Leslie Heward not only conducted
the premiere performance of Moeran's Symphony in G Minor but was
also responsible for the first recording of the work in 1942, a
magnificent performance, and the first recording ever sponsored
by the British Council. This was transferred to CD on Dutton CDAX
8001, a disc sadly out of print, though existing stocks may still
be found - try
was shortly after the 1918 armistice that I first heard the name
of Leslie Heward. I was re-visiting the Royal College of Music after
four years' absence and I asked a former fellow-student, who had
lately joined the teaching staff, whom had they there among the
students, if anyone at all, who showed outstanding promise. He replied:
"There is a lad called Leslie Heward who is brilliant, but he never
appears to do any work". I think that what was implied was that
his natural ability was so phenomenal that he seemed to take anything
in his stride without effort.
I am unlikely to forget my first meeting
with him. This was at Bristol in the 1920s. An opera season was
running there in which he was one of the conductors. Staying on
a holiday in Somerset, I had gone over to Bristol to hear a performance
of 'Parsifal'. In an hotel near the theatre, where I had repaired
for an early dinner before the show. I ran into some friends of
mine, members of the orchestra. With them was Heward, and they introduced
me to him before hurrying off to take their places. He was not conducting
that night. Neither did I go near the opera, but in his company
I very soon forgot all about it. The Knights of the Grail must have
grown old and Kundry turned a humble penitent before I suddenly
realised the original object of my coming into Bristol that evening.
During the next few years I saw little
of Leslie, but I remember encountering him after a performance of
'Petrushka', at which he had stopped in at a moment's notice to
play the brilliant and difficult piano part. On another occasion
he was dressed up to play the concertina on the stage in ''The Boatswain's
Mate' . It was in 1929 that I began to know him as a composer. He
was certainly versatile and seemed to bear out what had been said
about him that day at the R.C.M. At that time I was living in Maida
Vale, and there I had a room with two Bechstein pianos in it. I
had recently executed a small commission by writing a song for the
director of a leasing firm of wine merchants in the West End. An
unexpected honorarium was provided for me by the arrival of two
vans in Priory Road, and I found myself with a completely stocked
cellar, including some of the choicest of French wines, with a liberal
allowance thrown in of side-issues of various assortments. Accordingly,
I set about giving a series of weekly mid-morning parties, and to
these I invited composer friends to come and try out their works
on the two Bechsteins. Leslie came along with some of his manuscripts,
including the first sketches of his 'Nocturne' for small orchestra.
It, was at these gatherings that he showed yet another side of his
versatility, and that was his uncanny facility in not only reading
at sight at the piano, but making to sound logical the most higgledy-piggledy
manuscript full scores imaginable, and these often written out in
faint pencil. His enthusiasm for unfamiliar music was matched by
the quickness of his perception in getting to the root of it.
This enthusiasm was to bear fruit in
later years when he became conductor of the B.B.C. Midland Orchestra.
He inaugurated there the famous Friday programmes, in which he included
a vast amount of out-of-the-way music, old and new, British and
Fortunate indeed was the inexperienced
composer the initial performance of whose work was in Leslie's hand.
His immediate grasp of the minutest details was thorough and unshakable.
He was always ready beforehand with suggestions of adjustments and
improvements of a practical nature which could enhance the effectiveness
of the music. His care in this respect was superlative, and he would
put himself to infinite trouble to ensure the best result. In my
own case, he ones sat up half the night at Birmingham doctoring
the score and parts we had taken home after a rehearsal at which
the piece had not sounded entirely as I had hoped it would when
I wrote it. Occasionally he would even make considerable re-adjustments
to the script on the spot, when actually directing a rehearsal;
in this he possessed a knack of explaining what was aimed at to
the players concerned, with such lucidity that there could be no
mistake, even after trying out the passage several times in different
ways. In the matter of interpretation, Leslie's instinct was unfailingly
right, even if at times it led him to adopt tempi or dynamics which
were slightly at variance with the original intention when the work
was composed. He had that rare gift of getting right inside a composition
and re-creating it in performance in such a way that new aspects,
which had only existed dimly in the composer's mind, would stand
out and take their logical shape.
It is the fate of a conductor holding
an appointment in this country that if he himself also happens to
be a composer, he is expected to abnegate himself in the latter
capacity. As regards executive artists in general, this would seem
to be an admirable principle, at any rate in the case of singers,
the majority of whom display in their programmes a paucity of erudition
commensurate only with their musical intelligence. However, it may
have been partly Leslie's habitual modesty which led him to keep
himself in the background as a composer. If that were so, it is
a pity that nothing further came of the sole performance which took
place in London of any major work of his.
This was some ton years ago when he conducted
his suite, 'Quodlibet' at a B.B.C. Sunday evening symphony concert.
Those few of us who were present to hear it in the studio were unanimous
in our opinion that this was music with a message of its own, of
striking originality, anal carried out with consummate technical
virtuosity. So far as I know, the suite has never been played in
public before a London audience; an attempt to have it included
in the scheme of the 1936 Norwich Festival failed. The mere fact
that a man is known and accepted primarily as a conductor seems
to militate against his eligibility as a composer.
Leslie Heward has left behind him among
his friends the memory of the most lovable personality among English
musicians of his generation. This memory will remain, and many will
be this reminiscences of him that will be conjured up, so long as
his old associates still find themselves meeting together. It is
to be hoped that his music will not be allowed to lie permanently
neglected, and that there too will be found something which will
keep his memory alive for future generations.
From 'Leslie Heward A Memorial Tribute'
(1897-1943). P. 37-40.