Included singers: Dan Beddoe, Webster Booth, Tom Burke, Joseph Cheetham, John Coates, Sydney Coltham, Ben Davies, Tudor Davies, Hubert Eisdell, Gervase Elwes, Walter Glynne, William Green, John Harrison, Gregory Hast, Ruby Helder, Joseph Hislop, Walter Hyde, James Johnston, Hirwen Jones, Arthur Jordan, Morgan Kingston, Edward Lloyd, John McCormack, Frank Mullings, Heddle Nash, Joseph O’Mara, Charles Saunders, Herbert Teale, Frank Titterton, Henry Wendon, Walter Widdop, and Evan Williams.
CD 1 (80:46)
|1.||ELIJAH: If with all your hearts (Mendelssohn)||3:02|
|23 February 1928; (E26634) American Brunswick 3847|
|2.||ELIJAH: Then shall the righteous (Mendelssohn)||2:54|
|23 February 1928; (E26627) American Brunswick 3847|
|3.||MERRIE ENGLAND: The English rose (German)||2:00|
|18 July 1939; (0EA8027-1) HMV B8947|
|4.||THE IMMORTAL HOUR: How beautiful they are (Faery Song) (Boughton)||2:46|
|18 July 1939; (0EA7849-1) HMV B8947|
|5.||ESMERALDA: O vision entrancing (Goring Thomas)||3:50|
|16 June 1927; (WAX2881-1) English Columbia L1951|
|6.||My dreams (Tosti)||3:44|
|13 June 1927; (WAX2865-2) English Columbia L1951|
|7.||SAMSON: Total eclipse (Handel)||4:13|
|22 November 1912; (z6820f) Zonophone A121|
|8.||HYMN OF PRAISE: The sorrows of death (Mendelssohn)||4:22|
|1908; (2457f) HMV 02145|
|May 1908; (8399e) HMV 3-2963|
|10.||Come into the garden, Maud (Balfe)||4:03|
|1907; (2061f) HMV 02111|
|11.||In the dawn, op. 64, no. 1 (Elgar)||3:20|
|14 April 1915; (HO751ac) HMV 02584|
|12.||SAINT PAUL: Be thou faithful (Mendelssohn)||3:14|
|31 October 1916; (ho8670f) Zonophone A237|
|13.||ROMANY SONGS: Where my caravan has rested (Löhr)||3:01|
|22 October 1913; (ak17092e) Zonophone 1253|
|14.||IN A PERSIAN GARDEN: Ah, moon of my delight (Lehmann)||4:29|
|21 January 1914; (AL7769f) Zonophone A137|
|15.||My pretty Jane (Bishop)||2:44|
|1901; (1123G [later changed to b]) G&T 2502|
|16.||THE INDIAN QUEEN: I attempt from love’s sickness to fly (Purcell)||2:37|
|12 July 1923; (Bb3260-2) HMV E313|
|17.||SCENES FROM THE SAGA OF KING OLAF: And King Olaf heard the cryI (Elgar)||4:11|
|12 March 1923; (Cc2685-2) HMV D723|
|18.||Do not go, my love (Hagemann)||3:11|
|27 June 1927; (Bb10972-2) HMV E504|
|19.||Song of the openII (La Forge)||1:25|
|27 June 1927; (Bb10974-2) HMV E493|
|20.||O dry those tears (del Riego)||4:32|
|8 January 1926; (WAX1237-1) English Columbia L1728|
|21.||IN A PERSIAN GARDEN: Ah! Fill the cup! … Ah, moon of my delight (Lehmann)||4:12|
|27 September 1927; (WAX3079-2) English Columbia 9601|
|22.||Phyllis has such charming graces (arranged by Lane Wilson)||2:43|
|29 July 1911; (y13904e) HMV 4-2156|
|23.||Now sleeps the crimson petal (Quilter)||1:56|
|June 1916; (6850-1) English Columbia L1055|
|24.||Love’s philosophy (Quilter)||1:28|
|June 1916; (6850-1) English Columbia L1055|
|25.||The roadside fire (Vaughan Williams)||2:20|
|June 1916; (6851-1) English Columbia L1074|
|26.||Love went a-riding (Bridge)||1:53|
|December 1917; (76092-2) English Columbia L1325|
|Tracks 1 and 2 with Thornie Prewitt Williams, piano|
|Track 3 with orchestra conducted by Clifford Greenwood|
|Track 4 with John Cockerill, harp|
|Tracks 5, 6, 9-15, 21-25 with unidentified pianist|
|Tracks 7 with unidentified orchestra and conductor|
|Track 8 with orchestra conducted by Alan Gill|
|Track 16 with Mme Adami, piano|
|Track 17 with orchestra conducted by Eugene Goossens|
|Tracks 18 and 19 with Percy Kahn, piano|
|Track 20 with Teresa del Riego, piano and unidentified cellist|
|Track 26 with Frederick B. Kiddle, piano|
|All tracks recorded in London except tracks 1 and 2, recorded in New York City|
CD 2 (80:44)
|1.||Thy rebuke hath broken his heart||1:54|
|2.||Behold, and see if there be any sorrow||2:18|
|3.||He was cut off out of the land of the living||0:31|
|4.||But thou didst not leave his soul in hell||2:55|
|26 February 1935; (2EA793-1 and 2EA794-2) HMV C2731|
|5.||THE ROSE OF PERSIA: I care not if the cup I hold [Drinking Song] (Sullivan)||2:23|
|29 May 1931; (0B569-1) HMV B4045|
|6.||The anchor’s weighed (Braham)||2:36|
|1901; (1244G [later changed to b]) G&T 2-2589|
|7.||JEPHTHA: Deeper, and deeper still (Handel)||3:54|
|March 1906; (600f) G&T 02069|
|8.||MARITANA: There is a flower that bloometh (Wallace)||3:54|
|16 November 1905; (3114e) G&T 3-2427|
|9.||THE NOBLE OUTLAW: Orynthia! My beloved … The pilgrim of love (Bishop)||3:11|
|30 November 1909; (3863f) HMV 02232|
|10.||JOCELYN: Angels guard thee [Berceuse] (Godard)||3:07|
|1904; (25511) English Columbia 25511|
|11.||The last watch (Pinsuti)||4:11|
|6 October 1911; (ac5547f) HMV 03275|
|12.||Queen of the earth (Pinsuti)||4:36|
|18 June 1914; (af8008f) Zonophone A154|
|13.||Afton water (Hume)||4:28|
|17 June 1927; (CR1379-2) HMV DB1058|
|14.||The death of Nelson (Braham)||3:50|
|Summer 1909; (Lxx2849) UK Odeon 84209|
|15.||Once again (Sullivan)||4:18|
|20 January 1916; (HO 1436ac) HMV 02626|
|16.||Eleanore (Coleridge Taylor)||4:25|
|3 November 1910; (4582f) HMV 02292|
|3 November 1910; (12622e) HMV 4-2119\t|
|18.||HUGH THE DROVER: Song of the road (Vaughan Williams)||4:03|
|12 June 1950; (CAX10847-1) English Columbia DX1668|
|19.||JOCELYN: Angels guard thee [Berceuse] (Godard)||2:54|
|1 March 1905; (1868e) G&T 3-2231|
|20.||Goodnight, goodnight beloved (Balfe)||2:57|
|16 January 1906; (3373e) G&T 3-2406|
|21.||Molly Bawn (Lover)||2:58|
|16 January 1906; (3369e) G&T 3-2447|
|22.||The rose of KillarneyIII (Stanford)||3:26|
|30 April 1909; (10070e) HMV 4-2031|
|3.||JUDAS MACCABAEUS: How vain is man (Handel)||4:22|
|8 January 1924; (AX278-1) English Columbia 978|
|4.||HIAWATHA’S WEDDING FEAST: Onaway, awake beloved (Coleridge Taylor)||4:22|
|22 March 1916; (48643-3) American Columbia A5863|
|Tracks 1-4 with orchestra conducted by Clifford Greenwood|
|Track 5 with orchestra conducted by George W. Byng|
|Tracks 6, 10-12, 15-17, 19-22 with unidentified pianist|
|Tracks 7-9, 14, 23 and 24 with unidentified orchestra and conductor|
|Track 13 with orchestra conducted by Piero Coppola|
|Track 18 with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by James Robertson|
|All tracks recorded in London|
CD 3 (78:42)
Morgan Kingston (continued)
|Fall 1911; (6142-3) English Columbia 263|
|2.||ELIJAH: If with all your hearts (Mendelssohn)||3:09|
|12 April 1904; (5164b) G&T 3-2085|
|3.||The holy city (Adams)||3:18|
|11 February 1904; (5011b) G&T 3-2026|
|4.||LALLA ROOKH: I’ll sing thee songs of Araby (Clay)||3:32|
|11 February 1904; (5009b) G&T 3-2024|
|5.||THE BOHEMIAN GIRL: When other lips (Balfe)||3:11|
|11 May 1916; (B-14677-2) Victor 64599|
|6.||A child’s song (Marshall)||2:48|
|2 April 1912; (B-11816-1) Victor 64253|
|7.||Swans, op. 44, no. 4 (Kramer)||2:23|
|26 September 1923; (B-28613-1) Victor 1081|
|8.||I know of two bright eyes (Clutsam)||2:47|
|July 1916; (65526) English Columbia 2695|
|9.||JEPHTHA: Deeper, and deeper still (Handel)||3:42|
|15 July 1931; (CAX6183-1) English Columbia DX295|
|10.||JEPHTHA: Waft her, angels (Handel)||4:19|
|15 July 1931; (CAX6184-1) English Columbia DX295|
|11.||To the queen of my heart (Delius)||3:07|
|18 December 1934; (CAX7380-1) Delius Society English Columbia SDX7|
|12.||Love’s philosophy (Delius)||1:41|
|18 December 1934; (CAX7380-1) Delius Society English Columbia SDX7|
|13.||Two eyes of grey (McGeoch)||2:28|
|26 July 1933; (CA13837-1) English Columbia DB1365|
|14.||SHAMUS O’BRIEN: Ochone! When I used to be youngIV (Stanford)||2:58|
|1901; (1229G [later changed to b]) G&T 2-2567|
|15.||An April birthday (Ronald)||1:47|
|1902; (4143G [later changed to b]) G&T 2-2061|
|16.||Friend and lover (Ronald)||1:57|
|1902; (4144G [later changed to b]) G&T 2-2062|
|17.||ISRAEL IN EGYPT: The enemy said (Handel)||3:02|
|13 June 1906; (8326b) G&T 3-2454|
|18.||MESSIAH: He that dwelleth in heaven … Thou shalt break them (Handel)||2:28|
|October 1925; (MC7384) Beltona De Luxe 6021|
|19.||The Bay of Biscay (Davy)||3:27|
|3 October 1931; (GA2540-3DJ) English Decca K615|
|20.||Come to the fair (Easthope Martin)||2:51|
|9 January 1942; (CA18873-1) English Columbia DB2064|
|21.||The road to the isles (traditional, arranged by Kennedy-Fraser)||2:24|
|9 January 1942; (CA18872-1) English Columbia DB2064|
|22.||Tom Bowling (Dibdin)||4:16|
|11 March 1930; (Cc18618) HMV D1833|
|23.||ACIS AND GALATEA: Love sounds the alarm (Handel)||4:33|
|19 September 1930; (Cc20228-1) HMV DB1566|
|24.||SEMELE: Where’er you walk (Handel)||4:32|
|13 August 1926; (Cc8829-3) HMV unpublished on 78rpm|
|25.||JUDAS MACCABAEUS: Sound an alarm (Handel)||4:18|
|12 November 1906; (555i) G&T 02079|
|Tracks 1, 6, 17, 18 and 25 with unidentified orchestra and conductor|
|Tracks 2-4, 8, 13 and 14 with unidentified pianist|
|Track 5 with orchestra conducted by Walter B. Rogers|
|Track 7 with Edwin Schneider, piano|
|Tracks 9 and 10 with orchestra conducted by Raybould|
|Tracks 11, 12, 20 and 21 with Gerald Moore, piano|
|Tracks 15 and 16 with Landon Ronald, piano|
|Track 19 with Arthur Fagge, piano|
|Tracks 22 and 23 with orchestra conducted by Lawrance Collingwood|
|Track 24 with Percy Kahn, piano|
All tracks recorded in London except tracks 5-7, recorded in Camden, NJ
Producer: Stephen Clarke
Associate Producers: Ward Marston and Scott Kessler
Audio Conservation: Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris
Photos: Gregor Benko, Richard Copeman, Jolyon Hudson, Tully Potter, Paul Steinson, and Barbara Tancil
Booklet Coordinator: Mark S. Stehle
Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi
Booklet Notes: Michael Aspinall
This project has been partially funded by Theodore Richards & William Wears, and by Francisco Segalerva.
Marston would like to thank the following for making recordings available for the production of this set: Michael Aspinall; The estate of Richard Bebb with help from Owen Williams; Gregor Benko; Alan Bilgora; Lawrence F. Holdridge; John Holohan; Michael Kelly; Peter Lack; David Mason; Jonathan Summers, Curator, British Library Sound Archive; and John Wolfson.
Marston would like to thank Gregor Benko and Elizabeth Black for their editorial guidance.
Marston would like to thank Jolyon Hudson, Michael Kelly, Larry Lustig, and David Mason for their invaluable help with researching the biographies of the singers and providing important discographic information.
MarstonMarston is grateful to the Estate of John Stratton (Stephen Clarke, Executor) for its continuing support.
ICD 1, Track 17
SCENES FROM THE SAGA OF KING OLAF:
And King Olaf heard the cry (Elgar)
And King Olaf heard the cry,
Saw the red light in the sky,
Laid his hand on his sword,
As he leaned upon the railing,
And his ship went sailing, sailing
Northward into Drontheim fiord.
There he stood as one who dreamed;
And the red light glanced and gleamed
On the armour that he wore;
And he shouted, as he rifted
Streamers o’er him shook and shifted,
‘I accept thy challenge, Thor!’
To avenge his father slain,
And reconquer realm and reign,
Came the youthful Olaf home,
Through the midnight sailing, sailing,
Listening to the wild wind’s wailing,
And the dashing of the foam.
To his thoughts the sacred name
Of his mother Astrid came,
And the tale she oft had told
Of her flight by secret passes
Through the mountains and morasses,
To the home of Håkon old.
Then strange memories crowded back
Of Queen Gunhild’s wrath and wrack,
And a hurried flight by sea;
Of grim Vikings, and their rapture
In the sea-fight, and the capture,
And the life of slavery.
Then his cruisings o’er the seas,
Westward to the Hebrides,
And to Scilly’s rocky shore;
And the hermit’s cavern dismal,
Christ’s great name and rites baptismal
In the ocean’s rush and roar.
Norway never yet had seen
One so beautiful of mien,
One so royal in attire,
When in arms completely furnished,
Harness gold-inlaid and burnished,
Mantle like a flame of fire.
Thus came Olaf to his own,
When upon the night-wind blown
Passed that cry along the shore;
And he answered, while the rifted
Streamers o’er him shook and shifted,
‘I accept thy challenge, Thor!’
• • •
IICD 1, Track 19
Song of the open (La Forge)
To your soul is it wine,
As it is to mine,
Faring forth on a night of tumultuous might,
Forth in a tempest wildly wet,
After a sullen sun has set?
Do you love the play
Of the foaming spray,
Where mad waves romp on the long low beach?
To stand just out of their frantic reach,
My hair blown free and the breath of me
Caught hard in the passionate breath of the sea,
With your hands it were ecstasy!
• • •
IIICD 2, Track 22
The rose of Killarney (Stanford)
I’ve been soft in a small way
On the girleens of Galway,
And the Limerick lasses have made me feel quare;
But there’s no use denyin’
No girl I’ve set eye on
Wid the Rose of Killarney at all could compare.
Can her like be found?
The country round,
Spins at her wheel
Daughter as true,
Sets in the reel,
Wid a slide of the shoe,
wittier colleen, than you
Her hair mocks the sunshine,
And the soft silver moonshine
Neck and arm of the colleen completely eclipse;
Whilst the nose of the jewel
Slants straight as Cam Tual
From the heaven in her eye to her heather-sweet lips,
Can her like be found?
The country round,
Spins at her wheel
Daughter as true,
Sets in the reel,
Wid a slide of the shoe,
wittier colleen, than you
Did your eyes ever follow
The wings of the swallow
Here and there, light as air, o’er the meadow field glance?
For if not you’ve no notion
Of the exquisite motion
Of her sweet little feet as they dart in the dance.
Can her like be found?
The country round,
Spins at her wheel
Daughter as true,
Sets in the reel,
Wid a slide of the shoe,
wittier colleen, than you
• • •
IVCD 3, Track 14
Ochone! When I used to be young (Stanford)
Ochone, when I used to be young!
Them was the days I was free and hearty,
The life and soul of a dancing party,
the first boy axed when a song was sung!
Ochone, when I used to be young!
Then I could court as sweet as honey;
Divil a hair I thought of money,
och sure, I was brave and young!
Ochone, when I used to be young!
Now look at me, poor and battered,
Caubeen patch’d and coat all tattered,
Look at the work of a woman’s tongue!
Born from the king’s that ruled the parish,
Sure any Girl should be proud of marriage
wid the ouldest stock she lived among, Ochone!
Ochone, when I used to be young!
The fairies danced at my mother’s marryin’,
The Banshee keen’d at my father’s berryin’,
The wildest keen that ever she sung!
Sure all the world has turn’d agin me,
Since Nora sour’d the heart within me
wid a could sharp ‘No’ from her cruel tongue.
Ochone! Ochone! Ochone, when I used to be young!
As the original proposer of the idea for this set, I owe some explanation of why and how this set was assembled. I first heard recordings of most of these singers in the 1960s. Unlike people of my generation who grew up in the UK, none of us in Canada (or in the USA) heard these singers on the radio. I was immediately attracted to the singing, especially that of Heddle Nash, Walter Widdop, and Webster Booth. Except for the famous Handel arias which they recorded, most of the songs they sang were unknown to me. Around the same time, I first read a collection of Shaw’s music reviews of late nineteenth-century performances in London and was struck by what a high opinion he had of the tenor Sims Reeves. Reeves, as I soon learned, never recorded, although recording was possible just before his final retirement and certainly before he died. When reviewing Reeves’s farewell concert at the Albert Hall in 1891, Shaw lamented at length that we were losing the greatest tenor in England and perhaps the greatest tenor in the world. I have always tried to imagine what Reeves might have sounded like and while we can never know, I am convinced that the tenors on this set, in the sound of their voices, the manner of their singing and the repertory that they recorded, were the true successors of Reeves while more modern British tenors, so much influenced by the singing of Peter Pears, are not. We have singled out Peter Pears not to be critical, but because he was one of those artists who had a profound influence on the tenors of the generation after him, and his example was certainly markedly different from that of any tenor on this set. This set is a tribute to a school of singing that is now largely lost and to some very British repertory that is seldom performed.
Ward Marston, Michael Aspinall, and I have been corresponding for several years about what recordings to include in and exclude from this set. We have generally agreed, but each of us has an individual view of what would constitute the ideal selection. Our rule of thumb was that this set would be a collection of British tenors singing British music in English. We decided to exclude the numerous recordings of these singers singing opera arias in English that were originally written in other languages. In so doing, we were aware that famous recordings such as Heddle Nash’s singing the Serenade from La jolie fille de Perth by Bizet would be excluded, but we felt that this set should be about the British repertory of arias and songs as well as about British singers. It was just a rule of thumb, and we ended up, inevitably, occasionally, breaking our own rule.
We have not included Alfred Piccaver, even though he was born in the UK and had a distinguished international career. He was trained in America and his singing was quite different from that of anyone else on the set. We have, however, included Evan Williams, even though he was American, because both the sound and manner of his singing and the repertory that he recorded was very similar to that of other tenors on the set. We rather arbitrarily excluded Canadian and Australian singers, even though Edward Johnson, Browning Mummery, and others made recordings that would have fit very well into our theme. We included only three tracks of John McCormack. We freely admit that three tracks are not a sufficient nod to his importance as a recording artist, but his recordings are easily available, and had we given him his due this set might have become a collection of British music sung by John McCormack and others.
Finally, for the purposes of this set, we treated Handel as an English composer and, to some extent, Mendelssohn as well. Although Elijah was indeed written by a German composer and set originally to a German text, the text was translated immediately into English at Mendelssohn’s request and the world premiere of the oratorio took place in English at Birmingham under the baton of the composer. While performances of almost everything are now done in their original language, I cannot believe that there will ever be any pressure in the English-speaking world for Elijah or Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise to be performed in German. Mendelssohn oratorios in English are a permanent part of the great English choral tradition.
We have included the words to four songs in the appendix: “And King Olaf heard the cry”; “Song of the open”; “Rose of Killarney”; and “Ochone! When I used to be young.” They all contain either dialect or archaic English or are difficult to hear clearly. The rest we hope you can follow easily without a libretto.
The producers of this set hope that you enjoy our selections and look forward to learning about our sins of omission and commission.
Chair, Historic Singers Charitable Trust
Adjunct Professor, Historical Recording, University of Toronto, Faculty of Music
the English School of Singing
In England, the artist who aspires to first-class occupation cannot sustain himself upon trash. He must be able to sing Handel, Mozart, Rossini; and this range implies almost all possible vocal and musical accomplishment.”
Henry Fothergill Chorley, Athenaeum, No. 1058, 5 February 1848
Italian influence on English singing
In 1799 the tenor Giacomo David pronounced: “There are only two singers in Italy, myself and the Englishman”. Obviously, by “singers” David meant “tenors”, and the Englishman in question was the tenor John Braham (c. 1774–1856), born John Abraham to a poor Jewish family in London. David heard Braham at La Scala, Milan, where he was singing in operas by Nicolini and Zingarelli with his current companion, the English soprano Nancy Storace (1766–1817), who had created the role of Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Both Braham and Storace had studied with the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini (1747–1810), a clever composer and sought-after singing teacher for whom Mozart had written the motet Exsultate, jubilate and the role of Cecilio in Lucio Silla. The Irish tenor and composer Michael Kelly, friend of Mozart and creator of Basilio in Le nozze, had also studied with Rauzzini in England before travelling to Naples to finish his musical education under Fenaroli and Aprile.
