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.