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LIZA LEHMANN  

(1862 - 1918)

Liza Lehmann was the eldest daughter of the painter Rudolf Lehmann and his wife Amelia, daughter of the Edinburgh publisher and writer Robert Chambers. Rudolf Lehmann, who later settled with his family in England, was born in Hamburg and was himself the son of a German painter and his Italian wife. Christened Elisabetha Nina Mary Frederica, Liza Lehmann was born in London, to ensure British nationality if the child had been a boy, although the Lehmanns were living at the time in Rome. Rudolf Lehmann was distinguished in the artists’ colony there, his friends including Liszt, who always demanded bacon and eggs when he visited the Lehmanns. On settling in London the family continued to move in established social and artistic circles, with Rudolf Lehmann enjoying a very considerable reputation as a portrait painter. The four girls were educated at home by a series of governesses and Liza Lehmann was encouraged in particular in her obvious musical interests by her mother, herself a gifted if diffident amateur musician but her daughter’s honest critic and mentor. Liza Lehmann was able to benefit as a singer from the help of Jenny Lind, whose classes she later attended. At the same time she was able to reach a certain ability as a pianist through sympathetic lessons with Alma Haas. She had lessons in singing with Alberto Randegger and in composition with Raunkilde in Rome, followed by further study of composition with Freudenberg in Wiesbaden and with Hamish MacCunn in London. For some time she wintered with her mother in Italy, and with her family dined on one occasion with Verdi, whose portrait her father was drawing.

Other notable musical personalities with whom she came into contact early in her life included Clara Schumann, with whom she stayed for three weeks in Frankfurt, studying Schumann’s songs. There she also met Brahms, by whose bluff and coarse manners she was not impressed, particularly when he ate a whole tin of sardines at breakfast and then drank the oil from the tin in one draught, as she recounts in her colourful autobiography. By this time Liza Lehmann had embarked on a career as a singer, appearing in concerts and recitals, performing in oratorio and in various London concert series. There was even an appearance at the Berlin Philharmonic, in response to an invitation from Joseph Joachim. Meanwhile the family’s social connections and her father’s work brought contact with leading painters, including Lord Leighton, Millais and Alma-Tadema, and, among those who sat for her father, Robert Browning. She enjoyed a successful and busy career as a singer from her début in 1885 at the London Popular Concerts until her farewell recital in 1894, before her marriage to the composer, artist and writer Herbert Bedford, at the time earning a living in the City. Her sister Marianna married Edward Heron-Allen, a man of wide interests, but known to musicians for his book on violin-making. The third of the girls, Amelia, married the writer Barry Pain, author of the Pooteresque Eliza stories, and Alma married Edward Goetz, whose mother had some contemporary reputation as a composer.

Marriage for Liza Lehmann and the end of her career as a singer, brought to a more definite conclusion by what seems to have been Bell’s palsy, which had a permanent effect on her vocal chords, allowed her to return to composition, in which she had had an interest since early childhood. She won particular success with a series of song-cycles, of which In a Persian Garden, written in 1896 and based on texts from Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, proved immensely popular. Her vocal music led to extended concert tours in which she served as accompanist, including two very successful if exhausting tours of America. For the stage she wrote a musical farce, Sergeant Brue, which won some success in 1904, and other stage works included a light opera, The Vicar of Wakefield, which brought a quarrel with the librettist Laurence Housman, who objected to cuts in his extensive text and was actually evicted from the theatre at the first performance. Her final attempt at opera was with Everyman, the morality play, staged in London in 1915. In her later years she served as professor of singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was seriously affected by the death in 1916 of the elder of her two sons, who contracted pneumonia during military service. Her second son, Lesley, was the father of the conductor Steuart Bedford, who accompanies the songs here, as his grandmother once did, and of the composer David Bedford. She completed her memoirs, which give a fascinating picture of the times in which she lived, late in 1918, shortly before her death.

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