Like the once flourishing French, German, and Russian schools of singing documented on old phonograph records, the “English” school (in which I would include many singers born in America or in the British Dominions) owed everything to the glorious Italian school. Giovanni Francesco Grossi, known as Siface, had sung privately to Queen Mary in London in 1688, but the real influence of Italian singing on English singers began in 1692, when Margarita de l’Épine arrived in London and began her thirty-year career there, during which she sang with the castrato Nicolino (Nicolò Grimaldi) in the first opera to be sung entirely in Italian in London, Almahide by Marco Antonio Buononcini (1710). In that same year Handel arrived in London and in 1711 staged his Rinaldo; a connoisseur of Italian singing, Handel brought to London such star singers as Durastanti, Cuzzoni, Faustina Bordoni Hasse, Senesino, Carestini, and Caffarelli. As was happening all over Europe, London was invaded by Italian singing teachers who willingly gave up their sunny home climate for the sake of the possibility of earning fortunes teaching their art to the nobility of the foggy British Isles. The first, and one of the most important of these, was Pier Francesco Tosi (c. 1650–1730), an admired concert singer and composer of elegant cantatas, who gave his first London concerts in 1693 and published his famous treatise Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni, o sieno osservazioni sopra il canto figurato in Bologna in 1723. He lived and taught for many years in London, where his pupil John Ernest Galliard published an English translation of the treatise in 1743. During the eighteenth century many singers, including the most famous castrati, found it worth their while to give singing lessons to English dilettanti. While he was in London, the eight-year-old Mozart studied with Giovanni Manzuoli, known as Succianoccioli (1725–c. 1782), and also with Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (c. 1736–1790), whose career was long and influential; Dr. Charles Burney (1726–1814) reported that Tenducci “had a rapid effect upon the public taste, and stimulated to imitation all that were possessed of good ears and flexible voices.” Other castrati who taught in England included Giuseppe Millico, Gasparo Pacchierotti, Giambattista Velluti, and the last of all, Paolo Pergetti (a pupil of Girolamo Crescentini) who published a treatise on singing in London in 1857. Rossini and other composers deigned to give singing lessons, and Domenico Corri and Niccolò Vaccaj published their celebrated Methods for dilettanti, the former in Edinburgh, the latter in London.
In the nineteenth century Giuditta Pasta taught two celebrated contraltos, Mary Shaw and Elizabeth Masson, as well as the soprano Adelaide Kemble. Mrs. Shaw enjoyed considerable success in Italy (the pronunciation of her name defeated the Italians, who referred to her as “La Sav”), creating the role of Cuniza in Verdi’s Oberto. In 1841, Henry Fothergill Chorley (the most perceptive and informative of English musical critics) declared that Miss Masson’s performance of ‘Sommo ciel’ from Zingarelli’s Giulietta e Romeo at a Philharmonic Concert “could not be praised too much for dramatic conception, grandeur of style, and finish of execution. It was, in brief, the most admirable piece of singing by an English woman we ever heard.”1 The aria in question was one of Pasta’s great interpretations, passed down to her pupil.
Technique and style
What did English singers learn from their Italian teachers and models? Edward Lloyd, who, like many tenors featured in this set, was trained entirely by English choir masters, was praised for his legato singing, said to rival that of the Italian tenor Antonio Giuglini, and a command of legato is typical of almost all the tenors we have chosen to include here. English singers worked to master breath control, full development and blending of the registers, beauty and steadiness of tone, smoothness and spontaneity of emission, clear and meaningful articulation of the words, accuracy of execution, and a broad spectrum of vocal color and dynamics. Dame Joan Sutherland used to encapsulate her advice to singers into the rule: “Breathe, support, project!” This was fully understood by the tenors we have chosen. Listeners who hear these old recordings for the first time —some of them more than a hundred years old—will be surprised by the consistency with which the singers employ rubato, portamento, and flexibility of tempo. In his two remarkable books Early Recordings and Musical Style (Cambridge University Press, 1992) and Performing Music in the Age of Recording (Yale University Press, 2004) Robert Philip analyzes many examples of historical recordings, mostly instrumental. He usefully defines three different kinds of rubato (Early Recordings and Musical Style, pp. 38–44) and on pp. 111–112 he succinctly, and sympathetically, describes Patti’s rubato effects in “Voi che sapete”, comparing her style with that of the great violinist Ysaye. Robert Philip’s work explains the reasons behind the singing style of John Coates or John McCormack: they sang the way that Elgar conducted, or that Lamond played the piano. In his book Style in Singing (New York, G. Schirmer, 1911), W.E. Haslam, teacher of the great soprano Florence Easton, dedicates considerable space to defining and explaining “tradition”, meaning the artistic use of phrasing, variations of tempo, portamento, and embellishments, quoting several examples of the personal style of Sims Reeves, Tietjens and other singers in the Messiah, and other works. He declares that “these ornaments and interpolations are not added from a vulgar idea of correcting or improving the composer’s music, but are strictly in accordance with certain conventions thoroughly understood by both composer and singer. To omit them, or to follow too closely the printed text, would be to ignore the epoch, school, and character of the music…”.
Chorley, reviewing an Antient Concert in 1841, reported: “A pleasant part of our task remains: to express high appreciation of our own singers—Miss Birch [soprano], Miss M. B. Hawes [contralto], Mr. Harrison [tenor] (who sang beautifully), Mr. Bennett [tenor], and Mr. Phillips [bass]. The three former, in particular, sustained their places by the side of the Italians in a manner to leave nothing to be desired …”.2 The “Italians” taking part in the concert included Giulia Grisi, Fanny Persiani, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Rubini, and Lablache! In 1846 Mendelssohn conducted the first performance of his Elijah at the Birmingham Festival, and, at rehearsal, the tenor Charles Lockey sang the aria “Then shall the righteous” so very beautifully “that I was obliged to collect myself to prevent my being overcome, and to enable me to beat time steadily.”3
From 1847, when he re-appeared in London after “finishing” his vocal studies with Giulio Marco Bordogni in Paris and Alberto Mazzucato in Milan, until his farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1891, the tenor John Sims Reeves (1818–1900) represented all that was best in English singing: “His voice had become a pure high tenor of delicious quality, the tones vibrating and equal throughout.” During his early career Reeves often sang Lucia di Lammermoor, La sonnambula, and was even announced in I puritani, but in 1864 Theodor Wachtel sang Arnold in Guillaume Tell at Covent Garden, and Mr. Chorley made some illuminating comparisons: “[Wachtel] riots in his immense and resonant upper chest-notes, flinging out the C in alt, which M. Duprez and Signor Tamberlik were used to reserve for great occasions, again and again, as prodigally as if it was the common work-a-day high C, which used to be the limit of the average English tenor’s voice, and this in a time when the diapason was lower than now. Neither Braham nor Mr. Sims Reeves got, or gets, beyond A; and the latter has to make his point in “Sound an alarm” and the “War Song” of Signor Costa’s Eli, by artful preparation and management.”4 The highest note in Costa’s “War Song” is, in fact, A. What Mr. Chorley meant by “the common work-a-day high C” seems to have been the kind of brilliant head note that Heddle Nash sings in his famous record of the Serenade from The fair maid of Perth, an exemplary high C in voix de tête of the kind that Rossini would have liked, and a very different sound from the full-voiced high C offered by Tudor Davies in the “Song of the open” (CD 1, Track 19). We learn from Mr. Chorley that Reeves had refused the role of Jean in Le prophète, and: “In this we hold him wise; the music does not suit his voice, demanding falsetto notes, which he is judicious in not giving”.5 Here, too, by “falsetto” Mr. Chorley means ringing head notes of the kind he had heard from Nourrit and the French school.
Master of the differing styles of Italian, German, French, and English opera, oratorio and concert, and parlor music, Reeves continued to perfect his technique, as we can read in Chorley’s criticisms, which increase in enthusiastic praise year by year. The 1914 edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians says of Reeves:
In the quarter of a century during which his voice was at its best, he sang on the orchestra with Jenny Lind, Clara Novello, Tietjens, Adelina Patti and Christine Nilsson, and held his own with them all. Assuredly none but a great artist could have done that. Even in his vocal decay there was nothing harsh or ugly. He never sang off the key, and even when he was nearly seventy his legato singing was a model of steadiness and breath management. The expression ‘voice colouring’ was not much used in Sims Reeves’s day, but of the art implied in the words he was a past master. No one could with greater certainty find the exact tone to fit the most varied emotions.6
In his Thirty Years of Musical Life in London, 1870–1900 (Heinemann, London 1903), Herman Klein opines that “A more exquisite illustration of what is termed the true Italian tenor quality it would be impossible to imagine; and this delicious sweetness, this rare combination of ‘velvety’ richness with ringing timbre, he retained in diminishing volume almost to the last.” During his long career, Reeves would not hesitate to cancel performances if he—or rather his wife—felt that he was not in his best voice. In his early days this frequent failure to appear led to some hostility from his devoted public, but the publisher William Boosey relates an amusing incident that took place when Reeves once presented a new song: “The song had a most unfortunate title. Longfellow’s two first lines began as follows: ‘Stay, stay at home, to stay at home is best, / Home-keeping hearts are the happiest.’ …a roar of laughter went all round the hall, and he was compelled to come to a dead stop. He looked round in amazement, and could not think what had made people laugh.”7
Perhaps English singers in general lacked one qualification that stood high on Verdi’s list of requirements: unlike Maria Malibran, they did not have il diavolo in corpo—they were not “possessed by the Devil”. Chorley blames this on the habit of politely subdued conversation imposed by polished English society: “it has cost the world many an impressive and interesting artist.” Jane Austen, in Mansfield Park, mentions these restrictions imposed by polite society, referring to: “the raw efforts of those who have not been bred to the trade: a set of gentlemen and ladies, who have all the disadvantages of education and decorum to struggle through.” Even today the sight and sound of a family engaged in “social intercourse”—all members talking at once, often to the accompaniment of a television set at full blast—remind us that the exercise in making oneself heard thus obtained in formative years might well lead to the development of volume of tone, security in vocal projection and spontaneity of expression!
A living tradition—oratorio
Although Sims Reeves made no recordings, his example inspired many a would-be successor. We shall hear that many of the tenors featured in this set have in common some fundamental aspects of the Victorian musical style. We shall hear examples of breath control, immaculate legato, flawless vocal emission, fine phrasing, artistic coloring, skillful management of the registers, beautiful diction, even some fiery temperament and a few examples of brilliant florid execution, all in a repertoire that English tenors were obliged to have at their fingertips. The schooling of English singers has always begun with Handel, and generations of tenors have practiced their agility in his arias so as to be able to sing profitably in the frequent performances of the Messiah; until the middle of the twentieth century Israel in Egypt, Jeptha, Judas Maccabaeus, and Samson were also their daily bread. This led to an interesting situation when the Rossini-Renaissance began, for English and, particularly, American tenors were easily found who could manage Rossini’s florid passages, while their Italian colleagues, brought up on heavy diets of Verdi and Puccini, had to work hard to catch up with them. Like Reeves, some of our featured tenors sang in opera as well as oratorio, and their performances of songs and ballads gained solidity and conviction from the addition of something from both the sober sacred style and the extrovert style of the theater.
In Hints on Singing, Manuel Garcia describes the different styles of singing. The Canto spianato would be the basic noble and solemn style for oratorio:
This, the noblest of all styles (but also the least lively on account of slowness of movement and simplicity of form), is based entirely on the degrees of passion and the variety of musical light and shade. The chief resources of this style (and nothing can replace them) are perfect intonation, steadiness of voice, propriety of timbre, clear and expressive articulation, swelled sounds of every kind, the most refined effects of piano and forte, the portamento, and the tempo rubato. This style, although the least favorable to rapid fioriture, admits of the use of the appoggiatura, turns, and shakes. Other ornaments, if employed, should harmonize with the slowness of its movement and the gentle nature of its expression. It is hardly necessary to remark that though brilliant passages are inappropriate, it is equally imperative to avoid heaviness and dragging. In cantabile movements most phrases begin piano. Time must be kept, but not accented. In quick movements, on the contrary, time should be marked. These rules are rigorously applied to Larghi and Adagi. The other slow movements, such as Cantabile, Maestoso, Andante, etc., though retaining a certain gravity, are much modified by borrowing from the florid style.8
Oratorio recordings: Handel and Mendelssohn
Had Garcia been able to add a supplement of recordings to his book, he might have shared our enthusiasm for John Harrison’s 1906 performance of the recitative “Deeper, and deeper still” from Jephtha, which satisfactorily fulfills many of the requirements set down by Garcia (CD 2, Track 7). Although he enjoyed a career in opera, Harrison is mainly remembered as a concert and phonograph singer, especially of ballads: his “Mattinata” of Leoncavallo was a best-seller in 1904–1905. His voice is an unremarkable but pleasing lyric tenor, effortlessly produced, with clear diction and exemplary pronunciation of English. He has thoroughly grasped the style required, handed down by tradition more than by textbooks such as Garcia’s, and so detailed is his “composition” of this recitative (as Mr. Chorley might have said) that we may believe it to be an echo of the Reeves version, which, in turn, probably closely followed Braham’s interpretation. To follow it with the score is illuminating: he maintains a flowing legato style throughout, but with only a few obvious portamenti—one comes on “Horrid thought!” He begins quietly, singing the opening verses with deep feeling, placing the accent on the syllables that should be stressed rather than slavishly observing the exact values of the printed notes, just as Garcia instructs us to do in Italian recitative. He skillfully manages the progression from pianissimo to crescendo to forte at “Oh! let me whisper it to the raging winds”. He includes nearly all the appoggiaturas. The ascent to A-flat above the stave, fortissimo, at “That lash me into madness” is thrilling, followed immediately by the soft, almost choked with emotion “Horrid thought! My only daughter!” and this great performance ends movingly on the pianissimo “I can no more!”
It is interesting to hear how Heddle Nash, as late as 1931, closely follows a tradition that was still being handed down. With a more beautiful timbre than Harrison, he succeeds in capturing the same style, singing with considerable skill in shading and contrast and with the required freedom of rhythm and broad phrasing (CD 3, Tracks 9 and 10). Harrison’s is, however, the more deeply committed and satisfying interpretation, and Nash’s pronunciation of English is slightly mannered. Where Nash triumphs is in the aria “Waft her, angels”, which by tradition is sung after the recitative “Deeper, and deeper still”, although the two numbers come from different parts of the oratorio. Harrison stumbles a little over the phrases rising to the high A, whereas Nash offers a flawless execution of the piece, a model of the easier Handelian florid style, all the intervals cleanly defined within a sustained legato.
The importance of mastering the delivery of Handel’s recitatives is illustrated by the moving description of the elderly Braham’s singing [in Israel in Egypt] in “The Recollections of Mr. Joseph Heywood”, published in the Cornhill Magazine in December 1865 and quoted in Sims Reeves, Fifty years of Music in England by Charles E. Pearce:
A little, thick-set man, with a light brown wig all over his eyes, got up to sing one single line of recitative. He stood with his head well on one side, held his music also on one side, and far out before him gave a funny little stamp with his foot, and then proceeded to lay in his provision of breath with such a tremendous shrug of his shoulders and swelling of his chest that I very nearly burst out laughing. He said ‘But the children of Israel went on dry land’ and then paused; and every sound was hushed throughout that great space; and then, as if carved out upon the solid stillness came those three little words ‘through the sea’. Our breath failed and our pulses ceased to beat and we bent our heads as all the wonder of the miracle seemed to pass over us with those accents—awful, radiant, resonant, triumphant. He sat down while the whole house thundered its applause.9
Lamperti said that some voices have vibrato, others have not: both the acoustic recording horn and the electric microphone may tend to exaggerate the vibrato in some voices. The even and light vibrato in Dan Beddoe’s lovely, steady and Italianate voice does not draw undue attention to itself. (In Beddoe’s acoustic Victor recordings, made in 1911, the vibrato is much more prominent, even to the point of causing some purists to raise their eyebrows, but this marked vibration does not sound like a technical defect, and it is noticeably less virulent when he sings softly—and most beguilingly.) In the arias from Elijah (CD 1, Tracks 1 and 2), recorded when Beddoe was sixty-five years old, the one sign of old age in “Then shall the righteous” is the slight effort he has to make to sustain the last high A on “shine forth” (though the A does indeed shine). The voice is still young and fresh, perfectly supported on the breath, responsive to the singer’s every desire to modulate. His enunciation is not only clear and correct, but a beautiful thing in itself, reminding us of Queen Victoria’s praise of Clara Butt: “I have never liked the English language before, but in your mouth it is beautiful.” His diction is perfectly natural, almost—but not quite—like spoken English, showing us the correct pronunciation of the word “righteous” and how much to sound the “r” in “their heavenly father’s realm”. Beddoe had made his concert debut in about 1883, when the prevailing oratorio style would have been after the fashion of Edward Lloyd. By 1928, when he recorded for Brunswick, he seems to have deliberately modernized his style to comply with post-war fashions, reducing portamento to a minimum. His manner is noble, broad, manly, meaningful, and always throbbing with life, even when he produces a haunting piano in “Oh! That I knew where I might find Him”. He sings some very discreet and perfectly controlled portamento in “Then shall the righteous”, but there is no portamento at all in “If with all your hearts” until the very last repetition of “Ye shall ever surely find me”. He sings “If with all your hearts” easily and without undue urgency, stressing “Thus saith our God” without exaggeration and using plenty of almost imperceptible rubato. When he introduces a pause between phrases or lingers lovingly on the high A in the fourth bar from the end, the pianist is with him and we recognize “traditional” phrasings. Each repeated listening will reveal new beauties in these two outstanding recordings.
Walter Glynne was a successful tenor whose adoring radio audiences were accustomed to hearing him in lighter fare, which he sang with elegance and charm. He offers here one of the few performances on 78s of the sequence from the Messiah “Thy rebuke hath broken His heart … Behold and see … He was cut off … But Thou didst not leave”, which is Victorian in its movingly solemn and decorous simplicity, its beautiful enunciation of the text, its extremely free time, not only in the recitatives, and its total commitment to the drama and the music. Glynne inserts all the appoggiaturas (CD 2, Tracks 1-4).
Grove’s Dictionary mentions Reeves’s brilliant delivery of Handel’s “The enemy said”: “… his greatest triumph was achieved at the Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace in 1857, when … he gave ‘The enemy said’ in Israel in Egypt with such remarkable power, fire, and volume of voice, breadth of style, and evenness of vocalization, as completely electrified his hearers.” At the 1891 Handel Festival this fiendishly difficult aria fell to the lot of Edward Lloyd, of whom Bernard Shaw reports: “On the last day the principal singers were at their worst. Lloyd was obviously out of sorts, and fought hard but vainly against having to repeat ‘The enemy said’. Nevertheless, he fully sustained his reputation …”.10 Let us listen to Charles Saunders, who was also famous for his interpretation of this aria after Reeves sang it no more (CD 3, Track 17). The voice on this rather primitive G&T recording of 1906 is not a thing of great beauty; one might say, a serviceable, light voice, correctly produced, solid and steady. The high A sounds very much like the topmost note of the voice, though, like many of his contemporaries, he may have been able to sing higher using head voice. If the effect envisaged by Handel were really “power, fire and volume”, then Saunders has not these to offer, but—the execution! This rare record by a forgotten Cornish tenor represents the most extraordinary example of accurate florid tenor singing, in a particularly awkwardly written aria, ever preserved by the phonograph. The fluidity, ease and precision of the passagework are amazing. For volume and vibrancy in Handelian agility we must turn to Evan Williams in “Sound an alarm”. Arthur Jordan tackles Handel’s demanding florid passages in “How vain is man” from Judas Maccabaeus, his forceful delivery and clean definition of every interval verging upon what Sir Henry Wood called the “sledge-hammer” method of articulating coloratura (CD 2, Track 23). Jordan is trying to reproduce the Handelian version of agilità di forza, and despite the unlovely tone, with a vibrato suggesting tightness of the throat, in a live performance such vigorously clear articulation must have been impressive. He manages a dreamier tone in the quiet middle section. A more pleasing demonstration of the correct way to articulate agilità di forza in Handel’s music is given by Herbert Teale in a truly splendid performance of the recitative “He that dwelleth in heaven”, delivered with biting scorn but without exaggeration, and the aria “Thou shalt break them” from the Messiah; yet another example of a forgotten singer furnishing a model from which all tenors might learn (CD 3, Track 18).
Walter Widdop’s Handel recordings have been greatly admired. His best virtuoso Handel performance is “Love sounds the alarm” from Acis and Galatea, accurate in execution (apart from the fudged downward run after the sustained D on the word “prize”) though he sings throughout at full volume, ignoring the opportunities for contrast (CD 3, Track 23). Even better is “Where’er you walk” from Handel’s Semele, a lovely record in which Widdop’s singing approaches very near perfection, especially in the first strophe, for this flowing, pastoral music does not over-tax his resources. His mastery of a smooth legato is immediately apparent and his pronunciation of the English language is a model—how beautifully he sings the dipthonged “a” in the word “shade”! His upper F and G are flawlessly produced with ringing but unforced tone in mixed register. In the repeat he sings slightly more loudly, and here the vibrato is less pleasant. His accompanist, the composer Percy Kahn, plays exquisitely in the same broad and free style adopted by Widdop (CD 3, Track 24).
