Sunday, 10 November 2013

My little contribution to the Verdi bicentenary

Verdi: Giovanna D'Arco - Overture

The Philharmonia Orchestra 
conducted by Igor Markevitch

HMV C3965
(2EA 14031-1A & 2EA14032-2)
(Thursday, 30th June 1949)

Link to FLAC files (about 37Mb)

As this is Verdi’s 200th birthday year I thought I had better add my little bit to the piles of stuff already put out. Also being a lazy I have filled the the page out with photos.


This was Igor Markevitch’s first London recording for HMV and his first with the Philharmonia. Made in the wonderful acoustic of the Kingsway Hall (alas no more) the recording has not only great verve but also the attraction of a trio section played by flautist Gareth Morris (1920-2007) Oboist, Sidney "Jock" Sutcliffe, (1918-2001) and Clarinetist, Frederick “Jack”Thurston (1901-1953).

Igor Markevitch
I do not believe that Markevitch’s early recordings have been re-released, or if they have I can’t see them anywhere! Although he was in London during the last week of June and first week or so of July 1949 it appears he did not conduct any concerts. Possibly he was in the UK to have his memoir Made in Italy translated and published, negotiate a contract for recordings and plan a concert series for the following year. His first concert was held on the Sunday the 14th of February with the Philharmonia Orchestra, but I'm unsure where this took place.  His first London Concert, again with the Philharmonia was not until Thursday 25th May 1950 at the Royal Albert Hall.

Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor’s in their The Record Guide of 1951 gave the disc two stars ‘A long and attractive andante pastorale section is one of several features in this brilliant overture which recall Rossini’s William Tell. The performance has a splendid vitality (and were required, a delicacy) which make the hearer wish that Igor Markevitch could be engaged to conduct some of the Italian repertory at Covent Garden.’ 

Sydney Sutcliffe
The Gramophone for April 1950 was a bit more grudging about the music. ‘As far as I can judge, having never heard this music before or seen the score, this is a keen and cordially reproduced performance. It is an early Verdi, containing one or two ingratiating tunes. Most of the overture is gentle; there is a march, and a bit of characteristic blood-and-thunder. A pretty bit of solo and duet work is very tasty (side 1), and a touch of pathos is sweetly limned. 

Gareth Morris

Part of side 2 shows the conventional weaknesses only too well. Gaps fill slowly. Foreign recordings of this overture are listed, but I remember no British one. The opera, loosely (and mostly, un-historically) based on Schiller's Maid of Orleans, came out in 1845 at Milan. Love reared its inevitable head, the supernatural was a flop, and the work, which, one reads in Hussey, has a touch of William Tell-ish "grand" quality and size, had "an ephemeral success and soon disappeared.'' Toye finds " something to admire in every act," though much to mourn. These were early days for Verdi, who was writing from 1839 to 1893. Titles before this, that we can recall, are Nabucco, I Lombardi, and Ernani. Two years later came Macbeth (more supernatural trouble, but also more imagination, to help us to forget those weak witcheries). The bite and blare come out well. Nothing, then, to demand preservation in Verdian archives, but a useful testing-sample of the early style.  W.R.Anderson.

Frederick Thurston on the right
The substance they used to press records in during the post war period is a nightmare to restore - the crackle is extreme – I’ve tempered it a lot but even so some distortion is evident in the final result. Maybe this is the reason the records have not been reissued for I doubt if the original metals survive at Hayes and as no vinyl pressing for dubbing are available to process into CDs. The record cost me all of 10 pence ($0.16 cents or €0.12), so how can I complain. 

Title page of the original edition

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Complicated lives

Robert Coningsby Clarke: Desert Love Songs - song cycle
1) I will await thee  2) My heart's desire  3) The burning hours 
4) The dove  5) The hawk  6) Yellow slippers

Hubert Eisdell - tenor
Unnamed orchestra cond. by Hamilton Harty 

Columbia D1421 & D1422
(69690, 69691 & 69692)
Recorded February/March 1920

Ernest Bristow Farrar: Brittany Op. 21 No. 1
Hubert Eisdell - tenor
Piano accomp. by Hamilton Harty

Columbia D1422
Recorded March 1920

Link to FLAC files (about 37Mb)

My copies of these two discs are a bit worn in places but I have patched them up as best I can. 

Robert Coningsby Langton Clarke has almost sunk without trace as a composer. He was born in 1879 at Old Charlton in Kent, now a suburb engulfed in South-East London.  His father was Col. F.C.H. Clarke, Surveyor General of Ceylon (1842-1894) and a writer of military books etc. Educated first Marlborough, Clark became a pupil of Sir Frederick Bridge at Westminster Abbey in 1898 and then went up to Trinity College, Oxford where I think he studied the organ. As a back up to his musical proclivities he also took a BA in jurisprudence, which may account for his becoming a partner in the Carron Iron Works. He enlisted in 28th County of London Regt. (Artists’ Rifles), in 1914; was Lieut the Worcestershire Regt, 1915; and then with the Salonika Field Force, 1916–17. After the war he continued writing music but really by this time his output started to decline until his death in 1934. A bad year on the whole for British Composers with the death of Elgar, Delius and Holst.

Radclyffe Hall  'John'
As far as I can judge Clarke composed these songs containing the text of Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall's poems because, together with his wife Dolly, they all lived at the same house at No. 1 Swan Walk, Chelsea, opposite Chelsea Physic Gardens. 

