“Somehow, music can stir our souls and bridge the gap between what we imagine the world to be and what we conceive as its potential state of being. When hungry souls hear from a great symphony those cherished, dreamed-of and longed-for expressions and can say, ‘that is the way I have always felt inside, but I never knew until now how it should be said!’ – that is how great art is born.”
– Hubert Klyne Headley
It’s not often these days that one encounters a composer whose music is almost entirely unknown to almost everyone, and even less so when the music is of such extraordinarily high quality that it immediately seizes your attention and won’t let go. That’s the effect that the music of Hubert Klyne Headley had on me when I first began listening to it and studying it more than a year ago. Since then, all of us here at the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver have embarked on a fascinating path of research and discovery.
But let’s start at the beginning. In early 2014, we received an inquiry from a lady named Claudia, whose stepfather (now deceased) had been a composer, had left behind a substantial collection of music scores and archival materials, and would we like to have them? The answer in such cases is generally a resounding ‘yes’, provided that our mandate of preserving and promoting music by Canadian composers allows us to accept the collections. We encouraged Claudia to submit, posthumously, an Associate Composer application on behalf of her stepfather, which a little while later, she did. The application was subsequently reviewed by the local Associate Composer Jury, and when the process was complete, we were pleased to inform Claudia that her stepfather, one Hubert Klyne Headley, had been accepted to the roster of Associate Composers of the Canadian Music Centre.
At that time, however, we still didn’t know very much about him. This was somewhat understandable; there wasn’t very much information about Klyne, as he was affectionately known to family and friends, available online or in any of the usual reference sources. In fact, Klyne’s entire published output in modern times is contained on a single disc of orchestral music on the Naxos label. That album, the costs of which were paid for by Klyne’s family and friends, was released on the label’s popular American Classics imprint in 2006, on the 100th anniversary of Klyne’s birth, and includes the four orchestral works that brought Klyne a measure of recognition early in his career: the California Suite, the Symphony No.1 for Radio, and the two single-movement piano concerti. The CD received critical praise, with several reviewers expressing delight with Klyne’s music, and commenting that his name really ought to be better known. But beyond that, there was really very little documentation of Klyne’s life in the public sphere, and even less of his music.
Following Klyne’s acceptance to the CMC as an Associate Composer, the Headley family kindly offered to donate his scores and archival collections to the Canadian Music Centre’s Barbara Pentland Library in Vancouver, an offer that we were pleased and excited to accept. We must confess, however, that we were slightly under-prepared for what actually showed up. In fact, we received more than 20 banker boxes containing what must be nearly the entirety of Klyne’s life and work, going back to his very early days in California in the 1920s and 30s, through his time in Seattle, his various residences in British Columbia, and all the way to his final days in West Vancouver. We discovered to our surprise and delight that Klyne had been a tireless scrapbooker nearly his whole life, for seven decades painstakingly clipping newspaper and magazine articles and collecting copies of his concert programs, playbills, photographs, correspondence and other ephemera and pasting them into albums, in the process documenting just about every single professional event of his entire career. The collection also includes Klyne’s voluminous writings, with many articles and lecture notes on the subjects of his many interests in music, education (especially of the arts), philosophy, religion, and more. Thanks to the great work of Curator of Archives Bill Orr, a substantial number of documents have now been scanned and catalogued, and are available for viewing in the BC Composers Digital Archive.
At this point, it becomes necessary to fill in a few biographical details. Hubert Klyne Headley was born in West Virginia in 1906, to musically and intellectually-inclined parents. The family moved to California when Klyne was six, and at ten he was introduced to Maurice Ravel, an encounter which had a profound influence on his musical development. Just where and when this visit actually took place is uncertain. Ravel is not known to have visited America until later, in 1928, and it seems implausible that a ten-year-old child would have travelled to Europe at the height of the First World War (whilst Ravel, famously too slightly built for regular military service, was already occupied driving trucks for the French army). But in any case, it’s clear that Klyne was an exceptionally gifted child, excelling at the piano and at the violin, and composing from a young age for both those instruments. In 1928, he took his Bachelor’s degree in music at the University of the Pacific, and in 1937 he graduated with a Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Headley did graduate work at Eastman for the next two summers, where he studied with renowned American composer Howard Hanson. The latter subsequently wrote a number of letters of support for Klyne’s various professional ventures, many of which are now held in the CMC’s collection.
