Gerald Frost

Portrait of a Cold War Warrior as an Artist

The Other Brian Croziers


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MEETING THE ‘OTHER’ Brian Croziers turned out be something of a shock. The Brian Crozier that the world knows as former Cold Warrior and scourge of the Left seems an altogether different chap from the multiple ‘Croziers’ whose diverse artistic achievements are recorded in this unusual volume.

Indeed, even in physical terms the latter-day Crozier seems to bear little resemblance to the bearded Crozier whose picture appears on the cover. This could conceivably be that of a Spanish anarchist or an angst-ridden French existentialist philosopher, but, even allowing for the difference in years, it doesn’t look much like the genial, dynamic impresario of intelligence and counter-espionage whose passionate opposition to Communism led him to create his own network of agents. This latter Crozier, whom I know as a friend and ally, was – or rather is, even in his eighties – energetic, engaging, flamboyant, hugely self-confident, optimistic, generous, and invariably cheerful. Even at the height of the Cold War it was impossible to talk to him without feeling one’s spirits lifted, whether the topic of discussion was Soviet expansionism or Western gullibility. It was perfectly obvious that if only enough people could be persuaded to see things Brian’s way, the West was bound to prevail.

These earlier Croziers, however, seem altogether sadder, more introspective and more complex. Their output included poems (some in French), paintings, and compositions for piano; a recording of the latter accompanies the book, which also includes a brief but elegantly written account of Crozier’s early days. The first of his poems is entitled ‘Death’ and death is a frequent preoccupation, as are the nature of physical desire and the origins of sadness.

Crozier’s career as a composer and musician began in his adolescence. At the age of sixteen, despite his lack of formal training, he was offered a scholarship at the Trinity College of Music in London, on the spot, after performing some of his own compositions. Perhaps not surprisingly in the light of his subsequent career, his ambition was to conduct. But his own emphatic views, combined with his determination to do things in his own way, brought him into conflict with his professor. So, probably, did his obvious contempt for what he regarded as the latter’s lowbrow tastes, and these factors led to the loss of his scholarship. Not one for false modesty, Crozier does not quarrel with the judgement of a college administrator who, on hearing of his enforced departure, declared him to be their most talented student.

Crozier continued composing for the piano until 1936. His musical scores lay in an old chest until several decades later, when they were rediscovered by their composer. Evidently overjoyed to be reacquainted with the work of this curious former self, and displaying typical enterprise, he set about finding the right pianist to record them by means of a competition. Owing something to the Russian composer Scriabin, whom he greatly admired, his pieces for piano show an impressive elegance and maturity of style.

Crozier’s painting in oils is imaginative and bold in conception, but perhaps not quite of the same quality as his music. Taken as a whole, his artistic output suggests a young man of creative temperament and huge energy who was scarcely able to contain the artistic impulses that competed for his attention. When the music, poetry and painting ceased to flow, his creativity was first channelled into journalism, to which he turned as a matter of economic necessity, and then into impressive biographies of de Gaulle and Franco.

I doubt that his change of tack was the result of any sense of inferiority. His field of interest more likely changed because he discovered more urgent ways in which the world could be changed and improved. Instead of composing for piano, he orchestrated the work of agents, journalists and scholars who, like him, wished to participate in resisting the spread of Soviet totalitarianism. Instead of painting the world, he set about protecting it from a menace that he judged to be the most serious it faced. The means by which he chose to do so, including the foundation in London of the Institute for the Study of Conflict (which fell into instant decline and mediocrity when he was forced out ten years later), reflected a high degree of creativity, which involved not only the establishment of an international network of complementary and like-minded individuals, but also the commissioning of research papers, monographs, reports and books, and the organisation of seminars, conferences, and colloquia – all set up ab initio, with little in the way of experience, precedent or model to guide him.

These achievements (for which, disgracefully, he has received no public recognition) are described in his autobiography, Free Agent, published in 1993. I suspect these gave Crozier at least as great a sense of fulfilment as his early artistic output. Certainly there is no sign in the present volume that he was disappointed by not having become the great composer or conductor he once dreamed of being. Like all of us, he was changed by the choices he made. As a consequence of political engagement, these other Croziers, although highly talented, were left behind. It is nevertheless a pleasure to be introduced to them by so well-qualified an authority.

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