Composers can’t afford to have thin skins, or they might get their vanity pricked. As William Walton once found at the hands of Lord Berners.
The name of Lord Berners (1883-1950) is little-known today. He was unusual amongst the hereditary peerage of his time in showing more interest in the arts than in huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’. He was not only one of the leading composers of his generation (a respected friend of Stravinsky) but also an author and a more than competent landscape painter. During the 1910s, whilst in the diplomatic service in Rome, Berners (then Gerald Tyrwhitt) was one of the most ‘advanced’ and interesting of British composers. This early music is intriguing, and worth a hearing.
But he was also renowned as an eccentric and a wit, and certainly no respecter of reputations. During the 1940s Berners wrote a number of novels, often featuring characters thinly disguised from real-life acquaintances. William Walton heard that Berners’ next novel would be about a composer his solicitors wrote asking that Walton not appear in the new novel.