Painful Truth Behind Musical Hero; Tunes of Glory - the Life of Malcolm Sargent. by Richard Aldous (Hutchinson Pounds 18.99) . Review by Christopher Morley

The Birmingham Post (England), July 28, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Painful Truth Behind Musical Hero; Tunes of Glory - the Life of Malcolm Sargent. by Richard Aldous (Hutchinson Pounds 18.99) . Review by Christopher Morley


To my generation of fledgling music-lovers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sir Malcolm Sargent was very much a hero.

This was a conductor who brought style and glamour to the concert-platform, one who somehow exemplified the pyramid-like structure of the hierarchy through which music was brought into life, ranks of musicians sawing and blowing away at the feet of this godlike figure who, by a flick of a stick and a patrician nod, summoned great forces of majestic sound.

Sometimes rumours filtered through that there were those in the profession who dubbed him 'Flash Harry', who were suspicious of his razzmatazz, but we discounted those as the jealous mongerings of lesser luminaries.

Was this not the complete musician, one who had gained his Associateship of the Royal College of Organists at the age of 16, who had first appeared at the famous Promenade Concerts to conduct his own composition, Impressions on a Windy Day, and who had rescued Walton's Belshazzar's Feast from the mutinous mutterings of a baffled Leeds Festival Chorus and secured it a glittering premiere at that festival in 1931?

It was, of course, at the Proms that Sargent really came into his own - elegance, poise and apparently total omnipotence radiating around the world on television, and working magic on the thousands of us packed into London's Royal Albert Hall night after night.

After the performances, there was always a crowd waiting at the stage door for the maestro to emerge. I have warm

memories of standing on one side of his chauffeur-driven Rolls, pushing people's autograph-books and programmes across the roof of the vehicle towards him for the practised scrawl of his signature; doing that made me feel somehow part of the man.

Then he would wave to the masses, get into the car and be driven off down the road. Two minutes later, when the fans had dispersed, his car would reappear from around the block, ready to drop him off at his luxury flat in Albert Hall Mansions, just a matter of yards away from that same stage door; what cheeky stylishness.

It was from those same Albert Hall Mansions that he once sent me a kind postcard in response to my gauche letter to him detailing my musical ambitions:

'Thank you for your charming letter - I send you my best wishes for your future. It is a hard but can be a very happy career.'

I was there the very last time he conducted at the Proms, on the Last Night of the 1966 season.

The evening was magical to this young man standing in the second row of the arena, epitomised by my first-ever hearing of Prokofiev's brilliant Third Piano Concerto, my first-ever experience of fiery soloist Martha Argerich, this fabulous music and this impossibly attractive young lady both presided over by the godlike Sargent. Next time I saw him was at the Last Night one year later.

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