Arthur Machen and Music

Caerleon Net

The diversity of types of music associated with the Caerleon writer, Arthur Machen, is surprising. Oddly though, the man himself frequently said that he had never managed to appreciate a note of music in his life.

From Machen's
'Queer Things' Column in The Observer:

"There has been some discussion lately as to the custom of applauding at concerts. It is pointed out that the habit of beating the hands together because you think that the man at the piano has played Bach or Beethoven very well is utterly irrational. This is, no doubt, absolutely true; but is not the thing applauded as irrational as the applause? What rational, that is, practical ground can be discovered for the, more or less, measured noise that we call music?"

In her book 'John Ireland: the Man and His Music' ( Midas Books 1979) Muriel Searle writes of the moment that the composer first came across Arthur Machen's writing in The House of Souls. He was on Charing Cross station when the title at a book kiosk, caught his eye. He was immediately drawn into the 'fey, strange world of extremist antiquity'. With his interest in long-gone races and rites and prehistory, Ireland immediately identified with the stories both in content and style. It was a regular complaint by Ireland that no critic could ever appreciate his music if he or she had not first read and understood the work of the Caerleon writer.

His commitment to Machen's prose was to be that of a life time.
Maidun, his great orchestral work is believed to have been inspired by The Hill of Dreams. A work directly connected to The White People is The Scarlet Ceremonies, a piano piece, whilst the influence is clear on Legend, a piano work itself dedicated to Machen. Quotations were used to preface all three pieces which made up Decorations namely, The Island Spell, Moonglade and of course The Scarlet Ceremonies.

Later, in
The Forgotten Rite, Machen's sense of the 'world beyond the veil' is transcribed into the other-worldly, hauntingly beautiful notes which make the symphonic prelude both mysterious and unforgettably beautiful.

It is said that on one occasion John Ireland arose early, cut some sandwiches and chose Harrow Hill as the place for his picnic. (In the far distant past there had been a leper colony in the area. A steep path lead up to what was known as Friday's Church because the clergyman attended it on Fridays for a service for the benefit of the lepers who were allowed to participate through a squint so that they shouldn't contaminate the congregation.) Just as he was about to start eating, he noticed some children dancing around him in archaic clothing - very quiet, very silent. He was a little put out about having his peace invaded by children; he looked away for a moment, when he looked back they had disappeared. The incident made such an impression on him that he wrote about his experience to Arthur Machen. The reply he received was a postcard with the laconic message:   "So, you've seen them too!"

John Ireland

The late Christopher Palmer, musicologist and biographer of Delius, was instrumental in getting his publishers, Messrs. Duckworth & Co., to publish a Complete Works of Arthur Machen in the 1980s. Palmer edited the work and wrote a fine essay of introduction.

Bernard Hermann (died 1975) was the composer of much Hollywood music for such films as
Citizen Kane, North By North West, Psycho! and others. Christopher Palmer dedicated his Collected Works of Arthur Machen to him 'Machen-lover extraordinary'.

A close friend of Palmer was the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber who became Patron of the Arthur Machen Society and was a passionate enthusiast for his writing. Lloyd Webber in his turn edited a book
Short Sharp Shocks (Weidenfeld and Nicholson,1990), described on the jacket as a 'Master class of the Macabre' and which contained one of Machen's lesser known stories Then Bright Boy. The cellist was also associated with the writer through his frequent recording of the music of John Ireland. It might be said that Machen was the glue that held many of these well known names together, sharing as they do, a compulsive love of his writing.

From Julian Lloyd Webber's Obituary of Palmer written for Avallaunius, the Journal of the former Arthur Machen Society, Arculus is reminded that it was Palmer who introduced Julian to Machen possibly on the first meeting between the men when they were involved in recording Ireland's
Trios for Violin, Cello and Piano.

Roger Goodman, later to become treasurer of the Machen Society, recalled once his meeting with Marc Bolan backstage of a Tyrannosaurus Rex concert in 1969. Out of the blue the idol asked Roger, "Have you ever read Arthur Machen?" to which Roger replied in the negative. He was advised to begin with
The Hill of Dreams which he duly didů


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Bernard Hermann

Julian Lloyd Webber

Marc Bolan
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