Inaugural 1980 TONIC

The beginnings of the Robert Simpson Society

The idea of a society to promote better knowledge and appreciation of the works of Robert Simpson had been in the minds of enthusiasts for several years, but RS himself was at first not in favour of the idea. However, his attitude has softened over the years, and the effective genesis of the Society was in August 1978 when a small group came together for preliminary discussions.

It was agreed then that the time to launch a Society was when RS’s music was before the public, and the appropriate time emerged in the spring of this year when, in quick succession, there were broadcasts of the 4th, 5th and 6th String Quartets by the Gabrieli Quartet; the first performance of the 6th Symphony under Sir Charles Groves at the Royal Festival Hall; and performances of all eight String Quartets at Brunel University on successive Saturdays, by the Delmé Quartet.

After letters had been circulated to known supporters of RS’s work and to the musical press, the inaugural meeting of the Society was held at Brunel University on 21st June. Provisional aims and objectives were approved, and a committee elected, before the meeting adjourned to hear the first performance of the 8th Quartet by the Delmé Quartet, in the presence of its dedicatee (and our Chairman), Professor J. D. Gillett.

The Society already has sixty members, and applications are still being received. Sir Adrian Boult, the dedicatee of the 1st Symphony, has kindly consented to become our Patron, and well-known musical members include the Delmé String Quartet, Dr Vagn Holmboe, Lady (Susi) Jeans, Lawrence Leonard and Ronald Smith. Additionally, interest has been expressed by Harry Newstone, Patrick Piggott, Stanley Pope, Alan Ridout and Ronald Stevenson. We should also like to take this opportunity to thank the firms of Alfred Lengnick & Co., and Unicorn Records for practical help and excellent advice, and David Brown, the Secretary of the Havergal Brian Society, for wise and effective counsel based on his own experience.

We have often been told, sometimes in astonishment, that this is the first time a society has been founded in Britain to promote the music of a living composer. (It appears that the pre-war Delius and Sibelius Societies were essentially subscription arrangements for the sale of records created by the companies concerned). We can only wonder why the idea has not been tried before: there would appear to be a need for it in several other cases.

In these days, when musical tastes and fashions seem to switch from the electronic to the aleatory and back again via the dodecaphonic, the serious composer of music in the traditional instrumental forms, using the normal symphony orchestra or chamber groups, is at a disadvantage. When a composer’s work is based firmly on the long-cherished arts of harmony and counterpoint, and is expressly tonal, and when in addition he has never written the kind of pieces – short piano works and songs – that make a composer accessible to the amateur performer, then that composer has some difficulty in reaching the larger public because of his work’s lack of fashionable novelty on the one hand and of ready accessibility on the other.

This appears to be the situation with RS’s music. It generates great enthusiasm among a substantial body of musicians and music-lovers, who see it not only as well-wrought, intellectually convincing and emotionally satisfying in itself, but also as an affirmation that there is still much to say in the traditional extended instrumental forms used by composers from Haydn and Beethoven to Rubbra and Shostakovich. It is not only splendid music; it is also vitally important in the history of music. It is in this knowledge that we have formed this Society, and we ask for the support of like-minded musicians and music-lovers.

Some members have pointed out that our official statement of aims excludes ‘publication’. This is deliberate. We are glad to say the publication of RS’s music requires no support from us; virtually all of his works have been – or are in the process of being – published, either by Lengnicks, or, in some cases, by other firms. Details can be found in the complete list of works.

Similarly, other members have suggested that we include RS’s books in our purview. Again, this does not seem necessary: the well-known studies on Nielsen and Bruckner have recently gone into second editions and the Pelican double volume on the symphony is still available, as is the little handbook on Beethoven’s symphonies.

The committee has already appointed a sub-committee to make detailed proposals for performances and recordings, and for the raising of funds to cover these; progress will be reported in future issues of TONIC. Meanwhile, comments from members and other sympathetic readers will be most welcome.

John Brooks
reprinted from the inaugural issue of TONIC, Winter 1980