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Festivals: The history of the Bath Festival by Tim Bullamore. It is
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CHAPTER FOUR Page 3
|Miraculously the ever-resilient Ian Hunter, as impervious to criticism
as ever, bounced back and before long plans were in place for a 1960
festival, once again with Menuhin as figurehead. This time Menuhin's
brother-in-law, the pianist Louis Kentner, would be joining the party. TWW
were back on board increasing their sponsorship from �1000 to �1500.
The 1960 Bath Festival was opened by the conductor Sir Adrian Boult, who had been conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1930 to 1950. The orchestra had spent the war years based in nearby Bristol. At the midday Abbey Church Yard ceremony on May 18, 1960, Sir Adrian said:
The musical programme was greatly expanded but still largely focused around Yehudi Menuhin and his family. Menuhin and the cellist Gaspar Cassado opened the programme with a concert in the Abbey of solo violin and cello music; the pianist Gina Bachauer was called upon to replace an indisposed Claudio Arrau in a Guildhall performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto K491 the concert also included Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oakes; the composer Nadia Boulanger came to conduct the Ensemble Vocal Paris; and a special Homage � Chopin, conceived to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the great pianist's birth, studiously avoided any of his piano music. The festival also saw the world premi�re of Manuel de Falla's Balada de Mallorca and a specially commissioned work by Arnold Cooke, Concerto for Orchestra. Meanwhile Britten and Pears returned to perform Schubert's great song cycle, Die Sch�ne M�llerin at the Guildhall.
For the second time The Bath Chronicle provided a special festival supplement as well as a dedicated daily festival page. The paper was also attracting music writers who simply wanted to be in Bath for the festival. Kenneth Loveland, a prominent national critic, was co-opted onto the paper's staff for the duration.
The festival featured a formal public debate, which included a look at what a festival should be. Some 600 people turned up at the Festival Forum, which was held in the Pavilion, to hear Professor Thomas Bodkin, Fr Angellus Andrew, Christopher Hollis and Hugh Ross-Williamson answer questions on a variety of subjects, including how to arrange a festival of the arts and music in order to make it appeal to as wide a section of the public as possible. Professor Bodkin said it was an unanswerable question. To show every kind of art in every period and of every technique, and to cover the range of literature and music, would require 25 enormous halls, seven symphony orchestras, exhibitions of pictures, lectures, literary discussions and debates, and even then, in his opinion, it could not be done if all tastes were to be pleased. Hugh Ross-Williamson made the point that a committee should not organise a festival. It should be a man of taste, or perhaps two or three; they should arrange for nothing that they themselves did not like.
But not everything worked out the way Ian Hunter had hoped it might, as The Bath Chronicle pointed out on May 19, 1960:
If the jazz had been impressive in 1958 and 1959, 1960 brought a whole new concept: an all-night Carnival of Jazz at the Regency Ballroom from 10.30pm to 7am for just 15 shillings (75p). Names like Ken Colye, Alex Welsh, Mick Mulligan, the Bob Wallis Storyville Group and the Clyde Valley Stompers were all on the same programme. Being the best in jazz, the festival brought out the strangest fashions among supporters with sloppy sweaters, grubby jeans, black stockings and floppy hats very much in evidence. One eccentric fan lost himself behind an outsize pair of sunglasses, and another girl enthusiast `got with it' in a snazzy leopardskin costume. For those that stayed the all-night course, George Melly had an answer. At 6am he was sympathetically warbling: `T'ain't no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones.'
Jazz wasn't the only all-night activity that evening. The festival ball moved to a new level. Entitled `La Ronde', the 587 guests drove to one of four local manor houses Combe Hay Manor, Freshford Manor, Widcombe Manor and Widcombe Hall. Each had different music and different food. A small fleet of buses again equipped with music and food ferried them to another manor when they wished to move on. It was a wondrous whirl through the countryside and ended with a cooked breakfast at the Octagon on Milsom Street. This was the first in a decade-long series of flamboyant events, which both raised much needed funds for the festival and provided an exciting social focus for festival supporters. Behind them all, and aided by a willing army of ladies, was Barbara Robertson, wife of Charles Robertson of the jam-making firm. They lived at Combe Hay and revelled in the livelier side of festival life.
