Can aristocracy and its feudal roots offer a prospect and model for secessionist solutions to the present crisis in Britain?

A paper by John Kersey published by the Traditional Britain Group

A functioning aristocracy is fundamental to a traditionalist society, and its structures and concepts have greatly influenced the development of British society over the centuries. In this paper, I intend, while showing some of the difficulties that have come to occupy the British aristocracy today, to consider whether the aristocracy as a class may be useful to our nation in firstly seeking to challenge the prevailing structures of the state and secondly offering us a model and structure for a projected traditionalist replacement of it.

Why secessionism?

This paper is written from a secessionist perspective. It addresses both partial secessionist or regionalist solutions, and also explores a limited number of total secessionist solutions. In doing so, it is concerned with secessionism on the basis of geographical regions that form a part of Great Britain, and is not concerned with secession that is not based upon the ownership of land and that therefore applies solely to a non-geographically constituted individual (sovereign individualism) or group.

This paper adopts a secessionist perspective because it recognizes the following conditions to apply:

  1. that the government and institutions of Britain have effectively been captured by an enemy political class that, regardless of party affiliation, is dominated by Left-wing ideology and permanently subject to the European Union, as well as supporting a form of global oligarchy that runs counter both to British national interests and to a genuinely free approach to trade;
  2. that there is active support from the political class for the destruction of the historic culture, precepts and way of life of the British people, together with the absorption of the British nation into an European super-state, and that it is a fundamental right that the British identity should be able to be preserved against such threats;
  3. that there is and has been ineffective control over the borders of the British Isles, such that mass immigration both from within and outside the European Union has been politically sanctioned, as has been admitted, as a means of attack upon the traditional values of Britain;
  4. that there is, for the present, little prospect of sufficient mass support against the political class being mobilized through democratic structures, and even were such support to be forthcoming, any political solution would depend to a large extent upon the co-operation of political class itself and its substantial client state;
  5. that despite the absence of mass support, there remains a substantial minority of traditionalist conservatives, paleolibertarians and others who are effectively disenfranchised by the political class and who seek alternatives to the prevailing status quo and direction of political so-called “progress”;
  6. that this substantial minority is already concentrated geographically in particular areas and regions, such that those regions or subdivisions thereof could potentially produce majority support and therefore consent for a partial or fully secessionist solution;
  7. that even if these minority areas were to be small and their secession only partial, nevertheless the gains in returning to a small or human-scale organization of society as distinct from centralized governance from London or Brussels would outweigh the disadvantages of such independence;
  8. that such a secessionist solution would offer a peaceful answer to the ideological and cultural division that has come to affect our nation, and would therefore be preferable to any solution that would involve violent conflict or indeed civil war. It would end the current position whereby traditional conservatives are subjugated and disenfranchised by means of the exercise of force by the state, and at the same time seek separation from, rather than the subjugation of, opponents of a broadly traditional way of life, who would be free to continue to administer those areas and regions where their followers were most concentrated;
  9. that the proposed solution would be complimentary to existing long-term cultural strategies that aim towards the support of British national heritage and institutions through the creation of an active counter-establishment, ensuring that any secessionist entity could in time grow beyond its initial boundaries;
  10. that the proposed solution would look to essentially British and traditionalist entities, in particular the aristocracy and feudal structures, and would thus promote an indigenous settlement of the problems facing us rather than seeking the adoption of any form of modern ideology or historical model that was either so far removed from our era as to be incompatible with it or that was based on a foreign or artificial construct.

Aristocracy – its landed origins and Parliamentary downfall

The origin of the aristocracy is inescapably feudal. The titles of our most venerable nobles are rooted in the land. The Dukes of Norfolk, the Dukes of Somerset, the Dukes of Devonshire, the Earls of Derby, the Barons Hastings; all speak of the feudal past of our country, and of a time when to be an aristocrat was inextricably linked with the ownership and management of territory. The greatest of these landowners sat at the top of a pyramid of feudalism that extended down to the lesser feudal overlords – in England and Wales, the lords of the manor, and in Scotland, the barons and lairds.

The major change that has come to influence this situation has been the gradual alienation of land-ownership from the concept of aristocracy, and the absorption of the aristocracy into a political class. Lords of the land became Lords of Parliament; as the barons were summoned to parliament, so that summons became in time the distinction between peer and commoner. This change was wide-reaching, and ultimately, as I shall show, would prove destructive. The old system was based upon a direct link between the sovereign and the landed aristocracy. The new system interposed a layer of parliamentarians between the two. Initially, the parliamentarians were, of course, themselves landed aristocrats, but that was not to remain the case, and the twin developments of constitutional monarchy and universal enfranchisement served further to weaken the traditional role of the aristocracy. In time, the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 would serve to subjugate the House of Lords entirely to the House of Commons, a reversal of the natural order that has assisted in the decline of our nation.

This is not to say that there have not remained to this day aristocrats who are great landowners. Particularly, but not entirely, in Scotland, this link has remained extremely robust. However, the move towards the parliamentary concept of an aristocrat caused an anomalous situation to arise, whereby a man could be a great landowner, indeed a feudal lord, yet not be a peer on account of the lack of a summons to Parliament. This gave rise to the class which from the sixteenth-century onwards was termed the landed gentry; a class of landowners that includes several notable families who had either never been peers, or whose peerages had become abeyant or had been attainted due to political factors – the family of Scrope of Danby being perhaps the most notable example of these latter conditions.

The loss of the feudal basis for the aristocracy was the beginning of their slow decline. It signified a loss of power, and moreover a loss of that measure of individual sovereignty that the landed aristocrat exercised as an immediate vassal of the king. Administration,  which under the feudal system had included the administration of justice, became monopolized through a centralized structure, and the traces of feudalism were in time relegated to the exercise of mineral and fishing rights over particular land and the occasional quaint custom, such as the right of the Lord of the Manor of Worksop to place a glove on the monarch’s right hand at his or her coronation. Appointments to peerages became a matter of political favour and were before long entirely independent of the ownership of land. With the coming of constitutional monarchy, this process accelerated to produce the ancestor of the modern “honours system”; one in which the sovereign was eventually relegated to a mere rubber stamp for appointments made entirely by, and for the benefit of, the political class and its attendant establishment.

Nation and state, and the values of the aristocracy

It is perhaps useful at this point to draw a distinction between the terms nation and state as they are to be used in this paper. The state is that body of administration formed by the political class and its extensions. Those extensions constitute the following entities: large corporations, which cannot flourish without the active support of the state; the supportive administrative apparatus, both local and national, that implements the decisions of the political class; the legislature; the military and the police; the state’s church, and the major institutions that are dependent upon the state for direct or indirect patronage, such as our education system and the majority of the arts establishment. These, then, are the clients of the state; their relationship with the political class is symbiotic and effectively unbreakable. And moreover, the state, for the past few decades and for the foreseeable future, is the creature of the philosophies and ideologies of the Left, both indigenously and as expressed through the European Union.

The nation is not the same as the state. It is a much looser term, defined by a common culture, the origins of its people, their customs, character and manners, and to a large extent influenced by the very land itself and its variety. The feudal system, and the feudal aristocracy, are part of the nation far more than they are part of the state. The nation is less easily defined in purely tangible terms; rather, it is almost a matter of instinct. We might say that we know it when we see it. The nation represents a true and authentic expression of traditionalism and conservatism. It is free from ideology, immune from fashion, a greater entity than those men and women who serve it. Even though we can trace specific events in its history and even pinpoint some of its origins precisely, it feels as if it is independent of the constraints of time; it is our ancestral memory expressed through a living experience.

It is from these broad values as a nation that those specific values develop which we most readily associate with the patrician archetypes of the aristocracy and with noblesse oblige; an ability to take the long view, an independence of mind, a deep sense of rootedness to place and people, and following from this latter a duty to those for whom the aristocrat has responsibility, be they family, tenants, his peers or indeed the nation itself. That is not to imply that all aristocrats are paragons of virtue; far from it. Within aristocracy as a class, nevertheless, there is an expectation of virtue, a code, if you will, that if disappointed causes us to regard the exception to the rule as  aberrant; both aristocrat and non-aristocrat understand the high standard that is expected of those who enjoy privilege as of right of birth. In turn, the sensible aristocrat will also realise that his own interests and those of his family depend upon his choices and behaviour, and that excess and greed will result in detriment, whether immediate or delayed until the next generation. The aristocracy did not survive for centuries simply because wealth and position propped it up; its survival was dependent upon the consent of the nation as a whole, which would hardly have supported it had it been seen as merely a narrow self-interest group for the rich. It is because the aristocracy lived out its code that it established such a basis of consent. That code can still be of service to us today.

The sovereign, to a certain extent, is also carefully positioned to epitomize the nation and not the state. Yet here this is a false distinction, for while the sovereign has in theory an independence from the state, in practice the sovereign is bound to agree with the state lest a constitutional crisis be provoked and the supposed will of the people be countermanded. Can it truly be said that a sovereign who has consented – without an apparent murmur – to such heinous wrongs as the absorption of Britain within the European Union, and thus to the effective extinction of our national independence, is not effectively indivisible from the state?

The hereditary principle

Fundamental to our understanding of the true principles of aristocracy, and indeed of the nation of which it is a part, is the hereditary principle. Aristocracy represents, at its origins, the logical means by which land is preserved intact from generation to generation. It is the enshrining of what Roger Scruton has cogently described as the rights of the dead. The fundamental concept in effect here is that what one owns should be conveyed intact not so much to an individual member of one’s family, but to the family itself as represented by its most senior individual. The family name – perhaps seen most clearly in the Scottish clan system – is seen as the primary quality to be preserved in inheritance. The aim is to avoid a situation where, as a result of marriage, the estate passes out of the family and one’s kinsmen by name are thus dispossessed, perhaps losing their lands to another rival clan that will treat them as aliens and give their positions and tenures to their own kinsfolk. It is more desirable, therefore, that the estate be held by a male member of the family than a female, because this is the only way by which the family name may be continually allied with the estate in question. Inheritance by successive males in order of seniority is thus the main system by which both land and peerages have come to be organized. It is through this system that permanence is assured as best it can be; when implemented it means that stability should be the defining characteristic of our land rather than the uncertainties of political whim and opportunism.

