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Cyril Scott: 'The Father of British Modern Music'

By David Tame
The Secret Power of Music (Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1984), pp. 263-271

 

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Cyril Scott: 'The Father of British Modern Music'

Cyril Scott, whose writings we have had occasion to quote from several times in earlier pages, was another multi-talented composer who may have drawn his inspiration from the great body of Adepts known as the Great White Brotherhood. Certainly Scott himself believed that he did. His 1933 publication, The Influence of Music on History and Morals (Rider & Co., 1933) was an important and pioneering venture in its study of the inner power of music and was one of the first books in modern times to renew people's thinking and awareness on the subject. Yet what is perhaps even more fascinating than the book itself is the background and life out of which it was written. For the life-story of Cyril Scott serves well to show us just to what great a degree esoteric sources have influenced the art and artists of our day. Cyril Scott was born at Oxton in Cheshire on 27 September, 1879. We are told that by the age of two and a half he was able to pick up tunes by ear and perform them on piano, and could also improvise. Not, however, until he arrived at the ripe old age of seven did he receive instruction in how to read and write musical notation. Perhaps not surprisingly, by the time he had matured Scott had developed into a virtuoso pianist. A. Eaglefield Hull, the musicologist and general editor of the Waverley Music Lover's Library, once wrote of him:

Last night I was spellbound at the nonchalant ease with which he played through his superb Piano Concerto from the full score MS., rippling along (as I flung the pages over almost continuously) with truly astonishing gifts of technique, touch and reading; whistling the while flute and violin melodies, and vocalizing horn parts in a peculiar nasal tone, like horn notes forced through mutes. Where and how did he attain such tremendous powers? (Cyril Scott: The Man and His Works, Waverly Book Co., n.d.)
 

More than for his playing, however, it was as a composer that Cyril Scott gained a wide reputation in Great Britain and on the Continent during the early twentieth century. His works included symphonies and other orchestral pieces, choral compositions, a number of pieces of chamber music, and a very large number of songs and works for solo piano. Strangely though, his music is little known today – strangely so, since during his day he was mentioned in the same breath as artists such as Vaughan Williams, Arnold Bax, Percy Grainger and Claude Debussy. A. Eaglefield Hull said

 

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around 1920 that Cyril Scott was, 'undoubtedly the richest harmonist we [the British] possess'. (Ibid.) In Debussy's estimate, Scott was, 'one of the rarest artists of the present generation'.

Besides possessing the aforementioned talents, Cyril Scott was also an accomplished conductor, a lecturer, a translator, and a writer on music. In addition to this, at the age of 21 he began writing verse, and became well known thereafter as a poet. His first published collection of verse, The Shadows of Silence and the Songs of Yesterday, (Liverpool: Donald Fraser, n.d.) came out during his early twenties, and reflected what was then his rather pessimistic outlook of agnosticism. The second, The Grave of Eros and the Book of Mournful Melodies, (Liverpool: Donald Fraser, n.d.) was written during what he later called, not altogether seriously, his 'decadent' phase. However, he went through this phase only half-heartedly, and without conviction. This phase was to end abruptly upon his discovery of Theosophy and Indian philosophy. Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive of a more graphic example than the life of Cyril Scott following his finding of the ancient wisdom in order to demonstrate the close relationship that has often prevailed in modern times between esotericism and music.

According to Scott himself, he was eventually contacted directly by the Great White Brotherhood, and intimately sponsored and guided by them in the production of much of his mature musical and literary works. Already hailed by Eugene Goosens as the 'father of British modern music', Scott now turned also to the writing of books; books on esotericism and alternative medicine. He was, too, the author of the series of three 'Initiate' books, which are still very well-known among esoteric circles. These were penned anonymously by Scott, using autobiographical material given to him by an unnamed poet. The first of the three, The Initiate, Some Impressions of a Great Soul (London: Routledge, 1920) describes the poet's encounters in England with a high initiate of the Brotherhood who accepted the poet as his disciple. The second book, The Initiate in the New World, (London: Routledge, 1927) follows the spiritual career and teachings of the initiate in the United States, and in the third volume this initiate of the Great White Brotherhood again returns to the British Isles, after many years of absence.

Some have doubted the veracity of these three immensely readable and steadily popular books, considering them to be fiction. But certainly Scott himself maintained that the books are factual accounts of episodes in the life and teachings of the great soul about whom they were written. Before continuing, what attitude should we take in regard to Scott's belief that he received direct contacts

 

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from the Great White Brotherhood? Though the original material upon which the 'Initiate' books were based was not Scott's, nevertheless he revealed later in life, when the anonymity of the books had been seen through, that he too had been a disciple of the initiate; indeed, that he was also a protagonist in the second and third books. And, he said, after the events described in the books he still continued to receive contacts from Masters of the Brotherhood. Did it, then, all happen just as Scott said that it did?

