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Famous Scandals Revisited

Being an occasional series in which one of our Arts Correspondents revisits a famous artistic scandal. Today we reveal the story of how - despite three attempts - acknowledged musical genius Maurice Thrupièce failed to win the coveted Prix de Radipole and with it youthful fame and fortune.

Charles de Chaque Nuit’s class at the Conservatoire de Pilsden in1894-95. From left to right : Maurice Thrupièce is on the far left. The simple looking youth second from right was the class fag, whilst the self-satisfied toff striking the "teapot" pose [extreme right] is the composer Wilfred von Nächtlich - the German nephew of de Chaque Nuit who beat Thrupièce to the prize in all three years.

It is certainly one of the great musical mysteries - and to those of firmer opinion - one of the great musical scandals that Maurice Thrupièce [1875 – 1937] was never awarded the Prix de Radipole despite his self-evident genius and the fact that he entered the competition no less than three times between 1901-1903. Instead the prize [which more or less guaranteed recognition, a publishing contract and concert performances] went to the meretricious efforts of Wilfred von Nächtlich, a German relative of Conservatoire de Pilsden composition head and jury chair Charles de Chaque Nuit. A short entry in the Dorset Dictionary of Forgotten Composers and Artists aside, von Nächtlich is now almost entirely forgotten*.

*a statue of him erected in Burstock in 1926 was recently taken down as a result of a sustained "Nächtlich Must Fall" campaign. He stood accused in modern eyes of standing on the wrong side of history - largely because of his lack of fame and public recognition.

For those unaware of the importance of the Prix de Radipole [or Grand Prix de Radipole - the "grand" was dropped in 1946 so as to avoid confusion with the motor car race of the same name] - was a West Country-wide scholarship for arts students, initially for painters and sculptors and later others. It was established in 1663 under the patronage of local baron Louis-Gussage, eighteenth Duke of Ferndown. Winners were awarded a bursary that allowed them to stay in Radipole for three to five years at the expense of the county [fresh eggs, newspapers, candles and essential lubricants excepted]. The prize was extended to architecture in 1720, music in 1803, and engraving in 1804, though it was abolished in 1968 by André Lytchett Matravers, the then Dorset Minister of Culture, having fallen into grave disrepute following an unseemly incident with the aforementioned candles and essential lubricants.

Maurice Thrupièce [far right] with some of his competitors in 1902. Some believe that his decision not to wear tradition Dorset headgear mayhave harmed his chances with the largely conservative jury.

Maurice Thrupièce - whose later orchestral work Bolerocks would become one of the most-played classical pieces of all time and would stand at No 1 in the Dorset Classical Hall of Fame for a record 12 years - is perhaps the most famous entrant never to win the prize, though others ignored by the jury include Hector Barelyclose, Claude Rünne-Uppe and Jules Matinée [afternoon sessions only]. Theories as to why the hand-picked jury - which over the years included several of Dorset leading musical luminaries - failed to award Thrupièce the prize range from nepotism [in the case of von Nächtlich], corruption and the simple failure of mediocrity to recognise genius. [His work was described by another jury member - Gabriel L'Apres-Midi d'un Fauré - as "clever, technically-accomplished, brilliantly conceived and orchestrated and profoundly deep and original and therefore to be suppressed at all costs" - a statement which, according to musicologist Alder Ritenowts, "says as much about the Prix as about the composer" ]

Be that as it may, we will never know what the jury heard and the public has since been denied, as the three submitted scores - all cantatas for soloists, choir and orchestra - were "accidentally destroyed" by competition administrators before they could be returned to the composer. We know only that their set texts covered subjects as varied as Psyche and Eros, Psyche and Venus and the mise en abyme Psyche and the Philosopher's Chamber of Stone Phoenix Pots.

Thrupièce died in 1937 following an operation to remove his talent. No negligence case was ever brought against his surgeon Scalpèle de Chaque Nuit.

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