Saturday, 8 August 2015

Jack and the Gipsy

Edward German Gipsy Suite - Four characteristic dances

Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Composer

HMV D189 & D473

Two FLAC selections in one Zip file 44.1kHz/16bit [79Mb]
(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)

No. 1 - Valse melancolique (Lonely life)
HMV D189 (2-0889) [HO2742af]
Thursday 19th July 1917

No. 2  - Allegro di bravvura (The Dance)
HMV D189 (2-0913) [HO2745af]
Thursday 19th July 1917

No. 3  - Menetto (Love Duet)
HMV D473 (2-0986) [HO2988af]
Friday, 30th November, 1917

No. 4  - Tarantella (The Revel)
HMV D473 (2-0987) [HO2989af]
Friday, 30th November, 1917

Edward German began to conduct his own compositions for HMV at the end of 1916 and continued to record for the company until the early 1920s. HMV certainly thought he was worth recording for he was second only to Edward Elgar for the number of recordings he made of his own compositions by the acoustic process.

The earliest notice I have found of the Gipsy Suite is in an article for the newspaper Daily News of Friday, 4th December 1891 ‘Mr Manns has accepted, for the Crystal Palace concerts, a new “Gipsy suite” for orchestra, by Mr. Edward German, and it will be produced on Feb. 20, It will be in a somewhat lighter style than his symphony in E minor, and it will, indeed, consist of four movements - viz., a valse pensive, an allegro di bravura, an allegretto grazioso, and a tarantella, three of them being dance movements.’

Edward German in 1892
A further notice was given in The Pall Mall Gazette for Saturday, January 9, 1892 ‘Mr. Edward German, the composer of the excellent incidental music to “King Henry VIII.,” has all but finished a gipsy suite, which will be performed for the first time by Mr. August Manns's Crystal Palace orchestra on February 20. The suite is in four numbers, the first of them being a dance melancholic, the second a pure gipsy dance, the third an allegretto grazioso, and the last a very light and characteristic tarantella. Mr. German has entirety completed the first, second, and fourth numbers, and is at present putting the finishing touches to the allegretto.

The Electrical Exhibition, Chrystal Palace 1892
The concert was duly given on Saturday 20th February 1892, the programme staring at 3pm at the vast Crystal Palace, the other ‘show’ pulling in the crowds that weekend was the Electrical Exhibition, the Crystal Palace being quite equal to holding both these events consummate ease. 

I have illustrated the notice from the Morning Post which gives the full details of that days possibilities.

If any one was wondering, [I very much doubt that anyone is but I will stick this in for good measure] what the ‘(MS)’ in the line of the announcement ‘first performance of Gipsy Suite (MS) (E. German)’ it tells us that the work was being performed from manuscript. This gave notice to publishers of the day that they may want to hear it; and to the public that they might not hear it again!

August Manns  conducting something in 1895
The work elicited decent, if not quite rave reviews on the following Monday the 22nd. The Times described the work as ‘an interesting novelty was brought forward in the shape of a “ Gipsy Suite” by Mr. Edward German, consisting of four movements very cleverly written and orchestrated with conspicuous ability. The opening “Valse melancolique" is not especially characteristic, excepting in a quaint episodical phrase ; the allegretto grasioso is a little wanting in distinction; but the allegro di bravura and the final tarantella are full of life and originality, and the work as a whole should not be long in becoming as popular as it deserves to be.’ The Standard review mentioned ‘It was, perhaps, to be regretted that the new “Gipsy Suite,” by Mr Edward German, was placed at the end of the concert, but the position was justified by the light character of the music. That the young composer can write successfully in more serious forms of art is we know by his overture and incidental music to Richard III., and his symphony in E minor performed at the Crystal Palace fourteen months ago. The suite is in four brief movement, all piquant and dance-like in character, the effect being enhanced by Mr German’s felicitous orchestration. Opinions may differ as to which is the most charming section but the majority of hearers the choice will probably lie between the opening Valse Melancolique and the Allegreto grazioso, somewhat in the manner of a minuet.'

