"Music and the Borders of Rationality: Discourses of Place in the Work of John Foulds", in Grace Brockington, ed., Internationalism and the Arts in Britain and Europe at the Fin de Siècle. (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009), 49-78.[1]



Although John Foulds (1880-1939) was born and brought up in Manchester and began his musical career there in 1900 as a Hallé orchestra cellist, he seemed to have had little lasting attachment to the city. Having travelled throughout Europe with the Hallé, he worked in the theatres of Llandudno, conducted London's YMCA orchestra and accompanied silent films in Paris, before finally broadcasting on the All-India Radio in Delhi and Calcutta [2]. The music which he composed along the way was eclectic, drawing upon Celtic, English and Indian traditions, united by a self-consciously progressive musical aesthetic. To root Foulds as a Manchester modernist is to acknowledge the nonconformist departure point of his cosmopolitan journey and to indicate the significance of this journey to his musical imagination. His ideas fit within a discourse of place characteristic of British composition around the turn of the twentieth century, but critique the nationalism of this discourse by undermining the possibility of a purely 'English' music.

The oft-quoted jibe by one eminent German, characterising the Britain of 1914 as 'the land without music', suggests the centrality of this discourse of place [3]. Perhaps more than any other art-form, music was used to demarcate national boundaries at the end of the nineteenth century. In France, for example, the Société nationale de musique was inaugurated to promote French music with the motto 'ars gallica', and gave its first concert in 1871 in the wake of military defeat by Prussia. After this time, French composers worked to expunge the influence of Wagner and to create a new French national style [4]. In Britain, music became similarly bound up with nationality. Since the 1860s, the need for a new national school of composition had been felt and acted upon in response to the over-reliance on German music [5]. Sir Charles Grove's role in establishing the Royal College of Music in South Kensington was pivotal in creating this new national music, of which great composers such as Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford became pillars. They were followed by composers such as Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams who continued the tradition of composition based on the revival of English folksong, creating what they hoped would be distinctly English-sounding music [6].

Although Foulds's music often found its origins in folk traditions, his outlook was different. This study locates his development as a composer within an alternative narrative to that of the 'English Musical Renaissance', the term given to the revival of native English composition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Raised in a Plymouth Brethren family in the poor district of Hulme, Foulds followed his bassoonist father into the Hallé, where Hans Richter, the orchestra's conductor, cultivated his gift for composition [7]. His European travels exposed him to contemporary composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, yet never having studied at the Royal College of Music he remained outside the hegemony of the South Kensington elite [8].

Foulds's earliest compositions predate his entry into the Hallé. According to his own 'Bibliography of Works', his music was regularly performed throughout Britain from the late 1890s onwards, including at Henry Wood's Queen's Hall Promenade Concerts, the forerunner of today's BBC Proms [9]. During his lifetime, he was best known for 'pot-boilers' such as the Keltic Lament (1911) which established his name as a composer of 'light music', and his work for stage and screen included the score for the first staging of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan (1923). He also contributed his World Requiem (1919-21) to the Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance Concerts promoted by the British Legion between 1923 and 1926 [10]. In addition to composing, performing and conducting, Foulds was active as a writer and critic during the 1920s and early 1930s. This body of writing, notably his book Music To-day: Its Heritage from the Past, and Legacy to the Future (1934), is essential to understanding the origins of the 'serious' musical works which Foulds believed were his real vocation in life. These compositions reveal one of the most progressive musical voices of early twentieth-century Britain. A self-concsious musical modernism was at the heart of Foulds's work, yet he did not believe in innovation for its own sake:

when a composer finds his ideations utterly incommunicable by way of long-accepted melodic-turns, familiar chord-progressions, stereotyped rhythmic formulae or banal vocal-instrumental timbres, he is forced to invent new ones through which, and through which only, it is possible to communicate them with even approximate truth [11]

Foulds was part of an alternative group of composers working in Britain in the early twentieth century, which included Gustav Holst, Cyril Scott and Peter Warlock. In contrast to the exoteric pastoralism, nationalism and Christian agnosticism which characterised the Royal College of Music, these composers were united by their interest in the alternative spiritualities of Buddhism and Hinduism, the musical traditions of the Orient, and above all, the occult power of sound [12]. This alternative tradition was described by Cyril Scott in his 1933 book Music: Its Secret Influence throughout the Ages:

We accept music, discuss music and matters musical much as we accept and discuss life and all pertaining to it; yet what life is no one yet has revealed. Life is a mystery to those who trouble to think about it, but merely a fact to those who do not; the same may be said of music. It is not merely a combination and succession of sounds, but a mysterious something which [...] has exercised a powerful influence throughout the ages [13].

This new school of British composition was indebted to what Alex Owen has described as the 'widespread emergence of a new esoteric spirituality' over the course of the 1890s. This trend, she explains, has yet to be fully integrated into historians' understanding of fin-de-siècle culture.[14] Music was, as it always has been, closely associated with occult philosophy at this time, yet the connection remains, according to Joscelyn Godwin, 'virtually uncharted territory' [15]. Precisely because it remained an 'Other' to the modern hegemony of language and vision, music became for these esoteric composers a means by which to express the inexpressible. The fin-de-siècle crisis of art, science and society made this 'Otherness' attractive for the esoteric school as a way of challenging Victorian rationality and the exoteric nationalism of the English Musical Renaissance. Music's mysterious effects on the human mind suggested the possibility of other modes of knowing and being in which national boundaries seemed neither natural nor rational. For composers like Foulds, the fin-de-siècle's 'mystical revival', particularly that of the Theosophical Society and its encounter with the Orient, led to an interdependent musical and social modernism [16].

