The first in a series of curious anecdotes from musical history.

Huddersfield train station, where Arthur Eaglefield Hull died

Arthur Eaglefield Hull. Even in musical households that fine Anglo-Saxon name is hardly pronounced casually over the cornflakes, but if you investigate British composers of the early twentieth century in particular, or the reception of Scriabin in the English-speaking world, the name will crop up here and there. A teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Arthur Eaglefield Hull was also a reviewer and the author of several books – one book too many, it turns out.

The preface to my August 1927 revision of Music; Classical, Romantic and Modern, first published in April of that year, begins thus:

This book I have made for my own pleasure; I have taken stones for my walls, and tiles for my floors, wherever good material came to hand, without always troubling to acknowledge it when the lifting is as apparent as the use of the stones and columns from Hadrian’s Wall by the church-builders of Northumberland.

The church-builders had the advantage over Eaglefield Hull that Hadrian wasn’t around to berate (or crucify) them for the use of his materials. In a way that might bring secret joy to some composers, the critic’s plagiarism brought a storm of criticism down on his head, with dramatic results. In his preface to the sixth edition of Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Nicolas Slonimsky quotes a letter from Percy A. Scholes which seems to take credit for what happened:

Hull’s suicide was the result of my exposure of his theft in his book Music; Classical, Romantic and Modern. He threw himself under a train.

Poor Arthur died soon after throwing himself under the wheels of a train at Huddersfield station. His death is not beyond comment, but, in light of it, perhaps the dedication of that final work is. It reads:

To my wife, whose lack of interest in this book has been my constant despair.

Published on 1 June 2009

Barra Ó Séaghdha is a writer on cultural politics, literature and music.

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