Edward Lloyd was the great Victorian concert tenor, described by the Italian conductor Giulio Roberti, who heard him at the Crystal Palace in the Handel Festival of 1885, as “a true revelation for me; he possesses absolute beauty of voice, a flawless method, together with accent and expression full of truth and effect.”11 Herman Klein reproduces a letter written by the conductor Léon Jehin in 1891 after hearing Lloyd sing an aria by Gluck and the Prize Song from Die Meistersinger: “The tenor was perfect. He has a beautiful voice, admirable diction, refined style; and one feels that he knows how to sing this kind of music, so broad and dignified in its simplicity.”12 In his Thirty Years of Musical Life in London, 1870–1900, Klein declares that “Edward Lloyd’s is one of those pure, natural voices that never lose their sweetness, but preserve their charm so long as there are breath and power to sustain them. His method is, to my thinking, irreproachable and his style absolutely inimitable … he could declaim Wagner with a beauty of tone, a fullness of dramatic expression, and a clarity of enunciation that used to make his German audiences in London shout for very wonder and delight.”13 It was all very well for Klein in 1903 to rave about Lloyd’s voice never losing its sweetness, but in the records he began to make in 1904, four years after his retirement, that voice seems to be out of practice and not perfectly responsive, a lot of hard labor and not much charm going into the business of singing a song, though one cannot but admire the singer’s boyish enthusiasm and brio. He has lost tone in the lowest notes and frequently resorts to upward transposition. His high tenor may have suffered from frequent concert performances of long “bleeding chunks” from Wagner. An authoritative guide indeed to mid and late Victorian taste, the old man can still make the rafters ring with Handel’s “Sound an alarm” or Stephen Adams’s “The holy city”. Bernard Shaw tells us that “Mr Edward Lloyd delivers his words better than many English singers”,14 and in the three volumes of Music in London, 1890–94 Shaw mentions him frequently, both to praise and to scold: “Edward Lloyd sang without a fault”; “Somehow, Mr Lloyd started sentimentally; tried a touch of jingoism at the climax, ‘Lohengrin’s my name’; rose to genteel piety for a moment; and finally relapsed into sentimentality. He sang well, and elicited shouts of ‘Bravo!’ (imagine anybody daring to say ‘Bravo!’ to a real knight of the Grail!); but he was not Lohengrin.” And, at the 1894 Handel Festival, after singling out Charles Santley for praise, he says: “Everyone else [including Melba!] broke down under these Handelian tests except Mr Lloyd, whose voice, homogeneous as it is from top to bottom, and charming as its color is, has not quite the beautiful firmness and purity of tone which the public has learnt the value of from Patti and Sims Reeves as well as from Santley.” A young tenor to whom I once played Lloyd’s Elijah records exclaimed in wonder: “What a magnificent old chap!” Lloyd adds a surprisingly vigorous and showy upward portamento on the first word of “If with all your hearts” that may well date back to early performances of the oratorio (William Green, in his 1901 recording, also introduces an upward portamento in the reprise of this phrase), and his soft singing is atmospheric and haunting (CD 3, Track 2). One of his most appealing records is “I’ll sing thee songs of Araby” from Frederic Clay’s cantata Lalla Rookh, in which Lloyd lays aside his silver trumpet for a few minutes “to charm us with a tear” and a lovely soft high A-flat (CD 3, Track 4). His intense commitment, vigorous phrasing and sweeping upward portamento on the first syllable of “Jerusalem” are very impressive in his record of “The holy city”, written for Lloyd by Stephen Adams (pen name of the baritone Michael Maybrick, a pupil of Gaetano Nava). This is still a favorite song in Britain, and I have heard it sung by the crowd at a football match—needless to say, without the portamento! (CD 3, Track 3).
The watchman scene, “The sorrows of death” from Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, so sensitively declaimed by John Coates, is a precious indication of the elevated style achieved by the best interpreters of oratorio, making it easier for us to understand the great popularity of such sacred works in the nineteenth century, even though the music is somewhat below the quality we expect from so distinguished a composer (CD 1, Track 8). At a rapid tempo (set by the experienced oratorio conductor Allen Gill) Coates articulates clearly even such difficult phrases as “And Hell’s dark terrors had got hold upon me” without sacrificing anything of his smooth legato. The upper E-flat, E, and F are lovely notes, but the high A-flat of “I bring thee salvation”, while successfully resonant, reveals Coates’s baritonal origins: the highest notes were acquired only by assiduous study. The G-sharp on the last repetition of “Watchman, will the night soon pass?” should have been equally successful, but Coates makes the mistake of forcing the note, seeking volume rather than quality. The early phonograph did not take kindly to overblown high notes.
A tenor of much lesser fame, Joseph Cheetham, was appreciated by Sir Henry Wood and sang both classical arias and modern ballads at the Promenade Concerts. His record of “Total eclipse” from Samson (CD 1, Track 7) (which Sims Reeves sang at his Farewell Concert) might stand as another model of the Victorian idea of Handelian style: the attack is firm and clean, the tone is pure and steady, a nicely executed diminuendo embellishes many of the sustained notes, there is a constant alternation of loud and soft (head) notes, as in the “echo effect” on “no sun, no moon”. The declamation is stately and grand, the enunciation clear and noble. What more could one ask for? A more beautiful voice, perhaps? But the forgotten Mr. Cheetham sings so well that he does not really need the luxury of a lovely timbre.
Another splendid piece of declamation in a more modern style is the rousing performance of Tudor Davies in “And King Olaf heard the cry” from Elgar’s King Olaf (CD 1, Track 17) His enunciation of the words is far from clear, and this must be attributed to a fault in vocal production, but despite this serious flaw the performance is stunning.
Repeated attempts to establish a repertoire of English opera during the nineteenth century were never successful, largely because of the lack of good librettists, despite the talents of composers like Michael William Balfe and William Vincent Wallace (both Irishmen) and Weber’s pupil Sir Julius Benedict. An early example of trivial words set to rather appealing music comes with the song “The pilgrim of love” from Sir Henry Bishop’s “opera” The Noble Outlaw; these operas were like opéra-comique or Singspiel, burdened with impossible spoken dialogue. John Harrison declaims his recitative—“Orynthia! My beloved”—with suitable ardor, and is quite winning in the aria, including a virtuoso touch with his pianissimo lead into the repeat (CD 2, Track 9). Singing like this, technically assured, manly and yet touchingly expressive, was greatly appreciated by opera and concert audiences as well as in the domestic circle. The piano accompaniment is charmingly played by Madame Adami, one of the Gramophone Company’s regular accompanists. “There is a flower that bloometh” from Wallace’s Maritana and “When other lips” from Balfe’s The Bohemian girl were for many years among the most popular of all operatic arias. Rather surprisingly, John McCormack adds no embellishments to “When other lips”, unlike earlier tenors such as Edward Lloyd and John Coates, but this 1914 recording shows him at the height of his powers, singing easily with warm and pure tone in a taxing song that reveals his complete control of the passaggio di registro: his attack on the upper G-flat is always delicately ringing. The second stanza opens with “When coldness or deceit shall slight”, clearly articulated—even the consonant “c” of “coldness” seems limpid (CD 3, Track 5)! John Harrison’s accomplished singing of “There is a flower that bloometh” may also stand as a classic example of how “Victorian ballads” ought to be sung (CD 2, Track 8). Harrison’s song records include many fine examples of poised tone and fluent execution of florid passages, surprising
perhaps from a tenor whose repertoire included Wagner.
Arthur Goring Thomas (1850–1892) had such a success with Esmeralda, dedicated to Pauline Viardot, composed for the Carl Rosa Opera Company in 1883 and revived in French at Covent Garden in 1890 with Melba, Jean de Reszke and Lassalle, that his early death was a great setback for English opera. The lovely aria sung by Phoebus in Act 2, “O vision entrancing”, became a concert favorite recorded by many excellent tenors, and with spectacular success by Tom Burke (CD 1, Track 5). Burke can coo like the turtle dove or roar like the lion, and here he alternates both methods with taste and skill. How deliciously he phrases “O vision entrancing! O lovely and light, My heart at thy dancing grows faint for delight.” Lovely and light, indeed, and how appealing are his boyish tone and limpid enunciation. Then he opens out for the A-flat on “My angel in heaven”, producing the flood of burnished tone that we expect only from Italian tenors. The high ending, with soft but properly produced and ringing tones on the upper G-flat and A-flat, contrasts with his treatment of “My dreams”, a model of interpretation of Tosti. Would that all modern singers could learn from it! What a magnificent effect he prepares, by singing most of the song in a haunting, light and dreamy tone, then going into overdrive for the finale, “I shall love you the same forever”, with a rousing high B-flat (CD 1, Track 6). This extraordinarily talented young man, who began a promising international
career singing with Toti Dal Monte in Italy and with Melba at Covent Garden, never realized his full potential. (I heard him sing at a concert given by his pupils in London in 1962; at seventy-two he could still produce the “lion’s roar”.)
Charles Villiers Stanford wrote a lot of pleasing vocal music. The tragi-comic song “Ochone! When I used to be young” from Shamus O’Brien, another opera with spoken dialogue, was written for the celebrated tenor, Joseph O’Mara, and is printed as an appendix to the vocal score. O’Mara was less than enthusiastic about accepting the role of peasant farmer, Mike Murphy, which consisted of more comic acting than singing; so Stanford obligingly wrote him this aria (CD 3, Track 14)! O’Mara’s creator record of the song is a delightful piece of vocal characterization, well sung with a boyish timbre and clear, unfettered diction.
Walter Glynne’s record of the “Drinking Song” from Sullivan’s last successful light opera The Rose of Persia is an excellent example of how English singers continued to apply classical style and technique to lighter works through the nineteen-thirties, achieving performances of considerable distinction (CD 2, Track 5).
Tudor Davies sang in the first performances of Vaughan Williams’s Hugh the Drover in 1924, and left a vivid recording of the “Song of the road”. Fine schooling is at once apparent, with easy ascents to rousing high notes, but when he overexerts himself and pushes the tone in the medium range, the timbre sounds throaty and sustained notes are unsteady. We have chosen a perhaps even finer performance of this song (so typical of early twentieth century English composers) by James Johnston, a tenor who seems to have begun his professional career unusually late in life (CD 2, Track 18). The voice is forward and responsive in the quick “patter” sections, with clear and charming enunciation (probably mastered in the grueling school of Gilbert and Sullivan opera), and he sails with ease to the high notes without any discrepancy between the sound of the chest and the head registers. While allowing himself plenty of space to “show off” his brilliant, Italianate high notes, he vaunts an equalized scale, and never forces the tone.
A forthright and yet warmly romantic performance of “The English rose” from Edward German’s operetta Merrie England comes from the ever reliable Webster Booth, a radio favorite for forty years: a lyric tenor who, like Tito Schipa, never forced a note and whose lovely voice caressed all he undertook, from opera to light popular songs (CD 1, Track 3). In oratorio or opera, apparently rather overawed by the solemnity of the occasion, he could slightly spoil the effect of his otherwise flawless singing by affecting what he evidently hoped was a suitably dignified enunciation (an Oxbridge accent, perhaps?), but in “The English rose” his easily flowing legato is unspoiled by mannerisms, and the climax of the song is built up without any showy trumpeting of high notes. He is equally satisfying in the atmospheric “Faery song” from Rutland Boughton’s hugely successful—for a time—The Immortal Hour (CD 1, Track 4). Booth made over 500 records, and among them there must be many exemplary performances: his “All hail, thou dwelling pure and lowly” from Faust is notable for the contrast between the warm medium register and the brilliant high notes, each note perfectly focused and placed. (On YouTube we can see him in a Pathé Newsreel, singing—with disarming ease and perfect naturalness—a song called “The world is mine”.)
Ben Davies rose to celebrity in the eighteen-nineties, singing in opera and operetta. Records made when he was seventy-five years old reveal the solid foundations of his technique and a still vigorous voice. The early records—he was G&T’s first successful star recorder of classical song, from 1901—show a beefy, baritonal voice with an upward extension via head voice, most artistically and effectively employed in songs like Dibdin’s “Tom Bowling” and Bishop’s “My pretty Jane” (CD 1, Track 15), in which his florid ornaments are perfectly turned, and his use of head voice adds a magical touch to an already agreeable song. John McCormack thought that the middle notes of Ben Davies’s voice were among the most beautiful he ever heard in his life. Herman Klein (in Thirty Years of Musical Life in London) calls him “a singer whose rare musical instinct and intelligence have always partially atoned for his uneven scale and his lack of ringing head-notes”, so his alternating of sturdy baritonal booming with a much frailer head voice cannot always have been as effective as it seems in some of his early song recordings. Every now and then the Gramophone Company remembered his concert fame and early recorded successes, and invited him back to the studio. In 1923–1924, at sixty-four, he recorded some attractive examples of Elizabethan songs, together with Purcell’s “I attempt from love’s sickness to fly” (CD 1, Track 16), notably accurate for such a heavy voice, and with a considerable degree of skill in modulation still remaining. He exemplifies a Victorian “no nonsense” school of singing, with the addition of some exquisite graces.
Hirwen Jones was born in 1857, one year before Ben Davies. He enjoyed a successful career as “heir to the throne” to Edward Lloyd. He was a neighbor of Patti’s in Wales, sang in her concert tours, and is believed to have helped persuade her to record her voice. His own records, little known even to collectors, are gems of the finest kind of Victorian tenor singing. His warm, youthful, and attractively pure voice, its silver surface unscratched despite his busy career, floating on the breath and never forced, boasts a full development and blending of the registers, so his scale is perfectly equalized and he is able to take high notes with insouciance, either in full
voice or in a delicious piano. His execution of ornaments is accuracy personified. “Molly Bawn” (CD 2, Track 21), a witty song later immortalized by McCormack, is given a sentimental, yearning interpretation with exquisite effects in mixed voice, while the elegance of Balfe’s barcarolle “Goodnight, goodnight beloved” might well be worthy of Reeves himself (CD 2, Track 20). From the large number of tuneful songs by Stanford, Hirwen Jones recorded “The rose of Killarney” (CD 2, Track 22), in which his naturalness and aplomb and his gracefully easy ascents to the higher notes recall the elegance of Edmond Clément. Clément also comes to mind when we listen to Jones’s delightfully appealing record of Godard’s “Berceuse” from Jocelyn, a desert island disc indeed (CD 2, Track 19). Just like McCormack in his prime, Hirwen Jones illustrates what eighteenth-century Italian singing teachers meant when they declared: “The singer has no throat” (“Il cantante non ha gola”)!
Tudor Davies provides an example of the typical song specially written as an encore in “Song of the open” by the famous accompanist and singing teacher Frank La Forge, a pupil of Leschetitzky (CD 1, Track 19). The song, nothing but an enthusiastic outburst of tenorial energy, ends with a thrilling high C. In marked contrast, Davies offers a beautifully restrained and eloquent performance of “Do not go, my love”, by Richard Hagemann (CD 1, Track 18).
Disappointingly, Joseph O’Mara made only three records, even rarer than the almost mythical G&Ts of Angelica Pandolfini, but all reproduced in this set, and at least they show him in both opera and song, demonstrating yet again how a naturally flowing voice production facilitates impeccably clear and limpid enunciation. O’Mara, whose voice is still relatively boyish and fresh after years of touring opera, recreates for us the atmosphere of the Victorian private evening concert featuring the great names of music: at the Duchess of Manchester’s soirée in 1899 he sang with Melba, Plançon, Kubelik, Paderewski, and Landon Ronald. Ronald was a fine songwriter, one of the most popular of his day, and the two songs committed to wax by O’Mara may well have been written especially for him. They are difficult to sing but effectively contrast the lower and higher registers of the tenor voice. Like Hirwen Jones or John McCormack, O’Mara is able to sail effortlessly up the scale without shouting or increasing the volume, yet giving full rein to the natural brilliance of the high notes. Accompanied by the composer in his usual flamboyant manner, he treats “Friend and lover” and “An April birthday” in grand style, his lovely voice and charming manner ideally scaled to the requirements of the salon. We willingly overlook a technical defect caused by unsteadiness of the recording turntable (CD 3, Tracks 15 and 16).
John McCormack remains today not only the supreme tenor hailing from Ireland, but one of the very greatest concert artists of whom we have recordings. Charles Marshall’s touching “A child’s song” gives us a glimpse of the degree of perfection to which he had brought his voice and technique in 1912; he demonstrates three different ways of singing the high A-flat, first in an easy full voice, then in a delightful piano, and finally he sings an exquisitely perfect trill on the high G, resolving into the A-flat pianissimo (CD 3, Track 6). After his near-fatal bout of infection of the tonsils in 1922 McCormack avoided singing very high notes, but in the record of “Swans” by A. Walter Kramer, made the following year, the lovely, pure, Italianate timbre of his voice, the rounded and sustained vowels and his impeccably clear enunciation exert all their old fascination, though the soft high B-flat and A-flat are not as free of the throat as they once were (CD 3, Track 7). We can also enjoy the beautifully liquid consonants, the secret of which he shared with Melba and few others. The mere passage of time has no power to detract from the magnetic grip that McCormack exerts upon the listener.
Joseph Hislop enjoyed a truly international career, singing in many of the world’s great opera houses. His records of French and Italian opera are idiomatic as well as excellently sung, while his song records give us a glimpse of another side of his art, as he is a master of the intimate shadings required by the concert repertoire. In “Afton water” (CD 2, Track 13) his virtuoso soft singing—“My Mary’s asleep by your murmuring stream”—and his lovely decorations are in the tradition of the great Scots tenor John Sinclair (1791–1857), who was famous for his embellishment of traditional folk melodies before he went to Italy to pursue an operatic career, culminating in his creation of the role of Idreno in Rossini’s Semiramide. In Pinsuti’s once popular song “Queen of the earth” (CD 2, Track 12), Hislop follows meticulously the composer’s intentions with a lovely legato line at the beginning of the second strophe, marked piano, and then fills out the tone impressively in the big tune, marked molto maestoso. This is one of those Victorian songs that are gushingly spiritual without being truly religious, their words and music timidly echoing some of the more exotic French salon songs. It is no surprise that Jüssi Björling relied on Hislop for technical advice throughout his career.
Gervase Elwes was idolized by his colleagues; from an upper-class family, he struggled hard to perfect his singing, never stooping to performing “trash”. His art suggests, in the best possible way, the singing of the cultivated amateur (or should I say dilettante). A clear and aristocratic English pronunciation that sounds spontaneous and not artificial (and a joy to hear), a carefully cultivated legato and surprisingly brilliant high notes made him a gift to the English songwriters of his day. His record of Young’s “Phyllis has such charming graces”, arranged by H. Lane Wilson, might have been chosen particularly to show off how this great tenor had perfected the blending of the registers (CD 1, Track 22). In two contrasting songs by Roger Quilter, Elwes gives a beautiful performance of the serene “Now sleeps the crimson petal”, going on to a thrilling climax at the end of “Love’s philosophy”, the pellucid diction and unfailing legato crowned by a splendid high B-flat (CD 1, Tracks 23 and 24). In two songs that have survived into the modern tenor’s repertoire, Elwes makes a remarkably sensitive showing in “The roadside fire” by Vaughan Williams, (CD 1, Track 25), a record memorable both for his admirable treatment of Robert Louis Stevenson’s evocative words, and for his technical command of the passaggio di registro, his upper D-flat, E-flat, F, and G-flat being models of production, both soft and loud. In “Love went a-riding” by Frank Bridge (CD 1, Track 26), a rumbustious encore song, also recorded by Björling and Flagstad, Elwes for once disdains refinement and simply lets rip: highly satisfying. Unfortunately, Elwes recorded nothing from his legendary interpretation of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius.
Elwes’s rival, John Coates, a more sophisticated and intellectual singer, who lived longer and made many more recordings, has a different kind of vocal technique that lacks some of the brilliance of Elwes and leads him at times into a little hoarseness, but his magnificent record of Mallinson’s striking “Eldorado” is a masterpiece of vocal coloring and shows his voice at its best (CD 1, Track 9). A marked contrast is Sir Frederick Cowen’s beautiful song “At the mid hour of night”, a setting of a moving poem by Thomas Moore. Interpretations such as these, with distinguished pronunciation of English and a perfect use of rubato, suggest that many songs scorned as “Victorian” might be worthy of serious re-appraisal by today’s concert artists. Balfe’s “Come into the garden, Maud” (CD 1, Track 10), composed for Sims Reeves, has never entirely left the tenor repertory, but few performances can have been so full of contrast—fire and dash alternating with languorous longing. Coates shows how to illuminate and bring out the best from such a song: each phrase has a slight but telling unwritten pause or stress that adds color to Tennyson’s poem. In Elgar’s “In the dawn” a difficult but atmospheric song, Coates shows his technical and musical mastery although some of the soft high notes, like the final high G-sharp, are not properly blended into the voice, but sound rather like someone else joining in. Interestingly, he uses more vibrato than usual in this song, obviously an interpretative choice (CD 1, Track 11). Some of his later records suffer from a wobble, probably induced by exposing a delicate voice to a strenuous career in opera as well as concert.
Like Coates, Walter Hyde enjoyed a distinguished career in opera and oratorio, with frequent guest engagements abroad. He was a pupil of Gustave Garcia, the youngest son of Manuel Garcia II. “Our most elegant tenor … a fine voice, a personality, a clever actor … He is one of the most popular of living English singers.”15 Walter Hyde’s voice, a pleasing and well-trained lirico spinto with hints of the tenore drammatico, has a more noticeable vibrato than was then fashionable among English tenors, lending him almost an Italian sound. This vibrato is not in evidence when he sings softly in a lovely mezza voce, as in Sullivan’s song “Once again”, in which Hyde cleverly alternates between this silky piano and a rich, thrilling forte, skillfully moving between these two types of emission (CD 2, Track 15). His records are full of striking effects, whether pure and ringing attacks on high notes or ambitious shadings. John McCormack thought him one of the best Siegmunds he ever heard. Elgar’s beautiful song “Pleading”, written in 1908 for the “society” contralto Lady Maud Warrender, gives Hyde another opportunity to demonstrate how tenors of his generation were able to sing with effect both softly and loudly: the final phrases include a lovely crescendo and diminuendo effect (CD 2, Track 17). It would be difficult to imagine a better performance of this song, the style of which the pianist also grasps perfectly. In the Musical Times, December 1923, Hyde gave this advice to young singers: “Remember, beautiful diction means beautiful tone. And then there must be cultivated a feeling for pathos and humor, qualities which, of course, materially affect the primary tone.”