What follows is an account of the interaction between Foulds's musical and social ideas, especially his internationalist ideas about the unity of Western and Eastern culture. This essay also makes the case for an interdisciplinary, contextual history which pays due attention to music, as well as to art and literature. This 'speculative' tradition of music theory, as Godwin argues, 'runs directly counter to the over-specialization that [now] makes academic scientists and humanists (to say nothing of musicians) virtually incapable of transdisciplinary conversation' [17]. Appreciating Foulds's music demands an approach that deals with musical and social ideas on equal terms. This has often been difficult given the persistence of a formalist tradition which has argued that music is simply tonally moving forms, valuable only on its own terms [18]. In disciplinary terms, those outside the field of musicology have often been reluctant to use the music itself as the primary focus of their research. For example, Jeffrey Richards explains in the introduction to his Music and Imperialism that he approaches his subject 'as a cultural historian, rather than a musicologist. Therefore,' he continues, 'my primary focus is not analysis of the music but its cultural impact' [19]. On the other hand, musicologists have tended to use cultural context in the opposite way, that is, as a determining influence on the composition of musical works [20]. By dissolving this division between text and context, and by lingering on the discursive margins of history and musicology, this essay aims to treat music as a mode of intellectual and corporeal expression equal to verbal and visual languages in its capacity to order the human world. The first section outlines the influence of Theosophy on Foulds's ideas. The second and third sections deal in turn with two characteristic features of Foulds's compositional style, modality and quarter-tones. Both will be revealed, in occult terms, as musical metaphors of cultural space, or perhaps more aptly, as musical models for a new understanding between nations.


The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875 by H.P. Blavatsky and Henry Olcott. According to Theosophy, Religion and Occult Science, Olcott's 1885 exposition of theosophy, the three main objectives of the movement were: 'a kindly reciprocity and mutual tolerance between men and races'; 'the promotion of the study of Aryan and other Eastern literature, religions, and sciences'; and 'investigation of the unfamiliar laws of Nature and the faculties latent in man' [21]. Theosophists held that all religions pointed towards a single universal truth, but that:

nearly all religious systems have preferred their specific and distinctive tenets to their true universal basis and inherent tendency; and have thus become the most discordant of influences in the world they would regenerate. (31)

This universal truth had, according to Theosophy's founders, been preserved in the East in certain esoteric aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism and now held the key to unlocking the ancient mysteries. At the same time, they were concerned with proving the scientific value of this esoteric philosophy at the expense of materialist science. 'The only chance of dislodging Materialism from its fortress is to prove it unscientific, and Esoteric Philosophy scientific', wrote Olcott (39).

Understanding the occult as a scientifically-provable set of natural laws waiting to be uncovered is essential to appreciating Foulds's music. He wrote, for example, that 'human progress takes the form of concentrating upon, and rendering overt, the workings of natural law which were formally occult' [22]. The challenge of occult philosophy to materialist science made it attractive to those in the arts with a modernist outlook. 'The possibility of a transcendental science', wrote Olcott, 'is just the possibility of other modes of action [...] resulting in other conditions, and therefore in another world of consciousness' [23]. Modernism, too, challenged rationalist representational practices. Its willingness to question the authority of traditional perceptual realism is mirrored by Olcott's appeal to the transformative power of the mind in his explanation of universal religion:

A man can never see the whole light by looking from inside his body outward, any more than one can see the clear daylight through a dust-soiled window-glass, or the stars through a smeared reflecting lens. Why? Because the physical senses are adapted only to the things of a physical world, and religion is a tran-scendentalism. Religious truth is not a thing for physical observation, but one for psychical intuition [24].

The occult has too often been neglected as a foundation for modernism. The painter Wassily Kandinsky and the writer W.B. Yeats are only the best known among many practitioners who had links with esoteric movements. 'The influence of occultism on modernism has often been underplayed', argues Tim Armstrong, pointing out that Theosophy inspired the abstraction of painters like Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian and Bisttram. '[I]n focusing on higher truths', he explains, they were 'released from representation' [25]. At the same time, Theosophy itself had always been supportive of modernism in the arts. An 1892 edition of Theosophical Siftings, for example, made the case for impressionist painting:

Into the dull mist of sham classics and gross material vulgarity, which until lately reigned supreme in Europe, a light was flashed in the shape of that which is now known as impressionism, but which had other names at first [26].

The article also asked:

[W]hen a poet or musician puts forth a strange and unintelligible work, shall we say it is untrue to Nature? Is it not better to try and see if perchance he has not found a new way of seeing one more face of the great unknown mystery? [27].

It is evident that Theosophy saw the arts as a crucial ally in revealing the occult laws of nature: 'May there not perhaps be more ways of knowing Nature than those visually employed?' asked Theosophical Siftings. Challenging visual ways of knowing nature and later concluding that harmony is what characterises true art is significant here. Kandinsky referred to his paintings as 'compositions' and wrote of the inspiration he found in musical structure [28]. Olcott, too, made reference to the intangibility of occult forces, evoking 'a teeming world of Force within this teeming visible world of Phenomena' [29]. If music became a model of abstraction for the visual arts then Theosophy was certainly an important conduit for this exchange. Music's effects on the human mind, typically associated with emotion rather than intellect, had no scientific explanation and as such were often appropriated as evidence of the occult.