The concert was held in the large central section; 
the Electrical Exhibition being contained in the right hand section
The Glasgow Herald described it as ‘The only novelty in the programme was a “Gipsy Suite” of four dance movements by Mr Edward German. They are light, pretty, and quite unpretentious, and the first two movements  - respectively a “Valse Melancholique” and a gipsy dance - pleased best.’ The Illustrated London News on the Friday 27th of February believed they ‘thought it somewhat in the manner of Bizet’. Naturally enough Musical Times gave the fullest account in its March 1892 issue ‘At the Concert on the 20th February. Mr. Manns introduced a “Gipsy Suite” from the pen of Mr. E. German, who has already claimed favourable attention as a writer of instrumental music. The Suite is in four movements - a Valse mélancolique in A minor; an Allegro di Bravura, 4-4, in D minor; an Allegretto grazsioso, 3-4, in G major; and a Tarantella in A minor-and is a clever, richly scored, and eminently enjoyable composition. -We like Mr. German best in his vivacious moods, for in the Allegretto there is a slight lack of distinction in the principal melody - reminding one somewhat of that familiar type of piece entitled “Air of King Louis the  --th”; and all waltzes nowadays are so very melancoliques that Mr. German has not much scope for the display of individuality. But the Allegro and Tarantella are immensely spirited and bright, while the orchestration though a little “thick” in places, is remarkable for its sonority and ingenuity. The Suite, though placed last on the programme, was most cordially received, the applause continuing until Mr. German appeared to bow his acknowledgements from the platform.’

Bizet very likely not thinking about Gipsies
I might add that two other items of note given that day were a Mozart aria, a nod to the centenary of Mozart’s death, and that the child prodigy Master Otto Hegner, now sixteen, had to call off his performance due to ‘influenza.’ With but two hours notice Adelina de Lara, a little older at twenty, stepped in to play ‘Schumann's concerto in a manner which, it is not too much to say, entitles her to a place among the greatest living pianists.’ Heaven knows how the orchestra managed. 

Adelena de Lara in 1900
Adelina de Lara is a name to conjure with, and if you have not been introduced to her you might listen to the clips on YouTube at about 8:30 in the this particular clip you can hear her in a snippet from the Schumann concertoThe work then toured around the country and was performed at Birmingham, Cardiff and other musical towns before at last being taken up by Henry Wood with his Queen’s Hall Orchestra at the proms in 1895. Taking the proms as something of a bellwether in music popularity I see this was the first and last time the Gipsy Suite was given an outing. If it is, as I suggest, a bellwether then I’d better note that the last year any of Edward German’s music was performed at the Proms was in 1937 the year after his death, until a single piece from Merrie England in 2010 given as part of a reenactment of the Last Night of the Proms of 1910.

Brain Rees in his biography of German [A Musical Peacemaker: The Life and Music of Sir Edward German, Kensel, 1987  ]described the suite as ‘more like ballet music in the light Italian style than bohemian and does not have the peculiar rhythms or intervals that characterize gipsy music. It was pointed out that the tarantella is an Italian dance and there are few gypsies in Italy. Nor are many likely to have danced a minuet round the camp fires. Possibly some of he ideas had been set down for the projected ‘Hungarian’ opera. The first movement does contain suggestions of the Zigeuner tuning his instrument and as Romany is a vague and indefinable place some critics thought the allegro and tarantella were strongly tinged with gipsy character.’

I hazard a guess that the composer’s connection to HMV was through his long-standing friendship with Landon Ronald. What induced HMV to record the piece I can’t think why else for it was not a popular piece then much in fashion. However each of the dances can fit neatly onto one side which few orchestral movements could manage without some heavy handed cutting.

Landon Ronald looking thoughtful in 1920
German made his first attempt at recording the Gipsy Suite on the Tuesday 26th June 1917, two takes were made of each dance totalling eight matrices and allocated matrix numbers.

Another slight digression to explain that many more waxes could, and would, have been cut that day but many would necessarily have been rejected. The recording engineer or conductor could dish them for a whole host of problems including mistake in playing, blast, distortion of the grooves, etc. Unfortunately for both German and HMV all that days efforts were rejected for one reason or another. 

Experiments in recreating the acoustic recording process have been ongoing at the Royal College of Music in the last year and this link has an excellent article on trying replicate the difficulties our musicians had to face before 1925.

German returned to the studio at Hayes on the Thursday 19th July 1917 when there was only time to record four matrices of the Gipsy Suite, these being two takes of each of the first two dances. Of these four, one take for each dance proved successful and ultimately became an issued disc.

The time limit was imposed because Percy Pitt also had the use of the orchestra that day. Presumably he had the afternoon session which was used to record a number of operatic items with the soprano Miriam Licette. Due to wartime shortages, and the fact that part of the Hayes plant was converted to munitions production, the expense of hiring an orchestra and bringing it down to Hayes really had to be justified and fully exploited.

Instead of pushing on with the Gipsy Suite HMV instead allotted the remaining time to make a recording of German’s patriotic setting of Kipling’s poem Have you news of my boy Jack? Hence my inclusion of this track.