Another dimension to the festival came with a carnival complete with a Carnival Queen, 22-year-old nurse Una Husbands from St Martin's Hospital. Organised by Bath Round Table, it ran for three days throughout the city and raised a substantial amount of money for the building of a Cheshire Home at Timsbury. There was also a list of fringe events organised by local societies, including plays, floral arrangements and an Old Time Ball, as well as a Festival Club in the Pump Room. The great talking point was the presence of the 29-year-old Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheik Isa Bin Sulman Al Kalifa, who gained notoriety for handing out pearls and diamonds to several of the ladies associated with the festival.
As Sir Adrian Boult had said at the beginning of the festival, the programme was `staggering'. And remember this was only 1960.
With no liabilities beyond providing rooms and a �1000 grant, the city council was basking in the success of the festival, but by 1961 the event's two main financiers, TWW and the Arts Council, wanted greater commitment from the city. The proposal was to make everything above board. A grant of �1500 would be made available to the festival, but the festival would in turn pay for the hire of buildings, rooms, and so on. Despite the memories of the 1955 disaster, the proposal was carried with only four dissenters opposing the plan. The Bath Chronicle (May 6, 1961) welcomed the news:
The new financing arrangement came in the wake of the establishment of a proper, businesslike structure. The Bath Festival Society Ltd, a company limited by guarantee, was set up in the autumn of 1960. Ian Hunter and Cllr Hugh Roberts, formerly chairman of the guarantors, were among the board members. The chairman was Edwin Leather, member of parliament for North Somerset. To complement the Society, a `Supporters Club' was started to raise money and organise fringe events.
And so by the early 1960s the festival was riding on the crest of a wave. Although never completely secure financially, it was bringing great names, organising big events and involving local people. After the success of 1960, the highbrow/lowbrow critics were mostly silenced. However, in an interview with The Bath Chronicle, Ian Hunter couldn't resist a pre-emptive swipe at anyone who might accuse the 1961 festival of being too highbrow:
The general direction of the festival for the next few years was set. Menuhin and Hunter were drawing in big names, performances were, in the main, solidly classical with a sprinkling of contemporary masterpieces, and the social side of the festival was well established. There were dissenters, such as the occasional letter-writers to The Bath Chronicle. A Mr Croxford from Weston wrote: `A great many people I have talked to have expressed the view that the festival is put on for the sake of the few at the expense of the many, and will never achieve local popularity in its present form.' However, a Mr E M Guiness from Lime Grove Gardens wrote: `How can the citizens of Bath express their gratitude to Mr Menuhin? Again he has poured out his genius and his energy to put Bath on the map the musical map.'
Despite the relative stability, organisers continued to be in need of secure financial support, and once again begging letters were circulated. Cllr Hugh Roberts wrote to hundreds of people in November 1960 explaining that the Bath Festival Society needed them as guarantors. He had some success: by the time the 1961 festival got under way it had nine life benefactors, 68 benefactors for that year, and 350 guarantors.
That year's festival saw the return of Nadia Boulanger conducting Faur�'s Requiem in the Abbey; Menuhin commissioned a violin concerto from Lennox Berkeley; and the Spanish guitarist Segovia came to give a recital. The Festival Chamber Orchestra was a veritable who's who of the music world of the time and included, for example, Suzanne Rozsa and Rodney Friend in the violins and Nannie Jamieson on viola. Another member of the orchestra was a young cellist who also appeared in a chamber music concert previewed by The Bath Chronicle on May 19, 1961:
The paper's review of that concert, by A Chislett on June 12, described what came after Schubert's Trout Quintet:
Reaching further into the community, the festival staged three sell-out concerts involving festival artists, including Menuhin himself, with the organisation Youth & Music, for which tickets were made available only through schools. Artistically, at least, the love affair with Bath was blossoming. At the end of the festival the chairman, Edwin Leather MP, presented Menuhin with a silver dish saying: `Yehudi, you are incomparable in the world of music, and incomparable in all our hearts.' Menuhin's response was similarly gushing: `With me are those I love the most. To make music with them the music I love best is a dream that only comes to life at Bath.'
