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JOHN MCCORMACK

John McCormack was born on 14th June 1884, in the central Irish town of Athlone, where he received his early schooling, later attending Summerhill College in County Sligo. By 1902 he was in Dublin, urged by his father to take a job in the Civil Service. The young man had other ideas, however, and decided to become involved in Dublin’s musical life, soon joining the Roman Catholic cathedral’s Palestrina Choir. It was the director of that choir, Vincent O’Brien, who heard promise in the young man’s voice and prepared him for the tenor contest in the May, 1903 Dublin Feis Ceoil, an important music contest. His protégé won the gold medal in that Feis, and with that victory came a new confidence and a sudden widening of his ambition. In 1904 he was singing in the Irish Village at the St. Louis World Exposition; this brief appearance in the United States was followed the next year by serious study in Italy. These vocal studies took place in Milan, under Maestro Vincenzo Sabatini, the father of Raphael, the novelist who wrote Scaramouche.

Months of study and hard work were rewarded by a début that took place in the small town of Savona, on the Gulf of Genoa on 13th January 1906. The opera was Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz. The title rôle that evening was sung by a very youthful Irishman who was supposed to look twice his 22 years. McCormack did not succeed with that illusion, and his discomfort was prophetic: he would always feel uneasy in costume and on the operatic stage. Musically, it was a modest success, with several performances of Faust following in nearby Italian theatres, but auditions for a position at La Scala were not successful. Italian audiences, accustomed to tenors of the more robust variety, never quite responded to the lighter weight of the McCormack instrument.

Realising his situation, the young tenor turned to London, where his attempts to gain entry to Covent Garden only repeated his La Scala experiences. It took a wealthy and sympathetic patron of the arts, Sir John Murray Scott, to open that door, and on 15th October 1907 the youngest principal tenor ever to sing at Covent Garden made his début as Turridu in Cavalleria Rusticana. The London critics were muted in their praise, and although McCormack had his foot in the door, he knew he had to work hard to keep it there. For the next few years, the singer worked mightily to develop his vocal flexibility and sharpen his technique. The results are still available to us: the recordings he made for the Odeon Company between 1907 and 1909 document what one critic has described as an artistic leap without parallel in the history of recording. By the time McCormack made his 1909 New York opera début as Alfredo in La Traviata, he was a fully mature artist.

While McCormack was struggling to begin an opera career in London, he also called upon his previous experience as a concert singer. He had sung many recitals in Ireland and England, and this ability as a song interpreter would now hold him in good stead. He created a sensation at a March 1907 Boosey Ballad Concert in London, an appearance so successful that Walter Legge always believed this recital, rather than his Covent Garden début eight months later, heralded the true beginning of his career in England.

These parallel careers continued when, late in 1909, McCormack found himself in the United States once again, this time as a tenor in Oscar Hammerstein’s short-lived Manhattan Opera Company. That enterprise would soon be bought out by the Metropolitan Opera, but McCormack continued to do a good deal of operatic work during his early seasons in America. Critical reception was good, but when he turned to the concert platform, public response was overwhelming. A McCormack recital only had to be announced for it to be immediately sold out, as concert managers in every city clamored for the next season’s dates.

One reason for this unprecedented success—but not the sole factor—was the large Irish immigrant population already in the United States. Responding to this message from his audiences, the singer wisely decided to stop competing with operatic tenors of the Caruso and Martinelli variety; after these first years in America, he would appear almost exclusively in the recital hall. The rightness of this decision quickly became apparent as the singer began to command an earned income of a million dollars a year; this tenor had become the highest paid singer of his time. Dramatic proof of this success came during the World War I years, when his record sales for a single period surpassed even those of Caruso himself. When both tenors next met, the great Italian congratulated his Irish colleague, adding with only the slightest hint of sweetness, “But please, Giovanni, not to let it happen again, yes?” It did not, but McCormack had clearly reached a high water mark in his career.