Foulds was an important figure in this respect. Crucial to his interpretation of the Theosophical traditions of the fin-de-siècle, however, was the influence of Maud MacCarthy, the concert violinist whom he met in 1915 and married shortly afterwards. While neither seems to have been an active member of the Theosophical Society for any length of time, there is evidence that both were influenced by Theosophical ideas even before they met. Their son John Patrick Foulds explained that 'John and Maud had reached Theosophy from quite opposite family backgrounds: she Irish Roman Catholic, he Plymouth Brethren' [30]. By 1915, MacCarthy was already a well-known expert on Indian music and a former student of Theosophical leader Annie Besant. She explained that:

Of course I passed through a phase of Theosophy, but never of spiritualism. As usual, I came out by the door I went in. Yet Dr Annie Besant was my friend, despite my youth. She wanted me to lecture on Theosophy but I refused because, I told her, I could not lecture on something I did not know to be true. She smiled and said, 'Why not, then, write about something you do know, my child?' I answered that that which I had inwardly learned about sound was probably important, but that, as a trained musician, I should put it to the test and not write unless I had some certainty to offer [31].

Similar biographical details for Foulds have yet to be discovered, but MacCarthy's writings provide a crucial window on Foulds's musical imagination. As he explained in Music To-day, 'most of the occult and oriental information is ascribable to my memory of her unpublished MSS' [32]. His admission that 'as my work along occult lines has of necessity been sporadic, it is unreliable by comparison with that of my mentor whose life has been devoted to studies and achievements in this field', justifies the extensive use of MacCarthy's writings here [33]. That MacCarthy should have been the one to encourage Foulds's interest in esoteric spirituality supports the suggestion of Joy Dixon and others that women often found empowerment through Theosophy and other spiritualist movements [34]. Whether MacCarthy would have identified herself as a feminist is uncertain, but she became well-known as a theorist of the occult. It was during her time as a professional violinist that she discovered the occult power of sound. She recalled one example of her 'hidden psychic life' taking place whilst playing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra: a 'great Being floating rapidly down from the balcony through the centre of the hall' gave her the strength to complete the final movement of Brahms's violin concerto. 'There were so many secret happenings like that', she explained. This led her to contemplate the power of sound further: 'I would ponder and try to understand why one note or chord of music produces one psycho-physiological effect, and another, a different one. My mind was a seething why about music'. Then at the age of twenty-five, 'a new stream of life came to me, and with it a mystic outpouring of sound, so that I heard much of "the music of the spheres" [35].

Foulds and MacCarthy were well-versed in the Pythagorean concept of the 'music of the spheres' as well as classical mythology, including that of Orpheus and his musical powers. 'Pythagoras was a great initiate in the ancient Mysteries', wrote MacCarthy, 'as well as a devotee of sound. The teachings which were imparted to me under Mystery conditions from 1906 onwards, are � in my humble opinion � from him and his' [36]. Although the details of the Pythagorean inheritance are too complex to outline here, it is crucial to appreciate that Foulds and MacCarthy were indebted to this Neo-Platonist tradition, which made analogies between 'musical consonances' and 'natural phenomena' such as planetary motion [37]. The idea of a vibrating universe of sound became essential to their occultism and led them to experiment with musical healing and clairaudience ('the ability to hear, and take down as if from dictation, music apparently emanating directly from the world of nature or of the spirit') [38]. MacCarthy described Foulds's musical works as practical experiments in 'the techniques of magical sound' [39].

Before moving on to examine these works in more detail, it is necessary to consider a further aspect of Theosophy, one that is as essential as the occult to understanding Foulds's musical ideas. Theosophy was based on the encounter between the Christianity of the West and the Buddhism and Hinduism of the East. This version of Orientalism took seriously the traditions of the East, particularly of India, where Theosophers believed the wisdom of the ancient mysteries had been preserved. They believed, furthermore, in the racial unity of European and Indian culture. A shared Indo-European linguistic heritage was paralleled by other shared cultural histories, not least religion and music. Theosophy's internationalist outlook, which promised 'to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour', was in fact chiefly concerned with the unity of the Indo-European tradition [40]. I shall discuss here the consequences of this in relation to Foulds's and MacCarthy's ideas about race and music.

MacCarthy had learnt the techniques of Indian music in the first decade of the twentieth century when she travelled to India with Annie Besant, and in 1912 she gave a lecture on the topic to the (now Royal) Musical Association [41]. She and Foulds moved permanently to India in 1934, prompted by the discovery of an 'illiterate cockney' with extraordinary mental powers such as spontaneous knowledge of Sanskrit. She took him to India to work with 'the Brothers', a group of learned devotees of the ancient wisdom, or Mahatmas [42]. Foulds, meanwhile, became Director of European Music at All-India Radio and set about composing a Symphony of East and West for a combined orchestra of European and Indian instruments [43]. It was during this time that he came to realise that 'Real music is not national � not even international � but supranational' [44]. Music, though, was never simply an expression of Foulds's international ideas. In its occult properties, music was the source of his internationalism. Examining his works in more detail will reveal that this internationalism had been a driving principle of his music from the earliest works of the 1890s to his Indo-European experiments of the 1930s.


Foulds's and MacCarthy's knowledge of Indian music was also a response to the ethnographic research which underpinned nationalist music theories in late nineteenth-century Europe. Inherent in the pastoralism of Britain's mainstream composers, for example, was an anti-urbanism and an implied distaste for modernity which led, from the mid nineteenth century onwards, to the ethnological study of music and the folk-song revival of the English Musical Renaissance. An important study in this respect (although, because he was German, it was never recognised as such in Britain) [45] was Carl Engel's An Introduction to the Study of National Music (1866) which explicitly pointed out that the conditions of modernity had eroded popular musical traditions: 'the influence of the educated classes, with the dissemination of scientific knowledge, is daily obliterating more and more the ancient traditions and tastes of the people' [46]. This had resulted, argued Engel, in a music with no popular origins, belonging to modernity and not to any particular place.