Sydney Coltham, a tenor employed by the Gramophone Company to record oratorio and song for the popular market, might serve as a model of canto legato for any singer; his words, beautifully and naturally enunciated, float on the breath. He reaches an enviable standard of imaginative virtuosity with his high soft singing in Hermann Löhr’s attractive ballad “Where my caravan has rested” (from his song cycle Romany Songs), a good example of how an unusually sensitive and poetic text could inspire a talented composer to create a gem of a song even in the now despised ballad form (CD 1, Track 13). Coltham’s well-trained, typically English, voice is heard at its best; this recording haunts the memory. His is also one of two authoritative recordings of “Ah, moon of my delight” (CD 1, Track 14) from the song cycle In a Persian Garden by Liza Lehmann. Hubert Eisdell’s record of this song has always been highly admired (CD 1, Track 21). Eisdell is helped by electrical recording, but he has to hurry the music slightly in order to include the recitative “Ah! Fill the cup!”. Both tenors are scrupulous in following the detailed dynamic markings in the score—Lehmann was herself a singer, a pupil of Jenny Lind, and knew what effects she wanted. Eisdell sculpts the difficult opening phrase, with its triplet on “my”, with striking neatness and clarity; Coltham is elegant without arriving at quite such satisfying precision. Coltham is the more successful in diminuendo passages, whereas it is Eisdell who lingers longer on a gleaming high A at “Through this same garden” (marked con espansione—more broadly); Coltham, however, excels in the piano phrases. Both execute portamento when it is asked for. Coltham wins in the very last phrase, rising to the high G pianissimo as marked, then fining it down still further in a virtuoso diminuendo. Today Eisdell’s would-be aristocratic pronunciation of English sounds mannered, whereas Coltham’s is ideally clear and natural. Both performances are superlative records of a great song.
Hubert Eisdell’s splendid record of “O dry those tears” is accompanied at the piano by the composer, Teresa del Riego (1876–1968), who is also responsible for the not very praiseworthy words: “’Twill come, alas! But soon ’twill pass” etc. (CD 1, Track 20). The sheet music of this song sold 23,000 copies within six weeks of publication! Madame del Riego has composed, one supposes especially for the phonograph, a soupy cello obbligato. Her playing, and Eisdell’s singing, furnish a kind of touchstone demonstrating the correct style in which to sing a ballad. The score is a document crowded with signs for the interpreter: “Quicker and hopefully”, “with feeling”, and so on. Eisdell and his distinguished accompanist not only execute nearly all these instructions, but they even manage to add much more in the way of unwritten rhythmic and dynamic variation. They show how to make the maximum effect with such a song, and del Riego’s grandiose manner at the piano is a study in itself. Eisdell offers flawless singing of considerable charm. He executes perfectly the turn in the phrase “Life is not made for sorrow”, pays attention to the instruction “ben legato” on the first phrase, then, on its repetition, he manages to make an even more seamless legato line even though he is, temporarily, avoiding the portamento. It is rather a pity that he “woos the gallery” by rising to a blatantly over-loud high A at the conclusion.
Morgan Kingston was that rarity, an English dramatic tenor: a Manrico, a Samson. In quieter mood, Kingston recorded Tosti’s “Parted” (CD 3, Track 1). Perhaps not the possessor of a particularly beautiful voice, Kingston had been very well trained: “I have studied ten years on vocal technic and repertoire. I have not ventured to say so before, but I say it tonight—I can sing!”16—and sing indeed he can. No doubt he had listened carefully when singing in concert with Clara Butt and Tetrazzini. He is careful to produce limpid attacks on the beginning of every phrase, to pay attention to the roundness of the vowels, and the clear but unobtrusive sounding of the consonants. His legato is impeccable, his piano singing haunting, and altogether his version of “Parted” is a model of song singing. His singing is more forceful but equally polished in a favorite tenor song, “Onaway, awake beloved” from Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, an ambitious work once favored by choral societies (CD 2, Track 24).
Another English Tristan and Otello was Frank Mullings, a favorite singer of Sir Thomas Beecham and other connoisseurs. Very few of his many recordings satisfactorily explain his great fame to modern listeners, though his performance of the recitative “How vain and weak a thing is man” from Gounod’s Queen of Sheba is thrilling and may give some idea of what he could achieve in the theater. A technical flaw in his singing is the open sound of the vowels up to E natural, fourth space, contrasting too obviously with a much more “covered” and closed timbre from the F upwards. His record of Clutsam’s attractive song “I know of two bright eyes” is surprisingly delicate and winning; his attack is always pure and clear, the tone quite warm, with a light and unobtrusive vibrato (CD 3, Track 8). One feels, however, that he achieves the soft upper notes by closing the throat.
Music of a higher quality is represented by Heddle Nash in two songs by Delius, awkwardly written for the voice but containing some attractive phrases that Nash sings quite beautifully (CD 3, Tracks 11 and 12). This is one of his most memorable recordings, even though the ambitious rapid passing from fortissimo to pianissimo sometimes catches him out and the tone becomes throaty for a few notes—a troublesome flaw that the singer was never able to completely correct. (Nash talked quite honestly about his vocal problems when I heard him lecture, including a generous selection of songs, in Manchester in 1958.) His singing of Daisy McGeoch’s unpretentious yet somehow irritatingly haunting song “Two eyes of grey” is of surpassing beauty and technical skill; as late as 1933 his interpretation is still, very successfully, conceived in the same style as Ben Davies’s “My pretty Jane”, with much the same reliance on silvery head notes and a very free rhythm (CD 3, Track 13).
Ciro Pinsuti was one of many minor Italian composers who followed Gordigiani to London and made a lot of money turning out drawing-room ballads by the score. “Queen of the earth” is not a bad example, but “The last watch” comes near to being a truly great song. It is sung here, magnificently, by Miss Ruby Helder, “The Lady Tenor” (CD 2, Track 11). Ruby Helder wrote: “My great desire right through my career has been to be regarded seriously as a tenor … but there have always been people who wished to look upon me as a freak … The truth is that I possess a male larynx, and am able therefore to produce pure tenor notes.” Sir Charles Santley was so impressed by her voice that he taught her free of charge for seven years, so Ruby Helder, through her great teacher, belongs to the Garcia school of singing! The label of “The last watch”, her first published record for His Master’s Voice, describes her as a contralto. In 1911 she was only twenty-one years old. One collector friend, the late George Clayton, heard her sing in Manchester at a Tetrazzini concert: when she had finished singing Verdi’s “Quando le sere al placido” (!!) the portly diva rushed out from the wings to embrace her, and pretty, petite Ruby Helder disappeared from view into Tetrazzini’s ample bosom.
The career of the tenor Henry Wendon, a protégé of the folk-song collector Lucy Broadwood, seems to have been limited to Great Britain, where he sang Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner. In its day his record of Easthope Martin’s song “Come to the fair” (CD 3, Track 20) was a hit on the radio, and no wonder: this charming and exhilarating performance is based on a skillful command of a well-placed voice, brilliant and manly (perhaps inclined to be throaty), with easy high notes, and a winningly natural manner of enunciating the words. In “The road to the isles” (CD 3, Track 21), a sort of musical geography lesson on Scotland, the lively rhythmic sense and joyous spontaneity are again to the fore, together with some (not perfectly successful) soft singing that looks back to the chiaroscuro effects beloved of the previous tenorial generation.
Edward Lloyd, Ben Davies, and others recorded Dibdin’s “Tom Bowling” when it was still popular: by the time Walter Widdop came to make his recording, the old song was passing out of fashion. He makes a brave shot at it, in something like the authentic style, although he has not mastered the head voice as Ben Davies did (CD 3, Track 22).
Some consideration must be given to a unique attempt by the Decca Record Company to preserve an echo of Sims Reeves’s style by engaging Frank Titterton to study and record eight pieces from the Reeves repertory under the aegis of the pianist Arthur Fagge, who had accompanied Reeves in his later years, and who accompanies Titterton on these records. The results are of varied interest: Titterton was no longer, in 1931, the beguiling young tenor we hear in his acoustic Vocalion records. The voice is occasionally brilliant, but more often hoarse and throaty, the articulation of ornaments not clear-cut, the diction murky. However, in Davy’s “The Bay of Biscay” (CD 3, Track 19), an old favorite of Braham’s, singer and pianist work hard to re-create the interesting rhythmic elasticity and decorative interpolations that make each stanza different from the others, and the high notes are well taken. Herman Klein, however, who often heard Reeves sing this song, does not hesitate to ask (in his review of the records in the Gramophone): “Was Mr. Titterton really told to pronounce Biscay with an equal stress on both syllables, making the second rhyme with the letter K? I never heard it sung so before. Reeves used to give it the same sound as ‘whiskey’.” Reeves had “inherited” the song “The Bay of Biscay” from Braham, who could not resist wooing the gallery with songs of a naval and patriotic flavor. Reviewing a less-than-successful appearance of Sims Reeves in Rossini’s La donna del lago, Mr. Chorley accused both Braham and Reeves of allowing their taste for popular songs to contaminate the purity of their classical style:
There is no magic fountain in which a singer who has depreciated himself can dip and come out newly-refined when he needs it. He who has habituated himself to please, by executing bad music, must have made his effects unmusically…. Patches and passages of the finest declamation ever heard in England but imperfectly redeemed in Braham the twang, the shout, the coarse, hurried flourishes which, having adopted them to please the galleries, he could never wholly lay aside. His fanatical admirers will not forgive us for saying so, but there was (at least ever since we knew him) a ‘Bay of Biscay’ touch even in his fine recitative from Jeptha.17
William Green, who enjoyed a successful career in oratorio and concerts, made a handful of records for G&T in 1901. In the first stanza only of Braham’s dramatic ballad “The anchor’s weighed”, his style is recognizably the same as Titterton’s in “The Bay of Biscay”, but being better trained his execution of the ornaments is more accurate (CD 2, Track 6). Both tenors take their time, avoid metronomical regularity, and contrast loud and soft singing to considerable effect, both musical and dramatic. Green’s voice would perhaps be nobody’s favorite today, especially when his praiseworthy attempts to sing with a steady tone degenerate into a “fixed” and slightly out-of-tune sound on sustained notes, but his polished technique, clear enunciation, and imaginative interpretation are typical of the best British singers before the First World War.
The recent discovery of two out of a series of six extremely rare records made in London for Columbia in 1904 by Gregory Hast has given us the opportunity to include the voice of a regular and grateful pupil of Sims Reeves. Although Reeves was not considered a great teacher, he left an interesting and sensible singing method, The Art of Singing, London, Chappell & Co., 1900. In 1925 Hast also wrote a useful book, The Singer’s Art, by Harry Gregory Hast, London, Methuen & Co., containing a touching anecdote about Reeves:
Only a few weeks before he died I had my last lesson with him. The work I was studying was ‘Deeper, and deeper still’ and ‘Waft her, Angels’…. At the conclusion of my lesson he suddenly said ‘I’ll sing it to you’… and he stood in the middle of the big studio and … interpreted the song from beginning to end. I look back on that performance as, beyond comparison, the greatest piece of singing I ever heard.
The voice of Gregory Hast cannot be anything like that of Sims Reeves, for it has a very English rather than an Italianate sound. However, he has learned the secret of an immaculate legato wedded to the clear and musical enunciation of English, for which he was famous. In Godard’s “Berceuse” from Jocelyn he demonstrates considerable virtuosity in the head register. Though he was often accompanied by his wife, Madame Hast—a well-known concert pianist—it does not seem likely that it is she thumping the studio piano in this recording (CD 2, Track 10).
This concert by long departed tenors comes to a rousing conclusion with a thrillingly vigorous account of Handel’s “Sound an alarm” by the American tenor of Welsh parentage Evan Williams, another superb example of the accurate and polished execution that English-speaking tenors inherited from the early nineteenth-century Italians (CD 3, Track 25). Evan Williams enjoyed a successful career as a concert artist, paralleled by plentiful sales of a very long list of records, as his evenly produced tones suited the early recording horn. Some of his recurring vocal problems were resolved by the choral conductor, composer and singing teacher Jules Jordan, a pupil of Giovanni Sbriglia; so Evan Williams can claim to belong to the same distinguished school as Lillian Nordica, Jean and Edouard de Reszke, and Pol Plançon, Sbriglia’s most famous pupils. (It is interesting to note that in his record of “Sound an alarm” Edward Lloyd, brought up in the English Handel tradition, includes all the appoggiaturas in the recitative, whereas Evan Williams does not.)
Let us leave the last word to Mr. Chorley, who might well have enjoyed Evan Williams, for in 1835 he welcomed Adelaide Kemble’s concert debut: “We traced a degree of animation and intelligence (though they were rather hinted than expressed) in Miss Kemble’s singing of ‘Se la vita’, from Semiramide, with Tamburini, which it gratified us much to hear in an English singer.”18
©Michael Aspinall, 2020
1 Athenaeum No. 697, 6 March 1841
2 Athenaeum No. 705, 1 May 1841
3 Mendelssohn’s letter of 26 August 1846
4 Athenaeum, No. 1904, 23 April 1864
5 Athenaeum, No. 1924, 10 September 1864
6 Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Vol. IV, p. 46, 1914)
7 William Boosey, Fifty Years of Music (London, Ernest Benn Ltd., 1931)
8 Hints on Singing (Ascherberg, Hopwood and Crew, London 1894, p. 75)
9 Sims Reeves, Fifty years of Music in England by Charles E. Pearce (Stanley Paul & Co., London 1924)
10 Music in London, 1890–94 (Constable & Co., 1932, pp. 224–5)
11 La Musica Popolare, 15 July 1885
12 Herman Klein, Musicians and Mummers (Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1925, p. 153)
13 Thirty Years of Musical Life in London, 1870–1900 (Heinemann, London 1903, p. 465)
14 London Music in 1888–89 (London, Constable and Co. Ltd., 1937, p. 56)
15 Opera, 1921
16 Harriette Brower, Vocal Mastery, Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York 1920
17 Athenaeum, No. 1134, 21 July 1849
18 Athenaeum, No. 399, 20 June 1835
British Tenors Biographies
(Aberdare, Wales, 1863 – New York City, 1937)
Dan Beddoe excelled as an oratorio and concert singer, although he did not achieve fame until he was over forty years old. His father was an assistant manager at a coal mine, where Dan was listed in the 1881 census as a coal miner. The boy’s voice attracted attention, and he received training as a tenor. At twenty-two, he won first prize at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, and for several years taught music at a local school.
In 1887, Beddoe traveled to the United States with “The Welsh Prize Singers”, performing for Welsh communities throughout the country. Back home a few months later, he married, then returned to the US with his bride. They settled in Cleveland, and five years later moved to Pittsburgh, where he secured excellent church positions and sang in local concerts and oratorio performances. He continued studying with noted teachers of singing during these years.
Beddoe was thirty-nine when he was engaged to sing the prize song from Die Meistersinger with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Society at the Pittsburgh Exposition in 1902. Impressed, Damrosch engaged him again for a New York concert in Carnegie Hall, and subsequently invited him to sing the part of Parsifal on tour with his Symphony. With Damrosch’s clear endorsement and enthusiastic press notices, Beddoe’s career was assured, and for the next twenty years his concert schedule was relentless. It was known that he was a quick study, and Beddoe often was the tenor of choice for contemporary works. In 1905 he sang his first of many performances with the New York Oratorio Society in the American premiere of Richard Strauss’s cantata Taillefer, and several years later sang one of the earliest American performances of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Cincinnati Symphony under Fritz Reiner.
In 1906, the Beddoe family moved to New York City, where he accepted the tenor soloist position at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, and later at the fashionable Grace Episcopal Church. In 1909, Beddoe was the tenor in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the New York Philharmonic under Mahler. His visit to the UK in 1911 and 1912 was his only extensive tour outside the United States, the high point being a performance of Elijah at the Crystal Palace. In 1919 he joined the faculty at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Beddoe’s final appearance at the age of seventy-two was in New York in Handel’s Messiah in 1935. The New York Times wrote: “The serene loveliness of his ‘Comfort Ye’ was not dimmed.” He died in Manhattan in 1937, having sung with every major choral society and orchestra in the United States and Great Britain.
Considering Beddoe’s stature and immensely successful career, his discography of twenty-six recordings is pitifully small; between 1911 and 1928 he recorded five sides for Victor, one disc and one cylinder for Edison, four sides for Columbia, nine sides for the Rainbow label, and six electrically recorded sides for Brunswick.
BOOTH, LESLIE WEBSTER
(Handsworth, Staffordshire, England, 1902 – Penrhyn Bay, Wales, 1984)
A concert and oratorio singer whose light, pleasing voice gained him tremendous celebrity with the British public through his many recordings and BBC broadcasts, Booth had a repertoire that was eclectic, ranging from opera and oratorio to operetta and musical comedy. Born Leslie Webster Booth, he joined the local parish church choir as a young boy and began studies at the Lincoln Cathedral choir school. When his voice broke at age thirteen, he returned home and studied to become an accountant, eventually taking a job with an accounting firm while continuing to sing in local concerts and oratorio performances.
At twenty-one, Booth auditioned as a chorister for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and was accepted. He left his job, making his professional debut in Yeoman of the Guard. After four years of singing small parts, he left the company to pursue a freelance career, shortening his stage name to Webster Booth. He was singing light music in restaurants and cabarets with occasional engagements to sing in oratorio performances when the Gramophone Company took notice of him. He made his first HMV recordings in 1929.
By 1935 his career was secure, with excellent record sales and numerous BBC broadcasts. That year he was chosen to sing in the Good Friday performance of the Messiah with the London Philharmonic. A month later he sang in Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, the entire cast wearing full traditional dress! In 1938, he began singing concerts on the air with a soprano, Irene Francis Eastwood, whose stage name was Anne Ziegler. She became Booth’s third wife. They made their first of many HMV records a year later and were an overnight success. They gave numerous concerts during the War as “Sweethearts of Song”. By the early 1950s, British tastes were changing, and the couple’s popularity was beginning to wane. After two tours to South Africa in 1955 and 1956, they decided to settle there, and remained for twenty-two years. They returned to England in 1978 intending to retire, but discovered that their admirers had not forgotten them. They made both radio and television broadcasts and numerous concerts all over England. Booth died in 1984, aged eighty-two. Anne Ziegler died in 2003. Webster Booth made over 500 sides for HMV.
BURKE, THOMAS ASPINALL
(Leigh, Greater Manchester, 1890 – Carshalton, Surrey, 1969)
Unlike many of the tenors in this collection, Tom Burke was an operatic tenor, and received some vocal training in Italy. He was the oldest of nine children. His father, who had come to England from Ireland, was a coal miner and was said to possess a fine voice. He encouraged Tom when Tom showed an aptitude for music. Burke was in school until the age of twelve, then took work in a silk mill, and later in the mines. Tom also played rugby and learned to box. The family managed to buy a piano, and as a teenager Tom took up both piano and cornet, joining the municipal band; he also sang in the church choir where his fine voice was noticed. By this time, he was working as an insurance salesman and waiting tables in the evenings. In his late teens, he attended the Manchester Musical College, and then the Royal College of Music.
It happened that a London impresario gave Burke enough money to travel to Italy to have lessons with Ernesto Colli in Milan. Showing considerable promise, he made his operatic debut as the Duke in Rigoletto at the Teatro dal Verme. He was, however, unable to continue his studies as he was obliged to return home to serve in the War early in 1918. But he failed his medical examination and in lieu of service performed in charity concerts until the end of the war. When the Royal Opera at Covent Garden re-opened in 1919, Burke sang opposite Nellie Melba in La bohème, and later that season he sang the tenor roles in Rigoletto, Madama Butterfly, and Il barbiere di Siviglia. The following season he sang in the first English performances of Gianni Schicchi and Il tabarro. That same year, he toured the United States, billed as “The Irish Tenor”. Although his first recital in Washington D.C. garnered excellent reviews, his success was only moderate. In 1927 he returned to England, appearing again at Covent Garden in Rigoletto and Cavalleria rusticana. From this point, he sang occasional concerts, but his career was on a downward path. During the 1930s he appeared in four films, and then vanished into obscurity. He recorded a generous selection of songs and operatic arias for American and English Columbia, and also made records for the Dominion and Electric Imperial labels.
(Rochdale, Lancashire, 1875 – London, 1932)
Joseph Cheetham had a mainly provincial career, and is now remembered almost solely by collectors through his recordings for Pathé and the Gramophone Company. His father was a prosperous grocer, and Joseph appears to have left school at about age twelve to become a grocer’s assistant. His first musical break came at age thirty in 1905, when he entered the Blackpool competition. There were 3,150 contestants with nine first prizes awarded. The tenor test piece was Beethoven’s “Adelaide”, and he won a first prize. The adjudicator was William Gray McNaught, who likely took Cheetham under his wing and helped him to gain entrance to the Manchester College of Music, where he studied with John Acton, a pupil of Francesco Lamperti.
Cheetham’s earliest billing located so far was in 1906 at Scarborough Aquarium, where he was described as “Joseph Cheetham, Lancashire tenor, who shows great vocal ability”. Newspaper notices from 1907 report Cheetham making appearances at a number of Bournemouth concerts under Dan Godfrey. In 1908, he sang in Mendelssohn’s St. Paul, one review stating his part was “… given with cultured power.” He continued singing in the provinces to enthusiastic acclaim. A review of a concert at Hull in November 1909 stated “Great is the attraction of a tenor with a masculine ring, and Mr. Joseph Cheetham is so endowed …. The only encore of the evening greeted him in ‘I hear you calling me’, whose jaded sentiment was almost lifted into dignity by the singer’s sincerity.”
Cheetham made his first London appearance in 1910 at one of the Polytechnic Popular Entertainments, soon after sharing the Queen’s Hall stage with Phyllis Lett, Thorpe Bates, and ’cellist W.H. Squire. At the time, he was often styled “Mr. Joseph Cheetham, tenor of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden”, although as yet we have found no confirmation for this claim. It was about then that he made his first recordings for Pathé. The next year, he made his Henry Wood Proms debut with two popular ballads, and the following year, he appeared in a supporting role for Nellie Melba at a concert in Guildford. He remained a regular in concerts throughout Britain, appearing again at the Proms twice in 1915 and twice in 1917, but by 1918 his career had devolved into that of a music hall entertainer. He retired from the stage early in 1928.
