S.M: OK, so Graham , I’ll, um, I’m not going to use this for publication. And what I’ll do is I’ll transcribe this interview , this is being recorded as well, so, if I go back on my word its on tape [laughter]. I’ll transcribe it and what I’ll do is I’ll send you a typescript copy of the transcription, for you to have a look at and to refine anything that you might want to refine. But it’s to keep with your collection. I hope it’s the start of many talks, because we want the collection to be the start of a Newcater Project which will probably mean this is not the last time you’ll see me [laughter], and I certainly hope it’s the start of many conversations. I want you- could you first just start with biographical stuff because I read what I could but it’s very vague. It says- the stuff I could read said you were born in Jo’burg.
G.N: Yes, yes that’s right.
G.N: Well, strangely enough, from this very house.
G.N: 1941. We lived here, my grandmother owned this and there was a nursing home just down the road, ten blocks down the road. Now it’s a supermarket parking area. I was born there so you could say these days I was born in a parking lot [laughter]. So, I was born from this house, and had some of my schooling here. Then my father was a mechanical engineer, a metallurgist – expert in metals. He went down, to Durban, to work on the big shipping works there. (He changed ground.) That was in 1948, I think, as I had most of my schooling in Durban, at Addington, and then later on at the Natal technical college for two years where I studied mechanical engineering because the Newcaters, originally, my grandfather and his brother, came from Scotland, Glasgow, to work here first of all in the Duncan docks in Cape Town, and then my grandfather came up here to work on the Randfontein estate mines. So my father was insistent: music you can study as a private thing. But the Newcater tradition is engineering. You study engineering. And yet that- right, get a degree in that and you can study music as a hobby. Which I did, and I-
S.M: Were you ever sorry that you studied engineering and you did music as a hobby?
G.N: No, not at all! Um, engineering did a lot for me, as I’ve said to people over the years. I loved mechanical engineering. Beautifully made machines and so on, is like a beautifully made symphony. And, I always think of engineering in relation to music, too. It’s all a matter of balance, proportion, stresses and strains, technique and so on. All engineering principles. I mean a beautifully designed carburettor, or an automatic gun (?) or a turbo charger, any beautifully designed and made piece of engineering is also just as beautiful as a beautifully constructed symphony. Consider a point. An aircraft, a beautiful jumbo jet: what precision, what beauty. So it’s not only arts that are beautiful, but engineering is also beautiful.
S.M: You like this, because when we- the last time we came here, when Theo and I flew down-
G.N: Yes, I remember.
S.M: Theo stood at the airport in Cape Town looking at this Boeing taking off and he said: “Now that’s art.”
G.N: Yes, indeed! I fully agree! [laughter] Yes that’s why- I still remember I had a joke with Theo because that woman asked me: “Where do you get inspiration from? Do tunes come to you, and ideas, and what, stories?” and I said: “No, I don’t hear any tunes, no inspiration, no storyline in my music.” She looked at me: this is the most disappointing artist/composer I’ve ever met – he only thinks in terms of construction and engineering. Why does he bother to compose music? Go back to the workshop and get on with engineering! [laughter] I mean I’m exaggerating; it’s not as bad as that of course. I mean I do love music as well as engineering.
S.M: But you also enjoy frustrating this idea of the composer…
G.N: Yes, I would like to but, you know, further on, I’m a bit suspicious of people who think composers are artists – they’re temperamental, good-days-bad-days and all that. And this Romantic idea of the nineteenth century of the artist, the artist with long hair and all that temperament and the tantrums and so on. I’d like to think of music of the Renaissance for instance, and earlier, when music wasn’t an art. It was one of the sciences, together with geometry, astronomy and theology and so on, and the composer wasn’t an artist – he was a craftsman. So that is the ideal I like. Then again, not taking it too far, I’m not in any way Romantic, or poetically inclined, but I like to strike an even balance – that a composer, a real composer, is a responsible man. I don’t set out to “express” myself as some amateurs. I don’t express myself. I set out with a conception and bring it into reality – with technique and design proportion and so on – to the best of my ability. I don’t in any way express any personal things in my life – emotions, or this and that. I’m not, from that point of view, a Romantic artist. I’m a responsible-
S.M: And this goes for your poetry and your drawing as well?
G.N: Yes, I think so, yes. ‘Cause I-, looking at composers, I mean, Bach was a great technician. He didn’t express himself on a bad day through anger, or a disappointed love affair or something like that [laughs]. He was a great, responsible composer and great musician. And his music, as you know – there’s so much passion in his music. It’s not all mathematics. It’s worked out as mathematics, but the end result – like I hope to- I like to think my music, too. It’s worked out, the technicalities of such – a test to the best of my ability. But when you play it, there’s so much heart beating through it, and power and emotion there. But controlled within a, well, a shaped structure, an organized structure.
S.M: OK, so let me take you back now. So you…
G.N: Yes, we’re off the subject – back to Durban!
