Reverting to Type. . .

Spine of Deryck Cooke, The Language of Music, OUP, 1959 (UL classmark: MR824.c.95.6)

On reflection, it isn’t really surprising that so many of the items forming the Deryck Cooke Archive are undated and even unidentified. Not only was Cooke’s death in October 1976 sudden and unexpected, but his workload in those last years can fairly be described as Herculean – with writing, lecturing, and work on his ‘performing version’ of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony all continuing alongside a full-time job as BBC Music Presentation Editor. Small wonder, then, that much of Cooke’s Nachlass looks like the accumulating papers of a man whose concentration upon present tasks left no time at all for the labelling and categorising of things he’d completed.

This state of affairs has consequences for the processing of the Archive’s materials: either one tolerates a considerable number of list- and catalogue-entries of the ‘no date; no details; 8 pp.’ variety – or else one carries out a certain amount of investigative work in an attempt to find out when a mysterious item was written and where it might have been broadcast, read out, or published (if indeed it was). What gives such details a particular significance is the intellectual ‘watershed’ constituted by Cooke’s The Language of Music (published in November 1959): when a proper study of his output is eventually attempted, the work and thought that fed into this ground-breaking book will need to be distinguished from the writings and other activities that came after – and which inevitably will reflect the results of further thought and discussion, as well as the impact of Cooke’s disappointment at the lack of serious consideration he felt his book had received.

As reasonably representative examples of the kind of ‘mystery item’ that needs to be dealt with, let me submit three undated and unlabelled carbon typescripts which clearly form a single series. Their titles are: ‘Music, Cutlery and Red Hair’ (4 pp.), ‘Don’t Make Me Laugh!’ (5 pp.), and ‘What the Eye Doesn’t See. . .’ (4 pp.).

Cooke typescript: ‘Music, Cutlery and Red Hair’

As the reproduced incipits indicate, all three are engaging in tone and mostly non-technical in content, suggesting that a non-professional audience of ‘music lovers’ was being addressed. At the same time, the thoughtful argumentation and quantity of supporting quotation and exemplification cause these pieces – as is frequently the case in Cooke’s writing! – to be a more substantial read than their ‘approachable’ style might suggest.

Cooke typescript: ‘Don’t Make Me Laugh!’

The first piece is a defence of music as a medium of emotional expression and non-verbal description (its title alludes to remarks ascribed to Richard Strauss concerning his powers of musical depiction); the second extends this with consideration of humour in music; and the third examines music’s expression of the erotic (with ‘[t]he three great erotic composers’ being named as ‘Wagner, Strauss – and Mozart’). It is clear from the text that these are magazine articles (rather than, say, radio or lecture scripts), and that they were intended to appear at monthly intervals; but that is as far as a first inspection takes us.

'What the Eye Doesn't See...'

Cooke typescript: ‘What the Eye Doesn’t See…’

There are internal clues to be found, however. The first piece reports that

only the other day the Music Critic of The Times confessed that a recording of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which he was playing for review purposes, had incited him to dance around the room.

Since The Times has a digital archive that is electronically searchable, it is easy to ascertain that no such confession of terpsichorean abandon is to be found in its pages; Cooke must therefore have obtained the information from some other, unknown source. All we can glean from the story, then, is that the report dates to the 17-year editorship of Frank Howes (i.e. 1943-1960), as we know that Howes’s successor William Mann had an intense loathing of Orff’s most famous work (‘. . . it stinks . . . musically obscene . . . particularly evil . . . this ghoul from Nazi Germany . . . ’: see his ‘The Saddest Musical Story’, The Times, 6 July 1974, p. 7).

In the second of the pieces, Cooke mentions

the recent Hoffnung Music Festival, with its giant tuba, heckelphone, hosepipe, beer-bottles, and vacuum-cleaners, which, as you can hear from the recording, had the audience in fits.