Socially, the festival carried on where `La Ronde' of 1960 had left off. Fringe events in the 1960s were largely aimed at the same audiences as the musical and theatrical programmes, and armies usually of ladies moved heaven and earth to make them happen. The 1961 festival ball was an infamous `Roman Orgy', which took place at the Roman baths. Guests, each paying a little over �4, were issued with togas. Those sporting formal evening dress were to be refused admission. Carefully researched, the food was designed to be not dissimilar to a Roman diet, including boar and roast swan. There was also a `horror food' table of fried dormice, nightingales' tongues, sows' udders and thrushes. The full title was `A Roman Feast of Ludi Sulis', and it attracted publicity all over the world, including newspaper comments in Japan and Argentina. It was the first time in living memory that people had officially been allowed to swim in the famous bath and was the precursor to the `Roman Rendezvous', which in subsequent years opened the baths for bathing only during the festival. Across the waters floated a boat with slave girls bearing guests' meals while above, the statue of a centurion guard stood perfectly still and stone-faced listening to a specially composed Latin hymn praising the goddess Sul Minerva. On the terrace and in the waters the revellers danced the night away. When the last bathers refused to depart at 4am, the city authorities pulled the plug out. But as The Bath Chronicle noted, `some swam on down to the last puddle.'
As riotous pictures of the `Roman Orgy' began circulating, Menuhin's patience began to wear thin. He threatened to resign, claiming that the serious side of the festival was being undermined, a point he made again in 1998:
Alternative festival entertainment came in the form of `The 11 O'Clock Special', a party at Green Park Station, which started after the last scheduled train had left at 11pm, and continued all night with a shuttle train between Green Park and Wellow. Entertainment, food and drink was provided both in the carriages and on the platforms. At Wellow there was a giant barbecue while in Bath, Humphrey Lyttleton performed at the station.
`Jambeano', a circulating outdoor music festival that appeared on different streets on different days, became well-established and popular with young dancers, while during another all-night jazz festival Edwin Leather tried his hand on the drums. For the second year the Round Table held a carnival for the Cheshire Home at Timsbury, and this time they were honoured by the attendance of Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC.
But when the final curtain came down the financial result was disappointing a loss of �1000. The critics were out again. In an ill-advised comment, Lord Harewood described the city council's support for the festival as `mouldy'. In an effort to keep the corporation sweet, Duncan Harrison, now secretary of the Festival Society, fired off his retort: `We do not think that the contributions made by the corporation to the festival are mouldy.' Ian Hunter, meanwhile, was in London, pushing for better funding and threatening to take `his' festival away from Bath: `If we do not get more, the ultimate future of the festival might be in doubt. The council should give an amount of money which corresponds to the prestige they gain.'
The festival had already enjoyed corporate support from TWW. Now other local businesses were beginning to see the value of alignment with the arts and Wessex Associated Newspapers, publishers of The Bath Chronicle, became sponsors, as did Ushers' Brewery and Harvey's in Bristol. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which has a long track record of supporting the arts, paid �500 early in 1962 for a mobile stage to be used in both Bath Abbey and Wells Cathedral.
The 1962 New Year's honours brought a knighthood for the chairman, Edwin Leather MP, and the festival itself found a permanent home, acquired and given by the former mayor, festival chairman and local architect, Cllr Hugh Roberts. Linley House had been the eighteenth century home of Thomas Linley, Bath's most famous composer, and it was particularly apt that the festival should be there for the next 35 years. The festival also managed to staff and equip the office. It was the first time the festival had enjoyed a permanent home in the city since it had been run by the city council's Spa Committee. To signify its permanence, the festival adopted a Wife of Bath logo based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and designed by Osbert Lancaster.
* * *
While artists from overseas were not uncommon in the festival, visits from the Soviet bloc were distinctly rare. The Moscow Chamber Orchestra's 1962 concert in the Abbey, with their conductor Rudolf Barshai, was a joint affair with the Festival Chamber Orchestra, and appropriately enough featured Michael Tippett's Concerto written for double string orchestra.
The festival included Handel's Water Music and Fireworks Music performed from a barge on the River Avon; a soir�e at Dyrham Park; the popular `Roman Rendezvous' at the baths; `Jambeano' dancing in the streets; a medieval drama, The Raising of Lazurus, at the Abbey; the British premi�re of a film version of Der Rosenkavalier starring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and conducted by Herbert von Karajan; and concerts featuring the guitarist John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by their 87-year-old chief conductor Pierre Monteux.
