20 FEBRUARY 1959, Page 8

AN UNUSUAL and interesting example of the Victorian humbug that

is always with us was the attempt by London concert agents to suppress the enterprising 'Gentlemen's Concert of Ribald and Amorous Verse and Song' held in the Recital Room at the Festival Hall last week. The concert duly came off, but only after some alarms and excursions and last-minute changes of cast. Several of our most distinguished oratorio singers dropped out under pressure from the agents. The agents' argument seems to have been that it wouldn't do at all to have a respected tenor sing- ing Purcell's Sweet Sir Walter one night and Evangelist in the St. 'Matthew Passion the next. In at least one case it was strongly hinted that the singer in question would find himself no longer on the agent's books if he persisted in taking part. This kind of thing strikes me as a great deal more immoral than the performance, before decorously all-male audiences, of harmless allegories about flutes and shepherdesses and the Travelling Tinker and the Country Alewife, or the Lucky Mending of a Leaky Copper. fhe deplorable truth is that many of the great masters enjoyed obscen- ity. In Mozart's case this is officially got round by drawing a perfectly footling distinction between a divine, miraculously gifted artist and a very ordinary, childish and slightly squalid human being (a picture that doesn't stand up to a serious reading of his letters). But one has to admire the cunning Bowdlerism with which the canon 'Beim Ar•seh ist's lirrster•' is altered to 'Beim Grab ist's finger' and solemnly offered as an example of the Master in his most imposing C major vein.