In recent years there have been attacks on descent by primogeniture in the case of peerages of the United Kingdom, notably in the case of the Earl Kitchener, whose title became extinct even though there were female descendants of the second Earl living. Legislation has also been introduced to establish “gender equality” in the case of succession to the Crown. Of course, where land is not in question and the peerage is simply “an award of the state”, one may ask to what extent it matters; the Crown is no longer seen as truly dynastic per se – else, by strict Legitimism, our monarch would be a Jacobite heir – and indeed there was no established surname for the Royal Family at all during the Hanoverian years. Nonetheless, there is in peerage primogeniture more than a vestige of the importance of ancestral name, of descent, of blood – all of which are fundamental components of identity not merely for individual peers, but for the peerage as a class. There are ways around these problems – the Dukes of Northumberland, after all, would but for an eighteenth-century Act of Parliament be Smithsons and not Percys, for their Percy descent is through the female line – and many of the oldest English baronies may descend either to male or to female heirs. But nevertheless, it is primogeniture that is a part of our national warp and weft. It is not a perfect system, yet it still serves to maintain land, family and title as a single unit more than would any other.

The state and aristocracy in opposition

It is the intervention of the state that has caused the acceleration of the slow decline of the aristocracy. That is not to say that the feudal system would not, of itself, have changed and evolved over the centuries. It would be imaginable, though, for Britain to have developed more along the lines of pre-unification Germany had our peers not instead have been absorbed into the political class as Lords of Parliament, with regional autonomy much more a feature of our land. And moreover, as my colleague Sean Gabb has written recently  it is possible to imagine a Britain where the Industrial Revolution happened differently. Without the massive intervention of the state, global corporatism would not have taken hold in the way that it did. Certainly, there would be some centralized production, some international specialization, but this would be taking place within a framework that was still essentially and historically indigenous to the British nation and not simply as an alien extension of the political class.

The relationship between aristocrats and their serfs and franklins would certainly have developed differently in these circumstances. It would more than likely take the form that today’s landed estates have adopted, where the bonds of co-operative endeavour establish common interests between individuals, whatever their class differences, and the permanence and stability offered, not to mention the charity often shown to aged and infirm workers, stands in stark contrast to the mercantile alternatives, with their care for workers defined strictly by the boundaries of contract and legal obligation, and those of pensionable age offloaded to the responsibility of the state. A landed aristocracy would have had more to concern itself than simply profit and competition for their own sake, not least because the majority of the supply for its products would be local and domestic rather than national, thus reducing the number of its likely competitors, but also because the long-term and inter-generational nature of aristocratic interests contrasts starkly with the short-termism of elected politicians concerned with five-year leases upon office.

Of course, we can look to the French Revolution as a major watershed in the spillover of anti-aristocratic sentiments, and the consequent adoption by the Left (notably under the influence of Marx) of class war as a major means of discourse, still very present in the Labour Party of today. The futility of the First World War deprived the officer class of many of its brightest and best. The introduction of punishing death duties robbed many estates of their natural heirs. Legislative change separated both English lordships of the manor and Scottish baronies from the ownership of the lands that went with them historically; they can now be bought and sold simply as titles.

The last days of the aristocracy

What is crucial, however, is this: an aristocracy is an exclusive club, certainly, but it can never be a closed club. There must always be a route in, if an aristocracy is to live. Yet if it was the Left that sought the disestablishment of what was left of the aristocracy, it was as much the Conservative Party that cut them off at the knees. By closing the door to the creation of hereditary peerages, the state has killed our aristocracy through an infinitely slow and tortuous asphyxiation. Every time Debrett’s and Burke’s Peerages are published they list those peerages that have become extinct since the previous issue for want of heirs, or, in the case of life peerages, simply through the death of the holder. The list grows ever longer. Just as some peerages are well supplied with heirs, others hang by a thread. The Dukedom of Westminster has only one heir at present; if he should die without male issue, the dukedom will die with him. We have already lost the Dukes of Leeds, Portland and Newcastle within the past century. And it is doubtful as to whether life peers, for all their profusion, are aristocrats in any true sense of that word.

Just as long ago, the peerage had exchanged a position in the nation as territorial administrators for one as parliamentary governors; now in turn the logical conclusion of that process is working itself out: the hereditary peers are gradually being lost from even that role and it seems that the majority of life peers view their role as akin to members of an appointed senate rather than being in any sense part of the nation’s permanent settlement. This, then, is the beginning of the end; those peers who are great landowners will doubtless be able to withstand even this change, but those who are not will increasingly need to look for a redefinition of their role within a country that has decided that they are surplus to requirements.

Peers stand up to Parliament

This is not to imply that there are not within our peerage today those who have a very sound view indeed of their obligations to our nation and a willingness to act upon that duty. In 2001, four hereditary peers, acting under the settlement of Magna Carta, clause 61, and with the pledge of support of many more, presented a petition to the Queen to urge her to block provisions of the Treaty of Nice which they rightly pointed out would destroy fundamental provisions of British liberties. The clause in question provided that if the Sovereign did not observe Magna Carta, the people would be justified in waging war upon her, seizing lands, castles and possessions until they obtained redress. A period of forty days was given for the Sovereign’s response, but response came there none.

As will be obvious, there has been no outbreak of civil war and certainly no recorded response from the peers in question, but this position serves amply to reinforce my earlier comments about the sovereign as part of the state, and only symbolically part of the nation. A number of individuals have entered into a common law state of Lawful Rebellion as a result of these events, in which they have served petitions upon the Queen declaring that their allegiance is now to the Barons’ Committee rather than to Parliament, and that they are therefore exempt from various forms of taxation and state charges. In doing so, they have not gained the endorsement of that committee or any individual member of it, but have instead relied upon the same provisions of Magna Carta as formed the basis of the 2001 petition.

We may at least derive some degree of comfort from the fact that the intricacy of the legal arguments that surround Lawful Rebellion can be used by its adherents to impose delay and confusion upon what is already a strained and inefficient system, but the eventual results of these endeavours, should they embrace any form of widespread popular movement, will surely ultimately be the same as any others that seek to oppose the state; since the state has a monopoly on force, it will use that force against any threat to its position regardless of any moral, historical or legal legitimacy that might otherwise prove an impediment. We should not forget that the power of the state is based entirely upon force; those who resist, and keep on resisting, will be imprisoned, and those who resist imprisonment will be killed.

The prospects for the aristocracy

We must be clear, then, that our aristocracy is today in an extremely difficult position. It is largely excluded, and will before long be entirely excluded, from its legislative role. It has lost much of the territorial role that it once had. The feudal system that once gave it vitality has been dismantled. Year by year, hereditary peerages become extinct and no more are created. The state promotes an egalitarian ideology in which aristocracy is less important than mere celebrity, and pays court to an elite of wealthy globalists who show little regard for the historic British ways of life. The outlook does not appear promising.

Before we discuss solutions, let us point out one additional factor. This is that the opposition to any aristocratic counter-establishment is likely to come from at least some of our existing aristocrats. State patronage and position is a heady brew, and it is not easy to wean people off it. There are still many conservatives who have not grasped that a loyalty to the institutions of the political class is a loyalty to style and not to substance. They remain within, and supportive of, the current establishment even though that establishment has – across all parties – actively supported their disenfranchisement and eventual extinction. Perhaps some hope that things will, in the end, turn around and that if only the right people are in the right positions some progress may be made. I do not share that optimism, and indeed at this stage it would appear to be the last gasp of a drowning man.

How can the aristocracy be saved to useful purpose?

Now, let us examine how the drowning man may yet be saved. In the first place, we should be clear that we are advocating the preservation of aristocracy as a defined class, with its accompanying context and structures, and not simply endorsing individual peers, however worthy they may be. We can then establish the following steps:

  • The preservation of aristocracy and the re-establishment of aristocratic structures as a partial or complete alternative to the state as I have defined it, and as a means of solving the current difficulties that have arisen through power passing into the hands of a centralized political class;
  • The need for aristocracy to continue to represent an exclusive and defined class, but also an open class, ie. that there are circumstances where someone who is not at present an aristocrat can become one. If we do not do this, the aristocracy will face etiolation and eventual extinction, and it will also risk becoming a monopolist body;
  • We are not proposing a return to a medieval feudalism or to serfdom, but rather that feudal principles can be re-interpreted with regard to our own age, on similar lines to the management and organization of many of the major landed estates today;
  • We are concerned with this preservation firstly because it will re-establish a future for our country that is based upon long-term interests and sound, sustainable principles, and secondly because it returns our country to its natural, historic and time-honoured order and rejects the egalitarian ideology that has done it such harm;
  • In our process of preservation and re-establishment, we must accept that the aristocracy of our projected future will not be the same as that of its parliamentary past. We must be prepared to be radical traditionalists.

A future society that seeks to establish traditionalist principles must be based initially on a strict interpretation of propertarianism, as set out by Murray Rothbard (“Ethics of Liberty”) and Hans-Hermann Hoppe (“Economics and Ethics of Private Property”). A private property society establishes a means of social organization that does not depend upon a political state. Indeed, it is above politics altogether. Individuals, families and in some cases covenanting communities own land and determine the use of that land, including who will live and work on it, who will exercise rights over it, and under what conditions those grants will be made. The state ceases to be a surrogate for its people in exercising land ownership or establishing a monopoly on its use. It ceases to exercise a role in centralized taxation.