The term 'national music, he explained,

implies that music, which, appertaining to a Nation or tribe, whose individual emotions and passions it expresses, exhibits certain peculiarities more or less characteristic, which distinguish it from the music of any other nation or tribe. (viii)

Engel also argued that music's cultural specificity is an inevitable result of the environmental differences which condition the psyche of a people. For example, 'in countries where the people commonly drink wine, the songs are more brisk and cheerful than in countries where beer is the favourite beverage' (168). He concluded, in relation to the most undeveloped peoples of the world, that had the importance of music been better understood, the path of colonial and Christian missionaries might have been more harmonious:

in our endeavours to subdue and civilize savages, much unnecessary misery might in some cases have been avoided, had we properly understood and respected the ideas and tastes of the people. At any rate, it would be more in accordance with the spirit of the religion which we aim at diffusing were we to study how to conquer with the Lyre rather than with the sword. (367)

Engel's ideas are characteristic of the nineteenth-century notion that music, like language, expresses the essence of cultural identity. His study makes an intriguing comparison with Foulds's own book, Music To-Day. The most significant difference lies in their approach to musical scales. Engel argued that musical scales should be place-specific:

all the scales upon which national melodies are founded, may properly be termed natural scales, because neither art nor science, but the natural emotions of the human heart only called them into existence, or adopted them from natural causes [...] the construction of the musical scales is not entirely dictated by physical laws, but [...] has its sources in taste [47].

This cultural relativism, facilitating as it did musical nationalism, is in direct contrast to Foulds's theory of musical scales. In Music To-day, he presented a table of ninety modes (Figure 1) which he considered to be an exhaustive representation of all musical scales, regardless of their place of origin.

Figure 1: A Table of Ninety Modes

Figure 1: 'A Table of Ninety Modes' from John Foulds, Music To-day: Its Heritage from the Past, and Legacy to the Future, 1934.

The theory of modes has ancient roots, and explains the relationship between musical notes when organised into a scale. By the nineteenth century modality had come to refer to a group of scales which pre-dated modern diatonic harmony (the major and minor scales). Foulds's predilection for modes, redolent as they were of ancient and medieval music, at first seems at odds with his otherwise modernist outlook. After all, the modality of folk songs had become, for pastoralist composers like Vaughan Williams, a historicist mechanism evoking the essence of Englishness. On the other hand, the so-called 'ultra-modern' composers of the day, such as Schoenberg, had turned towards atonality (that is, a complete rejection of scales based on a key-note).

For Foulds, however, neither historicism nor ultra-modernism was the answer. Sure enough, the use of only the major and minor scales characteristic of all Western music in the 'Bach�Strauss epoch' [48] was a thing of the past, but the modern composer must now have at his disposal both 'a greatly extended modal system' (including modes used throughout the history of Western and non-Western music) and the ability to disregard tonality altogether when required. Each of Foulds's ninety modes in Music To-Day, he explained, is 'as valuable in its own way as the major and minor of the era recently ended'. He continued: 'each is capable of expressing certain states of consciousness, certain ranges of vibration, which are incommunicable by any other means at present known to us' [49].

This approach to modality suggests a conception of modernism which sets him apart not only from nationalists such as Engel but from the 'ultra-modern' advocates of atonality and the twelve-tone system [50]. For Foulds, the evolution of music in the modern age was not simply a matter of finding new ways of composing, but of giving a modern voice to the ancient occult power of music:

The moment we discern the mainspring of a piece of music to be a mere intellectual device, its magical spell is broken. And it is a startling commentary on the state of music and musical evolution to-day that such an enormous proportion of works, having no deeper source of inspiration than this exploitation of technical jimcrackery, should so often be awarded the encomiums which ought to be reserved for the profoundest discoveries in art [51].

Foulds's 1915 suite for piano, Recollections of Ancient Greek Music, is composed strictly in the classical Greek modes and was one of the first to be heard clairaudiently. Its 1932 version Hellas: A Suite of Ancient Greece, scored for double string orchestra, harp and percussion, demonstrates Foulds's claim that:

As to the simplicity (from one point of view) of this modal approach, we must remember that simplicity is no more a quality to be eschewed than is complexity one to be cultivated. The greatest art is always that which makes its effect by the simplest means [52].

There is nothing of the pastiche about Hellas. In fact hearing it today suggests a greater affinity with the postmodern minimalism of our own time than with the conservative historicism of Foulds's own. As in Essays in the Modes for piano, completed in 1928, modality becomes a vessel for a modernist (albeit idiosyncratic) expressivity, as in the first of these essays, the Exotic. This movement is composed entirely in mode IIA (Figure 2) from his table of ninety modes because, as Foulds explained, 'once the vibration of any particular mode is really established, the introduction of any note which is foreign to it produces an almost unbearably discordant effect' [53]

Figure 2: Mode IIA

Figure 2: 'Mode IIA' from John Foulds, Music To-day: Its Heritage from the Past, and Legacy to the Future, 1934.

Foulds's reference to vibration when explaining his approach to modality demonstrates the occult inspiration of these ideas. Presenting a table of ninety modes was an attempt to present scientific evidence, as Olcott suggested, for the existence of occult forces. For Foulds, it was also evidence of the compatibility of divergent temporal and geographical musical cultures. His use of modality demonstrates the kind of internationalism which characterises his music. He considered his ninety modes to be representative of a universal history of world music, and the ability to draw upon this diversity of material as the means by which a truly modern music may be constructed. He wrote, for example, that: 'It may appear a backward step. But all progress is said to be cyclic; look back but far enough and you perceive the vantage-ground whence the next forward-step may be taken' [54]. Compare this to Engel's opinion that 'Whenever the taste of a nation undergoes considerable reform, new scales, or at least modifications of the existing ones, are likely to arise as a natural consequence' [55]. Foulds's project was to unite all the musical traditions of world history, and harness their expressive possibilities for a universal modern music. Engel's was to make the case for national music as 'a faithful expression of [nationally specific] feelings' [56].