S.M: Back to Durban – we’re high up there. Back to Durban [laughter]. So your father was a mechanical – a metallurgist.
G.N: A metallurgist.
S.M: A metallurgist, is that right. And your mother?
G.N: My mother was just an office worker, apart from a housewife.
S.M: And their names – what were their names? Your father…
G.N: Lionel Henry Clive and strange enough everyone pronounces my name in English: “Graham Newcater,” but in Scottish it’s Graham [“Nucatter” (very fast)]. [Laughter] It’s a stupid-sounding name, but there it is.
S.M: Your mother was she – what was her name?
G.N: Cathleen. She was an office worker, as I said, but she was very good with literature. She was a great reader, and she was talent for writing English. In fact she wrote a play – I’ve got it here on cassette. It was good enough to be broadcast by I think it was ‘Lux Radio Theatre’ on Springbok Radio.
S.M: My goodness.
G.N: Yes I have it here, It’s called “Counterpoint for Two.” It was broadcast, and I think, big names of the day in that line. I think Valery Dunlop was in it, directed by Brian (Schwannesee) and so on. And so she was very good with English, I mean grammar, spelling and so on. Which benefitted me greatly, with writing letters and all that.
S.M: Her maiden name?
S.M: And did you have any siblings?
S.M: You were an only child.
S.M: Were you lonely as a child?
G.N: Not really, no. Apart from ordinary playing games with children, marbles, riding bicycles and all that, I was so interested in music after my school that I was too busy to get lonely.
S.M: So when did that start? When did the music interest start, and how?
G.N: I – It’s such a long time ago… But I was interested in music as a small boy in the house next door. My grandmother owned that too. And from her, I think, was the basics of my life. She was a very religious woman. Very simple. But a great bible-reader – used to tell me stories about the bible. On the other hand, all she could play on the old piano next door was hymns, and very badly. She wasn’t a pianist. She wasn’t an educated person. But that set the groundwork, I think, for my two things in life: Music and religion – which includes now mysticism and so on. That set the seeds in the back of my mind for future growth. So that’s basically the thing. My father’s engineering. I think his mind for orderly construction and so on, and my mother’s love for English and so on.
S.M: And which grandmother was this?
G.N: My father’s mother. So I think that the basics of my entire (pointus) to the future, really.
S.M: Your first instrument? The first time you were officially taught?
G.N: Oh yes, it was the piano – next door – but then we moved to Durban and there was no piano. But I suffered from tuberculosis as a small boy. And the doctor said to my mother, you know, you must exercise the lungs. And he was a clever doctor, he said: “By the way, does your son show any interest in music?” and she said: “Yes he does.” And he said: “Well look, I’ll tell you the main thing then. Buy him a wind instrument. Anything – trumpet, saxophone, clarinet. That is the finest cure for tuberculosis – that is, to blow in a disciplined way. So, my father bought me a clarinet, and that was the start of playing an instrument. And then I, for some reason, got interested in listening to music and composing. I liked to not only play music, but I liked to compose music too, for some reason. And the first orchestral score I bought was at the CNA in Durban – Haydn’s Clock Symphony. The first orchestral score. I couldn’t read it, I didn’t- being a clarinet player- in the treble, I couldn’t read the bass clef or the viola clef, for instance. Eventually by buying a record of it and listening to the record, then I can hear: “oh, they’re playing in unison,” and so I worked out the clefs for my own sake, that, the bass and the viola clefs- That was the first score I ever studied, Haydn’s Clock Symphony, still one of my favourites,(I apologise) . [laughter] I love it, and I wanted to compose music like this, the very name intrigued me, I mean, a “clock” symphony – very interesting. And all these things, in the same series published by Penguin; the Romeo and Juliet overture – Tchaikovsky, I bought that. (…) – then I was really hooked, and so I didn’t want to play the clarinet – I wanted to be a composer.
S.M: That’s magnificent. So, these encounters with works – historical works – they happened as you purchased scores, and-
G.N: Yes, and bought records. And also playing the clarinet I studied eventually with the principal clarinettist of the Durban municipal orchestra – Arthur Tempest. And I was in the junior orchestra there, it used to run. And now and again we used to combine with the big orchestra, and that was a great thing. I remember two things stuck out in my memory, sitting in orchestra with my master. César Franck’s Symphony in d minor. That made such an impression upon me. The other was Wagner’s Meistersinger , playing in that. The harmonies! I though, oh, this is really- ‘cause I was here hearing it from the inside, not sitting outside the orchestra. This made such an impression- those two works. I mean they still… What wonderful music. And so I continued. Then I wrote to – I don’t know how it happened – through the Cape Town University –
S.M: Eric (Chisholm)
G.N: Yes, Eric (Chisholm). And said –
S.M: A fellow scot.
