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The Dominant

(London, 1927-1929)

Prepared by Elvidio Surian
Online only (2014)

The Dominant [DOM] was published monthly by Oxford University Press from November 1927 to November 1929 when publication ceased without explanation. In all, it consists of seventeen issues, each containing from forty to fifty pages printed in a double-column format. The journal’s founder and sole editor was music critic and important British writer on music Edwin Evans (1874-1945), a champion of the music of English, French and Russian composers. From 1933 he was music critic of the Daily Mail and in 1938 was elected president of the International Society for Contemporary Music.

The journal is dedicated to the documentation of various aspects of contemporary musical life and musicians active in England and, occasionally, in foreign countries, giving scarce attention to ancient music. One of its principal aims is to encourage controversy and to assert the emancipation of English musical life, which in present years seems to have lost contact with that of the Continent.1 The other primary goals of the periodical are the reporting of national and European musical events. The majority of articles in DOM are signed by well-known British music critics, educationists and composers; for example, Henry C. Colles, Hubert J. Foss, William Henry Hadow, Rollo Myers, Percy A. Scholes, William G. Whittaker.

The 1920’s are characterized by a compelling advancement of British musical life, accompanied by signs of a musical renaissance, that were due to a variety of factors. Among the reasons of such renewal were the abandonment of the established German romantic tradition as model of imitation, the assimilation of contemporary developments in Europe, the increased interest in the musical past and in the folklore idioms of Britain. The most important composers who were actively engaged in promoting and reviving national idiomatic writing were Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Gustav Holst (1874-1934), John Ireland (1879-1962), Arnold Bax (1883-1953), and William Walton (1902-1982). DOM gives particular attention to these composers in a series of articles: on the stylistic characteristics of Vaughan Williams’s Concerto Accademico (1925)—modal harmonies, assimilation of folk-music idioms, contrapuntal style;2 on the personal ideals3 and the unique qualities of Holst’s music;4 on the vocal and orchestral works of Ireland;5 on the idiomatic writing for string instruments in some recent works by Bax;6 on Walton’s important vocal and orchestral works written after the First World War.7 The periodical gives attention as well to contemporary European composers little known to English audiences, as, for example, the Czeck Alois Hába (1893-1973) and Leos Janácek (1854-1928),8 the French Georges Migot (1891-1976),9 and contemporary Dutch composers.10 Noteworthy is a series of articles by the distinguished musicologist Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi (1877-1944), a knowledgeable writer on Russian music, particularly that of Musorgsky.11

Most important for the development of musical culture in Britain in the 1920s are the extensive musical activities, no longer confined to London, but now extended to the provinces. The periodical contains a series of articles that notably give accounts of performances of chamber music, symphonic and choral concerts of all historic periods, the organization of orchestras and choral groups, and other activities in such cities as Birmingham,12 Cardiff,13 Glasgow,14 Liverpool,15Manchester.16 During these years serious steps were taken towards the training of musicians,17 the improvement of music curricula in the universities,18 the promotion of general music education and the enhancement of  its effectiveness.19 Numerous competition festivals that cultivated predominantly choral singing played an important role to stimulate high standards of musical literacy, thus contributing to enlarge the interest of music lovers and amateur groups in general. These competitions were held in various places, even organized in small villages, and, since 1921, were regulated by the British Federation of Music Festivals. The influence the festivals exerted in British musical life is the fact that Vaughan Williams and other composers were commissioned to write works for the Leeds, Gloucester, Hereford, Norwich and the Leith Hill festivals. DOM gives much space to the influence the festivals exerted in British social and musical life.20 The journal also publishes reports on foreign music festivals of contemporary music promoted annually by the International Society for Contemporary Music held at Geneva, Siena, Frankfurt, with special focus on British compositions performed at these events.21 Although primarily concerned with contemporary music, DOM includes a variety of essays that deal with ancient music, brought about by a general trend in British musical culture of the 1920s. A case in point is the issue about playing J. S. Bach’s keyboard works on the harpsichord or on the clavichord.22 See also about Purcell’s works neglected in modern repertory.23