No. 1 Swan Walk, Chelsea (too the right with the garden)

Clerke's wife, Dorothy Diehl, was Radclyffe Hall’s Pennsylvanian cousin. Dorothy, or Dolly as she was called, arrived in the UK about 1906 adged 18 and swiftly became Radclyffe-Hall's lesbian lover. However Radclyffe-Hall's affection then turned to Mabel Batten, a well-known amateur lieder singer. It was Batten who introduced Radclyffe-Hall to Coningsby Clarke as a composer to help set some of her poems.Mabel gave Radclyffe-Hall the nickname 'John' a name she was generally known by and so I will use this symbolic re-christening hereafter.

Dolly was dependent on John financially, John had inherited £100,000 from her father so could do pretty well what she liked. When John and Dolly broke up Dolly first returned to the USA but was back by July 1909 and quickly decided to marry Clarke. The marriage took place at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge on 19th October 1909 with John as their witness. That they where all living in the same house seems to indicate some sort of interesting arraignment. Who’s Who lists Clarke’s hobbies as croquet, bridge, fishing, reading, sea-bathing, and travelling, maybe he had other interesting hobbies too. Anyway it seems to have been an unconventional life as Dolly occasionally became John's lover from time to time. R. Coningsby Clarke, as he preferred to be called on his musical compositions, also wrote many songs set to poems by John Masefield and W.E. Henley but the only song he is remembered today by is The Blind Ploughman.Something I can't quite fathom is why John continued to pay Dolly after her marriage, she had a couple of children by Clarke and he left some £21,000 on his death so money was not really a problem. Maybe it was a form of control that John wished to maintain over Dolly.This then is the connection between John and Clarke, however there is another

John's mother Mary Jane Hall, after a messy divorce from John's father Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall (a great lack of imagination by his parents I feel), remarried Alberto Antonio Visetti a singing teacher with a reputation as a ladies' man, he also made indecent advances on John who thereafter referred to him as 'My disgusting old step-father.' He was a founding professor of the Royal College of Music and included among his pupils Louise Kirby-Lunn, Muriel Foster, Keith Faulkner and Agnes Nicholls.  John in her teens used to hang about the room next to Visetti's studio where students met before and after lessons. This room became her hunting ground for lovers. In 1898 the 22 year old Agnes Nicholls became the 18 year old John's lover, not sure who seduced who, but they became an 'item.' This intense relationship lasted until about 1901 by which time Agnes was starting on her professional career. Now in 1904 Agnes married none other than Hamiton Harty the conductor of these records. It is very likely that he would therfore arranged the piano score of the songs for orchestra. Harty and Nicholls marriage was a bit of a failure and they lived apart after about 1928.

Hubert Eisdell
The only other other connection I can find, as if we don't have enough for one recording, is one between Clarke and Eisdell. Eisdell was in some respects a protege of Gervase Elwes and both sang very similar repertoire, He recorded several other of Clarke's songs a number of which may have been dedicated to, or at least first performed by him. I have not been able to find a concert he gave including this particular cycle, indeed the cycle was not given very often, the first two songs featured at the Proms in 1915 and 1916 but do not appear to have been lastingly popular. Eisdell did sing at other proms, in 1913 and from 1921 to 1923, other of Clarke's songs. Hubert Eisdell was well known and rather me write his biography a thoroughly good one can be found here

I’m sorry to say I have yet to locate the full text for the cycle, I did however find a contemporary review published in the The Music Trade Review Vol. LVIII No. 20, p. 50: May 16 1914. when the work was issued in the US.

Desert Love Songs by Clarke. Brilliant Cycle of Six Song by Robert Coningsby Clarke, the Young Composer, Published by Chappell & Co. 

Perhaps when the young composer [actually 34, so there is hope for us all] of these Desert Love Songs gets a little older he may be unable to write music so spring-like and expressive only of youth and the halcyon days of love. His landscape is aglow with budding flowers and the emerald of opening leaves, yet there is a note of plaintiveness in these songs, a tone of longing. Robert Coningsby Clarke, however, is not a musical trifler. His expression is earnest and his style is elevated. Such a song as "My Heart's Desire," for instance, is dignified as well as impassioned. "The Burning Hours" has an Oriental touch and is full of romance. "I will await thee." the first song of the volume, is delightfully tender; and the last song, "Yellow Slippers," is the exuberance of youth at its best. In "The Dove" the composer has an easy and spontaneous melody with a rippling accompaniment suggestive of light wings and airy flight. "The Hawk" has a more insistent rhythm and a melody of stronger character, as befits the predatory nature of that bird that killed the swallow. This album of six songs, with words by Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall and music by Robert Coningsby Clarke, is published by Chappell & Co., New York.

Ernest Bristow Farrar
As a filler Columbia recorded Brittany by Ernest Bristow Farrar (1885-1918) a native of Lewisham in London, I only mention this as I live in thjis neck of the woods, his biography can be found on wikipedia. He managed to produce a fare amount of work before being killed on the Western Front. Farrar is perhaps best remembered as the teacher of Gerald Finzi. 

Coincidentally Gerwase Elwes also recorded this song about June 1917 but this recording was held back until 1921. Columbia was not to know that Elwes would be killed in a tragic accident in January 1921 and so issued his version in March as a sort of tribute. This duplication could not have helped the sale of the Desert Love Songs much.

The words by E.V Lucas formed the third poem in a series on Easy Lessons in Geography that was published as part of the anthology called Another Book of Verses for Children in 1909. A pretty book which a later issue of which can be seen here.

In Brittany the churches
All day are open wide,
That anyone who wishes to
May pray or rest inside.
The priests have rusty cassocks,
The priests have shaven chins.
The poor old bodies go to their.
With lists of little sins.

