By Rooke Ley DEAR LISTENER.— The "musical pilgrim.q;c of G rei.1 t Britain," which Arthur filiss is undertaking -on behalf of the B.B.C., and to which I referred briefly a fortnight ago, has already yielded some interesting discoveries. I think the piece of information that has startled me most was contained in Mr. Bliss's preliminary article. published in The Listener of October 2.
It was that every week du oughout England alone over 200,000 men and women meet to rehearse together, and that 2,000 choral societies are actively functioning. Mr. Bliss's object. he says. is " to penetrate the immense activity that underlies the more spectacular high points of music in England. I had never any doubt of • that immense activity. but I must confess that those figures surprised me.
I now feel confident that Mr. Bliss's pilgrimage will reveal in detail all that I suggested about the number of amateur orchestras, chamber music societies, operatic societies, etc., that flourish in England to-day. In a word. we shall he given chapter and verse for saying that amateur music is in as healthy a condition in England as anyone can wish. How far he may attempt to trace this healthiness to the service done to music by the B.B.C. remains to be seen. At any rate none but the fool will be able in future to say that either radio or the B.B.C. has diminished the amount or quality of private musicma king.
Amateur choral societies The history of amateur choral societies in England is an interesting one. Connected with it are the names of two men whom Catholics should always remember with pride. One was Vincent Novell°, who was born in London in 1781 and died in 1861.
He was organist at one time or another at the Sardinian Chapel, Lincoln's Inn Fields, at the Spanish Chapel, Manchester Square. at the Portuguese Chapel, Grosvenor Square, and at St. Mary's, Moorfields.
The other was his son, Joseph Alfred NOVCII0, who, in 1829, opened a musicpublishing business in Soho. It may seem odd to us to-day that the publication of cheap editions of standard music was ever an adventure; but an adventure it was. There was no cheap music at all in the
1830's. Sir George Grove tells us that when he was a boy the first guinea he was given as a tip was spent on a score of the " Messiah." You can buy one to-day for a shilling.
Choral Societies' Friend
It was Joseph Novello, then, who discovered the possibilities of cheap music. To that discovery the 2,000 choral societies " actively functioning " to-day owe their existence. His publishing business was, of course, the parent of the present house of Novello. The history of the growth of popular interest in the classics and in choral-singing, professional
and amatsuse )yaS :iri;f a Century the Wiley of that house.
Vincent Novello must have been a remarkable man. He held a position in the musical life of London which no Catholic musician has since enjoyed. He, too, started a publishing business. This was in 1811. The house of Novell° may therefore claim an even earlier origin. His ideal was also to make good music more accessible, so that it is not difficult to see where his son's 'imagination and enterprise sprang from.
He lived in Soho, in one of those charming old houses whose facades still delight us as we are threading our way to some favourite restaurant. His drawingroom was the rendezvous of musical London; indeed, of literary London as well. Shelley, Keats, Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Edward Holmes, Charles Cowden Clarke were his intimates; the last-named married his eldest daughter.
And Lamb, too, who, according to his own confession, " had no ear." Turn up "A Chapter on Ears" and read about "my good Catholic friend Nov—, who by the aid of a capital organ, himself the most finished of players, converts his drawing-room into a chapel, his weekdays into Sundays, and these latter into minor heavens." So there he lives for posterity, enshrined in a Passage of Elia. What worthier monument?
WILFRID ROOKE LEY.