1938 London

Jun 17, 1938 – Jun 24, 1938

Festival info

Start: Jun 17, 1938

End: Jun 24, 1938

Locations: London

Hosting member(s)


(supported by The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, the H.B.C. and Oxford University Press)

From contemporaneous reviews

“Because the public needs time to appreciate first-rate music and because even competent listeners cannot always, at first hearing, tell a crackpot musician from a genius, the work of contemporary highbrow composers is unpopular. … To combat this deafness and muteness, societies of intrepid and hard-eared listeners have been formed, who sit through concerts of contemporary music almost without flinching. Chief among these devoted bands is the International Society for Contemporary Music, which last week opened its 16th annual festival in London.

“But musical compositions, unlike dogs, horses and tennis games, cannot be judged on points. Not even the modernist composers and well-known conductors of the society’s international jury know for sure whether they are picking a sunrise or a dodo. Ultimate decision rests with the musical public. And very few of the musical public attend the festivals of the International Society for Contemporary Music. The audiences (made up of composers, executant musicians, esthetes, theorists, critics, future-boosters) do not go primarily to enjoy the music, but to keep from missing something. Cheers are as scarce as hen’s teeth, but hisses are as common as chickweed.

— (unattributed), “International Egg Rolling,” Time, June 27, 1938.

“No musical event within my memory has ever had such generous support and publicity. … [T]hose foreign composers who have been fortunate enough to have their works performed may return to their homes all the happier for the warmth of the welcome accorded them by musical London. … But there is less affinity between the advanced present-day music to be heard at contemporary music festivals, and the long line of music such as never ceased to develop, to be different, yet be modern. There is certainly something different in the ‘new’ music. It is written in a new language which is likely to remain a question of politics until it is understood. There is this to be said for the young composers whose works are being performed at the Contemporary Music Festival, they are accomplished technicians and orchestrators.”

— Havergal Brian, “The Nature of Modern Music,”
Musical Opinion, July 1938, p. 868.

“Judging from the great number of empty seats …, the society’s still wares do not particularly commend themselves to London music-lovers.”

— Ernest Newman, “Contemporary Music,” London Sunday Times
reprinted in The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada)
15 July 1938, p. 15.

“[F]år også ISMC’s musikfester en dobbeltl betydning, dels den rent saglige: at vise hvordan der komponeres idag, og dels den politiske: at fastslå et internationalt kulturelt sammenho1d på trods af de reaktionæ-re strømninger i tiden. Disse musikfester har derfor den allerstørste værdi selv om, paradoksalt sagt, de opførte værker er uden værdi. Og nægtes kan det ikke, at mange af de værker, der opførtes i London 1938 (for slet ikke at tale om Paris 1937), i virkeligheden kun havde betydning, fordi de, derved at de blev fremført her, bekræftede viljen til internationalt kulturelt samarbejde.”

(“ISCM’s music festivals also have a dual significance, partly the purely objective: to show how to compose today, and partly the political: to establish an international cultural cohesion in spite of the reactionary currents of the time. These music festivals therefore have the greatest value even though, paradoxically, the works performed are of no value. And it cannot be denied that many of the works performed in London in 1938 (not to mention Paris in 1937 at all) were in fact only significant because, by being performed here, they confirmed the will for international cultural co-operation.”)

— Gunnar Heerup, “Tanker ved ISCM’s XVI musikfest i London 1938” (“Thoughts on ISCM’s XVI music festival in London 1938”),
DMT Årgang 13 (1938) No. 8, pp. 188-192.

Programme information