Dr. Bernard Rose O.B.E.

Worcester, August 22nd 1996. My wife and I have come here from Canada for the Three Choirs Festival. The Responses at Evensong are by Bernard Rose. The Precentor intones the opening sentence, and as Petition and Response go echoing through the cathedral my mind goes back forty two years to my first encounter with my tutor, and subsequently my friend, Bernard Rose.

When I arrived in Oxford from Canada in 1954 Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and a young and beautiful woman had just become Queen. A British expedition had just been the first to climb to the top of Mount Everest, and an Englishman had just run a mile in less than four minutes. We were told that a new Elizabethan Age had begun.

I set off down Holywell Street for my first tutorial with a manuscript book in which I had worked most of the exercises in Kitson's Harmony, I knew that I could not hope to impress my tutor with my brilliance, for I had none, but I thought I might impress him with my diligence.

Bernard Rose of the Queen's College turned out to be a tall, handsome, rather formidable man, only eleven years older than I was. He had the jaunty, self-confident military bearing of the sort of officer who might have served on Montgomery's staff. He looked very unlike my idea of an Oxford don.

I handed him my manuscript book and he flipped through its pages with barely concealed disgust. It was obvious from his expression that Kitson's Harmony was not destined to play any part in my education. He suggested that I forget about Kitson and go instead to the music library, copy out the first few bars of a motet by Palestrina, and then try to continue it on my own.

This prospect appalled me. It was not my idea of 'Harmony'. To me, Harmony had always been something like a crossword puzzle in which you filled in blanks in accordance with a set of clues, the clues becoming more and more cryptic as you progressed. The thought of having to invent the stuff filled me with alarm.

But to my surprise I found that I could do it, after a fashion, and I gradually became better and better at it. This was Bernard's method, - to go directly to the music, and not to approach it in a roundabout way, via a text book.

In the three years which I spent with him he never did use a text book, and I don't think he ever actually set me an assignment. The closest he got to it was something like "Isn't it time you wrote a fugue?" or "Shouldn't you be trying a bit of orchestration?" or "There's a new book out by a chap called Reti, - 'The Thematic Process in Music'. Ghastly title, but you might find something worthwhile in it."

I don't think he ever really attempted to teach me, in the accepted sense of the word. Rather, he showed me things. He pointed out paths which I might (or might not) like to explore. He wasn't interested in theory. His comments on my work were simple and direct, and were usually concerned with how the music would sound. He was a practical musician who enjoyed playing and conducting and composing, and who did all of these very well. He judged music, I think, by its effectiveness in performance.

His speech was straightforward and laconic. He hated gush. His wit was famous. He was good natured, but, his wrath could be terrible.

Once, I had spent a happy week looking at the scores of Handel's operas, which in those days were almost unknown. I told Bernard of the wonderful things 1 had discovered, and he seemed pleased. Then I went and spoiled it all. I ended my account with a typically naive comment: "I'm surprised that these operas are never performed." Bernard nodded in agreement. I went on, "After all, it just needs someone to re-orchestrate them, and..."

Bernard irrupted. "Re-orchestrate them! What makes you think that they need re-orchestrating? Do you think Handel didn't understand the orchestra? Do you really think he needs help from us? Have you never heard 'The Water Music' as Handel wrote it? I suppose you think it was written by Sir Hamilton Harty, with a little help from Handel."

I had not heard 'The Water Music' as Handel wrote it, and I did not reveal to Bernard that my knowledge of Bach came chiefly from Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In 1957 Bernard moved on to Magdalen College, and shortly afterwards I returned to Canada. Somehow we kept in touch. He made some very good recordings with the Magdalen choir and we were able to buy these in Canada. I used to write to him about each new recording, and he always replied in his precise, meticulous hand.

Then I heard that he was ill, and had become pretty well confined to his house in Bampton. I began to write to him regularly. I made it clear that no reply was expected. I had no idea whether my monthly "letters were of any interest to him until one day, after I had been writing for a few months, I received a note from Bernard telling me that he was enjoying my letters. This gave me encouragement to continue.

One day, just before we set out from Toronto for the Three Choirs Festival, Molly Rose telephoned. Could we go and stay with them after the Festival? And so my wife and I took the train from Worcester to Charlbury, where Molly met us and drove us to the lovely old house in Bampton where the Roses lived.

Bernard's mind was as lively and his wit as incisive as ever. We talked of Churchill and the war; of conductors and choirs and organists; of former pupils, and of who was coming up in the world and who was going down. We talked of our respective children and of how their careers were prospering. He told me proudly of his son Gregory's career as a conductor. I told him that he was lucky to have a son who was not only a musician but could also write the beautiful poem on which Bernard's "Feast Song for St. Cecilia" was based.

I felt sad as I said goodbye to Bernard next day. I felt sure that this must be the last time that I would see him, and I had not said what was in my heart.

I would like to have said "Dear Bernard, without knowing it, you have been a presence in my life. Without intending to, you have inspired me and uplifted me. You taught me to think well of myself at a time when I had little self-confidence. You helped me to discover that I did, perhaps, have a little bit of talent. For that alone I owe you a debt which can never be repaid, Thank you."

But I didn't say it. Bernard never did like any sort of gush.

Bernard Rose
May 9 1916 - November 21 1996

...Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their Knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions. Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing.

Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name liveth for evermore.

Anthony Dawson