Saturday, 18 July 2015

Copyright Rage

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

The London Flute Quartet

Robert Murchie, Gordon Walker, Frank Almgill, Charles Stainer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reviews again come from the same two journals:

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

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

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

William Alwyn gets into trouble

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

William Alwyn 1924

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

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

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

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

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

So then, hear it while you can people.

The Flute Players

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

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

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

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

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

A wee note

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


  1. Very glad you're back, again with some thorough research and vry interesting records! In the near future i'll have less time for my blogs, because I move to another city / land later this year...

    1. Oh dear, we're very sorry to hear that! I trust you'll have time to enjoy your records in your new home, though. I hope the move goes well! Best wishes and thank you again for your unstinting generosity, Grumpy

    2. Dear Satyr

      Hope all goes well with the move. I have moved my collection 3 times, each time with a new removal company!! Best wishes and thank you for your nice comments


  2. Thanks so much, Jolyon! That kick has paid off handsomely - really looking forward to hearing these. Fascinating Grieg imbroglio! With my anoraky hat on, I can add that both Murchie and Walker also recorded for the NGS... All the best, Grumpy

    1. Thanks Nick as ever.

      I do wonder if the Alwyn estate will make me cease and disist? Perhaps I should get a royalty from them instead.


    2. Sshh! Keep your voice down, or they might hear you... Wonderful story. Alwyn's arrangements are fun, as are the others. Some remarkable sonorities! (Which we can really hear, thanks to your top-notch transfers, as always.) By the way, in the 1891 Census I found a Carl Steiner, aged 13, born c.1878 in Islington, then a schoolboy living in London. Your man? All the best, Nick

    3. To make things worse I have found another born in Islington 1871 and yet another from 1874 as his name may have been Joseph Charles Steiner or any German/English combination! Maybe some nice kind flautist will come to our aid

    4. To make things worse I have found another born in Islington 1871 and yet another from 1874 as his name may have been Joseph Charles Steiner or any German/English combination! Maybe some nice kind flautist will come to our aid

  3. Fascinating, as always. Welcome back!

    1. Thanks Buster - I will try and stick to a plan of doing more stuff as well!

  4. Very nice to see you back as well! My silence has been longer and I feel I have less and less to add to the world of recorded rarities. When I see such sustained work as with my friend Ward Marston, who just released a complete Battistini and is about to add a 3 cd set of Raoul Koczalski to his already wonderful 2 cd collection, I realize what it is to really work at what I've just dabbled at. Sorry, didn't mean to divert attention from what wonderful research YOU always present us with. May the force motivate you as often as possible!

  5. Don't give up heart. There seems to be an unlimited amount of stuff to mine and re-evaluate and no matter how much we dabble in it there is still more to recover and talk about. My problem is finding the time to do it all. I like looking at the second tier or artists, or rather the group of fine musicians who have been neglected or just plain forgotten because they did not get the red label status. They are never going to get a chance to shine unless mad blogers like us have a go at stimulating some interest.

    Best wishes


  6. My mother in law was Frank Almgill's niece - it was a musical family. Frank's brother was the composer and conductor Walter Almgill, and we still have two of his batons in the family. I have a wonderful photograph of musicians - including Frank Almgill - about to embark on a biplane to go to a performance in Paris. Will happily upload if you tell me how.

    1. Dear Adrian

      Nice to hear from you and yes very happy to upload you photo too. Can you take a scan of it of a jpg of it and I will format it and add an addenda with you photo.

      Best wishes


  7. Thanks for sharing. Very interesting indeed !