About this Recording
8.572860 - GOOSSENS, E.: Violin and Piano Music (Complete) (Gibbs, Fenyo)

Sir Eugene Goossens (1893–1962)
Complete Music for Violin and Piano


The Goossens family, originally from Bruges, was one of the most important musical dynasties in England for more than a century. Eugene I (1845–1906) and Eugene II (1867–1958) were both distinguished operatic conductors. Eugene Goossens III, born in London in 1893, was descended from musicians on both sides and had four surviving siblings: the horn player Adolphe, tragically killed in the Somme in 1917; Leon, who became the most famous oboe player of his time; and harpists Marie and Sidonie who graced the great London orchestras for over half a century.

Following early study at the Bruges Conservatory and in Liverpool, Goossens won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied the violin with Achille Rivarde and composition with the conservative Charles Villiers Stanford. His first professional jobs, while still a student, were playing the violin, and weeks after leaving College he joined Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra. By that time, however, his career both as composer and conductor had begun. In February 1912 he had completed his opus 1, Variations on a Chinese Theme. Stanford, after heavily blue-pencilling it, decided it was worth a performance and asked young Goossens to conduct it at the spring term concert. Here he already showed the musical influences that shaped his style: Debussy, whom he had heard in London conducting La Mer and L’après-midi d’un faune; Strauss’s Elektra and Salome under Beecham at Covent Garden; and Stravinsky’s early Firebird with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1911.

A heart condition meant he could not serve in the First World War and in 1916 Beecham engaged him to conduct opera, beginning with Stanford’s The Critic, as well as concerts. Goossens also organized his own successful series with innovative programmes, including The Rite of Spring in the presence of Stravinsky in 1921, and later conducted ballet for Diaghilev. He rapidly acquired a reputation for assimilating complex modern scores quickly. As one of the most versatile and dashing young firebrands, he led an extremely active social life, meeting Casals, Cortot, Rubinstein and Thibaud for chamber music, writers such as Arnold Bennett (the librettist for both his operas), WB Yeats and Scott Fitzgerald, and artists including Picasso and Epstein. So busy was his performing career and social life, he found it increasingly difficult to find time to compose.

In 1923 Goossens accepted an invitation from George Eastman, of Kodak fame, to take over his new Rochester Philharmonic, while continuing to conduct seasons in Europe. In 1931 he began tenure of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, following Fritz Reiner, until 1945. He also conducted many great American orchestras, introducing new works by British composers including Bax, Bliss, Holbrooke, Moeran, Quilter, Scott, Delius, Walton and Vaughan Williams. Despite his heavy schedule Goossens wrote many large-scale works during this period: two symphonies, Phantasy concertos for piano and violin, two operas and the choral work The Apocalypse. His operas Judith and Don Juan de Mañara were given their premières in 1929 and 1937 but had a mixed reception, and on his return to England in 1946 Goossens was disappointed to be passed over for directorship of Covent Garden.

Following a tour of Australia in 1946, he accepted the dual rôle of Principal Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Director of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. For nearly a decade musical life in Australia was transformed by his efforts: the SSO became an orchestra of international standard and the Conservatorium benefited from his discipline; not least, he was the first to designate Bennelong Point as the site for the famous Sydney Opera House. It was only through the then puritanical Australian Customs’ laws that his career there came to an abrupt end in 1956. Goossens’s last six years in London were an anticlimactic succession of conducting tours and recordings, during which he composed little and his health deteriorated. He died in 1962.

Like Elgar, Goossens’s training as a violinist enabled him to write effectively for the instrument. He was also a member of several string quartets, notably the International, and had written three works for string quartet by 1917.

The First Violin Sonata of 1918 shows the influence of Debussy, Ravel and Strauss in its use of modality and light chromaticism, but the mood created by the idiomatic violin writing and the piano figurations is very much his own. The first movement’s second subject is highly original, and the order in which the material is presented is unconventional. The second movement, with its sultry romanticism, sensuous and intimate, is the only music Goossens ever recorded as a pianist with his close friend and colleague André Mangeot. The last movement, a scherzo, has a sweeping, rather Baxian second subject. The work was given its première in May 1920 by its dedicatee, the great Albert Sammons, with his usual partner William Murdoch. Goossens admired this duo very much, believing that “there would never again be a more perfectly-matched team”.

In the same year Goossens and Mangeot gave the première of the Lyric Poem, dedicated to the violinist and dating from 1919, at Salle Gaveau in Paris, where they had earlier given the première of the orchestral version. Their programme included works by Ravel and Milhaud, and a riot broke out between their supporters and a Vorticist claque that included Satie and Schmitt. The piece is improvisatory in character and soaring in its lyricism, flowing naturally from the dramatic, cadenza-like opening to its quiet ending.

Goossens knew well the young cellist John Barbirolli, later one of the finest British conductors. He and the pianist Ethel Bartlett were amongst the earliest interpreters of new works by Goossens, Debussy, Delius, Ireland, Bax and many others, including Goossens’s first piece for a string instrument and piano, the Old Chinese Folk-Song. This exists in versions for violin and for cello and is dedicated to his fearsome old teacher Rivarde. For this short, characterful piece and his opus 1 Variations, he researched authentic material from London’s Chinese quarter in Limehouse.

During the 1920s Goossens produced no compositions for violin and piano. While in the United States, however, he worked with famous violinists, and the Polish-born Paul Kochanski, who taught at The Juilliard School, requested a new work. The resulting Second Violin Sonata, dedicated to Kochanski, was not ready until 1930 and was given its première not by him, but again by Sammons and Murdoch at the Bradford Music Club on 20 January 1931 and repeated at Wigmore Hall in February. A matter-of-fact notice in The Times described it as: “…big music which builds up coherently into a firm structure more than capable of carrying its rich decoration, its vigorous impulse…Its interest is mainly harmonic. Clashes and negation of tonality are transitory.” Certainly, there is an unprecedented richness of texture in the piano writing, with powerful basses and use of the whole keyboard, with enormous dynamic contrasts. The violin writing is demanding: rhythmically complex and occasionally awkward. The first movement, with three different ideas, is developed in a fluid, seamless structure; the remarkably dramatic, even obsessive, coda with its insistent bass D flat over 36 bars has the violin initially playing the opening theme one semitone lower. The central movement, A la Sicilienne, is predominantly brooding and melancholy. The last movement opens with an introduction which is by turns dark and solemn, light and lyrical. It then bursts into a dance-like section which ushers in the glorious, highly original second subject, perhaps one of the composer’s greatest inspirations. The transition to the coda is magical and the work ends in an affirmative, luminous blaze. Goossens himself referred to “lyrical intensity” in this work.

This was Goossens’s last major work for this combination: the great Jascha Heifetz, soloist many times with the Cincinnati Orchestra, took it up and asked Goossens for a violin piece with piano, and a concerto. In 1937 he provided the Romance, dedicated to Heifetz, a free transcription of music from his opera Don Juan de Mañara, which had its première at Covent Garden the same year: it is a typically intense, lyrical outpouring.

Eugene Goossens’s superb music has been neglected for many decades. Only now, fifty years after his death, is he beginning to win something of the recognition thus far reserved for many of his contemporaries.

Gusztáv Fenyő

Reference sources:

Goossens, Eugene: Overtures and Beginners, Methuen, 1951
Rosen, Carole: The Goossens, André Deutsch, 1993

Close the window