In Brittany the churches
Are cool and white and quaint,
With here and there a crucifix
And here and there a saint;
And here and there a little shrine,
With candles short or tall
That Bretons light for love of Him
The Lord who loveth all.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

On Margate sands

Well not quite on Margate sands but hard-by to them are the Winter Gardens host to Laurel & Hardy, The Beatles and various political party conferences. But also once the home to the Margate Municipal Orchestral during the heyday of such watering places before the 1950s.

Tunelandia - Orchestral Selection arranged by Lodge & Franks

The Margate Municipal Orchestra
Conducted by Herbert Lodge

Dominion A.185
(1254-2, 1255)
Issued November, 1929 but recorded about July, 1929

Link to FLAC file (about 15Mb)

First a quick tour through Margate's musical history. Margate employed Herr Moritz Würm's 'Red Viennese Band' as their municipal band from the 1890s and later by Karoly Klay and his 'Blue Hungarian Band' in 1903 when Würm had been tempted away by Folkstone. The musicians in these band were predominately British players dressed up in quasi military uniforms in various colours – Holst being a trombonist in one, and bitterly regretting it.

In 1904 Margate formed the Royal Meister Orchestra of seventeen or so musicians and employed Edmund Maney, a violinist of the newly formed LSO, as conductor. As the years progressed the orchestra increased to twenty-five, thirty-six which was bolstered to forty-one as the season got going in August. In 1911 a new pavilion and winter garden was built at a cost of £26,000 and the orchestra was renamed Margate Municipal Orchestra. The municipal purse was then strong enough to attract soloist that included Tetrazzini, Melba, Clara Butt, Kreisler and Backhaus. 

The Orchestra had to be reformed after the World War when G. Bainbridge Robinson took over as chief conductor. He instituted the Robinson's Music Festival that ran from mid-September to the end of the season  attracting other conductors including Landon Ronald, Cowan, Sargent and Holst. These concerts were not financially stable and Robinson departed

In 1928 Herbert Lodge, a fine bass player became the new conductor. He studied at the Royal Academy and Berlin, played for the Kroll Opera House and then in the Royal Opera, Covent Garden 1913-21, LSO 1921-31 and Royal Philharmonic 1932-35. He also claimed to be the first bass player to make a solo gramophone record, broadcast, and to feature in a talking picture, this apparently in 1931, the film still survives and can be watched here! 

Herbert Lodge conducting at Worthing 1950

With experience of playing in various orchestras to a circus and apparently appearing at times in London cinemas with an all saxophone band this short, dark and dapper man with a wide experience made him the perfect conductor for Margate. He played light classical concerts at the Margate Oval on Friday mornings but also concertos and symphonies at the Winter Gardens but had to accompany all sorts of acts and act as the house dance band. The Second World War killed the orchestra off and Lodge became conductor of the 'Southern Orchestra' to entertain factory workers and troops. He managed to reform the orchestra in 1946 but it lasted only a season before fading out. Lodge had already been conducting the orchestra at Worthing from the mid 1930s but after the war this was loosing money and came to an end  on Lodge's retirement, through ill health in 1954

The Winter Gardens from the air

Lodge composed or arranged various orchestral items to entertain the seaside goers, and Tunelandia was typical of the entertainment that was given at Margate. I do not believe it has ever been published; i also do not know what 'Franks' had in the piece or indeed who he/she was.

Dominion Records first supplement appeared in September 1928 but by July 1930 it was all over and declared bankrupt. The company was part owned by an American company called Cameo records, a number of whose recordings where pressed here in the UK under the Dominion label. Cameo went bust in 1929 and the UK end of the business struggled on. The records are pressed on very cheep and noisy shellac and this copy is not in the first flush of youth. I'm not altogether sure what recording system they are using but it is quite probably a bespoke system to avoid paying royalties to Western Electric; the sound although quite boxy still has a verydecent high frequency response and fine violin tone.

The previous conductor, Robinsoin, had recorded the orchestra on the Edison Bell label so naturally enough did Lodge when he took over. He recorded Lizst Hungarian Rhapsody No 14 for Edison Bell but when issued in May 1929 this 'New Margate Municipal Orchestra' effort was badly reviewed 'I am sorry I cannot commend this. The music is taken much too fast, without poise or style. Some of the instruments appear to be indifferently in tune. We must have better work than this nowadays.' In October 1929 Lodge and the Margate where demoted to the Edison Bell Winner label for their next release. Maybe this was the reason for the move to Dominion. When Tunelandia was issued in November 1929 the review was a bit more supportive 'Those who like a medley of well-known airs, or rather a musical switch, will much appreciate Tunelundia, by the Margate Municipal Orchestra.'

The Winter Gardens was damaged in the last war and the original way it functioned has changed. The interior shows the stage where the orchestra performed, behind them was a semi circular glass wall which can be seen on the next photograph, The idea was to have the orchestra facing the sea so that the facing glass wall could be opened to the sea and the southern breeze would waft through the building with the audience partly inside and partly on a large veranda in deckchairs facing the music. This sea veranda has no been built over as can be seen in the ariel photograph.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

'That brutal selfish ill-mannered bounder ... that brute Coates'

Scriabin:  Le Poème de l'extase, Op. 54

London Symphony Orchestra 
conducted by Albert Coates

Columbia L1380-L1382
(74060-2, 74061-2, 74081-1,74082-2, 74062-1)
Recorded Saturday 25th April 1920 & Wednesday 5th May 1920

Lecocq: La Fille de Madame Angot - Entract Act III

Sir Thomas Beecham's Light Opera Orchestra
Conducted by Eugene Goossens III

Columbia L1382
Recorded July/August 1919

Link to Flac file (about 70Mb)

The Scriabin is a bit noisy I'm afraid but then I don't want to loose the little dynamic that has survived the recording process, might have another go sometime but this is the best I can manage for now - the Lecocq is much less of a problem.