The teaching of music appreciation and the art of listening to and understanding music are topics of particular interest in the journal. The music critic and lecturer Percy A. Scholes (1877-1958) discusses the merits of music appreciation, which had not been duly regarded by various music critics, and offers guidance on how to bring students into contact with the masterpieces of music.24 The editor of the journal contests Scholes’s viewpoint on the appreciation of the best classics of music and deems unnecessary the knowledge of technical terms for the enjoyment of music.25 Of particular significance in this respect are the articles published in DOM by Hubert J. Foss (1899-1953), a music critic, concert promoter and publisher (he joined Oxford University Press in 1921).26  Foss is especially interested in breaching the gulf between those who know about music and those who do not,27 and this should be explained in program notes and in other publications.28

DOM is also an attentive witness of the revolution taking place at the time in the communication media and on new ways of producing music. The consequences of the revolution produced by mechanical means were by no means limited to the economy of the musical world. They spread out in every direction, affecting the composer, the performer, the listener and the whole art of music as we know it. Even before the gramophone was firmly established, another mechanical device— the radio—appeared in the 1920’s and quickly attained wide popularity. The earliest radio transmissions of the British Broadcasting Company (British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927) began in 1922 with wireless concerts given from London. In 1924 the B.B.C. embarked on the organization of public concerts, thus becoming a continuous influence on English musical life.29 The B.B.C. broadcasts contribute, as well, to the introduction of works by European composers previously unheard in Britain.30 Until the 1920s,  the ordinary British music lover in the provinces still lived in the romantic age of Brahms and Grieg. The radio broadcasts gave him the practically free entrée of the concert hall. The gramophone also helped to close the gulf between the modern composer and the average listener.31 Each issue of the journal contains a column entitled “Gramophone notes,” featuring short reviews of new recordings produced by the firms Columbia Records and His Master’s Voice. Although the radio and the gramophone have brought music to many people who knew it not before, nonetheless the future of printed music remains the composer’s accepted method of communicating his thoughts to others.32 Appearing regularly in the opening and closing pages of each issue are advertisements of new publications, which present mainly books printed by Oxford University Press.

[1] Edwin Evans, “Editorial,” DOM, I, 1 (November 1927): 7-8.

[2] Herbert Howells, “Vaughan Williams’s Concerto Accademico,” DOM, I, 5 (March 1928): 24-28.

[3] Edwin Evans, “Gustav Holst,” DOM, I, 6 (April 1928): 24-25.

[4] Bernard van Dieren, “ Stereoscopic Views. III. Gustav Holst,” DOM, I, 12 (December 1928): 13-20.

[5] Herbert  Bedfora and H. E. Wortham, “Stereoscopic Views. II. John Ireland,” DOM, I, 11 (October-November 1928): 25-29.

[6] Hubert J. Foss, “Some Chamber Music by Arnold Bax,” DOM, I, 2 (December 1927): 16-19.

[7] Constant Lambert, “Some Recent Works by William Walton,” DOM, I, 4 (February 1928): 16-19.

[8] See the parallel between Hába and Janácek in their common love of Slovakian folksongs in the essay by Erich Steinhard, “Alois Haba,” DOM, I, 4 (February 1928): 14-16; and the biographical sketch of the Moravian composer also by E. Steinhard, “ Janácek,” DOM, I, 11 (October-November 1928): 23-25.

[9] See an account of his theories and stylistic characters of his works in Inving Schwerké, “Georges Migot,” DOM, I, 7 (May 1928): 32-37.

[10] M. D. Calvocoressi, “Willem Pijeper,” DOM, I, 9 (July 1928): 14-17; and the general survey of  Dutch composers and performers by Herbert Antcliffe, “The Dispassionate Music of  Holland,” DOM, I, 8 (June 1928): 27-30.

[11] See his essays on the original and revised versions of Musorgsky’s opera: “The Genuine Boris Godunov Discovered,”  Supplement to The Dominant April 1st 1928: 26-29; and “A Russian Critic on Mussorgsky’s Orchestration,” DOM, I, 7 (May 1928): 24-26.