Ultimately, each of us must decide for ourselves on that point. It does seem impossible to believe that Scott would have been deliberately untruthful: throughout his life, his absolute sincerity and needle-sharp sanity were plainly evident. It is on the question of whether or not he was ever misled that we must at this point suspend judgement either way. On the one hand, it is not unknown for individuals who have received some contact from the Masters to later get carried away or misled by others into believing that these contacts are continuing when they are not. Yet on the other hand, there is no doubt but that at least some of Cyril Scott's beliefs were founded on solid ground. (And I do not say that they all were not.) For example, several of the disguised characters portrayed within the 'Initiate' books now stand revealed, and all recounted by Scott concerning them has proved genuine. 'David Anrias', for one, an astrologer and Theosophist in the books, was Brian Ross, who at one time worked for Annie Besant in India during her time as President of the Theosophical Society.

But to return to Scott's experiences themselves. The initiate, according to Scott's account, was as impressive an individual as one could imagine. Even as Voltaire described Saint Germain, the 'wonderman of Europe', the initiate of Scott's books also seemed to be 'a man who never dies, and who knows everything'. Though he rarely demonstrated them, his spiritual powers by which he could influence the material world around himself are said to have been quite superhuman. But the most important aspect of the Initiate books from the point of view of our present line of investigation is that in the States this individual – called Justin Moreward Haig, or "JMH", in the books – was conducting regular meetings of his chelas, many of whom were prominent people in their various lines of work, and who included among their ranks, musicians, poets, artists and writers. The point being that most among mankind are unable or unwilling to accept the reality and existence of the Brotherhood, and are in any case not infrequently incapable of absorbing the Masters' pure

 

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teachings in the form that they are given out. Therefore, besides the giving forth of their pure and undiluted words, the Masters have often taken the course of training disciples to step-down their message and vibration. In the broadest sense, this is literally a stage in the stepping-down of the frequencies of the Word. The disciples then promulgate through their line of service the principles of ethics, morality and spirituality, as well as any more specific concepts which the times might demand for the betterment of the race. But they do so without usually ever revealing the Source of their initial inspiration. In this way, many chelas of the Brotherhood have worked throughout history – in the arts, the sciences, and also as politicians and as the great, moral leaders of men. Many a famous and important episode of history – such as the American Revolution, which we discussed earlier, to name but one – has an entirely different and unrevealed story behind it if the truth were but known: the story of the causes behind the effects; the story of the Adepts of the Great White Brotherhood and those historical figures who were, unbeknownst to the world, their chelas. This has a most important bearing upon our study of the secret power of music. For the story of the great music of ancient times, and also that of the Western classical tradition – of what actually inspired it and of where much of it really came from – is one which goes completely unsuspected by all but the few.

And yet, a hint of this story of the ages can perhaps be gathered from the life and writings of Cyril Scott.

Following his encounter with esotericism, Scott was never the same person again. Oriental philosophy, Theosophy and the practice of yoga and meditation became his absorbing interest in life. Immediately, from this moment on, succeeding compositions entered into the realms of mysticism and Orientalism. From his pen there now came musical works such as the Hindu-style Jungle Book, the darkly magical Sphinx, Lotus-land, the Chinese Songs, and many more. His third volume of verse, The Voice of the Ancient, (n.p.: J.M. Watkins, 1910) displayed a radical change in subject matter and emotional effect, as did succeeding volumes. Scott's raison d'Ítre as an artist in any medium was now absolutely goal-oriented towards the highest purpose and aim in life – the spiritual path.

Where would Scott have taken his stand in relation to the subjects we have discussed in this book, about the use and misuse of the power of music? With regard to the artistic directions of the fellow- composers of his generation, Scott made his position quite clear. In a hard-hitting but well-argued criticism of the avant-garde,

 

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The Philosophy of Modernism in its Connection with Music, (n.p.: Paul, trench, Trubner & Co., 1920) Cyril Scott compared the Modernists to a man who sets out on a walking tour with the intention of never, under any circumstances, setting foot upon an established road. In keeping to such a rigid doctrine, the Modernist thereby finds not freedom, but the ultimate bondage, since he is not free to retain these well-tried and proved principles which are the very foundation of beauty and sublimity in music. (The Modernists Scott often, in fact, preferred to call 'Monsterists'!) True freedom, Cyril Scott argued, lies with the composer of the Romantic class, who is able to keep to the established paths, or not, as he chooses.