Although Scriabin's Le Poeme d'Extase had been given a first hearing in the UK under Serge Koussevitzky at the Queens' Hall in 1910 but it was not until after the First War, when Albert Coates returned to conduct in the UK, that the work was given its next outing. Unfortunately Scriabin was becoming decidedly unfashionable, Compton Mackenzie writing but a few years later in The Gramophone probably voiced a general sentiment 'Opinions may differ about Wagner. I am only just emerging from a decade of hating Wagner and everything that Wagner ever did; a hatred I have now transferred to Scriabine. No doubt, in another 20 years, if God will and if His Master's Voice issue (perhaps) a special Scriabine supplement, I shall have reached a final opinion about him.' Not a very favourable endorsement for anyone wishing to buy this set of three records issued by Columbia in November 1920.

Albert Coates in 1932

Coates personally knew Scriabin and probably through the Siloti concerts at St Petersburg conducted a number of his work. When he returned to London Albert Coates became conductor to London Symphony Orchestra at the end of 1919. He had already announced his arrival from Russia with a series of concerts at the Queen's Hall, the orchestra is not mentioned in the publicity but was likely to be the Henry Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra.

Second London Performance

The Sciabin was one of the pieces then played. 'A third concert, given by Mr. Coates on May 6, 1919 was devoted to Russian music. Tchaikovsky loomed rather largely in the scheme, being represented by his 'Romeo and Juliet' and B flat minor Pianoforte Concerto, played by Miss Katharine Goodson, but it was interesting to hear Rimsky-Korsakoff's Suite from 'The Legend of Tzar Saltan' with its invigorating rhythms, and Scriabin's ' Poeme de l'extase.' This latter work had been heard only once before in London, if memory serves correctly, and had made a strong impression with its richly woven design. Intervening years have enabled us to perceive the strands of the texture more clearly, and to know them as harmonies which, once considered exotic, are now becoming typical of Marylebone and Kensington. The skill of Scriabin's weaving is however none the less open to admiration.' (Musical Times for 1 June 1919) Even at this juncture Scriabin was thought by this critic to be on the side of being a bit passée.


This series of concerts changed the course of Coates' career as they where so well received that he decided to stay in Britain. The LSO was then trying to re-establish itself after the war and Coates was quickly appointed their conductor. He decided to forgo any payment for the first six concerts when he was trying to knock the orchestra into shape. A member of the orchestra of that time described his rehearsal methods 'Coates had a lot to give – and he gave it all' (Pearton LSO at 70, p. 60)


The effort to get the orchestra up to scratch caused other problems. The initial series of concerts contained a lot of music new to the LSO and this may account for at least one disastrous premier.

'The concert of the 27 October 1919 included the first performance of Elgar's cello concerto, conducted by composer, 'the rest of the programme was conducted by Albert Coates, who overran his rehearsal time [by an hour it seems] at the expense of Elgar's. Lady Elgar wrote, "that brutal selfish ill-mannered bounder ... that brute Coates went on rehearsing”. The critic of The Observer, Ernest Newman, wrote, "There have been rumours about during the week of inadequate rehearsal. Whatever the explanation, the sad fact remains that never, in all probability, has so great an orchestra made so lamentable an exhibition of itself'' (Wikipedia).

I can't actually find a balanced opinion on this concert as both Elgar and Coates supporters seem to be at odds over what happened that evening. My own speculation is that it was probably Coates being over ambitious in his programming and the orchestra not being yet strong enough to cope and things just got a little bit scary. 

To Liverpool

Still, Coates persisted with the Scriabin, taking the LSO on a tour they played the piece again at Liverpool. 'The second Philharmonic concert on November 11th, was in the nature of a personal triumph for Mr. Albert Coates, who likes to remember his early experiences as a schoolboy at the Liverpool Institute—a school which has turned out many clever men—and later as a student of chemistry at the University of Liverpool, under Sir (then Prof.) Oliver Lodge. Mr. Coates's fame as a conductor was clearly upheld on this occasion, when he had drawn up a programme largely of Russian music, with which he has such intimate acquaintance and evident sympathy. It contained his master, Rimsky-Korsakov's, 'Procession of Princes,' from 'Mlada,' Liadov's 'Eight Russian Folk Songs,'characteristic trifles, and Scriabin's ' Poeme de l'Extase,' which was kept to the last and overtopped all else. Mr. Coates secured a performance of this extraordinary music which will long dwell in memory. He certainly managed to convey to his listeners much of the marvel, mystery, and mastery of the amazing score, which requires seven horns and five trumpets, gong, bells, celesta, with extra harp, and organ. It is without doubt a stupendous creation, but ordinary people will find little comfort in it as music. More pleasure, if less psychology, was found in Cyril Scott's two 'Passicaglias,' (Musical Times 1 December 1919)

