Deryck Cooke and his 10th Symphony – recording a success

While the materials in the Deryck Cooke Archive are of historical and scholarly interest in their own right, it is of course immensely pleasing when they prove also to be of practical use to a project in the commercial, non-academic world.

An instance of such usefulness arose soon after the materials arrived at the Library – when Colin Matthews and myself (as members of the Archive’s Editorial Board) were contacted by Testament Records in connection with their plans for a CD release of recordings relating to Cooke’s work on the draft of Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony.

Testament’s intention was to produce a 3-CD set presenting the two earliest stages in Cooke’s creation of a performable edition: the famous 1960 lecture-demonstration that was broadcast on the Third Programme as part of the BBC’s Mahler centenary celebrations; and the 1964 premiere (at the Proms) of the first full-length version of his score.

Cooke's radio script on Mahler, December 1960; CUL: Deryck Cooke Archive (yet unclassmarked)

Cooke's radio script on Mahler, December 1960; CUL: Deryck Cooke Archive (yet unclassmarked)

To hear that these previously unpublished recordings were being prepared for commercial release was exciting news. The 1960 programme is a classic of its kind – with Cooke introducing the largely unknown music by means of examples played at the piano, and then explaining his work on the draft score with extracts performed by a live orchestra. (A page of his actual script can be seen to the right).

What is more, the two orchestral performances together provide a fascinating insight into how musicians began to make sense of a large-scale work which in essence was half a century old, but for which no performing tradition existed.

With Colin Matthews charged with the task of producing the booklet note for this recording, work here at the University Library focused on the provision of images. Cooke’s partner Hazel Hyde (also an Editorial Board member) had sent off a portrait that could be used for the front cover; after negotiating various legal obstacles the Archive was able to release a photograph of conductor Berthold
Goldschmidt
that was one of several snaps known to have been taken on the day of the Proms premiere, 13 August 1964. In addition, with the help of John F. Berky, President of the newly reconstituted Bruckner Society of America, and veteran Mahlerian Jerry Bruck of New York, we were able to source a legally usable image of the Society’s Mahler Medal of Honor – which had been presented to Cooke by Dika Newlin on the same occasion.

Cooke: 'Mahler - a reconstruction of the tenth symphony', in Radiotimes, 15 December 1960, p. 20

Another task was to scrutinise several introductory and explanatory articles that Cooke had written at the time of the broadcasts – in order to make sure that the terms in which the various items would now be described did not depart too far from those originally used. For example, Cooke was adamant that he was not producing a completion of the unfinished work, but rather providing a performing version of the draft: for the CDs’ labelling or packaging to give the impression of a ‘Cooke completion’ or ‘Cooke realisation’ would obviously be inauthentic as well as misleading. (Incidentally, Cooke tended to preserve his own articles not as typescripts or carbons, but as isolated pages torn out of the printed publication: a scan of a torn-out copy of the 1960 Radio Times article can be seen to the left.)

Concerning the recordings themselves, it was revealed that Testament had obtained various tapes of the broadcasts from a number of collectors as well as the BBC – and, upon examination, a mystery emerged: in one of the tapes from 1960 the introductions to the concluding orchestral run-through of movements and sections were delivered by Cooke himself, speaking in a concert-hall acoustic; in another they were spoken by an announcer in a studio!

The mystery was not insoluble, however. Since the original broadcast also survives in off-air recordings made by enthusiasts at the time, it is evident that the ‘Cooke-only’ tape is the earlier: one imagines that the ‘studio announcer’ version must have been produced by the BBC at a later stage – presumably to create something that could be re-broadcast as a free-standing musical item separate from Cooke’s opening 40-minute lecture. The fact that no reference to any such re-broadcast has been found may seem strange, but with a little thought it too can be explained: following the original December 1960 programme, Alma Mahler withdrew the permission she had previously given to the BBC, and forbade all further broadcasts of the Tenth. As a result, one surmises, the re-edited tape was never used: by the time Mrs Mahler rescinded her ban in 1963, things had moved on – with Cooke having prepared a new edition that played continuously, without the gaps that he had modestly left in the 1960 score.

All in all, these issues (and others!) made this a fairly demanding project that extended over several weeks – with every member of the Editorial Board putting in time and effort, and Stewart Brown, head of Testament Records, showing a distinctly un-commercial commitment to getting everything right from every perspective. When the discs were finally released, early in 2011, the finished product looked truly splendid! (for an image of the cover of the CD see http://www.testament.co.uk/media/mediaimages/1400/SBT1457.pdf). And it was good to see the applausive reviews that appeared in such publications as The Gramophone and The Guardian.

'Historic' category, Gramophone Music Recording Awards for Mahler 10th Symphone, 2011

The most gratifying development, however, only occurred months later: in September it was announced that the release had been short-listed for the Historic category of the 2011 Gramophone Classical Music Awards. And eventually – after two months of waiting! – came the news that the discs had actually won, and that Colin Matthews would be present at the ceremony to collect the award on behalf of Stewart Brown (this has been captured, and is available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx-kdzQ4bbs).

I don’t think it is out of place for me to say how encouraging it is to find that the Archive’s first substantial engagement with the outside world resulted in the awarding of a coveted prize. I think a hearty ‘Well done!’ is in order for all concerned.

MD

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About Mark Doran

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