A Visit to the George Malcolm Archive
(housed at Balliol College, Oxford of which GM was both a graduate and an Honorary Fellow)

Earlier this year I was asked to organise a concert featuring JSB’s multi-harpsichord concertos. As I now have the time for such eccentric quests this set me off on the trail of the works for four harpsichords that I knew had been created for George Malcolm and his colleagues in the 1950s (see EMRs passim). A variety of sources, including the Southbank Centre programme archive, confirmed my memory that these were:

Concerto after Vivaldi – Thurston Dart (a L’estro armonico arrangement, like Bach’s)
Concerto after CPE Bach – Raymond Leppard (expansion of a double concerto)
Variations on a theme by Mozart by GM himself

Extensive enquiries among GM’s circle of admirers led me to the conclusion that the archive was the place to start the search and I would like at this point to record with gratitude the help I have had from Christopher Hirons, GM’s executor and by an astonishing coincidence the violin teacher of the leader of the last school orchestra for which I had responsibility. I must also record my thanks to Anna Sanders, the Balliol archivist, who was kept very busy during my visit.

The archive is in 26 boxes, mostly of music, though there is also everything the writer of a biography could ever wish to find – concert programmes, diaries, correspondence, discography, reviews etc. A summary list of the collection is available and is accurate though, naturally, not comprehensive. Mine was neither a scientific nor a scholarly investigation of the archive. I was assisted by Martin Hall, a fellow GM fan, and ours was a focussed search for the repertoire mentioned above. Nevertheless, we did note various odds and ends which struck us as interesting for one reason or another.

We regularly encountered fully written out continuo parts (eg for Purcell songs) or decorations (Handel organ concertos). There was no sign of the manuscript of GM’s Bach before the mast though we did encounter an arrangement (by Clifford Benson) of Alec Templeton’s Bach goes to town for piano duet. Incidentally, the solo version of this and GM’s piece are still available as archive prints via Boosey’s.

Box 4 contained GM’s elaborate arrangement for strings of Bach’s six part Ricercare and there were several ‘curiosities’ among the miscellaneous contents of Box 10. These included what appeared to be sketches for an unspecified solo instrument and piano of two jazz standards in which the incomplete (in the sense that there were gaps in it) piano part consisted of a mixture of figured bass (!) and elaborate figurations which linked the soloist’s phrases. This box also included a realisation by Robert Donington of Corelli’s La Folia, complete with melodic decorations and a fully written out continuo part. I think this was recorded by Malcolm with Yehudi Menuhin in connection with one of Donington’s books. In the same bundle was material from GM’s collaborations with Julian Bream. These included the Bach organ trio arrangements which they recorded and a Ground in D minor for lute and harpsichord by GM. In a different box (13) was another work which must relate to this combination – Joseph Horovitz’s Duo for lute and harpsichord, which does not appear in the ‘official’ list of his compositions on the Chester/Novello website.

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At the time of my visit the Britten Centenary weekend was imminent so material relating to him naturally caught the eye. This included a copy of Rejoice in the Lamb (16) with detailed registrations marked in the organ part; a carefully written copy of the organ part (11) of the Missa Brevis Gloria (was BB’s m/s not sufficiently clear to be read at the necessary speed?); and GM’s conducting copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (also 11). This was a vocal score with myriad instrumental cues marked in and was used for some of the early performances. Apparently BB’s (pencil) full score could not be read under performance lighting by anyone other than him.

Box 17 included both m/s and printed copies of three piano pieces by Clifford Benson together with note of thanks to GM for his help in securing publication and, most charmingly, a copy of ‘The Child’s First Music Lessons’ by ‘Lady Macfarren’ which was labelled (in an adult hand) ‘Georgie Malcolm 20th April 1923’ (when GM was 6). On a rather different level was a manuscript copy of W Sterndale Bennett’s piano Toccata Op.38 and, in box 20, a cadenza for Mozart’s two piano concerto. This piece was played on harpsichords (together with the triple) in one of the RFH concerts but I wonder if the cadenza was used in later performances (on pianos) with GM’s great admirer Andras Schiff? We also came across a flyer for a recital GM gave at Balliol late in his career at which he said that he would play some of Scarlatti’s ‘less athletic’ sonatas. He was still ‘up’ for JSB’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, however.

And in Box 13 we did find both the score (in pencil, with few clefs or key signatures!) and parts (in ink) of Malcolm’s Variations on a theme by Mozart. (See Composer page DL) These have comprehensive expression and registration markings relating to the eight-pedalled instruments used for the performances and recording (on YouTube) and it might now be difficult to bring together ‘instruments of the period’ to give an ‘authentic’ performance. But I hope to start work on the material in the New Year and we’ll see what emerges and what can be done with it.

George Malcolm was born in 1917 and I (and his many admirers) would like to think that his approaching centenary might bring about a balanced and comprehensive assessment of his achievements. Yes, he did sell his Shudi-Broadwood 1775 harpsichord and favoured the then modern instruments but he did make harpsichord repertoire mainstream listening, he took French baroque ornamentation more seriously than some do now, his achievements as a choirmaster at Westminster Cathedral are universally acknowledged and he was a rather more versatile conductor of orchestral music than is often realised.

And what wouldn’t any of us give for his technique and sense of musical architecture?

David Hansell (November 2013)