The most strikingly modern aspect of Foulds's music is not his use of modes but his pioneering use of quarter-tones. Conventionally, as in the table of ninety modes, musical notes are divided into divisions no smaller than a semi-tone (sharpened and flattened notes, as with the black keys on a piano). However, from his earliest compositions, Foulds had experimented with smaller divisions which could be produced by stringed instruments or by the human voice. He was certainly proud of his innovation. In a 1933 letter to Adrian Boult, Director of Music at the British Broadcasting Corporation, he claimed that the performance of his Music Pictures Opus 33 by Sir Henry Wood at the Queen's Hall Promenade Concerts in 1909 was 'notably the first occasion on which quarter-tones were heard in a London concert hall' [57]. He also created his own means of scoring the quarter-tone by modifying the existing sharp and flat signs [58]. 'As we saw when discussing Modes', wrote Foulds, 'any demi-semi composer might seize upon this device of quarter-tones and exploit it for the sake of any cheap notoriety he might obtain because of its superficial newness'. Not so the composer for whom quarter-tones spring from 'the inner compulsion to express' [59].

In Music To-day he claimed that his first use of them was in a string quartet (1898, now lost), which would make him, according to his biographer Malcolm MacDonald, amongst the first in the history of modern music to introduce such micro-tonality [60]. Foulds used quarter-tones in a later string quartet, the Quartetto Intimo (1931), in which the intentions of the 1898 quartet may be heard [61]. The earliest surviving example of their use is in the second movement of the Cello Sonata (1905), which was revised for publication in 1927. In 2005 Foulds's quarter-tones were heard again to great effect in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's performance of the Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra (1928). The otherworldly sound of a string section producing Foulds's micro-intervals is striking, offering aural glimpses of an occult musical world in which the tones and semi-tones of traditional scales are superseded.

In light of Foulds's internationalist ideas, I would argue that the quarter-tone's contraction of musical space also acts as a metaphor for the drawing together of geographically disparate world cultures. There are certainly links between Foulds's use of quarter-tones and MacCarthy's interest in the micro-tonality of Indian music. MacCarthy's 1912 lecture on Indian music is similar in tone to Music To-day, except with greater emphasis on India, and suggests that Foulds's quarter-tones should be considered in relation to his Theosophical interest in the Orient:

In all modern musical creations of any importance there is [...] a tendency towards change and exchange: change of subject and of materials and methods; and exchange of ideas and of theories between cultures hitherto considered irreconcilable. Thus, under the impetus of common ideals, the boundaries of nations (and, slowly, of races) are being overpassed; and it seems as if in the blending of East and West, ancient and modern, esoteric and exoteric, and in the flights of imagination which result therefrom, we could already hear the first faint notes promising the music of a glad new day [62].

In his assessment of Foulds's use of quarter-tones MacDonald explains that he 'tended to use these fine gradations as passing-notes, usually in slow-moving passages: in which surroundings of course, they have most expressive point, and can most easily be distinguished by the ear' [63]. In 1912 MacCarthy had come to a similar conclusion about the use of micro-tones, but in relation to Indian music:

The microtones do not really belong to the scheme of modes at all [...] the srutis, in so far as they are not the main notes of a mode, have always been treated as graces, and not as belonging to modes or rȃgȃs proper [64].

Indeed, Foulds criticised Alois Hába for having used quarter-tones in almost every bar of his String Quartet 'in the quarter-tone system' (No. 2, Opus 7, 1920), 'as if a chef should flavour every course from hors d'oeuvre to coffee with lobster' [65]. Foulds's response, pointing to the occult value of the quarter-tone, was to suggest that employing:

the whole of our technical resources in a work of any length [...] would be inadequate to represent a tithe of the variety and glory that may be contacted in the inner realms of man's consciousness, and which it is the composer's privilege to transcribe in physical-plane terms for our edification and delight [66].

Further evidence for the similarity between quarter-tones and Indian micro-tones is Foulds's use of classical Indian music scales in Lyra Celtica (1925) which must, as MacDonald argues, have been intended for Mac- Carthy to sing, she being one of the only Western practitioners of Eastern microtonality. Here, the effect is very similar to the use of quarter-tones in, for example, the Dynamic Triptych. However, Foulds himself played down the links between his quarter-tones and Indian micro-tonality 'It must be understood, he argued,

that the quarter-tone as here used has nothingwhatever to do with those 'micro-tones' with which Eastern musicians are wont to embellish their modal melodies. It is an indigenous growth, natural offspring of the Bach equal-tempered scale [67].

He wanted his use of quarter-tones to be heard as a natural development of the Western diatonic scale:

In our Western music a moment arrived when freedom of harmony and modulation [change of key] could only be achieved by a mathematical division of the octave into twelve equal parts [...] Quarter-tones [...] are divisions of these twelve equally spaced semi-tones into equal parts � as nearly equal, that is to say, as the ear will ordinarily register � i.e. into quarter-tones [68].

