Saturday, 8 August 2015

Jack and the Gipsy

Edward German Gipsy Suite - Four characteristic dances

Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Composer

HMV D189 & D473

Two FLAC selections in one Zip file 44.1kHz/16bit [79Mb]
(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)

No. 1 - Valse melancolique (Lonely life)
HMV D189 (2-0889) [HO2742af]
Thursday 19th July 1917

No. 2  - Allegro di bravvura (The Dance)
HMV D189 (2-0913) [HO2745af]
Thursday 19th July 1917

No. 3  - Menetto (Love Duet)
HMV D473 (2-0986) [HO2988af]
Friday, 30th November, 1917

No. 4  - Tarantella (The Revel)
HMV D473 (2-0987) [HO2989af]
Friday, 30th November, 1917

Edward German began to conduct his own compositions for HMV at the end of 1916 and continued to record for the company until the early 1920s. HMV certainly thought he was worth recording for he was second only to Edward Elgar for the number of recordings he made of his own compositions by the acoustic process.

The earliest notice I have found of the Gipsy Suite is in an article for the newspaper Daily News of Friday, 4th December 1891 ‘Mr Manns has accepted, for the Crystal Palace concerts, a new “Gipsy suite” for orchestra, by Mr. Edward German, and it will be produced on Feb. 20, It will be in a somewhat lighter style than his symphony in E minor, and it will, indeed, consist of four movements - viz., a valse pensive, an allegro di bravura, an allegretto grazioso, and a tarantella, three of them being dance movements.’

Edward German in 1892
A further notice was given in The Pall Mall Gazette for Saturday, January 9, 1892 ‘Mr. Edward German, the composer of the excellent incidental music to “King Henry VIII.,” has all but finished a gipsy suite, which will be performed for the first time by Mr. August Manns's Crystal Palace orchestra on February 20. The suite is in four numbers, the first of them being a dance melancholic, the second a pure gipsy dance, the third an allegretto grazioso, and the last a very light and characteristic tarantella. Mr. German has entirety completed the first, second, and fourth numbers, and is at present putting the finishing touches to the allegretto.

The Electrical Exhibition, Chrystal Palace 1892
The concert was duly given on Saturday 20th February 1892, the programme staring at 3pm at the vast Crystal Palace, the other ‘show’ pulling in the crowds that weekend was the Electrical Exhibition, the Crystal Palace being quite equal to holding both these events consummate ease. 

I have illustrated the notice from the Morning Post which gives the full details of that days possibilities.

If any one was wondering, [I very much doubt that anyone is but I will stick this in for good measure] what the ‘(MS)’ in the line of the announcement ‘first performance of Gipsy Suite (MS) (E. German)’ it tells us that the work was being performed from manuscript. This gave notice to publishers of the day that they may want to hear it; and to the public that they might not hear it again!

August Manns  conducting something in 1895
The work elicited decent, if not quite rave reviews on the following Monday the 22nd. The Times described the work as ‘an interesting novelty was brought forward in the shape of a “ Gipsy Suite” by Mr. Edward German, consisting of four movements very cleverly written and orchestrated with conspicuous ability. The opening “Valse melancolique" is not especially characteristic, excepting in a quaint episodical phrase ; the allegretto grasioso is a little wanting in distinction; but the allegro di bravura and the final tarantella are full of life and originality, and the work as a whole should not be long in becoming as popular as it deserves to be.’ The Standard review mentioned ‘It was, perhaps, to be regretted that the new “Gipsy Suite,” by Mr Edward German, was placed at the end of the concert, but the position was justified by the light character of the music. That the young composer can write successfully in more serious forms of art is we know by his overture and incidental music to Richard III., and his symphony in E minor performed at the Crystal Palace fourteen months ago. The suite is in four brief movement, all piquant and dance-like in character, the effect being enhanced by Mr German’s felicitous orchestration. Opinions may differ as to which is the most charming section but the majority of hearers the choice will probably lie between the opening Valse Melancolique and the Allegreto grazioso, somewhat in the manner of a minuet.'