Ezra Pound having an opinion
The Scriabin was programmed yet again for a performance at the Queen's Hall on the 17th December 1919 and was again reviewed with some condescension. 'The starred number was the Scriabin "Poeme d'Extase." Here, as in the Korsakov, Coates showed his realisation of the capacities of his orchestra, but the extase is senescent; it is manifestly not the extase of youth; the long beginning is like the prose of its era, heavy as Henry James or as Charles Louis Phillippe, fin de siecle, of an extreme and laborious sophistication, Coates doing admirably, Scriabin conscientiously avoiding the obvious in everything save the significance, and treating one of the oldest topics with anatomic minuteness, though possibly unconscious of his humour, anatomic even to the notes given on the triangle, spurring one to quotations from Gamier's "Carmen." The double basses superb, but one longed, possibly, for the older spirit of English May-day. It is too late to emend the title; we quarrel with no work of art because of title lightly or sarcastically given, but we think Scriabin would have been kinder to his audience if he had labelle this poeme "Satire upon an Old Gentleman," or possibly "Confessions of Trouble," supposing all the time he "knew." We entertain doubts, however, as to just how far his awareness extended. (Ezra Pound The New Age 15 January 1920, p. 175)

Belfast unimpressed

By this time the LSO must have know the piece very well indeed. For a concert at Belfast on the 16th February 1920 Coates attempted the Scriabin with another orchestra. 'Chief among these … was the appearance of the Beecham Symphony Orchestra, with Mr. Albert Coates conducting, when Belfast musicians and music-lovers had a treat such as they had not known for a long time. The first part of the programme was of Wagner numbers, while the second part comprised Cyril Scott, Liadoff, and Scriabin. The selection was admirable, although there were probably not many auditors who could honestly say that they appreciated the ' Poeme de Extase' of the last-named composer. (Musical Times 1st April 1920)

On his return to London the LSO took to making the recording. I think the recording has given us a performance both very well rehearsed and still new enough not to have become routine. I have listened to several other performances and the energy and subtlety that the LSO and Coates has given us is quite special.

The recording

I confess I was at first slightly confused by sides 1, 2 & 5 being recorded on the 24th April 1920 and sides 3 & 4 on the 5th May 1920 with each session having consecutive matrix numbers. I believe that the first intention was to market it as a three sided set with a filler piece. This original intention was changed when it was thought to try for a complete, or near complete version. Unfortunately a miscalculation was made when it was found that the music for the central section could not be fitted onto two sides, and worse,  if the music was stretched to three sides then the records would look a bit short and buyers would feel short changed. The only expedient way to avoid making all the sides again was to make a cut,  thus a minute of music between sides 4 & 5 is missing, unfortunately they also managed to loose a couple of bars between sides 2 & 3. I would think that these points would not be noticed much when playing the original  consecutively, but does cause a bit of a problem when the whole work is joined together. Still I have done what I can.

Perils of Recording

Pearson in his book on the LSO at 70 gives an account of a Coates recording session from the diary of the principle violinist of the LSO, H. Wynn Reeves. This appears to recount a recording session for the either the 8th or the 11th December 1922 or the 18th July 1923 or at least a conflation of two different events.

'Most of the recording took pace in a small room, the orchestra being reduced to its lowest possible limit, and we were crowded together in the endeavour to propel whatever we had to play into one or two recording bells. Occasionally we did excerpts from the Ring – this was sheer murder.

'I remember a series we undertook in midsummer one year, the strings were reduced to 2 × 1sts, 2 × 2nds, 1 va. 1 cello, 1 bass, the minimum of woodwind, brass and percussion; Billy Reed and I were playing into No. 1 bell (or horn), our bows being not more than 2 inches from the rim. The music being away back under the bell necessitated stooping down to see what we had to play; it was my job to turn the pages; woe betide me if the music rustled or if my bow touched the bell. Standing behind us with their music stands leaning on our shoulders, were the woodwind blowing into our ears as loudly as possible; behind them again were the brass.

LSO Brass 1922

'High up on my left was Albert Coates conducting. Immediately below him stood Florence Austral, as Brünnhilde. Coates quickly discovered that some of her notes jarred the bell, so grabbed her hair, pulling her forward into the bell for some notes, and pushing back for the dangerous ones. Try to imagine interpreting Brünnhilde under these circumstances!
'On the right was another bell for the male chorus of six and two principles, Robert Parker as Wotan and Robert Radford as Hagen, the routine being the principles ducked when the chorus had to sing and vice versa. There was constant pushing and shoving to make way, all this causing repercussions on the bow arm. High up was an electric fan on a block of ice perfectly useless as the temperature registered 95° Fahrenheit!'

This was a more complicated recording arraignment than that used in the Scriabin which I think had two horns – one for the main orchestra, strings to the front, brass to the back, and another side horn for the woodwind. If any of you are still reading this I give another note, a brief one, below re the the filler side and why the recordings sound different.

 The very Leninism of music

The last contemporary review I shall give of this composition, again from Musical Times, perhaps best of all sums up the sheer excitement that the LSO under Coates bring.

'During last Whitsuntide [week beginning 24 May 1920], Mr. Cyril Jenkins, who is the moving spirit of the Welsh Musical Festival,. temporarily took the matter into his own hands by holding a two days' competition at Mountain Ash and, by engaging the London Symphony Orchestra to give two concerts in that town and concerts at Cardiff,Swansea, and Newport. The five days' Festival, organized on a lavish scale, was devoted almost exclusively to contemporary music, and among the British composers represented were Sir Edward Elgar, Granville Bantock, Julius Harrison, Cyril Jenkins, Dr. Vaughan Thomas, Delius, Josef Holbrooke, and Dr. Vaughan Williams, the first five of whom conducted their own works; in addition there was music by Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Scriabin ('Le Poeme d'Extase'), Dukas and others. These composers, familiar enough to every concert-goer in London and in the larger provincial towns of England, are little known in Wales ; so novel were they indeed, and so incomprehensible to the only partially educated musicians of Wales were the idioms employed, that one heard on all hands, both from the Press and the public, that adjective of execration 'revolutionary.' What to us is familiar daily food is to Wales the very Leninism of music.

