Thursday, 8 October 2009

Frances Allitsen : A Brief Biography by Arthur Elson & Everett E. Truette

I recently found this short note about a certain Frances Allitsen (real name Mary Bumpus) in Woman’s Work In Music. I had never heard of this lady before. However, I brief search on Google found a fair few references to her, including a number of recordings of her song, The Lord is my Life on YouTube.
The COPAC website returns nearly two hundred catalogue references to her, so she was quite prolific. Philip Scowcroft on MusicWeb International mentions a fair few songs including Psalm 62, Two Christmas Songs, Love is a Bubble, Margaret, Break, Diviner Light, Prince Ivan's Song, The Sou'Wester, Since We Parted, A Song of the Four Seasons, Youth and Thy Voice is Heard Thro' Rolling Drum. Finally he notes that “she did not...confine herself to songs. During the 1880s she brought out a Piano Sonata (1881) and, for orchestra, a Suite de Ballet and the overtures Slavonique and Undine (both 1884). Her cantata For The Queen was performed at the Crystal Palace in 1911 and her works also embraced a "romantic opera", Bindra the Minstrel.”

Sophie Fuller in her article in the National Bibliography notes that Allitsen “died of pleurisy on 1 October 1912 at her home, 20 Queen's Terrace, St John's Wood Road, London, and was buried in Hampstead cemetery.” Francis Allitsen is also referenced in Grove.

“Frances Allitsen passed a lonely childhood in a little English village. She would improvise war-like ballads for amusement, though her later works and her character are marked by gentleness of thought She hoped to make a name by singing, but unfortunately lost her voice. Her family were all hostile to a musical career, and regarded her tastes as most heinous. She describes the scene
of her youth as a place "where, if a girl went out to walk, she was accused of wanting to see the young men come in on the train; where the chief talk was on the subject of garments, and the most extravagant excitement consisted of sandwich par
ties. Domestic misfortunes and illness left their mark on her, but could not hinder her musical progress. She finally sent some manuscripts to Weist-Hill, of the Guildhall Music School, and with his approval came to London. Her days were spent in teaching, to earn money with which to pay for her studies in the evening, but she braved all difficulties, and finally won success. She is best known in America by her songs, which are really beautiful settings of Browning, Shelley, Longfellow, Heine,
and other great poets. But she is a master of orchestral technique as well. Her overture, Slavonique, was successfully performed, and a second one, Undine, won a prize from the lady mayoress. Her room is a delightful gallery of photographs of artists and musicians. She has a picture of Kitchener, whose example, she says, ought to cure any one of shirking ; hence the mistaken anecdote that she could not work without a picture of Kitchener on her desk.”
Woman’s Work In Music 1903 (1931) p148f
Listen to a versions of Francis Allitsen’s The Lord is my Life on Youtube

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The song to which you refer at the top of the article is a setting of Psalm 27 and it is called "The Lord is My Light" and not "The Lord is My Life." Don.