The concert was held in the large central section; 
the Electrical Exhibition being contained in the right hand section
The Glasgow Herald described it as ‘The only novelty in the programme was a “Gipsy Suite” of four dance movements by Mr Edward German. They are light, pretty, and quite unpretentious, and the first two movements  - respectively a “Valse Melancholique” and a gipsy dance - pleased best.’ The Illustrated London News on the Friday 27th of February believed they ‘thought it somewhat in the manner of Bizet’. Naturally enough Musical Times gave the fullest account in its March 1892 issue ‘At the Concert on the 20th February. Mr. Manns introduced a “Gipsy Suite” from the pen of Mr. E. German, who has already claimed favourable attention as a writer of instrumental music. The Suite is in four movements - a Valse mélancolique in A minor; an Allegro di Bravura, 4-4, in D minor; an Allegretto grazsioso, 3-4, in G major; and a Tarantella in A minor-and is a clever, richly scored, and eminently enjoyable composition. -We like Mr. German best in his vivacious moods, for in the Allegretto there is a slight lack of distinction in the principal melody - reminding one somewhat of that familiar type of piece entitled “Air of King Louis the  --th”; and all waltzes nowadays are so very melancoliques that Mr. German has not much scope for the display of individuality. But the Allegro and Tarantella are immensely spirited and bright, while the orchestration though a little “thick” in places, is remarkable for its sonority and ingenuity. The Suite, though placed last on the programme, was most cordially received, the applause continuing until Mr. German appeared to bow his acknowledgements from the platform.’

Bizet very likely not thinking about Gipsies
I might add that two other items of note given that day were a Mozart aria, a nod to the centenary of Mozart’s death, and that the child prodigy Master Otto Hegner, now sixteen, had to call off his performance due to ‘influenza.’ With but two hours notice Adelina de Lara, a little older at twenty, stepped in to play ‘Schumann's concerto in a manner which, it is not too much to say, entitles her to a place among the greatest living pianists.’ Heaven knows how the orchestra managed. 

Adelena de Lara in 1900
Adelina de Lara is a name to conjure with, and if you have not been introduced to her you might listen to the clips on YouTube at about 8:30 in the this particular clip you can hear her in a snippet from the Schumann concertoThe work then toured around the country and was performed at Birmingham, Cardiff and other musical towns before at last being taken up by Henry Wood with his Queen’s Hall Orchestra at the proms in 1895. Taking the proms as something of a bellwether in music popularity I see this was the first and last time the Gipsy Suite was given an outing. If it is, as I suggest, a bellwether then I’d better note that the last year any of Edward German’s music was performed at the Proms was in 1937 the year after his death, until a single piece from Merrie England in 2010 given as part of a reenactment of the Last Night of the Proms of 1910.

Brain Rees in his biography of German [A Musical Peacemaker: The Life and Music of Sir Edward German, Kensel, 1987  ]described the suite as ‘more like ballet music in the light Italian style than bohemian and does not have the peculiar rhythms or intervals that characterize gipsy music. It was pointed out that the tarantella is an Italian dance and there are few gypsies in Italy. Nor are many likely to have danced a minuet round the camp fires. Possibly some of he ideas had been set down for the projected ‘Hungarian’ opera. The first movement does contain suggestions of the Zigeuner tuning his instrument and as Romany is a vague and indefinable place some critics thought the allegro and tarantella were strongly tinged with gipsy character.’

I hazard a guess that the composer’s connection to HMV was through his long-standing friendship with Landon Ronald. What induced HMV to record the piece I can’t think why else for it was not a popular piece then much in fashion. However each of the dances can fit neatly onto one side which few orchestral movements could manage without some heavy handed cutting.

Landon Ronald looking thoughtful in 1920
German made his first attempt at recording the Gipsy Suite on the Tuesday 26th June 1917, two takes were made of each dance totalling eight matrices and allocated matrix numbers.

Another slight digression to explain that many more waxes could, and would, have been cut that day but many would necessarily have been rejected. The recording engineer or conductor could dish them for a whole host of problems including mistake in playing, blast, distortion of the grooves, etc. Unfortunately for both German and HMV all that days efforts were rejected for one reason or another. 

Experiments in recreating the acoustic recording process have been ongoing at the Royal College of Music in the last year and this link has an excellent article on trying replicate the difficulties our musicians had to face before 1925.

German returned to the studio at Hayes on the Thursday 19th July 1917 when there was only time to record four matrices of the Gipsy Suite, these being two takes of each of the first two dances. Of these four, one take for each dance proved successful and ultimately became an issued disc.

The time limit was imposed because Percy Pitt also had the use of the orchestra that day. Presumably he had the afternoon session which was used to record a number of operatic items with the soprano Miriam Licette. Due to wartime shortages, and the fact that part of the Hayes plant was converted to munitions production, the expense of hiring an orchestra and bringing it down to Hayes really had to be justified and fully exploited.

Instead of pushing on with the Gipsy Suite HMV instead allotted the remaining time to make a recording of German’s patriotic setting of Kipling’s poem Have you news of my boy Jack? Hence my inclusion of this track.

