Thursday, 27 August 2009

Bluebell Klean: Composer, Concert Pianist [and Angler?]

Recently, whilst browsing the 1906 volume of The Musical Times in the Royal College of Music Library, I came across the name Bluebell Klean in connection with a Piano Quintet. Her name is but a small glimmer of light in the great mass of the history of British and European music. Certainly there is no society dedicated to the performance of her works or the keeping alive of her memory. There is no entry in Grove. I cannot find a photograph. Here and there I have found a few references but no substantial information. I have even checked the 1901 census records and have found no trace of her. For all one knows her name may be a pseudonym. I present here all that I have been able to find in the Musical Press and the Newspapers.

“Miss Bluebell Klean, a native of London, who gave her first chamber concert on 13 November [1906] at the Bechstein Hall, claims special attention, as the programme consisted almost entirely of her own compositions. The most important of these was a Quintet in C minor for pianoforte and strings, which proved a pleasing and genial work based on melodious themes, which are tersely and clearly developed with admirable perception of effectiveness and contrast. Six songs from the same pen, and some short and bright pianoforte pieces, show considerable originality in their harmonic scheme and avoidance of conventionality, while the songs, severally named Open the door, Come to me and The Water-Sprite, should find publishers. They were charmingly sung by Miss Esther Palliser, and the pianoforte pieces were expressively played by Miss Johanna Heymann. The Quintet was excellently rendered by the Hans Wessely Quartet with the composer at the pianoforte”.
The Musical Times 1 December 1906

Some eight years later, The Musical Times reported a concert held at the Bechstein Hall on 15th June 1914. Klean’s Piano Quintet was performed along with a selection of her songs performed by Miss Ada Crossley and Miss Xena Beaver.

The report of this concert was elaborated by Marion Scott and Katharine Eggar writing in The Music Student:-
"A Quintet for the usual allotment of strings and piano, and of more than usual merit, is that by Bluebell Klean. This work has already been heard several times in London, and is both vigorous and agreeable. The first movement opens in virile manner, and its themes are handled with great freedom of style. The second movement, Air Varié, is slightly ‘ordi­nary’ in its conception, but the extremely vivacious Scherzo is a brilliant movement, very well laid out for all the instruments. The Finale, though of very good ‘finalé’ character at its start, suffers a little from diffuseness, .and from disconnectedness in its very relationships; but the whole quintet is spontaneous, thoroughly musical, and, again to use that unsatisfactory word, most "effective."
The Music Student Chamber Music Supplement July 1914 p.97 [with minor edits]

The Observer newspaper also picked up on this concert and a short review stated that “In offering her compositions for criticism Miss Bluebell Klean at her concert in the Bechstein Hall on Monday evening obviously claimed only the consideration that is necessary to a refined type of drawing-room music. The composer has heard much music of a similar kind, had an assimilative disposition, and is capable of reproducing her acquisitions in an emulative spirit that permits an occasional fresh look on her material”.
June 21 1914 Observer

I found a reference to a concert given on 13 December 1917 at Bournemouth under the baton of Sir Dan Godfrey. The concert included the Prospero Overture by Frederick Corder and the Mendelssohn’s ‘Scotch’ Symphony. But the novelty was Bluebell Klean’s Pianoforte Concerto in E minor. This work was ‘very capably played by the composer and proved to be a work of merit’.

However, one of the strangest notices I found was also in The Observer newspaper. A report on the Hastings Angling Festival noted that a certain Miss Bluebell Klean took the greatest number of sizeable fish. This was out of a field of 300 competitors, including a ‘number’ of women. I wonder if it is the same lady? [October 5 1924 The Observer ]

Unfortunately there appears to be only two published works-
A Fancy from Fontenelle words by A. Dobson, (London : Weekes & Co), 1907
Humoresque for the Pianoforte (London : Weekes & Co), 1907


Karen said...

Another revelation of a lost composer who has slipped into obscurity but now perhaps thanks to you might encourage more work on her. What a curious possibility that she was an angler as well.

Thank you,

Lucy said...

Hello, I wonder if she might be my relation, Isabel Klean?

John France said...

I know that she was an Isabel, from her birth certifiacte etc.

Please contact me on

As I cannot rpely direct to you!


sarah maclaren said...

Bluebell Klean was my great aunt, her real name was Isobel Maude Klean.

John France said...


Thanks for that!
Can you get in touch with me? Alas, I have no contact for you. I will promise not publish your email address if you can reply to me as I moderate all comments.

Many thanks

John F

Gareth Vaughan said...

Can her piano concerto be found? That would be a wonderful discovery. Gareth41@talk

St John said...

We came across a photo of Bluebell in a group of Tobias Matthay and his pupils on their annual picnic at High Marley -pre 1914.
Hastings & St Leonards Observer of 8 November 1924 has an in depth interview with Bluebell mainly relating to fishing. However it quotes her frequently and the item gives a good indication of her temperament and character. The same paper, on the 22 Nov 1924, has more on fishing under the heading "Lady wants a Shark" and was going to Cornwall to get one!
As regards Bluebell's property, the same paper has a report dated 25 October 1941 of her piano, dressing table and other furniture being stolen. I think she gets them back but it may not be difficult to discover what happened to her possessions when she died in 1950, at least her pedigree exists.

John France said...

Many thanks for that!

Where was the photo of Bluebell and Uncle Tobs published?

John F

St John said...

It is at the NAM: .
I have identified her, where else but at the centre of the photo, middle of the middle row, distinctively the only lady in black with, it looks like, the reassuring hand of a small acolyte behind her.

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered her name way back in 1902 at the Proms with a piece called Gavotte "Bluebell". There is only a death date of 1950 but an Isabel Maude Klean was born in London in 1875, so if this is her she would have been 27 when she had her piece played at the Proms.