In March 2013 King’s held a music reunion. Although I had come up as long ago as 1948, this was an invitation that was not to be refused; for a variety of reasons . It would be an occasion to remind myself, and re-assess, my experiences of those years , already a lifetime ago ; to renew friendships; to recall again the unique ethos of King’s music, handed on and shared by the musicians and undergraduates of today. For me, King’s was where it all started.
I came up in 1948 on a Fielder Exhibition to read Classics. Music had always been something I was aware of from my earliest consciousness, and over the course of my school years, 1935 – 1945, increasingly so. I focused on piano playing. They were chaotic years, disrupted by the war. My school, Malvern College, was forced to move twice, when the buildings were commandeered for research into Radar; the second move was in 1942 to Harrow School, on the outskirts of London. Yet this brought one unexpected outcome, and a great bonus, when the Director of Music at Harrow, Henry Havergal, took me as his piano pupil, and I soon found his energy and disciplined teaching to be just what I needed, and greatly stimulating ,at that stage of my playing. He partnered me in piano duets; he oversaw my technique, insisting that, in the long term, for a pianist to perform his best , regular check-ups were essential to avoid the risk of bad technical habits, of which one may be unaware, going unnoticed; and finally he invited me, as a holiday task, to learn a Mozart Piano Concerto , A major, K. 488, for which he would assemble an orchestra – no easy matter in 1944. At that performance I sensed for the first time something that has stayed with me since – the deep sense of pleasure that comes from a good public performance, shared with other players who were united in a common musical purpose.
Then in the spring of 1945 my school years abruptly ended, to be followed immediately with a short course at King’s for naval cadets doing their National Service , which lasted three years, 1945-1948. So coming up to King’s in 1948 was something altogether different, fresh. I was resuming, in statu pupillari, my musical and academic studies which had been interrupted by three years in the navy.
I did not have to wait very long for an invitation to play in a concert – the CUMS Freshers Concert in October 1948, when I played the Mozart Sonata for two pianos, K 448, with a fellow music undergraduate from Trinity, Raymond Leppard. From that moment music, and piano playing, took over my main attention , and over the next three years my perception of music grew gradually wider and deeper. I played in concerts as soloist, and in chamber music with other musicians, whenever I was asked . The single event that had the greatest effect, not merely on the pattern of music-making in Cambridge, but on music universally, was the bicentenary in 1950 of the death of J.S.Bach. King’s marked the occasion with a year long celebration, when Boris Ord directed performances of three of Bach’s major works in the chapel, spaced out seasonally: The Christmas Oratorio in Advent, St Matthew Passion in Lent, Magnificat in the summer. I watched in wonder as these monumental musical structures, each of which I was hearing for the first time, were put together piece by piece under Boris’s direction, and I participated by acting as rehearsal pianist for the soloists, and by joining the CUMS chorus.
The more I heard Bach’s music in this way, the more I needed to know about his life, his history, his aesthetic and artistic purpose. Unfortunately this played havoc with my planned academic work for the Classical Tripos, since there were not enough hours in the day for adequate time to be spent studying each . It had to be Bach or Plato, not both. However, when I talked about this problem with the Senior Tutor, Patrick Wilkinson, he told me without hesitation that I should continue to do as I was doing. For good measure, as a classical scholar, he quoted the maxim of the Delphic Oracle – γνѾӨι σεαυτόν (Know thyself). Others said the same. Philip Radcliffe told me that my problem was nothing new. It happened all the time. He himself had faced exactly the same choice when he was an undergraduate. I continued piano playing , both in public performance and in private study. Concerts became more numerous in my third year, and mindful of the advice of my first teacher, Henry Havergal, I went once a fortnight to London for technical study with a piano professor at the Royal Academy of Music, since there was no such teacher available in Cambridge.
In 1950-1951 I was made secretary of KCMS. Informal concerts were given on Sunday evenings in the hall by members of the College and their guests ; the highlight of the year was the May Week Concert in June. The concerts were spontaneous music-making, with the choral scholars much to the fore, often in unaccustomed and less familiar roles : Broadway hits, songs by Cole Porter, Barber Shop, close harmony; part songs by Brahms, Liebeslieder waltzes, Gipsy songs ; Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by jury . Boris Ord often used the May Week Concerts to introduce particular new works by British composers: In 1949 Summer’s Last Will and Testament by his friend and fellow student at the Royal College of Music, Constant Lambert; In 1951 Five Flower Songs by Benjamin Britten, and songs by Peter Warlock. At this concert I played the Mozart Piano Concerto in F, K. 459, and he conducted the King’s orchestra.
Thus ended my years at King’s. In September 1951 I joined William Alwyn’s composition class at the Royal Academy of Music.
2 November 2013 Francis Routh