Thursday, February 16, 2023

Quote of the Day (George Bernard Shaw, Proposing ‘A Financial Symphony’)

“Why not a Financial Symphony? Allegro: Impending Disaster, Lento maestoso: Stony Broke, Scherzo: Light Heart and Empty Pocket, Allegro con brio: Clouds Clearing.”—Anglo-Irish Nobel Literature laureate George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), June 29, 1932 postcard to English composer Sir Edward Elgar, quoted in F.W. Gaisberg, The Music Goes Round (1942)

Shaw, a music critic before he became a playwright, certainly did not feel bashful about suggesting to “Pomp and Circumstance” creator Elgar—in semi-retirement, following the death of his wife a dozen years before—what his next musical subject would be.

Elgar didn’t take him up on it. But he did accept the commission for a symphony that Shaw strongly urged the BBC have him do. That work was unfinished at Elgar’s death from cancer in 1934.

But his extensive 130 pages of notes enabled British composer Anthony Payne to finish the job over 60 years later. Symphony No. 3 in C Minor ended up being performed 25 years ago this week, to considerable acclaim.

When Shaw contributed his puckish idea to Elgar, the world was in the grip of a worldwide depression. Considering the repercussions of that economic collapse—not just the rise of Nazism in Germany, but also the starry-eyed wonder many intellectuals in the West would hold for the Soviet Union in those years—it definitely took a while for the “Clouds Clearing” movement to develop.

If a “financial symphony” were created today in line with Shaw’s concept, I’m afraid that the result could be every bit as discordant as what happened during his time and Elgar’s.

(By the way, if you want to hear how Payne completed Elgar’s project, listen to this YouTube clip of the performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.)

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