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The Aesthetic Life of Cyril Scott

The Aesthetic Life of Cyril Scott

Sarah Collins
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Aesthetic Life of Cyril Scott
    Book Description:

    Prolific and personable, innovative and contentious, Cyril Scott (1879 - 1970) was considered to be one of the most promising young talents in modern British music at the turn of the twentieth century. He was a member of the 'Frankfurt Group' (together with Percy Grainger, Norman O'Neill, Roger Quilter and Balfour Gardiner), his music was performed by some of the leading conductors of the time in Britain and on the Continent, and his friends included highly influential figures in European literature, art and politics. Apart from his music, Scott was the author of many books on alternative medicine, psychology, Occultism, Theosophy and comparative religion. He also wrote fiction, autobiography, and poetry. Scott embodied a unique time in a particularly unique way. His aesthetic ideas informed both his professional creative practice and his manner of living. He was not merely a composer, but an artist in the broadest possible sense of the term. This book provides the first comprehensive account of Scott's life and influences as well as an outline and contextualization of his aesthetic thinking. It traces his changing conception of the function of art and the role of the artist from his formative exposure to Symbolism through his friendship with the German poet Stefan George, to his exploration of Western and Eastern esoteric traditions, showing how the prevailing cross-pollination of ideas allowed him to develop a fully integrated rationale for his art and life. The story of Scott's development guides the reader through some of the most fascinating intellectual discourses of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Europe. Sarah Collins' current research focuses on British music aesthetics and criticism in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. She has a particular interest in the interaction between turn-of-the-century conceptions of the function of criticism, theories of critical intuition and questions of moral philosophy. She lectured at the University of Queensland from 2006 and joined the faculty of Monash University in 2012.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-120-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. List of Library Sigla
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxxii)

    In the Grainger Museum¹ there is a photograph of Cyril Scott, labelled by Percy Grainger “Cyril Scott as he looked when I first met him” (frontispiece). The image captures Scott in 1896, when he was seventeen years old and had only recently made the decision to focus his energies primarily on composition rather than performance. The photograph depicts a figure leaning against a doorway in a straw boater tilted to shadow one eye, the other eye looking out at the camera in a trenchant stare. Scott’s expression is one of affected disdain—the penetrating gaze of a youth attempting to...


    • Chapter 1 Matters of Biography, Autobiography and Anonymity
      (pp. 2-19)

      Much of what is written today about Cyril Scott is characterised by indignant confusion over his historical neglect and assurance of his imminent revival. The approach is rarely comprehensive, and usually arises from an isolated re-discovery of one or more of his compositions, accompanied by the kind of “lost-treasure” excitement which is compounded by the passing of time. The point of access to this historical figure has therefore usually been through his music. Scott produced a prodigious quantity of compositions over his seventy-year career, including symphonies, operas, concertos, ballets, a large amount of solo piano material, songs and chamber music....

    • Chapter 2 “Music, Melancholy, Apprehension, Sex, and the Church”
      (pp. 20-40)

      Cyril Scott was born on 27 September 1879 in Oxton, a few miles from the centre of Birkenhead, near Liverpool. He spent his childhood in the town and came to associate it not only with the unpleasant neuroses of his early years, but more broadly with an encroaching perception of the materialism of Victorian England. These associations were brought into particularly stark relief after his first period studying in Frankfurt. Birkenhead was an “unrefined place”¹ and

      a town so arid and sordid and un-prepossessing in parts, that even to walk through its monotonous murky streets, let alone to live in...

    • Chapter 3 “An Artist-Autocrat of the Most Pronounced Type”
      (pp. 41-90)

      In late 1896, as Scott turned seventeen, he returned to the Frankfurt Conservatory in order to study composition, an area which had come to hold more interest for him than piano performance: “It was one thing to create music of one’s own: it was quite another to spoil one’s pleasure in other people’s by playing it over and over again till one was sick of the very sound of it.”¹ Being a little older on this visit, Scott rented out some rooms by himself and hired a grand piano to compose with during his studies. Scott stayed in Frankfurt for...

    • Chapter 4 “The Most Absorbing and Romantic Interest of My Present Incarnation”
      (pp. 91-134)

      In the summer of 1901 Scott vacationed with Hans Lüthy and his family in Switzerland. During this trip Scott wrote a prelude to Aglavaine and Selysette, one movement of a piano quartet and a piano sonata. He also began work on a piano sextet and developed plans to start a requiem and an opera. In the autumn he wrote his second symphony.

      Over the next few years Scott’s musical career continued to develop and his notoriety increased through a series of very lucky associations similar to the de Haan arrangement. Lüthy, who had been such an untiring supporter of Scott...


    • Chapter 5 Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages
      (pp. 136-151)

      While Scott’s literary oeuvre includes many works that deal with either music or the occult individually, it is those that extrapolate the occult aspects of music that are of primary interest in discerning the aesthetic character of Scott’s spiritual quest. Scott published numerous articles developing the notion of an interaction between music and the occult before coalescing his ideas in The Influence of Music on History and Morals: A Vindication of Plato (1928),¹ and finally in Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages (1933),² which represents the clearest iteration of his occult theory of musical affect.

      The fundamental notion upon...

    • Chapter 6 The Immortal Artist
      (pp. 152-179)

      Scott’s published writings on the subject of music span a good deal of his life and appear in the form of articles in British and American journals, published lectures, and several monographs. Often the monographs represent a culmination of views expressed previously in various articles. This process invites a decidedly organic reconstruction of the philosophical path taken by Scott in the formulation of his theory. From this, it becomes clear that Scott continuously re-cast his aesthetics in a character suited to his spiritual quest and in reflexive interaction with the public reception of his musical works.

      In his writings on...

    • Chapter 7 Theory and Practice
      (pp. 180-219)

      The extent to which Scott’s theory of musical affect had an impact on his compositional choices is a question that has received surprisingly little serious attention. Owing to the prevailing reductionist view of Scott’s “mystical” or “oriental” interests, there has been some work to discover in Scott’s music formal aspects which may be seen to invite an esoteric interpretation. Crystall made an attempt, for example, at discovering fragments of the Golden Section and Fibonacci series in certain of Scott’s works, though the argument proves extremely unconvincing, as revealed by Crystall’s own analysis. Despite the brevity of Davis’ half-page article “Scott’s...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 220-231)

    Scott’s childhood preoccupation with morbidity, his phobia of lame men and anxiety from the events of his “psychological tragedy,” all speak to an early recognition of the fluctuating character of reality and the instability of everyday existence—notions which became utterly terrifying for the young composer, unaided by the philosophical sustenance he so craved. It was both the immanence and unknowability of this fluctuation that fuelled Scott’s neuroses, akin to the “sense of precariousness”¹ experienced in the fin de siècle psyche at large. This sense was personalised by Scott as a tormented unrest whose quieting came to be of the...

  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 232-243)
  11. Index
    (pp. 244-248)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-249)