MARMADUKE BARTON AS TEACHER
An inspired teacher, a fine player and a true friend.
If it is possible to convey the genius of Mr. Barton in a few words, perhaps this will express what is felt by the many hundreds of pupils who had the privilege of studying under him.
Who can forget the inspiration of his lessons? His vital enthusiasm, deep earnestness, and the urge which drove us to do our utmost – the word of praise which meant so much, or the help and encouragement when needed.
To him, as a teacher, music itself was of paramount importance, and he taught us to use our instrument only as a means to this end. Sometimes he would concentrate on the outline of a work, developing a sense of performance and pianistic style, and explaining the intellectual and emotional content of the composition; at other times an entire lesson would be spent on one point until the objective was gained. No trouble was too great, no effort spared, and he would often far exceed the specified length of lesson in the effort to attain his ideals.
Few, if any, of us went to our lessons without some apprehension lest we should fall short of his expectations and disappoint him. He was unstinting in his praise for work well done; but intolerant of insincerity or carelessness, and woe betide the unhappy pupil who tried to bluff, for retribution inevitably followed!
Much of his outstanding success as a teacher can be attributed not only to his great knowledge of his subject, but also to his tremendous power of friendship and sympathy.
His playing was always a revelation and inspiration; the beauty and warmth of his tone allied to his profound musical perception and his passionate sincerity, stirred to the depths all who heard him.
He had, too, a keen sense of humour and a very ready wit, and often gained his ends by the means of good-natured banter.
To all who studied under him and were associated with him in College, there will be a great void ; but his influence will still be felt in the memory of his strong and inspiring personality and the love which he so richly gave.
Most of the pupils and friends of Marmaduke Barton will think of him as he was when teaching in his room on the first floor of the R.C.M. My recollection of him, however, goes back much further. During the long period when I was his pupil, Barton taught on the top floor in Room 77. It is there that I think of him and remember him. It is there that I learnt to know and to love the pianoforte and where, in common with his other pupils of the time, my thoughts turn with gratitude and pleasure. I was at school when I first started lessons with him. I came for my lessons as a junior, but in spite of the distance in time my recollections of my lessons are as vivid as if they took place yesterday. Barton was doing much public playing at the time. (I heard him play at the famous and long-demolished St. James's Hall.) His enthusiasm and energy were unbounded. His lessons were vivid not only to the pupil who was playing, but to the other and frequently large number of pupils who were listening. As a rule he was brimful of spirits, and the lessons were accompanied by a running commentary of banter and chaff. Though a man of strong opinions, his preferences never affected the value of his teaching. He invariably discouraged criticism of the music that was being taught. In spite of this, I am sure that the music of the romantic school appealed to him most. As one, who had studied with and known well a Liszt pupil, his readings of that composer were of especial interest: invariably musical and poetic.
Insisting as he did on colour and warmth in interpretation, the composers who especially demanded these qualities, such as Chopin and Schumann, I think, chiefly claimed his heart. I am speaking of the time when Debussy and Ravel were extreme modernists, and to many people were terrifying portents. I do not think he had ever taught Debussy till I studied "Jardins sous la pluie" and "Reflets dans l'eau" with him. He became and remained an enthusiast for that composer.
Rachmaninoff he always liked and played. César Franck was only just beginning to be known in England. I remember well his delight when he first came across Franck's pianoforte quintet. His love for what was colourful extended to all music. Although he wasted no time, and kept strictly to the task at hand, he could not resist occasionally talking with warmth about some music, such as a Beethoven Symphony or some of Wagner's Ring, which appealed strongly to him. An especial favourite of his was Weber's aria "Leise, leise" from the opera Der Freischütz. Again and again I have heard him play over this, while enthusing about its beauty. It is very hard to know and harder to say what one loves best in music, and certainly much harder to say of anyone else. But if the secrets of his heart could be known, it would not surprise me to find this aria, by that romantic composer Weber, on the top of the list.
Barton left Room 77 soon after I left the College and I must leave the following period to others. But I cannot refrain from mentioning briefly the last time I saw him. It was in the Professors' Smoking Room, the very last day he was at the College. The talk turned on Stavenhagen with whom he had studied in Germany after his time at the College. He spoke with such zest and enthusiasm that the old times seemed to have come back again and my mind went back to my old student days with him. It cannot have occurred to any of us there, and certainly not to myself, that this was the last time we should see him, and that the College, which he had served for close on fifty years would know him no more. But only a few days later we learned that the end had come. For us, his old pupils, it remains to carry on his work. For him we say
REQUIESCAT IN PACE..
