August 21, 2014
Anthony Bernard was Music Director for us between 1932 and 1942. The story goes that in 1932, Sir Edward Elgar was offered the post of Music Director by the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, but that he turned it down, recommending Anthony Bernard in his place. True? Hope so!
Contracts for Music Directors were seasonal back then, rather than full-time employment being offered; so Bernard's duties included booking 'a proper and efficient orchestra of not less than 12 musicians'.
He was to 'consult with the General Manager before hiring any musical instruments not usually supplied by the musicians'; and he was to oversee the writing of new music or of arrangements of older music, depending on the needs of a particular show.
One note in the theatre minutes from 1942 states, rather coldly, that 'Mr Bernard be instructed that Mendelssohn's music be played for the Midsummer Night's Dream production'. One can feel the formality crackling down the years.
Interestingly, Ilona Seckacz adapted Mendelssohn's music for parts of her score for A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1996, but I can't imagine anyone 'instructing' Ilona (more about her soon).
Being a seasonal RSC employee, Bernard needed to work elsewhere too. He was the founder and conductor of the London Chamber Orchestra, which is still running today, championing little-known orchestral repertoire.
Lennox Berkeley - who wrote the music for The Tempest in 1946, and The Winter's Tale in 1960, was a witness at Bernard's second marriage in 1950, and Bernard moved in such exalted circles that he actually introduced Berkeley to Ravel; he made the first recording of Delius's Sea Drift and in 1929 made the first complete recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, which are available to hear on British Library Sounds.
Bernard at the RSC
By 1932, when he first worked here, his achievements were already considerable, and so he brought a wide range of knowledge of music and musicians to the job. So when he was instructed to use pre-existing music, he could adapt that for theatre use, and when he wrote original music, that too was well within his compass.
He studied composition with Granville Bantock, Joseph Holbrooke and John Ireland, and so is another example of a musician bringing huge knowledge of the musical world in Europe at the time.
In 1956 he made a version of The Beggar's Opera for the BBC, scored for flute, oboe, bassoon, harpsichord and strings, which heralded his writing of much music for radio in later life. We have been in touch with his family, as we recorded his 1939 music from The Two Gentleman of Verona for our CD of new music. But I have a feeling that this blog will hear more of Anthony Bernard.
After all, that wasn't really his name...
by Richard Sandland
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