(Bradford, 1865 – London, 1941)
Sir Thomas Beecham, famous for sarcasm rather than compliments, wrote:
[John] Coates was among the half-dozen most interesting artistic personalities of the time in England—scrupulous, fastidious and conscientious in all that he attempted. His appearance on the stage was noble and animated, and his voice, although of moderate power, was flexible and expressive. His diction was admirable and his singing of English an unalloyed pleasure to the ear.
As a boy Coates sang in a church choir directed by his father, later studying as a baritone in Yorkshire, London, and Paris. He was almost thirty when he was engaged by the D’Oyly Carte Company for their 1894/1895 tours. The next year he joined a company putting on Edwardian musical comedies in the United States. Returning to England, he had to undergo vocal cord surgery. During this time he took additional study, reappearing as a tenor, singing light roles at London’s Globe Theatre during the 1899-1900 season.
At Covent Garden in 1901 he sang in the world premiere of Stanford’s Much Ado About Nothing, also that year appearing at the Leeds Festival. Soon, he was engaged to sing in oratorios at all of the major festivals throughout England. He sang Gerontius in 1902 under Elgar’s baton, and over the next decade, he sang in opera throughout Germany and in Paris. In London in 1908, he sang with Blanche Marchesi in the concert premiere of Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers conducted by Arthur Nikisch, and a year later performed in Beecham’s staged production of the opera. In 1910, Coates again sang with Beecham in productions of Tales of Hoffmann and d’Albert’s Tiefland. He was by this time also taking on Wagnerian parts to considerable acclaim: Lohengrin, both Siegfrieds, Tristan, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal in concert performances.
Coates served in World War I, resuming his career in 1919 with recitals of English songs. There were some appearances in opera, but for the rest of his career, he performed mainly in recital. He toured North America in 1925 with the young Gerald Moore, who later devoted a chapter to Coates in a memoir:
Was there ever a singer with a wider repertoire? … equally at home in the lieder of Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann … the early English songs of Arne, Byrd, and Purcell; he championed the songs of Bax, Ireland, Howells, Warlock, and was abreast of the younger school … Weckerlin, Bruneau, and Lully tripped as easily off his tongue as did Fauré and Duparc. In Germany they called him the ideal Siegfried and Lohengrin … it is a moot point whether he or Gervase Elwes was the finest Gerontius of that era.
Moore presented a BBC broadcast in tribute to their work together and received a letter from Coates in friendship and gratitude. Coates first recorded for G&T in 1907-1908 with several additions to the catalogue in 1915. He made a group for Pathé in 1911-1913, and Columbia in 1918-1919. He recorded acoustically for Vocalion in 1925 and made electrically recorded Columbias in 1928 and 1929. Sadly, he left recordings of only two Wagner selections, both from Lohengrin, and nothing from any of Elgar’s larger works.
COLTHAM, SIDNEY [spelled Sydney after 1913]
(Canterbury, Kent, 1888 – Isle of Wight, 1970)
Sidney Coltham’s career brought him to smaller towns and cities in England as an oratorio and concert tenor whose fine voice and technique also suited him perfectly for recording. He began his training as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, receiving lessons from highly regarded instructors. After his voice broke, Coltham was appointed a tenor soloist at the Cathedral, requiring him to sing at least two services each day, while taking further lessons with Harry Winsloe Hall at the Blackheath School of Music. He made his debut in Mendelssohn’s Elijah at the Cathedral in 1908. Over the next years he took numerous engagements as he gained experience. He also took great interest in breeding pigeons. It is a fact that he entered and won a Very High Commendation for his African Owl Fancy Pigeon at the Dover and District Poultry, Pigeon, Rabbit and Cage Bird Society show of November 1910. Prize winnings from such shows supplemented his income, as fees for local engagements were small.
After a Canterbury Choir concert, the Whitstable Times reported, “The young tenor was in splendid voice … No one who heard him Tuesday evening could doubt for a moment that he is destined to fill a large place in the musical world in London”. Coltham’s decisive stroke came when he was selected for a tenor vacancy in the choir of Westminster Abbey—big news in the music world of 1912.
He began playing a prominent role on the oratorio circuit, bringing him to the attention of the Gramophone Company, the start of a profitable fifteen-year association. His records on their Zonophone label were announced as “exquisite records of the new tenor”. The spelling of his first name appeared as “Sydney” for the first time at the end of January 1913, and the spellings were interchangeable for the next few years, but his Gramophone Company records always used “Sydney”.
He performed all over England in Handel’s Messiah, Wolf-Ferrari’s La vita nuova, Franck’s Beatitudes, and Haydn’s Creation. In 1914 he made his sole Henry Wood Proms appearance singing Aitken’s “Máire, my girl”. Coltham appears not to have enlisted during the war, and his subsequent engagements were few at first. He retained his position at Westminster Abbey, and married in 1915. As he was kept in the public’s mind as a recording artist, his records sold well. The Gramophone Company printed a special supplement devoted to “this Brilliant singer” encouraging customers to “Ask for the Coltham List”.
A fascinating review followed a concert at which he sang, Henry Wood conducting, in Birmingham (8 December 1922), in the second-only performance in Britain of Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells”. The Ealing Gazette opined “‘The Bells’ of Rachmaninoff, for downright elemental vitality, made all previous pieces of dull, drab, and doleful respectability. No such terrific outbursts were ever before heard from that previously irreproachable platform.”
Coltham’s records sold at affordable prices, his name familiar to those many who aspired to own celebrity records, but could ill afford them. In 1922, the Company decided to move Coltham from Zonophone to their prestigious, higher priced HMV label, announcing: “We introduce records by a tenor new to His Master’s Voice … Mr. Coltham is a great acquisition to the ranks of English singers who record exclusively for us.” Electrical recording replaced the acoustic method in 1925, and Coltham’s recording made in January 1926 were his first published electric sides.
By this time he was also tenor of the Chapel Royal, Windsor, requiring him to be available for all important occasions. His contract after 1928 appears not to have been renewed by HMV. He subsequently made recordings for the Piccadilly label for two years, some under the pseudonym “Frank Chamberlain”. His final concert took place in Bristol in 1931.
(Pontardawe, Wales, 1858 – London, 1943)
A fixture on concert platforms and in oratorio for more than forty years, Ben Davies was often described as the successor to Edward Lloyd. His exuberant stage manner sometimes raised eyebrows, but the public loved him. He possessed a solid voice with a baritonal timbre that took well to the early gramophone; he was the first important British singer to make records.
Davies trained at the Royal Academy of Music, making his operatic debut in 1881 in Balfe’s Bohemian Girl. His next notable appearance was in Goring Thomas’s Esmeralda, mounted by the Carl Rosa company during its first Drury Lane season in 1883. In 1887 and 1889, he starred in two operas by the forgotten composer, Alfred Cellier: Dorothy and its sequel, Doris. Arthur Sullivan chose him as the lead in his opera, Ivanhoe, in 1891, where he shared the honors with the Irish tenor, Joseph O’Mara. Later that year, Davies created the part of Clement Marot in Messager’s La basoche in London.
Davies made his Covent Garden debut in Faust, and the following year sang in Cowen’s Signa, the composer conducting. That same year saw him in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which Bernard Shaw praised highly in his review. At this point Davies gave up the operatic stage for the concert platform. Engaged to sing at Chicago’s World’s Fair, he performed during the crossing accompanied at the piano by fourteen-year-old Thomas Beecham. Years later Beecham wrote, “His was a voice of uncommon beauty, round, full, and expressive, less inherently tenor than baritone, and, like all organs of this mixed genre, thinning out perceptibly on top. Later on, the upper notes disappeared entirely, but the middle register preserved to the end ... most of its former opulence and charm.” Throughout his career Davies returned frequently to the United States, where he enjoyed great popularity.
Davies was a soloist at the London Handel Festival of 1894 alongside Emma Albani, Nellie Melba, Edward Lloyd, and Charles Santley, to mixed reviews. Two years later he sang in the premiere of Liza Lehmann’s In a Persian Garden, with the composer at the piano. The long list of his appearances with other artists over the next twenty years reads like a “who’s who” of the great musicians of the time. One was the 1902 British and American Festival Peace Concert at the Crystal Palace, where the other participants included Emma Albani, Clara Butt and sixty-eight-year-old Charles Santley. Davies participated in memorable performances of Elijah, Bach’s Mass in B minor, and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. One of his last appearances was at the July 1922 Centenary celebration concerts for the Royal Academy of Music at Queen’s Hall.
In later years, Davies took singing pupils, enjoyed playing golf, and was a member of the Savage Club.
Davies recorded Pathé cylinders in the late 1890s, followed by disc recordings for the G&T, HMV, Pathé, and Columbia labels. His final records were made for Columbia at the age of seventy-four, repeating some of the selections for which he was best-known.
(Cymmer, Glamorganshire,Wales, 1892 – Penault, Monmouthshire, Wales, 1958)
A dramatic tenor with a ringing top and panache to spare, Tudor Davies is one of the more familiar names featured in this survey. The son of a colliery yard foreman, Davies became an engine fitter after he left school, but also studied the violin. He studied with David Evans at Cardiff University and by 1914 was making a fine impression singing solo parts with the Porth Welsh Tabernacle Choir. In 1915 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where he began studies with Gustave Garcia, but he soon was called up to the Navy as an “engine room artificer”, also working in munitions.
After the War, Davies debuted as Tamino in The Magic Flute in a low-budget 1920 production at the Old Vic under the direction of Lilian Baylis. The following year he sang in The Barber of Seville for Vladimir Rosing’s opera company, then joined the British National Opera, which had taken over the assets of Beecham’s bankrupted opera company in 1921. They used Covent Garden as their venue, and in 1923 Davies sang there in Madama Butterfly and La bohème with Maggie Teyte: “It was a tribute to the vocal skill of Miss Maggie Teyte and Mr. Tudor Davies … that they were the two artists whose words could be best heard, for neither has a powerful voice. We liked their interpretations, their youthful manner, and simple, straightforward characterizations”. Davies then sang Rodolfo with Nellie Melba, donating her services to the company, singing Mimi in Italian while the rest sang in English. Later that season, he and Teyte were paired in Gianni Schicchi and The Tales of Hoffmann. During his seven years with the company, Davies sang Tamino, Lohengrin, Faust, Don Jose, the Duke of Mantua, and Florestan. He appeared in Ethel Smyth’s Fête Galante and Arthur Benjamin’s The Devil Take Her. In 1924, he created the title role in Vaughan Williams’s Hugh The Drover, and the following season created Prince Hal in Holst’s At The Boar’s Head. That same year, Davies was particularly admired in Verdi’s Requiem, performed with a chorus of 2,500 at the Crystal Palace.
After the bankruptcy of the British National Opera, Davies joined the Sadler’s Wells company, where he sang the first English performances of Don Carlo and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snow Maiden. During a duel scene in Carmen in 1938, he slipped and strained a ligament, then was accidentally kicked in the kneecap. He somehow finished the opera but was in obvious pain the next night singing Die Meistersinger. During World War II, he worked for the Entertainments National Service Association where he met and married soprano Ruth Packer. In the 1950s he gave up the operatic stage for the concert hall and taught in Cardiff.
Davies’s first recordings were made for the Scala and Coliseum labels. He soon switched to HMV where he recorded a substantial number of acoustic discs including extended excerpts in English from The Ring and Meistersinger, excerpts from Hugh the Drover, and a complete recording in English of Madame Butterfly. Among other electrical HMV records, he can be heard in excerpts from Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, recorded during a 1927 performance conducted by the composer.
(London, 1882 – Peterborough, Ontario, 1948)
Hubert Mortimer Eisdell, once a household name particularly in Britain and Canada, owed his renown to his many records. After excelling in sports at school, Eisdell attended Cambridge University where he was active as an amateur actor and singer, graduating in 1905 with a degree in classics. His cousin was Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario and Eisdell became the games master at the Grove Preparatory School in Ontario, Canada.
Returning to England in 1907, he and tenor Gervase Elwes became friends. Elwes encouraged him to study voice and pursue a career in singing, introducing him to Victor Beigel, who became his voice teacher, and William Boosey, director of the popular Chappell Ballad Concerts in London, who gave Eisdell his first professional engagement in 1909. Before long, Eisdell was singing in concerts throughout the country. In 1910, he was featured during an eighty-concert tour to North America with a troupe organized by Liza Lehmann. He married the Tasmanian pianist/composer Katharine Parker, a former student of Percy Grainger. Parker often accompanied him, and he included her songs in his programs. Over time, Eisdell also enjoyed friendships with Roger Quilter, Cyril Scott, and Teresa del Riego, each of whom composed music for him.
Eisdell made his first recording, the popular ballad “Somewhere a Voice is Calling”, in 1912 for HMV, with many such songs to follow. His records were extremely popular, selling in the tens of thousands. He performed regularly with the most prestigious orchestras, conductors and choirs in England. His career was interrupted during the War when he served with the Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve, and in 1918 joined the staff of the Admiralty as secretary to Commodore H. Douglas King. Just before he completed his service, Eisdell signed an exclusive contract with the Columbia Graphophone Company, recording prolifically for them until 1933. He was featured in Felix Weingartner’s first recording of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, sung in English, and Thomas Beecham’s first recording of Handel’s Messiah. He also recorded songs by his wife, Roger Quilter, and Liza Lehmann. In 1921, he sang in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, performed as a memorial for Gervase Elwes at the Royal Albert Hall.
Throughout the 1920s his schedule of oratorio and concert engagements remained undiminished. His repertoire was widely varied, with folk songs and popular “potboilers”, as he called them, an increasingly prominent feature. Critics occasionally questioned his taste, but in an article entitled “Trials of a Tenor”, he defended his choices:
… I find a constant demand for old favourites. The public never tires of the familiar folk songs and ballads like Tosti’s ‘Parted’. I am asked to sing these everywhere, and their reception is always very cordial. The English public has … been brought up on melody, and it is fully aware of the fact that music can be good, and even ‘highbrow’ without losing its melodious qualities. The public knows what it wants … a thrill; not a shock. Beauty, emotional power, and sincerity those qualities will always give music an irresistible appeal …
Eisdell began singing regularly in Canada in 1932, settling in Toronto, and teaching at the Toronto Conservatory. He sang in a number of high-profile oratorio performances, and made his final appearance in 1937 in Elijah. He eventually became a teacher of English, French, and Latin at Lakefield College, where he had taught during his first visit to Canada in 1905. He was also the school’s organist.
(Billing Hall, Northampton, 1866 – Boston, Massachusetts, 1921)
One of the most distinguished oratorio and concert singers of his day, Gervase Elwes was yet another whose musical career did not begin until his mid-thirties. Gervase Henry Cary-Elwes was born into the landed gentry. His parents, zealous Roman Catholics, brought their children up with strong religious convictions. Young Gervase attended “the Catholic Eton”, the Oratory School founded by Cardinal Newman. He matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a cricketer and played the violin. Later, Elwes studied law and worked in the diplomatic service. For several years he lived in Brussels where he took his first singing lessons. It was definitely regarded as bad form for him to come out as a professional musician, but that was Elwes’s desire. Between 1901 and 1903 he continued studies with baritone Jacques Bouhy in Paris. Bouhy advised him to aspire to be either an operatic baritone or an oratorio tenor; he chose the latter. His first public performance was in the unlikely Humperdinck cantata Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar. Encouraged by his friend, baritone Harry Plunket-Green, Elwes auditioned for Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert Parry. He was immediately engaged to sing Gerontius, which he would sing 118 times. The religious fervor of his interpretation was frequently cited. He was also highly regarded for his interpretation of the Evangelist in Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion. In 1909, Elwes sang both Gerontius and The Evangelist in New York under the direction of Walter Damrosch.
Elwes and his wife played an important part in encouraging and organizing the provincial Music Competition Festivals in Lincolnshire. At the suggestion of his friend Percy Grainger, an open competition class for folksingers was held, and many wonderful songs were collected, notably from Joseph Taylor, who made some Gramophone Company records himself. Taylor was the source of the melody used by Delius for his Brigg Fair.
Elwes was also revered for his song recitals, mixed programs of English songs and German lieder, especially Brahms sung in German. In 1907, he toured Germany, giving recitals with Fanny Davies, the celebrated pupil of Clara Schumann. In 1913 at the Queen’s Hall under Henry Wood, he sang Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, which Wood thought “excessively modern but very beautiful”. It was in the realm of the English art song that Elwes left his most permanent legacy. He was the dedicatee and first performer of Vaughan Williams’s cycle On Wenlock Edge, of which he made an admirable recording for Columbia. Many of the finest songs of Roger Quilter were written with his voice in mind. During the War, Elwes performed in concert tours for British soldiers in France. In May 1916 he sang six performances of Gerontius on consecutive days to aid the Red Cross, with Clara Butt, and Elgar conducting.
On 12 January 1921, Elwes was killed in a horrific accident in Boston, during a high-profile recital tour of the United States. Elwes and his wife had alighted onto the train platform when he attempted to hand over to the conductor an overcoat that had fallen off the train. He leaned too far and fell between the moving carriages and the platform. He died a few hours later. One week after the event, Edward Elgar wrote to Percy Hall, “my personal loss is greater than I can bear to think upon, but this is nothing—or I must call it so—compared to the general artistic loss—a gap impossible to fill—in the musical world.” A memorial performance of Gerontius was presented at the Albert Hall, at which Elwes’s friend and colleague John Coates sang Gerontius. Elwes had maintained close friendships with most of the eminent British composers of his time, particularly Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Roger Quilter. He was regarded as one of the two great exponents of Elgar’s Gerontius; the other was John Coates.
Elwes made comparatively few records—just seven sides for HMV in 1912, and twenty for Columbia between 1916 and 1919.
(Gowerton, Glamorganshire, Wales, 1890 – Port Einon, Glamorganshire, Wales, 1970)
Walter Glynne, a concert singer of ballads, who occasionally sang in oratorio, had a light, pleasant voice, well-suited to the microphone, and was another who became a household name through his numerous HMV records and BBC broadcasts. His family operated a small dairy farm in Wales. Walter worked for a time as a bank clerk. In 1908, an older brother won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music as a bass, and Walter followed suit in 1910 as a tenor. In 1912, he was one of sixteen “Fresh Faces” at a ballad concert. At the conclusion of his studies in 1913, he was awarded the London Musical Society’s Prize, appearing at another ballad concert that year, where he was commended for his “smooth and effortless delivery”. That year he made a test recording for the Gramophone Company, and soon after two of his recorded songs were issued on the Zonophone label.
Glynne had a brief stint with the D’Oyly Carte company in 1915, but the Great War interrupted his career. He joined the Artists Rifles, first as a sergeant and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards. He was, however, able to continue some concert work while in service, including a performance of Haydn Wood’s “Roses of Picardy” at a Henry Woods Proms concert in September 1917.
By the close of 1919, Glynne was able to resume singing full time, and he was in good voice for a National Sunday League concert at the Palladium in November, giving two encores to an enthusiastic audience. HMV, seeking to replenish their catalogue, began recording him prolifically. Beginning in June 1920, all of his records were issued on HMV’s cheaper plum label, singing not only ballads and songs, but also all the concerted numbers for the label’s new series of Gilbert & Sullivan operas. Glynne had been performing in oratorio and ballad concerts around the country, but it wasn’t until his new records began to sell that his career flourished. His voice at the time was described variously as “an excellent tenor voice of serviceable quality” and “a tenor of rare expression”.
In December 1924, he was invited to take part in the inaugural concert by the new BBC Swansea station. The following year he was invited to sing in Welsh for a St. David’s Day broadcast from Cardiff. From then on, he worked as a radio personality in programs containing mostly the same fare as his recordings. By 1929, he could be heard on the air almost weekly. He then began to be heard in broadcasts of more serious material: Elgar’s Apostles under Hamilton Harty, Handel’s Samson, Belioz’s L’enfance du Christ in English, and even Siegmund’s Liebeslied, again in English, which was broadcast live from a 1928 Proms concert. His radio work remained buoyant throughout the 1930’s, even as his stage appearances grew fewer.
In 1940, Glynne rejoined the army and continued to give occasional broadcasts of light and popular material throughout the second world war. He gave his final BBC broadcast in 1948, and returned to Wales, where he lived in quiet retirement for more than twenty years. The BBC honored him on his eightieth birthday, and he died the same year.
(Bolton, 1868 –Bolton, 1920)
William Green trained as an iron molder, but at age twenty-two he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, with a benefit concert given to support his studies. He had only four lessons with Manuel Garcia before that teacher’s retirement, then became a student of Gustave Garcia. Green sang at concerts with his fellow student, Clara Butt, and appeared in two notable college productions, singing the role of Wilhelm in Thomas’s Mignon and Nureddin in Cornelius’s Der Barbier von Bagdad. He soon realized, however, that his talent lay in oratorio and ballad singing. After leaving college in 1893, he began singing regularly in the provinces to generally favorable reviews, though it was sometimes said that he sang out of tune. He was described as “having a modulated voice, pure, penetrating and of considerable compass”. His repertoire included Elijah, the Messiah, Dvorák’s Spectre’s Bride, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Stainer’s Crucifixion, and Haydn’s Seasons.
By 1899, Green was clearly regarded as a formidable artist. That year he performed at the Sheffield Festival with Clara Butt, Marie Brema, Charles Knowles, and Andrew Black. In 1901 he was the supporting artist to Adelina Patti at Sheffield, where he was praised for his “purity and robustness”. By this time, he had become the leading tenor of the Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Gloucester festivals, and was being hailed as the likely successor to Edward Lloyd, who had recently retired.
In 1904, Green performed at the Cincinnati May Festival in Bach’s Mass in B minor, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Symphony No. 9, the other principals being Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Agnes Nicholls, and Robert Watkin-Mills. The New York Tribune lauded the English singers: “The purity and solidity of their singing, their perfect knowledge of the text, their sound taste, free from even the slightest taint of meretriciousness were refreshing.”
As Green’s popularity continued, he made a tour to India, Australia, and New Zealand in 1907. From this point on, there is a falling off of notices in the press, and in 1912, with the death of his eldest son and the onset of periodic poor health, Green retired from singing. His younger son was the Gilbert and Sullivan star, Martyn Green. Green made seven extremely rare recordings for G&T in 1901. P.G. Hurst reported that Green was dissatisfied with his recordings, and we concur that they do not support the laudatory comments of contemporary critics.
