The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 26, 2016

August 26, 1915

Humphrey Searle (August 26, 1915 to May 12, 1982) the English musician, was a classics scholar first. He is well known to Schonberg enthusiasts and also contributed to popular culture with for instance his film score for the movie, "The Haunting," (1963). His affection for the 12 tone scale meant that even after the war he had trouble finding employment. Commissions to write about Schonberg and atonal music helped him and his family get by until his fame grew, fame party deriving from his promoting modern music in England. Searle for instance did a musical piece inspired by Finnegan's Wake, "The Riverrun."

Some sense of the texture of his life as a musician aspiring to become known beyond the cliques of music lovers is gained from this excerpt from his memoirs:

In 1951 I had written a somewhat absurd setting for speaker, flute, cello and guitar of Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat" as a Christmas present for some friends who were staying at Ordnance Hill at the time; in return they presented me with a copy of T.S.Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats”. Some time later, a performance of The Owl and the Pussy-Cat was given at a charity concert in Nottingham, organised by Reggie Smith in aid of the Nottingham Playhouse; the cast included Douglas Byng, Paul Scofield, Peter Ustinov and many others. The regional director of the Arts Council was in the audience and asked me if I would write two further settings of cat poems for the same combination, as he wanted an interlude for a poetry reading tour of various Midland towns which he was organising. The tour eventually took place in 1953; as speaker I was lucky to get Ian Wallace, who is not only an excellent singer, but a fine comic actor as well, and the players were George Crozier, Freddie Phillips and Joy Hall. I set two poems from T.S.Eliot's book, Macavity and Growltiger; the tour went to such towns as Kettering and Northampton, and Lesley and I caught up with it in Birmingham, where we also met the poetry readers, Valentine Dyall, an old friend, and Daphne Slater. The Cat Poems were performed without a conductor; apparently Ian Wallace, standing in front of the players, gave the beat to them with-his heel. Since then he has given many performances of them in his inimitable manner, and I dedicated the Eliot settings to him; his quilted smoking jacket and big dark eyes gave him an agreeably cat-like appearance.

It is not surprising then to read Humprhey Searle described himself as a "great cat lover." And this cartoon of the twelve tone composer is a lovely way to close the post.

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