The role of feudal structures in a revived propertarian aristocracy

If we seek an indigenous solution to the issues of property, the basic land unit of this future society would most naturally be the manor. Manors, being a feudal structure, are among the oldest dignities in England and Wales that are still extant, and all date to before the statute Quia emptores of 1290. Ownership of a manor within a propertarian neo-feudal structure is likely to engage the owner in a range of responsibilities, relating to commerce and trade, the local administration of justice through courts leet (in accordance with a specific bill of rights or code of private law), the maintenance of or contribution to a militia, the payment and housing of employees, and provision (typically organised through the voluntary sector) of healthcare, education and welfare facilities for the sick and elderly. There would also be significant responsibilities for the spiritual welfare of the manor, through the responsibility of the lord of the manor to appoint the parish priest or other clergy, as well as to establish provision for religious worship of those kinds that are held to be desirable. There would further be responsibilities for border control and relationships with neighbouring communities, enabling co-operative alliances and ensuring that areas where centralization was considered essential could be conducted through shared facilities and access agreements.

It should not be thought that this is anything terribly unusual. Several of the Crown Dependencies have implemented something that – at least until quite recently, and perhaps even still – is not dissimilar to just such a plan. Life in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey is not by any definition medieval, and yet these places are far closer to the model of propertarian feudal governance that I have proposed than they are to the state control of mainland Britain. Indeed, until external pressure was applied in 2008, Sark was governed via a wholly feudal system, with the Seigneur ruling it as a fiefdom of the Crown. All of these places have a provision for representation of the people, and in most cases this consists of a formal parliament. That parliament has distinct differences from the mainland state structures, however. On Sark prior to 2008, for example, representation was confined to those who were landed tenants. Likewise, the powers of representation in such small bodies can be limited in ways that seek to concentrate upon areas of common interest rather than any infringement upon the rights of individual landowners.

There will be some who may say that this is all too agrarian, that it makes no allowance for industry or for large-scale business. We should be realistic in that almost all of Britain’s heavy industry has now been lost and that it is not likely to return. Certainly, there are foreign businesses that choose to bring their industrial requirements to Britain. But the system I propose can accommodate this. When we speak of a manor, that entity can as easily be formed of industrial plant or a major shopping centre as farmland. None of this alters the fact that a propertarian system can encompass any type of commercial activity. It simply alters the means by which the land upon which that activity takes place is governed, and results in the landowner having the effective power and responsibility concerning the use of that land without being disenfranchised by the state.

Is secession as a Crown Dependency possible?

If an area of mainland England were to find the proposed form of organization attractive and to decide that it wished to take advantage of it, it could perhaps seek to remove itself from the United Kingdom and to redesignate itself as a Crown Dependency. There is no apparent minimum size limit on a Crown Dependency – some of the Channel Islands are very small in population as well as in geographical area. A single manor or group of manors could in theory constitute a Crown Dependency. A Crown Dependency also has a different relationship with the European Union from that which applies to the United Kingdom. The existing Dependencies have chosen to permit the free movement of goods but not the free movement of people, services or capital. They are exempt from the Common Agricultural Policy and in the case of the Channel Islands, from VAT.

But we should not imagine that this would be an easy process. The first challenge would be to secure effective ownership of the land in question. Purchasing the relevant Lordship of the Manor is not enough to do this. The Feudal Tenures Act 1660 abolished feudal tenure. Today, manorial lordships can be separated from their lands, and the last of the effective structures of the manor in the form of copyhold tenancies were abolished in 1925. The right to manorial incidents – that is to say, rights held by a lord of the manor over other people’s land – lapsed in October 2013 unless those rights had by then been registered with the Land Registry. As a result, we must look to freehold ownership to establish the necessary basis for action. Supposing that this were done – after all, it is not unknown for substantial landed estates and interests to be held in private hands in Britain – and a petition for Crown Dependency status submitted to the Queen? What next?

We have already established that the Queen made no response to the petition by the Barons in 2001. In 2008, Stuart Hill, who had purchased the Scottish island of Forewick Holm, maintained that the island and indeed the entirety of Shetland were illegally incorporated into Great Britain in the Act of Union of 1707, and presented a Declaration of Direct Dependence to the Queen seeking to establish what he has designated as Forvik as a Crown Dependency under his Stewardship. The Queen has not made any response to this document, but the Department of Justice – in other words the state – issued a statement the day before Hill’s declaration was published saying that Forvik is an integral part of the UK. He has since declared full independence for Forvik in view of the lack of any response from the Queen to his declaration. Because Hill is seeking to contest this point in law, and believes that he is in the right with regard to the relevant historical and legal arguments, he welcomes any resulting conflict with the UK government. However, in the only court case so far to hear any of Hill’s arguments, they were simply rejected out of hand without any investigation of their merits; the court assumed jurisdiction and proceeded to jail Hill for traffic offences relating to driving what he has designated as a Forvik consular vehicle on the Scottish mainland. This again establishes the principle that the state will not engage with arguments about its authority, since its authority is primarily established and exercised by means of force.

It seems highly probable that were another attempt made to convert part of the United Kingdom to Crown Dependency status, particularly if that part were relatively small and sparsely populated, it would meet with non-response from the Queen and hostile action towards those involved from the authorities. There would appear to be a case for regarding the Queen not as superior to the constitutional settlement but in fact something closely approaching a prisoner of it, in that she can take no action of governance that is not specifically countenanced under that settlement – and is thus effectively subject to the state, even when the interests of the state run directly counter to her own views as to what may be in the best interests of the nation. The state will not give up any of its territory without a fight, and it is uninterested in the Queensberry Rules. Only if the territory were substantial and fairly heavily populated would it become an option that would stand a chance of success; even in the case of Scotland itself, which is large, populous and has elected a nationalist government, the road to independence appears to be far from smooth.

Can the Barons’ Committee offer an alternative?

If the concept of a Crown Dependency is not available, we might instead look to place our territory under the authority of the Barons’ Committee acting as a surrogate for the Crown, and effectively holding that we had entered Lawful Rebellion. But to do so would by now to have entered into open conflict with the powers that be, and it would rely on the robustness of the Barons’ Committee to step up to the role that was now expected of it. The Barons’ Committee would need to engage in an active opposition to the British government, providing an alternative (and more legitimate) source of governance and guardianship of the nation’s conscience. It would need to be able to govern those who wished to place themselves under its authority efficiently, with widespread consent, and without the ensuing crisis of power provoking open conflict with those loyal to Parliament. A central question would inevitably be whether the Barons’ Committee was up to the job. Are our present generation of aristocrats the heirs to the spirit of their ancestors, or simply the parasitic beneficiaries of generations of political patronage? It may well be that such a challenge would produce interesting results.

Some indication of likely outcome might be gained from the approach of the Barons’ Committee to their petition to the Crown. A brief survey of press coverage of the matter shows that this is sparse. None of the members of the Committee appear to have given an interview to the press on the outcome of the matter, or considered its implications given their earlier stance. No website or published journal represents their interests. Significantly, none of the members of the Committee have, apparently, exercised their claimed rights under Magna Carta, entered Lawful Rebellion, or advised others to act in furtherance of these rights. We must ask: was their rebellion merely a publicity stunt or empty gesture? It seems too serious a matter – and they too serious a body of people – to be subject to such a response. If the Barons’ Committee meant what it said then, it would have to either follow through on those principles or openly recant them. Perhaps we shall yet hear from them as to their plan of action and proposals for our country’s future. Until we do, any allegiance that is pledged to them would appear to rest on insecure foundations.

In a strange way, any bisection of Britain caused by the Barons’ Committee forming an alternative government would re-open precisely the same sorts of historic questions that were at issue in the English Civil War, in which Crown was set against Parliament, except that in this case, the very position of the monarch would be one of the issues to be decided – could the Queen be liberated from her position as a “prisoner of the constitution” and reinstated as the head of an aristocratic feudal structure? Or, indeed, as might well be agreed to be preferable, could she in fact combine both roles? Just as Sean Gabb imagined a position in which the Industrial Revolution had happened differently, can we perhaps imagine a position in which the culmination of the strife of the 1640s was not regicide and the Puritan dictatorship, to be followed by the compromised Restoration of 1660, but instead a voluntary separation between Royalists and Puritans, with each determining to live within their own communities and to allow their opponents their differences?

Concluding thoughts

Such a suggestion raises again the issues that we set out at the beginning of this paper, and specifically whether secession can be achieved peacefully and without rancour by those who wish for a non-violent means of living in the manner that they choose. Logic and libertarian theory says that this must be possible. History is less favourable, pointing to the tendency for the assertion of human difference to result, sooner or later, in armed conflict and bloodshed between different groups. Yet this is where, perhaps, we can learn history’s lessons and determine that such an end is not inevitable. It is, indeed, the forcing of human difference into an artificial and often oppressive state hegemony that is the most likely means of bringing about unpredictable and destructive revolt. Alternatives to that hegemony, be they cultural, territorial or, indeed, secessionist, are a means of releasing pressures that would otherwise be overwhelming; they are ultimately the expression of the self-determination that lies at the heart of any humane vision of mankind.

It seems clear that Crown and Parliament will not be separated, at least in their present state. The Queen has shown herself unwilling or unable to act independently of Parliament; all attempts to appeal to her directly have been met by a wall of silence and by the action of the state. It is not impossible that a future settlement may change this. Equally, it would be wrong if we did not, given the facts, judge that the Queen, having so comprehensively supported her government throughout, did not bear the joint responsibility with that government for its actions in abdicating our national sovereignty and other rights. We can conclude that the apparent distinction between Crown and Parliament is more illusory than its public image would have it seem.

