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An Interview with Harold Moores

On August 23 1999 I interviewed the famous London record dealer Harold Moores at his shop in Soho.

Moores was born in 1941 in New Zealand and went later to the UK. After studies in the US he returned to London in 1971 where he started to work for John Goldsmith who formed the Unicorn label and this introduced Mr. Moores to a certain American composer...

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Günther Kögebehn: Let us start with you. How did you get into [the record dealing] business?

Harold Moores
Harold Moores: I am a lapsed academic, really. I was a historian and ... went to the States to do my doctorate in American history, as it turned out. But I married here in England and my wife had a career in London. She came with me to America and the understanding was that I would come back when I finished ... I came here in 1971 with no academic prospects at the time ...

I took a job at a record shop. And the shop turned out to be the "Record Hunter", which was a small specialist shop ... at the South Bank at Waterloo ... that had been run by John Goldsmith, who founded the Unicorn label. And I just thought of it as a temporary job, but the more I got into the work, the more I enjoyed it!

It was a labour of love, because I love music and collected records. I spent a lot of time (4 years) in America and I collected records there...


GK: Just classical?

Moores: I collected classical and traditional music, not much outside of that. I was a poor student but records were so cheap in the United States... So I came with some knowledge of the American record market and that was quite useful to that business which imported small labels from the United States. I took that over from John Goldsmith, who went off to form Unicorn Records. Out of a record shop, out of issuing Furtwängler records he went off starting a label!

So I took his specialist side and redeveloped it again. I learned all the time from customers and so during the 70's I became more and more interested in unusual repertoire... and around that time Bennie Herrmann started to sponsor recordings on Unicorn [as he had done] a little earlier on Pye. Unicorn had the same kind of enthusiasm for his music that I did...

A happy conjunction, really. And I got to meet him through John Goldsmith at Unicorn. And as John realised my enthusiasm for Bennie's music we began to organise some occasions at the record shop that I was managing.

It wasn't the "Record Hunter" by that point anymore. I moved on as I was offered the job of reorganising and managing quite a famous old firm called "Henry Stave" in Dean Street. That has been going since the early 50ies one of the old-time record shops.


GK: Does it still exist?

Moores: It doesn't and that's quite a long story! ... And so we organised some [Herrmann] signings as new records came out on Unicorn... The last occasion was perhaps the most memorable, that was the occasion when he brought the score, original score for Psycho to the shop. So we had a display and there were signings and people ... lined up and so on...

Audio
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This is really where my friendship started with him. When he started to come the shop, almost once a week, we would go and have lunch together. And I was quite flattered that somebody who to me was a famous composer should take an interest in me. And he in turn, I guess, was keen that someone in a younger generation, as I then was, ... would carry on his reputation. He was concerned about posterity's interest in his music... So we had this series of regular meetings.

But he was clearly not a well man. I'd say in fact he was quite ill. And there was one particular occasion when he came to the shop, when he really was quite ill ... [we] went out ... and tried to help him in his difficulties, and I don't think he ever forget that. There was a sort of sentimental attachment... For a time, I think, he regarded me as a substitute son...

We talked a great deal about music, composers, performers, conductors. And in his own unique irascible way we had some good disagreements, but I didn't find him frightening. I think I saw through him straightaway ... That he had this very gruff New York exterior. I mean New York is another country, and he was from that separate country: New York! ... when you climb on a bus in New York you get the flavour. Everybody around you the got this sort of tough, irascible style - and he had that down to a tee!

And it was born not only out of his background, but also his frustration with the film industry and what they were looking for and what he didn't want to give to them at times. He gave them an enormous amount, but... ... I saw through him straightaway really. I saw that he had the tenderest of hearts. And he was particularly solicitous... My wife at the time was having her first child and he used to literally call me every day to find out how she was. She had to go into hospital early. With all that I could see through him really. Beneath the crusty exterior there was a very tender heart. It comes out in many passages in his music... "Wuthering Heights" and many of the film sequences where you suddenly get that really wistful, tender music.