(Foulridge, Lancashire, 1868 – London, 1929)
John Harrison was a dependable tenor with a gregarious personality who enjoyed a busy career in oratorio, opera, and concert work. He was the first English tenor of note to take advantage of recording to advance his career and income, his powerful voice and good technique making him the model singer for the early gramophone.
He began at age ten to work in the local textile mill, a task he didn’t relish. As a youth he enjoyed cricket and football, apparently also spending time breeding canaries. His talent for singing took him to study as a baritone with Frederick Henry Dale of Manchester. Soon, he moved on to take lessons from the well-known teacher, Mrs. Schoefeld Clegg, who had a rather prominent oratorio career in the 1870s and who was well-connected in musical circles. She took John under her wing, giving him thousands of hours of instruction.
She took Harrison to London, introducing him to Charles Santley, who gave him additional vocal instruction. In April 1902, Harrison made his Queen’s Hall debut as a last-minute substitution for Amy Sherwin. The concert was given in aid of St. Michael’s Church in the heart of fashionable Belgravia under the auspices of Canon Fleming, with Jan Kubelik and Wilhelm Backhaus also participating. Amy and her husband, the impresario Hugo Gorlitz, appear to have convinced Harrison to change from baritone to tenor. Now under the vocal tutelage of Amy Sherwin, he made his first tenor appearance at Preston in a performance of the Messiah on 26 December 1902.
His London debut was on 7 February 1903, singing Gounod’s “Lend me your aid” at a Queen’s Hall Boosey Ballad Concert, with “Drink to me only with thine eyes” as an encore. He made his first records for G&T on 6 April 1903, singing “Drink to me only with thine eyes” and Adams’s “Nirvana”, which were among the first twelve-inch discs to be issued in G&T’s English catalogue. He continued recording large numbers of discs for the company, some of which were still in the HMV catalogue in the 1920s.
Harrison made his first appearance with the London Symphony in 1904 in an all-Wagner concert conducted by Hans Richter. He sang “Am stillen Herd” and the “Preislied” from Die Meistersinger. He also became a frequent guest at Henry Wood Proms concerts.
In August 1906, he took part in the Gramophone Company’s first recording of The Mikado, but was asked to record only Nanki-Poo’s main aria, “A wand’ring minstrel” while Ernest Pike sang the character’s other music. Later that year, he joined Australian soprano Amy Castles in an early gramophone promotion that had record enthusiasts packing the Albert Hall. The Daily Mail commented, “John Harrison sang Leoncavallo’s ‘Tis the day’ and his encore by the gramophone created as much applause and appreciation as when he sang in person a few moments before.”
The fall of 1907 took Harrison on a tour of over eighty cities and towns in Great Britain and Ireland with Evangeline Florence and Ada Crossley. The tour, arranged by Percy Grainger, was a success, and they repeated it in Australia the following year. Harrison appeared at the Birmingham Festival in 1909 in Dvorak’s Stabat Mater. The following year, he sang in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the London Symphony under Hans Richter’s baton.
Late in 1911, he joined an opera company touring the British Isles performing the roles of Siegmund, Tannhäuser, and Hoffmann, all in English. The next year took them on an even longer tour that included South Africa and Australia. Although Harrison passed “A1” for war service, authorities preferred him to give charity concerts. Throughout the War, he continued to make occasional operatic appearances, but confined himself mainly to the concert platform. He made his last recording in 1920, the year of his retirement. He died a few days after suffering a stroke in 1929.
(London, 1862 – London, 1944)
Harry Gregory Hast was a concert tenor whose name is almost unknown today, for he left only a few early, extremely rare, recordings. Beginning as a boy chorister, he became a member of the choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Temple Church under conductor Walford Davies. He studied singing for many years with Sims Reeves and is the only known Reeves pupil to have made recordings.
He formed a quartet in 1890 called the Meister Glee Singers, which became extremely popular, eventually touring with Adelina Patti in 1897. Queen Victoria praised them: “I am charmed by your singing. The four voices are lovely.”
Hast left the quartet in 1898 to pursue a solo career in concerts and oratorio. His first appearance was at the St. James’s Hall, and he gave a recital at the Bechstein Hall accompanied by his friend Hamilton Harty. He toured again with Patti, this time as a soloist, and became a regular participant in the Three Choirs Festivals. In 1899, he sang for the first time at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. At one of these concerts in 1901, he sang “Onaway, awake beloved” from Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha and songs by Edna Rosalind Park. That same year, he sang with Evangeline Florence, Edna Thornton, and Richard Green in Liza Lehmann’s song cycle The Daisy Chain in a concert organized by Wilhelm Ganz. He is said to have sung in European cities and made successful concert tours of Canada and the United States between 1902 and 1904. Additional research is needed, but we know that he gave a recital in Troy, New York. He appeared at a concert given by the Bach Choir at the Portman Rooms on 26 January 1904 singing songs by Schumann and Richard Strauss. In 1911, Patti emerged from retirement to give a benefit performance for Wilhelm Ganz at the Royal Albert Hall; Hast was invited to participate, together with Maggie Teyte, Aino Ackté, Ben Davies, Robert Radford, actress Ellen Terry, and pianist Harold Bauer. Also that year, he sang in Emma Albani’s farewell tour of the British Isles with Peter Dawson.
After his retirement in 1912, Hast continued to sing in the Temple Church Choir and became a professor of singing at the Guildhall School of Music. His interesting book The Singer’s Art (1925) is an excellent guide to vocal technique and style, reflecting English musical taste in the post-war period.
Gregory Hast and Ben Davies were the only two artists to sing in three coronation services in Westminster Abbey: in 1901, 1911 and 1937. Hast’s obituary in the Musical Times declared:
He never rose to extreme public favor, for his voice and style were not of a kind to capture a popular audience, and he was too discriminating an artist to court such favor. His greatest distinction lay in the beauty and clarity of his English. Those who are old enough to have been familiar with his singing declare that it was, and has still remained, unsurpassed in the quality of the sung word.
Hast recorded five sides for English Columbia in 1904, copies of which are practically unknown.
(Bristol, England, 1890 – Hollywood, California, 1938)
As a girl, when Ruby Helder sang, she sounded like a boy. A doctor noticed her vocal cords were longer and larynx more fully developed than usual. A.E. Blackburn, her Bristol singing teacher, discovered she could sing contralto as well as light baritone. It didn’t seem nearly as freakish then, for there were still memories of the performances of earlier women tenors like Eugenia Mela and Marguerite Selvi, who had toured with violinist Ole Bull.
Born Emma Holder, she was singing as “Emmie Holder the lady baritone” around Bristol from the time her voice broke at age 14. She augmented the family’s income singing at that early age, as her father had gone bankrupt in 1907, his wife was ill, and a son had died.
Emma’s break came at a benefit concert in March that year when she sang on a bill on which William Gaze, an agent for Nile steamers, gave a lecture on Sudan. He was related to the actor Leslie Gaze, who arranged her appearance a month later as a new turn at the London Empire Theatre, billed as “Ruby Helder The Girl Baritone”.
She was popular but considered something curious, even bizarre:
… marvelous for strength and depth of voice displayed. Perhaps the performance suffers to some extent, because an audience is apt to be unsympathetic towards a pretty girl endowed with ‘such a miraculous organ.’ The singer is distinctly a wonder to be heard—even by those who may consider the shrieking artificial top note the highest achievement of vocal accomplishment possible to the variety houses.
Singing in Paris as the “Lady Basso” or “the phenomenal girl baritone,” she returned to Bristol as “Bristol’s own Lady Baritone.” An operation for the removal of adenoids in 1908 was said to have given her four additional high notes. A month later, she was appearing as “the phenomenal girl tenor” at the Crystal Palace, next appearing in Vienna. A concertgoer who had heard her in Bournemouth then remembered decades later that Helder was “a ladylike lady in black lace” while some reviews reported that she was petite, about five-feet-four inches tall.
She continued appearing while coaching in London with a society teacher. She sought advice from William Hayman Cummings of the Guildhall School of Music. He sent her to Charles Tinney, a pupil of Charles Santley and Manuel Garcia, who maintained a private studio where Ruby was probably taught. In 1911 she was living with Mr. and Mrs. William Gaze, likely as her guardians, for she was not quite 21 yet.
When a musical magazine in 1912 doubted that she had elicited Santley’s interest, she sent them a letter quoting what Santley had written about her:
“Miss Ruby Helder possesses a natural pure tenor voice of great beauty and power. She also possesses what few can boast a thoroughly artistic temperament. When she is singing every nerve of her body is employed in the performance of the music she is interpreting, which those who choose to observe can easily verify. In my opinion she has no rival among the artistes of the day.”
She began performing a couple of songs Santley had composed, in addition to substantial works by Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Gounod, and Verdi, along with popular songs. Her recording career began in 1908 for Pathé, and in 1911, she was engaged to make records for the Gramophone Company, and also for Edison Bell.
In 1913 she was invited to come to New York to sing at a spectacular party given by the founder of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, Mrs. August Belmont. Soon after, she was presented in vaudeville concerts in New York, sharing the stage with Frances Alda and Wilhelm Backhaus. That year, she made her first records for US Columbia. In their advertising, Columbia stated her first record for them “sold out instantly.” She sang across the country, during the War, touring with Sousa’s band singing songs like “Danny Boy” and “In Flanders Field the Poppies Grow”. Between 1916 and 1917, she taught music at Grinnell College in Iowa.
Returning to England, she married the artist Chesley Bonestell in 1920, but it seems that her vogue in England had passed and her records had stopped selling. She and her new husband lived in Italy for the next four years. In 1925, she returned to England, singing a broadcast which re-launched her British career. A Wigmore Hall recital included songs by Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, Respighi, and Ethel Smyth. One reviewer noted, “it was better to close one’s eyes: only so could one escape a sense of incongruity.” She toured and was often heard on the BBC singing songs and arias by Rachmaninoff, Duparc, Bizet, Tosti, and even Lenski’s aria. The hoped-for renewal of her career was unsuccessful, however, and in July 1927, a “farewell Recital” broadcast was aired, including “La donna e mobile” and Balfe’s “Come into the Garden Maud”. She returned to the US and in 1927 she and her husband took up residence in Berkeley, California where Helder taught and was often presented in broadcasts. She retired in 1935, dying three years later, reportedly from alcoholism. Helder’s issued recordings number fifty-two.
(Edinburgh, 1884 – Fife, 1977)
A lyric tenor whose voice was familiar to British audiences chiefly through his exemplary records, Joseph Hislop sang primarily in Scandinavia, the US, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.
Joseph Dewar Hislop was a student chorister in Edinburgh. Following his primary education he studied photo engraving, working for his family’s business. He was sent to Sweden to introduce the latest techniques to a firm there. He mastered Swedish and joined a choir in Stockholm where his exceptional voice was noticed, and he was persuaded to train for the operatic stage. Hislop was initially taught by Dr. Gillis Bratt, a medical throat specialist, who also sang and taught singing; one of his other pupils was Kirsten Flagstad. Hislop sang on tour in Sweden and Stuttgart, then decided to audition for the Royal School of Opera in Stockholm. Surprisingly for a non-Swede, Hislop was accepted. A quick study, he made rapid progress, and in 1914, he sang his debut at Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Opera in Gounod’s Faust. He was quickly promoted, singing nineteen principal roles in Stockholm and on tour. Very soon, he had become Scandinavia’s highest paid opera singer. In June 1914 he was in London recording five sides for the Gramophone Company, issued on their Zonophone label. The following November, he visited the HMV studio in Stockholm to record an additional three sides: Swedish-language renderings of “Because”, “I wonder who’s kissing her now”, and a vocal setting of Elgar’s “Salut d’amour”. These were issued on HMV’s more prestigious Gramophone Concert record label. That same year, he also recorded four selections in Swedish for Pathé.
In 1919 Hislop moved to Milan to learn Italian and to continue studies with Italian teachers, hoping to be able to sing in Italian theaters. Within months, he was signed at the San Carlo in Naples.
Conductor Albert Coates had heard him sing in Stockholm and urged the management at Covent Garden to engage the young Scotsman. Returning to London after singing thirty times in Naples, Hislop made his London debut in 1920 at Covent Garden as Rodolfo in La bohème. Puccini was in the audience and complimented him the next day. Hislop went on to sing the tenor leads in Madama Butterfly, La Traviata, and Rigoletto, to excellent notices. That season, he also sang lead roles sixteen times with the Chicago Opera in Chicago and Manhattan with Rosa Raisa, Titta Ruffo, and Butterfly with the opera’s creator, Rosina Storchio. A tour across the American continent followed, but Hislop fell ill and returned to his house in Devonshire. While recuperating, he played golf, but also gave one performance at the Albert Hall. Now rested, he resumed touring the US, performing in fifteen cities with the Scotti Grand Opera Company. His appearances in the United States were received with the greatest acclaim, the New York Herald writing “This wonderfully gifted singer literally took the audience by storm.” Hislop told his biographer years later that he had “stopped the show”.
Hislop continued to appear at Covent Garden through 1928. Notably in his final season there, he sang Faust to Feodor Chaliapin’s Mephistopheles. Excerpts from this performance were recorded by the Gramophone Company and are now available on compact disc.
Hislop developed a fondness for singing concerts, and his success was comparable to John McCormack and Richard Tauber. He toured extensively in South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Offers from abroad, combined with Hislop’s fondness for singing at houses in Italy and at the Royal Swedish Opera, meant that he apparently made fewer major stage appearances in Great Britain than his artistry and popularity merited.
In Sweden and Denmark he received Royal honors, and was appointed Professor of Singing at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, remaining there until 1948. His students in Sweden included Birgit Nilsson in Stockholm and Jussi Björling in Gothenburg. Hislop also taught at London’s Guildhall School and supervised singers at Sadler’s Wells. He made more than 120 recordings between 1914 and 1935.
(Birmingham, 1875 – London, 1951)
One of the most important English tenors of the early twentieth century, Walter Hyde had a dramatic voice with a ringing top, perfectly suited to the recording horn.
His father and grandfather were carpenters. “I was a choir boy … before I could tell the time I could read music … No carpentry clutter for this lad ... I always had at the back of
my mind the desire to be a public singer.” At twenty, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music:
“I was placed for singing with Gustave Garcia, a son of the great Manuel Garcia … He heard me sing one of Schubert’s songs, then he remarked, ‘Well, my boy, it is not bad but it will never earn you two pence.’ … As for songs, operas or scenas, he wouldn’t let me touch them. At the time it was rather galling to hear my fellow students doing such works, but I felt that Garcia gave me a good solid foundation.”
After his studies, Hyde sang in musical comedies for several years, making his first records, Edison cylinders, in 1905.
In 1908 Hyde sang Froh and Siegmund in the first English language Ring Cycle under Hans Richter, and subsequently, Richter had him sing the first act of The Valkyrie in concert. Hyde would be asked to sing Siegmund more often than any other role.
1909 was busy as he made his Italian opera debut opposite Emmy Destinn in Madama Butterfly, while continuing his Wagnerian appearances. In June, he sang in the Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace with Agnes Nicholls, Ben Davies, Robert Watkin Mills, Robert Radford, Clara Butt, Kennerley Rumford, and Charles Santley in his farewell concert. The following year, Hyde sang in Sir Thomas Beecham’s first Covent Garden season in Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliette and a revival of Sullivan’s Ivanhoe; he also traveled to the US for engagements with the Metropolitan Opera on tour. Back in London, Hyde continued working with Thomas Beecham, often sharing the tenor honors with his elder colleague John Coates. He was again in the US from 1911 for two years of light comedy and concerts, then back in England on tour: “In one week I sang Loge and Siegmund, Siegfried in Twilight of the Gods and in Mastersingers.” It was then Hyde sang in the first performance of Pelléas and Mélisande in English.
During the War, he performed operas in the provinces, catching up with his friend Beecham in Manchester, “We produced Bizet’s Fair Maid of Perth … Then I added to my list—not, I must say, with any passionate love for it—the part of Johnson in the Girl of the Golden West.”
In the 1919-1920 Beecham season, Hyde sang eight roles, with Parsifal being presented thirteen times. Hyde said it was “one of the most difficult parts of all to enact. The stage manager cannot help you here. Parsifal must all be felt … only by feeling it deeply can it be tackled at all.” With the failure of The Beecham Opera Company, Hyde shifted to concert work but it wasn’t long before he helped form the British National Opera Company, for which he sang in Charpentier’s Louise and a series of Parsifals, earning “praise for his fine singing and telling acting ... the chief virtues were a certain quietness and serenity, though there was no lack of authority.”
In 1923, the BBC broadcast The Magic Flute with Hyde as Tamino. He sang Siegmund in the first production of The Ring since the War, singing for the next two years in provincial opera venues. In 1926 in Manchester he sang Tannhäuser, the Guardian reporting “his “Tannhäuser [was] more human … than on any previous occasion”. In Edinburgh he sang Parsifal in 1925, and a year later, Siegfried in Twilight of the Gods.
His farewell came in 1928 at the Leeds Festival, where he sang Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day and Berlioz’s Te Deum. Hyde then worked as a vocal teacher at the Guildhall School. Once quizzed about his favorite part, Hyde mused:
… Loge perhaps. It is a pleasant change to have a chance to be a character quite off the lines of the usual sort of operatic hero. Tenors in opera are so often such arrant sentimentalists, or else fools, or else such cads as Pinkerton. After all, Loge is a ‘somebody’. Everybody defers to him, and he can even afford sometimes to be rude to Wotan—a delightful privilege. And he is not a slave to feminine whims. How tired I do get of the ultra-emotional nincompoops who are always helplessly dragged about the stage at the skirts of their various mistresses! Loge, by the way, I never found an easy part to memorize, and every time I sing it afresh, I discover something new in it to study.
Walter Hyde recorded substantially for Odeon, 1907-1909, and HMV, 1910-1920.
(Belfast, 1903 – Belfast, 1991)
James Johnston was an operatic tenor whose late-blooming career emerged after World War II, first with the Sadler’s Wells company and later at Covent Garden.
He left school and worked in his father’s butcher shop while taking singing lessons as a baritone from a local pedagogue. During his late teens, he entered baritone competitions in music festivals and gained first place in all but one, the County Antrim Feis in 1923. The adjudicator told him “I can’t place you first because you’re not a baritone; you’re a tenor.” The following day a member of the audience came to the butcher shop and offered to pay for him to study tenor singing abroad. His father bodily ejected the prospective benefactor from the shop saying, “No son of mine is going on the stage; it’s the sure way to hell!” Nevertheless, James continued to sing, but as a tenor, supplementing his income by performing in oratorio productions throughout Ireland.
Johnston made his operatic debut as the Duke in a Dublin production of Rigoletto with no operatic or acting experience, becoming a regular with the Dublin Opera Society. In 1945, he accepted a contract with the Sadler’s Wells company, and soon was charming London opera audiences. He remained with the company as their principal tenor for six years, performing in Faust, Carmen and other standard roles, as well as singing Adorno in the 1948 British premiere of Simon Boccanegra. Other memorable appearances were as Hans in The Bartered Bride and Hugh in Vaughan Williams’s Hugh The Drover.
Johnston made his Covent Garden debut in 1949 opposite Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in La Traviata, and the same season created the role of Hector de Florac in Arthur Bliss’s The Olympians. His final Covent Garden performance was in 1958 as Don Jose, and in December of that year he sang his operatic farewell as Cavaradossi in Dublin, where his career had begun. He returned to his family’s butcher shop in Belfast, singing snatches of arias for his customers.
(Llandygwydd, Cardiganshire, Wales, 1857 – London, 1928)
Born George Hirwen, he was an exceptional oratorio and concert singer with a light lyric voice and a flawless technique. Son of a well-known singing teacher and choirmaster, he achieved early successes in several Welsh Eisteddfod festivals. In 1880 he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied vocal technique for six years with the pedagogue William Shakespeare, and style with Alberto Randegger, winning both the silver and bronze medals in 1886. During his school years, he sang in the cantata Placida, the Christian Martyr by the Canadian composer William Carter at the Brixton Hall in 1882; in 1885 he sang in the quintet from Die Meistersinger at the Crystal Palace. From April 1887 to February 1888, he toured Germany, Austria, and Holland with D’Oyly Carte’s Continental Company, singing in H.M.S. Pinafore, Patience and The Mikado.
He decided to concentrate on concert and oratorio singing under the name Hirwen Jones, and in 1890 substituted for an ailing Edward Lloyd in Handel’s Israel in Egypt at St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, with such success that after “The enemy said”, the vast audience cheered tumultuously. In the Messiah at the Worcester Festival that year, “the taste and religious feeling evinced were unmistakable.”
In 1893 he gave concerts in Boulogne and probably elsewhere in Europe. He sang at the Hereford Festival in 1894 and took part in the farewell concert tour of the contralto Janet Patey. In 1895 he toured with Adelina Patti, also appearing at the Leeds Festival. In 1897 he sang the “Berceuse” from Jocelyn and “Take a pair of sparkling eyes” from The Gondoliers at the last night of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. The following year, he sang in a performance of Stanford’s The Voyage of the Maeldune, given in Hull, under the direction of the composer; the other soloists were Agnes Nicholls and Muriel Foster.
He was in great demand for “at-homes” and other private concerts, and sang frequently for members of the Royal Family. His own annual benefit concert was considered a society event.
He recorded twenty-four sides for G&T/HMV between 1905 and 1909, mainly English songs but also several selections in Welsh.
(Dudley, Worcestershire, 1886 – Westbourne, Bournemouth, 1955)
Arthur Jordan was a dramatic tenor with a minor career, remembered for creating works by composer Rutland Boughton. The son of a grocer, one of ten children, Jordan became a grocer’s assistant after primary schooling but trained as a draftsman, which was his employment until he was in his mid-twenties. He joined the Dudley Opera company in 1907 as a baritone, understudying for a part in German’s Merrie England, and the following year, taking part in Sullivan’s Rose of Persia.