The revival of aristocratic structures in a neo-feudal propertarian society is not entirely a retrograde step, nor should it be seen as a panacea for all of our present malaises. It would, nevertheless, offer a way forward that is so deeply rooted in the British culture and people that it would probably preserve much that would otherwise be lost and restore a good deal that had already been consigned to history. It seems that such an appeal to aristocracy cannot rely entirely upon the present aristocratic class, for this is composed of those who are the beneficiaries of the patronage of the current system, but should instead look to a renewal of the aristocratic feudal impulse within the modern age and in the light of propertarian theory, knowing that such principles would likely bring about a society that was traditionally structured, stable and sustainable.

Posted in Traditional Britain Group

New CD published

A new CD has been issued by Romantic Discoveries Recordings:

Franz von Holstein (1826-78): Piano Sonata in C minor, op. 28
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD102

Total time: 76 minutes 54 seconds

Franz von Holstein (1826-78): Piano Sonata in C minor, op. 28
1. Allegro con brio, un poco maestoso (9’58”) 2. Andante (7’35”) 3. Allegro appassionato (8’43”)
Otto Klauwell (1851-1917): Drei Stücke in Kanonform, op. 38:
4. Praeludium (2’43”) 5. Scherzo (1’13”) 6. Romanze (2’30”)
7. Variations in D minor, op. 22 (10’36”)
Hans Seeling (1828-62):
8. Impromptu, op. 8 no. 1 (1’42”) 9. Romance, op. 8 no. 2 (6’18”)
Wilhelm Speidel (1826-99): Suite (quasi Sonata), op.111:
10. Praeludium (2’24”) 11. Andante espressivo (3’03”) 12. Scherzo (3’27”) 13. Marcia funebre (9’41”) 14. Finale (6’30”)

Our thanks to Klaus Zehnder-Tischendorf for supplying scores of these rare works.

Franz von Holstein was destined for an army career at the insistence of his father, but during his officer training he composed the opera ‘Zwei Nächte in Venedig’ as well as songs and ballads, and for a time, encouraged by his friendship with Griepenkerl, continued to compose in the free time allowed by his military duties. By 1853 he was free to pursue a musical career, and came to Leipzig where he studied with Moritz Hauptmann and, as a pianist, with Plaidy and Ignaz Moscheles. He then lived for a time in Rome, Berlin and Paris before becoming manager of the Leipzig Bach-Gesellschaft. Although chiefly known as a composer of songs, he was also responsible for several operas, orchestral works and chamber music, and wrote a significant amount of poetry. During his last six years he suffered with stomach cancer, and it was his wish that a bequest should establish a fund for impecunious musicians at the Leipzig Conservatoire. His Piano Sonata is a major composition of some ambition and achievement, with a clear influence of Schumann and Brahms evident.

Wilhelm Speidel is best remembered today as founder of the Stuttgart Music School. His father was a singer and composer and it was by him that his early musical talent was first nurtured. At Munich, he became a composition pupil of Ignaz Lachner and studied piano with Christian Wanner. After spending 1846-7 as a private teacher in Alsace, he returned to Munich, where he taught, also undertaking a tour throughout Germany as a pianist. He was known as an interpreter of Beethoven, who is also a major influence on his compositions. At Ulm, he founded and conducted the Liedertafel, and became active as a choral conductor. In 1857 he moved to Stuttgart where, together with Lebert, Stark, Faisst and others the Stuttgart Music School, today the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart. Here he taught and conducted the Stuttgart Liederkranz; his pupils included the American composer Edgar Stillman Kelley. However, after a quarrel with Lebert in 1874 he resigned his post and started his own conservatoire. He accepted reinstatement at the Music School upon Lebert’s death in 1885. Speidel composed in almost every form and was chiefly known in his lifetime as a composer of songs and choral music, adopting the popular idioms of German folk song.

Hans Seeling was born and studied in Prague, and suffered from delicate health from an early age. In 1852 he made his first public appearance as a pianist, in Italy, and then toured the Orient in 1856, followed by concerts in Germany. In 1859 he came to Paris. The lung condition from which he was suffering worsened and he returned to his native town, where he died. Seeling’s youth means that his compositions, all of which are for piano, are relatively few in number, but merited comparison with Chopin and Henselt in his time.

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

Traditional Britain Group Conference 2013

Preserving the substance of a nation: the role of a traditional conservative counter-establishment

The Traditional Britain Group describes itself as a traditional conservative organization that is concerned with radical thinking. I want to outline each of these elements for you today and then to consider where their combination might lead us.

Let us begin with conservatism. In defining what it is to be conservative, I want to turn to the definition proposed by Michael Oakeshott in his 1991 essay “On being conservative”. He says, “To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbound, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of the more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty and promise.”

At the root of this definition of conservatism is an extremely guarded attitude to change, precisely because change has unpredictable, and sometimes unmeasurable effects. We should therefore be very careful not to assume that where we propose change we can predict its outcome. Indeed one of our chief criticisms of the Left is that its commitment to an agenda of constant, radical change is both destructive and ill-thought-out. It is against the natural order of things, and indeed seeks to subvert and destroy that natural order by promoting its opposites.

And yet this definition of conservatism also brings about problems. Let us imagine that the Conservative Party adopted the Oakshottian approach in the coming election. If they are then asked “What will you do if we vote for you?” their response might be “We will take such measures as are necessary to preserve and protect the enduring traditions and way of life of the English people. Other than that, we will do nothing.” I would vote for them, but I do not think they would win. And that this is such a long way away from the present position of the Conservative Party should serve as a warning to us that all is not as it should be.

It is because the Left has forced an agenda of perpetual change upon our political system that the Conservative Party and other parties with conservative roots have felt compelled to abandon this traditional conservative definition of the purpose and nature of government and instead commit themselves to relentless action regardless of the legitimacy and need for such. During the 1980s, neoconservatism developed as the outcome of an attempt to apply Left-wing models of ideology and change to core conservative ideas. Because ideology and traditional conservatism are opposed, what this produces is a hybrid of limited conservative principle and a Leftist commitment to so-called progress and constant change. Neoconservatism wins a popular mandate by accepting the Left’s rules and playing the Left’s game, but it is a complete misconstrual of conservatism, because constant change can never bring about conservative ends. If a conservative government were to behave in a truly conservative way, the first thing it would do on gaining power would be to reverse much of the legislation of the past twenty years and secure our immediate withdrawal from the European Union. We should be clear that if we do not find that the present-day Conservative Party is advocating that this is what should happen, we must conclude that it is because it is no longer conservative in any true sense of that word.

The reality is that the Conservative Party today is a mixture of several strands – of which the most prominent are neoconservative and centrist (that is to say left-wing) conservative. These are in what appears to be a permanent ascendancy, despite some dissonance with both the Parliamentary party and the grass roots. They are in the ascendancy for one reason and one reason only – because to engage with modern politics involves both the acceptance of change and a commitment to continuous change, which is incompatible with traditional conservatism, and it is by nature ideological. It has become impossible for anyone in mainstream politics to say that he or she is reactionary or traditionalist, or that if given power they will reverse the measures of the previous government. They must instead embrace the ideology of change and in doing so, they will cease to profess the substance of traditional conservatism and retain only, at best, its style.

Even though I have identified these ideological strands in the make-up of the present-day Conservative Party, it does not follow that the Party today is ideologically-driven in the same way as the politics of thirty years ago. Under the late Baroness Thatcher, and indeed under the Leader of the Opposition Lord Kinnock, it was abundantly clear what the two main parties stood for. Each had an openly-stated position on the major issues that was the product of clear, if not always consistent, thought, and that could be seen as the outcome of underlying core principles. It was not difficult to know what it was to be conservative during those years. Yet now, if we ask what the Conservative Party stands for, it is almost impossible to know in direct terms. Even those who thought we knew it well find that on a number of issues it is entirely a stranger to us. Who would have thought that it would be a Conservative Prime Minister who would describe as his proudest achievement the destruction of marriage? And indeed, on this and numerous other issues, the positions of the Conservative and Labour Parties are essentially interchangeable. They both support egalitarianism. They both allow the United States to dictate our foreign policy. They both support mass immigration and multiculturalism. They will not reverse a single piece of legislation passed by the previous government, however much they claimed to oppose it at the time.

There is one very simple reason why this is so: it is because the major issues are being decided not at Westminster but instead in Brussels and for that matter in Washington. Britain is reaping the harvest of its international ambitions. It has a seat at the top tables but it has discovered that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The real powers that be, and in particular the European Union, have a very clear ideology that we are now being forced to implement. This ideology is explicitly socialist and it is committed to the destruction of the nation state. It prevents Britain from maintaining control of her borders and it forces upon us the loss of our independence. Every aspect of public and increasingly of private life, from our courts to our armed forces to our businesses to our increasingly circumscribed freedom of speech is subject to European Union directives. A very significant amount of Parliamentary time and money is devoted to the implementation of European law into our nation’s system. And none of this has any significant mandate from the British people.

Is there an alternative for Britain? Can we step back from the brink and regain our identity and control over our country once more? We are told that to do so would be to become “little England”, to become irrelevant on the international stage, to condemn ourselves to second class status. I want to say to you today that to be British is never to be second-class. If the choice is between a globalist outlook in which others pull the strings or the destiny of our island race in which we provide for ourselves and are the masters of our fate, I would certainly choose the latter. Let us look at how we might get there.