Now it is evident from the second Initiate book that 'JMH' 's circle of chelas included literary and other artists of world repute. The individual who supplied his own autobiographical material to Scott as a foundation for the books, is himself described as both a poet and a composer. (In the books this is the first-person narrator, disguised under the name of 'Charles Broadbent'.) Then, at least two other composers are referred to, one of whom we now know to have been Cyril Scott. This fact, that Scott himself was one of the circle of chelas in America for a time, is confirmed in an addendum on the subject of the Initiate books which is to be found in the 1935 edition of Scott's An Outline of Modern Occultism (London: Routledge, 1935).  It seems that Scott must have been the individual referred to as 'Lyall Herbert', since this is the only composer who turns up in both the second and the third Initiate chronicles; and according to Scott's own addendum referred to above, he himself does appear in these volumes.

The various artist-chelas of 'JMH' are said to have been under the guidance of the Brotherhood of Adepts of East and West, the role of the composers being to bring forth a God-aligned music for the furthering of the evolution of the race. It can be seen therefore, should we choose to accept the account, just how direct an influence on the music of the world the secret guiding hand of the Brotherhood can prove to be.

As for the individual named in the books as 'Lyall Herbert', probably identifiable as Scott himself, it is worth noting that at one point during the final volume, The Initiate in the Dark Cycle (London: Routledge, 1932), a Master says to him: 'And you, you will write a new kind of music – as well as a book on the subject – for which you will receive special preparatory training at a Master's hands.' This calls to remembrance Scott's path-breaking book, Music, Its Secret Influences Throughout the Ages (n.p.: Aquarian Press, 1958).

 

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Yet regardless of who 'Lyall Herbert' really was, there is one passage involving him which never ceases to fascinate. For at one stage this well-known English composer is taken, as is 'Charles Broadbent' the poet, to the abode of a Master in the English countryside. (And we should note that in his addendum Cyril Scott, writing as Cyril Scott, refers to this Master and his estate in the South West of England in such a way as to indicate first-hand knowledge.) Here, 'Herbert' and 'Broadbent' are specially prepared to clairaudiently hear a celestial music from superphysical realms of existence. And then:

From far away I heard the strains of an organ with which was mingled the sound of voices so pure and ethereal as to suggest the chanting of a celestial choir, wafted on a peaceful evening breeze. The music was unlike any music I had heard before; it was subtle, yet melodious, sweet, yet devoid of all sentimental lusciousness; at one moment powerful and awe-awakening, at another soft and tender as the caress of an angel's hand.
'My Brother Koot Hoomi playing on His organ ... and the voices you hear are those of the Gandharvas ... Listen well, and remember, for one day you shall give forth such music to the world ...'
It was Sir Thomas who had spoken, and his words were addressed to Lyall. The music continued for a while, then gradually faded away, and there was another silence.
 

This passage is by no means quoted here for the mere purpose of recounting a thrilling or controversial tale. Rather, the account serves well to indicate just how strongly guided many great musicians may have been, though the world has not known it, and how close to our everyday life these guiding powers have at times approached. Though there would not be room to include them all here, there exist quite a number of such accounts, in which mortals appear to have been the beneficiaries of a parting of the veil, during which they heard a celestial music of indescribable sublimity. Sometimes the individuals concerned have been spiritual seekers; sometimes they have been known composers of acknowledged stature. To refer briefly to two of the more widely-quoted episodes: Robert Schumann wrote music at a late stage in his life which he said was dictated to him by angels, a claim which his wife believed, stating after his death that, 'It is in the music of Robert Schumann that the

 

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angels sing.' Though the critic could also point to Schumann's mental instability, the same can in no way be said of Handel, who felt that his Messiah, one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, had likewise been revealed to him. During its composition he felt the very gates of heaven had been opened to him, and he was able to see and hear the other-worldly chorusing of superphysical and divine beings. As he later declared: 'I think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself.' It is recorded that the experience of penning the work moved him so greatly that tears flowed with and blotted the ink. Considering both the towering stature and timeless perfection of the work, as well as its length, weight is added to the claim that it was revealed to him, and that he did not have to strive painstakingly to put it together himself, by the startling fact that it was written in but three short weeks, and during one of the most trying periods of his life. The concept of 'revealed music' is not often given consideration during our present materialistic age, yet, whatever its explanation, it seems to be a very definite phenomenon, and one deserving of further study. In this respect, we must not forget either that in both traditional religious and modern esoteric literature there is also the concept of there being two sides. That is, the good and the evil. Suppressing a slight shudder, we can recall again those mysterious words of Stravinsky about The Rite of Spring: 'I heard, and I wrote what I heard. I was the vessel through which Le Sacre du Printemps passed.' As for our own day, more than one esoteric authority has claimed that virtually all of the lyrics of the more heavy rock bands are unconsciously received as dictations from malicious discarnate entities – a claim which becomes not quite so unbelievable when one pays close attention to these lyrics, to see just what exactly it is that is being said. For example:

UghAhhh. [A poetic start! – D.T.]
Can't help feeling strange.
The moon is up I think I'm gonna change.
You're so smooth and tender.
A livin' breathin' dream.
I'm listen' for your scream.
I'm almost human; I'm almost a man,
I'm almost human.

