About this Recording
8.573407 - GERMAN, E.: Violin and Piano Works - Souvenir / Pastorale / Song Without Words / Bolero (A. Long, Buckle)
English 

Edward German (1862–1936)
Works for Violin and Piano

 

Born in the small market-town of Whitchurch in Shropshire, Edward German was baptised German Edward Jones—the G being pronounced hard, probably in a Shropshire anglicization of the Welsh saint’s name, Garmon. His mother, an amateur singer with a pleasing voice, fostered the young German’s musical talent, which developed through piano lessons from Herr Muller—a local teacher who enjoyed a tipple—and, later, organ lessons from his Welsh father, who played at the local Congregational Chapel.

The violin had attracted German at a very early stage. As a schoolboy, he enjoyed playing the violin in chamber groups with other local players. He was, though, largely self-taught as a string player, which is probably why—despite obvious aptitude for the violin—he auditioned as a pianist when he applied for entry to the Royal Academy of Music in London.

On his arrival at the Academy in the autumn of 1880, German was steered towards organ as a principal instrument. Soon, though, the violin took precedence. Recognised among the Academy’s most talented players, he appeared as a concerto soloist in several Academy orchestral concerts and went on to win the prestigious Tubbs Bow Prize.

At the Academy—where, after a few years, he rearranged his name to avoid confusion with another Edward Jones, German was to become more and more drawn toward composition. No doubt it was his composition professor, Ebenezer Prout (whose tutorials he shared with Henry Wood), who steered his early ambitions that resulted in production of both an operetta (The Two Poets—later renamed The Rival Poets) and a symphony in E minor during German’s Academy years. Having been appointed a sub-professor of violin in 1884, he eventually left in 1887. For a time German worked as a freelance violinist in London, deputising sometimes at the Savoy Theatre, playing for the celebrated Gilbert and Sullivan productions, and as a teacher at Wimbledon School.

Then, in 1888, Edward German’s life changed. Recommended by Alberto Randegger, he was offered and accepted an appointment as musical director for Richard Mansfield’s season at The Globe Theatre. The elaborate score he provided for Richard III, the following year, brought the young composer fame almost overnight. Encouraged, German approached the great Henry Irving who was planning a new production of Henry VIII for 1892. He was engaged to write the music and its success confirmed his position as a leading composer for the London stage. The Three Dances written for Henry VIII became immensely popular. They explore a distinctive mock ‘olde-English’ idiom with which German came to be particularly associated. Although the music he wrote for plays goes well beyond this style, there is no doubt that something in this manner became expected of him—and he seems to have been happy to oblige.

Theatrical success soon encouraged concert performances of German’s music. In 1890 August Manns invited German to conduct a revised version of his symphony at the Crystal Palace. Manns also programmed the Richard III Overture, and German showed his appreciation by dedicating his 1892 Gipsy Suite to the veteran conductor. In 1891, too, Henschel programmed a new Marche Solonnelle at one of his symphony concerts.

Commissions for orchestral works followed throughout the 1890s: a second symphony in 1893 (the Norwich Symphony), two symphonic suites (the Leeds Suite in 1895 and The Seasons in 1899), the 1897 symphonic poem Hamlet, and In Commemoration (a Royal Philharmonic Society commission commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee). He continued writing for Shakespeare productions (Romeo and Juliet in 1895, As You Like It in 1896, Much Ado About Nothing in 1898) as well as for plays by contemporary dramatists, including Henry Arthur Jones (The Tempter in 1894) and Anthony Hope (English Nell in 1900). He also produced songs, piano, and instrumental music, mostly in a lighter vein. Orchestral music, however, remained German’s main focus. Interestingly, although popular at the large regional musical festivals, he never wrote a choral work for any of them—a rare escape for a British composer of the period. Jettisoning teaching and regular conducting work at an early stage, he was unusual among British composers in building a successful career as a composer of music for orchestra.

With the new century German’s musical attentions turned to the lyric stage. In 1901 he completed The Emerald Isle, the operetta left unfinished by Sullivan on his death in 1900, abandoning work on a new violin concerto, commissioned for the 1901 Leeds Music Festival, to do so. His work on the The Emerald Isle was so successful that a new career in operetta opened up for him. Merrie England (1902) was created specifically as a vehicle for the ‘olde English’ style. So, too, was the later Tom Jones (1907). These works, as well as the lesser-known A Princess of Kensington (1903), earned German an undisputed position as Sullivan’s heir in the field, although Fallen Fairies (1909), his traumatic collaboration with the ageing W. S. Gilbert, was no more than a succès d’estime.

German produced a couple of orchestral rhapsodies during the Edwardian decade, the March Rhapsody (1902) and the Welsh Rhapsody (1904), but after the difficulties and disappointments of Fallen Fairies his output diminished sharply. The Coronation March and Hymn composed for the coronation of King George the Fifth in 1911 was little more than a re-working of material from his Henry VIII music. The years following the First World War did see the appearance of two accomplished orchestral works: the 1919 Theme and Six Diversions and The Willow Song, composed for the centenary of the Royal Academy of Music in 1922, but thereafter the flow dried up almost completely.

Nevertheless German continued to conduct his own music until the late 1920s, when poor health and failing eyesight forced his retirement. Knighted in 1928, an Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians and recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal, he lived to become a highly respected doyen of British music. A constant champion of the composer’s right to proper financial reward, he was an early supporter of the Performing Rights Society

German wrote about a dozen works specifically for violin and piano, most of them during his time at the Royal Academy and the years immediately following. Not all were published but several that were also appeared in versions for piano with other solo instruments. For example the Intermezzo, Song without Words, Saltarelle and Bourrée included here were also published in woodwind versions, raising questions, of course, as to which came first and thus exactly how many are specific violin compositions.