The first and most obvious difficulty we face is that our politics has become the problem. Our political class does very well indeed out of Brussels. It is also increasingly divorced from the mainstream of the society it claims to represent. Gone are the days when it was expected that a Member of Parliament would have proved him or herself in the real world before entering politics. These days, the pathway into politics promotes politics itself as a career, leading to the concept of the “professional politician”. Doubtless in a few years’ time there will be a Politicians’ Academy designed to give its members spurious letters after their name in a bid to give them equal status with the other professions. That will be the logical continuation of a process that has already all but eliminated individual judgement from politics and rendered the MP effectively a party placeman, subordinate not to the historic institution that is the British nation and its culture but instead the artificial collective that is pan-European socialism. Certainly there are occasional Parliamentary rebels, but their rebellion is within carefully-chosen limits and rarely if ever at the cost of their careers.

Our politics operates within a system that has been defined as the Overton Window. The Overton Window is a concept that describes those ideas that are acceptable in politics today. To be outside the window is to be outside the limits of what our establishment considers acceptable or is prepared to discuss. To illustrate this clearly, I want to quote from “Whatever Happened to Reason” by Roger Scruton. Professor Scruton tells us, “”If you study the opinions that prevail in modern academies, you will discover that they are of two kinds: those that emerge from the constant questioning of traditional values, and those that emerge from the attempt to prevent any questioning of the liberal alternatives. All of the following beliefs are effectively forbidden on the normal American campus: (1) The belief in the superiority of Western culture; (2) The belief that there might be morally relevant distinctions between sexes, cultures, and religions; (3) The belief in good taste, whether in literature, music, art, friendship, or behaviour; and (4) The belief in traditional sexual mores. You can entertain those beliefs, but it is dangerous to confess to them, still more dangerous to defend them, lest you be held guilty of “hate speech”—in other words, of judging some group of human beings adversely. Yet the hostility to these beliefs is not founded on reason and is never subjected to rational justification. The postmodern university has not defeated reason but replaced it with a new kind of faith—a faith without authority and without transcendence, a faith all the more tenacious in that it does not recognize itself as such.”

Scruton, who is surely our most distinguished conservative thinker today, is talking about the American universities, but his remarks are equally applicable both to our universities and to our public life in general. And what is significant is that the ideas that form the modern taboos that he describes were historically part of our mainstream. Specifically, they are conservative ideas, advanced by generations of significant conservative politicians and thinkers. This clearly exposes, then, that what the modern establishment has done is explicitly political. The establishment, including the Conservative Party, has accepted the agenda and ideology of the Left and has abandoned, indeed declared war on, its own heritage and ideas. They have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, and they have done it in the pursuit of short-term power and personal gain. They have made their party into one to which the likes of the late Enoch Powell would not give the time of day.

Some would say that we should now aim to turn the clock back and that a change of government can achieve this. True reactionary reversion is almost unknown in politics, and will almost invariably be achieved at the cost of much bloodshed. Indeed the only example that comes to mind in modern times is the Iranian revolution of 1979. Much more common is a change of style that attempts to fool us into believing that we have seen a change of substance, but that really represents a compromise between two extremes. The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 is one such example of this false continuity. We must accept that when change occurs, it is not easily reversible. This proves that the conservative is entirely right to regard change with suspicion and to fear losing what we have managed to maintain, because that is exactly what change brings about. We in Britain have not succeeded hitherto in turning the clock back in public life, and I suggest it is unlikely that we can easily succeed in doing so in the future.

What of UKIP? So far as a traditionalist or reactionary conservatism is concerned, UKIP has at various points shown a willingness to embrace some of the positions that are outside the Overton Window and to bridge the wide gap that now exists between the views of the people and the political class.

However, the seeking of political power involves a long series of compromises, and the first series of compromises is usually that which is required to make life easier for those who would like to become our elected representatives. Those who look to UKIP for their career prospects want ultimately to fit in, not to stand out. They as much as anyone else in politics want to be appointed to quangos and non-executive directorships, to make the gradual transition from green leather benches to red leather benches, and to regain the place many see as rightly theirs as part of the governing class.

I suspect a number of them look to the elected representatives of the British National Party – some of whom have had great difficulty in their professional and personal lives as a result of their political activity – as a grim warning, and fear that they, too, will face ostracization and opprobrium unless their party becomes “acceptable”. It is difficult to imagine Nick Griffin being offered the rewards of elder statesmanship as time goes by, however electorally successful he or his party may be.

Indeed, the recent treatment of Greece’s Golden Dawn is a reminder that being democratically elected means nothing if your ideas do not fit within the Overton Window. The state is ultimately the monopolist of power, and those who stand against it, including those who attempt to infiltrate it, will find that it is prepared to destroy anything that constitutes serious opposition.

The question is then how much the individual is prepared to risk in a conflict that is likely to be destructive to him or herself, and whose gains are likely to be limited and may be purely temporary. It is not surprising that some would-be politicians look at the task ahead and decide that it is not worth the sacrifice. After all, those who play the game enrich themselves and others in the process. They are held up as the success stories of this world. If they are troubled by the occasional pang of conscience it is easily dismissed as dyspepsia.

The reality, though, is that the political system can never act as an agent for its own self-destruction. To be part of that system is to accept its metacontext. It is to accept a situation where some degree of change is possible, and that this may even bring about an element of beneficial result, but the only change that is permitted is that which does not fundamentally threaten the system itself. The state exists to perpetuate itself. Dismantling its ideology and its power is contrary to the vested interests of both politicians themselves and of the vast hordes of public sector and state-extension private sector employees whose future depends on continued state extension.

When the state eventually faces significant and fundamental change, it will come from outside the political class, not from within it. It may well be that a UKIP or even a Conservative-led government would withdraw the UK from membership of the European Union. But the most likely result of that on present showing would simply be that we would be exchanging foreign-made legislation for a very similar set of equally undesirable home-made legislation, as likely as not heavily influenced by exactly the same ideology and vested interests as the European Union currently promotes. In truth, politics is the last element in fundamental social change that must begin at the grass roots if it is to succeed. To try to implement such change from the top down is to embrace tyranny, since it involves rule without the prerequisite of widespread consent. It may well be that, recognizing that this change is far from imminent, UKIP are simply politicians accepting political reality, which is hardly an unfamiliar spectacle.

Our politics may be the most visible problem in the fabric of our society, but it is not the only one. Over many years, our institutions have been systematically captured by the ideology of the Left. They have all become, to a greater or lesser extent, infected by the change agenda. They are expected to move forwards, to embrace progress, to be modern and to be interconnected with other institutions that share these values. It is anathema to be old-fashioned, to resist change, to conserve, or to be independent or critical of developments in other parallel institutions. Most institutions adapt to the status quo and do not challenge it. Indeed, they judge their success by their ability to adapt and to respond to popular taste. In doing this, institutions are required to sign up to an ideological agenda. In theory, it could be that this agenda might be neoconservative. But here is the central problem. Neoconservatism is a deeply incomplete philosophy. When the Left accuse neoconservatives of philistinism and a disregard for culture, they are right. Neoconservatives have confined their attention to areas where they believe they are on safe ground – defence, economics, foreign and home affairs. They have created a yawning chasm where their cultural values should be, which is why both Tony Blair and David Cameron are correctly classified as neoconservatives even though they have led different parties. But there is no vacuum. Instead, the chasm has been very ably filled by the Left, which has created a hegemony in certain areas of our society that is seemingly unbreakable. It is now common to hear politicians of the Conservative Party embracing the cultural values of the Left. Fundamentally culture is not important to them except as relaxation, as aural wallpaper or as a shared experience with their peers. They do not realize that unless the Right can advance its own cultural values and successfully combat those of the Left, it will never offer a complete solution to the problems of this country.

As soon as we start to talk in depth about the cultural values of the Right, we are faced with the relentless onslaught against those values that began among Marxist thinkers and has become a key element of the post-1945 consensus. For Leftists such as Adorno and Horkheimer, Rightist culture was a symptom of what they, in the Left’s favourite quasi-psychoanalytic jargon, called the “authoritarian personality”. They convinced many that there was a direct line between Rightist culture and Nazism, and they ensured that any who associated with that culture could conveniently be dismissed with the label “far-right”. Their cultural struggle required that traditional conservatism could only be defeated by setting a directly opposing force against it in a culture war. This process also declared war on the cultural values of the White working class where those values supported Traditionalism. Teenage rebellion was not invented by the Left, but it was the Left who would cynically exploit it and ally it to the agenda of constant change, and ensure that pop music and pop culture became the repository for Leftist values. Youth became the focus for the Left because it was the group in society most susceptible to being sold change as a way of life. Meanwhile, the idea of a hierarchical society was remorselessly attacked by the Left both culturally and economically, resulting in the ascent of shallow materialism and the deification of fashion and the modern. Traditional morality and social views became the new taboos; opposition to them, notably in the recent promotion of homosexual civil marriage, has become an essential badge of the political elite.

Today, the Leftist hegemony is reinforced by an audit culture that claims to provide accountability but actually serves as a means of control. Genuine independence is impossible under such a system because all the truly significant decision-making is centralized and takes place far above the level of those at the coalface; frequently in the implementation of some European Union socialist diktat. Our schools and universities exemplify this climate. When I tell people that English universities used to regulate themselves, and that separation from the control of government was a key element of their independence, I receive looks of amazement. The professions have been key driving forces in audit culture. The purpose of a profession is to act as a gatekeeper; not so much to keep people in as to keep undesirables out. The result is ever-growing layers of standardization, accreditation and assessment. The culture of professional management tends to uphold the view that centralization and systemization is preferable to a traditionalist, human-scale way of doing things. Any organization that embraces professionalism will suppress its traditionalist and individualist elements, and rather than resisting it, will adapt to the prevailing system.