'Almost Human' –
Kiss

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The male rock star, Alice Cooper, says that he took the name after contacting a discarnate called Alice Cooper during a seance, and that it is the discarnate who partly takes over his actions and singing on stage. All said for the sake of publicity? Our answer probably depends on just how real, or else how non-existent, we consider the non-physical dimensions to be. Certainly the idea of evil entities bringing forth new and disruptive forms of music through their human channels receives a number of mentions in early Christian literature. St Chrysostom, for one, said that: 'lest demons introducing lascivious songs should overthrow everything, God established the psalms'. Rarely, however, has the process of musical revelation (from one 'side' or the other) been so candidly described as in Scott's book.

Meanwhile, concurrent with the episode of the musical revelation, Cyril Scott was at work upon the book which was first released in 1933 under the title, The Influence of Music on History and Morals. Unlike the Initiate books, this one was released under Cyril Scott's own name. In 1958 an updated edition came out, being the still-available Music, Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages. Only in this second edition did Scott reveal his belief that both editions of the book had been inspired upon him by numerous and detailed discussions with Koot Hoomi Lal Singh, one of the great Adepts who had also been behind the formation of the Theosophical Society in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

After a long and fruitful life during which he truly pioneered the reawakening of man's awareness of the secret power inherent in all music, Cyril Scott passed from this world in 1971. And yet, after all, to quote his own lines:

What are the world's foolish toys, and death 's ephemeral sorrows,
Seeming endless, yet by the Endless, fleeter than lightning's flashes.
(The Voice of the Ancient)

Needless to say, many among the mainstream of the music world looked askance at these 'eccentricities' of Scott's; his talk of 'Masters', his books on alternative medicine, esotericism and the like. Further, it has been suggested that his decline in popularity after the heady days of his young maturity, when some felt him to be the father of British modern music, must be directly related to this 'dissipation' of his talents.

But in an autobiography published at the age of ninety (Bone of Contention, Aquarian Press, 1969), Scott discounted this, and claimed that esotericism, and in particular the Masters who guided

 

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him, had been one of the major inspiring factors behind his creative output. Indeed, at the age of sixty-five he had made his own personal decision to bring his years of composing to an end; but the Masters, he says, had urged him to continue, which he did until the end of his life. (At the Masters' own request, Scott recounted, the first work he next completed was his third opera, Maureen O'Mara.)

Certainly it must be said that whatever the source of his inspiration, these revelations of Scott's are of major importance in again demonstrating the reality of the influence of esotericism upon music. Whatever our own standpoint with regard to Scott's unusual claims, that he believed them makes the great influence of esotericism upon his music undeniable. That a modern composer of such significance should have felt himself to be in rapport with the legendary Great White Brotherhood is a quite extraordinary fact. And who can say that among Cyril Scott's many compositions there are not those which are indeed his transcriptions, to the best of his ability, of the music inspired upon him by the Master Koot Hoomi, and which are the direct reflections of the music of the spheres?

It was once said of Scott that he was a hundred years in advance of his generation. Perhaps this gives a hint as to the meaning of the later decades of his life. For while the critics, music publishers and performers generally ignored both his early and later work, and while he more than once felt discouraged and ready to throw in the towel, he was prevailed upon by those he believed to be his Guides to continue composing up until the last. This, even though the works went largely unpublished and unperformed.

In the autobiography Scott states that from the Masters' point of view 'the first thing is to get the work written; the rest if needs be can wait – sometimes even as long as till after the composer's death'. True it is that many of the most famous works of today's concert hall repetoire were almost totally unknown during the lives of those who brought them forth. Take most of the works of J.S. Bach (revived in the 1800s) or the 'Unfinished' Symphony of Schubert (discovered as a discarded manuscript after his death) for example. If Scott's work was indeed, as it came forth from his pen, a hundred years in advance of his generation, it may therefore be most interesting to observe the course of events concerning it in years to come.

 

[Republished on Alpheus with permission of the author]

 

 

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