Knowing what we do, however, about Foulds's and McCarthy's interest in Aryan language and culture, and their desire to bring together India and Europe in a way which avoided the Western tendency to pastiche Oriental music, it must be significant that, even as early as 1905, Foulds used quarter-tones in a similar way to the use of micro-tones in Indian music. This Orientalism, though, should be separated from nineteenth-century stereotyped devices such as 'emphatic rhythmic figures on unpitched percussion (such as tom-toms, tambourine, and triangle)' [69]. Musical signifiers of the Orient had often been intensional, that is, intra- rather than extra-referential, evoking previous exotic sounds heard in Western music, none of which bear any relation to ethnomusicological research, as Foulds himself explained in Music To-Day:

There has been an enormous amount of imitation-oriental music written during the past twenty years or so. In former days, when the world was so much larger than it is now, Mozart and Beethoven were quite content, and quite justified too, in sprinkling their score liberally with triangle and cymbal and calling it 'Turkish' music! This was a convention accepted by the West at that period as standing for oriental music (much as a Shakespearean 'prop' would be accepted as representing a castle, though it resembled one not at all). None but the most ignorant would have accepted it as faithful transcription of Eastern music written down for our instruments. (348)

Foulds's quarter-tones, read in the light of Theosophical doctrine, were intended to demonstrate the shared musical heritage of European and Indian music. His argument that they differ from Indian microtones and are a natural progression of Western music is evidence only for the similarities between divergent traditions. The fascination which he shared with MacCarthy in the intervals between musical tones should be considered as part of their occult philosophy, central to which was the spiritual unity of East and West. Whereas the founders of the English Musical Renaissance considered music to be an expression of nationality, for MacCarthy Western music needed to be reconnected not with its national folk traditions but with the music of India, and this because of a shared Indo- European heritage:

Many of the rȃgȃs and tȃlas have an indefinable power, entity, even to Western ears. They sound, indeed, more 'modern' than anything of that 'school' which one has heard in the West, and one feels, moreover, that, handled by Western musicians, they could not possibly sound alien. And this last would only be natural, since the basis of our own culture is mainly Aryan [70].

This use of the term Aryan, ofcourse, pre-dates its appropriation (along with the swastika, also used by the Theosophical Society) by Germany's National Socialists, and in the context of 1911 represents an internationalist rather than a racist attitude [71]. McCarthy's racial theory was explicitly anti-nationalist and should be viewed in the context of the nineteenth-century tradition of ethnographic Orientalism arising out of imperial encounter [72]. Nonetheless, it must be noted that their internationalism seems to have been limited to the boundaries set down by Theosophy's idea of Indo- European heritage. For example, in a footnote to the published version of Some Conceptions of Indian Music, MacCarthy explains that the traditions demonstrated in her lecture belong to Hinduism, not to 'Persian influences, coming through Muhammadan sources' [73].

Further to this, Foulds launched a vitriolic attack on jazz in Music To-day, which he described as 'dance music of negroid origin', continuing that:

What is very much our concern is that jazz be not allowed to stalk abroad in the musical world in a robe of glory which rightly belongs only to the grandest of our fraternity; to assume the attitude of leader and dictator in a theatre in which its true position is that of coloured comedian; to steal the thunder of the gods and regurgitate it in piddling little muted hiccoughs, or bleats from the blastophone; and by dint of shouting its wares in season and out, in the gutter, the market-place, the dance hall, and even in the temple of art, to debauch the taste of those who have not yet reached the age of (musical) discrimination [74]

Such distaste for jazz was not uncommon among practitioners of 'classical' music in the inter-war period, and Foulds's own relegation by concert and radio programmers to the status of 'light' composer must in part explain his grudge [75]. On the other hand, it seems that Foulds and MacCarthy were interested only in influences, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, which fitted their own (Christian) esotericism and conception of art. In this they differed from composers like Debussy and Ravel, who were comfortable using both Asian and Afro-American influences.

Most importantly, Foulds's quarter-tones and MacCarthy's Indian microtones are a principal example of the interplay of musical and social ideas which characterises their shared modernist internationalism. Mac- Carthy's reference to Western modernism is significant in relation to Foulds's use of quarter-tones, and the conclusion of her 1911 lecture on Indian music can be taken as a summary of his intentions as a composer:

our field of harmony is far from exhausted [...]the writer of modern 'programme' music [...] is reaching out towards musical forms which may lead him suddenly into the archaic theosophical tradition of the Aryan race; [...] if we can teach much to India, India may, in turn, teach us how to teach, that there may be more things in music than we or our Eastern brothers have dreamed of � things which will only come to birth when the peoples of the East and West search for them together; and that our orchestras, to be complete, may still need the tones of the vina and the tabla, and our hearts, to be full, the melodies of the East [76].

In important ways, therefore, Foulds's and McCarthy's internationalism derived from their musical experimentation, evidence for the interplay between musical and social aesthetics. Their insistence upon a version of musical modernity was dependent on their belief in the modernity of internationalism, but equally through its power to reveal the occult, music could point the way to a new international understanding. Crucially, nations seemed superfluous to Foulds and MacCarthy because of their theory of the shared racial heritage of Europe and India. In this sense their internationalism excluded as much as it embraced. Foulds's brand of musical modernism, demonstrated here in his use of quarter-tones, should be understood in this light. Identifying the occult inspiration of his music is also to acknowledge the importance and specificity of the British colonial experience. In the case of Foulds and the other esoteric composers of the early twentieth century, this colonial context shaped the path of British modernism and separated it from that of Continental Europe.


