LANDON RONALD (1873 - 1938)
The illegitimate son of the successful song writer Henry Russell by Hannah de Lara, Landon Ronald studied at the Royal College of Music with, amongst others, Stanford and Parry, and made his debut as a conductor when only seventeen at the Lyric Theatre in London. After working as a répétiteur with Augustus Harris’s Italian Opera at Covent Garden, and touring America as pianist to Dame Nellie Melba, he made his first appearance as a conductor at Covent Garden with Gounod’s Faust in 1896, and also conducted opera at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Between 1898 and 1902 he conducted musical comedy in London’s West End and concerts in Blackpool during the summer months, activities which are indicative of the limited opportunities available to conductors in England at this time. However, a completely new direction in Ronald’s career opened up in 1901 when he was approached by Fred Gaisberg of The Gramophone Company to be the company’s musical adviser. Gaisberg realised that with his excellent contacts, Ronald could give the new company the musical and social reputations that it believed it needed in order to grow. Ronald was instrumental in securing for the company the first recordings of two of the most famous sopranos of the day, Adelina Patti and Dame Nellie Melba, as well as of many other musicians. ‘Never have I known such courtesy combined with such persuasion. They simply would not leave me alone…’ Melba later recalled.
Following the formation of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1904 Ronald was invited to conduct the new orchestra regularly and this led to engagements abroad: he conducted the first performance in Rome of his friend Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 in 1909, and Elgar dedicated his Falstaff to him. Between 1909 and 1914 he was the conductor of the New Symphony Orchestra in London, and between 1916 and 1920 of the Scottish Orchestra. As a guest he appeared regularly between 1907 and 1918 with the recently created Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, as well as with Beecham’s New Birmingham Symphony Orchestra towards the end of World War I. When the New Symphony Orchestra became the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra in 1915 Ronald was named as its conductor, a position he held until the orchestra ceased to exist after 1928. Under Ronald it became the first orchestra in England to have a recording contract, with The Gramophone Company.
As a musical commentator in the popular press, an accomplished composer and the principal of the Guildhall School of Music from 1910 to 1938, Ronald exerted a strong influence upon British musical life. Beecham praised his ‘ease and grace’ as a conductor, and for many musicians of the period, such as Fritz Kreisler, he was the ideal accompanist. Ronald’s recording career may be divided into three phases: the first when he served as a piano accompanist, the second as an orchestral conductor of acoustic recordings, and the third in the same role following the introduction of electrical recording. He was honoured with a knighthood in 1922.
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