So, I think we understood each other. Not to say that I always agreed with his views. I remember him being particularly, I think you have to use the word, vicious, about a particular conductor...


GK: Leonard Bernstein?

Moores: No it wasn't! No it somebody else who operated in the United States. But I mean he was a symbol this conductor for flashiness. Benny hated flashiness in style.

GK: Toscanini?

Moores: No, it was Zubin Mehta... The remarks [were] unnecessarily unkind. He was making generalisations about a style and about the new popularity of these conductors. Zubin Mehta is a serious musician and he has made many good recordings. So unfair really. But that was Bennie.

GK: There is an anecdote in his biography that he once told Solti how to conduct!

Moores: Solti, I think, also came up in these conversations too ... [laughter]

What most impressed me was his breath of knowledge of other composers, especially late 19th Century and early 20th Century French and European composers. And indeed of course British composers, he had a particularly soft spot there.


GK: He also had a soft spot for more modern composers. He was a friend of Gerard Schurmann, a very different style...

Moores: Yes! I think he was probably more tolerant in that direction, when it came to performers and conductors...

He had a fantastic knowledge of obscure repertoire. Later I realised how much he conducted for the CBS Symphony...


GK: Raff...

Moores: Raff was a particular thing... A lot of really quite obscure... Dukas or even more obscure. I remember him talking about a lot of lost Russian composers of the early 20th Century. Composers, I guess, who were side-lined by the revolution...

Knowledge of that sort of repertoire was put to good use in Citizen Kane in that wonderful make-believe French aria. A glorious piece of music!


GK: Recorded by Te Kanawa...!

Moores: This was the more or less the first recording that she made in a solo role... And that had a funny resonance to it. Because some years later my parting with the record company "Rediffusion" came over with my efforts to make a recording with Kiri Te Kanawa. Again that's another story!

Rediffusion turned down Kiri Te Kanawa before she was signed up to anyone. To that point the [Gerhardt] RCA record... That was the first thing. She went on being involved in some of the opera series in supporting roles in Carmen and so on... But hadn't made a solo record with that one exception of that one aria in the Citizen Kane album!

Audio
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I went to one or two recording sessions at Kingsway Hall ... He was visibly slowing down at all those. I mean literally slowing down in his conducting... and I remember disagreeing with him about the tempi, very presumptuous of me, for the Shostakovich Hamlet that he did, which I felt was too slow. And I loved the film and loved the music and had enormous enthusiasm for Shostakovich's film music. And I always felt that this was too slow.

The session that I went to was worked up by Charles Gerhardt... and he was an important figure in all of this at that point. Not only for his own fine efforts for the RCA series, but the session I went to, he was very much involved in preparing everything and Bennie sort of took over. But I think, Bennie inclined to slow things a bit.


GK: Do you think it had anything to do with his heart condition?

Moores: Oh yes! ... There were other albums from just shortly before that which show plenty of sprightliness ... But towards the end he definitely had slowed down a lot in every sense. He was a very old man in the last period. The last photograph, to my knowledge, of him alive was taken outside the record shop that I was managing. I think John Goldsmith was there too standing at the railings. It was published at the "Music Week" at that time. It was in November 1975... a month later he was dead...

I remember a long car journey with him... I took my wife, Norma and Bennie up to somewhere in the northern part of the midlands... Nottinghamshire or even further, where John Goldsmith has bought a house... we had some *long* conversations going on in the car!


GK: How were Norma and Bennie getting on together?

Moores: As far as I could see fine. It was an unusual [relationship]. She was so much younger... The Kaufman's, Louis and Annette, were and are great friends of mine, partly grown out of this connection... They knew more about him and his life and his marriages, break-ups and so on than anyone. But they didn't know Norma really. She was a later part... They certainly knew the first wife Lucille and they were great friends. [The Kaufman's] never understood why that broke up and felt he had behaved poorly.