But not all the music proved caviare to the general, for an overwhelming surprise awaited us at Mountain Ash. The huge pavilion there accommodated an audience variously estimated at from 5,000 to 7,000 people, most of whom were of the so called working classes - miners, engineers, and the like. One would have expected that so novel and hectic a composition as Scriabin's 'Le Poeme d'Extase' would leave such a gathering bored and contemptuous; but the exact contrary proved to be the case. Mr. Albert Coates's interpretation whipped his listeners to an enthusiasm that found vent in a physical demonstrativeness such as the Albert and Queen's Halls can never have witnessed: at one point it appeared as though the complete work would have to be played a second time. It was this demonstration that made those of us interested in the musical welfare of Wales feel that we had underestimated the capacity of the working man in that country to assimilate and understand the more difficult compositions of modern times; and it was this demonstration which indicated that, if orchestral music were supplied with some approach to regularity, Wales would provide the necessary support. (Musical Times for 1 July 1920)

Charles Lecocq

Lecocq Daughter of Madam Angot 

The question of what to put on the 6th side looks an odd choice. An abridged recording of Lecocq Daughter of Madam Angot was cut by Columbia in August 1919. Seventeen sides were made, the matrix numbers of these records running from 76568 to 76584. Of these, sixteen sides were issued in an album containing eight records numbered L1370-1377 in February 1921. This left matrix 76569 without a coupling so some wag thought to put it as the coupling to the Scriabin – probably giving the purchaser some light relief, certainly this side has been played a bit more than the other five. This recording is a very good example of what appears to be a one horn recording – very clear and well balanced – the album of records where almost all ensemble pieces so other horns would have been attached for these but for the orchestra alone they would have been removed. It would have been more complicated and time consuming to rearrange the orchestra just for a couple of orchestral sections so the recording room was set up with the orchestra facing one horn and the singers and chorus other horns. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog if you play into one horn some of the sound goes towards cutting the disc but also a certain amount comes out of the other horns - this is not a problem here and so the sound is not as fuddled or unbalanced as that of for the Scriabin.

Eugene Goossens III

Sunday, 6 October 2013

'A capital performance.'

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 'Italian'

Allegro vivace (A major)
Andante con moto (D minor)
Con moto moderato (A major)
Presto and Finale: Saltarello (A minor)

Aeolian Orchestra cond. by Stanley Chapple

Aeolian Vocalion K-05148, K-05149 & K-05150
(03781xx, 03782X, 03783, 03788X, 03789, 03790)
(recorded January/February 1925)

Link (FLAC files, 70 MB)

Prior to Chapple’s recording with the Aeolian Orchestra only two movements had otherwise been issued of this, or indeed any, Mendelssohn symphony. The Victor Concert Orchestra under Walter Rogers recorded the 2nd & 3rd movements in March 1915 and at about the same time as Chapple's complete recording the New York Philharmonic under Henry Hadley issued a 2nd movement on the Ginn & Co. label in April 1925.

Ink drawing by Mendelssohn of the Amalfi coast
The performance is almost complete, bar repeats, with only a small section in the first movement omitted. Discus in Musical Times for May 1925  had room for only a very brief review in a general ‘catch-up’ article but thought the record ‘a capital performance.’  Seemingly Compton Mackenzie was a bit more hesitant on the qualities of the recording and the music. In his April 1925 review for The Gramophone he begins with an analytical discussion of the work leaving the merits of the recording until the end. 

‘The orchestration, as I have suggested, is full of interest and novelty. The only weakness is the brass. Mendelssohn was writing for the natural instruments that we find in Beethoven's symphonies and earlier. It was not until later that the invention of the valve horn and valve trumpet enabled composers to feel at home with this part of the orchestra. Mendelssohn's treatment of his trumpets in particular is rather clumsy; it seems a pity that he didn't leave them out altogether; they are not really necessary here. The playing, too, has aggravated rather than minimised this defect, and the rest of the orchestra is occasionally swamped by a blatant and pointless blare. In this set of records, too, there is once or twice a miscalculation with the drum, which is sometimes too loud and at others quite inaudible. Apart from these minor drawbacks I have nothing but praise for a notable achievement that will, I fancy, be welcomed with acclamation by many.’ [The full review included with the recording]

Mendelssohn at 24
Mackenzie retracted his statement on the quality of the recording the next month as having tried a new gizmo attached to his soundbox he set about re-evaluating 600 or so records in one fairly extend listening session. He decided that after all the recording was fine.

As with all acoustic recordings a certain amount of substitution and contraction of forces is practised, here the bass line has some excellent tuba playing particularly in the second movement, I don't think there are any cellos or basses present and would guess the 1st and 2nd violins total about eight players. The line up for the recording would be 21 players that included 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and 8 strings with a tuba. 

Odd as it may seem to us today Mendelssohn started to go out of fashion at the end of the nineteenth century and probably hit his lowest point in popularity in the early 1920s. So unfashionable indeed that no one thought it worthwhile to make another complete recording of the ‘Italian’ symphony until HMV issued a performance of La Scala Orchestra under Panizza in October 1931. Why Chapple and Aeolian Vocalion thought it was worth recording is not known to me  but one wonders if the coincidence of Chapple having recently been made music director of the company together with the further coincidence of Mendelssohn composing the symphony when he was 24 and Chapple recording it when he was 24 had anything to do with it. 