G.N: Yes! A fellow scot! [laughter] And sent him a score of a piano – a simple piano piece. And he wrote me a letter. He passed this on to his lecturer in composition Arnold van Wyk. And consequently I had a letter from Arnold van Wyk, and I think it started- he offered to give me postal lessons free of charge, which he did. And then he invited me down there to Cape Town in some holidays over Christmas, school holidays, ‘cause it’s awkward doing things through the post. So my people paid for my air-fare down there and I spent three weeks with him. He has a lovely house on the side of Oranjezicht .
S.M: Right, that’s right.
G.N: On the side of the mountain.
G.N: I had such a lovely time there. It was the first time I spoke to a, a ‘real composer,’ you know, a man who ‘knows about it’. [laughter]
S.M: You got on well with him?
G.N: Very well. Yes, and he introduced me to works that made a big impression on me, and they still to this day – life-long impression. One was Stravinsky’s Symphony in three movements. I still think that is one of the great twentieth-century masterpieces. That made a great impression on me. The other was Hindemith’s Third string quartet, I still love that very much. And then the other work, that changed my life, was Alban Berg’s Violin concerto. And Nols said to me, this is written in a different way, this is twelve-tone music – everyone called it twelve-note music – but I learnt it as twelve-tone and I always call it that. I didn’t know what it was all about and I listened to it it sounded very strange. I didn’t understand this at all. I couldn’t grasp it, you know. There was no recognized harmonies, anything, but I was intrigued. And eventually, back in Durban I bought a recording. And that, it had a very sinister fascination for me. And I got a Penguin book, I’ve got it here, on concertos, and this article on that, showing how the tone row works, and this and that. And that made me think. This is what I- this is the kind of sound I want. And thereafter I bought other twelve-tone I read about, Schoenberg and Webern and so on. So that turned me, that very first hearing of the Berg concerto at Nols’ house.
S.M: So what was Nols’ opinion of it? Did he- he didn’t try to- “I’m showing you this but don’t go to that side!” [laughter]
G.N: No, he was, you know – I think his word, and I’ve used this word eventually. He said to me: “don’t use that word very often, because it loses its meaning.” His word was something like that, or anything, he said: “That is a shattering experience.” And for me it was a shattering experience. And he said: “Don’t use that word loosely, because it – then it loses its meaning.”
A work that makes a shattering experience it changes your whole life and for the rest of your life you are a tired old man (…).
So that was one of the works. I don’t know what he thought of it but he must have thought highly of it to use that word, which is not usually used, as I say.
S.M: So you went back to Durban and you continued with these postal lessons with Arnold over a period of time.
G.N: Not for very long, because then we came back to Johannesburg. And then he, I forget how it happened-
S.M: Were you then already finished with matric? or –
G.N: I finished with engineering in the town technical college.
G.N: And I came up here and he gave me a letter of introduction, and he wrote to Anton Hartman. And then I went to see Anton Hartman and he eventually introduced me to Gideon Fagan, and I had some lessons with him. At that time engineering to support myself I got into motor trading. Simple thing to do – I didn’t want to do dirty manual work so I got into the motor trade, spare parts. And then my mother saw an advert in the newspaper that (…) SAMRO. It was called something different in the time it had a competition, a composing competition. My mother said: “Enter some of your works in it, you never know.” Anyway, my mother posted some, she’s your best (…) she posted them off, and I forgot all about it. A few days after, a week or so, got a letter from Gideon Roos, who was head of the (…) He said:”You’ve won your scholarship. We’d like you to get your passport and your vaccinations because you’re going over to London to the Royal College of Music for two years.” I couldn’t believe this, I mean, it was an amazing thing.
S.M: So those were works that you had worked on with Gideon Fagan?
G.N: Some with him and some just on my own.
S.M: What kind of teacher was Gideon Fagan?
G.N: He didn’t like to teach me, ‘cause you know, when he gets home from SABC he’s tired and he doesn’t want to be bothered. So he used to put me off and tell me: “Not tonight, phone me next week.” On the odd occasion I did manage to catch him I did learn. He taught me, I think, discipline. That’s one thing he taught me: discipline. You’ll see that I showed you just now. Never mind big orchestral things, no no. Write me a simple minuet. I wrote that atonal time: “Yes, that’s all very well, but write me a tonal, formal minuet. Never mind these big orchestral things of yours. We can get to that later on. And then that little sonata, sonatina. Leave the orchestra alone. Learn to write disciplined and properly. Then you can start big things. So, that’s what he taught me. Discipline, and I’ll never forget that. That is also a very good thing.
S.M: Did he like the atonal, twelve tone stuff?
G.N: No! He detested it. He said: “That’s rubbish.”
S.M: Did he try to push you in another direction?
G.N: Yes. He said: “That’s rubbish. How can you write decent music with numbers and rubbish like that?” And he got the biggest shock when I turned out to be the first and only twelve-tone composer here. He got the impression: “Well, he’s not entirely mad – he’s got a point. This sounds quite good that he writes, you know?”