[12] A. J. Sheldon, “Provincial Causerie. V. Birmingham,” DOM, I, 9 (July 1928): 34-35.

[13] S. C. Fox, “Provincial Causerie. III. South Wales,” DOM, I, 4 (February 1928): 30-32.

[14] Percy Gordon, Provincial Causerie. IV. Glasgow,” DOM, I, 7 (May 1928): 37-39.

[15] A, K. Holland, “Provincial Causerie. I: Liverpool,” DOM I, 2 (December 1927): 25-26.

[16] Neville Cardus, “Provincial Causerie. II. Manchester,” DOM, I, 3 (January 1928): 29-31.

[17] Eminent performers were involved, for example, in the activities of the Summer School of Chamber Music at Cambridge, as documented by F. Bonavia, “A School of Chamber Music,” DOM, II, 5 (November 1929): 23-25.

[18] See the report on the curricula and other activities at Cambridge and Oxford Universities in F. H. Shera, “Music in English Universities,” Ibid..: 11-14.

[19] Some notable articles in articles deal with the teaching of music in elementary and secondary schools. Ronald Cunliffe, “The Extent of School Music,” DOM, I, 5 (March 1928): 31-34, and I, 8 (June 1928): 30-31, advances some valuable suggestions and new ideas on how to improve music study in schools;  difficulties in starting new orchestras in schools are discussed by F. H. Shera, “The School Srchestra: a Neglected Force in British Education,” DOM, I, 11 (October-November 1928): 31-34.

[20] See the article by Frank Howes, “Competition Festivals. Their Place in English Musical Life,” DOM, I, 7 (May 1928): 14-18. On festivals held in small towns by amateurs or semi-professionals see Edward C. Bairstow, “Diocesan Choral Festivals,” Ibid.., I, 4 (February 1928): 11-14. For the innumerable folk dance festivals promoted by the English Folk Dance Society see Evelyn Sharp, “Folk Dance Culture in England,” Ibid., I, 6 (April 1928): 11-15.

[21] See for example the extensive report by Edwin Evans on the ISCM Geneva festival of 1929: “Genevan Reflections,” DOM, II, 3 (May-June 1929): 34-36.

[22] The preference for the harpsichord in place of the drawbacks of the clavichords is explained by Wanda Landowska, “Clavichord or Harpsichord. For Which Were Bach’s ‘Forty-Eight’ Written?,” DOM , I, 1 (November 1927):11-16. But see Edith Hipkins, “Harpsichord or Clavichord?,” DOM,  4 (February 1928): 32-34.

[23] Richard Capell, “Mr Dennis Arundel’s Purcell,” DOM, I, 4 (February 1928): 22-25.

[24] “The Anti-appreciation Society,” DOM, I, 1 (November 1927): 25-29; and “Musical Appreciation as Common Sense,” DOM, I, 3 (January 1928): 22-26.

[25] Edwin Evans, “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” DOM, I, 2 (December 1927): 9-11.

[26] H. C. Colles/Frank Howes s. v. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie, vol.6 (London, Macmillan 1980): 727.

[27] Hubert J. Foss, “The Layman’s Ear,” DOM, I, 1 (November 1927): 16-18.

[28] The author of program notes  of a concert should write in terms that can be generally understood to the audience; see  the aforementioned article by Foss. See alsol the review by H. C. Colles of the important book edited by Foss, The Heritage of Music (1927), “The Heritage of Music,” DOM, I, 2 (December 1927):  21-23.

[29] On the contributions given by the wireless to an enormous spread of interest in listening to music, see J. C. W Reith, “Broadcasting Music,” DOM, I, 3 (January 1928): 11-12.

[30] Edwin Evans, “Judged Unheard,” DOM, I, 9 (July 1928): 9-10.

[31] The benefits derived from the gramophone in music performances without the intervention of any performer are discussed by Edwin Evans, “Robot Music,” DOM, I, 4 (February 1928): 9-10.

[32] See Hubert J. Foss, “The Printed Page,” DOM, I, 7 (May 1928): 21-24.