A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“It’s not the end of the world. You’ve just got to see it as it was. You’d been boasting, and he slapped you down. It was nasty of him, but that’s all it was.”

“I’d been making a perfect fool of myself. I’ve been doing it ever since I came here. You must all despise me.”

“No, no. I’ll be frank; you’ve been giving us quite a line about Canada and your people and all that, but anybody with half an ear could tell that you were only asking to be patted. It wasn’t even boasting. It was just putting a best foot forward. Nothing to be ashamed of. These people invite it, you know.”

“Welsh people, you mean.”

“All the people in these islands. They’re so self-satisfied. You have to hate them, or you have to try to pull yourself up even with them. I know all about it. When I’m at home I’m not terrifically American, but over here I have to act a part, or disappear. You were just trying not to disappear; and because you’re such a hell of a good singer it would easily have passed as the rather charming egotism of the artist, if dear Gilly hadn’t stuck his knife into you. You were just the tiniest bit silly; but he was intentionally brutal.”

“Do you mean that, Johnny, about having to act a part, and the people here being so strong in themselves, and that?”

“Of course I mean it.”

“It’s not just something you got out of a book?”

“What would be wrong with it if I did get it out of a book? As a matter of fact, it’s in lots of books. Have you read any Henry James?”

“No; did he write about that?”

“Sometimes. We’ve been living in a kind of Henry James climate for the past few days. The American getting the works from Europeans was some of his favourite themes. ‘This arrogant old Europe which so little befriends us’, he called it. But your mistake was that you didn’t act a part; you were trying to make yourself believe it, and that never works. That’s bad art.”

“Well, what should I do?”

“Why don’t you try passing as white? You know about the light-skinned Negroes in the States, who move North and live among whites as one of themselves? The only way to get on in peace with the people over here is to conceal as well as you can that you’re not one of themselves — pass as white. Minimize the differences; don’t call attention to them. This country’s full of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, yes and Americans, all passing as white, because if they let it be known what they are, the natives will patronize the living bejesus out of them. They don’t really mean to be unkind; they just have this wonderful sense of being God’s noblest work. — Now it’s getting near the New Year. We must go back to the ballroom. Pretty soon all these Welshmen and Englishmen will be singing one of the most pedestrian verses of Robert Burns, and kissing each other. I wouldn’t miss it for worlds, and if you won’t be offended, I’ll hunt up Ceinwen. Happy New Year, Monica darling!”


Phanuel Tuke switched off Monica’s radio-gramophone.

“Well,” said he, “if fate is unkind to my verse, I shall at least be known to posterity as the man who provided Giles Revelstoke with the words for his first work of undoubted genius.”

Revelstoke’s menagerie was assembled in Monica’s living-room because she had the best wireless set among, them. They had been listening to a broadcast on the Third Programme of his cantata da camera, called The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Tuke had not written the words, but had selected them; the libretto was made up of recitative passages chosen from Reginald Scot’s Discoverie, verses from Ben Jonson’s Masque of Queens, and a witch-trial or “process” adapted from Malleus Malleficarum. Monica knew the words well; she had typed them many times, for the singers to study, and for the seemingly endless needs of the broadcasting people.

“I still think Brum Benny should have let Giles conduct,” said Persis Kinwellmarshe. She was not sufficiently musical to venture any opinion on the composition itself, but she had found plenty of matter for vehement partisanship in the politics surrounding the broadcast.

“Now Perse, give that a rest,” said Bun Eccles. “Giles himself admits he’s no hand at conducting. Why risk a good chance like this just to wave the stick? He can’t manage an orchestra and even you know it.”

“He’d be perfectly all right if Benny didn’t hang over him all the time and offer advice and fuss him.”

“Benny’s responsible to the BBC, you know that. He got them to do Discoverie; he has to deliver the goods. Giles said so himself.”

“Giles may have said so to you, Bun dear, but I know damn well what he thinks. It’s the old story: young man of genius under the wing of old man of talent — and the old man will bloody well see that he stays under his wing. Tonight will settle all that, though. It ought to put Giles right on the top of the heap.”

“Does anyone know what he will get for this broadcast?” said Odo Odingsels. He had tucked his lean length into a corner and all through the music had been eating the food which Monica provided.

“There won’t be much left of his fee when all the costs are paid,” said Bridget Tooley. “The expense of copying the scores will eat up most of it. But of course he’ll have them for subsequent performances, and over the years the rentals might amount to a good deal.”

“Can’t count on that,” said Odingsels. “This isn’t going to be a popular work. No use pretending.”

Odingsels was the only one of the group who knew much about music. Giles had friends, but no intimates, among musicians. Odingsels knew what he was talking about, and ordinarily the others deferred to him. But Persis would not do so now.

“Why not?” said she. “You’ve heard it. Isn’t it the most exciting thing in this contemporary music series?”

“I don’t know,” said Odingsels; “I haven’t listened to any of the others. Have you?”

Miss Kinwellmarsh had not.

“It’s good, mind you,” said Odingsels. “In parts it’s wonderfully good. I didn’t mean that it wasn’t. But it’s hard to perform. The music is difficult; it sounds simple, quite a lot of the time, but just you look at the score. It’s an inconvenient size. It isn’t a song cycle, that any singer and his accompanist can carry round the world in a music-case. And it isn’t a big work that an amateur choral society can chew on for two or three months. It calls for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, a double quartet of better than average choral singers, and an orchestra consisting of string quartet and double-bass, with piano, oboe and French horn. Just the size to be neglected.”

“I suppose a good deal will depend on what the critics say,” said Tuke.

“A little. Not much.” Odingsels seemed determined to be discourag­ing. “Critics of any importance aren’t likely to commit themselves heavily on a new score that they haven’t examined by a composer they don’t know. Giles won’t find himself made over-night. It’s only in the more trivial arts like literature, and theatre and ballet that critics wield that sort of power.” He grinned irritatingly.

“Giles will be ready for them,” said Persis. “He’s been walloping them in Lantern for three good years. I don’t suppose that will make them like him, but it will let them know that he will have a reply for anything they want to say. I don’t expect for a minute that he’ll get his due from them, but they’ll have to be civil.”

“Why?” said Odingsels.

“I’ve told you. Because of Lantern.”

“How many critics do you think read Lantern? Who do you suppose takes it very seriously except ourselves? How many well-known or influential names are on the subscription list? Sometimes I think we are deceiving ourselves about Lantern. In my really sane moments I know it. How lucky that none of us has to live by it.”

“Odo, why are you being so bloody-minded tonight? Is it because Giles has had a wonderful work performed? I know you hate any­body else’s success, but is it necessary for you to be so completely poisonous?”

“Persis, my pretty darling, I am a realist. Giles has had a very good piece of music performed. Alot of people will have heard it. Some will have liked it, others will have hated it, and some others — perhaps the biggest number — will not have paid any particular attention. Of those who have liked it, perhaps half will remember Giles’ name. It is slow work, becoming known as a composer. What has Giles done? He’s written perhaps fifty songs and a couple of suites for small orchestra; he’s had a few things done publicly, and I believe four years ago he gave a small recital of his own stuff to which not one critic of the first rank turned up. This is his real beginning — tonight. In ten years, if he works hard, he may be quite well known as a rising young composer.”

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86

Categories: Davies, Robertson