No conductor in the early years of the 20th century did more for the introduction of contemporary music in Britain than the indefatigable Sir Thomas Beecham. A staunch advocate of living composers, from the home-grown Frederick Delius to the cosmopolitan novelties of Strauss and Stravinsky, Beecham gave the premieres of much that has stood the test of time, as well as championing plenty that has disappeared in the mists of musical history. Not only did he program, fundraise, publicise and, of course, wave his arms, he wrote and spoke about his experiences with an engaging facility. His famous bon mots – including a fair few apocryphal ones – are still quoted today.

Thomas Beecham, reproduced in The Musical Times, 1 October 1910

As an author, he is especially interesting on the musical tastes of the time and, in this hilarious instance, directly marries the public’s capacity to comprehend a complex score with a unique example of the operatic cockup. “Nothing matures or grows old more rapidly than music,” he writes in his eminently readable autobiography A Mingled Chime....

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