Born in 1908, William Glock became one of the most important and powerful people in British music[^1] in the second half of the 20th century. This autobiography was published in 1991; he died in 2000.
– Christ’s Hospital & Cambridge
– Music critic for the Observer[^2]
– Post-War tour of Europe for the BBC’s Third Programme
– Founder of a music summer school, first at Bryanston in Dorset and then, famously, at Dartington in Devon
– Controller of Music[^3] at the BBC, including revitalising the Proms
– Running the Bath Festival
– All the above while playing the piano to professional standard, and socialising, often over a decent lunch or dinner, with the great and good of the musical world
My brief when reading this book was to see what I thought about Glock the man. It’s a strange autobiography, starting, as similarly did this blog entry, with the crushingly clichéd “I was born, the first of three children, in 1908 at Catford in south-east London”[^4], and yet containing more or less nothing about his personal life, his moral, religious or political thoughts, or his non-musical activities. This is deliberate – as he writes in the “Coda” (p196):
Only one thing was certain, It [the proposed autobiography] would be a study not in self-analysis, but of sixty years spent, first as a student and then, through many helpful circumstances, in doing my best to advance both public interest in music and its more intense understanding by those devoted to it. I suppose I took it for granted that, in recounting all this, my attitude and beliefs would show through.
He gives himself one chapter off, as it were (“Family Interlude”) in which he talks about the early death of his daughter; this is very moving, but in a Remains of the Day way: after quoting letters from her, and describing the medical details, he ends with the painful (and whimsically self-observing)
Oriel died at the age of thirty-four on 14 April 1980, and from such a loss one seems never to recover.
At other points he drops in the name of a wife or two, or the fact that he’s now called “Sir”. But no more. A friend recently called him “desiccated”.
His career, and alleged desiccation, seems to stem partly from his outstanding ability to initiate and lead, to ‘get things done’, and partly from his sense of musical mission. Glock was a forceful, energetic and successful start-up and shake-up man, head-hunted by institution after institution, and his mission, more than just an almost religious devotion to music (see above), was fired and focused by the failure of the English musical establishment to see beyond their insular perspective. As a young man, Vaughan-Williams and others advised him not to go to Germany to study with Schnabel, as he could learn all he needed in Britain. His insistence on going, and the excitement generated by what he learnt there, gave him the sense of quasi-moral outrage to fight the good fight for foreign and avant garde composers. With a mission like this, he could do nothing but concentrate his autobiography on music and musicians: anything personal would get in the way, the vessel of light must be transparent.
[^1]: By which I mean, in that strange phrase, “serious” music – “classical” in ordinary language.
[^2]: Sacked for being too into avant-garde, continental, composers.
[^3]: See note 1.
[^4]: Cf. the start of Gulliver’s Travels: “My father had a small estate in Nottinghamshire: I was the third of five sons.”