By 1910, Jordan had become a tenor, studying with Rutland Boughton at the Birmingham Institute. In 1912 he entered the Midland Music Festival at Birmingham, won a Guinea Prize, and was warmly congratulated by the judges. In August 1913 at Bournemouth, the prelude and first scene of Boughton’s The Birth of Arthur was given its first showing with Jessie Kennedy Matthay (wife of Tobias Matthay) and Arthur Jordan as principals. Boughton had grandiose ideas and was attempting to turn Glastonbury and its summer festival into the English answer to Bayreuth, with himself in place of Wagner. In the summer of 1914 came the premiere of Boughton’s fairy tale opera, The Immortal Hour, but timing could hardly have been worse, for the day, August 5, was the day Britain entered the War. Boughton no longer had the Beecham Symphony Orchestra and other planned performers, and the opera was premiered with piano accompaniment, Jordan creating the part of Midir. Later he recorded the “Faery Song” from the opera; it is probably his most well-known record. Jordan served briefly during the War in the RAF. He created the part of Sir Dagonet in Boughton’s The Round Table at Glastonbury in 1916, sang a recital during the 1918 Festival, and created the role of Apollo in Boughton’s Alkestis at his Festival of Greek Drama in 1922.
In 1921 in Liverpool Jordan sang in the British premiere of Rachmaninoff’s cantata The Bells. He joined the British National Opera, appearing again in The Immortal Hour, as well as Wagnerian roles in English, including Walther von Stolzing and Siegfried. He also sang in many performances of Gerontius, Elijah, and the Messiah throughout Britain. In 1925, he toured Australia and New Zealand with an Elsa Stralia tour. When stranded in the Antipodes by a strike, he contracted to sing at the Duneden Exhibition for three months, performing oratorios and operas with both the Berlioz and Gounod Fausts. Back in England in 1926, he continued his oratorio and concert work. A review of a Bath recital from October 1927 said he “sings with great artistry and his notes are clear and pure. His personality is pleasing and adds greatly to the charm of his songs…”, but he found he was increasingly less in demand. Jordan sang the parts of Walther and Tannhäuser in 1930 with the Bristol Choral Society conducted by Siegfried Wagner, which was broadcast by the BBC. There were Messiahs and Elijahs, but his career had tapered off considerably and by 1939 he had all but retired. Arthur Jordan recorded a small number of acoustic discs for English Columbia.
(Wednesbury, Staffordshire, 1881 – London, 1936)
An operatic tenor with a strong and well-trained voice, Morgan Kingston sang at the Metropolitan Opera for eight seasons, and made acoustic Columbia records in the US and England.
Born Alfred Webster Kingston in Wednesbury, he soon moved with his family to the town of Hucknall where his father took a job at the local colliery. Alfred left school at ten to follow his father at the mine, but found time to sing with the local church choir, also forming a quartet with two friends and his brother.
Friends raised money so that he could take twice weekly speech and singing lessons with Hugo Hinds. After further training in London with Evelyn Edwardes, he made several appearances at Sunday afternoon Queen’s Hall concerts in 1909 using the stage name Morgan Kingston, while still working in the mine to pay expenses.
A tall athletic man with a good stage presence, Kingston began making appearances at important English festivals. In 1912 he was heard by conductor Cleofonte Campanini and manager Andreas Dippel of the Chicago Opera Company. They engaged Kingston, but the Chicago company went out of business. Kingston then took a job singing with Otto Kahn’s recently formed Century Opera Company in New York, which presented opera in English. Kingston had worked diligently to learn a number of roles in Italian, German and French, and now had to relearn them in English. He sang in Lohengrin, Samson and Dalila, La bohème, Tosca, Pagliacci, and Carmen. Next, Kingston joined the Charles Ellis Opera Company where his great champion Campanini was director, telling Mr. Ellis that Kingston was the greatest exponent of the role of Manrico in Il trovatore now living, and one of the greatest tenors in the world. Kingston sang often across the United States and was successful and popular. Olin Downes, then critic for the Boston Post, wrote “Mr. Kingston was easily the star of the occasion. His voice is manly and sonorous and he uses it with much dramatic feeling.” He was invited to sing at the White House for President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, and was presented with a model of a Welsh harp with an American eagle at its base in solid gold. Until the end of his life, this gift remained one of Kingston’s most valued possessions.
He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1917 in Il trovatore, singing the role seven more times. Between 1917 and 1924 he sang fourteen roles but only a small number of times each. He also sang the tenor parts in one performance each of Verdi’s Requiem and Rossini’s Stabat Mater. He sang in a number of Sunday night concerts and several Gala Performances. The other tenors sharing his roles at the Metropolitan Opera in those years included Enrico Caruso, Giovanni Martinelli, Hipolito Lazaro, Aureliano Pertile, Johannes Sembach, Orville Harrold, Giulio Crimi, and others.
He sang in fund-raising events throughout the War years and is said to have sung in oratorio performances as well. In 1924 he returned to England, appearing at Covent Garden, while also undertaking concert work. His final performance was at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool in November 1928. Kingston made acoustic records for English and American Columbia.
(London, 1845 – Worthing, 1927)
The earliest-born singer presented in this compilation, Edward Lloyd, was the foremost English tenor in the last years of the nineteenth century. His first records were made four years after he retired, showing a powerful voice and solid technique, notwithstanding the wear caused by a demanding career.
He limited himself to oratorio and concert work, and never performed in opera, perhaps due to his short stature, but did sing arias in concert. Charles Santley described him as “a nice, plump little gentleman.” The New York Times said in 1888 that he:
… looks and acts about as much like a good-natured New York business man as anybody else. He is of medium height, stocky in build, and rather florid of face. He has pleasant dark eyes and dark hair that is just tinged with gray and is brushed down very smooth. A neat mustache is the only hair he wears on his face. He is extremely pleasant in his manner.
Lloyd’s father was a countertenor, and young Edward sang in the chorus at Westminster Abbey. By 1866 he had joined Cambridge’s Trinity College and King’s College chapel choirs. He received prominent public notice in 1871 with his singing in Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion at the Gloucester Festival. Critic Herman Klein described his voice as:
… most exquisite, with an amazingly smooth legato … one of those pure, natural voices that never lose their sweetness, but preserve their charm so long as there are breath and power to sustain them. His method is, to my thinking, irreproachable and his style absolutely inimitable. His versatility was greater than that of Sims Reeves … In Bach and Handel, in modern oratorio, in the Italian aria, in Lied, romance or ballad, he was equally capable of arousing genuine admiration.
In 1877 Sims Reeves refused to sing at the Handel Festival, withdrawing because he felt their concert pitch was too high. Thirty-two-year-old Lloyd replaced him, and sang at every subsequent Handel Festival until his retirement in 1900. In the immense space of the Crystal Palace, his resonant and clarion voice carried wonderfully. The earliest recordings of a British concert were made at the 1888 performance of Israel in Egypt. Lloyd was the principal tenor, but the surviving cylinders do not include any of his singing.
Lloyd was inextricably connected with the large sacred musical dramas characteristic of the era. He created the lead tenor parts in such works by Sullivan, Parry and Gounod. Near the close of his career, he sang in the premieres of Elgar’s Caractacus and Dream of Gerontius, the latter a fiasco, with orchestra and chorus unprepared and Lloyd in poor voice.
Lloyd was still active in the 1890s. Bernard Shaw was often on hand to praise or scold. Usually in bad humor when reviewing large festivals, Shaw often found something positive to write about Lloyd, with the exception of opera arias sung in concert. In 1891 Lloyd sang Tannhäuser’s “Rome Narrative” and Siegfried’s “Forging Song” at a Hans Richter concert “very tunefully and smoothly, without, however, for a moment relinquishing his original character as Mr. Edward Lloyd.” For Shaw, Sims Reeves was the greatest tenor he had ever heard, and no one could touch him.
Lloyd’s farewell concert in December 1900 was two months after the disastrous premiere of Gerontius. Elgar hoped Lloyd would come out of retirement to sing it again in 1904, but he refused. He did sing at the coronation of King George V in 1911, and at a benefit at age seventy in 1915. His 35 recordings for the Gramophone Company might not appeal immediately, but on further listening, there is much admirable singing to be heard.
(Athlone, Ireland, 1884 – Booterstown, Dublin, 1945)
John McCormack stands apart, his place in the pantheon of great musicians firmly established. Aspiring to an operatic career, McCormack was and remains the youngest tenor to sing at Covent Garden where he appeared at age twenty-three. It was on the concert platform where he established himself as the foremost song recitalist of his time, filling large halls throughout the world for a quarter century. His life and career have been well documented in at least six biographies, including I Hear You Calling Me written by his wife in 1949.
McCormack’s parents had moved to Ireland from Scotland. His father was actually Irish, apparently had a lovely singing voice, and singing was a major part of their family life. After completing his schooling in Sligo, McCormack was expected to enter the civil service, but instead auditioned for the choir at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. He was accepted by the director, Vincent O’Brien, who became a staunch advocate for the young tenor, gave him his first vocal training, and encouraged him to enter the Irish National Music Festival, known as the Feis Ceoil. He had only two months to prepare for the contest but out of fourteen tenors who competed, it was he who won the gold medal.
As he continued his studies with O’Brien, concert engagements throughout Ireland began to come his way, and through such engagements, he met his future wife, Lily Foley, also a singer who had won the Feis Ceoil gold medal the previous year. In 1904 McCormack made his first recordings: discs for G&T, and cylinders for the Edison and Edison Bell companies. These show the pleasant voice of an untrained singer, although with some objectionable mannerisms. In 1905, he was able to study with Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan, who recognized his natural vocal gifts, put him through a rigorous course of vocal exercises and did not allow him to sing one song or aria. By that fall Sabatini decided that John was ready for an operatic audition, which was arranged with the Teatro Chiabrera in Savona. He made his debut there in January 1906 in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, which led to a performance of Gounod’s Faust at Santa Croce. Moving to London in 1906 he sang at a number of Boosey Ballad Concerts, one engagement leading to the next. He secured an audition for Covent Garden, was accepted and on 15 October 1907, sang his debut there in Cavalleria rusticana, followed by Rigoletto with the new sensation, Luisa Tetrazzini. He sang there each season until the outbreak of War, performing fifteen different roles. Following the 1911 London season, he traveled to Australia with a company organized for Nellie Melba, remaining after the tour to give a series of solo concerts.
In 1909 he joined the roster of Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera in New York and in January 1910 made his first Victor records, beginning a twenty-eight-year association with the company. Although his operatic appearances would continue until 1923, McCormack concentrated on concert work, which brought him greater satisfaction, not to mention income and fame.
During the War, his appearances were confined to the US where his concerts attracted ever-growing throngs of admirers. He was able to fill New York’s seven-thousand seat Hippodrome Theater to capacity.
McCormack applied for US citizenship in 1914, finally granted in 1919. He was severely criticized for this in England, Ireland, and Australia. At this time he made successful appearances in Paris, Berlin, and Monte Carlo where he gave his final operatic performances. In 1924 he gave his first London concert in ten years, and although it had been planned for the Albert Hall, the venue was switched to the smaller Queen’s Hall for fear of a poor turnout. The concert was an absolute success and his career continued on both sides of the Atlantic until 1938.
His concerts included a wide variety of music and he took great pains in programming them:
One of the difficult tasks of my profession, and as important as the actual singing, is the choice of material for my programmes, and its arrangement. ... First, I give my audiences the songs I love. Second, I give them the songs they ought to like, and will like when they hear them often enough. Third, I give them the folksongs of my native land, which I hold to be the most beautiful of any music of this kind. ... Fourth, I give my audiences songs they want to hear, for such songs they have every right to expect.
He left the United States in 1938, and sang his farewell concert at the Albert Hall, but less than a year later with the outbreak of War, he began singing concerts raising money for the Red Cross and entertaining the troops, although his repertoire must have been viewed as rather old fashioned by that time. A smoker, he was forced into retirement in 1943 because of emphysema, and died two years later of various respiratory complications.
MULLINGS, FRANK CONNINGSBY
(Walsall, 1881 – Manchester, 1953)
Frank Mullings was a dramatic tenor whose art was controversial, his voice and singing both beloved by a huge English public and disdained by some connoisseurs and critics. His dramatic gifts and commitment allowed him to triumph in opera, imbuing his impersonations of roles like Canio in Pagliacci with a dramatic flair that excited and invigorated audiences. He was 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighed over 250 pounds when he sang in the 1910s and 1920s, a very kind-hearted man who was well liked. Thomas Beecham, who was never shy about expressing his opinions of singers, thought highly of him.
The personal timbre of Mullings’s instrument was sometimes described as “throaty” or even excruciating. His distorted vowels and diction were noted, also his discomfort in the upper range and his technique that was “far from bel canto”, but hearing the sincerity of his interpretations on his records today
has prompted some to discover a distinctive, even sensitive voice, well supported and unforced, almost in the style of Agustarello Affre or Leo Slezak.
Originally trained as a schoolteacher, Mullings began vocal studies in Birmingham under Granville Bantock and George Breeden. He made his stage debut in 1906 in Faust for the Coventry Musical Society, then toured with John Ridding Opera Company in abridged operas. By 1908, he was well established, performing concerts and oratorios in the Liverpool and Birmingham areas. In 1910, he became conductor and participant of the Walsall Madrigal Society. He joined the Denhof Opera Company in 1913, but it failed after only three weeks, and it was taken over by Beecham, forming the basis of the Beecham Opera Company. Mullings continued singing with them until the company folded in 1920, performing highly dramatic roles like Tristan, Radames, Otello, and Canio. Critic Neville Cardus, who was friends with Mullings, wrote: “Mr. Mullings acted Canio in Pagliacci far beyond the plane of conventional Italian opera of the blood and sand order. His singing is not exactly all honey, but how intensely he lived in the part!” Along with many of his former colleagues Mullings joined the British National Opera in 1922, singing with the company until it too went out of business in 1929. Two notable appearances were in Rutland Boughton’s Alkestis and in Nail by Isidore de Lara.
Mullings’s notices in the provinces were almost ecstatic throughout his career; Hull 1926: “It is not often that we are privileged to listen to a vocalist of the caliber of Frank Mullings … a great artist … better than anybody yet heard …”; Dundee 1938: “… well deserved ovation for his emotional acting and singing …”; Polesworth 1946: “… one of the greatest tenors this country has ever produced. The singer-actor par excellence … rare qualities of dramatic excellence ...”. In Derby in 1928 occurred a singer’s nightmare. The tuner had tuned the piano almost half a tone high, and there was no time to rectify the situation. Soprano Francis Morris and Mullings sang higher, and the Daily Telegraph said he was “still the supreme artist, and in spite of over twenty-years-experience in concert halls and in opera he continues his improvement …”. A review from the 1940s explains his appeal:
... his complete absorption in the music and the words gave us not only the essence of Verdi, but that of Shakespeare, too. Mr. Mullings is a great exception—a tenor who can act even off the stage; many cannot act even on it. Of course, it must be said that he obtains his tremendous dramatic—or in songs literary grip by means that are not always quite fair to the music as such. He does not mind how much he distorts the note-values of phrase ... The hearer, however, does sometimes mind … reasonable allowance being made for interpretative latitude. The trouble is that Mr. Mullings is at times too enormously latitudinal … one always forgives him in the end, knowing that his drastic methods are not those of the self-seeking poseur, but of a grand artist passionately absorbed in his work.
He appeared frequently in broadcasts and concerts, singing with the Carl Rosa company in the early 1930s, and until the war, sang with the Universal Grand Opera Company, devised to give opera at cinema prices. From 1939 on he gave his services frequently in aid of the War effort. Mullings joined the staff of the Birmingham School of Music in 1927 and taught there until 1946, also teaching at the Manchester College of Music from 1944 until 1949. He never quite retired and sang in the Messiah until 1947 and occasional concerts thereafter.
He made records for English Columbia with few non-operatic titles, one of which is included here.
(London, 1894 – London, 1961)
The lyric tenor William Heddle Nash enjoyed a thirty-four-year career that began in 1924. He received his formal training in Italy, and his records reveal a voice with an Italianate character that distinguishes him from many other English tenors. In 1996, vocal historian J.B. Steane wrote that he was “the English lyric tenor par excellence, without equal then or now.”
Nash grew up in a musical family. When he was twenty he won a scholarship to the Blackheath Conservatory. The Great War broke out soon after and he joined the army, serving in France, Egypt, and Palestine. His scholarship was held open, and he attended the Conservatory after the War, while gaining some experience in oratorio work. He also took an unusual job singing with the Podrecca and Feodora’s Marionettes, which gave puppet performances of Italian opera. Unseen in the orchestra pit, Nash sang while the puppets mimed the action. After their London season the company secured a contract to appear in New York, and Nash went with them.
He was soon given the opportunity of studying with the remarkable dramatic tenor Giuseppe Borgatti in Milan. In 1924, while studying with Borgatti, Nash made his debut at Milan’s Teatro Carcano, replacing an indisposed tenor in The barber of Seville. Returning to London in 1925, he began his career in earnest, joining the Old Vic company singing opera in English. His first appearance was in Rigoletto, followed by The daughter of the regiment, Faust, Madame Butterfly and The Magic Flute. The Musical Times praised his clarity of diction and predicted that he would become one of the eminent lyric tenors of the future. He sang on tour with the British National Opera, adding many roles, and increasing his versatility.
Nash began singing at Covent Garden in 1929, appearing there every year until World War II. He had a repertoire of twenty-four operas, and sang fluently in English, French, German, and Italian. He was also a fixture at the Glyndebourne Festival between 1934 and 1938. He sang Ferrando in the 1935 Glyndebourne recording of Cosi fan tutte, which has never been out of print. During the second world war, Nash sang with the Carl Rosa company, performing in English. After the war, he returned to Covent Garden to sing in Manon and Die Meistersinger. His final performance there was in 1948.
He appeared in oratorios throughout his career, especially in the Messiah, and gave frequent recitals and BBC broadcasts. In 1931, Elgar chose him to sing Gerontius at the Three Choirs Festival, and he sang the part at each subsequent festival until 1950. He can be heard in the 1945 HMV recording of the work conducted by Malcolm Sargent. In 1938, Nash was one of the sixteen singers chosen by Vaughan Williams to premiere his Serenade to Music, recorded that year with the same singers. In his later years, Nash was a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music. He sang his last Messiah just a few months before his death.
(Limerick, Ireland, 1864 – Dublin, 1927)
Joseph O’Mara was an operatic tenor and impresario whose career spanned more than thirty-five years. He is principally remembered for his creation of Mike Murphy in Stanford’s opera, Shamus O’Brien. His three G&T records, though primitive in sound, show a vibrant, well-produced voice with plenty of personality.
He grew up in a prosperous family in the thriving town of Limerick. His father, a member of parliament who owned a pork processing plant, sent him to be educated at a Jesuit school. Joseph was also a chorister with the choir of St. John’s Cathedral. After completing school, he was determined to make his own way, spending a year aboard a passenger steamer traveling between Dundee and Calcutta. He had wanted to become a sea captain but realized within twenty-four hours that there was such a thing as sea sickness. Disillusioned, he returned home to work in his father’s business. Soon he realized that he had a certain musical ability and was encouraged by friends to take up a singing career. O’Mara traveled to Milan where he took singing lessons for two years with Giulio Moretti.
Richard D’Oyly Carte undertook the construction of the Royal English Opera House in 1890, to open with Sullivan’s first venture into grand opera, Ivanhoe. D’Oyly Carte’s idea was to present the opera six nights each week with the principal roles alternating between two singers. The young rising Welsh tenor Ben Davies was to sing Ivanhoe, and the young unknown Joseph O’Mara was selected to sing the role on alternative nights. The opera ran for an unprecedented 155 performances; the following season, O’Mara sang the role of Clement Marot in Messager’s La Basoche, again sharing performances with Davies.
After further study in Milan, O’Mara returned to England and joined Augustus Harris’ Italian Opera Company. During the 1893–1894 season he toured the British Isles with them, singing the tenor parts in Cavalleria rusticana, Faust, Pagliacci, Carmen, Lohengrin, and Die Meistersinger. He spent the next three years working for Harris, singing at Covent Garden and Drury Lane, while also participating in several of the lavish pantomimes for which Harris was famous.
In 1896, O’Mara created the comic part of Mike Murphy in Stanford’s opera Shamus O’Brien. The Harris Company took the opera on tour throughout Britain and later the US where O’Mara achieved great success. He returned to New York the following year to create the tenor role in De Koven’s The Highwayman.
Following several years of concert work, O’Mara returned to opera in 1902, joining the Moody-Manners Opera Company as their principal tenor, and remaining with them until 1908. Notably, in 1907, he sang Pinkerton in the first English-language production of Madama Butterfly. He loved recounting the story of one rehearsal led by conductor Mancinelli, who had been a favorite of King Edward. O’Mara, the de Reszke brothers and Emma Eames were trying to get a concerted number just as the finicky conductor wanted. Nothing pleased him, and it ended with Eames taking the score and smacking Mancinelli on his head. O’Mara took another break from opera in 1908, traveling to New York to star in Patrick Bidwell’s musical, Peggy Machree, earning uniformly enthusiastic reviews for his acting as well as his singing.
In 1912, he formed the Joseph O’Mara Traveling Opera Company, starring as its principal tenor. He performed sixty-seven roles with the company between 1913 and 1926. For the opening season he sang Raoul in The Huguenots, and over the next years, they revived several works of Michael Balfe. O’Mara gave his final performance as Lohengrin in 1926, and sold his company to tenor Cynlais Gibbs.
He was quite a raconteur and often told of an occasion when he was on stage singing Tannhäuser while miming playing the harp. A friend in the audience reported to him afterward the conversation between a lovesick young couple sitting next to him: Girl: “My, ’ow beautiful he played that ’arp!” Boy: “Yes, ’e is regarded one of the best ’arpus in England.”
His three G&T records from 1901-1902 are highly sought by collectors.
(Stratton, North Cornwall, 1867 – London, 1917)
Charles Adolphus Saunders was a concert and oratorio tenor whose career flourished mainly in the English provinces during the two decades flanking the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has been all but forgotten due to the fact that he made only six records, four sides of insignificant ballads for Columbia in 1904, and two takes of “The enemy said” from Handel’s Israel in Egypt for HMV in 1906 and 1907.