S.M: And at that stage this twelve tone principle was not a principle that had the kind of significance for you almost as a kind of engineering principle that it had later. It’s just something that appealed to you instinctively?
G.N: Yes, the type of resulting sound. Yes, that’s the world I live in, because I – I don’t know why. I think Humphrey (Seul) he said something in an interview too, that he was searching for it, and he heard a BBC broadcasting of Wozzeck and he, like me, he thought: “That is the kind of sound I like.” And it just appealed to me and it still does. That’s the world I live in.
S.M: Right, so you got the offer of this scholarship to go to London –
S.M: – you got your passport –
S.M: This was, what, 19-?
G.N: -62. Early ‘62, I think. Yes, I was there from ‘62 to ‘64 at the Royal College.
S.M: And how much did that mean to you – that period in London? You told me a while ago that you spent a lot of time conducting?
S.M: Maybe not as much time composing as you should have.
G.N: Yes. (Fricke?) used to be – I don’t want to say horrified, that’s too strong a word. He used to say to me: “this is all you’ve done in one week? Six bars, five bars? That’s all you’ve composed this week?”And I said: “Well, I’ve had to conduct this and conduct this.” And he said:”Yes, I know. You’re conducting too much. Composition is your first study. That is your second, third study.” He wrote me a theme. He said: “Right, well this here is taking you too long. I’ll write you a theme. Write me some variations on this.” And he improvised a theme for me and I wrote some, all kinds of variations, an invention, and a fugato and all that for him. So yes, that’s how it happened. I started doing well in composition.
S.M: And, who were your conducting teachers? And what were you conducting?
G.N: My first year conducting master was a man called Harvey Phillips. A cellist – he had his own string orchestra, I believe – and a very fine conductor. I don’t think he really had the ambition or the go to really make a professional conductor, you know, as full-time conductor. So he taught as a colleague, but a very fine conductor. And all that I know of conducting, looking back, is what I learnt from him. Not so much what he said, but just watching him every Tuesday morning. Conducting the second orchestra he would stop and call us up individually and say: “Come on, you take over from here” and then the next day in class he would comment on us. And our conducting fare was basically: they were standard Romantic classics, Brahms, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky. The vey first thing I conducted there, the very first time, I was the first student he called up, he said:”You, come here. Conduct this.” And I saw it was Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony. The first movement. I didn’t really know it. So I decided it’s a simple piece, the part I conducted, anyway. I was watching this in 6/8, I got them going, and I surprised myself with the orchestra, the nice sound that I got out of it. The next day he said to me in the class, he said: ”I thought you got a very good sound out of the orchestra yesterday. Precision and a good sound out.” So that set me off, was I terrified, I mean, a little boytjie coming from Joburg, getting up there and conducting at the Royal College of Music. Tchaikovsky, which I didn’t know! So I was very lucky. It went off very well. And then in my second year I was promoted to (Sadrien) Bolt’s class. I liked him very much, we got on very well. But I didn’t like his style of conducting, he’s like a military band master, he’s got a very long stick with a cork at the end, and he stands there twitching like this with his thumb and first finger twitching, twitching. And I told you about this last time, I’d like to, like Harvey Phillips, I mean I conduct in a normal way, with both hands, and I’ll tell it again shall I?
S.M: Yes please!
G.N: And he never remembered my name, and he said: “You, come here, what’s your name there?” “Newcater” “Ah, yes of course. All right” and I get them going and I’m doing very well and he’s there at my side, and he says: “Just a minute, ey” putting out the arm “Just a minute, boy, just a minute, just wait, stop here. What’s your name again?” “New-” “Oh yes Newcater, now look here. You’re too flamboyant, boy. It’s not necessary the left hand going like that. It’ll just set them off. Just use the right hand, just beat it out.” I do it again and he stops me very soon, and this went on and went on. Eventually he said to me: “Look, if you can’t stop this flamboyancy, hold this brass rail behind you with your left arm. By that time the orchestra was twittering and making a fool out of me and I’m detesting this whole lot and I started trying to twitch with my stick, which didn’t have a cork on, I’m just holding it and trying to do the minimum, and he…: “Yes, all right. That’ll do, well. Next! Come up here!” So this went on for quite a few weeks. I liked him, a very kind, polite man, fine musician. But I thought: I’m getting nowhere with this. This big made a fool out of me every Thursday morning with this orchestra and everyone twittering. I asked if I can go back to Harvey Phillips, which I did. And I was much happier to be demoted to the second orchestra with Harvey Phillips (…). No animosity, when we used to meet each other in the corridor: “Morning (Sadrien)” “Ah, ah, morning. Your name again? You, oh yes of course, New-” He never remembered my name! But still I had no animosity – a very fine man.
S.M: Did you like- conducting is such a powerful thing, and it takes such a huge amount of courage to stand up in front of an orchestra. Did you like this?
