of his unfinished memoirs, he was even appointed Head of the BBC’s television music, beating me to it at the post, where the two of us had been shortest-listed without having put in for the job, and where I appeared to hold the advantage of a senior job in BBC radio. It duly turned into a disadvantage: unlike radio (or unlike the Sixties’ radio), television deeply suspected musical professionalism.

This moment of rivalry did not affect our intermittent personal relationship, which consisted of human warmth and, on my-side at any rate, of emphatic extra-musicality: musically, I had nothing to say to John Culshaw, and he, in my view, had nothing to say – a view which this entertaining and eminently human book confirms. From Harewood, we get insight into Britten’s musical personality; from Culshaw, we hear that Britten disliked Wagner’s music because ‘he had never had time to know it particularly well.’ He knew it well enough to parody it unofficially as well as officially in his comic opera, Albert Herring (which Culshaw recorded): well enough to have formed a complex ambivalence towards Wagner – as towards Beethoven and Brahms.

Gramophonically, of course, Culshaw was an out-and-out professional; his Decca recording of The Ring has attained the status of a historic event – which, incidentally, had been the motive power of his two previous books, Ring Resounding and Reflections on Wagner’s ‘Ring’. His stories from the heart of the record industry are, needless to add, of unfailing factual interest – or rather, they only fail when they don’t contain the necessary musical information, while indulging in unnecessary musical opinion. As a representative example, a test case, I am excerpting a single sentence which should enable the reader to judge for himself whether this well-written autobiography is for him: it is if he finds nothing wrong with the excerpt.

From the recording of the first part of Götterdämmerung, Culshaw ‘went back to London to record Britten’s Cello Symphony and a Haydn concerto with Britten conducting and Rostropovich as the soloist: the first session was the day after the premiére of Britten’s new and in some ways strangely uncharacteristic work.’ Haydn wrote two cello concertos of exceptional, indeed singular interest: for decades, the justly and widely popular D major was not supposed to be his, but a pupil’s, Anton Kraft’s (though the musicians amongst us never had any doubt, and to hell with the musicological evidence); while the C major, beloved by Britten, is a fairly recent discovery, unknown at the time when the scholars said the D major was Kraft’s. Now, how can one, in the circumstances, report the Rostropovich-Britten recording of ‘a Haydn concerto’? The interest of the occasion depends on our knowledge of the work recorded – which was the C major.

As for Culshaw’s opinion that the adventurous Cello Symphony is uncharacteristic Britten, you might as well say that the Eighth Symphony is uncharacteristic Beethoven, utterly unlike the Seventh: in fact, at the first performance, people did. ‘That’s because it’s so much better than the Seventh,’ grinned Beethoven.

Both Harewood and Culshaw had been asked to write their autobiographies, but it is only in Culshaw’s case that you notice the commission, however elegantly executed. Mind you, he had died in early 1980, from a rare type of hepatitis, before he could complete his draft. One thing seems certain: Harewood says less than he thinks, Culshaw usually mora – even about their common idol, Wagner. But then, Harewood has far more idols.

Kenneth S. Whitton is neither a professional nor an amateur musician, but a Senior Lecturer in German Studies, musically alive, who is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s close friend and translator. His musical naivety is unashamed: ‘This study set out to document the career of a musician who, at 56, is, I believe, the greatest singer of his time.’ To consider Pele the greatest footballer of his time would be an unprofessional oversimplification – but in sport, at least, it is possible, indeed necessary, to rank achievement. In art, however, ‘the greatest’ does not exist, for artistic greatness necessarily involves incomparability: there is no league-table of singers. For the purpose of musical documentation, however, you need not be a musician – nor indeed does this study confine itself to the singer and conductor, but takes in the writer and painter too. Dr Whitton does know his sources, amongst which Harewood and Culshaw find their rightful place; a detailed assessment by Harewood even appears twice over. The author has a scholar’s conscience: factually, the book is quite exceptionally comprehensive and reliable, and fantasy is only allowed to intrude upon Dr Whitton’s evaluations, which duly turn his subject into ‘a musical Colossus’.