Paying closer attention to the occult demonstrates that modernity was not necessarily a steady march towards the new. This was a period in which the division between the rational and the irrational, the scientific and the occult had yet to be sharply drawn. Godwin has argued that Theosophy is an important but neglected strand of Enlightenment thought, one in which religion and esotericism stand side-by-side with science and rationality [77]. Indeed, Owen goes further in claiming that the 'new occultism' of the 1890s was 'symptomatic of the kind of cultural modernity that so interested some European social theorists at the beginning of the twentieth century' [78]. Just as Foulds's music embraced both spirituality and modernism, so Theosophy, in the words of Owen, 'was one manifestation of a secularizing process that [spelled] neither the inevitable decline nor the irreconcilable loss of significant religious beliefs and behaviours in a modern age' [79].

Equally, paying closer attention to music in the study of modernism challenges the dominance of visual and verbal evidence. The importance of music to the genesis of modernism has been underplayed by theorists who have taken new trends in literature, fine art and architecture as indicative of the fin-de-siècle and after. In fact music, as the inherently abstract art to which all others aspired during the nineteenth century, was at the heart of modernity's changing conceptions of reality and representation. The preoccupation with verbal and visual sources has led theorists like Marshall Berman, Stephen Kern and Donald Lowe amongst others to present modernism as an emancipation from tradition, a progressive reaction to the conditions of modernity (following the tripartite causal hierarchy modernisation-modernity-modernism), and thus as a steady march towards the new[80]. This distorts the extent to which modernist sensibilities were founded upon an esoteric inheritance which valued mysticism over materialism. Placing music back in the heart of modernism demonstrates the centrality of this inheritance.

Given modernism's now mainstream place in elite cultural discourse, evidenced by Foulds's rediscovery by Britain's leading orchestras and soloists in recent years, this coexistence of secular and spiritual in the culture of the modern is as relevant today as it was in 1900. Foulds's major work of the 1920s, A World Requiem, was intended to commemorate the war dead of all nations and was his most significant internationalist project in terms of exposure, having been performed on several Armistice Nights at the Royal Albert Hall. On 11 November 2007, it was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for the first time in eighty years. That Foulds's works are only now receiving due recognition indicates the hostility towards his modernist internationalism in early twentieth-century Britain. Whilst this chapter has dealt with the intellectual origins of Foulds's music, the story of its reception is of equal significance, pointing to the incompatibility of Foulds's and MacCarthy's esotericism with the mainstream musical culture of inter-war Britain.

Whether it was Foulds's musical or social progressivism which ultimately condemned him to obscurity is of little significance, given their demonstrable interdependence. While calls for his inclusion in the canon of twentieth-century British music gather pace, the time is right to reassess the cultural history of which his music is a part. This chapter, which has outlined Foulds's indebtedness to Theosophy's world-view, has made a case for using music as a source in the study of cultural history. More exchange between historians and musicologists promises to expand our understanding of both modernism and cultural modernity. 'A historical understanding of music', as Leo Treitler has argued, 'requires that we both understand how music is in history and understand the history in music' [81]. Presenting Foulds's modality and quarter-tones as internationalist metaphors is an example of how this can be achieved.

[1] The author is indebted to the support of Penelope Gouk and Bertrand Taithe at the University of Manchester and to Lucinda Matthews-Jones who kindly read and commented on the draft copy.

[2] Malcolm MacDonald, John Foulds and his Music: An Introduction (White Plains, NY: Pro/Am Music Resources, 1989).

[3] Oskar Schmitz, quoted in Andrew Blake, The Land Without Music: Music, Culture and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), xi.

[4] Elaine Brody, Paris: The Musical Kaleidoscope 1870-1925 (London: Robson, 1988); Jane Fulcher, The Nation's Image: French Grand Opera as Politics and Politicised Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). Compare the largely constructive French response to German visual arts after 1875, as described by Rachel Esner, "Art knows no Fatherland": Internationalism and the Reception of German Art in France in the early Third Republic, in Martin H. Geyer and Johannes Paulmann, eds, The Mechanics of Internationalism, Culture, Society, and Politics from the 1840s to the First World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 357-73.

[5] Cf. the discussion elsewhere in this book of Wagnerism as an international movement. Humes Schweiger examines George Bernard Shaw's work promoting Wagner in Britain; Daniel Laqua describes Henri La Fontaine's involvement in Belgian Wagnerism; Anne Leonard compares British and Belgian responses to Wagnerism; and Matthew Potter notes Wagner's impact on Charles Waldstein in the context of a wider analysis of Anglo-German affinities.

[6] Meirion Hughes and Robert Stradling, The English Musical Renaissance 1860�1940: Constructing a National Music (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001).

[7] A letter from Richter to Foulds dated 23 February 1906 indicates that Foulds often made the journey from his Fallowfield home to Cheshire to visit the conductor. British Library Additional Manuscript 56482.

[8] For a full biography see MacDonald, John Foulds.

[9] British Library Additional Manuscript 56482.

[10] James G. Mansell, 'Musical Modernity and Contested Commemoration at the Festival of Rememberance, 1923-27, The Historical Journal 52 (2009), 433-54.

[11] John Foulds, Music To-day: Its Heritage from the Past, and Legacy to the Future (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934), 29-30.

[12] Diana Swan suggests dividing British composers of this period into 'the Gentlemen' (Royal College of Music elite) and 'the players' (Foulds, Holst, Scott and Warlock), in 'Gentlemen versus Players: Alienation and the Esoteric in English Music, 1900-39' (PhD thesis, University of Southampton, 1998).

[13] Cyril Scott, Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages [1933] (London: The Aquarian Press, 1958), 15.

[14] Alex Owen, The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 4.

[15] Joscelyn Godwin, Music and the Occult: French Musical Philosophies, 1750- 1950 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1993), 6.