Clara Butt looking emotional as Orfeo
This work was written for Clara Butt, however she had had a tiff with HMV in the middle of 1915 and was now under contract to Columbia. Naturally when she came to record the song in March 1917 it was with one of Columbia’s roster of conductors. So it is that the Thomas Beecham’s version is today version, if known at all, is better known today. The Columbia performance is clearly modelled on the first performance of the song as given at the Royal Philharmonic concert at the Queen’s Hall on Monday 26th February 1917.

The Musical Times for April 1917 noted that the programme of the February concect  ‘included Dr. Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, Mozart’s Symphony in C (K. 425), Cesar Franck's 'Le Chasseur Maudit,' Balakirev's wonderful 'Thamar' (which loses so much away from stage action), and Ravel's now well-known 'Pavane.' A great audience was attracted, probably mainly to hear Madame Clara Butt, who sang Handel's 'Lusinghe più care,' two Russian songs in their original language [that might have been interesting!], and a new song-setting of Kipling's Have you news of my boy Jack? composed by Edward German in his effective and characteristic style. The song was conducted by the composer, and encored. Sir Thomas Beecham conducted all the other numbers.’  The Guardian of the 4th March was perhaps more honest  when it reported that Clara Butt ‘is unquestionably heard to more advantage in songs by Handel, Rachmaninoff, and Gretchaninoff; than in the setting by Edward German of Kipling's recent poem, “Have you news of my boy Jack” a lyric that would test the powers of most composers if the would avoid the commonplace.’

Clara Butt gave another performance on the Saturday 17th March at Queen’s Hall under Henry Wood and on Monday 4th June at the Crystal Palace which was once again conducted by the composer. By June a new arraignment of the work had been made as it was now augmented with a choir. This is the version of the score that HMV recorded in its answer to the Columbia Butt/Beecham version that had speedily appeared in April.

Louisa Kirkby Lunn maybe looking for Jack
HMV used their leading British contralto Louise Kirkby Lunn. Well I say it’s the version used by HMV but the Crystal Palace ‘orchestra of hundreds led by the LSO’ was drastically cut down to about thirty-five with the choir decimated from 2,500 to just four voices!

Have you news of my boy Jack?
Louisa Kirby Lunn, contralto with Female Chorus 
HMV 03572 [HO2748af]
Friday, 30th November, 1917

Although not credited on the label the four other voices are Bessie Jones, soprano, Eda Bennie, soprano, Elsie Williams soprano and Nellie Walker mezzo-soprano. Three takes were cut and each given matrix numbers, of these three waxes the last was thought good enough to issue. I now wonder if really was good enough for at the beginning there is certain amount of throat clearing and Kirby Lunn sounds somewhat hoarse in a few places and indeed at one point very slightly flat too. Added to this there is some talking at the end the take, German probably, which sounds something in the tone of ‘do it again.’ Kirby Lunn and company were probably flagging by this time and who knows how many actual attempts were made. They would be running out of time in any case, called it a day and thought to come back at some future date to attempt another recording. In the event HMV decided to go ahead and press one of the ‘satisfactory’ matrices as it stood, for Edward German was now to become unwell.

I won’t go into the whole story of the Rudyard Kipling and Edward German combination as is a whole other story and so just stick in the lyrics.

The poem as it appeared when 
first published in Kipling's Sea Warfare, 1915
According to German’s earlier biographer [William Herbert Scott. Edward German an Intimate Biography. London: Chappell & Co. Ltd, 1932] our composer ‘In the summer of 1917 had rheumatic troubles which confined him to bed for some weeks, and when he was able to travel his doctor persuaded him to try a course of treatment at Llandrindod Wells. This was his first absence from London of any duration since the war started.' 

 Llandrindod Wells - Pump House to the left.
'By the end of September he was feeling more like his old self, but returning to London found the constant menace of air raids more than ever nerve racking.’ Clearly a bit unsettled he wrote on the 5th of November ‘On Wednesday night [31st October] I was sitting in my room here expecting every second to receive a bomb on my head. The whistling of shells and the bursting of shrapnel and the ominous hum of the engines overhead all made an inferno for some two hours.’ This event was the German night attack of 22 Gotha Bombers, apparently the bombs did little damage but the sheer tonnage of ammunition that fell from the skies that was fired off by anti aircraft guns during these raids did kill a few people!

Gotha Mark G.IV type used for heavy bombing in 1917
Anyway German seems to have been well enough to travel down to Hayes on the Friday 30th November 1917 to complete the Gipsy Suite recording.

