HC Deb 07 April 1903 vol 120 cc1333-44
MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)

said in rising to move the Motion Standing in his name he owed some apology to the House for bringing forward this proposal at such an inconvenient time, when the nearness of the holidays precluded not only many of those who supported his views, but also many of those who opposed them, from taking part in the debate. The Motion had been advisedly drawn in a vague form, not only in order to conform with the rules of the House, which precluded private Members from bringing forward Motions which put a charge on public funds, but also because in a year when the national expenditure had reached unprecedented bounds it was not likely that the Government would indulge in a new departure, which some regarded rather as a luxury than a necessity. He believed whatever was done for the other arts ought certainly to be done for the art of music. He was aware that this was not a popular subject, but it was one which he ventured to think was nearly connected with the welfare of the nation and one which the House should seriously consider. This was, he believed, the first occasion on which the House had been asked to consider this question in particular. There had been several discussions on the general question of art—on art in all its branches, but no discussion on the particular question of music.

From time immemorial music had formed an integral part of the national life of nations. In Egyptian history there was no doubt music was an important feature of the State ceremonial of that era, and it had been a great feature of religion. In all times music had formed a portion of religious services. He had no desire to traverse the whole history of music, but it had existed as an integral feature of the life of all nations at all times. In the Middle Ages, there were mystery plays, which combined for the first time the art of music and the drama. Nor was this country left out, although there was no encouragement from the Government, for musical plays were performed at Coventry, Chester, and elsewhere. Then the works of Shakespeare showed that that great man was not oblivious to the value and importance of music. It was shown, for instance, in The Tempest and As You Like It, and in perhaps the best known of all the clown's songs in Twelfth Night Come away, come away, death And in sad cypress led me be laid. In modern times, perhaps the best exponent of musical knowledge and technique was Wagner, and it was well known that that great man accomplished his work under the ægis of an enlightened patron.

It had been said with truth that had Purcell lived longer, and had Handel not visited this country, the operatic history of England would have been different. The fact remained that this country was lamentably behind all other nations in the encouragement which was given to one of the greatest of the Arts. They could not, however much they might try, separate music from the great Arts. In poetry, painting, literature, sculpture and architecture there would be found a trace of the art of music. Some of the finest paintings that the world had ever seen had been produced by the knowledge of music in the painter's mind. In some of the finest architecture in the world there was a trace of music to be found. The conclusion to which he wished to direct attention was that music was essentially one of the greatest of the Fine Arts.

The Government voted £4,000 a year to science; and, while he did not begrudge that amount, and did not suggest it was not well spent, he asked what had been done for music, not alone in the interests of those who heard it, but in the interests of those who artistically produced it There were the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Kensington School of Art, and other institutions all under the patronage of the Government. The knowledge of literature was provided throughout the country by great free libraries. He did not object to free libraries. Far be it from him to be guilty of any such stupidity; because free libraries were of almost incalculable good to the great masses of the people. But he was entitled to point to the encouragement which had been given to literature and other arts, while no encouragement was being given to the lover of music. The Government placed a certain amount of money, he thought quite rightly, at the discretion of the First Lord of the Treasury for the relief of literary persons who were unable to support themselves. That was a most beneficent and wise provision. But while that was done for literature, nothing was done for music. It was quite true that they had made great, strides during the last few years in this particular matter. He had not unlimited admiration for the London County Council and all their works; but, at all events, they were the pioneers of music for the people of London, and their action had affected other local authorities throughout the country. Last year the London County Council spent over £12,000 in 1,177 performances in sixty-five parks and gardens during the summer months. Besides their own band of 128 members, they had fifty-three other bands, and reckoning 1,000 persons at each performance, that meant that over 1,100,000 persons heard the music which was provided.