Norma was solicitous and she looked after him... But it must have been very difficult for her... This may be presumptuous of me to say all this ... but he'd been a late middle aged man when they got married... who within short time really turned into an elderly man through heart attacks and general decline. So there she was married to an elderly sick man; that must have had its own strains. But I wasn't aware of them...


GK: When did you first hear of Bernard Herrmann?

Moores: ... In the early 50's, I must have only been about 11 or 12, I went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still... I remembered the strange and unearthly music without knowing anything about the composer. The next time I became aware of his music was Vertigo... I love that film! And love the music in it!

I can still remember sitting in the cinema and seeing the Saul Bass titles for the first time, about 1959 I would think...


GK: I was lucky I've seen the re-release some time ago...

Moores: I've seen that too. I went to the showing and Kim Novak came... Extraordinary transformation... I'd never have recognised her. I fell in love with Kim Novak when I was a teenager. She is the only pin-up I ever had as a teenager. I've still got it somewhere!

I still love [Vertigo] very much and I particularly like the music in that film. And I do strongly hold the view that Hitchcock's films were greatly reduced without Herrmann's music. Take away the music and it reduces them considerably. I always think about them as Hitchcock/Herrmann films because the contribution is so important...


GK: When did you become aware of him as a classical composer?

Moores: In the early 70ies when I heard Wuthering Heights... When the Symphony came out, he was very, very eager to know what I thought... he presumably asked many other people too ... I remember I pleased him by saying it had an almost Brucknerian character to it and he really liked that association.

And so I rapidly found that I loved so much, almost all of his music, and I set about acquiring and listening to anything I could find and I do still feel the same way. I collect the music of Janacek and Bernard Herrmann...


GK: Quite a complete collection, I guess?

Harold Moores Records
Moores: Most things do come my way. Sometimes I get more pleasure about selling the record than keeping it myself... But it is thrilling to get things you've never heard before on CD... I had some of the old bootlegs, but the quality of some of those were so uncertain... I might have something at home that's truly unusual.

There are now problems with the Unicorn catalogue. A lot of the Unicorn recordings are disappearing now... the company might even be closed. I am not sure. So many of these might start to disappear now. Some of the things we are trying to order haven't been coming. The Herrmann and Horenstein titles will be the first to disappear, there is an ongoing demand.


GK: How was Bennie feeling about the films he was scoring at that point in time? The films were mostly second-rate, with some exceptions. How did he feel about it?

Audio
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Moores: I remember upsetting him once, when I told him, that the latest one that had come out, was being promoted... It's Alive... It was promoted by someone going along Oxford Street with a pram... and with something horrible coming out of the pram! And he was absolutely mortified when I told him that... Sort of disgusted really... Either disgusted with himself for getting involved with that particular film... I don't know. I don't know what it's like, I don't think I've ever seen that film.

GK: I've tried. It is - unwatchable.

Moores: I think that must have all turned out badly... a low point really...

He did show some regrets [about being a composer for films], he wanted to spent more time composing for himself, you might say, rather than films. But film was obviously a great stimulus for him.


GK: How did he get on with other people, composers, filmmakers, etc?

Moores: He frightened a lot of people, and I can't explain why he didn't frightened me.

He was a formidable man... uncompromising in his standards... Nothing second rate, it had to be the best and that's the standard he demanded of people he worked with in filmmaking... He respected quality. No problem if somebody was doing something of quality, no problem at all.

At some times he was less "charitable" than he ought to be about people he knew about by reputation, but he really didn't know... The business about the conductors... Solti and Mehta... you could criticise certain aspects of their style, but they made wonderful recordings. They were/are hardworking people... but he picked up on a sort of public image... I suppose a little bit of jealousy there...

But his is going to be an enduring reputation...


GK: I think he will be remembered when Solti and the rest are forgotten.

Moores: Could well be. The composer has that great advantage... we are playing Monteverdi and Mozart...

GK: ...and we don't know who conducted them...

Moores: That's the great achievement... to compose music. The music will live through the centuries...



Copyright © 1999 by Günther Kögebehn / The Bernard Herrmann Society.
All rights reserved.


 
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