A Musicologist Writes #12

Updated: May 10, 2019

A musicologist writes:

One of several recordings of Mr Threabone's "music" on the Hornimint label
One of several recordings of Mr Threabone's "music" on the Hornimint label. Symphony No 1 is the only one of his works to have been recorded by a "foreign" orchestra. Mr Bernstein later described the recording as "a mistake".

Composer Addinsell Threadbone is 90! Born in 1919 into a family of Dorset farmers, he often claimed that it was his humble beginnings and lack of formal education which made his music what it is: chaotic, tuneless and unpopular with the critics and public alike.


Addinsell's father Gabriel Threadbone (who was county sheep shearing champion on several occasions in the early 1910s) discouraged any interest in music, once describing the installation of a harmonium in The Church of Our Lady of the Slow Bowels, Shapwick as an "act of the devil' which would only "encourage them there fornications and goings-on. It is ironic that the son of a man famous for stripping away excess should himself be so compositionally prolix and undisciplined. It is an irony altogether lost on the composer himself who once described his compositional process as "finding materials and assembling them as best I can irrespective of their origin or any formal logic". "My music is maximal and additional: it accumulates and coagulates until it stops - then I decide whether or not to start again". [Adinsell Threadbone [1983] "Just One Damned Note After Another" The Threadbone Press].


Fortunately(?) however Addinsell's mother - Bertha (née Lumpstone) - did secretly indulge her youngest son, saving enough money on one occasion to buy a comb which she presented to the young Addinsell together with some tissue paper she had found in a cupboard in the church which she cleaned on alternate Mondays. Addinsell took to it immediately and was said to have "the best side-parting" in Shapwick. What he did with the tissue paper has never been disclosed.


Music came properly into the young Addinsell's life when a group of Romany gypsies visited Shapwick in or around 1926, bringing with them a "squeeze box" which fascinated the young child. "It's ability to mimic the sound of a farting sheep was a source of wonder to me and I was determined from that point onward to do all that I could to make sounds like that a part of my musical language". It would be nearly 10 years before Addinsell could capitalise on his resolve, but the encounter was the beginning of a journey which would take him into the concert halls of West Dorset, to a conducting career with the Threadbone Players and the East Stour Symphony Orchestra (later the Thrupiece Philharmonic) and to "an undistinguished career" in many other parts of the West Country. Amongst his many musical influences (though he was taught by none of them) Mr Threadbone lists: Eric Fishwick, Vladimir Dmitri Probonovich, Fernando Mediantepiezza, Acker Bilko, Joseph Go-Belles and Ziggy Osmington as well as (in his last phase) famed and highly versatile vocal duo René and Renato Compton-Abba. ("And I mean that most sincerely folks", he gently mocks.)


Musicologist and historian Dr Mani Bumm-Notes has made a special study of Addinsell Threadbone's music which, he says, can be divided into three phases, each of which has a characteristic tinta. He classifies these as: Early, Middle and Late but adds that they share a common thread which makes all of Threadbone's ouevre unmistakably his own. "Though his works can be divided - some have suggested groupings such as "the unplayable, the unlistenable, the intolerable and the inconceivable" - they share a common thread: a naiveté of conception, a thoroughgoing infelicity of construction and an unapproachability guaranteed to turn audiences away within the first 15 bars. This is no mean achievement. No other composer who has written as much as Threadbone has similarly failed to get it right even once. In his own way the man is a genius - shall we say "an expert in failure".*


* A Mr Morris Mourinho aka The Special Needs One has asked us to point out that the term "expert in failure" was first coined by him and remains subject to a copyright claim [Ed].


Addinsell Threadbone enthusiast and resident of Lytchett Minster High Security Hospital, Sy Kotick begs to differ: "If you listen to nothing else - and you probably won't - try at least his film music. The soundtrack to "And Suddenly It's Christmas" (2016) (co-written with Costas Hadjipapadopoulos)" is unbelievable. I am surprised it's not available as a soundtrack recording: the use of the ocarina as ground-bass against the theremin obligato is reminiscent of Schoenberg at his most ascetic". Mr Kostick is due to be released into intermediate care in 2036.


Following Threadbone's retirement from the concert platform, his successor at the helm of the Thrupiece Philharmonic Orchestra - maestra Irina Legova - has attempted to continue championship of his works both in the concert hall and on disc, but audiences have remained as unequivocal (and largely absent) as ever: a judgement which future historians seems unlikely to overturn.

Perhaps his greatest achievement, Threadbone's "Requiem for Brian" is a summation of his musical career and represents him at his most "adventurous" ie "undisciplined, self-indulgent and uncommunicative".
Perhaps his greatest achievement, Threadbone's "Requiem for Brian" is a summation of his musical career and represents him at his most "adventurous" ie "undisciplined, self-indulgent and uncommunicative".

Amongst many symphonies, concertos, works for chamber orchestra and music for film, his "Requiem for Brian" a sacred choral work a cadenza for 3 obligato nasal clippers and a Moulinex Magimix stands out. Premiered in East Stour in 2006, it is rarely performed today and never as originally conceived. Fragments of the one and only live performance are available on Hornimint Records. The recording, conducted by the Composer, features Brenda Oats (narrator), together with the Holnest Nasal Ensemble, Fifehead Magdalen Choir and the East Stour Symphony Chorus and Orchestra. It is also available as an 8 track tape for in-car listening. (further details AVAILABLE HERE).


Though rarely seen today, Addinsell Threadbone threatens that he is "by no means finished". "There's plenty more where that came from", he warns as he cuts up scores by the major European composers and reaches for the Pritt Stick.

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