Stanley Chapple is a bit of a forgotten conductor, I have pulled stuff from various reference books and the web to give some sort of idea of his career.

Stanley Chapple was born in 1900. He studied at the London Academy of Music where he was successively student, professor, Vice-principle and until 1936 principle. In 1920, at the age of nineteen, he was hired as director of the City of London School's opera, but more importantly for us he was also hired by the Aeolian Vocalion Company as and piano accompanist. By 1924 he became music director, a position he held about 1929. [A fascinating article by Chapple was published in the Gramophone in 1929 which I have included with the zipped up file of the recording].

By 1922 he had been invited to appear as a guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra; and shortly after he was made head director, although I can find no mention of this in the history of the LSO publish a few years back. In 1930 the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra invited Chapple to appear as guest conductor, and by the end of the decade he had become one of the most coveted guest conductors on the European Philharmonic circuit, travelling to Vienna, the Hague, and Warsaw.

Chapple also frequently travelled to the USA making his first voyage I believe in August 1931. Chapple’s dream of going to Russia was ruined when war broke out in 1939. He was in Boston at the time when the tour to Russia had to be cancelled. Philip Kerr, Lord Lothian then British ambassador in Washington D.C. asked him to stay in America to ‘promote good will’. During the war, Chapple conducted the National Symphony in the Watergate concerts.  In 1940, the director of the Boston Symphony opened a school for conductors and orchestra musicians in Massachusetts; and made Chapple its director. Thus was born Tanglewood, a music academy that is still going strong today. Leonard Bernstein was Chapple's first student there. Chapple was invited to teach at the University of Washington and to be its director of the University of Washington School of Music in 1948, when the active dean of the department heard him at Tanglewood. When the Seattle Symphony lost its conductor in 1950, Chapple took over and virtually remodelled Seattle's culture. He used the Symphony as a means of introducing Seattle to the opera, ballet, and the theatre. During his tenure as conductor, he greatly enhanced the professional level of symphony players In 1962, Chapple became director of symphony and opera at the University of Washington, and when he retired in 1971, Mayor Wes Uhlman asked him to direct the Seattle Senior Symphony (Musicians Emeritus) a program providing ‘encouragment and help to former music-makers wishing to resume their participation in music-making’. For the next fourteen years Stanley Chapple was the much beloved conductor of Musicians Enmeritus Symphony Orchestra and Thalia Symphony Orchestra. Chapple died in on 21st  June 1987 at Seattle, King, Washington.
Clipping showing the first performance on 15th May 1833

Lots on the symphony itself on the web however I thought tocould include with the recording a clipping of the first performance review from The Morning Post 15th May, 1833 from which the above pic is taken.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Victorian melodrama

The Broken Melody is one of those pieces that make many of us groan but before you pass this up this a recording with a difference.

It is difficult to get a real idea of what Victorian melodrama was like, early cinema was just in time to give a visual record but still it is nice to know that a very few fragments of sound have also survived. Unlike all other recordings this particular composition the example sets the music within the stage play as van Biene intended. The declamatory style and sentimentality can be heard performed here with all the passion one could expect of the period.

August van Biene, (1849-1913) cellist & actor

August van Biene: The Broken Melody
Cello Scena with orchestra

Gramophone Co. Ltd 07853 
Recorded: on or about Friday, 20th September 1907

Link (FLAC file, 9 MB)

Auguste van Biene commissioned The Broken Melody, A Musical Comedy-Drama in Three Acts, from Herbert Keen and James T. Tanner with the first performance  given at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London on Thursday evening the 28th July 1892. The critics thought it was terrible but the public just kept coming and van Biene eventually gave something approaching 6,000 performances worldwide. As he cast himself in the role of the main protagonist it meant that he had to perform in every one of these performances so it is hardly surprising that he decided in 1912, as much for his own sanity as anything else, that he really ought to stop.

I have not been able to locate a copy of the play in print, doubtless it was never printed although a copy would have been lodged with the Lord Chamberlain for his seal of approval and should still be lodged in the Dept. of Manuscripts at the British Library. In any case, as the play was reviewed wherever it has staged, it has not been too difficult to construct a general synopsis  of how it was staged by van Biene.

I have italicised the section that the record presents:

The leading character is Paul Borinski, (August van Biene) a musician and composer of genius, The first act of the play he is shown struggling along with his young and devoted wife in London lodgings, and trying to dispose of a much-rejected opera. The genius of Borinski has attracted the admiration of the Duchess de Verviers, who does the musician at once a service and an injury, for while she uses her influence to gain acceptance for his opera, she, desirous of supplanting the young wife in her husband's affections, tells her that Borinski has been discovered by General Ivanoff (of the Russian police) to be a proscribed Polish count, and that his only hope of safety lies in her instant flight. The explanation of the position is a little complicated, but the distracted Mabel Borinski is convinced, writes a letter of adieu to her husband, and hurries off. When Paul Borinski returns in the hour of his triumph - that is with his opera accepted - he finds his wife gone and only a letter remaining,  the interpretation of which is distorted in friendly way by the Duchess, and makes it appear that his wife has left him for ever.

Van Biene as sketched by Phil May for Black & White magazine, 1902
In the second act Paul, now all honoured composer, is seen as the lion of an evening at the Parisian salon of the Duchess, where, he gives a 'cello recital that affords the audience great enjoyment. Paul's wife is also in the house, but she has been warned by the Duchess that in the presence of Ivanoff, who is happens to be a guest, she must continue to deny her husband, which she has had to do once already to Ivanoff, and in consequence a dramatic scene ensues, in which Paul's passionate appeals to his wife are met with a cold denial, and which culminates when Paul reveals his rank and name to Ivanoff, strikes him, and challenges him to the duel, the latter having presumptuously interfered between husband and wife.