Son of a bootmaker, Charles was already employed as a clerk at age 13. He sang locally and his pure treble voice was noticed. In 1888 he began study at the Guildhall School in London, making his first public appearance that October. Later he took lessons from Alfredo Randegger, Swinnerton Heap, and George Ridley.
From 1889 to 1891 Charles was solo tenor at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court, and subsequently was engaged at St. Anne’s, Soho, singing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion to warm approval. Within a year he sang in Auber’s Fra Diavalo and was offered a position with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, but in December 1892 he lost his voice during a serious illness. He returned briefly to sing in concerts but was advised to take a long sea voyage. Air pollution in London was at its most intense and in many other cities where Saunders sang the air was possibly worse. He sailed to Australia in 1893, recovering his voice during the voyage. It was the beginning of many years of constant travel and concerts interspersed with illnesses.
He was a success and soon hailed as the best tenor in Australia. Persuaded to try opera, he formed a company that toured in Dibdin’s The Waterman, Benedict’s Lily of Killarney, and Balfe’s Dolores. They performed continually, interspersing opera with sacred concerts that always included Saunders singing Adams’s “The Holy City”. Australian Punch in April 1895 wrote: “Charles Saunders, the fat boy with a fine tenor voice … he appeared in Italian opera wearing a thin man’s clothes, and a red sash. He looked like a hogshead with rod hoops, and sartorially was a dismal failure.” The company lasted only a few months.
Saunders continued in oratorio and concerts around Melbourne and Victoria until November, then travelled to New Zealand where he appeared in Haydn’s Creation, Dvorak’s Spectre’s Bride, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, and Sullivan’s The Golden Legend. He then gave a ten-week season in South Africa. That tour was a failure, but he was able to join Mlle Trebelli’s much more successful tour there. He caught typhoid in June and Trebelli’s tour continued without him. He recovered enough to sing at a benefit concert in Durban, and although his voice was unimpaired, he had to use a stick to support himself.
He rejoined the company at Natal, but with the Boer war threatening, professional work evaporated so he made his way to Ceylon and India. He sang a final concert in July at Madras before embarking for London.
Back in Britain he continued in the same vein with a West England tour in September 1896, although work had slackened and clearly he had trouble rebuilding his career in Britain despite being billed as “The Lion of Australia”. In April 1897 he was a supporting singer with seven others for an Adelina Patti Concert singing “Sound the Alarm” and “Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes”.
The springboard to rejuvenating his career came with a performance of The Golden Legend at the Birmingham Festival in 1898:
… the new tenor Mr. Charles Saunders … a distinct and unquestionable success. He possesses a voice of pleasing quality and sufficient robustness of tone. He sings easily, and with a sound and lasting method. Indeed, after the distressing tremolos of some old favourites ...
In March 1898 he married the contralto Helen Clara Robson, and after their marriage they almost invariably sang together. Saunders was now popular throughout the country with press notices consistently identifying him as “in the very front rank of English tenors”. His repertoire broadened and at Cheltenham early in 1899 he sang Elgar’s Caractacus. It was noted that he was adopting “the somewhat unusual device of altering the quality of his voice to reach the higher notes.” At the Worcester Festival in April he attempted The Flying Dutchman, but he was clearly out of his depth, and from then on avoided opera.
The public loved him although critics were reserved, especially in London, where for his performance of Judas Maccabeus in December 1900 he was described as “a tenor who can at any rate be heard (and seen, too, for that matter, for he is a mountain of a man) if his singing is not very finished.”
Perhaps trying to take on the role of Edward Lloyd who had recently retired, Saunders was now much in demand around the country particularly in the West country, the northern counties, and Scotland. But Saunders might have been getting tired of the endless repetition and he experimented with musical monologues first in his native Stratton and then at the Steinway Hall London in May 1906 under the title “Sims Reeves and his Songs” where interspersed with anecdotes of his predecessor, Saunders performed songs and arias that Reeves was remembered for.
He toured Australia and New Zealand again, and in 1913 Canada and the US. During the War he sang at benefits for the Red Cross. Saunders often suffered from influenza, colds, or bronchitis. In 1892 he likely was recovering from the “Russian Flu”, now generally believed to be a coronavirus outbreak. He was overweight; in 1916 mention was mockingly made of him using two chairs at a concert. He smoked and kept up a punishing schedule throughout his life singing where he could find work. He suffered a stroke and died at age 49.
(Copley near Halifax, Yorkshire, 1881 – Huddersfield, 1969)
This little-known concert tenor had a modest career in the English provinces, yet the best of his highly elusive records evince a powerful voice and a splendid vocal technique.
As a youth, William Herbert Teal had a keen interest in music, and he began taking singing lessons in Halifax with Arthur Hinchliffe. It is said that Teale, who worked as a tool maker and iron turner in Halifax until he was thirty, could often be heard practicing his lessons in the open air on Greetland Moor near Huddersfield. He competed in several singing contests in 1910, winning first prizes for each. 1912 found him modifying his name to Herbert Teale and singing at local events, mostly ballads with added selections from oratorio and opera, settling into routine concert work in the north of England through to the east coast of Scotland. A 1913 performance of Judas Maccabaeus at Newport resulted in one of the earliest press mentions of him: “He sings with fine freedom, and does not spare himself to make his solos effective. ‘Sound an alarm’ and ‘Call forth thy powers’ were not given with sufficient ease, but he left nothing to be desired so far as their declamatory treatment was concerned.”
In 1913, Teale made a test recording for HMV. The next year found him singing at the Gainsborough Music Festival in Coleridge Taylor’s A Tale from Japan. In 1915 he recorded a few sides for the Beka company, some of which appeared on the Coliseum label under the pseudonym “Jay Laurier”, but starting that August he became an exclusive artist for HMV, recording ballads. He sang at a mixed concert in London that year, listed as “the new, successful tenor”.
During the Great War he was described as “the eminent tenor of the Palladium and Chappell Ballad Concerts, who is considered one of the rising vocalists of the day”. As part of the war effort, he sang at Palladium National Sunday League Concerts that included fellow artists Carrie Tubb, Dora Labette, Olga Haley, Thorpe Bates, Joseph Cheetham, and Charles Mott. For his HMV records, Teale was promoted as “the new dramatic tenor” and he began to broaden his repertoire. In 1918, he made his only appearance at the proms, singing “Il mio tesoro” and Haydn Wood’s “O flower divine”.
The number of sides he recorded during his final session for HMV in 1919 that remained unpublished, together with the continuing dearth of work in London for him, might indicate that his voice was declining. Concert work around the seaside towns and through the English Midlands continued, but now he was more often billed as “The Great Yorkshire Tenor” or just “the popular tenor”, and by 1921 misgivings appeared in the press.
Teale moved back to Huddersfield where he advertised as “Tenor Vocalist, Teacher of Voice Production, Singing, Interpretation etc.” His career was not quite over, however, for he sang for the BBC at Sheffield in 1925 and went on to make records for the Beltona label. In 1926 he was called upon to sing at the Chief Constables Annual Meeting in London with the Prince of Wales as guest of honor, along with Flora Woodman, Constance Willis, and Peter Dawson. This quartet toured around the country entertaining at various police concerts at the end of 1926, probably leading to Teal’s electrical recording session for Parlophone. By then, his voice had deteriorated, and the Gramophone magazine found he was simply loud, in a short review that was devastating: “are we really so badly off for decently-trained tenors?” He sang occasionally at his old haunts of Bournemouth and Leeds until 1933.
(Handsworth, 1893 – London, 1956)
Frank Titterton was a well-known and much loved British lyric tenor who was noted for his musicianship.
He trained originally as an actor and was a member of The Pilgrim Players (which became the Birmingham Repertory Theatre) run by Barry Jackson. He began to sing as an amateur, appearing in operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan and others in Birmingham before studying singing with Ernesto Beraldi and Charles Victor in London. He then left his acting career to work as a song recitalist and in oratorio in Britain and Holland, his career mainly in the concert hall.
Apparently Titterton was an amiable, even game individual, which went a long way to ensuring success. In 1924 and 1925 he participated in concerts showcasing the new “musical miracle,” the Duo-Art reproducing piano. He sang with piano rolls doing the accompanying, and then sat at the piano and demonstrated how he could control the levers that produced the piano nuances while he sang. For a program of arias and duets (“with costume”) with soprano Ida Cooper in Bath in 1929, it was reported that “Frank Titterton has something of a Caruso touch. There is a ring and robustness about his singing, and he is gifted with very considerable powers of interpretation.” A 1933 review for a Derby recital summed up his appeal: “He uses his rich and powerful voice with nice discretion and always contrives to be most effective in the items which make the greatest demands on is resources.”
He was a prolific broadcaster and recording artist for the Vocalion, Broadcast, Columbia and Decca labels. Most titles were recorded under his own name, but he also used the pseudonyms “Francesco Vada” and “Norton Collyer”. Like many British singers of his era he spent much time touring, appearing in popular oratorios. According to the baritone Roy Henderson, Titterton always traveled with “a sort of apothecary’s case” and would produce medicines for anyone’s ailments.
While successful and in demand, we can judge how precarious life was for English singers like him during the world-wide depression, for he declared bankruptcy in 1935 and details of his finances were published. His income since 1932 averaged 900 pounds a year, he had assets of 34 pounds, with a fee of 30 pounds waiting to be collected, and debts of 2,495 pounds. He had lost 500 pounds in the stock market and had tried to earn extra income by becoming a partner in a garage business which failed.
He continued singing in Messiahs, doing turns like singing Erlkönig in benefit concerts, and performing in concert presentations of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust. Along with fellow tenors Heddle Nash, Walter Widdop and Parry Jones, Titterton was chosen as one of the sixteen soloists for the first performance and subsequent recording of Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music in 1938.
He later became a sought-after singing teacher in London. One of his pupils was the actor and singer John Fryatt. In addition, Titterton undertook some film roles including parts in Barnacle Bill (1935), Song at Eventide (1934) and Waltz Time (1933). He continued broadcasting and singing on stage until 1945, his participation in mixed concerts of lighter music eliciting “storms of applause”.
(Stoke Damerel, 1894 – Newdigate, Surrey, 1963)
A lyric tenor of considerable ability and broad-ranging repertoire, Wendon was one of Britain’s most familiar voices on the airwaves.
Henry Wendon was born Bertram Henry Wendon Gregory. His father was an engine driver at the Devonport dockyards where Bertram became an iron caulker boy, a dangerous and hard manual labor job that developed his upper torso. It is interesting to note that a high proportion of singers from working class backgrounds had these physically strenuous jobs in their youth. He joined St. Barnabas Church Choir in Plymouth in 1907 and was taught by organist and music teacher Ernest Gill. Bertram Joined the Metropolitan Police Force in 1915 and enlisted in the army during the war. He served in the Devonshire Regiment in Palestine where he rose in rank to lance corporal and was twice wounded.
After the war he returned to the police force and was stationed at Tottenham Court Road, close to the theater district. He left the police in August 1921, but just how he transitioned into a tenor under the name of Henry Wendon is a mystery. His first known appearance as a singer was at a concert, performing selections by Elgar and Parry, with the Ealing Philharmonic Society in November 1923. A press comment read: “Pure tone and command of expression are his in abundance. Much should be heard of him in the days to come, for he is an artist. Reluctance to look away from the score is at present rather obvious, but that will, no doubt, be overcome as experience increases.”
Wendon sang leading parts at the Old Vic from 1926 to 1928 in Lohengrin, Aida, Faust, Il trovatore, Madama Butterfly and Carmen. He also appeared with the Bach Choir and several London choral societies. In 1927 he sang at Covent Garden as an “ardent and sweet toned” Froh in Das Rheingold with Friedrich Schorr and Maria Olczewska under Bruno Walter. He began broadcasting over the BBC a remarkably wide repertoire including lieder by Strauss and Brahms (sung in German), an English adaptation of Méhul’s opera Joseph, Handel’s Solomon, all leavened with much light music.
He participated in fascinating efforts in pioneer radio, as in 1928 when he was in the cast for a broadcast of Lance Sieveking’s Kaleidoscope along with John Gielgud and Hermione Gingold. It was described as a literary and musical experiment, illustrating the influences on a man from cradle to grave. His work outside of radio was just as varied. In 1931 he sang in Mozart’s La finta giardiniera at the New Scala Theatre and a few months later he was back at the Old Vic with Forza del destino. Throughout the 1930s Wendon was kept busy at the New Sadler’s Wells Theatre and sang in 1933 in the first English performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar Sultan. He also essayed much Rossini, Verdi, Puccini and even Wagner. Wendon returned to Covent Garden in 1934 and 1935 singing Pinkerton, in 1936 Quilter’s light opera Julia and in 1938 Cavalleria, Butterfly and the novelty of the season, George Lloyd’s The Serf. Like many British singers, Wendon sang regularly at concerts throughout the country during the war years, appearing with Isabel Baillie, Elsie Suddaby, and pianist Mark Hambourg. He sang at eleven Proms concerts between 1934 and 1947 and was invited to appear in the Henry Wood Memorial Concert of 1945.
By that time he had become known as a gramophone artist and “The Celebrated Radio Tenor”. His last broadcast, a recital of English songs, was in 1952, and he seems to have retired in about 1957. He was, for a time, a professor of singing at the Guildhall School of Music.
(Norland, near Halifax, Yorkshire, 1892 – London, 1949)
Remembered principally for his HMV recordings of extended Wagnerian excerpts sung in German, Walter Widdop was equally effective in the oratorios of Handel. He had a vibrant voice and was praised for his firm tone, superb diction and the evenness of singing. That his talent and abilities for singing Wagner should have been more universally appreciated seems a fact. One British critic of the time lamented:
Walter Widdop is worlds better than any visiting German tenor since the war. There are two hundred opera houses in Germany to whom Widdop would be a godsend … It is waste in an era of famine for a singer with his material and skill to go round the country year after year singing in Messiah when he could be singing Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Siegfried and Parsifal. After two years routine on the German stage he would be one of the four leading heroic tenors in Europe.
After leaving school at twelve, Widdop worked in a woolen mill. He sang in his local church choir, winning several prizes, but despite his obvious abilities, he did not consider pursuing a musical career until he was thirty. During World War I he served with the British Army, later taking singing lessons from Arthur Hinchliffe, whose teacher had been Charles Santley. Widdop later studied in London with the Cotogni pupil, baritone Dinh Gilly. A biography of Thomas Beecham describes Widdop in 1924 as “a bull-necked young tenor from the North with a voice of bar silver … a jaunty warehouse foreman.” His strong personality may have limited his career. A 1949 obituary in the Gramophone recalled him as a “typical Yorkshireman, fearlessly outspoken in all his opinions”.
In 1923 Widdop sang in his first broadcast and joined the British National Opera Company on tour making his debut as Radames, followed by Samson. His London debut came the next year, during the BNOC’s Covent Garden season singing Siegfried in English. Over the following years, he continued performing with the company on tour as its principal dramatic tenor, with a number of its provincial performances heard throughout Britain via the new medium of radio.
Widdop learned his Wagnerian roles in German, and in 1927 and 1928 participated in the first recordings of extended excerpts from Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung sung in German. During the 1927-1928 season, Widdop sang Siegfried and Sigmund in Barcelona under Max von Schillings, two performances of Dream of Gerontius in Amsterdam and The Hague under Willem Mengelberg. Despite his growing acclaim for singing Wagner’s music, Widdop apparently did not appreciate it as much as Handel, which he once remarked was “proper music.” In 1928 he sang in two notable Covent Garden productions, Gluck’s Armide and Handel’s Rodelinda.
He continually developed as an actor to the point where he was praised for his portrayals of Wagner’s complex tenor roles. While continuing to sing Sigmund, Siegfried, and Tristan at Covent Garden throughout the 1930s, he also was prominent in oratorio. In 1928 he appeared in Handel’s Solomon, and the same year he sang in Verdi’s Requiem at the Three Choirs Festival. In 1929 he participated in the first recording of Bach’s B-minor Mass, and recorded several of Handel’s popular oratorio set pieces. In the 1930s he performed in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
In 1936 he sang in the British concert premiere of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex under the direction of Ernest Ansermet. Widdop was one of the four tenor soloists chosen to perform the 1938 premiere of Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music, recorded shortly after. During World War Two he toured extensively entertaining British troops in South Africa, Canada and the Middle East. He resumed his stage and concert career after the war, although his schedule was much reduced. In 1949 he sang Parsifal at a concert performance at the Albert Hall. That year Widdop sang “Lohengrin’s Farewell” at the Proms and collapsed in his dressing room after the performance, dying the following day.
Composer Robert Hugill has written:
… his recording career was effectively over after 1930, well before he was 40. And 40 is not old for a heldentenor. We have no studio records of Widdop after this date except for a song recital in 1932 and his participation in the Serenade to Music in 1938. Like many other English singers, Widdop went into the recording wilderness … and his early death prevented much post war recording. Off air transcriptions exist for his performance of Aegisth in Strauss’s Elektra … and his Drum Major in Berg’s Wozzeck …
J.B. Steane wrote that Widdop’s recordings “show a firm resonant voice and a virile style, confirming his place among the best heroic tenors of the century.”
(Mineral Ridge, Ohio, 1867 – Akron, Ohio, 1918)
Harry Evan Williams, though American-born, was considered a Welsh tenor, both by reviewers and in his own publicity. His brilliant career spanned more than twenty years with more than a thousand performances in the US and Britain. Like Caruso his voice was especially phonogenic. Conductor and musicologist Will Crutchfield has written:
He never sang in opera … but Williams recorded arias from Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger, Carmen, La bohème, L’africaine, La favorite, L’elisir d’amore, and Gounod’s Reine de Saba and sounds as though he would have been close to ideal in all of them. The singing is straight-up fantastic … every vowel clear, every tone effortlessly even, genuine operatic excitement as he lifts into the top, un-showy but unmistakable fervor in delivery …. His records are a gift that keeps on giving to any aspiring tenors.
Evans’s parents were Welsh immigrants who settled in Ohio. When his mother died young Harry, as he was then, was sent to relatives in a close-knit Welsh community where music played a major part in everyday life. His unusually fine treble voice was noticed and he began singing solos in the Welsh church. He was sent to school in Akron but returned after a short time to work in the mines with his father.
At seventeen he won a singing prize and was immediately hired as soloist at the largest Methodist church in Akron. In 1889 he was heard by Louise von Fielitsch, a singing teacher from Cleveland, who offered Evans a scholarship to study with her. He took the plunge and moved there, taking a job as an elevator operator while he studied. For several years his wife and children lived with her parents while Harry remained in Cleveland, taking daily lessons and supplementing his income by singing for Welsh community concerts. He began using his middle name, styling himself H. Evan Williams to avoid confusion with another singer. His professional debut was in 1896 at the Massachusetts Worcester Festival. Success followed quickly; a job in New York made him the highest paid church singer in the country and by the turn of the new century he was a well-known concert singer throughout the United States.
He soon began suffering vocal problems, likely a result of over-taxation of his voice, which collapsed during a performance at Carnegie Hall. He moved back to Akron where he had purchased a small farm and began a new career as a vocal teacher, giving 200 lessons a month. His voice gradually started to return after a year of proper nurturing and disciplined practice in the outdoors. He recovered and decided to try singing in England where he could make a fresh start.
He sang his first concerts and oratorios in Britain in 1904, returning again in 1906 for a more extensive tour. He performed the same oratorios he had sung earlier, adding the new sensation Gerontius, later to become one of his signature parts, to his repertoire. During this tour he made his first G&T records, ten of which were published.
Returning to the US in the summer, he was pleased that his agent was able to book a full schedule for him. He made his first appearance at the Worcester Festival, ten years after his debut at the same Festival. He was warmly received and became a perennial favorite there. His career was assured with engagements all over the country. He also began making records for the Victor Talking Machine Company, regularly recording until the end, his discography numbering close to 300 sides.
Williams’s whirlwind schedule continued with further trips to Britain in 1910 and 1911, when he cut further discs for the Gramophone Company, none of which were issued by Victor but were his favorite recordings. He also recorded six sides for Pathé in 1911. The next year he toured Britain again, then back to the United States touring with Victor Herbert, typically singing twenty-six concerts in twenty-seven days. His relentless schedule taking him sixty to seventy thousand miles around the country each year did not abate. By 1913, however, his voice was again showing troubling signs, which did not go unnoticed in the press, who usually mentioned them with tact and affection. During the War he gave many concerts for troops and charity organizations. In the spring of 1918 he was scheduled to appear at the Cincinnati Festival, but developed a carbuncle on his neck which refused to heal. He sang a concert in Akron in great pain, and died six days later of blood poisoning.
He had frequently complained to reporters about singing teachers, his advice to young singers on the matter of technique simple: “avoid too much method” and “beware of the teachers who have a special method. Listen to great artists and get acquainted with a good musician.” It is said that Williams’s record royalties at the height of his career were around forty thousand dollars a year, third only to Caruso and McCormack.
1 Athenaeum No. 697, 6 March 1841
2 Athenaeum No. 705, 1 May 1841
3 Mendelssohn’s letter of 26 August 1846
4 Athenaeum, No. 1904, 23 April 1864
5 Athenaeum, No. 1924, 10 September 1864
6 Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Vol. IV, p. 46, 1914)
7 William Boosey, Fifty Years of Music (London, Ernest Benn Ltd., 1931)
8 Hints on Singing (Ascherberg, Hopwood and Crew, London 1894, p. 75)
9 Sims Reeves, Fifty years of Music in England by Charles E. Pearce (Stanley Paul & Co., London 1924)
10 Music in London, 1890–94 (Constable & Co., 1932, pp. 224–5)
11 La Musica Popolare, 15 July 1885
12 Herman Klein, Musicians and Mummers (Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1925, p. 153)
13 Thirty Years of Musical Life in London, 1870–1900 (Heinemann, London 1903, p. 465)
14 London Music in 1888–89 (London, Constable and Co. Ltd., 1937, p. 56)
15 Opera, 1921
16 Harriette Brower, Vocal Mastery, Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York 1920
17 Athenaeum, No. 1134, 21 July 1849
18 Athenaeum, No. 399, 20 June 1835