Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The genius of John Foulds

I have a piece in today's Independent about John Foulds (1880-1939), the extraordinary British composer whose biggest work, A World Requiem, is to be performed for the first time in 81 years at the Remembrance Sunday concert at the Royal Albert Hall this weekend. The work was premiered at the Remembrance Day Festival in 1923 and was given for the same event for four years running, with 1250 performers each time, before being unofficially 'banned'. Apparently Sir Adrian Boult thought it was boring and the editor of the Express thought Foulds was a communist.

Foulds spent his life in a radical exploration of music and spirituality: he experimented with quarter-tones before Bartok did and with Indian music techniques before Messiaen got to them. With his partner, the musician, educator and fellow Theosophist Maud MacCarthy, he moved to India in 1935, becoming head of western music for the country's national radio and seeking a way to make a synthesis of Indian and European music, decades before anyone thought of terms such as 'world music fusion' (see photo). He died of cholera four years later. Most of his manuscripts were subsequently lost or destroyed, rotting in the heat or being eaten by rats.

The concert is a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and you can listen to it on Sunday evening at 6.30pm local time. Be warned: there are 20 movements.