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No. 150

A RULE I have had to make since I reviewed books is not to read regularly either The Sunday Times or The Obserf,Jer, for i.f I took them in I could not always resist reading the pages about new books, and i t has always seemed to me essentia ~ that a book reviewer should avoid knowing what other critics think about work that has yet to be proved more than ephemeral. One of the results of this deliberate self-deprivation is the loss of Mr. Ernest Newman's weekly criticism of music in The Sunday Times; but the other day a friend arriving in Barra brought with him a current copy of The Sunday Times and I had the pleasure of reading what IVlr. Newman had to say about the Bela Bartok Quartet in A minor which was recently published by H.M.V. in an album of four discs. He was talking of the difficulty people must have had a hundred years ago in reaching any kind of appreciat ion of Beethoven's later quartets, and he pointed out the wonderful advantages we enjoy in regard to new music, thanks to the gramophone. "Anyone who wishes to study the Bartok No.1," writes Mr. Newman, "can now do so under ideal conditions: he has, in these records, a practically perfect representation of the music as i t really is, and he can turn the records on as often as he l ikes: he can learn more about this music in ten hours than the average man of 1830- l10 could have learned of the Beethoven Quartets in ten years." After this Mr. Newman went on to argue as i t seemed to me irrefutably that " Bartok is not in the same class as Beethoven." Nevertheless, the fact that a critic of Mr. Newman's eminence is prepared to discuss the possibility of a comparison between Beethoven's later quartets and the three quartets of Bela Bartok is at least a tribute to the respect which the Hungarian composer's music can command. I have not yet had the leisure to play over this magnificeut recording of a magnificent performance by the Pro Arte Quartet often enough to feel unconscious of the strangeness of the idiom, and therefore qualified to enter the second stage of musical appreciation, of trying to find out what the music has to say without


being perplexed by the way in which i t is being said. I think i t might be granted as a postulate that we members of an island race are particularly handicapped in our efTorts to understand the music of Central Europe. I would say that the popularity which Sibelius has so rapidly achieved in this country, when once the gramophoue and to a lesser extent the wireless and the more frequent performances of bis music at concerts had made i t possible, bas been largely due to a temperamental affinity influenced by the fundamental origins, of our racial development. I t is true that Sibelius is a Finn, and that on the surface one may call him as racially remote as a Hungarian. Yet at the back of his music I always hear" the ancestral voices prophesying war," and the "old unhappy far-ofT things and battles long ago" Wordsworth heard in the song of t.he Highland reaper. Two or three years ago I was writing in THE GRAMOPHONE that the music of Sibelius expressed more of Scotland tban any native composer has succeeded in expressing, and with each new album published by the Sibelius Society I find confirmation of that opinion. In fact, the sandy shores of the Baltic Sea, the melancholy forests and the innumerable lakes of Finland mean more to us t.han the great plain of Hungary. I believe I have already pointed out in these columns that the bulk of the world's greatest music has come from inland nations, and t.hat the bulk of the world's greatest. poetrs has come from maritime nations. I suppose Finland as a whole would be called less of a maritime nation than an inland nat.ion if it. were estimated by the mere extent of it.s coastline. Yet, the best sailors in the world have come from Great Britain, Norway and Finland, and that being so we are justified in attributing to the music of Sibelius a maritime affinit.y which makes i t more comprehensible to ourselves.

The response which this country made to the music of Tchaikovsky was probably, indeed certainly, not the response of temperamental affinity. Perhaps i t was the discovery in Tchaikovsky of the first music