Clara Butt looking emotional as Orfeo
This work was written for Clara Butt, however she had had a tiff with HMV in the middle of 1915 and was now under contract to Columbia. Naturally when she came to record the song in March 1917 it was with one of Columbia’s roster of conductors. So it is that the Thomas Beecham’s version is today version, if known at all, is better known today. The Columbia performance is clearly modelled on the first performance of the song as given at the Royal Philharmonic concert at the Queen’s Hall on Monday 26th February 1917.

The Musical Times for April 1917 noted that the programme of the February concect  ‘included Dr. Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, Mozart’s Symphony in C (K. 425), Cesar Franck's 'Le Chasseur Maudit,' Balakirev's wonderful 'Thamar' (which loses so much away from stage action), and Ravel's now well-known 'Pavane.' A great audience was attracted, probably mainly to hear Madame Clara Butt, who sang Handel's 'Lusinghe più care,' two Russian songs in their original language [that might have been interesting!], and a new song-setting of Kipling's Have you news of my boy Jack? composed by Edward German in his effective and characteristic style. The song was conducted by the composer, and encored. Sir Thomas Beecham conducted all the other numbers.’  The Guardian of the 4th March was perhaps more honest  when it reported that Clara Butt ‘is unquestionably heard to more advantage in songs by Handel, Rachmaninoff, and Gretchaninoff; than in the setting by Edward German of Kipling's recent poem, “Have you news of my boy Jack” a lyric that would test the powers of most composers if the would avoid the commonplace.’

Clara Butt gave another performance on the Saturday 17th March at Queen’s Hall under Henry Wood and on Monday 4th June at the Crystal Palace which was once again conducted by the composer. By June a new arraignment of the work had been made as it was now augmented with a choir. This is the version of the score that HMV recorded in its answer to the Columbia Butt/Beecham version that had speedily appeared in April.

Louisa Kirkby Lunn maybe looking for Jack
HMV used their leading British contralto Louise Kirkby Lunn. Well I say it’s the version used by HMV but the Crystal Palace ‘orchestra of hundreds led by the LSO’ was drastically cut down to about thirty-five with the choir decimated from 2,500 to just four voices!

Have you news of my boy Jack?
Louisa Kirby Lunn, contralto with Female Chorus 
HMV 03572 [HO2748af]
Friday, 30th November, 1917

Although not credited on the label the four other voices are Bessie Jones, soprano, Eda Bennie, soprano, Elsie Williams soprano and Nellie Walker mezzo-soprano. Three takes were cut and each given matrix numbers, of these three waxes the last was thought good enough to issue. I now wonder if really was good enough for at the beginning there is certain amount of throat clearing and Kirby Lunn sounds somewhat hoarse in a few places and indeed at one point very slightly flat too. Added to this there is some talking at the end the take, German probably, which sounds something in the tone of ‘do it again.’ Kirby Lunn and company were probably flagging by this time and who knows how many actual attempts were made. They would be running out of time in any case, called it a day and thought to come back at some future date to attempt another recording. In the event HMV decided to go ahead and press one of the ‘satisfactory’ matrices as it stood, for Edward German was now to become unwell.

I won’t go into the whole story of the Rudyard Kipling and Edward German combination as is a whole other story and so just stick in the lyrics.

The poem as it appeared when 
first published in Kipling's Sea Warfare, 1915
According to German’s earlier biographer [William Herbert Scott. Edward German an Intimate Biography. London: Chappell & Co. Ltd, 1932] our composer ‘In the summer of 1917 had rheumatic troubles which confined him to bed for some weeks, and when he was able to travel his doctor persuaded him to try a course of treatment at Llandrindod Wells. This was his first absence from London of any duration since the war started.' 

 Llandrindod Wells - Pump House to the left.
'By the end of September he was feeling more like his old self, but returning to London found the constant menace of air raids more than ever nerve racking.’ Clearly a bit unsettled he wrote on the 5th of November ‘On Wednesday night [31st October] I was sitting in my room here expecting every second to receive a bomb on my head. The whistling of shells and the bursting of shrapnel and the ominous hum of the engines overhead all made an inferno for some two hours.’ This event was the German night attack of 22 Gotha Bombers, apparently the bombs did little damage but the sheer tonnage of ammunition that fell from the skies that was fired off by anti aircraft guns during these raids did kill a few people!

Gotha Mark G.IV type used for heavy bombing in 1917
Anyway German seems to have been well enough to travel down to Hayes on the Friday 30th November 1917 to complete the Gipsy Suite recording.

