Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Erik Chisholm, Scottish Modernist (1904-1965): Chasing a Restless Muse

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 300
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Erik Chisholm, Scottish Modernist (1904-1965)
    Book Description:

    Erik Chisholm was the pre-eminent composer and musician in Scottish classical music in the first half of the twentieth century. As Sir Charles Mackerras put it, 'Chisholm was a musician of rare capabilities. He was a pianist and organist, a conductor, a composer, a lecturer on music, an entrepreneur and administrator, and to all these he brought a unique blend of originality, flair and energy.' As well as his life in Glasgow, Chisholm travelled to the Far East, notably Singapore, for the Entertainments and National Service Association during the Second World War, and subsequently became Professor of Music at the University of Cape Town, where he greatly developed the study and performance of music. He conducted numerous first British performances, including Berlioz's The Trojans in 1935 and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle in 1957. Accounts of the visits to Glasgow by such composers as Bartók, Casella, Hindemith et al are being presented here. Erik Chisholm. Scottish Modernist will be of general interest to scholars and students of twentieth-century music. In particular, those interested in the development of music, opera and ballet in Scotland, Scottish literature and cultural history will find this book of much value. It will also be of interest to those studying the music of Bartók, Sorabji, Hindemith, Walton, Bax, Casella, and Shostakovich whom Chisholm knew personally and brought to Scotland.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-543-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Sir Charles Mackerras

    I am delighted to be able to write this introduction to a long-overdue biography of a remarkable composer, performer and musical polymath. I met Erik Chisholm in Cape Town during a four-month stint there with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. We got on very well, partly because of a common interest in Janáček at a time when there were not so many experts on this composer as there are now. Ever since then I have held Erik Chisholm in high esteem and am very happy that through this volume his creativity and individuality will become better known.

    Erik Chisholm was...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Glasgow: Kailyard or Coal Yard?
    (pp. 1-15)

    To have been born in Glasgow in the early twentieth century is not seen as a recommendation for a budding musician. Paris would carry weight, or Dublin, in the midst of a great literary revival. But much of the literature of Scotland at the time is described uncharitably as of ‘the kailyard school’, the kale yard being where coarse greens were grown at the back of small, self-satisfied homes, where folk were ‘douce’ and ‘couthy’, humour was ‘pawky’; sentiment ruled over realism, and the parochial over the international. In this school, J. M. Barrie has been unfairly cast as the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Active Society: Bringing the Heroes of Modernism to Glasgow
    (pp. 16-35)

    The doings of the Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music are of such interest and so well written up by Chisholm and his wife, Diana, that this chapter is not only a long one, but has extended quotations from the 150 pages of Chisholm’s unpublished lectures onMen and Music, which describe his encounters with some of the most famous composers and performers in twentieth-century music. They constitute a unique document, and their publication is long overdue. In the meantime, what follows here, in Chapter 4 and in Interlude: The Love of Sorabji will have to satisfy the...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Chisholm’s Scottish Inheritance
    (pp. 36-58)

    If there was one thing the Active Society for the Promotion of Contemporary Music did not do for contemporary music, it was to support Erik Chisholm. It did occasionally focus on Scottish composers, but there was no attempt to pursue a Scottish agenda, whether in terms of native composers or native idioms. Chisholm redressed the balance through his own compositions and by resurrecting the Dunedin Association (see Chapter 4).

    Scotland had, and has, highly distinctive native idioms,¹ and no one was more aware of this at the time than Chisholm himself. The latter half of this chapter is given over...

  9. INTERLUDE The Love of Sorabji
    (pp. 59-67)

    Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (the birth certificate’s ‘Leon Dudley Sorabji’ did not satisfy him) was extraordinary. Extra extraordinary. Patrick Shannon (Chisholm’s partner in musical crime) advertised him as the ‘greatest musical enigma of all time’, an ‘astonishing phenomenon’ and declared that ‘The Greatest Virtuosi in the world are helpless as babes in handling his music – music which he himself executes without turning a hair.’² This was to advertise an open meeting of the Faculty of Arts in the National Academy of Music on Tuesday 25 March 1930, at which Sorabji played his recently composed Pianoforte Sonata No. IV.

    The critic...

  10. CHAPTER 4 A Trojan Horse in Glasgow: Berlioz, Mozart and Gluck
    (pp. 68-82)

    As if the activities of the Active Society were not enough, Chisholm was planning in his head performances of little-known operas. ThatIdomeneoshould have been one of these seems strange to us now, but it had yet to be heard in the British Isles. During 1927 or 1928, Chisholm was in correspondence with Maisie Radford about the edition ofIdomeneo. She had seen a Munich production and appears from the correspondence to have been involved in the preparation of one of Chisholm’s Berlioz revivals.¹ But the real opportunity to bring these schemes to fruition only came with Chisholm’s appointment...

  11. chapter 5 The Ballet & the Baton as Weapons of War
    (pp. 83-101)

    The Scottish Ballet Society was duly formed in the spring of 1937, with Erik as one of a temporary committee of five. He told aDaily Mailreporter:

    It will be our object to evolve a new and national type of ballet expressive of the spirit and sentiment of Scotland. Purely classical and operatic themes will be avoided. There is every hope for the society’s success because Scots people are great lovers of good dancing. There is a great advantage in the fact that Scotland has definite dancing traditions. A search has been made for suitable folk tunes and folk...

