When I arrived at the Royal College of Music in London, in September 1937, and was accepted as a student by Vaughan Williams, he put me through routine disciplines of writing fugues and part-songs, and then one day said: “Isn’t it time you composed something?”
I accepted the challenge and produced by Drysdale Overture, with its nostalgic memories in a musical language which rather disconcerted him. Still more did it upset Sir George Dyson, who brilliantly realised my rough orchestral score on the piano and then said: “Don’t bring me another manuscript like that.” He did, however, give it a reading rehearsal with the RCM first orchestra, and I took steps to improve my musical handwriting.
In those far-off heady days, Hans Keller’s “functional analysis” had hardly impacted on the RCM – we students ignorantly and derisively called it “sweet FA”. And so I may hardly provide an “analytical synopsis”.
With my meagre knowledge of classical forms, I thought that proper overtures should have a solemn introduction, with motifs recalled later in various structural guises, and that they should have a contrasting “second object” – hence my nostalgic oboe tune, with fitting Scottish inflections. Curiously, what might have been a routine “development” turned into a sunlit rondo, nostalgic of childhood happiness.
I’m left with that lovely Mark Twain image of Jim and Huckleberry drifting on their barge down that great river, looking up at the stars and wondering “whether they was made, or only just happened”.