Sadly dear reader you will have suffer another little diversion. At this time Edward German lived at 5 Hall Road, Maida Vale in London and in order to get to Hayes he would have arraigned a taxi to Paddington Railway Station (he liked taxis but that is yet another story), taken a train to Hayes station and then walk to the studio. All in all to get to his destination, even giving him a generous amount of time to make this journey, I calculate he could do the trip in 1 hour 15 minutes. By happenstance German wrote a letter in 1917, otherwise undated to his sister Rachel  ‘I still go gramophoning. I have a session on Friday next and shall have to be up by 6.45 – cold work these mornings.’ We can deduce that this letter refers to the 30th November session as it happens to be the only Friday in 1917 that Edward German made any recordings. Getting up at 6.45, and giving himself say half an hour to get ready, I feel sure that his appointment at the recording studio was at 8.30 am. This whole taradiddle  is but an excuse to include a film taken of steam trains from the window on HMV’s factory at Hayes. Not any old film mind, a very special film, the first in stereo back in 1935 by the great Alan Blumlein.

Anyway that day six matrices were sent for processing two each for the third and fourth dances from which the published sides were selected. The last two matrices, one twelve and one ten inch that were cut that day were devoted selections from German’s Tom Jones. One of these Tom Jones sides was issued in May 1918 and the other in February 1919, however for some reason the whole of the Gipsy Suite was delayed much longer. By 1917 their we shortages of material to produce records and this is clearly evident in quality of the pressing of Have you seen my boy Jack? Issued in the autumn of that year. The mean looking label bears a monochrome copy of the trademark and the pressing material is of poor quality, noisy and pimply looking.

It was not until December 1919 that HMV thought the time was favourable to begin issuing the Gipsy Suite. As was common practise of the time the records were fed out one at a time over a number of months, orchestral selections then predominately designated for the HMV black label. The first dance on 2-0889 was issued in December 1919; the second dance on 2-0913 in February 1920. It was probably intended to issue next two dances in at a two monthly rate but a change of policy in the middle of this sequential issue by HMV meant that the first two single-sided records had to be withdrawn.

From February 1918 the first double-sided black label records began to make an appearance, by April 1920 they had got up to number D56 and HMV then decided to bite the bullet and convert all the current single-sided issues to double-sided format thus in that month a block of numbers from D 57 to D 460 came out.

HMV catalogue of May 1921
showing the double-sided grouping of sides
This block itself divided into sub-blocks, Elgar’s discs were on D175 to D181 and Edward German’s issued sides being on D184 to D189.  This explains the rather glaring gap in numbering between the two double-sided discs. Dances one and two were doubled on D189 with dances three and four, never having been issued as single-sided on D473. Actually D473 had to wait until August 1920 almost three years after the recording was made. The records were of moderate popularity and lasted in the catalogue until December 1925 when the electrical recorded discs began displacing the acoustic recordings.

As for Kirby-Lunn’s disc of Jack it continued in the catalogues first as a purple label before advancing with all Kirby Lunn’s other discs to the celebrity red label status. When the inevitable doubling up of the red celebrity records happened in 1923 this song was probably thought to be a bit dated and quietly deleted. In truth with the Clara Butt’s record as competition it probably did not really stand a chance and may have been a bad seller.

Edward German striking the same pose in 1920 as he did in 1892

I can find but one contemporary review of the Gipsy Suite recording, or rather half of it in Musical Times of January 1921.

‘Edward German's 'Gipsy Suite' (H.M.V.) is a good orchestral reproduction. I have heard only two of the four movements the Menuetto and Tarantella, on a double-sided. A surprisingly large proportion of instrumental details emerge, especially from the clarinet and flute, a rapid chromatic gurgle by the latter being a specially enjoyable feature. The Tarantella is the better movement of the two - German at his effervescingest.’

The recording is only slightly abridged with a repeat in each of the outer movements cut. You also just hear Edward German giving encouragement to his players at 0:11. The odd noise you hear at about 4:08 and in several other places in the second dance is very like a loose recording diaphragm.

Just one last useless piece of information from me concerns Sir Thomas Beecham, his discography shows that he recorded only two Edward German compositions, the aforementioned Jack of 1917 and at the end of his life the Gipsy Suite. The latter item, not approved by Beecham, was released after death and can be heard here on YouTube.

Gypsy encampment on Putney Heath by Hubert von Herkomer
Published in The Graphic 18 June 1870.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Copyright Rage

Nothing new about copyright upsetting some people, but more ado about that further down the blog.

