|Sullivan > Major Works > The Golden Legend > Birmingham Correspondence
The following letter has been addressed by Sir Arthur Sullivan to the committee of the Birmingham Musical festival:–
“Sir, – I am, of course, not ignorant that the Golden Legend is among the works to be performed at the forthcoming Birmingham Festival, as I have learnt the fact through the public announcements. It therefore seems to me strange that, although I am still living, my rights and personal interest in the work have been so completely ignored. The right of representation of the Golden Legend belongs to me absolutely, and the work has never yet been given in public without my permission having been first applied for. This permission, I need scarcely say, would not have been withheld in the case of such a great and time-honoured institution as the Birmingham Festival, nor should I have felt otherwise than greatly flattered at the choice of my work for performance. But I am surprised that my permission has not been asked, and still more so that no reference has been made to me on points about which, as a matter of courtesy, I might reasonably expect to have been consulted – such as the position of the work in the programme and the selection of the principal artists. I see that the original plan was to give my work in the morning, and that it has since been transferred to the evening. I learn also that Mr. Lloyd, who is so thoroughly associated with the part of Prince Henry, and to whom this part had been allotted, was asked to resign it to some other artist. These and other points, such as the very objectionable break in the work after the third scene, I confess I should have preferred ascertaining direct from the committee instead of from newspapers and other unofficial sources of information, so that I might have had an opportunity of putting forward my own views and discussing them with the committee.
“Finally, I learn that at a meeting of the Festival Committee it was somewhat authoritatively stated that (at the forthcoming festival) the Golden Legend, given under the direction of Herr Richter, would be executed, probably for the first time, in all its grandeur and beauty. I fully share the confidence of the committee in their gifted and eminent conductor, and in the very fine body of performers under his control. But, for the sake of many others, I cannot, I regret to say, accept this statement in the humble spirit in which, perhaps, it would be becoming on my part to do; for in my pride I had imagined that the first performance of the work at the Leeds Festival under my own direction and subsequent ones under Mr. Barnby at the Albert Hall, and other distinguished conductors, had, through the splendid means afforded us, more than realised the intention of the composer.
“In this opinion I may have been mistaken, and my first impulse was to withdraw my work from a competition the result of which might possibly prove humiliating to me. But in this I was restrained by three considerations – the recollection of my gratifying connexion with former festivals, by my respect for the public, and by my feelings for the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus, who have kindly given much time and energy to the study of the Golden Legend, and to whom it would be a great injustice at this late hour to ask them to prepare some other work in place of mine. I therefore content myself with this protest, and beg you will kindly bring my letter before the orchestral committee at their next meeting.
“To the Secretary of the Birmingham Festival Committee.”
The chairman of the orchestral sub-committee replies as follows:–
“Birmingham Musical Festival Orchestral Sub-Committee,
“My dear Sir, – In the absence of Mr. Jaffray, the chairman, your letter has been sent to me. I deeply regret that we should have been guilty of so great a breach of all that is right in announcing and giving your work, the Golden Legend, without your previous full knowledge and consent. Our excuse must be that we understood Messrs. Novello had obtained the necessary authority, and we have proceeded upon this assumption. Pray accept our deepest regret for the mistake we have made, and allow me now to thank you for consenting to permit the performance to continue. Nothing would be further from our thoughts than to do anything which might be at all contrary to your wishes, and the best proof I can tender is that it was to you that we first applied in the hope that you would consent to write the leading work at this festival. The chairman’s remarks at the meeting were not fully reported, and were intended to convey the impression that for the first time in Birmingham would the work have been heard in its glory. I enclose a revised programme, which will show that Mr. Lloyd is going to sing the music and that the cast is the greatest we have to give. Trusting that you will accept the explanation,
“Sir Arthur Sullivan, 1, Queen’s-mansions, Victoria-street, S.W.”
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