  12. CENTRE-PIECE Pictures from Dante & Night Song of the Bards: A Journey from West to East
    (pp. 102-121)

    Among the major musical fruits of Chisholm’s wartime experiences are the two works which give this Centre-piece its title.

    The orchestral work,Pictures from Dante, was substantially based upon a ballet he wrote during the war and, since it moves fromInfernotoParadiso, can be said to extricate itself from the horrors of human depravity which war entails.Night Song of the Bardsalso progresses from darkness to light, its ending anticipating the inevitability of dawn. It draws on Chisholm’s experiences of Hindustani music during his brief stay in northern India towards the end of the Second World War,...

  13. CHAPTER 6 From Italy to India and Singapore
    (pp. 122-132)

    It seems likely that it was in 1944 that the Anglo-Polish Ballet toured Italy for ENSA – the Entertainments National Service Association. The tour included Rome, Perugia, Naples, Bari and Ancona.¹ Chisholm was at the helm. The date has been given as 1943,² but the tour extended well into the following year, as Rome was not liberated until June 1944. However, the tour must have been following reasonably closely on the action for, on one occasion, Chisholm narrowly escaped being killed, the two lorries in front of his being hit by land-mines.³

    This was at the time when cigarettes were...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Under Table Mountain
    (pp. 133-152)

    Chisholm arrived in Cape Town, via Durban, some time in April or May of 1946,¹ having come by flying boat from Cairo and, before that, from Singapore. He was wearing only his tropical khaki suit which, according to theCape Argus, was all he was allowed on his flight.² Perhaps he had been unable to take up the 65-pound baggage allowance itemised on his Cairo to Cape Town air ticket.³

    He must have been going through a complex of emotions. He had been in environments and climates he had never experienced before, and performing in Italy must have widened Chisholm’s...

  15. CHAPTER 8 On Tour in the USA and Europe
    (pp. 153-168)

    Despite all his successes and opportunities in Cape Town, Chisholm must still have felt keenly the draw of home, and he appears to have shown interest in the Chair of Music at Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1953, though whether he actually applied is not clear.¹ He was also not uncritical of his own productions, though confident enough to compare his work with British equivalents:

    Things keep very lively here in quantity, if not always in quality. I suppose we have as much music as provincial British towns like Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow get. The music school keeps bright and active...

  16. CHAPTER 9 Soviet Ambassador: Chisholm behind the Iron Curtain
    (pp. 169-188)

    In July and August of 1957, Erik and Diana were guests of the USSR. They travelled via Helsinki, where Diana had the utmost trouble preventing Erik from ringing Sibelius at 2.15 a.m., having looked him up in the telephone book.¹ Since Chisholm was going to conduct and required rehearsal time, they were part of an advance guard from Britain and found themselves in the company of John Osborne and his troupe, on their way to performLook Back in Anger.

    When they arrived in Moscow, Kabalevsky greeted them. They were given a suite in the Ukrainia hotel and a chauffeur-driven...

  17. INTERLUDE The Love of Janáček
    (pp. 189-193)

    Erik Chisholm was not thought of as a scholar. His Bachelor of Music degree and his doctorate in music were undertaken in an unorthodox manner. In the catalogues of Edinburgh University there is no reference to any material relating to Chisholm’s submission for his doctorate. There is nothing in the Senate Minutes, and the schedule for graduates in music 1898-1950, confirming his graduations in 1931 and 1934, has, under the heading ‘Courses of Study in the University’, nothing more than ‘studied subjects privately.’¹

    What this means is that, whatever training Tovey put him through, we cannot demonstrate that he had...

  18. CHAPTER 10 Chasing a Restless Muse: The Heart’s Betrayal
    (pp. 194-211)

    Most people’s hearts betray them at some time or another, but whether they betray an inner truth or necessity by exposing it, or cheat their owners into a false situation, is a matter of fine judgment. Chisholm’s heart was undoubtedly restless, and his muse was not of the sort to stroke the fevered brow. They betrayed him doubly. They led him away from a marriage which had in many ways been an excellent and fruitful match, into a new and undoubtedly rejuvenating love and then failed to stand up to the strain, physiologically. Diana also had lost heart and was...

  19. Envoi
    (pp. 212-213)

    Of all the composers Scotland has produced, Chisholm has perhaps come closest to ‘finding a nation’s soul’, as Vaughan Williams put it, for the Scots are adventurers as well as traditionalists. They have planted their seed, and their music with it, all over the globe, and they have embraced the new while honouring the old – historically most obviously in the field of technological development, but also in the arts. When Chisholm was born, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow Art School was five years from completion. Building upon a profound knowledge of Scottish vernacular architecture, it none the less remains one...

  20. APPENDIX 1 The Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music
    (pp. 214-221)
  21. APPENDIX 2 Patrick Macdonald Sources for Chisholm’s Piano Works
    (pp. 222-225)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 226-254)
  23. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 255-259)
  24. Discography
    (pp. 260-263)
  25. Selected Compositions
    (pp. 264-266)
  26. Index
    (pp. 267-284)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-285)