In the third and final act Borinski, convalescent as the result of the duel and pretty well heartbroken by his wife's apparent faithlessness, is shown apparently more than ever in the toils of the Duchess. His enlightenment is at hand, however, and the revelation of the true character of the Duchess is due mainly to Ivanoff, who produces and gives to Paul the portion of his wife's letter that her rival had suppressed. Convinced that his wife has been cruelly wronged the lonely musician takes up his 'cello once again, and plays the melody that his wife loved, and had been "broken" by the discovery or her flight, and, as faltering he drops his bow, he looks up to find his wife has stolen to his side, and their lives are then happily reunited.

Not a dry eye in the house one feels – I'm sure that with so many performances Van Biene must have got it down to a fine art. It also allowed for several cello pieces to be played including Kol Nidrie, Home Sweet Home and Salut d’amour etc. He made several versions for various recording companies but as far as I am aware nobody has reissued this particular dramatised version and in truth I was only aware of it myself once I read the label and played the record. The record seems to have been popular as it had already reached an eighth stamper by the time my copy was pressed. Stampers wore out after about 500-1000 pressings so even including mishaps several thousands would have been sold. Too few of the pressing seem to have survived as this type of record not being a for a long time thought worthy of collecting and so many copies would have been destroyed or recycled.

Early collectors of this type of record

However there where a few intrepid collectors, one being Frederick Burden Junior who contributed an article for the Gramophone Magazine's  Collectors Corner in January 1941 on musical theatre – he at least saw the value of these records – He mentions the 10” version on GC 7878 but it was much later in an answer to another correspondent to the magazine in a  letter published in July 1955 that the present record is described for the first (and seemingly last) time.

'The Broken Melody - In reply to the letter from Mr. J. F. C. Newitt of Wolverhampton in the June issue of the Gramophone, I trust the following information will help clear up several of the queries regarding the late Van Biene.

Apart from the records mentioned by Mr. Newitt, [Edison Bell 3355 apparently recorded two days before the cellist death!] Van Biene also made a ten-inch single-sided disc for Gramophone & Typewriter in 1903, [GC 7878 (6464b) 9 Jan 1905 reissued on Zonophone X-47852] a twelve-inch double-sided Zonophone in 1909 (Broken Melody/Koi Nidrei) [Zonophone A60 (ac5545f/ ac5546f)  6th Oct 1911], and finally a twelve-inch single-sided Gramophone Monarch No. 07853, also in 1909 [GM 07853  (2010f)  on or about 20 Sept 1907], which was described as a Cello Scena spoken and played by Auguste Van Biene, this, of course, being a condensed version of the famous music-hall sketch that he played all over the world for so many years. He died on the stage at the Brighton Hippodrome rather tragically on January 23rd, 1913. He went right through his sketch without faltering, as usual, and as he reached the final scene he fell back in his chair and the bow slid from his fingers. This had been the end of the sketch for many years, but in this instance it was the passing of the famous old 'cellist and performer. I have all three of the above records mentioned above in my own collection. A graphic account of the above incident is given in Vaudeville Days by W. H. Boardman, published in 1935 and also in The Talking Machine News for 1913.  Peacehaven, Sussex. Frederick Burden.

The errors in dating discs are due, in part to a lack of knowledge of matrix numbers. – a topic for another day

Van Biene's biography and technique

A short biography of van Biene by Dr Brenda Scott of Duke University can be found at this link although there is plenty to find on the web. Of van Biene's playing Arthur Broadley in his  Chats to 'Cello Students 1899 is depricating 'Van Biene is of the exaggerated artistic order, all the time he is playing constantly striking some fresh attitude. If Van Biene had again to take to concert work, I have no doubt that he would calm down a little in this respect, his exaggerated style while being very effective on the stage, would not be tolerated on the concert platform.' No matter the public could not get enough of his act and I think the illustration by Phil May gives a fairly good impression of the theatricality of his role in the illustration above. The portamento is possibly a bit excessive, but then it had to be to bring the house down.

Recording in 1907

Anyone who has got this far down the page may be interested in how this was recorded - As far as I can judge there would have been two horns used, one directed at the cello,and one directed at the orchestra with van Biene in between. In the picture below, also from 1907 it shows the arrangement for Edward Lloyd (tenor), Madam Adami (piano) and I think W.H. Squire cello. For the van Biene recording the orchestra would be place where the piano is and further back with van Biene directly in front with  two horns directed at the bridge of the cello and another to van Biene's face.

Thus van Biene's head being blocking some of the orchestral sound and it is only at the end of the recordwhen  he would have moved his head aside the the orchestra volume increases. There may actually have been yet another horn directed towards a Stroh cello [a modern YouTube video can be found through this Link and gives you a good idea of the sound it makes], this together with a tuba can be heard enhancing the the lower notes of the solo passage.

The arrangement of the horns meant that they had to be fixed together with a hard rubber joint - fluid dynamics come into play in this arrangement - if you play into one horn some of the sound goes towards cutting the disc but also a certain amount comes out of the other horns - that together with the internal resonance of the horns themselves meant that some notes sound 'odd' - in the photograph can be seen a couple of bands of tape round one of the horns to dampen this problem. one of these problems of resonance can be heard on the A note at 1.42.