Tuesday, 25 March 2008
Beecham and the Pastoral
One of the highlights of our Autumn 2008 publication programme will be a new biography of Thomas Beecham by John Lucas, who has written about Reginald Goodall and Otto Klemperer in the past. Informed by substantial new research, Lucas’s life of the conductor is certain to become the standard work. In this Vaughan Williams anniversary year, let us look at Beecham conducting the composer’s Pastoral Symphony at the 1928 Leeds Festival, notorious for its concerts of mind-numbing length.
Mishaps caused by tiredness were inevitable. In the first movement, Beecham, conducting without a score, had an all-too-obvious memory-lapse and was only saved from having to call a halt by quick thinking on the part of the leader, Willie Reed, who kept the orchestra on track. For the rest of the performance Beecham used a score. To some, the incident seemed, if not divine, then certainly musical retribution, for at the final rehearsal, keen to score a point off a composer for whose music he did not care that much, Beecham had deliberately continued to beat time after the work had reached its peaceful conclusion. ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ asked Beecham, who had conducted the whole rehearsal from memory. ‘Because it’s finished,’ said Reed. ‘Thank God,’ said Beecham. The orchestra enjoyed the joke, but others present thought it in dubious taste. Not that Beecham cared. Vaughan Williams would always resent Beecham’s lack of interest in his work. In the course of his career Beecham conducted four performances of the Vaughan Williams Pastoral in all. At the end of the last one, given at a studio concert in 1951 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he is reputed to have leant down to the leader, Paul Beard, and commented, ‘A city life for me.’
More from this new Beecham biography over the coming months.