Marmaduke Barton (1865–1938)
Piano Professor, 1889–1938
Barton was one of the original scholars of the RCM and performed the first item (Chopin 3rd Ballade) in the first Pupils Concert on 2 July 1884; he also taught at the Guildhall School of Music. Barton led the spontaneous College celebrations on the announcement of peace in 1918.
IN MAY, 1883, there arrived at a house in Pembroke Road, Earl's Court, Marmaduke Miller Barton (to give his full name), Dan Price, Ridding (whose Christian name I forget), Charles Wood, Waddington Cooke, Jasper Sutcliffe, William Stephenson and myself – newly elected scholars of the R.C.M. The College then had a system of putting scholars into boarding-houses. Those who needed it were provided with a pianoforte, and there was a Common Room where all or any could meet when not working. By this arrangement we all, of course, got to know each other extremely well, and I can particularly remember the impression Barton made on me. I was then not quite 14. He was 17 – sturdy, good-looking, energetic. He had been brought up in Yorkshire and Lancashire, his father being a minister of the United Methodist Free Church. He was, as I saw him over the very long bridge that joins 14 to 17, full of a northern self-assurance far removed from conceit, immensely good-hearted, a good fighter for what he felt to be right, humorous in a caustic and sometimes rather rough way, a hater of subjection, and, above all, a brilliant musician – one of the most brilliant I have ever met, even after all these years. I never knew how much he had worked before he came to the College ; but he seemed to play the piano superbly without apparent effort. He already had a large repertoire; he could read anything at sight. His memory was astounding and remained throughout his life as one of his greatest gifts; he could sing, in a pleasant baritone voice, and knew lots of things by heart, accompanying himself. He would often entertain us with any sort of song, from "The Devout Lover" by Maude White, through "Ich grolle nicht", to fervid and impassioned performances of Valentine's Death (from Gounod's Faust) and "die Frist ist um" (from the Flying Dutchman), back to Sullivan's operas and Christy minstrel ballads. He knew also any amount of Chamber Music. He could extemporise admirably, and he showed great promise as a composer – a promise he never had time to develop. I remember he started a work for Chorus and Orchestra (he was studying Composition under Stanford at the time) which had much power and picturesqueness. It was based on a poem in one of Rider Haggard's novels, beginning with the words "There was silence." That was Barton, as a student; a marvellously gifted musician, a good friend, a good fighter, generous, humorous, unaffected, loveable. But he had been brought up to a sturdy belief in personal independence. At the age of 17 he was an enthusiastic Liberal of the Gladstonian school, and little things which seemed to impinge on his sacred rights as an individual irritated him. For instance, we all had to sign a book to show the hour of departure when we went out from our boarding-house, and another to show the hour of our arrival at the College. This was an "interference with the liberty of the subject" (he talked like that sometimes), not to be tolerated. With much rhetoric and exaggeration he tried to organise a protest against it. But it fell through, and he afterwards saw reason, as he always did, ultimately. Also he was dreadfully upset because John Francis Barnett, who taught him the pianoforte, gave him at his first lesson Mendelssohn's first "Lied ohne Worte" to study. This was "treating him like a beginner," and he was "jolly well not going to stand it!" Yet, later in life, he was loud in praise of the intelligence and ability of this same John Francis Barnett. He was always tilting at windmills, sometimes when his generous nature suspected an injustice; sometimes when he felt his personal rights to be at stake. But he never had a mean thought; he never did a mean thing.
We stayed, I think, one year in Pembroke Road. Then we moved to a house in North End Road, West Kensington, kept by a Mdlle Rouanet. It was while we were here that Barton's friendship with Hamish McCunn developed – a friendship that was to last till that gifted composer's death, and which led Barton to make admirable pianoforte arrangements of "The Ship of the Fiend" and "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow." Here we were all growing up, and the rather juvenile joy of making a noise together had lost its savour.
We were then moved to a house in Earl's Court Square, kept by Mr. Clemow. Shortly afterwards I left there, and I saw but little more of him for a long time.
He made his mark as a student, as, with his gifts, he was bound to do. He played frequently and successfully at College Concerts (incidentally he played the solo part in the first performance of Charles Wood's Pianoforte Concerto), and appeared at the first public College Concert at Prince's Hall. I cannot remember anything like all that he did. He was always in demand – for chamber music, for accompaniments, for all the hundred things that a fluent pianist can help in. After his scholarship had been twice extended it was felt that he had learned all the College could add to his natural accomplishments, and that a year abroad was necessary to give him more complete experience. He was therefore sent, in 1888, to Germany, where he fell in with Stavenhagen, from whom he learnt that understanding for the music of Liszt which was to be such an important factor in his musical culture. He came back to England in 1889, and at once began teaching at the R.C.M.