During the 1940s, Klyne became known internationally as a composer, concert pianist, and conductor, winning praise from such figures as Pierre Monteux and Howard Hanson. In 1942, he was awarded the prestigious Edward McDowell Fellowship in Composition. A notable event was his 1946 concert tour, where he performed as a pianist and conducted his own compositions in Paris, London, Budapest, Prague and other European venues. In 1939, Klyne took up a post at the University of California in Santa Barbara, but decamped in 1954 to Seattle, where he was named head of the composition department and conductor of the student orchestra at the Cornish School of the Allied Arts. Around 1960, he packed up again and moved to British Columbia, where he would spend most of the remainder of his long life, composing, conducting, leading the choir at Kerrisdale Presbyterian Church, and teaching music in the Vancouver, Langley, and Sunshine Coast School Districts. Klyne also spent several years in the 1970s establishing the music program at Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ontario, and taught in the music department at Douglas College in New Westminster before his retirement.
But back to the collection. The most thrilling discovery, for me as a music librarian, was Klyne’s personal score library, which contains what must be nearly all of Klyne’s own autograph manuscripts and working copies of his compositions, including the orchestral works named above, choral works, chamber pieces, and many more. Some copies were clearly intended for presentation, having been carefully prepared in high-quality reproductions with handsome bindings. Particularly striking is an monogrammed briefcase containing Klyne’s magnum opus, the choral symphony Prelude to Man, in four enormous volumes stunningly bound in red and gold. But, of course, the most immediate entry point to any composer’s music is through recordings. We were fortunate that the collection included CD transfers of a few of the hundreds of reel-to-reel recordings in Klyne’s possession. This is where the real process of discovery began. I found soon myself riveted to my computer, listening with rapt attention to some of the most engrossing, delightful chamber music I had heard in a long time. This included the three works that will be performed on November 17th, the charming Vignettes for Ballet, the neo-classical Septet for Woodwinds and Strings, and the solemn, dark-hued Quintet for Clarinet, Strings and Piano. These archival recordings have now been uploaded, and are available for listening.
Wherever Klyne lived throughout his long life, he always made a point to involve himself actively in the local arts scene. During his years in Santa Barbara in the early 1950s, Klyne programmed a series of concerts at the Lobero, which bills itself as “California’s oldest continuously operating theatre” and is still in operation today. The concert of April 19th, 1953, featured the premiere performance of Klyne’s Septet for Woodwinds and Strings, a work which Klyne described as a “keyhole impression” of the four-volume Symphonic Cycle Prelude to Man, setting poems of Chard Powers Smith and “presenting in verse the pageant of the modern story of Genesis.” Chard Powers Smith (1894-1977), a New England poet and writer, is not very well-known today, but his work was the source of tremendous inspiration to Klyne, and the creative spark for some of his very finest music. Besides Prelude to Man, Klyne also set a selection of poems from Smith’s collection Along the Wind into a thrilling song-cycle of the same title for tenor and piano. Fine period recordings of the Septet and Along the Wind survive in the CMC’s collection. Incidentally, the Septet for Woodwinds and Strings received a second known performance in 1962, in Vancouver, when it was presented by the Vancouver Chamber Music Society.
Rehabilitating the score and parts of the Septet proved to be a fascinating and challenging exercise. The work comes to us in three forms, or sources. First, there is a set of parts in a copyist’s hand. The parts contain minor emendations of phrasing and articulation, made by the performers in pencil, which were no doubt discussed during the rehearsal process. Second, there is a dated pencil score in the composer’s own hand. The piece was evidently written in a blaze of inspiration between December 29th, 1952 and January 17th, 1953, with individual movements completed in only two or three days each. This pencil score was clearly the document used by the copyist to produce the parts, as Klyne carefully indicated in red where he wished instrumental cues to appear. Third, there is an excellent recording that was probably made around the time of the premiere, perhaps during the rehearsal process. I subsequently prepared an engraved performing edition that attempts to unify these three sources.
Hubert Klyne Headley’s largest and most ambitious chamber work, the Quintet for Clarinet, Strings and Piano, received its first (and only known) performance on May 15th, 1957, as the finale of a six-concert chamber music series held by Seattle’s Cornish School of the Allied Arts (where Klyne was on faculty for a time) that year. The program on this date also included works by Beethoven (the String Trio, op. 9 no. 1) and Chausson (Poème). The Quintet was dedicated to Olive Kerry, heiress to a Washington State lumber empire, and an important early benefactor of the Cornish School. The ensemble on that occasion was made up of notable musicians from the Seattle area, including both Cornish faculty and Seattle Symphony members: Helen Louise Oles, piano; Ronald Phillips, clarinet; Byrd Elliot, violin; William Bailey, viola; and Phyllis King, cello. As with the Septet, a fine recording of that first performance has survived.
