Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Musical Couple

The cellist William Pleeth is probably best remembered for his association with Edmund Rubbra and as a teacher to Jacqueline du Pré. Alas his wife, the pianist Margaret Good, is maybe less well known and probably hardly remembered at all. 

From the late 1930's to the early 1970's the couple were to some extent fairly regular contributors to BBC programmes and also to concert life around Britain. Their main commercial recorded output was chiefly restricted to the early 1940's, together with the odd work doted about the following decades. A certain snobbishness for musicians with foreign, rather than British sounding names, is alluded to in Margaret Campbell's The Great Cellist, Gollancz, 1988. I wonder if this is the case for all performers who can only find  proper acknowledgement in foreign fields?

William Pleeth, cello & Margaret Good, piano
London, West Hampstead - Tuesday, 27th May 1941

Grieg: Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36
I. Allegro agitato : II. Andante molto tranquillo : III. Allegro molto e marcato

Decca K1048-K1051
[AR5429-5,  AR5430-5,  AR5431-4,  AR5432-4, 
AR5441-4, AR5442-4 & AR5443-5]

Lyric Pieces, Op.38 No.1 - Berceuse 
arr. by Joachim Stutschewsky & Isco Thaler

Decca K1051

(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)
Both pieces can also be streamed as mp3 @ 192 kbps below each label

All other Decca recording issued by these two fine artists can be listened to and/or downloaded from CHARM through this link.

The Recording

I think [something I do need to check!] that takes -1, -2 and -3 were recorded in March 5th, 7th & 10th. All of these takes failed to be passed as satisfactory so another session took place on the 27th May. This session produced two takes of each side, -4 and -5, and it is from this session that sides for the published set were chosen.

In all probability the work was recorded in the smaller No. 2 studio in the basement of Decca's West Hampstead building. This  studio was pressed into uses that it was not intended for during the war, and it may account for the sound we hear. Tension was maybe a bit high on the 27th of May, as a couple of weeks earlier, on the night of the 10th & 11th May 1941, London had endured it's worst bomb damage of the war. The quality for the recording is trifle close miked with not much reverberation, some forte passages are also bit full on, a combination that does not really help the piano tone much. The shellac of my copy is abominable and the condition is not to great either, still, being enthusiasts, we are not too concerned with these trifling distractions. The original recording wavers around 79-80 rpm to produce A at 440Hz [see my footnote on this].

The Performers

Decca publicity, February 1942

Margarate Good was a very interesting pianist, she studied under the great Tobias Matthay and then evolved her own style with the incorporation of the Leschetizky 'method' - I'm not quite sure what that really means, except the playing is both very fluid, exciting, almost a hard driven sound, that still retains a very musical view of the composition without being simply technically brilliant.

Pleeth is a true master of the cello, his most influential teacher was the Julius Klengel (1859-1933). 'At thirteen Pleeth won a two-year scholarship to study with Julius Klengel at the Conservatory in Leipzig. He was the youngest person ever to receive this scholarship at the time. Pleeth much appreciated Klengel. He said: "He was a wonderful teacher because he allowed you to be yourself. He hated it if someone copied him. He wanted us to develop our own musicality - and we did, and we're all different after all. Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky were both Klengel pupils and they were totally different in their style of playing. Klengel himself was a very simple, unsophisticated man whose integrity was unquestionable. He was always honest and I loved him for it."' [quoted in Wikipedia]. Again a very fine artist and up their with other great cellists

Julius Klengel about 1914

Klengel is important link between Grieg, for although Friedrich Ludwig Grützmacher premiered the first public performance of this work with Grieg at the piano on 22nd October 1883 in Dresden, it was Julies Klengel on the 27th October, again with Grieg, who gave the next performance at Leipzig. I hazard to even guess how the work developed in Klengel's mind over the next 50 years; further the very idea that Klengel ever produced a pupil that sounded anything like him is a misnomer. He would, I understand have guided Pleeth, but only in the possibilities the work afforded a player, not how Pleeth could interpreted it.

