Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Earliest Writing by Ashley Sterne

Today I ran across the following letter to the editor by Ernest Halsey (1876-1939).  The letter was written in 1907, several years before Halsey adopted the pen name of Ashley Sterne and began contributing humorous quips and articles to London Opinion magazine.  The letter displays flashes of the Ashley Sterne flair for comic denunciation and his chauvinism in favor of British composers and corresponding antipathy toward German or "Hun" composers.

Both his powers of comic denunciation and his musical chauvinism grew stronger after the Great War.  Twelve years later, in Pan magazine (January 1919) he published an Ashley Sterne article called "Why Hun Music?"  It began: "In the programme of a recent vocal recital at the Aeolian Hall the recitalist – a foreigner – had, I see, the remarkable taste to include a series of songs by modern Hun composers, including two specimens by the Archbishop of Cacophony, Richard Strauss."

Halsey was a friend of the promising British composer William Hurlstone (1876-1906), who had died of illness the previous year.  The letter gave Halsey an opportunity to honor Hurlstone's memory.  

From Musical News (August 17, 1907):

British Works at the Promenades

To the Editor "Musical News"

Sir,- I heartily concur with Mr. Cyril Winn in his remarks on the omission of Mr. Charles Macpherson's Suite "Halloween" for the forthcoming Promenade Concerts, and at the same time I am wondering why no work of the late Mr. Hurlstone is included in the syllabus.  Of the works by this composer which are available for orchestra I may mention the Variations on a Hungarian Air (originally, I believe, played by Dr. Richter at a Halle Concert), the Suite "The Magic Mirror" (scenes from "Snow White and the Seven Little Dwarfs"), and the very fine Fantasie – Variations on a Swedish Air.  This latter was produced at a Patrons' Fund Concert (at which, by the bye, Mr. Henry Wood was present), and received another hearing at a concert of the London Symphony Orchestra in February 1906, under Mr. Charles Williams, so it has not been altogether neglected.  But it seems to me extraordinary that such works as these are not more readily taken up by conductors of our big orchestras on their own initiative.  The merits of these and other works, e.g., Mr. W. H. Bell's fine "Walt Whitman" Symphony and "The Canterbury Tales," Mr. Gustav von Holst's "Suite de Ballet" in E flat, to mention the first three works that come to mind, are sufficiently apparent to the veriest tyro, and should require no fillip from the musical Press or the the influence of those "in high places" to obtain frequent hearings.

I am not looking forward to the ceaseless performances of the Overture to "Tannhauser," Prelude to Act III. of "Lohengrin," that hardy perennial the "Peer-Gynt" Suite, and the overdone and clap-trap "1812" Overture; but I am anticipating with pleasure the production of the British novelties, with a pang of regret that the better-known Wagner, Grieg, and Tschaikowsky pieces have not given place to revivals of some, at least, of our own composers' works that have already met with approval from Press and public alike.


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