Almost all the works are in single-movement form and relatively short. (The surviving sketches for the abandoned Leeds concerto only tantalise with their glimpses of an extended symphonic violin work.) Titles are mostly generic—Cradle Song, Album Leaf, Song Without Words—of the sort that adorned countless short instrumental pieces of the period. Today we would describe many of these as salon pieces, unpretentious, melodious miniatures in a lighter vein intended primarily to charm and beguile the listener. Generally this was the manner German embraced in his instrumental works, but sometimes, too, he extended the musical and emotional range of the music beyond the conventional boundaries. The haunting Souvenir beautifully demonstrates this.

Souvenir was published in 1896, by when German had developed a maturity and assurance of style evident, too, in the elegant Song Without Words of 1898. The latter was also issued in a slightly different version for clarinet, dedicated to the virtuoso Manuel Gomez, and from the surviving manuscript it is clear this pre-dates the violin arrangement. The manuscript of the Saltarelle, too, makes it clear the violin version was completed before the version for flute (or piccolo), even though the latter was the first to be published. One of a number of movements written by German in the saltarello//tarantella manner, it was dedicated to the violinist Prosper Sainton. The composer’s chamber music coach at the Academy, Sainton, had lent his treasured Guarnerius for his student’s showcase performances with the Academy orchestra. The Intermezzo of 1894 was also issued in a version for flute. Here it is the nature of the writing that suggests the music was probably conceived for violin in the first instance.

A Pastoral and Bourrée for oboe and piano was published in 1891 and issued for violin the following year. The neo-classical Bourrée also appeared separately for violin and piano as performed here. It has not proved possible to date its publication but this is probably the original version—it is more likely a movement would be added for a later re-issue than one would be taken away.

One of German’s most impressive orchestral scores, the music for Romeo and Juliet, was written for Forbes Robertson’s 1895 production at London’s Lyceum Theatre. The music as a whole has a wonderful Romantic sweep and dramatic force that clearly reveals German’s potential as an operatic composer. The Pastorale and the Pavane recorded here are German’s own arrangements of two of the entr’actes. The first, which utilises music written to accompany the Capulet’s reception, is clearly indebted to the composer’s popular ‘olde English’ style. The second, suggestive (in Brian Rees’s words) of ‘soft foot-falls in the night’, was always considered by Vaughan Williams to be the composer’s most perfect piece of writing.

Also arranged by German from an orchestral movement, the Berceuse, in its original form, provided an entr’acte during Beerbohm Tree’s production of The Tempter at London’s Haymarket Theatre, for which the composer provided an elaborate, suitably melodramatic score. This gentle movement—one of German’s personal favourites—provided an oasis of serenity amid much high-voltage dramatics. (Interestingly, the published edition makes no mention of the theatrical origins of the Berceuse.)

These transcriptions of theatre scores are just a few of many German made for violin and piano of his lighter orchestral works. This was a best-selling format, often issued by publishers alongside piano solo, piano duet and military band transcriptions. The arrangements of the enormously popular Henry VIII and Nell Gwyn dances, for example, sold in huge quantities—and a rummage through the music stocks of second-hand book shops are still likely to turn up copies.

German had come to the Royal Academy of Music as an instrumentalist. His interest in composition growing, it is not surprising some of his earliest creations should be works he could perform himself. The ‘Fortnightlies’, regular Students’ Chamber Concerts, provided a platform and it was at one of these that, on the evening of Saturday 21 October 1882, Mr German Jones appeared, violin in hand, to perform his new Nocturne. This was the first time the young composer’s music had been programmed for public performance. The work was never published but fortunately the manuscript still exists, making this one of German’s earliest surviving compositions.

A year later, on the afternoon of Friday 26 October 1883, German unveiled two more new violin works, Chanson d’Amour and Bolero in E minor. The first, dated October 1882, was another work destined to remain unpublished. The Bolero, however, fared rather better. German’s violin teacher, Alfred Burnett, was impressed with it and arranged for its publication. He also encouraged German to orchestrate the accompaniment. This done, German played the solo part again the following July, this time on the stage of St James’s Hall with the Academy orchestra.

Other early violin and piano duos that remained unpublished include Cradle Song, Album Leaf and The Sprite’s Dance—the latter two dated November 1883. German recalled performing both 1883 works at student ‘Fortnightlies’, although no record to give any more information has come to light. A quaint descriptive programme for the engaging Sprite’s Dance appears on the title-page of the autograph manuscript:

One day a venturesome little Sprite entered a Giant’s Castle, and while prying about, the Giant went out and locked the door. The Sprite then commenced his revels, when in the midst of enjoying them the lock was turned, the Giant’s step heard, and the Sprite had gone.

Edward German’s compositions for violin and piano are exquisitely crafted miniatures. Several recorded here had not been performed for well over a century. None are widely known. Heard again now, they reveal an interesting and rewarding facet of a fascinating composer whose music, in his day, earned both broad popularity and the high regard of leading musicians. (He was one of the few whom the ageing Elgar could bring himself to praise.)

The years following German’s death in 1936 were not kind to his reputation as interest in his music declined dramatically, as it did in so much British music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Merrie England and Tom Jones continued to be performed, albeit mostly by amateurs and, in time, less and less often; a few songs and lighter orchestral works, such as the Three Dances from Henry VIII and the Nell Gwyn Dances, never fell completely out of the repertoire, but most of what he wrote lay virtually forgotten. Now the tide is turning. Renewed appreciation of British music in the Romantic tradition is embracing German. His music is being heard again in concert halls and on radio, and numerous recordings have been issued in recent years. Its vitality, charismatic charm and distinctive style are appealing to new listeners, pleased to discover the genius of one of the great English melodists and an outstanding British composer.


David Russell Hulme


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