exhibition archive – Ernest Walker letter
Part of this exhibition was originally a Document of the Week in Michaelmas Term 2005. It features two letters from Dr Ernest Walker to Cedric Glover, written from Oxford in August 1916 and demonstrating something of the strange contrasts of Oxford life during wartime.
August 11, 1916
My Dear Cedric,
Very glad indeed to have news of you: I was wondering whereabouts you were. Where is Ronald? [?Knox] Greetings to him, and also best remembrances to your father and mother, please!
Balliol is a queer place nowadays: I don’t suppose we shall have 20 people up next term. We went on with the regular concerts (fortnightly) up till the end of the summer term 1915, doing our Strauss and Reger and Kreisler and our songs in German as usual up to the end: but we then suspended operations, inevitably. For the last year we have been having “by and fors” (in the wide sense of the word, including any military birds of passage that could do things – some of them quite good), with the same quality of music as usual, but no printed programmes [p.2] of any kind and no audience except masculines. We got a quite fair lot of people always: though I don’t mean to say that some of them mayn’t have found it slightly strong meat when an old Magdalen man, quartered in Oxford, gave them a dozen or so of the biggest Hugo Wolf songs on end, or when I played Reger after the news of his death reached here. I daresay we may be able to go on with something of the same kind next term – there has been a steady flow of officer-cadets into Oxford, hundreds of them. But I really haven’t a notion about the future, in any way at all. The OUMC and the OUMO have formally [p.3] amalgamated (with the Holywell Room): I expect the MO would certainly have been bankrupt in isolation, and the MC would have been in a queer way: as it is, the joint society is financially very shaky indeed for the time being, but I dare say we shall keep it going more or less. The Ladies Society goes ahead as usual, except there they refuse to engage Herschel or the Aranyis or apparently anyone whose great-great-great-grandparents were Germans. Miss Marga Deneke is on the concert committee, and has had a good many of her plans squashed in absurd fashion. It’s a queer world, and during the last two years, some individuals in it have [p.4] turned out even queerer than one could have expected.
You seem to have been managing to get a lot of music added to your collection, anyhow. Don’t know of any translations of Pohl or Thayer, myself. Can’t stand the Debussy ‘cello sonata, except for very little bits of it: the man seems to have written himself out. Grovlez sent me his last piano things, and I was very much disappointed with them – just the ordinary fashionable Parisianism, I thought: nor do I care for his violin sonata, which I ran through with Miss Gates (I think) not long ago. Don’t know the last Scriabin, nor the Tcherepnine quartet: but I came across some very fine songs of T. lately. Well, I suppose some day or other we may get music normally again!
I heard from Oboussier the other day: he asked after all his friends and I gave him what news I could.
I should be delighted to hear from you again! All best from
Yours [ver]y sincerely,
[top of p.1] (In Merionethshire for the moment, but back in Oxford next week.)
[Editor’s note: Thanks to Kamile Vaupsaite for deciphering the names of Thayer and Grovlez!]
22 August 1916
28, St Margaret’s Road, Oxford
My Dear Cedric,
Many thanks for your note; I am quite reassured. The matter had various ramifications into which I needn’t go: as you no doubt understand that in this very queer world it is important that the whole of the Ladies’ Club’s various oddities should be kept altogether dark, for the sake of the Arányis (who don’t know anything of them), and Miss Deneke and everybody else!
I quite forgot, by-the-bye, when sending on the message to his friends from Oboussier, the Swiss fiddler who was at Worcester for the year before the war, that a relative veteran of 1913 like you might never have met him! I lose count of dates so easily as a permanent limpet here.
I must look up Mr. Jarnach. When this whole bad dream is over and we have more music together, I must show you some things of a wild young Anglo-French creature, a Home Student at Cherwell Edge, who is working with me. She is liable to come the most ultra-modernist croppers any minute, and I doubt if her songs can be sung in tune: but she produced a few weeks ago a [B flat?] Prelude that seems to be really beautiful in its way, and quite unlike anything I know.
I am at present engaged in some music for a children’s play by Mrs. Balfour (Harold Joachim’s sister). It is all about vegetables, and one has to represent musically the essential characteristics of carrots and cabbages and so on: I am rather pleased with a very first-impressionistic but quite unmistakable Cauliflower that I have just evolved: it starts – [MS music]
All very best wishes, and looking forward to any amount more of music together!
Yours very sincerely,
Ernest Walker (1870-1949) , musicologist, composer, organist and Hon Fellow of Balliol
The Balliol Music Society’s 1745th Sunday Concert on Oct 16 2005 (Sunday 2nd week) was the annual Ernest Walker Concert, commemorating Dr Walker’s contribution to College life, and in particular College music, during his long career at Balliol 1887-1925.
Ernest Walker came up to Balliol in 1887 to study Litterae Humaniores (Classics) under WR Hardie and RL Nettleship. He received his BA in 1891, became assistant organist to John Farmer at Balliol and earned a BMus (1893) and DMus (1898). He became organist and director of music at Balliol upon Farmer’s retirement in 1901; although he gave up the post of organist in 1913 on religious grounds, he retained the directorship until his retirement in 1925. Under his direction, the Sunday Concerts developed to a very high standard.
In addition to his involvement in College music, he was instrumental in the University’s musical life as a busy teacher and examiner; he held the posts of Choragus of the University 1918-1922 and Lecturer for the University Professor of Music from 1899.
Dr Walker was well-known in the musical world beyond Oxford as a prolific and insightful critic, reviewer and musicologist. His voluminous correspondence portrays a thoughtful and self-effacing character possessed of a whimsical sense of humour and a great deal of affection and regard for his many friends and colleagues – not to mention decided musical opinions!
Ladies’ Club: the Oxford Ladies’ Musical Society, founded in 1898 because the university musical society did not admit women, and still in existence – though now co-ed – as the Oxford Chamber Music Society. Papers of the OLMS are in the Bodleian.
- Balliol College, MSS Ernest Walker and accrual Accn 05/139, letters to Cedric Glover
- Bodleian Library, music MSS
- Bailey, C. ‘ Walker, Ernest (1870-1949)’, rev. Jeremy Dibble, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36688, accessed 26 Sept 2005]
- Balliol College Register (1933, 1950)
- Deneke, M. Ernest Walker (1951)
- Hull , R. ‘Ernest Walker’, Music Review, 10 (1949), 205–6
Leave a comment