A major reason why people have accepted this regulatory culture is because they have been systematically intellectually disempowered. Gone are the days of the rounded education, the gentleman amateur and the Renaissance man as concepts at the heart of our society. The encouragement of micro-specialism is the Left’s way of reinforcing the role of the expert. In academia, post-war structures such as peer review, scientific method and departmental collegiality mean that a hegemony is reinforced and that those who would challenge it are firmly excluded. The global warming fiasco exemplifies this very clearly. Entire areas, such as sociology and cultural studies, have emerged that consist almost entirely of the study of Left-wing thought, and the ascent of postmodernism has ensured the dominance of the Left across the arts and humanities. Meanwhile, those who educate themselves on a topic find that their opinion is discredited as supposedly unqualified, not because of any deficiency in their expertise, but because they speak from outside the academy. A certain amount of dissent is, of course, tolerated within the establishment – just as it was in the Soviet Union. But if anyone transgresses too far against the sacred cows of political correctness, he or she is hung out to dry and the establishment closes ranks. Some choose to be Rightist dissidents within Leftist institutions and are granted some degree of toleration in consequence. But this is a lonely and often bitter calling. Roger Scruton has talked eloquently about the decade he spent within mainstream English academia. His dissidence achieved little in the way of change; in the end it simply wore him down.

Because the Left has comprehensively captured our institutions, we cannot simply expect a change of government to bring about improvement. Nor can we adhere to a nation that may call itself by an old name while completely changing its substance. In place of a political adherence to the nation as it stands, we must substitute adherence to the core values that support the nation as traditional conservatives understand it. If we do not, then we fall into the very trap that the Left has set for us, and find ourselves supporting the remnants of style rather than substance.

In the culture war we need, first of all, to acknowledge that we have not so much lost as failed to put up much of a fight to begin with. Now, we would need a revolution in the prevailing culture of this country before we could see genuine results. We need, in short, to rebuild our nation from the ground up, not the top down. Most public sector employees are so ideologically committed to a Leftist agenda that they will bring this country to a halt with a general strike before they will accept the defeat of their ideology. Unfortunately, we cannot simply dispense with them; if we do we will be in a position where we cannot govern. The European Union will not go away without exacting as heavy a price as it can for our withdrawal. And although there are worthy traditionalist conservatives in several political parties, politics is about power, and there is no prospect that a traditionalist conservative government will be formed in the foreseeable future. In fact, electoral politics is the icing on the cake in terms of what needs to be done in this country. Unless there is a fundamental appeal to hearts and minds that leads to the widespread embrace of traditional conservatism among the populace, it will not have the broad platform that it needs to build a power base. And the reality is that change from within is a near impossibility. The Left has secured such a stranglehold not only on our institutions but their supporting, multi-layered framework that a fundamental reversion in their character would require complete control of both institutions and framework to succeed. So we are back at the grass roots, and it is there that the counter-establishment must start.

There is a parallel in the position that the Catholic Church has found herself in since the modernist disasters of the First and Second Vatican Councils. In both cases, these events have prompted resistance groups which have, in the case of those reacting to the First Vatican Council with whom I myself have association, lasted for well over a century now. Bishop Richard Williamson, who represents the resistance to the Second Vatican Council, has said “It seems that, today, God wants a loose network of independent pockets of Catholic Resistance, gathered around the Mass, freely contacting one another, but with no structure of false obedience.” Let us widen his reference to those whose adherence is to Tradition, of whatever religious background, and then we have a model for a counter-establishment; one that does not enter into the inevitable fissuring of large institutions but that instead centres each nexus upon a central and perhaps specialized principle, working co-operatively with others when necessary, but concentrating upon a local and grass roots cultural restoration that can establish the proper foundations upon which a return to order can be built.

We should be aware that it is hard to build traditionalist conservative institutions that will last. The law and its myriad regulations enforce Leftist principle and restrict what can be done. Moreover, the democracy and openness that is forced on our institutions by law is a gift to those who would destroy those institutions. The Left for years has practised entryism. Neoconservatives have done the same more recently. Unless there is not only a large caucus of traditional conservatives but a continual supply of new people with a similar commitment to these ideas, and a means of excluding those who do not share them, the institution will be diluted and in time will be absorbed into the mainstream. We must learn from the Left. For one hundred and fifty years, institutions such as the unions, the co-operative movement and the working mens’ clubs sustained and supported the Left. Thousands of men and women, their names now forgotten, pounded the pavements in the cause of socialism, propagating their creed in the workplace, at leisure, in homes and schools. From these actions, each on its own barely significant, grew the present inculcation of the Left into the fabric of our society.

We on the Right had no such support network. We too often disdained proselytization among the masses, and were too often divided among ourselves. It is only through the life and values of a community that we can allow the individual to experience what would otherwise be an intellectual abstraction. We need to use what opportunities remain to us within the law to organize and to work together with common aims to preserve and restore traditional conservative values, through institutions such as the Traditional Britain Group and through building others that will nurture and promote the culture of the Right both locally and nationally for generations to come. Above all, we need those who have wealth to establish permanent foundations that will embody and perpetuate the ideals they believe in, and we need to ensure that Traditionalists have large families and strong support networks.

I have already offered a definition of conservatism. It is also important that we should define what we mean by traditionalism in this context. Tradition is not simply a collection of yesterday’s bad habits. Nor is it the enshrining of yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems. Rather, it is the discovery and enshrining of the perennial principles that lie behind conservatism. It is a return to a set of values that would have been familiar to our distant ancestors, that are part of the warp and weft of British history. It is indigenous to the British because it is part of our folk memory; it is literally in our genes. It is, perhaps, most visible as a disposition rather than a doctrine. It is a form of thought, of making decisions, that is the outcome of a settled and mature temperament seeking continuity not only between past and present, but between past and future. I have only to say these things for it to be obvious that this genuine traditionalism is at the very heart of true conservatism.

Importantly, traditionalism is becoming a subject of growing interest for a number of able writers and thinkers across Europe and in the United States. These developments suggest that there is the possibility that there may one day be a form of genuine European integration on the basis of our shared origins and common culture, rather than the false integration offered by the European Union.

Strategically, we need to assert our rights as vociferously as do many minority groups in this country. We must do so without shame, without apology and without fearing the inevitable condemnation both of the Left and of neoconservatives. The mainstream media are largely creatures of the Left or of the Quisling Right. The internet has proved a godsend largely because its reach is out of all proportion to its costs. I am greatly encouraged by the spread of Traditionalist ideas on the internet and by the number of young people who, perhaps in response to being force-fed a constant diet of socialism and egalitarianism, are discovering those ideas and actively debating them. At the end of the day, the rebuilding of our nation starts with its most fundamental units: its individuals and families. It begins with the reinforcement of inner principle that leads to knowledge and the development of consciousness – as Julius Evola terms it, inner awakening. Only when we are able to work these ideas out in ourselves to the point where we ourselves are living a free life can we then begin the essential process of passing those values on to others. Our mission is one of resistance, and our planning must be for the long term – towards an ultimate aim that is beyond the lives of many of us, and that will live on in others. There will eventually come a point where the present society will show its weakness openly and where public dissent will spill over. What will be needed then will be those who can channel that dissent and provide solutions to it that have at their root the most fundamental values of our civilization. That will be our moment, and we must be ready for it.

Posted in Traditional Britain Group

Two new CDs published

Two new CDs have been issued by Romantic Discoveries Recordings:

Piano Music of Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916), volume 2
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD100

Audio sample: Fantasie, op. 81 (from vol. 1)

Total time: 76 minutes 13 seconds

Sonata in F minor, op. 1
1. Langsam, getragen (7’49”) 2. Lebhaft (3’31”) 3. Leidenschaftlich bewegt (10’06”)
Zwei Klavierstücke, op. 39
4. Lied (4’34”) 5. Gavotte (4’40”)
Tondichtung, op. 72
6. Hymnus (3’11”) 7. Romanze (5’45”) 8. Intermezzo (6’25”) 9. Jubilate (5’18”)
10. Waltz, op. 70 (4’50”)
Symbole, op. 59
11. Nachtstück (5’13”) 12. Elegie (5’11”) 13. Im Schilf (3’36”) 14. Romanze (3’00”) 15. Aeolus (2’55”)

Piano Music of Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916), volume 1
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD100

Total time: 72 minutes 16 seconds

1. Fantasie, op. 27 (21’04”)
Ins Stammbuch, op. 26
2. Andantino (1’49”) 3. Allegretto grazioso (1’40”) 4. Andante (3’39”) 5. Allegro con brio e giocoso (2’27”) 6. Andante espressivo (2’53”) 7. Allegro (6’34”) 8. Lento e sostenuto (2’57”)
9. Fantasie, op. 81 (8’11”)
10. Legende, op. 44 (12’06”)
11. Romanze, op. 15 (8’51”)

Friedrich Gernsheim was born of a Jewish family in Worms and studied there with Louis Liebe, who had been a pupil of Spohr. Following the 1848 revolutions, his father moved the family to Frankfurt, where he studied with Edward Rosenhain. His debut in 1850 was followed by two years of touring, before he undertook advanced studies with Moscheles. Between 1855-60 he was in Paris, where he met Lalo, Rossini and Saint-Saëns. In 1861 he succeeded Hermann Levi as music director in Saarbrücken, and in 1865 Hiller appointed him to the staff of the Cologne Conservatoire, where he taught Engelbert Humperdinck among others. In 1868 he met Brahms for the first time, and his compositions, which include four symphonies (the third based on the Jewish theme of the Song of Miriam), concertos and much chamber music, show a notable Brahmsian influence. He spent the years 1874-90 as director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Society, before joining the faculty of the Stern Conservatoire in Berlin, finally leaving to teach at the Academy of Arts in 1897, the year he was elected to the senate.