G.N: Well, that’s another sort of question someone asked me: “Ooh, it must be a tremendous sense of power, you raise your hand like that and you bring it down and there bursts forth this mighty sound! You must feel so great.” I said: “No, actually it’s just the opposite. One is so frightened when you stand up, and raise your hand like this, if they’re all coming in together or not together, you’re so frightened, you just – when they all come in together I don’t think I’m a great man, I think to myself: “Thank God we’ve got it in the slot.” It’s a heart attack, there’s no great power wielding there. You’re frightened that either you’re going to misread, and they’re going to come unstuck, or they’re not going to follow you… Oh no, it’s a heart attack – there’s no power or glory – it’s a heart attack.
S.M: Ok, so the composition? How was that going on? Who did you have composition lessons with?
G.N: Will (Fricke). Both years, yes.
S.M: Both years. And did you learn a lot from him?
G.N: Well, that’s a strange point because, looking back I don’t think one – I don’t know how to put it. One learns more by a second opinion. And there I learnt more from the students, I think, than the masters. You know, the enthusiasm of other students. You talk about music, you listen to their ideas, you express your ideas, the enthusiasm rubs off, and that you learn so much from. Not so much sitting in the class with Fricke, he’d look at this and say, well, you know: “Do it like that because it’s bad part-writing” gives it an air, you know, and that’s all very well, excellent. But I think at the end of the day, or the end of the life or whatever, one really teaches oneself. By trial and error. Not only with music – looking back at schooling: what I learnt at school was the very basics. The very basics. I mean, Arithmetic, 2 and 2 is 4, “the cat sat on the mat.” But what I’ve taught myself, I mean literature and writing letters and so on, I’ve taught myself. And the same way in music. I mean, it’s not a matter of going to Fricke and saying:” I’m the composer, a willing student, teach me how to compose.” It doesn’t work like that. You show him and he looks at it and says “You, know, that’s not very good, I would do this like that.” So you learn by more second opinion and advice and so on. Not by actually teaching me how to compose. You learn on your own. Like Humphrey (Seul) said to me, I had a problem – in one of our lessons I said to him: “I have a problem with my music, I’m falling into this habit of rhythmically being too square. It’s not across the beat at all, it’s all ending in… and he said: “Well look I can’t help you with that. It’s up to you. You work on it, and you’ll get that right.” And that’s the thing. He can’t teach me that, it’s up to me to do it myself and get it right and I think that’s what it amounts to. Teaching composition, it’s just the odd hit here and there, getting to understand your master and what’s his opinion of so and so and so and so, and that’s the way you learn. Not by nitpicking little problems on the five staves, as it were.
S.M: When you came back – you did come back after the two years?
G.N: Yes, yes.
S.M: You came to work at the SABC, didn’t you?
G.N: Yes, I worked briefly there as a recording producer. But I really couldn’t settle down. You know, after the life at the royal college, there’s so much going on there. I really couldn’t settle down, and I wanted to go back. So I worked for a few months at SABC, then I handed in my notice (…) I’d like to go back to London. And I did. For six months – I had enough money to last me six months. And then I won that scholarship, the SAMRO scholarship (…) Vaughan Williams. And then I studied with Humphrey (Seul), for a few months, privately. I used to go to his house in St. John’s Wood, there once a week. A lesson with him there, again the lesson was more of a chat, you know. He’d show me what he’d composed, he was writing his opera “(Havoc)” at the time. He showed me what he had written during the day, and I had the good sense not to comment on it. I mean it’s not for me to tell you how to compose, it’s the other way around! So I said to him: “Hmmm…” Noncommittal, just grunting, and he’d do the same with me. He had nothing to say at all! It was impossible to have a conversation with him; as I wrote in a letter to professor Chris Walton. To have a conversation with Humphrey (Seul) took such perseverance. You’d ask him: “Did you hear, er, so-and-so’s broadcast last night?” and he’d say: “Yes. What did you think about it?” “Er, hmmm…well, I don’t know.” “What do you think about Benjamin Britten’s (Gemini) Variations, it was the first performance broadcast last night?” “Er, oh yes, I listened. What did you think?” “Er, you know… hmmm…” I still don’t know what the man’s opinions about anything were! And with my composition too; he’d look at it, grunt, turn the page over, and I’d expect him to say something, ambiguous grunting and the occasional ‘yes.’ So, impossible man to talk to. I learnt more about him from his wife, who was a South African actress. Fiona. I never knew her acting name. But I had to talk to him when he was busy with (some work). Ask him, what’s his (paid) work? And, what does he think about this? She used to tell me. From him I learnt nothing. I still don’t know, when he was alive, what he thought of this or that. I learnt a lot from Fiona about his life. [Laughter] So that was that.
S.M: So what is the story about a Visa not being issued to you and then – it was more or less a discharge, was it?
S.M: But you applied for a Visa – you were offered a teaching position.