[16] Bob van der Linden, 'Music, Theosophical Spirituality and Empire: The British Modernist Composers Cyril Scott and John Foulds', Journal of Global History 3 (2008),163-82.

[17] Godwin, Music and the Occult, 221.

[18] This tradition, associated with the Romanticism of the late nineteenth century, is outlined most notably in Eduard Hanslick, The Beautiful in Music: A Contribution to the Revisal of Musical Aesthetics (London: Novello, 1891).

[19] Jeffrey Richards, Imperialism and Music: Britain 1876-1953 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), viii.

[20] Leo Treitler makes this argument against the 'new musicology' in 'The Historiography of Music: Issues of Past and Present', in Rethinking Music, ed. Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 377.

[21] Henry Olcott, Theosophy, Religion and Occult Science (London: George Redway, 1885), 33.

[22] Foulds, Music To-day, 22.

[23] Olcott, Theosophy, 25.

[24] Ibid., 83.

[25] Tim Armstrong, Modernism: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 68.

[26] R. Machell, 'Theosophy and Art', Theosophical Siftings: Keely's Progress 2 (1892), 9.

[27] Machell, 'Theosophy and Art', 5.

[28] Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. M.T.H. Sadler (New York: Dover Publications, 1977).

[29] Ibid., 60.

[30] John Patrick Foulds, 'My Father's House', in CD cover of John Foulds/City of Bir- mingham Symphony Orchestra, Warner Classics, number 0564 61525-2.

[31] Omananda Puri [MacCarthy's professional name in India], The Boy and the Brothers (London: Neville Spearman, 1968), 19-20.

[32] Foulds, Music To-day, postscript.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Joy Dixon, Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). See also Ann Heilman, 'Visionary Desires: Theosophy, Auto-Eroticism and the Seventh-Wave Artist in Sarah Grand's the Beth Book', Nineteenth-Century Contexts 26 (2004), 32; and Owen, Place ofEnchantment, 87.

[35] Omananda Puri, The Boy and the Brothers,18-20.

[36] Omananda Puri, Towards the Mysteries: Being Some Teachings of the Brothers of the Holy Hierarchy, Given Through 'The Boy' (London, Neville Spearman, 1968), 20.

[37] James Haar, 'Music of the Spheres', in L. Macy, ed., Grove Music Online http://www.grovemusic.com, accessed 28 May 2007. For a full account of the Pythagorean tradition, see Joscelyn Godwin, Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: The Spiritual Dimension of Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde (London: Thames & Hudson, 1987), 124-93.

[38] MacDonald, John Foulds, 22.

[39] Omananda Puri, Towards the Mysteries, 20.

[40] Quoted in Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), 378.

[41] Maud Mann [the author's first married name], Some Indian Conceptions of Music (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1913), also available as 'Some Indian Conceptions of Music', Proceedings of the Musical Association 38 (1911-12), 41-65.

[42] See Omananda Puri, The Boy and the Brothers.

[43] The score for this work no longer exists.

[44] From a talk given by John Foulds broadcast on All-India Radio, Delhi Station, 6 March, 1937, entitled 'Is the Gulf between Eastern and Western Music Unbridgeable?' quoted in MacDonald, John Foulds, frontispiece.

[45] Cf. British interest in other areas of German scholarship from the 1860s, particularly Art History, as discussed by Matthew Potter in chapter 6 of this book.

[46] Carl Engel, An Introduction to the Study of National Music; Comprising Research into Popular Songs, Traditions and Customs (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1866), viii.

[47] Ibid., 68.

[48] Foulds, Music To-day, 45. According to Foulds, this represents the period, roughly speaking, from 1700 to 1900.

[49] Ibid., 48.

[50] This was developed by the so-called Second Viennese School, led by Schoenberg.

[51] Foulds, Music To-Day, 55.

[52] Ibid., 53.

[53] Ibid., 51.

[54] Ibid., 52.

[55] Engel, Study of National Music, 68.

[56] Ibid., 8.

[57] John Foulds to Adrian Boult, 16 August 1933, British Library Additional Manuscript 56482.

[58] Foulds, Music To-day, 61.

[59] Ibid., 64.

[60] MacDonald, John Foulds, 4.

[61] Calum MacDonald, 'John Foulds and the String Quartet', Tempo 132 (1980), 16-25.

[62] Mann, Some Conceptions, preface, page unnumbered.

[63] MacDonald, John Foulds, 6.

[64] Mann, Some Conceptions, 17, original emphasis.

[65] Foulds, Music To-day, 63.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid., 60.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Derek B. Scott, From the Erotic to the Demonic: On Critical Musicology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 174-75.

[70] Mann, Some Conceptions, 8.

[71] Cf Neil Stewart's discussion in chapter 5 of this book about the congruence between internationalism and racism in the form of anti-semitism.

[72] Owen, The Place of Enchantment, 29.

[73] Mann, Some Conceptions, 1.

[74] Foulds, Music To-day, 132-34

[75] Material held by the BBC Written Archives Centre indicates that the programming authorities considered him to be a competent composer of light music, but that his serious compositions were more often than not boring and that devices such as quarter-tones were merely academic and had no expressive meaning. Composer File, John Foulds, BBC Written Archives Centre.

[76] Mann, Some Conceptions, 22.

[77] Godwin, Theosophical Englightenment, passim.

[78] Owen, The Place of Enchantment, 9.

[79] Ibid., 11.

[80] See Marshall Berman, All that is Solid Melts into Air: the Experience of Modernity (London: Verso, 1983); Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005); Donald Lowe, History of Bourgeois Perception (Brighton: Harvester, 1982).

[81] Treitler, 'The Historiography of Music', 365.