PIONEERS: ELGAR AND VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
THE BRITISH RENASCENCE stands on a different footing from that of any other of the nationalist movements that originated in the nineteenth century. Its task was the heaviest, for surely never was any musical nation so completely subject to alien influences as England a century ago, never did a musical nation break so completely with its own past tradition as England did with that bequeathed by the Tudor classics, and never did a group of composers have to face so stubborn an anti-national prejudice as that which confronted the pioneers of that movement. If the battle has been won, credit must be given not only to these pioneers, but even to those precursors who, though they did not yet produce music that we recognize as English, did at least show such audiences as were prepared to listen to them that English birth was no insuperable impediment to the writing of music on classical models. And in each generation there has been some one composer who did this with so much credit as to pave the way for the renascence that was to set in later. In that sense the story goes back to Mendelssohn's contemporary Sterndale Bennett. His piano trio is a rather frail plant, and even his piano sextet is not very sturdy, but how pleasant both are in comparison with the works of his contemporary G. A. Macfarren! Again, the piano trio of Francis E. Bache, who died in 1858 aged only twenty-five, may not be a work of great genius, but compare it with the compositions of Charles E. Stephens, or even of that erudite musician Ebenezer Prout, and it is impossible to avoid the conviction that somehow, somewhere, in this allegedly barren soil seed was germinating. Then came the age of the great precursors Parry, Stanford, and Mackenzie.