G.N: Yes. That was the strangest thing. (Fricke) was leaving to go to America. He got a position at Santa Barbera University, California. And believe it or not – and this I mentioned to Chris Walton; he asked me about this – he said, and you should know this sounds fantastic. Looking back, fantastic. (Fricke) recommended me to the head of the Royal College at the time, professor Keith (Vochtner), to take his place as senior lecturer of composition at the Royal College! I mean this sounds fantastic for a young man of twenty. And professor (Vochtner) said: “Yes, fine, excellent. Recommended, yes, you got the job. I’ll write to the home office in (Hoburn) to get a work permit for you, a visa and all that.” Which he did, and he got no reply – ‘cause I went to ask him about this. And he was most upset. He wrote again. And he took umbrage at the home office to have ignored him like that, and they wouldn’t give me a work permit. So I lost the job. I had the job but I couldn’t get a work permit. And then I had no money, and no scholarship – the SAMRO scholarship had come to an end, so I had to come back here. So that was that.
S.M: Was this in any way hinted at – was it related to the Apartheid business here?
G.N: It probably was –
S.M: Were things at that stage in any way difficult for you over there as a white South African?
G.N: Not really, not really. I mean, no, you know, the music students were decent people, they weren’t interested in politics or any of that. They knew me and respected me as a talented musician. It wasn’t that, so I don’t know professor Keith Vochtner’s opinion or what, I don’t know. It might have been. It probably was. We weren’t very popular at that time. Very bad for (…) So it probably was that, probably.
S.M: So you came back and Hartman – you worked as an assistant to Hartman?
G.N: No, no, he- He got me a god job there, I worked in the library there for a while. And then I got the Raka commission. And that was my big success here. And then I left SABC. I never liked red tape or bureaucracy and all that. I’ve always been a person who likes to do things in my way in my own time. I hate any kind of regimentation. That’s why I detested school.
S.M: Why are you laughing? [laughter]You won’t be regimented!
G.N: Yes, I refuse to be ordered about. And that’s why I would never do in the army. I’m pleased I never went to the army. I was called up and I was failed on bad eyesight and a bad chest. Any form of regimentation. I like to do things in my own way in my own time. So, I didn’t like it there so I left and I did Raka. And then I was a professional composer. But I had a dual life because every now and again when I got tired of music, or tired of working with the people in music, I’d go back to engineering. And that was the easiest; the motor trade. And I ended up a carburetor specialist. In the last four motor jobs I had I’ve always been carburetors. That’s alternating a strange combination. Composing and carburetors. They’ve got nothing in common but I did it! [laughter]
S.M: Well they start with ‘c’-
G.N: Yes! They are both finely constructed. A great symphony, a great carburetor. That’s my explanation, which is not a great one…[chuckles]
S.M: Did you enjoy writing the ballet music for Raka? How did this collaboration with Frank start? ‘Cause this was such a great success-
G.N: Yes, he’s another one, like Humphrey Seul, a man you could never get to tell you something straight out. I used to go see him at Queen’s Hall, they were there, (Pat). And we used to map out (…) and we used to say what happened in our (prac.)You see (…) had just woken up, and we’d done music of that-
Now Raka comes on, and I say about how many seconds, how many minutes it takes for me to come from the wings to centre stage, and he’d look at me with this faraway look in his eyes and then say to me: “Hmph! Ja, I think that’ll be about it.” “But about what? How many seconds?” “Well, I, yes! From there, yes! Hmmm, yes… that should work.” Ah, well I didn’t know, I just took a guess! I mean, in my imagination how long does it take for a man to walk from here or dance from there to here slowly- I’m surprised the whole thing worked out eventually!
S.M: But you got on well?
G.N: Oh yes, we got on very well indeed. Very well.
S.M: The Rain Queen ballet. What happened there?
G.N: That was a very unfortunate circumstance – Frank was in Bloemfontein, (…) and I was trying to do three jobs in one day. I was, in the morning, at the SABC in the library. I was to catch a train to Pretoria University and I was just standing in for professor (Neethling) who was on sabbatical leave. And then in the evening I was trying to compose the Rain Queen. It was too much of a day for me, and far away from Frank and all that. It was a bad arrangement all round. Then Frank died. And that left me high and dry. I was in the middle of the thing. So I tried on my own to map it out scene by scene as Frank would do it. Then (David Poole) took over, who didn’t like my music at all and we didn’t really get on. So the thing was a fiasco. Not to any particular fault, but a bad combination of circumstances. You could never write a successful work under those circumstances. So it wasn’t a successful (job).
S.M: The first symphony was composed when?
G.N: It was started in London, and I finished it in ’62, ’64. And the opening theme, I don’t know if you know it at all? The opening theme in the Horns – Do you know it?
G.N: [sings tune in brassy imitation] Now I was sitting in Heathrow airport waiting for my luggage, and I just pulled out a little notebook, and I was just doodling there, and I wrote it down. “Hmmm, that’s a good theme… Hmmm!” So, the first theme of the first symphony, written at Heathrow airport! [chuckles] I started it there, and I put it aside to do other things for (…) exercise. And I finished it here. That was my first big success.