A dark-hued, solemn and intensely lyrical masterpiece, the piece is at times reminiscent of the late romanticism of Johannes Brahms, but also of Dmitri Shostakovich, who shares Headley’s birth year, and whose own Piano Quintet had appeared several years earlier in 1940. Given certain similarities in the mood and in the ensemble writing, one cannot help but wonder if Headley had somehow encountered Shostakovich’s Quintet prior to composing his own. It is possible; at least two American commercial recordings of that work already existed by the early 1950s. Headley’s autograph score of the Quintet, if it survives at all, was not included in the substantial collection that was donated to the Canadian Music Centre’s Vancouver library in 2016. The instrumental parts, including the performers’ annotations and amendments from the Seattle performance, are the only sources that apparently remain. For the November 17th performance, the score was reconstructed from these parts, with a significant effort made towards correcting numerous inconsistencies in articulations and dynamic markings.
Klyne lived in British Columbia for the better part of three decades. I have asked around, and have encountered very few people who knew him professionally, or even recognized his name. We cannot help but ask ourselves how it is possible that a man of such brilliance remained relatively unknown to the local musical community. There are no easy answers, of course, but there are clues hidden in the documents, and guesses to be made. From within the narrative of Klyne’s life story and in his writings, one does get the sense that he was a somewhat restless individual, constantly posing himself profound intellectual, scholarly and artistic challenges, and tirelessly seeking answers to them. He was clearly a man of big ideas, and perhaps not much interested in tackling the tedious office-work that being a professional composer invariably entails.
Another challenge facing Klyne’s legacy is that he appears not to have published a single composition commercially during his lifetime. This means that he was continually limited by his own capacity to reproduce and distribute his scores. While many other composers of the day had their works professionally engraved and marketed by large publishing houses, Klyne, for reasons that are not entirely now clear, appears to have strictly avoided this path. And because Klyne kept his scores so guardedly to himself, this meant that his music never appeared in broader public circulation, nor where there any copies of his works for libraries or other institutions to collect. In addition, Klyne was particularly passionate about teaching and about education in general, spending a great deal of time researching and writing on the subject after his move to Canada. This could have occupied so much of his time and energy that there may not have been much time or energy remaining for his own creative work.
Later in life, Klyne reflected back on the exact moment that he decided to dedicate his life to music.
On a sunny spring morning a small boy sat quietly in the balcony of his beautiful church listening to the organist play. It was very early and the organist was unaware of anyone present in the empty church.
As so frequently happens, it is during the quiet moments when there is no apparent reason for playing, except for the pure joy of expression, that a fine artist is at his best. That was the case with this organist. There seemed to be no motivation for playing at this hour except because of an inner feeling of joy and inspiration, a private communion with the source of all music.
As the boy listened in rapt attention and deep responsiveness there came over him a feeling of tranquility and peace. He seemed to be lifted out of this world. Very quietly, an inner voice spoke to the boy saying, “If you can ever make anyone feel as you now feel through your music – that will be your mission in this life.”
Remaining still and utterly absorbed in the music, and now the voice, the boy slowly rose to gaze out to the great stained glass windows. The sunshine through these windows had given the church a kind of beauty that was to remain with the boy all his life.
He knew with an inner strength and conviction what he would do with his life. Although he was only ten years of age, he had had an experience, a revelation which was to remain with him all his life. He had composed and played music as a pianist since he was much younger, but always because he had the feeling of having a driving force within him that could not be denied. Now he knew why.
Now this boy is grown up. At this time he is seventy-three years of age. He still has this feeling, this desire to play. Never has there been any deviation from his earliest feelings that he must play and continue to play the music which pours through him as an endless stream.
This boy has not become famous. Somehow this has never been his desire. But as the years have flowed on he has become a better channel for the music which is always there, only waiting to be expressed. This gives him joy, and there have been many who have expressed the same feeling, all of whom constantly remind him of “The Voice” telling him when he was only a boy – “this is your mission in life!”
– Hubert Klyne Headley, A True Story