The London Flute Quartet

Robert Murchie, Gordon Walker, Frank Almgill, Charles Stainer

(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)

a) Salomon Jadassohn : Scherzo, Op.57
b) Rimsky-Korsakov : ‘Flight of the Bumble-Bee’
Columbia 4215 (ⓦA 4197-1)

Briccialdi : ‘Il Carnival di Venezia’ op. 77 (arr. by Charles Stainer)
Columbia 4155 (ⓦA 4198-1)

Traditional : “Scotch an Irish Airs” (arr. by Charles Stainer)
Columbia 4155 (ⓦA 4199-1)

a) Grieg : Lyric Pieces, Op 12 No. 4 ‘Dance of the Elves’ (arr. by William Alwyn)
b) Chopin : Prelude in A major Op.28 No.7
c) Grieg : Lyric Pieces, Op 12 No. 6 ‘Norse’ (arr. by William Alwyn)
Columbia 4215 (ⓦA 4200-1)

Recorded: Friday, 1st or Monday 4th October 1926 in London
Issued: January & March 1927

The London Flute Quartet was formed, I believe, not long before their first run of four sides for Columbia in 1926. The four flautists, in the order given in the Columbia publicity material, were Robert Murchie (1884-1949), Gordon Walker (1885-1965) Frank Almgill (1881-1966), Charles Stainer (1885?-1947?) who were all top flight instrumentalists in the London orchestras in the 1920s. [see below for more fulsome biogs.] 

Robert Murchie, Frank Almgill, Gordon Walker
Charles Stainer (on bass flute)

The quartet also made a few more recordings in 1927 for Edison Bell and then Parlophone which may account for the group not being asked back by Columbia. They broadcast a few times for the BBC during 1927 and 1928 but apart from an outing in aid of the Musicians Benevolent Fund in 1934 they did not apparently perform again, at least visibly, until 1936 and 1937 when the BBC made a couple more broadcasts.

I have ordered the recordings above chronologically although each side was paired in a different order when issued.

As was common practise the two records were staggered over the two months of January and March 1927. Columbia 4155 was described as 'a delightful novelty' in the puff for their January supplement:

Now for the reviews, as usual these come from The Gramophone by Peter Latham and The Musical Times by the as yet unidentified Discus:

'Columbia 4155 (10in., 3s.), on which we hear the Carnival of Venice - Variations (Briccialdi, arranged Stainer) and Scotch and Irish Airs (arranged Stainer) played on four flutes (the London Flute Quartet), the lowest instrument being, I think, the rather uncommon bass flute. It is a strange experience to listen to these four flautists twittering away together, though perhaps hardly a satisfying one musically. A curious effect, as if a reed were joining occasionally in the concert, is probably due to the rather clarinet-like quality that the gramophone gives to the lower notes of the flute. The Gramophone, February, 1927 p. 373.

'The London Flute Quartet (Murchie, Walker, Armgill, and Stainer) gives us a novel type of record. I wish the brilliant playing had been spent on worthier material than showy variations on Scottish and Irish airs, and 'The Carnival of Venice.' The flute is one of the best of recording instruments though four together are apt to become a little shrill, and to set up too much in the way of harmonics. Let us hope that this admirable and unusual ensemble will find some first-rate music, composed or arranged, to take the place of the superficiality to which the instrument is usually condemned when heard alone. The Musical Times, February, 1927 p. 142.

Now this record was quite innocuous but not so the second release in March. Again a clipping from the Columbia supplement with yet more enthusiasm this time for their 'electric recording.'

The reviews again come from the same two journals:

'4215 (10 in., 3s.), into which the London Flute Quartet manages to squeeze five pieces - no mean achievement. They are Dance of the Elves (Grieg), Prelude No. 7 (Chopin), Norse (Grieg), Scherzo (Jadassohn), and Flight of the Bumble-Bee (Rimsky-Korsakov). The Chopin does not come off, but I was simply delighted with the Bumble-Bee (the flutes turn the beast into a bluebottle, but that doesn't matter), and in its way I thought this record as [a] great a triumph... .' The Gramophone, March 1927 p. 417

'The London Flute Quartet has made a greatly improved choice of music for its second recording - two of Grieg's Lyrical Pieces and the Chopin Prelude in A, a Scherzo of Jadassohn and Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumble-Bee.' All are not equally happy, but the success of the; Bumble-Bee' piece alone is sufficient to make the record well worth while (4215). The Musical Times. April, 1927 p. 346

The Chopin which 'not come off' is partly due to problems with Columbia's early Western Electric recording equipment as indeed the mention of 'harmonics' in 4155. Certain 'booming sounds'' and resonances affected the microphone during recording but particularly so in the Chopin, on the whole though there remarkably simple recording equipment managed wonderfully.