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

Traditional Britain Group Conference

logoDetails of John Kersey’s talk are here:

http://www.traditionalbritain.org/content/traditional-britain-conference-preserving-substance-nation-john-kersey

Tickets are available by following the above link.

Talk – ‘Preserving the substance of a nation: the role of traditional conservative counter-establishment’

When the destruction of the substance of a nation has progressed so far that its institutions and processes are under the permanent ideological sway of the Left, what options are left for traditional conservatives? Many who are politically active believe that a change of government, with the backing of a popular mandate, will be enough to reverse the cultural shift that has transformed Britain during the past half-century. However, the task at hand is much more intractable than this, and political action at a national level is in fact the last stage in implementing a reactionary agenda that must start at the grass roots if it is to overcome the residual opposition that now exists at every level of modernist culture. In this talk, radical traditionalist and paleolibertarian John Kersey details the obstacles to a return to Traditionalist principles and advocates the role of a Traditionalist counter-establishment as the most effective vehicle for survival and growth within the current adverse climate. Drawing on ideas from such thinkers as Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Julius Evola, Roger Scruton and fellow speaker Sean Gabb, he explores the way forward for those aristocrats of the soul for whom spiritual and intellectual resistance must become a way of life.

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Quarterly Review – Apocalypse Discs

Reblogged from http://www.quarterly-review.org/?p=1507

Apocalypse Discs – John Kersey

JOHN KERSEY

Historian, musician and educationalist

www.johnkersey.org

As a musician, I face the prospect of having to save a limited number of works from certain apocalypse with a certain degree of trepidation. The difficulty is always that any selection is by nature impermanent, since music is perhaps the most responsive of the arts to one’s emotional state, and thus any change in personal equilibrium is likely to prompt a need for fresh aural inspiration. Nevertheless, the choice I make at present is of key works that have lived with me to the extent that I feel they have become a part of my way of seeing the world, and thus they can at least form something of a personal credo as far as those values – both musical and in a wider context – I would wish to see promulgated are concerned.

The chief object of art is, to my mind, a search for the expression of truth and beauty, and this theme runs through the selection I have made. There is some emphasis upon those composers who espoused a Traditionalist vision and set themselves against prevailing fashions in music, often at great personal cost. Their work is united by this artistic honesty and integrity, and perhaps their example also presents us with a microcosm of the resistance their art made to the apocalypse that came to dominate the avant-garde of their time, which sought to divorce itself from the dialectic of tonality. Although some works will doubtless be unfamiliar, there is no search for deliberate obscurity here, but rather a conscious immersion in a particular compositional thread that is effectively that of Romanticism and its extensions, and the quest for its most distinctive exponents, some of whose music deserves wider currency than it has hitherto enjoyed. JK, 25th March 2013

Lyra Angelica, William Alwyn (1905-85)

Alwyn was a polyglot, poet, artist, composer and sometime flautist with the London Symphony Orchestra. His compositions include many film scores, five symphonies (of which the last is entitled Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial) and this extraordinary harp concerto, which in my view is undoubtedly the greatest music written for the instrument. The first half of his working life was spent in London, teaching and serving on committees and boards. The second was spent in Suffolk, overlooking the Blyth estuary and writing music, poems and painting. One of his poems, Daphne, expresses his artistic credo,

Beauty is my reason for existence,

My day, my night, my all-in-all.

Faithless, I should cease to write.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TooYPQtVUik&list=PLYAT_hEhVbG8b3cPPChfB8-nSU7wtKd-E

Concerto for solo piano, Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-88)

Alkan was one of the greatest pianists of his stellar generation and a highly original and accomplished composer. In his early career, he was a friend of Liszt and Chopin, but in 1848 he was passed over for the position of head of piano at the Paris Conservatoire in favour of one of his pupils, and he seems never to have recovered from this blow, retreating into isolation. His concerto for solo piano, though a highly substantial work, is in fact part of one that is still larger, his twelve studies in all the minor keys, op. 39. Here it is given an outstanding performance by supervirtuoso Marc-Andre Hamelin.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQz5tWzVQiA

Spring Fire, Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

Bax was the most Celtic of composers, encapsulating in his style the Ireland of myth and legend and evoking a distant past that also drew extensively upon Norse influences. As part of the Rathgar Circle that developed around the poet, artist and mystic AE (G.W. Russell) he adopted the pseudonym Dermot O’Byrne and published a number of poems and short stories that reflected an increasing involvement with Irish nationalism. Spring Fire is a relatively early work, inspired by Swinburne. Its extreme technical difficulty prevented any performance in Bax’s lifetime. For several years the only surviving score was believed to have been lost in a fire in 1964, but later another was discovered. The world it evokes is pagan and fantastic, and he wrote of it, “It is as though the whole of nature participated in the careless and restless riot of youth and sunlight.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV5oHECmSg4

Sun God Symphony, Geirr Tveitt (1908-81)

An Odinist and Traditionalist, Tveitt was part of the circle of Hans S. Jacobsen in Oslo in the 1930s, but he remained aloof from political action and did not join the Nasjional Samling. The ballet Baldur’s Dreams is the apex of his Neo-Heathen worldview, being first performed in 1938 to great acclaim. After the war, his beliefs led to his complete ostracism from the Norwegian arts establishment, and the problems were compounded when, in 1970, his house burned to the ground, taking with it about 80% of his compositions, and leaving his last years bereft and embittered. The Sun God Symphony is therefore a posthumous reconstruction of three pictures from Baldur’s Dreams, and shows the extraordinary power and energy of Tveitt’s compositional imagination.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kws0g4Dfvco

Piano Concerto, op. 39, Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni (1866-1924)

In its intellectual and humane distinction, subtle innovation and adherence to the Apollonian ideal, Busoni’s music is unparalleled. A master pianist, his Piano Concerto – in five movements, and with a male chorus singing a setting of Oehlenschlaeger’s Aladdin in the last – is an extraordinary achievement. This live performance by Peter Donohoe at the Proms remains one of the finest accounts of the work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FH60TO4egW0

Cello Concerto, Gerald Finzi (1901-56)

This work, the composer’s last, sums up his compositional achievement. It has become commonplace to say that Finzi’s music “sounds English” in that it evokes a particular combination of landscape and character. Certainly it is that, but its distinction is much greater, in that this is music of nobility, imagination, integrity and drama, suffused with a melancholic yet lyrical temperament.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj_U1BntjPo

Symphony no. 1 “Gothic”, Havergal Brian (1876-1972)

A monumental work from an extraordinary man from whom music poured in torrents even when there was no-one interested in performing or listening to it. Brian did not “fit in” with the musical establishment; working-class, self-taught, and entirely dedicated to his own artistic standards. The more I come to know him and his output, the more I admire him. This work is huge, uncompromising and intellectually of the highest order. Richard Strauss described it as “magnificent”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgUmpSWB-fc&list=PL9DF86B95A0102369

Trio in Three Movements, York Bowen (1884-1961)

Although widely respected as a pianist during his lifetime, and once described by Saint-Saens as “the finest of English composers”, Bowen’s works lay largely unpublished and unperformed until after his death. His individual style is felt at its best in this ambitious and effective piano trio.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc3eniV0kQc

Hymnus paradisi, Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

This work was written in response to the death of the composer’s son from polio, aged nine, and requires no commentary. It is quite simply among the finest works of the English choral tradition.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=at-yv-BQAeA

Som Lynet er Kristi Genkomst (As Lightning Cometh Christ Again)

Rued Langgaard (1893-1952)

It is perhaps appropriate that one should close a selection of Apocalypse Discs with one of the very few depictions of the Second Coming in music. Rued Langgaard, a reactionary genius, composed in a style that ensured his treatment with utter disdain by the prevailing Danish musical establishment; his resulting isolation gave rise to a series of extraordinary compositions that is only now coming to be heard and appreciated. His music ranges from the visionary and prophetic to the bizarre and aphoristic. This short organ work develops in the manner of a ritual, fixating eventually upon its opening phrase, before rising in ecstasy amid the repeated gestures. A short pause leads to an increasing sense of expectation and the cataclysmic final chord that marks the moment of apparition.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ECKf__IJf4

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New CD published

A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of Sydney Smith (1839-89) volume 2
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD99

Total time:

Total time: 76 minutes 47 seconds

1. Nadeshda, fantasia on the opera by Arthur Goring Thomas (1850-92), op. 211b 2. Aspiration (mélodie), op. 208 no. 1 3. Inquiétude (impromptu), op. 208 no. 2 4. Gavotte and Musette, op. 188 5. Vie orageuse (Deuxième ballade), op. 203 6. Chant de berceau, op. 156 7. Harmonies du soir (morceau élégant), op. 54 8. Menuet romantique, op. 174 9. Rayons d’or (Bagatelle), op. 176 10. Happy memories (morceau de salon), op. 77 11. Kermesse (Scène hollandaise), op. 181 12. Voix du coeur (Mélodie), op. 178 13. Zeffiretta (Morceau de salon), op. 159 14. Bacchanale, op. 170

Our thanks to the Sydney Smith Archive for supplying scores of these rare works.

