The new Gramophone Archive will be launched on October 30!
For the last 90 years Gramophone has built up an unrivalled collection of interviews with the leading classical artists and composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. From October 30 you will be able to read every page of every issue of Gramophone since 1923 on your iPad, iPhone or desktop computer as part of your digital magazine subscription. Follow this link for more information about the digital magazine, soon to include the new, unrivalled, Gramophone Archive.
Reprinted below is just one of the thousands of interviews that you will be able to enjoy in the Gramophone Archive. Written by John Barbirolli shortly after the announcement of his new position as guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic for the 1936-7 season, it's a fascinating insight into Barbirolli's early life and development as a conductor (Gramophone, October 1936):
Although I have little time for writing articles at present, I was unable to refuse the invitation of Gramophone, which was responsible for my first orchestral recordings in the days of the National Gramophonic Society. Proud and happy as I am at the compliment which New York has paid me, I am deeply aware of the hard and difficult task which lies before me, and I hope that I shall not prove too unworthy of the honour which has been paid to British Music through me.
Please let me deprecate at once any talk that I am to be Toscanini's successor. With his going closes a great era in the history of the New York Philharmonic, and an official of the New York Philharmonic Society put the position in this way to a reporter in an interview. He said, 'We feel that in inviting Mr Barbirolli we are making what may prove an interesting experiment. We realise he is young but we are faced with the necessity of discovering fresh talent, and from what we have heard of his conducting in England we have every reason to believe that our choice will be a happy one.'
I hope so. Strangely enough this year is my Silver Jubilee as a public performer; it is almost exactly 25 years ago that I, a small boy of 11, played the solo part in the Saint-Saëns Concerto at the Queen's Hall.
I continued my studies as a cellist, but my real ambition had always been to conduct. Bandmasters in parks were my heroes when I was a youngster. When I was about six or seven, a small band used to play in Lincolns Inn Fields: we lived near by in Drury Lane at the time, and it was the greatest treat I could think of, to be taken there to watch the bandmaster. Meanwhile I practised and practised on the cello and was earning my own living long before most boys had left school. When I was 14 I set out on my professional career and it was not long before I had played everywhere except in the street – theatres, music halls, cinemas, in opera orchestras, and in chamber music. I went right through the mill. I think now that it was the best possible thing that could have happened to me.
A conductor must be a good psychologist, he must know how to handle the different personalities which make up an orchestra. Living among orchestral players and knowing them so well was to be a great help to me later on.
When I was 16 I became a member of the Queen's Hall Orchestra, and it was good schooling to work my way through such a large repertoire of orchestral works. Round about this time I also played in the Carl Rosa Opera Company Orchestra, and soon after joined the Beecham Opera Company at Drury Lane: in fact I scorned no avenue that would teach me something about my job.
In those days mechanical music was unknown in the theatre; wherever plays were performed there would be a small theatre orchestra. I played in one of these. There was not much to do, incidental music to plays had fallen into disuse; all we did was to play the people to and from the bar in the intervals. In the long waits between the intervals I studied scores. When the time came that I had the opportunity to conduct, all these early experiences, this knowledge of playing inside an orchestra were to stand me in good stead.
Actually the first conducting I ever did was when I was in the army. The Colonel of the Suffolk Regiment, with which I served, was an enthusiastic amateur fiddler, and after the Armistice he found that a number of us could play, and formed a small orchestra. I played in the orchestra and we used to have some very good evenings. But one night the regular conductor was unable to turn up, and at the last moment I took his place. I have always maintained that the stick technique of an efficient conductor was a natural thing, and I can with truth say that as far as 'stick facility' (if I may use such a term) is concerned, I conducted as naturally then as I do now. Anyhow, I enjoyed myself that night.
My first professional effort was in 1925 when I founded a chamber orchestra under the auspices of the Guild of Singers and Players. The orchestra was small but of fine quality, and it soon made some reputation for itself. It was with this orchestra that I made my first gramophonic recordings for the National Gramophonic Society with some Purcell and Delius pieces.
About this time Ethel Bartlett and I had enjoyed some success playing piano and cello sonatas from memory – everybody seemed to think it rather wonderful that we should play without music, but it was merely the result of the very intensive rehearsing in which we used to indulge. Ethel Bartlett was the soloist at my first Guild orchestral concert, and she and her husband, Rae Robertson, are to be my soloists at the concluding concert of my season in New York.
A few months later the Chenil Galleries were opened, a chamber orchestra was formed, and through the offices of John Goss, the conducting of it was entrusted to my care.
John Goss, always a good friend and a believer in me, was, in a way, responsible for my debut in opera. He engaged me to conduct at a concert he gave of Van Dieren's works. Frederick Austin, then the artistic director of the BNOC (British National Opera Company) was in the hall, and was sufficiently impressed to engage me to go on tour with the BNOC. Within a year I was conducting at Covent Garden.
My first big concert opportunity came when, through the sudden indisposition of Sir Thomas Beecham, the London Symphony Orchestra sent for me, giving me 48 hours' notice to conduct the Elgar Second Symphony. Casals was the soloist in the Haydn Concerto, and one incident I remember vividly. At rehearsal, after the first few introductory bars, I stopped the orchestra and made a few remarks. Casals leaned forward in his chair and said: 'Listen to him. He knows.' I was only a boy, and those few words coming from such a great artist touched me deeply. It was a wonderful thing for a man of his greatness to do: I shall never forget it. But then I have always cherished the thought that all really great men are simple and generous, and very rarely have I been disillusioned. It is certainly true of Casals and Kreisler, to mention but two.
The Queen's Hall was packed that night, and a memorable evening for me. Coming off the rostrum, after the closing bars of the Elgar, I found a little man on the platform who accosted me with the words 'Don't sign any gramophone contracts. See you tomorrow at 10. My name's Gaisberg – HMV.' And that was the beginning of my association with HMV, and of a very delightful friendship with that great little man, Fred Gaisberg, an association that has lasted ever since.
I have not the slightest doubt that my recordings have helped to spread my name abroad. The editor has asked me if I have any stories to tell of recordings, but modern recording has reached such a high standard that there is little time for anything but the job in hand, and consequently recording is a strain. One evening I was recording with Heifetz for three hours, during which time we made the whole of the Wieniawski Concerto and the Rondo Capriccioso of Saint-Saëns – that gives you an idea of what has to be done in a studio these days! The end of that session found us completely exhausted, and the lady had gone home with the key of the whisky cupboard. It was broken open!
My most recent, and one of the happiest experiences of the recording studio has been the re-recording of the Beethoven and Brahms Concertos with Kreisler and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I was very happy in the beautiful music-making we had together. One of the sessions was on a very close and thundery day, and we all were feeling exhausted before we began. Going down the stairs to the recording studio Kreisler said, 'Never mind. We shall feel better once we begin to play.'
And we did. I have no doubt that great music must be one of the best tonics in the world.
I should like to recall one memorable incident of my career, tinged though it must be with the sad thought of the passing of a great musician. Not long before his death, Elgar was due to conduct the Hallé in a concert of his own music, but he was already too ill to do so and I conducted for him. I revere his memory as a man and as one of the greatest composers of all time.
I would not like to go to New York now without acknowledging my very real debt to my friends, the orchestral players of this country. From the day I left my seat among them to stand before them, our relations have been those of mutual respect and affection, and in the great honour that has come to me, I would like to feel that they have a share.
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