With the Great War raging in Europe, McCormack and his family stayed in the United States, where they felt so comfortable they decided to become American citizens. The singer paid a high price for this change of allegiance, as people in England and other parts of the Empire reacted strongly to a perceived act of betrayal. Demonstrations forced McCormack to cancel a 1920 concert tour of Australia, and he was not to sing another recital in London until 1924. While politics continued to overshadow his musical activities in the English speaking world, the harried singer found comfort in a series of highly successful concert appearances in Paris, Berlin, and Prague. The early 1920s also witnessed his final appearances in opera. These took place in Monte Carlo, where the tenor sang in such operas as Tosca and The Magic Flute; in 1923 he would create the rôle of Gritzko in a newly edited La foire de Sorotchintzi of Mussorgsky.

Three years later, he made an unusual concert tour of the Far East, and the end of that decade found him starring in one of Hollywood’s earliest sound films. This was Song O’My Heart, a film noteworthy as also marking the beginning of Maureen O’Sullivan’s career. McCormack continued touring Europe and America until November 1938, when he gave his final concert at London’s Albert Hall. He would remain a recording artist for HMV until 1942, and when World War II broke out he supported the allied effort with fundraising tours and broadcasts over the BBC. In 1943 he retired to Ireland; two years later, on 16th September 1945, he died at his home just outside of Dublin.


Albums featuring this artist are available for download from ClassicsOnline.com
View by Role: Classical Artist | Non-Classical Artist
Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
BELCANTO - THE TENORS OF THE 78 ERA, PART 2 (NTSC) EuroArts
2050218
Classical Documentary
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 10: Victor Talking Machine Company Recordings / Gramophone Company Ltd. Recordings (1923-1924) Naxos Historical
8.111401
Vocal, Nostalgia, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 6: The Acoustic Recordings (1915-1916) Naxos Historical
8.111316
Opera, Nostalgia, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 7: The Acoustic Recordings (1916-1918) Naxos Historical
8.112018
Vocal, Nostalgia, Operetta, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 8: The Acoustic Recordings (1918-1920) Naxos Historical
8.112056
Vocal, Nostalgia, Vocal, Pop and Rock, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 9: Victor Talking Machine Company Recordings (1920-1923) Naxos Historical
8.111385
Vocal, Nostalgia, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
TEYTE, Maggie: Vocal Portrait (A) (1932-1948) Naxos Historical
8.110757-58
Vocal

Role: Non-Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
BERLIN, Irving: Say It Isn't So - Songs of Irving Berlin (1919-1950) Naxos Nostalgia
8.120829
Nostalgia
Christmas from a Golden Age (1925-1950) Naxos Historical
8.110296
Vocal
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (Callas, di Stefano, Gobbi) (1953) Naxos Historical
8.110131-32
Opera
McCORMACK, John: 18 Favourites (1911-1936) Naxos Nostalgia
8.120504
Nostalgia, Vocal, Nostalgia
McCORMACK, John: Come Back to Erin (1910-1921) Naxos Nostalgia
8.120748
Nostalgia, Operetta, Nostalgia, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 1: The Acoustic Recordings (1910) Naxos Historical
8.110328
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 2: The Acoustic Recordings (1910-1911) Naxos Historical
8.110329
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 3: The Acoustic Recordings (1912-1913) Naxos Historical
8.110330
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 4: The Acoustic Recordings (1913-1914) Naxos Historical
8.110331
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 5: The Acoustic Recordings (1914-1915) Naxos Historical
8.111315
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 6: The Acoustic Recordings (1915-1916) Naxos Historical
8.111316
Nostalgia, Vocal
MCCORMACK, John: Remember (1911-1928) Naxos Nostalgia
8.120782
Nostalgia, Vocal, Nostalgia, Vocal, Nostalgia, Vocal, Opera
SONGS of IRELAND (1916-1950) Naxos Nostalgia
8.120640
Nostalgia
STARS of the GOLDEN ERA Naxos Nostalgia
8.120754-55
Nostalgia
ULTIMATE VOCAL COLLECTION (THE) Naxos Nostalgia
8.120863-64
Nostalgia





 
 
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