Sydney Smith represents a lost generation of English composer-pianists who enjoyed both critical and commercial success in his heyday, only to be eclipsed by a rapid change in musical fashion that was compounded by his own ill-health. Born in Dorchester, in close proximity to Thomas Hardy, Smith won a place at the Leipzig Conservatoire aged seventeen and studied there for three years under Moscheles and Plaidy (piano) and Grutzmacher (cello). The Crown Prince of Prussia was apparently greatly impressed with his talent, and Smith’s move to London in 1859 marked the beginning of a career as a recitalist (notably at the Crystal Palace) and teacher. Added to this was the beginning of a prolific career as a melodic and effective composer of works for the salon and concert hall, many of which became included in popular anthologies of piano music of the day. This oeuvre made Smith one of the most famous musicians of his day, not only in England, but in Australia, America and continental Europe, and his name became a household word. Smith was particularly known for his virtuoso opera transcriptions, but as this album will show, was also gifted in a variety of short original forms, including characteristic dances and evocative mood-pieces. These works are written in a masterly way for the piano, showing a mature understanding of pianistic effect (with a good deal of influence from Chopin and Liszt) and providing a considerable technical challenge for the performer. The present recital offers probably the only opportunity at the moment to hear any of Arthur Goring Thomas’s last opera “Nadeshda” and is otherwise devoted to a varied selection of Smith’s original works, concentrating particularly on those from his later years.

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

New CD published

A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of Herrmann Scholtz (1845-1918)
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD98

Total time: 74 minutes 50 seconds

1. Nocturne op 41 no 1. 2. Nocturne op 41 no 2. 3. Variationen über ein norwegisches Volklied, op 27. Traumbilder, op 22: 4. Langsam 5. Im mässigen Tempo 6. Langsam 7. Sehr rasch. 8. 14 Variationen über ein Original-Thema, op 31. Albumblätter, op 20: 9. Ziemlich langsam 10. Mässig bewegt 11. Innig bewegt 12. Ziemlich bewegt 13. Innig bewegt 14. Ziemlich langsam und äusserst zart zu spielen 15. Nicht zu langsam und etwas graziös 16. Ziemlich belebt und sehr gesangvoll zu spielen 17. Still und träumerisch 18. Ziemlich bewegt 19. Ziemlich langsam und mit innigem Ausdruck 20. Freudig bewegt.

Our thanks to Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

Herrmann Scholtz was born in Breslau and studied there with Brosig and subsequently at the Leipzig Conservatoire with Plaidy (1865-67). On the advice of Liszt, he completed his studies at Munich with von Bülow and Rheinberger. He taught at Munich for six years after graduation, before moving to Dresden where he was appointed Sächsischen Kammer-virtuose in 1880 and professor in 1910. Scholtz’s posthumous reputation rests upon his edition of the works of Chopin, but he was also a versatile composer. For piano, he composed a sonata and a piano concerto (unpublished) and a number of shorter works from which this disc presents a selection. There is also a piano trio and several orchestral Suites.

Scholtz’s American pupil Mary Y. Mann wrote in a reminiscence of him, “I wish it lay in my power to teach all here to appreciate and honor him in the same degree that all who know him do…so ever courteous, gentle and friendly, possessed of so great musical intelligence and feeling, yet so modest with all that it humbled one to think of one’s own diminutiveness…in every way Professor Scholtz is a most delightful teacher, and his music room where he always gives his lessons is enough to delight a musician’s heart so full of mementos of the old masters and music of all kinds; and to crown all two grand pianos, at one of which he always sits with a copy of the pupil’s lesson, thus sparing you the nervous feeling of having some-one “look over your shoulders,” and at times playing with you, imbuing you with his spirit and tempo.” Regarding Scholtz as a player, she tells us, “He plays rather seldom as his time is fully occupied and of late has had an affection of the hand aside from an injury to one of his fingers that has debarred him from overuse of them, but he is always a warmly-welcomed and a very sympathetic performer, and so generous to his brother-artists that one appreciates his greatness the more.”

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

New CD published

A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

The Little Russians
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD97

Alexander Alexandrovich Kopylov (1854-1911): 1. Feuille d’album in G Gennari Ossipovich Karganov (1858-90): 2. Serenade, from “Album lyrique”, op 20 no 4 3. Menuet all’antico, op 20 no 5 4. Dans le gondole, op 20 no 6 5. Kopylov: Polka de salon on the theme B-la-F, op 16 6. Karganov: Reverie du soir, op 20 no 7 7. Scherzino, op 20 no 8 8. Berceuse, op 20 no 11 9. Kopylov: Album leaf in C minor, from “3 Album Leaves”, op 26 no 3 10. Karganov: Romance, op 20 no 9 11. Nocturne, op 18 no 1 12. Kopylov: Chanson sans paroles 13. Karganov: Valse-caprice, op 16 14. Kopylov: A drop of rain, op 13 no 4 15. Mazurka 16. Karganov: Capriccietto, op 20 no 10 17. Mazurka, op 20 no 12 18. Nocturne, op 18 no 2 19. Kopylov: Feuille d’album in C 20. Karganov: Berceuse, from “Aquarelles”, op 22 no 3 21. Polka, from “For the Youth”, op 21 no 7

Our thanks to Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

Gennari Ossipovich Karganov was born in Kvarely in Georgia in 1858 (or possibly 1852). He was of Armenian nationality but subsequently became a naturalized Russian. He was professor of piano at the conservatoire in Georgia and composed mainly for the piano, including many miniatures and some instructional works. He died at Rostov-on-Don in 1890, aged just 31.

Alexander Alexandrovich Kopylov studied privately with Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov. Principally a singer and violinist, he taught at the Imperial Court Choir where he had formerly been a chorister. Composer of symphonies and string quartets, he also composed a number of miniatures for piano.

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

Two new CDs published

Two new CDs have been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of Jakob Rosenhain (1813-94), vol. 1
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD95

Total time: 60 minutes 47 seconds

Sonata in F minor, op 40: 1. Allegro con fuoco 2. Andantino 3. Scherzo – Allegro molto 4. Rondo – Presto 5. Slavonic Dance, op. 67 no. 1 6. Poeme, op. 24 Deux Morceaux de Salon, op. 28: 7. Nocturne 8. Rondo-valse 9. Grande valse de concert, op. 33

Piano Music of Jakob Rosenhain (1813-94), vol. 2
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD96

Total time: 61 minutes 46 seconds

1. Grand Caprice brillant, op. 23 Deux Reveries, op. 26: 2. Andantino doloroso 3. Andantino con moto Quatre Romances, op. 14: 4. Allegro non troppo 5. Andantino 6. Scene suisse au bord du lac de Genève 7. Andante espressivo 8. Etude op 17 no 6 – The Fisher’s Serenade 9. Etude op 17 no 8 – Lied 10. Etude op 17 no 11 – Con passione, tempo rubato.

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf for supplying scores of these rare works.

The German-Jewish composer and pianist Jakob Rosenhain was born at Mannheim in 1813 and made his debut aged eleven. Piano studies with Jacob Schmitt in Mannheim and Schnyder von Wartensee in Frankfurt followed culminating in final studies with Kalliwoda. By 1832 he was settled in Frankfurt. He subsequently developed a concert career, appearing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1837 season and also enjoying success with his one-act opera “Der Besuch im Irrenhauses” which was first given in Frankfurt in 1834 and afterwards taken up at Weimar under Hummel. However, he was unable to repeat the success of this work with his second opera, “Liswenna” (1835) even though he reworked this as “Le Demon de la Nuit” in 1851. From at least 1839 he was a friend of Mendelssohn, and also knew Hiller and Moscheles, with whom he stayed. From the autumn of 1837 he settled in Paris, where he worked on writing a school of piano playing with the well-known pedagogue John Baptist Cramer and gave chamber music evenings that were attended by such luminaries as Berlioz, Rossini and Cherubini. Continuing to hope for another operatic success, his third opera, “Volage et Jaloux” was given at Baden in 1863, but again failed to make the desired impression, and after this time Rosenhain concentrated on instrumental music. In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War forced him to relocate to Baden, where he had a villa. He received honours from Holland, France, Spain, Portugal and Baden and was elected an honorary member of the St Cecilia Society of Rome.

Rosenhain’s output includes three symphonies, one of which the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed in 1854. The second symphony, his op. 43, was performed by Mendelssohn in Leipzig in 1846; the first had been given by the same forces in 1840. There is a piano concerto in D minor, four piano trios, Lieder,  and a quantity of solo piano music including three known sonatas, of which that recorded on RDR CD 95 is the first. Several works were reviewed by Schumann in his capacity as a critic.

The two disc set of piano works by Rosenhain comprising RDR CD 95 and 96 represents a cross-section of his output for which scores can be sourced at present. The F minor sonata is the largest-scale work here, and in the dramatic gestures and taut structure of its first movement suggests a composer of considerable accomplishment. After this, the other movements represent a significantly calmer and more optimistic outlook, with a scherzo that features bell-effects in its trio section and a rapid finale with something of a rustic character. Evidently, Rosenhain intended through this contrast to demonstrate his full range of expressive writing; at times he certainly recalls his contemporary Mendelssohn, particularly in the latter movements, but in the first movement there is a tougher quality to his gestures that suggests a more Beethovenian spirit.

The other works in extended forms are the Poeme, op. 24, the Two Reveries comprising op. 26 and the Grande Caprice brillant, op. 23. These are ambitious concert works that develop a subtle but individual voice, characterized by an able and varied approach to structure and a convincing handling of chromatic harmony. While there are demanding passages in some of Rosenhain’s music, particularly in the extrovert Grande Caprice brillant, he is not generally concerned with virtuoso display and adopts a more Chopinesque style in which the achievement of expressive effect is paramount.

Rosenhain’s Parisian world was one where the salon was central to the life of the pianist, and his shorter works, even where not explicitly designated as morceaux de salon, were likely intended for performance in these intimate, atmospheric surroundings before poets, artists and fellow musicians. The Quatre Romances are striking examples of this genre, with one of their number depicting a rustic scene at Lake Geneva, complete with alpine effects.

Rosenhain’s Etudes, op. 17, achieved recognition in his lifetime as worthy examples of the concert etude, and his Fisher’s Serenade was probably the best known of this set. Equally notable, however, is the etude op. 17 no 11, which is a passionate and effective study in octaves and chords.

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings