Friday, 6 April 2012

The fun of inflicting old records on innocent ears

This excerpt was  recorded some eighteen days before the world premier of the opera at Covent Garden. maybe better to listen to this before you read the comments below as we don't want any bias. The sound is quite poor for the period as I think the music may have been problematic to record.  

I had better  state that the music is still in copyright and thus downloading is technically illegal, but as it is but a sample of the work we may all survive the full weight of the law. ' I won't let it happen again officer.' 

I admit also this has been reissued on Dutton as part of a compilation but still another example won't hurt and this one is Free! The voice of Arthur Fear is distorted on the recording, he would have been recorded from a separate microphone and mixing was not an exact science in 1929, some wear on the grooves at this point hasn't helped either.

Eugene Goossens : Judith - Ballet Music. 
New Symphony Orchestra  & Arthur Fear, Baritone
conducted by Eugene Goossens.
HMV C 1706
[Cc 16661-2 , Cc16662-3A]
Recorded: 7th June 1929 at the Kingsway Hall, London 
I have joined the two sides together into one Flac file, HERE at Mediafire. [about 14Mb].

‘The collaboration of Arnold Bennett and Eugene Goossens which resulted in Judith proved to be most successful, and the opera, which was first performed at Covent Garden on June 25th, 1929, made a deep impression. The wild, barbaric atmosphere of the libretto is reflected in Goossens’ score, which is a masterpiece of orchestral writing. This is the first recorded performance of music from this interesting opera, being conducted by the composer, who is an exclusive “His Master’s Voice” artist, is authentic,. The richness of orchestral colouring and the fire and passion of the music will ensure this record wide popularity’

Well that is how the Mid-September HMV Supplement described this record. As for the rest of the press, well lets say it resolutely damned the work.

The Gramophone review of October 1929 did not pull any punches:- ‘I did not hear Judith, but I remember that nearly all accounts spoke ill of the ballet dancing, which was deemed unworthy of the occasion. Perhaps for that reason the music did not make quite its full effect. Without the stage pictures it is not possible to judge it properly, of course. To me it sounds wry, and wilfully so. Near the end of the first side [2:20] I am strongly reminded of the Punch and Judy fight in one of Goossens' early sets of sketches, Four Conceits, which Velvet Face recorded long ago, and which ought to be produced again. The second side [from 3:06] sounds rather more developed and logical. Arthur Fear, the bass, interjects a few resounding bars at one point. I am afraid most of us will not have a chance  to hear this opera ; it is unlikely to be revived ; so if any want to secure a souvenir of it now is the time. Though I cannot recommend this sample of the music I can praise the record for its presentation of the orchestral colours.'

Mmmm this all sounds a bit ominous as does the The Musical Times for August 1929 read on...

‘It is said at Holywood [sic] that a successful film invariably makes use of these ingredients: religious uplift, snobbery, and sex appeal; and the shortest scenario which has ever been written to this formula was, "My God," said the Duchess, "what legs!" Mr. Arnold Bennett has reduced the story of Judith to the same formula, with the addition of a murder to amplify it, and has handed it to Mr. Eugene Goossens to make into an opera. The conflict between the God of Israel and His pagan enemy is the main theme; instead of the Duchess we have the Oriental Court of Holofernes ; the legs of the Russian Ballet are there, and we have the seduction of Holofernes by Judith to lend further sex interest, while his murder by the same lady gives a good strong dramatic situation. So far, admirable; for we can have a soprano heroine whose varying passions give scope for coloratura, a contralto attendant to enunciate the obvious at the right places, a love duet, a ballet, an Oriental potentate who can rant and play the he-man, and a nice, modest baritone to be his victim. The only trouble about this perfect opera book is that it needs not merely music but the right kind of music. The right kind of music will be good, honest Italian stuff a la Tosca. Mr. Eugene Goossens is not Puccini, nor would he be if he could; he is not a nationalist composer at all, but one of the cosmopolitans who are at all costs dry …  I could quote yards of text here but it all basiscally says the same thing …'It is sad to have to write an obituary notice of yet another gallant attempt at creating a British opera. But facts are facts; the opera was still-born, and there is not likely to be any attempt at reviving that which never had any real operatic life in it.'

For anyone still reading, or indeed listening to this piece, I throw in a conversation that is completely unconnected and totally irrelevant to the work in hand that Goossens had with Elgar. When Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy was amazingly for that time included in a Three Choirs Festival programme at Gloucester Cathedral in 1922 Elgar suggested to Goossens:-
'Write a Festival Mass, Eugene, and atone for this outrage.'
'All right, Sir Edward, but Mother Church won't approve of my modernisms.'
'Never mind. I'll be in Heaven by then; I'll make it all right for you! Don't forget, plenty of  percussion in the Sanctus!'

More info on Eugene Goossens Here


  1. I've heard the Dutton recording and am fascinated by the reviews you cite, particular the witty item from the Musical Times. Do we know who wrote that one?

  2. I believe it was Frank Howes who was the music critic of The Times in London I will e-mail you a pdf of the page from Musical Times with the full review + The Times Review as well in a moment


  3. Ooops don't have your email will upload with link


    Links to The Times & The Musical Times both by Frank Howes I think

  5. Very nice you started a blog! I wish you a lot of success and thanks for sharing! Greetz, Satyr

  6. Thanks so much for the reviews - although I hope I won't seem ungrateful if I point out that the Musical Times excerpt only says that the reviewer didn't have enough time to write about the opera in that number.

  7. Sorry Buster, wrong pdf, this is the August 1929 issue

  8. Muchas gracias, feliz año nuevo 2022.