Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
Sir Thomas Beecham was considered to have been a major influence on British musical life and I never thought differently until I recently read John Lucas’s book, Thomas Beecham: An Obsession with Music, and with a renewed interest aroused, wikipeeded him.
Born into a wealthy industrial family, Beecham used the family and company money to transform the operatic scene in England from the 1910s until the start of World War II, staging seasons at Covent Garden, Drury Lane and His Majesty’s Theatre with international stars, his own hand-picked orchestra and a wide range of repertoire.
What I have only just learned was that the vast about of money he donated – equivalent to twenty million pounds by today’s prices – was mainly to ensure that he would be The Conductor. In the end this ego-generosity bankrupted him.
It is beyond doubt that Beecham was a great conductor even though he never created anything extraordinary for British Music. One thing he did successfully manage to do was to wangle himself a knighthood at thirty-six, despite having been named as co-respondent in a much publicized divorce case.
Sir Thomas was one of those responsible for my life-long interest in classical music. Until I read this book. I never thought of him as being a prickly character with a very sharp tongue who managed to upset many of his friends and the people he worked with.
In December, 1952 a grey, black smoke laden fog* -“The Great Sog” – enveloped the UK and the industrial north of England moreso. Manchester’s Public transport came to a standstill unless some brave passenger dismounted and led a bus down the white centre line. Vision, in some place was less than ten yards. It was so bad that cars were blindly following the car in front into the owner’s driveway, believing themselves still to be on the main road.
I was sixteen when this man-made catastrophe happened and during it Beecham was to be guest conductor of the Halle orchestra, There was no way that I was going to miss this rare event, even though it meant walking five miles, coughing and spluttering through the pea-souper from my home, into the city centre.
When the concert eventually got under way; to a half empty auditorium and minus a few musicians, Sir Thomas, apologised for the conditions outside and thanking those of us who had made it through the adverse conditions, promised us a musical event to remember.
I no longer recall the programme but still the memory of the man and that evening still remain, including the five mile stumble to get home, guided by strangers and the lights from shop windows, as the street lamps were invisible in the fog.
Despite so belatedly learning of his personal, negative qualities – too much information – I shall still treasure his public performances and one recital in particular.
*Government medical reports in the following weeks, however, estimated that up until 8 December, 4,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog and 100,000 more were made ill by the smog’s effects on the human respiratory tract. More recent research suggests that the total number of fatalities was considerably greater, about 12,000.
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