To those who argued that music was a luxury for the rich, he would put it to the House that many of the 1,100,000 people who heard the music might have been occupied in a much worse way had the music not been provided. All the great municipalities had been doing something in the same direction, and Glasgow, Leeds, and his native city of Manchester, had been providing concerts not only in the summer, but also in the winter months. It was an extraordinary fact that these local authorities should have been leading the way while the Government were doing nothing for the encouragement of the art. Who would deny that if they could get the people to attend concerts provided by the London County Council and other great municipalities, great benefit would be conferred on the community; and who would deny that if they were able to go further, as the Motion suggested, the people would gradually be educated, as they were in Continental cities, to appreciate the highest form of all music—the combination of music and the drama known as opera. It might be said that people always congregated where a band was, because it made noise. Even if that were true, which he did not admit, surely it was better that they should congregate in a healthy spot rather than congregate, as was frequently the case, in public houses. In every class of the community there was some knowledge of, and some desire for music; and if the Government would only step forward and do what he ventured to think was their duty, and what every nation on the Continent did, it would not be long before they found a much greater improvement in the people than they could hope for from any ordinary Act of Parliament.

Every Sunday afternoon the Queen's Hall was packed, not with fashionable London, but with a very different class, who were present not because they merely wished to hear music, but because they desired to learn the very best in music. The financial success of what were known as musical festivals was an evidence of the increasing love of the people for the art Many of them remembered when musical festivals were of very rare occurrence; now some of the finest music was heard at them. How much finer that music would be if it were carried through to its logical conclusion, namely opera. It was extraordinary that this country should provide a certain amount—small, it was true—of musical education for the people in musical academies and colleges, and yet take no care of what became of the pupils who had been educated in these institutions. It was not so on the Continent. On the Continent people were taught music, and were also given an opportunity of developing their knowledge and of putting that knowledge to practical use. Why should that not be so in this country? This country looked upon music more from the commercial point of view than any other. Commercialism in art was the ruin of all art. A man who was not able to produce the best in him because it did not pay, because it was not popular, because he could not sell his wares, so to speak, at a price remunerative to him, never produced the best that was in him, and if that sort of thing in general was true, it was true of music in particular.

Covent Garden opera could not claim to exist from an artistic point of view. The Covent Garden productions were indeed very far from being artistic; but they had got so used to them now that they looked upon them as part and parcel of the season. People familiar with the subject knew that in the first performance there is a snowstorm. It begins on the first night, and goes steadily through all the operas until the end of the operatic season. Whatever else Covent Garden might claim to be, it cannot claim to be a national opera in the artistic sense. Far be it from him to blame the syndicate which ran Covent Garden. They might claim to exist from an artistic point of view; but if they did not make money they would soon close their doors. In every capital in the world, and in several small towns on the Continent, it was possible to hear a decent opera at a price everyone, could afford. Covent Garden could not be regarded as a national opera; yet it could not be denied that the fault was mainly due to the lack of encouragement by the Government. It was due in a smaller degree also to another form of commercialism. How was it possible for nil artist to make any headway in his profession if he had to sell himself to an agent for a term of years, who made him execute, not what was artistic, but what was popular? What chance had such a man of providing against his old age? He had to sell his musical soul to his agent, and brought about his own financial ruin in the bargain.

It might be asked how the remedy he suggested would cure all that. In the first place, if they were going to do anything, the Government must have knowledge on the subject. The Government would do well to secure enlightenment by means of inquiry, and he had some hope that I hey would sooner or later go to this extent, for they had consented to give a Return from all our consular bodies showing in what way music and the opera were subsidised in the various countries. He recognised that the Government, before they did anything, had a right to see what those returns brought forth. If anything was to be done he hoped the Government would consider whether it should be by way of encouraging local authorities, or whether it should be by way of Imperial grant. The Government might do well to consider whether the time had not arrived when they could frame a plan whereby one of the noblest of the Arts might be encouraged.

It would be absurd to leave out of the curriculum Scotch, or Irish, or Welsh music, if they were to have a system of national music. All he hoped for that evening was to arouse interest and discussion on this question; and if he succeeded in that he was satisfied. At present, his proposal might appear unpopular, but it often happened that unpopularity turned into popularity. He owed no apology to the House for bringing forward the question, because, after all, the House existed for the purpose of effecting the greatest good of the greatest number, and if by encouraging art they could do something to improve the social conditions of the people, and to remove evils which they all deplored, surely they could not regard the time spent in considering the subject wasted. He hoped his hon. friend who represented the Government would be able to give him some encouragement in his efforts on behalf of the great cause to which he was devoted, and which he held so dear.

MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said as one of the many millions of his countrymen who were lovers of music, he gladly seconded the Motion. His hon. friend opened his speech with a remark which was of historical character, namely, that that was the first occasion on which a sitting of the House of Commons had been devoted to music. Although the House was practically empty, it was an encouragement to all who believed in the educational advantages of music to know that Parliament had given even an hour to consider the claims of music. It was a most lamentable fact that every artist who desired to achieve success in music had to no abroad to be properly trained; and unfortunately the British public had by long usage been led to believe that no artist could be regarded as pre-eminent unless he bore, or had assumed, a foreign name. The musical profession had too long been regarded as a profession for ne'er-do-wells. An Orangeman would regard the entry of his son or daughter into the musical profession in the same light as if they became Roman Catholics. Worse than the social aspect was the fact that success in the musical profession depended on what he might call the vulgarity of social patronage, and upon the skill of the usurer who made the skill of the artist his means of usury. Again, many struggling artists had to pay heavily in order to get a hearing; and, further, there was a state of things which enabled foreign musicians to form a close ring in England, so strong that they were able to boycott native artists.

Another reason for the condition of music in this country was that the musical schools throughout the country did not attract teachers of European eminence. Nevertheless, there was a deep musical sentiment among the people. He did not see many hon. Members present who were educated at Eton, but all who were at Eton would appreciate the great inspiration which lay in the Eton Boating Song, and it had played a very important part in their lives. Then there was a song which often aroused patriotism and showed a deep musical sense on the part of those who joined in it, "Give me my Stable Jacket." In his own country of Scotland "Auld Lang Syne" was produced. He thought no one would accuse the Scottish nation of being unmusical, and of not being susceptible to the great educational and human side of music.

During the last twenty years he had the privilege of being concerned in organising many great concerts, not of the light and airy kind, but at which the best, and even the heaviest kind of music was heard. The audiences were drawn mainly from the working classes, and, although they had not had an opportunity of listening to such music before, it produced such an impression on them as to lead them to give up their spare time to; music rather than a public house. How was it therefore, that the Government did not propose the establishment of a permanent institution where music could be recognized? How was it that opera in London was merely an exhibition of snobbery, or the plaything of the plutocracy? At Covent Garden they had operas rendered by the greatest singers, yet the performances were unmusical and inartistic. It was because they were not organised on a true basis of national character.

Italian theatres had been assisted rather than supported by municipalities, and semi-public associations had acted on the principle that help given to the opera was assistance rendered for the public good. The experience of Germany was the same; but in all these cases the opera had been assisted by subventions or supported by the Civil List or the municipality. The result had been that good opera had been brought within the reach of all classes. He sincerely hoped the Government would accept the Motion which, under somewhat difficult circumstances, he had seconded.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, with a view to directing the musical taste of the people into proper channels, it is desirable that National Opera Houses under public control should be established in the principal cities of the United Kingdom."—(Mr. Galloway.)


said that this was a subject upon which it was difficult for the Government to make any statement which would be satisfactory to hon. Members. The subvention of national opera in foreign countries was at this moment the subject of inquiry, and a Return was being prepared. When that Return was made, and the Government was in full possession of the action of other Governments in this direction, then it might be possible to give full and fair consideration to the questions which had been raised. He hoped his hon. friends would be satisfied with the assurance that the Government were alive to the importance of the question. Nothing could be done until the Return had been made; but he was not justified in holding out any definite promise that public money would be forthcoming after that Return had been received. Nevertheless the importance of the matter was recognised.


I beg to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion.

Major JAMESON (Clare, W.)

rose to continue the discussion.

Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at two minutes past Ten of the Clock till Tomorrow.

Adjourned at two minutes after Ten o'clock.