Sadly dear reader you will have suffer another little diversion. At this time Edward German lived at 5 Hall Road, Maida Vale in London and in order to get to Hayes he would have arraigned a taxi to Paddington Railway Station (he liked taxis but that is yet another story), taken a train to Hayes station and then walk to the studio. All in all to get to his destination, even giving him a generous amount of time to make this journey, I calculate he could do the trip in 1 hour 15 minutes. By happenstance German wrote a letter in 1917, otherwise undated to his sister Rachel  ‘I still go gramophoning. I have a session on Friday next and shall have to be up by 6.45 – cold work these mornings.’ We can deduce that this letter refers to the 30th November session as it happens to be the only Friday in 1917 that Edward German made any recordings. Getting up at 6.45, and giving himself say half an hour to get ready, I feel sure that his appointment at the recording studio was at 8.30 am. This whole taradiddle  is but an excuse to include a film taken of steam trains from the window on HMV’s factory at Hayes. Not any old film mind, a very special film, the first in stereo back in 1935 by the great Alan Blumlein.

Anyway that day six matrices were sent for processing two each for the third and fourth dances from which the published sides were selected. The last two matrices, one twelve and one ten inch that were cut that day were devoted selections from German’s Tom Jones. One of these Tom Jones sides was issued in May 1918 and the other in February 1919, however for some reason the whole of the Gipsy Suite was delayed much longer. By 1917 their we shortages of material to produce records and this is clearly evident in quality of the pressing of Have you seen my boy Jack? Issued in the autumn of that year. The mean looking label bears a monochrome copy of the trademark and the pressing material is of poor quality, noisy and pimply looking.

It was not until December 1919 that HMV thought the time was favourable to begin issuing the Gipsy Suite. As was common practise of the time the records were fed out one at a time over a number of months, orchestral selections then predominately designated for the HMV black label. The first dance on 2-0889 was issued in December 1919; the second dance on 2-0913 in February 1920. It was probably intended to issue next two dances in at a two monthly rate but a change of policy in the middle of this sequential issue by HMV meant that the first two single-sided records had to be withdrawn.

From February 1918 the first double-sided black label records began to make an appearance, by April 1920 they had got up to number D56 and HMV then decided to bite the bullet and convert all the current single-sided issues to double-sided format thus in that month a block of numbers from D 57 to D 460 came out.

HMV catalogue of May 1921
showing the double-sided grouping of sides
This block itself divided into sub-blocks, Elgar’s discs were on D175 to D181 and Edward German’s issued sides being on D184 to D189.  This explains the rather glaring gap in numbering between the two double-sided discs. Dances one and two were doubled on D189 with dances three and four, never having been issued as single-sided on D473. Actually D473 had to wait until August 1920 almost three years after the recording was made. The records were of moderate popularity and lasted in the catalogue until December 1925 when the electrical recorded discs began displacing the acoustic recordings.

As for Kirby-Lunn’s disc of Jack it continued in the catalogues first as a purple label before advancing with all Kirby Lunn’s other discs to the celebrity red label status. When the inevitable doubling up of the red celebrity records happened in 1923 this song was probably thought to be a bit dated and quietly deleted. In truth with the Clara Butt’s record as competition it probably did not really stand a chance and may have been a bad seller.

Edward German striking the same pose in 1920 as he did in 1892

I can find but one contemporary review of the Gipsy Suite recording, or rather half of it in Musical Times of January 1921.

‘Edward German's 'Gipsy Suite' (H.M.V.) is a good orchestral reproduction. I have heard only two of the four movements the Menuetto and Tarantella, on a double-sided. A surprisingly large proportion of instrumental details emerge, especially from the clarinet and flute, a rapid chromatic gurgle by the latter being a specially enjoyable feature. The Tarantella is the better movement of the two - German at his effervescingest.’

The recording is only slightly abridged with a repeat in each of the outer movements cut. You also just hear Edward German giving encouragement to his players at 0:11. The odd noise you hear at about 4:08 and in several other places in the second dance is very like a loose recording diaphragm.

Just one last useless piece of information from me concerns Sir Thomas Beecham, his discography shows that he recorded only two Edward German compositions, the aforementioned Jack of 1917 and at the end of his life the Gipsy Suite. The latter item, not approved by Beecham, was released after death and can be heard here on YouTube.

Gypsy encampment on Putney Heath by Hubert von Herkomer
Published in The Graphic 18 June 1870.


  1. Thanks Buster as always

    Just listening to your post of Maryla Jonas

    Best Jols

  2. Thanks again, fascinating indeed!

    1. Many thanks Satyr - My blog, when I get round to it, gets longer and longer!


  3. There may be fluff on the needle, although I don't hear any, but there is no fluff in your prose. You are very informative and lucid. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Eric

      You'll make blush!

      Best wishes


  4. Hi Jolyon, I miss you & your posts! I hope you're OK? Best wishes,
    Satyr / Rolf