The artistic highlight of 1962 was a visit by Dame Margot Fonteyn to the Theatre Royal. Speaking in 1998, Yehudi Menuhin said that including dance in the festival programme had been one of the highlights of his tenure: `Ever since I saw [Anna] Pavlova at the age of six in San Francisco I've always loved ballerinas. They are an expression of human beauty and sound.' With Menuhin playing the taxing violin solos in the pit, Dame Margot took to the platform for a performance of the famous Act Two of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake; a unique fusion of their two unique talents. The Bath Chronicle's John White described the scene: `What the audience neither knew nor expected was that they would see and hear this spectacle twice. But that is precisely what happened. With her partner David Blair, Dame Margot danced the pas-de-deux again. It was a triumph.'
Joining in the festival atmosphere with her husband Viscount Snowdon was Princess Margaret, who had visited the very first Bath Assembly back in 1948. The couple stayed for three days and were among the 500 guests at `La Serenissima', a Venetian carnival organised by Barbara Robertson. Robertson commandeered, had built, and otherwise acquired some 35 river craft to sail near Parade Gardens in true Venetian style. On the banks there was food and other entertainment. Captain Freddie Hayden, stationed with the Admiralty in Bath, gave her plenty of help and advice, while the city of Venice itself sent over two gondoliers, and invited Robertson on a fact-finding visit. But there was discontent in the city after police prevented locals watching the spectacular from the banks of Parade Gardens. The magistrates were similarly dour in refusing to grant late licences to nearby public houses wishing to cash in on the event's popularity.
The other great social highlight of 1962 was the `Cave Rave', a night of jazz in Cheddar Caves, which began at 9.30pm and lasted through until 3.30am. Over 1000 people, many in stone-age costumes, went to hear Mick Mulligan and his band, George Melly, and the Avon Cities Band. As The Bath Chronicle said the following day: `Staggering stalagmites! The Cave Rave is over. The Ancient Britons who descended on Cheddar for the carefree night have gone home, and today the caverns were back to normal. They rocked, rolled, jived and twisted and did everything else that a caveman never dreamed of.' It wasn't all plain sailing. Fears of teddy-boys gate-crashing the Cave Rave led to a strong police presence, not all in costume, and the Avon Cities Band found themselves short of one member when it transpired that he suffered from claustrophobia and needed medical attention.
After years of discussion, the festival tentatively spread its wings to Bristol with a concert at St Mary Redcliffe, where Menuhin and friends performed Brahms's Sextet and Schubert's Octet. At Wells Cathedral, Nadia Boulanger conducted the Festival Chorus and Chamber Orchestra in Stravinsky's Mass, while Menuhin was the soloist on that occasion in Mozart's Violin Concerto in D major.
Amid some excellent music and a first-rate social/fringe programme, an entertaining collection of rows flared up. The sculptor Henry Moore loaned the festival a bronze entitled Seated Figure Against Curved Wall to which Sir Edwin Leather took a dislike. He said: `The day that women look like that I shall commit suicide. I have great taste in women as God made them, but not as Henry Moore makes them.'
The main battle of 1962 was over applause inside church buildings. Without official guidance there had been great embarrassment. On the one hand church buildings in general and the Abbey in particular were considered to be the House of God; on the other hand, as buildings, they had been prostituted out as concert halls to an organisation willing to pay the going rate for use of the space. Prebendary Geoffrey Lester, the rector of Bath Abbey which was sporting a canopy 23 feet by 19 feet and suspended 24 feet off the ground to encourage the sound to be projected forward originally said he felt there were only two ways of showing appreciation: one was with applause, the other by saying Alleluia. And he thought that the former came more naturally. He was backed by no less a figure than the Bishop of Bath and Wells himself but not by everybody, as a furious correspondence on The Bath Chronicle's letters page showed. The Hon. Mrs Holmes � Court wrote:
One wonders how such a correspondent might have coped with the ripple of applause that spread around Westminster Abbey during a royal funeral 35 years later. Another letter writer took a lighter approach. Mr R J Wall said:
|Text copyright � Tim Bullamore 1999.
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