REVIEW POTPOURRI: England in the 20th Century

David Thomson

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

England in the 20th Century

England in the Twentieth Century, by David Thomson, (1912-1970) is a very fine example of the brilliance in clarity, readability and thorough scholarship to be found quite often among historians from the British Isles. One could open this book anywhere and be drawn into the narrative alone.

A passage on Winston Churchill’s predecessor, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1970), is a good example:

“By experience and qualities alike Chamberlain was cast to be a vigorous, efficient Premier in home affairs. It was his personal tragedy to be Premier during three years in which, more than at any other time since 1918, international affairs assumed national importance. ‘Masterful, confident, and ruled by an instinct for order, he would give a lead, and perhaps impart an edge, on every question. His approach was arduous careful but his mind, once made up, hard to change. ‘ [Quote from unknown source.]”

By seemingly conceding Chamberlain’s good qualities, Thomson conveys why due to stubborn pride, this prime minister may have been naïve and clueless in trusting Hitler and Mussolini at the 1938 Munich “Peace” Talks just before Germany invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia (Poland to follow in September 1939), its military arsenal already stronger than all the other European countries and the U.S. put together.

When I attended Kent’s Hill School, I remember a teacher showing a documentary on the Holocaust; an opening newsreel shows Chamberlain returning to London from Munich and proudly stating that there would be “peace in our time.”

However, reading further, one finds out that, when Japan was beginning its own build-up by 1930 and its own government leaders were being frequently assassinated when they wouldn’t kowtow to the military, the U.S. was in the throes of the Great Depression and could care less about the Far East – in response to this attitude, Chamberlain stated in 1934, seven years before Pearl Harbor, that the “U.S.A. will give us no undertaking to resist by force any action by Japan, short of an attack on Hawaii or Honolulu. ”

Sir Neville Chamberlain died in late 1940 from cancer; he was 71.

In the bibliography, Thomson writes that “Biographies are often strongly partisan, though their bias is strongly evident “, a rather puzzling statement in his use of the word “though” but this book’s 300 pages would make for a good beginning to end read, if one could live to the age of 200.

Beethoven’s 9th Sypmphony

I own a batch of recordings of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, referred to as the Choral Symphony because of the use of a chorus and four soloists in the final movement. Among these are four different 78 sets of tremendous merit – Leopold Stokowski/Philadelphia Orchestra, Felix Weingartner/ ViennaPhilharmonic, SergeKoussevitzky/BostonSymphony, and Eugene Ormandy/again Philadelphia, Ormandy being Stokowski’s successor (I will always find that the three to five minute sides of 78 records make for very active listening because I have to get up from the recliner to change the record whereas the 80-minute CDs make for sleepy listening); each one is different from the others.

Recently, I reheard the Ormandy for the first time in 25 years and found it even more exciting. Ormandy adopted fast tempos for movements 1, 2 and 4 and slower ones for the ecstatic beauty of the 3rd movement Adagio. And it can be heard on YouTube.

The symphony received its world premiere in Vienna on May 7, 1824, the composer being totally deaf by then. Sitting on stage with his back to the audience, he had to be turned around by a soprano to see the jubilant applauding of everyone.

May 7 was later to be the birthdays of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).


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