In 1891 he married Anna Russell, herself one of the 1883 scholars of the R.C.M., a pupil of Jenny Lind and a soprano of great promise who sang the part of "Agathe" in "Der Freischütz" at the public performance of that opera, given by the College, in 1886 or thereabouts. About this time he entered the Roman Catholic Church, and no estimate of his character could approach completeness which did not insist on the great part which this step played in his life. Always conscientious, ardent, upright, those qualities acquired an additional glow, the seal of unalterable principle, from the fervour of his faith. His duty to his family, his duty to live an unselfish and correct life, his duty to his art and to those learning it, summarised in his duty to his Faith, became the guiding lights of his life.
He taught uninterruptedly at the College from 1889 to 1938 – nearly fifty years - his work growing with the increase of his recognition as a remarkable teacher. Of his teaching methods I know hardly anything; I believe they are dealt with elsewhere in this issue; but their results are known to all who follow the development of musical education. The number of distinguished musicians and gifted players who benefited by his instruction is legion, and they can all testify to the interest he took in them and the good he did them. I, myself, lost touch with him for a time. When I returned from abroad in 1892, he did me an inestimable service which I could never repay; in addition he tried to get me launched in some remunerative occupation; but for over twenty years our orbits did not cross. After the War, however, I saw him constantly at lunch-time in the College, and could observe how the eager, good-natured, proud, gifted student had developed into the same eager, good-natured, proud, gifted man, mellowed by experience, but unchanged in his impulsiveness, his vigour, his enthusiasm for music in all its aspects, his consuming, almost uneasy conscientiousness. He laboured with his pupils; he exulted if they did well; he feared if they did less well; he despaired if they did badly. He loved teaching and playing both, and was loth to make a choice between the two. He knew he could teach. He knew he could play. Miraculously he managed for years to do both – Heaven knows how he found the time! He did, in fact, achieve great success as a player, both in recitals and in concerts. Here is a remarkable press-notice written by Ernest Newman in 1910 (the occasion was a concert in Birmingham, conducted by the late Sir Landon Ronald)
"Fine as the orchestral playing was, Mr. Marmaduke Barton's piano playing fully held its own against it. A more superb performance of Schumann's Concerto it would be hard to imagine. When we get a piece of playing so thoroughly splendid in every quality of technique and brain and temperament, there is no room for any feeling but one of thankfulness."
But he was, indeed, a brilliant pianist.
Teaching, however, won the day, and it is as a teacher that he will chiefly be remembered. He had a view of music sane yet imaginative, brilliant yet not flamboyant, profound yet not dull. He could seize on the essential meaning of anything and give it its inevitable expression. Honesty, thoroughness, orderly imagination, a scorn of superficiality, artificiality, mere effect-making, were some of his fundamental musical qualities, but there was in him, beyond all that, the indefinable quality of genius. He was a great personality; when, last year, he was attacked by a severe illness from which it was feared he would not recover, the sense of loss occasioned by his absence was overwhelming, Happily he did recover, and resumed his work, but not for long.
Doubtless the long years of increasing work had told even on his strong constitution, and he died after a short illness, just after the end of last term. He leaves a widow, a daughter and three sons.
This is necessarily an imperfect appreciation, An expanded story of his life would be necessary to show with real vividness the generosity of his nature, his importance as a teacher, performer and musician, his devotion to his principles, his essential goodness and uprightness, his humour, his quite harmless truculence. All who knew him will know that with him passed away a noble and loveable personality, as well as a remarkable musician.
S. P. WADDINGTON.
MARMADUKE BARTON, senior piano professor at the Royal College of Music. Born at Manchester in 1865, he was the son of a well-known United Methodist minister. In 1883 he gained one of the first fifty scholarships which marked the opening of the R.C.M. and three years later was the first winner of the Hopkinson Gold Medal. In 1888 the College gave him a travelling scholarship, which enabled him to study a year under Stavenhagen at Weimar. On his return (1889) he was appointed to the teaching staff, and remained a distinguished member until a few weeks before his death. Occasional appearances on the concert platform showed him to be an admirable recitalist.
Obituary, MT, 79 (August 1938), 630