Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Finck Album: Music by Herman FInck

I first came across Herman Finck in an album of piano pieces. After much effort, I managed to plough my way through his waltz, In the Shadows. It is not that difficult, although there are a few passages where it is very easy to stumble. Somewhere in the past, I have heard an orchestral version of this tune – possibly on one of the Guild Light Music series.  However, apart from that, he has been a closed book to me – and I guess ton many other folk too. 
Yet, that was not always the case. According to the liner notes, his was once a household name. 
His biography is easy to locate on Wikipedia and is given in the liner notes. However, a couple of headlines will not go amiss. In spite of the German sounding name, he was born in London on 4 November 1872 – the same year as Ralph Vaughan Williams!  He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, before embarking on a career as musical director at the Palace Theatre in London. He was to remain there for 20 years.  Other posts at this time included principal conductor at the Queen’s Theatre and also the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Additionally he travelled to the Lancashire Coast to conduct concerts in the seaside town of Southport.  Alongside his conducting, he wrote a considerable corpus of music including scores for the theatre, for silent movies and for the concert hall. Many of these diverse pieces are recorded on this present CD. 
Herman Fink died shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War on 21 April 1939.

The present CD is an excellent cross section of Fink’s music.  A variety of genres are explored including the purely orchestral, extracts from his revues and musicals a number of ‘patriotic’ songs from the Great War.
Two of his musicals are characterised by the ballet from My Lady Dragonfly and the operetta Decameron Nights.  They are competent examples of the (extremely) light music genre presented on this CD.  Songs from the revues such as The Passing Show and Round the Map are characterized by ‘Queen of the Flowers’ and ‘Gilbert the Filbert’. Dances include ‘Hullo Girls’, which was composed for the Palace Theatre, and ‘Pirouette’, which was composed for Anna Pavlova.

Stylistically, do not expect Edward Elgar, Edward German or Haydn Wood. This music is good, well written and enjoyable: however, it is largely ephemeral. I guess the nearest thing would be music written for the the annual pantomime or possibly for a television series. Yet, when all is said and done, this CD is a piece of musical archaeology: it is exciting to unearth it some 90-odd years after it was composed.

Divine Arts Recording Group has made an excellent release with their exploration of Herman Finck. They have captured the mood and the spirit of the Edwardian and Georgian times. The singers and the band sound perfectly home in the music hall and end-of-pier environment – and that is not a sleight or criticism. The performers, Kelli Uustani, Pirjo Levandi and Mart Sander are all from the Bel-Etage Theatre in Tallinn, Estonia, which was itself an old music hall.  The company is well regarded in its championship of British music including Gilbert & Sullivan and Lionel Monckton. They support a ballet troupe and two orchestras who fulfil many engagements at home and abroad.
The sound quality is good. The liner notes are sufficient and have a number of evocative images and photographs, including the cover of the sheet music to In the Shadows.   I look forward to subsequent releases from this accomplished group.

Finally, the waltz that I learnt to play all those years ago has an interesting history. Originally composed for the Palace Girls at the eponymous theatre it was called ‘Goodnight’ – however, it was later changed to In the Shadows. Finally, this was one of the last numbers played by the orchestra on the Titanic before she sank. It is played on this CD in its vocal waltz incarnation. 

Track Listing:
Herman FINCK (1872-1939)
Cheero! for orchestra; In the Shadows; Hullo, Girls! for orchestra; My Waltz Queen; Jocoso for orchestra; ‘Dear old fighting boys’; Pirouette (dedicated to Anne Pavlova); Venetia (from Decameron Nights); My Lady Dragonfly – Ballet Suite; The K-Nuts Medley – including ‘Gilbert the Filbert’ & I’ll make a Man of you’; Queen of Flowers; Moonlight Dance for orchestra; Decameron Nights -Orchestral Suite
The Principals of the Theatre Bel-Etage, Tallinn, Estonia
Kelli Uustani, Pirjo Levandi and Mart Sander (singers)
Divine Arts ddv62402 [67:54] 
The CD can be bought from the DIVERSIONS web page. 


Paul Brownsey said...

John, I don't think In the Shadows is a waltz. To my ear it sounds to have something of a gavotte rhythm. Could you possibly have confused this with the Shadow Waltz in a Busby Berkeley screen musical?

There's another recording of In the Shadows on Vol 2 of the Hyperion British Light Music Classics series.

The name of Finck brought back some personal memories. I had an uncle who in the 1930s was a lowly performer on the music hall stage. I think he and his wife were 'openers', the point of their act being to play familiar tunes on as many instruments as possible. They appear to have used two sets of 'Melodious Memories', each a 'pot-pourri of fascinating airs' 'recalled by Herman Finck.'

There is no publication date. The blurb on the first (along with a purported facsimile of Finck's signature)reads, "A pot-pourri of the fascinating airs which haunted the memories of music lovers during the past fifty years; only one air of each composer is chosen; the tunes ranging from grave to gay, lively to severe and indicating in some degree the variations which have taken place in the public taste during the past half century."

The first few melodies (only a snatch of each is given) in the first pot-pourri are:
Soldiers in the Park (Monckton)
Hi tiddly hi ti (Le Brunn)
The Torpedo and the Whale (Audran)
A Frangesa (Costa)
The Blue Danube (Strauss)
Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni)
Pas de Quatre (Lutz)
Queen of my Heart (Cellier)

I still have these volumes, marked up for my uncle's performances.



John France said...


Absolutely correct! I looked at the score it is in Common Time!!!!

Have you read Finck's Autobiography??

John F