William Alwyn gets into trouble

Well that seems all fine and dandy but then came a bombshell. It all has to do with the two Grieg pieces in arrangement by William Alwyn (1905-1985) – yet another flute player by the way, but a quick glance over the Wikipedia entry shows him to be very much 'a man of parts'

William Alwyn 1924

'In the summer of 1927 Alwyn secured a fortnight's engagement with the local band at Broadstairs, summoned as a replacement for a flautist who had been hired but left for a more lucrative assignment. The orchestra of ten performed in 'a rickety bandstand on the sea front doing our best to intone In a Monastery Garden in the teeth of what seemed a perpetual gale! It was a wet, depressing August, with rehearsals conducted by a Captain Waterhouse (a veteran of the Great War) in a soggy marquee, rehearsals often for concerts that were cancelled because of the dismal weather ... Coming down to breakfast one morning in the back-street boarding house where he lodged with some of his fellow bandsmen, Alwyn found two letters waiting for him. Opening the first, Alwyn was dismayed at what he read. Grieg's publisher wished for an immediate explanation of why Alwyn had infringed the composers copyright by arranging Grieg's Lyric Pieces for four flutes. Court action was mentioned as a possibility. These arrangements had been written for the London Flute Quartet, in complete innocence of any matters relating to copyright and its infringement, mechanical rights or performing rights, all things of which Alwyn was quite unaware. It was to Gordon Walker, the leader of the Quartet, that Alwyn turned for help, and Walker's tactful intervention calmed the situation. Because it was a sunny morning, Alwyn had to hurry to the bandstand for a concert, and it was only during an interval that he remembered to open the second letter. It was the offer of a contract as Third Flute and Piccolo in the London Symphony Orchestra for Septembers Three Choirs Festival at Hereford. [Adrian Wright The Innumerable Dance: The Life and Work of William Alwyn, Woodbridge: The Boydel Press p. 49.]

It does not seem, from the above, that Alwyn and the quartet were in too much hot water but Walker's ‘tactful intervention’ was apparently quite an heated affair. In his article in The Times newspaper [Friday, Feb 4, 1966] in a piece titled 'The Mysteries of Copyright' the music critic William Mann  fleshed out more of the story:

‘In the current issue of Recording Rights Journal Mr. William Alwyn recalls the terrible episode which resulted, in 1927, from his arrangement for four flutes of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, a work which he had undertaken to enliven the repertory of the virtuoso London Flute Quartet and boost the reputation of a dead and perhaps underestimated composer. Grieg's music was still in copyright, and a row ensued, as a result of which the quartet's leader. Gordon Walker (a universally respected musician) reported: “I had to hand over your manuscript, and the publisher tore it up in front of my eyes, and then I was given the biggest dressing down I have ever received in my life." Mr. Alwyn would not have suffered if he had offered the London Flute Quartet an original composition of his own; altruism was his undoing (though 2LO, as the B.B.C. then was, might have been less willing to broadcast a work by a young and unknown composer).'

Now what of the record? Well it was not withdrawn as you might expect but continued on in the Columbia catalogue until at least 1935. Indeed it outlasted the other record of the London String Quartet in the listings! The Grieg recording was actually broadcast three times by the BBC in 1935 & 1936.

This puts me in a quandary. Grieg is out of copyright, well I do hope he is but one never knows these days, but Alwyn is still very much in copyright and will be so even when I'm dust. So if the arrangement was never copyrighted then maybe the only surviving artifact of the arrangement Grieg's Lyric Pieces is in the recording. Does this mean that Alwyn's musical executors or heirs can now transcribe the pieces from my posting and then ban everyone from hearing it again, me excluded of course as I still have my 78, for another 75 years. 

So then, hear it while you can people.

The Flute Players

I have below given outlines biography of the players below all culled from Susan Nelson's formidable discography The Flute on Record, Scarecrow Press, 2006

Frank Almgill (1881-1966); studied flute with Staniland Hall and Edward de Jong. He was the principle flautist of the London Chamber Orchestra, second flautist and piccolist of the London Symphony Orchestra, and piccolist at Covent Garden. Beginning in 1923 he had an active broadcasting career as a member of the 'BBC Wireless Orchestra' and continued as second flautist when the BBC Symphony Orchestra was officially founded in 1930 (he left in 1945),. He was a member of the Kneale Kelley Quartet, sometimes known as the '2LO Instrumental Quartet.'

