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George Bernard Shaw over Charlotte Corday en Lucifer in Londen

George Bernard Shaw

5 April 1890

The Philharmonic Society is, I fear, hardly to be held responsible for its actions. It is very old; and it never even in its best days had much sense. Some years ago it brought itself to the verge of extinction by its conservatism. Since then it has been desperately spurting to get abreast of the times - trying new composers, new conductors, new virtuosos, new everything. Now if the Philharmonic had any musical intelligence it would stick to its old line by bringing forward only that what is new in that line. It should concern itself mainly with abstract music and the very highest class of dramatic music: that class of dramatic music which may be called secularly religious music. But whatever else it may see fit to do - and Providence only knows what it will be up to next - it had better avoid such senseless vagaries as its last effort at a concert program. […] When Haydn and Sterndale Bennett were solemnly disposed of, a wild rush to the opposite extreme followed. What has the Philharmonic Society to do with Peter Benoit, of all composers? His Lucifer conclusively shewed that he was an excitable and imaginative musician, without the slightest originality as a composer or depth as a poet. The essential poverty of his scores was only emphasized by their bigness, their ferocity, their grandiosity, their mechanical extravagance. Anyone with two pennorth of critical faculty and experience could have seen that the sort of overture and entr’actes he would likely compose for a drama on the subject of Charlotte Corday would attain the maximum of unsuitability for a Philharmonic concert. And so, of course, it proved. The music was very strenuous: the Marseillaise was duly intoned and the Ça ira madly whistled on “red fool fury of the Seine lines; the wood wind went into the greenroom and played a waltz, of which I only heard the flute part (which did not happen to be the theme); but we thought of Egmont - indeed, it would have been sufficient almost to think of Struensee - and felt that the Philharmonic was making an idiot of itself.

Yet it was not Mr Benoit who suffered in person for the stupidity of the program. There was another composer in the bill, a Mr Huberti, who followed with a couple of unconscionably spun-out songs in the sentimental manner of Gounod, one of which he accompanied very prettily on the organ. But they took so long, and the hour was so late, and the listeners were so afraid that they would not be able to wait for Ysaÿe’s second piece, that they fell on the unfortunate stranger with hisses: actually with hisses! so mortally alarmed were they lest Mr Blauwaert, the singer, should take the slightest applause for an encore. So poor Mr Blauwaert retired, an astonished man; and Ysaÿe came on at last. […]


9 November 1894

Some few years ago Peter Benoît, a much-in-earnest Dutch composer, who is almost as great in music as Haydon was in painting, made his début here with an oratorio called Lucifer, containing one pretty song (by Schumann), but otherwise a most barren colossus of a work. The public felt that Lucifer was an integral part of the Church of England, most Englishmen being persuaded that Milton’s Paradise Lost is a poetical paraphrase of the book of Genesis; and Benoît was received with deep respect as a too long neglected Dutch Beethoven. Presuming on this success, Peter laid a work called Charlotte Corday at the feet of the Philharmonic Society. That infatuated body, feeling itself traditionally committed to the discovery and encouragement of foreign Beethovens, allowed him to conduct it at one of its concerts. He promptly found out that in England, though Lucifer is respectable, Charlotte Corday is quite out of the question.

The Corday revolutionary scenes were not a whit more mechanical and shallow than the oratorio, and were nearly as bulky, besides being twice as lively (thanks to Ça ira, The Marseillaise, etc.); but the British public would have none of them; and Benoît has not since been heard of in London. I mention the matter to illustrate how easy it is to get taken seriously as a composer if you begin with an oratorio.

Shaw, G.: London music in 1888-89, Londen, 1937, p. 342-343.
Shaw, G.: Music in London 1890-94, dl. 2, Londen, 1949, p. 183-184.