Hoffnung concert LP cover

And this, of course, is a splendid clue. In all, there were three comedy concerts bearing Gerard Hoffnung’s name: in 1956, 1958 and 1961 (the last after the humourist’s death in 1959); but Cooke must surely be referring to the first. The vacuum cleaners, for example, were heard in Malcolm Arnold’s A Grand, Grand Overture – while the hosepipe was the ‘instrument’ on which the great Dennis Brain performed the ‘corno pastoritio’ part in an extract from the finale of Leopold Mozart’s Sinfonia Pastorale in G major. And since that first concert took place on 13 November 1956, and its recording was released in the UK in February 1957 (Columbia 33CX 1406), we would seem to have narrowed the range of possibility very substantially.

Also, in this second piece Cooke includes ‘an extract from an article by Anthony Quinton in a recent issue of The New Statesman and Nation’:

Is there any other definable human group. . . .more galumphingly humourless than the devotees of serious music; is there any spectacle more embarrassing, anything more leadenly heavy-footed, than musicians making fun of their art?

And, as it happens, it takes only a few minutes among the UL’s trove of bound periodicals to discover that the piece in question is Quinton’s review of Rebecca West’s novel The Fountain Overflows, which appeared in the issue of 26 January 1957.

Now, while ‘recent’ is of course a term of some flexibility, from these two indications one feels able to suggest that our three pieces were most likely written in the early part of 1957 – more than two years before the appearance of the book in which Cooke presented his case for, and explanation of, music’s capacity for defined emotional communication. And, interestingly, the first article includes a quotation from Beethoven concerning the Mass in D (‘From the heart it came; to the heart may it go’) which, in a more literal translation, actually went on to close a chapter in The Language of Music:


The Language of Music, end of Chapter 4 (p. 210)

But where – and precisely when – did the articles appear? The fact that they survive only as carbon typescripts – rather than as the printed ‘tear-outs’ that seem to have been Cooke’s favourite method of preservation! – might be thought to indicate that the series was written ‘on spec’ and never actually found a published home. This is unlikely, however: no established writer works three monthly articles in advance – not least because, at best, payment for the last will be more than ninety days away! Far more probable is that the pieces became untraceable simply because they were written for a magazine that was little discussed by others and has now passed into undigitized obscurity. As for what its title may have been, there appeared to be no way of finding out – with the result that these three items seemed destined for dull and uninformative descriptions of the kind ‘prob. early 1957 (int’l. ev.); no details’. . .

Cover of Record News, February 1957, held in the UL as L409.b.98.4

Cover of Record News, February 1957 (UL classmark L409.b.98)

And then something happened entirely by chance. An unconnected electronic search for Cooke’s name within the digital archive of The Gramophone suddenly revealed a baffling appearance in the issue of January 1954 – some five years before he began to review for that renowned publication. On inspection, this turned out to be part of a printed advertisement for several Supraphon LPs – with the company having quoted part of a positive review that Cooke had apparently written for the November 1953 issue of another, now vanished publication called Record News. And, once the UL’s holdings of this title had been accessed, it not only emerged that Cooke had been a regular and prolific contributor since its introductory ‘Vol. 0, No. 0’ of (probably) July 1953, but also that ‘Music, Cutlery and Red Hair’ and ‘Don’t Make Me Laugh!’ were actually to be found within the issues of February and March 1957 (Vol. 4, Nos. 11 and 12 respectively).

As for ‘What the Eye Doesn’t See. . .’, on the other hand, it turned out that no published trace of it was to be discovered: though the end of the second piece makes trailing reference to ‘the subject of next month’s article’, one finds that Cooke’s third essay did not appear in the April issue, nor in any that followed it.

Can it possibly be that, once the piece landed on his desk, founder-editor Miles Henslow considered that a discussion which made compendious reference to the erotic content of, inter alia, the Symphonia domestica, Der Rosenkavalier, Feuersnot, Salome, Tristan, and – Heaven forfend! – Joyce’s Ulysses was simply not something to be unleashed upon his unsuspecting readers? Was it really the case that what Cooke’s very text described as ‘our national sense of confused embarrassment’ saw to it that his third article was, to use the journalistic parlance of his day, ‘spiked’? After all, this was 1957. . .


About Mark Doran

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