S.M: It was hugely – It was very well received.
S.M: Fagan was very pleased with it if I remember correctly, and Hartman was very impressed.
G.N: Yes, when it was done (Edgar) took it over, he did it in Paris, the big orchestra there, the Radio, um, the Radio de la (…) something (francais?). And the head of music at that time, in Paris, was a man by the name of Maurice le Roux. And he was so impressed, he wrote to SABC, can they have a Photostat copy of the symphony, which Fagan organised. So there is a Photostat copy of my Symphony in Paris. It was done in Brussels in the same month by Edgar. The head of music there was a man by the name of (Liam Gras?) and he was very impressed. And by that time Raka had been done and all that and he sent a message via (Edgar) to me if I wanted to make Raka into a cantata, orchestra with voices, singing and all that. They’d commission it. But I had enough, I mean I composed Raka, I didn’t want to do it again now with voices, you know, leave it alone. So, strangely enough I got the Raka commission through the first symphony. Frank started (…) I was not here, he said to Edgar he’s looking for a composer, and this, and Edgar was very impressed and he said, well, listen to this symphony by Graham Newcater. And he was very impressed and he sais: “Yes, exactly! Exactly the kind of music I want for Raka. That sort of dissonant music and dramatic and rhythmically tight, that’s what I want.” And so I got the Raka commission through the first symphony.
S.M: Did you at this stage, the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s think that you’d rather be in Europe or someplace else?
G.N: Yes. Always, always. I still think that even right now! I thought, you know, if I’d been in Europe forty years ago and stayed there, I’d have been a big success. But being tucked away here, far far south, a thousand miles away from Europe, bugged by different political ideologies and so on, I’ve lost out. Not though my own fault, but I’ve been placed in the wrong place! That’s the thing, it’s one of those things. I don’t know why.
S.M: When you say “by various political ideologies”, do you feel that currently your music is just being sidelined for – basically because it is politically not ideologically correct?
G.N: Yes, I mean, years ago – that’s why, I must admit I’ve got a mighty hatred for politicians, all. Doesn’t matter what col- um, what party they belong to or what country they’re from. Yes! All of my life! Because in the apartheid years my music wasn’t played overseas, except for what I just mentioned. Because of that! And now it’s not played here, again! Through politicians – It’s no musical problem, this is a political problem. It’s got nothing to do with the music as such. So that’s why I blame politicians throughout my life for hampering my music, always. All over. And as I said it doesn’t matter what party they belonged to, what country they come from all politicians for some reason, through their way of thinking and so on has always been a stumbling block for me as a composer. Always. It seems like ‘til the end of my death it will still be a stumbling block. I’ll die being at the mercy of political situations. So that’s a bitterness that I’ll carry with me to my grave. Politicians. It’s not me that’s not good as a composer, politicians that are in power, stumbling blocks.
S.M: At what stage did you return to this, your grandmother’s house? When did this happen?
G.N: When my parents started getting old and sickly, I thought: “Well, I’d better come back here and look after them.” Which I did. And my mother died first and then later my father and then I got these two houses and I thought: “Well, what must I do now? I’m older, where can I go? I’ve nowhere to go so I’ve got to stick it out here.” I can’t go overseas, I haven’t got enough money, and there’s no money overseas because I’m not known. So, here I am. [surrendered chuckle]
S.M: And that was what, in the 70’s?
G.N: Yes, in the 70’s, yeah.
S.M: Probably the most meticulous and thorough writing on your music up to a certain point was Mary (..)’s thesis.
S.M: Did you agree with the way she went about it? What’s your opinion about it? I’m putting myself at risk here about musicologists writing about your stuff –
G.N: Well, I don’t know because I was supposed to get a copy from Mary when she got her doctorate degree, which I never got – for years and years I had no idea! Only when I mentioned this to Chris Walton did he organize it at his own expense for me. He brought it here. So after many years I got it. I haven’t read the whole thing, just some parts here and there. But Mary seems to have got this thing. She always insists on seeing things from the tonal point of view. I don’t know why, ‘cause she’s asked me: “Do you think that is a tonal chord?” “No. I think that is the first six notes of the tonal row starting on ‘c’.” And if she wanted to take it to that extreme, any aggregation of notes, if you play it loud enough and long enough, it will give a certain tonic tonal… erm, how can I put it… feel about it. I mean if your bottom note is ‘c’, the next is ‘d’ flat, and the next is ‘a’ and the other’s ‘g’ and the other’s ‘e’ and so on, it’s bound to sound lik a C major chord with wrong notes in it. Obviously. But that’s not the way to look at it. I mean I don’t know why she wants to always bring my twelve-tone music down to a tonal basis. I mean she might as well say my first symphony in d minor, for instance! [laughter] You know, why not just say in d minor? Forget about this twelve-tone thing! It’s d minor with a hell of a lot of wrong notes in it! [laughter] So that’s what I’ve got against her. So, there we are!
