Sir William Glock

by Dr. David C. F. Wright

I am one of many people who are troubled by the continual attacks on the late Sir William Glock with the argument that, because he was in favour of avant garde music, he deliberately ignored music by British composers who wrote in a tonal and conservative idiom.

This is completely untrue and has resulted in the perpetrating of a myth.

Glock did not like avant garde music. The historical accounts of his reactions, when present at performances of avant garde works by Nono and others, in which he thought he was going to be caught up in the resultant riots, are well known.

Glock was conservative and catholic in his taste. He was criticised for playing Mozart on the BBC every day and, like me, was a committed Beethovenian.

As Controller of Radio Three, he appointed conductors who were not avant garde such as Dorati and Colin Davis. It was in Glock's last year that Boulez was appointed to be the conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and so the comment of the Glock and Boulez years might suggest a long period of collaboration which is untrue and misleading.

My friend, the composer, John Veale, was also influenced to believe that Glock was against him and therefore the BBC did nothing to broadcast any of his work. Lewis Foreman's obituary of Veale states that as well.

Bryden Thomson was approached by Glock to perform John's Symphony no. 2 around 1968. It was agreed and scheduled and then the higher ups in the BBC over ruled Glock. He also had a series of 24 concerts of tonal modern British music scheduled and this went into production but, again, Glock's bosses pulled the plug.

John Veale stopped composing twice and many thought this was because he was dead and that is why his music was not played, but the real reason for his neglect by the BBC, and this was after the Glock years , was because of his correspondence in The Guardian newspaper about Britten's War Requiem ending with a homosexual love duet which Britten had eventually admitted was true. Britten was the blue eyed boy at the BBC, and any criticism of him was objected to by the BBC.

It is also claimed that Ruth Gipps was ignored by Glock. That is also untrue. He scheduled seven works of hers in his time at the BBC and I have a letter from 'Wid' Gipps giving all the details and dates of such broadcasts.

It has always been a policy of the London Proms to include new British works and that would include some atonal works and Glock kept this existing tradition alive. But many of the new British works were tonal such as Iain Hamilton's Fourth Symphony.

My friend, the late Richard Noble, kept every Radio Times from 1951 onwards and he went to the trouble of listing all the works broadcast in Glock's time of which very few were avant garde. Of living British composers many were very well represented such as:

Kenneth Leighton, John Joubert, Francis Chagrin, Ruth Gipps, Ivor Walsworth, Edmund Rubbra, Ernest Tomlinson, John Dyer, Denis ApIvor, William Wordsworth, George Oldroyd, Arthur Wills, Ivor Keys, David Morgan, Alan Rawsthorne, David Barlow (2 symphonies, three chamber works and an opera), Rebecca Clarke, Guy Woolfenden, Arnold Cooke (3 symphonies, two concertos and six chamber works) and I could go on. The list is endless.

None of these are avant garde, although Denis ApIvor's works after the Glock era, became atonal and some were serial.

I have recordings of many of these broadcasts made in the Glock era. I have the concert in which he personally introduced three works by Francis Chagrin. I have recordings of him introducing new British works that were tonal and it is absolutely clear that he supported music of this kind although, as I have said, some of his worthy projects were over ruled by higher management.

I also have a list compiled by 'Wid' Gipps of new Britsih works premiered on the BBC in the Glock years where most of these works were given their initial reading by one of Ruth's orchestras.

Since Glock's departure from the BBC in 1971, successive Controllers have had more power. Who was it that moved heaven and earth to prevent Malcolm Arnold's Symphony no. 9 being broadcast? There is a list of composers who suffered at the hands of Drummond and this is proved by the vitrolic letters he wrote to them, and I have copies of some of them.

Robert Simpson, in the days of Robert Ponsonby, became disillusioned with the BBC. In a letter to me dated 17 August 1978 he writes:

"It is a very recent thing that the BBC have now developed policies as to which composers they wish to broadcast and those that they do not want to broadcast."

In conversation, Robert Simpson said that Glock did his level best to support music of all kinds on the BBC, but he was constantly prevailed upon by Hans Keller to promote modern music from his part of the world, Austria-Germany, and, after Glock left, Keller had his way, to some extent.

I have written over 300 articles on composers, including about 120 who are still alive. Not one of them has been critical about Glock. In fact, many have said that he was a great support to them. I have their letters here.

Of course, there are composers who feel that Glock did nothing for them but that is not necessarily his fault. He was often over ruled and, at other times, it was because the in-house BBC orchestras and the in-house conductors did not want to perform the music. And, of course, there was the BBC's reading panel for new scores, and one remembers some of their stupidities. They rejected a symphony of Wordsworth in the early 1950s because it was written in two different colour inks! There is also the truth that some concerts were canceled to accommodate a new work by Britten who held court at the BBC. I found Britten to be the most offensive person I have ever met.

Another issue is that some composers "shot themselves in the foot" by indiscreet and ill advised communications with the BBC and bullying techniques.

People will use the Harry S. Truman quote to describe Glock that the buck stops with him. This is grossly unfair and the time has come to remember all the good things Glock did and to withdraw the scurrilous and untrue attacks made upon him.

As for Boulez, he was an exemplary conductor and unlike some other conductors, the BBC orchestra liked him. I have several letters from players in the orchestra to this effect.

It is always worrying when people condemn others just because they do not fit into their mold. What I write in this letter is evidenced and therefore not an opinion or a personal point of view. It is fact.

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