Grieg looking youthful

So we have a performance of the work which has connections with the composer but we can't really say more.

Contemporary Review

It was not until February 1942 that the set was advertised and then the first 'review' in Gramophone appeared the April issue. Compton Mackenzie's was after all leading the Home Guard on the Isle of Barra, so it looks as if it took a while for Mackenzie to get his hands on the records and delayed publication of any comments:-

Compton Mackenzie surveying his domain in 1936

'... a most delightful recording on four Decca discs of Grieg's Violoncello and Piano Sonata in A minor, played by William Pleeth and Margaret Good. This is a tender work full of simple melodies, and requiring from the string instrument just what Mr. Pleeth provides with his performance. It is almost easier to sentimentalize the violoncello than the violin, and when this is done the result is more nauseating. The same is true of the human voice. The lachrymose tenor or contralto is more trying than the lachrymose soprano, and, let me add, much more frequent. On the other hand, there is the danger of pomposity to' which the violoncello virtuoso is apt to succumb in the interpretation of a major opus, and all too often in the interpretation of a minor one. I alluded last month to the restraint and depth of emotion conveyed by Mr. Anthony Pini in that superb recording of the First Rasoumovsky Quartet by Columbia. That is an example of what I mean by avoiding pomposity. There is no pomposity to avoid in Grieg's A minor Sonata, but it would be all too easy to plunge into sentimentality, and this Mr. Pleeth avoids with complete success. The balance between the violoncello and the piano (yes, I realise I am being illogical in not writing pianoforte) is- beautifully preserved, and these Decca discs have given me particular pleasure. The eighth side is taken up by an arrangement of Grieg's Berceuse, which I do not think is found on any other disc.' [Gramophone April 1942, p. 176]

The records remained in the catalogues to 1948 or thereabouts, dispatched to the deletion list when lots of other pre-FFRR recordings appeared together with the first tentative LP's.

Biographies of Good & Pleeth

Instead of the obituaries etc., readily available online, I have transcribed the entries of this musical team from publication nearer in date to the recordings. Russell Palmer's British Music, London, Skelton Robinson, [1947]. These entries, I hope give a better idea how they, or possibly their agents Ibbs & Tillett, thought to have the couple promoted.

Margaret Good & William Pleeth in the 1960's

Good, Margaret. Pianist, b. London (date not for publication [27 April, 1906]). Showed a love for the piano at the early age of five, took her first lessons at seven, and a year later played at her first concert. While at school she also studied the violin, and wrote several small compositions. She gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music when she was sixteen, where she studied piano and gained several prizes, including the coveted Macfarren Gold Medal. She took lessons for a very short time with Tobias Matthay, and during this period appeared several times with orchestra under the late Sir Henry Wood at Queen's Hall, London. She was the first musician to be made an Associate of the R.A.M. while still a student. Her first broadcasting began in 1930, playing solo works and sonatas with her brother, Ronald Good, the violinist. This partner-ship continued until he joined the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra a year or two later. After leaving the Academy, Margaret Good studied the Leschetizsky method of piano technique, and her present system is evolved from a combination of the Matthay and Leschetizsky methods. In 1937 she met and formed a partnership with William Pleeth, the 'cellist, whom she later married (see separate entry). They broadcast together from 1938 onwards, and gave their first recital as a combination at Wigmore Hall in the same year. They record for Decca, and have given recitals all over the country, as far north as Dunfermline. Margaret Good played in Paris, 1938, and was prevented from doing so again the following year by the outbreak of war. She has always been particularly interested in contemporary music, and has given many first performances of works by young British composers, including Herbert Murrill, Alan Bush, Elizabeth Maconchy, Grace Williams, etc. She has broadcast the solo part of many piano concertos under Boult, Raybould, Lambert, Julius Harrison, etc., and has appeared in Promenade Concerts. Perhaps her greatest love has always been chamber music. With the Silverman Piano Quartet she made records of the Dvorak Quartets in D Major, Op. 23 and E Flat, Op. 87 for Decca, and has immersed herself in a great deal of other chamber work in company with Harry Blech and William Pleeth. She has a small daughter, born in March, 1946. [d. August, 2000]

Pleeth, William. 'Cellist, b. London, [12, January] 1916. Came from a family of well-known musicians, and began to study the 'cello at the age of seven, afterwards gaining a scholarship to the London 'Cello School where he was trained by Herbert Walenn. At thirteen he won a scholarship to the Leipzig Conservatoire, and there studied with the distinguished teacher Julius Klengel, at the same time taking piano lessons from Paul Klengel, brother of Julius. Two years later, William Pleeth made his debut as a 'cellist in Leipzig with the Conservatoire Orchestra under Walter Davidson, playing the Haydn Concerto. Subsequently Pleeth was engaged to perform with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Bruno Walter, and was the only 'cellist besides Feuermann to gain this distinction at such an early age. Returning to England in 1932, Pleeth gave his first recital and made his first broadcast during the following year. In 1936 he joined the Blech String Quartet, and in 1937 formed a partnership with Margaret Good, the pianist, who later became his wife (see separate entry). The two artists have played together since 1938 in most of the important centres of music in England and Scotland, apart from a deal of recording activity for Decca. William Pleeth plays a beautiful old 'cello by Stradivari, dated 1732 ; he has used his skill equally in the spheres of chamber music and solo repertoire, this latter in association with our leading conductors. He served for four years as an N.C.O. during the second world war, during which duties he met and worked with Edmund Rubbra, the composer. As a result of this association, Rubbra wrote his Soliloquy for 'Cello and Orchestra for Pleeth, who first performed the work in London, 1945. The 'Cello Sonata which Rubbra has just completed at the time of writing is dedicated to Pleeth and his wife. [d. 6 April, 1999]

First page of the manuscript score


I have dubbed this recording at A = 440Hz. This is not to claim that the recording was actually recorded at 440Hz for when played at 78rpm it is actually at a quite acceptable A = 435Hz. 

However their is a trace of a 50Hz hum, now all thing being equal that would be a good baseline to calculate the correct speed. This was after all the frequency used for most of the UK alternating current mains electricity at this time. 

Or rather it would be nice to use this baseline but in this recording the hum is around 49Hz at A = 440Hz. So it should follow that the recording maybe be then in a higher realm and play even faster at say around A= 445Hz. Ah but there is here a fatal flaw in this argument. Unfortunately this 50Hz cannot really be relied on to solve our pitch problem. 

During times of scarcity (wartime), or high usage (when everyone put the radio on for the 6 o'clock news whilst plopping the kettle on for a soothing cuppa) the national grid did drop the standard alternating frequency of 50c/s a tad so that there is less strain on the system. The net effect for users is their voltage stays constant but your kettle takes longer to boil - A digression: their is a neat way they avoid this problem today which you can see here. 

During wartime this frequency could drop as low as 47c/s which in turn would produce a hum of 47Hz. Much below this frequency you can collapse the grid system and cause blackouts. So the hum actually proves very little, so to avoid madness, I have recorded at the supposed standard in the UK for this period at A=440Hz.   

Monday, 2 January 2017

I've been away from this blog since 2015 so as this is a New Year and time for resolutions, I thought also to do something to distract me from the real world. Not sure if my resolution or the world will stop first but I won't think too deeply about that for now and just stick to the music.

Edward de Jong, flute & [Madame Adami], piano
c. Wednesday, 8th May 1907

Traditional : Auld Robin Gray
Gramophone & Typewriter 9199 [6008e]

Stephen Foster : Old Folks at Home - The Swannee River
Gramophone & typewriter 9198 [6011e]

Two FLAC selections in one Zip file 44.1kHz/16bit [23Mb]

(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)
Both pieces can also be streamed as mp3 @ 192 kbps below each label

Edward de Jong (1837-1920) is the oldest surviving flute player to have recorded.  I find it quite staggering that someone who played flute with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in the 1850's can even be heard today, but that he also played with Jullien's Orchestra also before he went on to become first principle flute of the Hallé Orchestra at its inception 160 years ago even more amazing.

Edward de Jong

De Jong studied at the Cologne Conservatory until 1850 when he moved to Leipzig to take private lessons with Wilhelm Haake (1804-1875). A pupil of the flautist Anton Bernhard Fürstenau (1792-1852). Haake had joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1821 and de Jong often deputised for him in the Gewandhaus Orchestra. At this period the orchestra was conducted by Julius Rietz (1812-1877) who if he is remembered today is through his most celebrated pupil Sir Arthur Sullivan. It was at this time that de Jong met with Franz Liszt, whe encouraged the young flautist and gave him a number of letters of introduction. In 1855 de Jong had moved to become a flautist in the Amsterdam Orchestra under August Mann (1825-1907), but being dissatisfied there he travelled in 1855 to London arriving so he said with with only 1s 6d of Dutch money in his pocket, nevertheless he still succeeded in joining the famous Jullien's Orchestra. [One wonders if he actually travelled back with Mann, who had incidentally only gone to Amsterdam to conduct the orchestra before returning to London to take up the conductorship at the Crystal Palace?]
Louis Antoine Jullien in the late 1850's
Louis Antoine Jullien (1812-1860) is now rather difficult to assess, he was certainly a showman, probably a charlatan, certainly a bankrupt fleeing his Paris creditors and lastly mad.  Little wonder that his career was so interesting having to live up to his full name of Louis George Maurice Adolphe Roche Albert Abel Antonio Alexandre Noë Jean Lucien Daniel Eugène Joseph-le-brun Joseph-Barême Thomas Thomas Thomas-Thomas Pierre Arbon Pierre-Maurel Barthélemi Artus Alphonse Bertrand Dieudonné Emanuel Josué Vincent Luc Michel Jules-de-la-plane Jules-Bazin Julio César Jullien. Despite the bejewelled baton, the gold chair and certain enhancements of the storm sequence of Beethoven's Pastoral symphony by shaking vigorously a large box of dried pees, Jullien generally did try to bring more 'serious' music to his concerts despite the boos from his devotees!
Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, 1857
I digress, but this image is looking east from Saloon A to C - the picture to the right of the empty
frame leaning on the floor in the middle distance is Franz Pourbus the Younger's Portrait
of Henry Duc de Guise. This was exhibit 514 and lent by the  Spencer family at Althrop.
It is still there in the same frame, so to add some colour it is shown in at the foot of this page.
In 1856 Charles Hallé was asked to form an orchestra for the Art Treasures Exhibition at Manchester that scheduled to open the following year. The first concert was held on the 6th of May 1857 and it is quite probable that the jubilee of this event prompted de Jong to make his recordings fifty years later. De Jong, recalled that he had been interviewed by Hallé in London before going to Manchester to perform with the Orchestra at Manchester which was made up from an amalgam of Jullien's and Hallé's musicians. This event must have been of some significance to de Jong by 1907 and surly prompted the recordings. This exhibition although not as famous as some, probably had the largest collection of art put ever put together in one place. 
Edward de Jong looking left!

He clearly preferred to stay in Manchester and on the founding of the Hallé Orchestra in following year de Jong became their first principle flute participating at their inaugural concert on the 30th of January 1858. De Jong held this position until 1870 when he left to established his own orchestra at Manchester, much to Hallé's ire.  Much of de Jong's time was then taken up as an active conductor at the large exhibitions and popular resorts including posts as Musical Director of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, Southport and Buxton. He was something of a showman in the Jullien way, although without anything like the same extravagance, he did not as Hallé aim to satisfy the public with too serious a program of classical music but aimed at the lighter and more popular music of his day. From 1893 until 1906, de Jong taught flute at the Royal Manchester College of Music before retiring from this position in 1907 at the age of 70.
Royal Manchester College of Music c. 1911

By good fortune there is a contemporary review of of these two records given in The Manchester Guardian, this must have been one of the earliest sustained series of record reviews to appear in a British newspaper for this time.  In the July 16th 1907 issue the following was penned 'Another good record is the one of Mr De Jong's flute-playing which must be still in the memory of older concert-goers in Manchester. The flute tone in very well reproduced; the lower notes are remarkably real. But the kindly, inoffensive old."Swannee River" is surely, getting too venerable to be subjected to such irreverent variations.' 

Alas the copies I have are not in the best of conditions. They appear not to have lasted in the catalogue more than a year although Auld Robin Grey got to a second stamper showing some popularity but The Swannee River may only have managed a first stamper.  With the opening of the Hayes pressing plant it appears not to have proved worthwhile to transport these matrices with the other 'English' titles from the Hanover pressing plant and instead they would have been destroyed with other redundant material. The spelling 'de Jonge' on The Swannee River label is likely to have been miscommunication between London and Hanover, indeed the name is spelt 'De Jange' on the recording sheets, seems very unlikely that the record was withheld for such a reason a more likely reason was the records wore out quickly on earlier gramophones. Another point worth pointing out are that very few recordings were issued of the flute by G&T up to this time. In total twelve 7" sides and seven 10" had been issued before De Jong's two sides came out with only a further nineteen solo, concerted or concerto sides issued before 1927 in any format marketed by G&T and HMV. 
Fred & Will Gaisberg 1912

Dating of the records

Only the dedicated discographer need read further but I thought I could explain the dating of these discs and thereby by default the probable dates of Vladimir De Pachmann's first recording.  

Will Gaisberg who recorded these records returned from the Bombay on the Wednesday 1st May 1907 and so is known to have begun recording at the City Road studio sometime that month.  On his return the block of 10" matrix numbers was restarted at 6001e the last number used by Will in India being 5560e. Vladimir De Pachmann was the first person recorded by Will Gaisberg on 6001e, 6003e and 6004e [6002e was not issued], there is then a short gap before de Jong's two issued matrix number 6008e and 6011e [6009e and 6010e no doubt being rejected]. There is then a long gap of twelve unknown matrix numbers before a choir composed Fishermen of the North Sea Trawlers (in conjunction with the National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen) recorded three selections beginning with 6024e. 

Will Gaisberg doubtless took a couple of days off after the voyage so probably did not actually start recording again until Monday 6th May. So to get a fix on the date of de Jong's recording sessions so I suggest the following chronology. De Pachmann gave his last concert in London before his two year tour to America on Wednesday 8th May and the The North Sea fishermen must surely be connected with the annual meeting of the National Mission held at Exeter Hall on Friday May 10th 1907. This last was advertised as including 'One Hundred North Sea Fishermen [who] will attend and take part in the proceedings.' So these recordings by the fishermen could very probably have been made on the following day, I would presume that working fishermen were very unlikely to remain in London too long after the meeting was over. I suspect the recordings by de Jong were made on or about Wednesday the 8th May just a few days after de Jong had celebrating his jubilee. I also suspect that De Pachmann recorded on Monday or Tuesday that week but also feel he returned to the studio for a second second session on the Thursday or Friday. It is this second session that may partly account for the missing matrix numbers after de Jong's 6011e. There is a similar gap of four matrix numbers in the De Pachmann's 12" series recorded at the same time, so it is also possible that de Jong may have attempted a longer composition during his recording session.
Vladimir de Pachmann 

This is all quite speculative but but it would seem a sensible plan as The Gramophone &d Typewriter Ltd may have thought to make enough good recordings of De Pachmann before he went abroad for a two year period of concert tours, Enough time then to have tests approved before De Pachmann left the UK sometime in the middle of June 1907 [he arrived at New York on the 27th June].

One final point is that I have ascribed the piano playing to Madame Adami with no proof whatsoever. although it is very probable that she is playing on these records for from 1907 she had become the house pianist at G&T and featured quite prominently in some publicity at this time - more about this mystery woman in a later post.

Franz Pourbus the Younger's Portrait
of Henry Duc de Guise

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.