Saturday, 29 September 2012

Humphrey Searle - a forgotten composer and cat lover

While listening to the CPO set of Humphrey Searle symphonies I was prompted to do some googling, and I rather liked the following paragraphs from Robert Clements:

'Ken Russell's music documentary "Classic Widows" is Crazy Kenny doing what CK does best: putting on a cap and bells and making an absolute idiot of himself for the music he believes in. The documentary is structured around the four "classic widows" [Susana (Mrs William) Walton; Bertha (Mrs Bernard) Stevens; Xenia (Mrs Benjamin) Frankel and Fiona (Mrs Humphrey) Searle] of the title; and looks at their individual (but painfully paralleled) struggles to keep the music of their late husbands before the public ear.
Towards the end of the film, Fiona Searle has clearly had enough: twelve years have passed since her husband died; and no one will play his music… so instead of the scripted biography she is awkwardly trying to deliver, she looks across at the director and explodes: "and what the fuck are we going to do about it, Ken?". In that one exasperated line, she seems to be summarising not only her own experience but that of all four "classic widows"…. '

So who was Humphrey Searle? Well, he was a pupil of Anton Webern, so naturally he became a frontrunner of British serialism. He also gave informal composition lessons to William Walton.
And he was a prime advocate for the music of Franz Liszt before the musical community began to realise how important and forward looking  a composer Liszt was, and increasingly still is.

And though he may not be in the major league, the music he left behind is well worth investigating, and deserves a great deal of respect.

 And I think Gerard Hoffnung had a real affection for him, judging by the cartoon he did of Humphrey with a cat on his lap. I wish I'd got to meet him.

1 comment:

George Holloway said...

Can I ask where you managed to get hold of "Classic Widows“? I'm teaching a class on British music, and I would like to show it to my students.

Write to me at

Many thanks!