Robert Murchie (1884-1949) won a scholarship to London's Collage of Music in 1906 and studied flute there with W. Barrett, Early in his career, he was a remember of the 'Royal Victory Band. an ensemble that recorded for the British Victory label ca. 1912. Murchie performed as a member of the Queen's Hall orchestra, the London Symphony orchestra, and the Royal Philharmonic Society (ca. 1925-32). in addition he was a founding member of the London Wind Quintet, and the London Flute Quartet, he was principle flautist of the BBC Symphony orchestra from 1930-1938 and professor of flute at the Royal Collage of Music in London.

Charles Stainer (1885?-1947?) was born Carl Steiner changing his name to Charles Steiner at the Proms in 1898 [was he really born around 1885?} and on the outbreak of war in 1914 made a final name change. Studied flute with A.P. Vivian at the Royal College of Music in London and thereafter became a noted orchestral performer, soloist, and composer of flute solos. he was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Society and performed with the BBC Military band and the BBC Symphony Orchestra (130-1933). especially when an alto flute was called for. He taught at the Royal Academy of music between ca 1928 and 1945.

Gordon Walker (1885-1965) Walker was primarily self-taught and began his musical career in Edinburgh, Newcastle and Blackpool (ca, 1906-1911), after 1911 he went to London and played with various orchestras and opera companies, notably the British National Opera and the London Symphony Orchestra. He was principle flute of the Royal opera, Covent Garden (ca.1925-1929) and the London Symphony Orchestra (1926-1946), and he is also mentioned as a member of the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Society. In addition to playing in the London Flute Quartet, Walker formed the Cellini Trio of flute cello and piano and the Lyra Quartet of flute, violin, viola, and harp.

A wee note

And finally an apology: this is my first post for 2015, a terrible admission but I just ran out of steam and needed a kick from Grumpy's Classic Cave to get me out of my torpor.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Something for Christmas

Harry Amers was and now never will be a household name. He however did his part to promote music to the masses in the first third of the 20th century at the seaside resort of Eastbourne on the South Coast of England for which we really should be grateful.

Amers: All on a Christmas Morning, Idyll [1920]
Amers: The B'hoys of Tipperary, Patrol [1915]

The Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra conducted by Harry G. Amers

Columbia 5400
(ⓦAX 8896-2 & ⓦAX 8894-2)
Recorded: Thursday, 18th April 1929 at Eastbourne
Issued: mid June 1929

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‘Harry’ Henry Gallon Amers (1875 - 1944) was born in Newcastle to a musical family. Harry’s Grandfather was a band sergeant in the Newcastle Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry and his father J.H. Amers may also have been a member of this same regiment but due to delicate health we find him conducting a string band that also grew large enough to be called and ‘orchestral band’ that gave entertainment at various shows and functions in the in the Newcastle area. Most notably as musical director to the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887. Harry started as a chorister in St George's Newcastle and as a youth he played a solo by command before the Princess of Wales and several times before King Edward VII - unfortunately I do not know which instrument he played.

Harry Amers around 1908
Harry was to joined the same regiment, now renamed the Northumberland Hussars Imperial Yeomanry, on 24 March 1896 as a ‘Bandmaster.’ This was just a month after his father’s death so the two events are probably connected for Harry either joined in order not to be a drain on the family finances or to help support his mother and siblings. In 1898 he can be found conducting the Elswick Military Band at the Pleasure Gardens at Saltburn and seems to have conducted various military bands in popular and classical music throughout the North-East. He may have been with the Hussars during the Boer War however he was certainly in the UK in 1906 to record a number of pieces, including some of his compositions for the Homochord label. Harry apparently re-enlisted twice firstly in June 1906, roughly when the Homochord records were issued and again in June 1908.  One has the feeling that Harry’s health was also delicate for although receiving his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal when war broke out in August 1914, Harry, still only 39 he was found unfit for service. Despite this he still seems to have seen action as he was wounded in action. Harry remained with the Hussars and sometime after 1915  took charge of a prisoner of war camp. Once hostilities had ended he received the rank of captain in the reserves on his leaving the army in 1920. 

Inside the Eastbourne Pavilion.

Amers soon afterwards was employed by Eastbourne corporation to form a municipal orchestra that was based at the Devonshire Park both in the Pavilion auditorium and the Theatre for the next fifteen year the orchestras conductor. He conducted his small orchestra throughout the year, the orchestra being augmented with musicians down from London once the session there had ended. He clearly had good connections in the music world for he very soon instituted a music festival. The first of these remarkable festivals was in 1923 and was reviewed in the December issue of Musical Times.