S.M: You said when we started out that you’ve got these two things: the music, where engineering and design plays a large part –
G.N: Yes –
S.M: – in how you go about thinking and constructing and making your music. And on the other side there is a religious dimension, a mystical dimension –
S.M: Would you like to tell me about that? How did this start? And how has this interaction between this and your music worked? I suppose there has to be some relevance.
G.N: Yes… It’s very difficult. It is a subject I’ve always been interested in – religion. All religions. I made a study of them all – major religions. And then my interest in philosophy. And all that tied together seems to somehow tie up with music and engineering. The machinery of the universe. How does the universe work? Not only from a physical point of view, but a mystical point of view. The inner stresses and tensions behind these things that you don’t see. ‘Cause you know all that happens is not just a result of the physical (that is the visible outcome of it). But that is about the inner, inner designs, tensions and so on. Whatever you like to call it. Call it God, or the pull of various planets, astrology and so on. There’s a definite design. It’s all a great design. It’s not a chance thing. I wanted to know: “What is behind this design?” Again, with a great symphony, or a great piece of engineering: “How does this all work?” The visible and the invisible. And that led me to things like mysticism and the study of the – my great study of the Hebrew mystical tradition called the Kabbalah. And that is a great design explaining the universe, the seen and the unseen. So again it’s like an engineering drawing. So all this adds up- it’s awkward to explain because it’s such a vast subject. I mean, more vast, vaster than music. Music is a tangible thing – you can play it, you can see it. With a lot of these things you can’t demonstrate and you can’t prove it. So, it’s a very awkward thing to talk about – it’s so vast.
S.M: But it’s still something that interests you deeply and that you read about.
G.N: Yes! Yes, oh yes, every day I’m thinking about it, my condition, my Kabbalah. I think like a Cabalist, analysing things. And it’s been a great help to me as a composer too. ‘Cause here again the main (glyph) as they call it is the Tree of Life. And that is a system of stresses and strains. The positive, the negative and so on. Again it’s interacting tensions, relaxations, stresses and strains. Male, female, visible, invisible – a great interaction of vast drama. Cosmic drama.
S.M: How important is the score visually, for you?
G.N: Yes, that’s an interesting thing because it is most important. For me it’s not enough to see the score, I’ve got to hear it. And the other way around, it’s not enough for me to hear a piece of music, I’ve got to see it written down. The great – I don’t know what word to use – correspondence between the visual and the aural. I must see it and hear it. Seeing is not enough, or hearing is not enough. I’ve got to see it and when I see it and hear it, it forms that is the composite whole of the thing. And, that’s why- one of the things I’ve got here on record, when I’m listening, yes fine I admire it, and I’m listening listening… But it’s not enough! I want to see it written down!
S.M: And when you compose, is this – are you while you’re working hearing and judging visually how it looks?
G.N: Yes. A strange thing. This sounds crazy. ‘Cause when I lie in bed and I can’t sleep in the early hours of the morning, I’m looking at music. And I’m not hearing it! I’m viewing it as proportions. As Stravinsky once said, he thinks of things as the weight of an interval. Now that is also interesting. That doesn’t necessarily imply sound, but you’re thinking, or you’re looking at it as an equation. And therefore, quite often when I think of melodies I don’t hear it at all. I’m thinking: “Those notes together.” I’m not hearing them. I’m looking at them as if they’re written down. “Rather put the ‘g’ up there and the ‘e’ over here. And the-‘d’ flat there.” I’m looking at it as a set of proportions, I’m not hearing, I’m looking at it. At other times I’m not looking, I’m hearing. And I think: “Well, how will this look?” I mean it sounds crazy – this is a rheumatic world, this is a madman speaking! [laughter] It’s the sort of thing that drives one insane, eventually. It does! [laughter] A composer who can’t hear music and a man who looks and he can’t hear, and he can hear and he can’t look! This is a lunatic world, yes it is. [laughter] And one day when they lock me up you’ll know why.
S.M: Look, look, if they haven’t locked you up by now! [laughter] I think that’s fine. Graham, thank you very much. I know it’s exhausting to talk like this. And It’s not going- as I said I hope it will be the first of many conversations because we – we’re looking, from Stellenbosch’s point of view, this is the start of a Newcater project. You’ll hear more from us. But thank you very much for being willing to do this, and no doubt you’ll cringe when you read the transcript! But you’ll – I’ll send it to you.
G.N: Yes, You better cut that out about politicians or I’ll be arrested or something, for treason.
S.M: I’ll send it down to the Union Building! Thank you very much. Thanks for the time, and thanks for – I know it’s exhausting to talk like this about things you must have been – you’ve talked about hundreds of times.
G.N: As I said, I place more faith in the written word. If I could write all that down, I’d choose better words, and so on.