Friday, April 01, 2016

"I have rarely worked so hard at a piece..."


Arnold Bax, who is seen above, lived in the White Horse public house at Storrington, Sussex from 1941 until his death in 1953. His last published symphony, the valedictory Seventh, was composed in 1939 and while living in the White Horse it is thought that Bax only composed a few minor works. But there is a spooky story that suggests an Eighth Symphony may have originated from the composer's favourite watering hole.

The White Horse is reputed to be haunted and a later resident told how Bax's rooms had a 'live' atmosphere and that furniture moved mysteriously and doors opened of their own accord. Both Bax's bedroom and his workroom are now used to accommodate guests, and in 1986 when a musician stayed in the composer's work room he felt a Bax-like presence which filled the room with "an almost flashing energy which made the air literally mobile". After this experience the musician composed a work for piano titled 'Arnold's Ghost', and a decade later he felt compelled to orchestrate it as a single movement symphony. While working on the symphony the psychic amanuensis felt guided by an inexplicable energy, and he has described how: "I have rarely worked so hard at a piece, seemingly driven and instructed".

The scoring of the symphony was completed in 1996 after which the musician received no further visits from Bax's avatar. In an attempt to authenticate it Anthony Payne, the authority on Bax and co-composer of the Elgar/Payne Third Symphony, examined the score of the symphony and judged it authentically Baxian without showing any evidence of plagiarism. The identity of the musician who channeled the work has been kept anonymous, and, surprisingly given the current infatuation with lost masterpieces and messages from the dead, there are no plans to perform the symphony or write a book about it.

By now many readers will have realised that this post was published on April 1st. But there is a twist in the plot, because this is not an April Fool's joke - it is a true story. So just let's be thankful that the score of the channeled Bax symphony remains a well kept secret. Those who are determined to learn more about it are referred to Music, Witchcraft and the Paranormal by Dr. Melvyn J. Willin which my post draws on. And in a final twist in this overgrown path, the sadly maligned Joyce Hatto championed Bax's music. Audition her persuasive advocacy of his Symphonic Variations - this is one of the recordings that William Barrington-Coupe did not doctor - with Tod Handley conducting the esteemed Guilford Philharmonic via this link.

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