Devonshire Park - the Theatre to the left and the Pavilion behind the trees.
'Eastbourne.- A notable Musical Festival was held by the Municipality at Devonshire Park on November 8-17,with the Municipal Orchestra under Capt. H. G. Amers. The interest and popularity of the Festival were maintained from beginning to end. The British music included Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Herbert Howells’s new Pastoral Rhapsody, Alfred Wall’s Thanet and Lucretius, Mr. David Stephen’s Coronach, Holst’s Fugal Concerto and Fugal Overture, Dame Ethel Smyth’s Prelude to The Wreckers, Maurice Besly’s new Suite, Chelsea China, and works of Holbrooke, Eric Coates, W. H. Reed, Granville Bantock, John Foulds, Roger Quilter, Howard Carr. and A. W. Ketelbey, who all came to conduct their own compositions [!!!]. Franck’s Symphony was conducted by Sir Henry Wood. The choir appeared only once - in [German's] Merrie England. The Municipality is to be congratulated on the excellent management and success of its new venture.'

The festival continued annually, even the redoubtable Thomas Beecham came to conduct together with international soloists as Elizabeth Schumann, Arthur de Greef, and Guilhermina Suggia. 

During the late 1920s Amers and the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra broadcast on the BBC a number of summer programmes from Devonshire Park. I understand that in the summer concerts were given in the Pavilion and in the winter in the Theatre. 

Film of the the North-East Coast Exhibition 1929.

The present recordings are connected to the North-East Coast Exhibition, a world fair held in Newcastle between May and October 1929. Recorded in Eastbourne in April 1926 the orchestra then headed north to Amers home town for the Exhibition. The record was issued by Columbia in their mid-June supplement when a total of eight sides which included these two of Amers own composition/arraignments.

Columbia Supplement mid-June 1929
1929 was probably the high watermark of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra’s success, a combination of economic distress and the Corporation of Eastbourne wanting a more popular fare with their new Band Stand  caused the orchestra to be disbanded in May. 1936. 

The last Festival was held at Devonshire Park on November 25-December 1 ‘The principal works in their programmes being as follows: Sir Hamilton Harty - Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto (Mr. Michael Cherniavsky), In Ireland (Harty); Sir Thomas Beecham - Schubert’s Sixth Symphony. Sibelius’s Four Historical Themes. Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony; Sir Landon Ronald - Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D (Miss Orrea Pernel). Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony; Dr. Adrian Boult - [Elgar's] Cockaigne/ Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (Miss Myra Hess), Bax’s ‘Tintagel’; Sir Henrv Wood-Moussorgsky’s ‘Peep-Show’ Sibelius’s ‘En Saga.’ On the Friday afternoon Capt. Amers conducted a programme that included Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto (Orloff) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 in C. Mr. Gordon Jacob conducted his Passacaglia on a well-known Theme. The festival concluded with a performance of ‘The Messiah’ under Capt. Amers with Miss Isobel Baillie. Miss Betty Bannerman, Mr. Heddle Nash, and Mr. Harold Williams as soloists. It transpired that the Corporation intended to disband the Municipal Orchestra when its present contract expired next April. At the end of his concert Sir Thomas Beecham made a vigorous speech against this decision.' [Musical Times January, 1929].

Opening of the new Eastbourne Bandstand in 1936 - at 28 seconds there is what maybe a 
glimpse of our Capt. Amers standing behind the dignitaries at his last official function!

Harry 'was a handsome fellow; it seems, always immaculately dressed with a red carnation in his buttonhole and red hair to match. Much admired by lady members of the audience it is said ... . He had flair and a good sense of showmanship and never arrived until the second item on the programme, allowing his deputy to start the concert off. He appeared, as did the orchestra, in uniform during the day but in the evening he put on evening dress and became Captain Amers and his Famous Orchestra' (Pegg: Newcastle's Musical Heritage - unfortunately with a number of inaccuracies but with further information on Amers the contribution to the North-East Coast Exhibition)

I suppose Harry Amers probably went into retirement and is invariable recorded as having died in 1936 however Harry lived until 1944 and  died at West Hills, Ottery St Mary in East Devon. He was at the time of his death married to Kate Amers but he was also married to a Beatrice in 1907, but that ended in divorce in 1910. Harry was cremated and his ashes were interned with his parents John Hall Amers (1840-1895) and Frances Gallon Amers (1846-1906) and his siblings John Richardson Amers (1865-1946); Frances Amers (1874-1941); Hilda Amers (1881 - 1891) and Richard Amers (1884-1885). 

Debussy at the Grand Hotel Eastbourne taking a photo of the sea -
probably not really thinking about La Mer which he happened to compose there!