Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Frank Merrick: Composer, Pianist and Teacher – a short biopic.

Following the MusicWeb International’s publication of my review of Christopher Howell’s excellent release of piano music, An Englishman in Italy, I was delighted to see that the editor had appended a short biography of Frank Merrick (1886-1981).  His ‘Tarantella’, op.5 appears on the second of Howell’s two CD set.   I noted in that review that relatively little is known about the composer, however, based on his thrilling ‘Tarantella’ ... I believed that he deserves further exploration. This is an interesting ‘first step.’
MusicWeb international have given me kind permission to reprint this short note.

Frank Merrick (1886-1981) Pianist and teacher. His parents were musically inclined. His father (1854 - 1941) was also a D. Mus, Dublin, and had the same Christian name. His mother was Irish. Both parents were his first music teachers. In 1898 they passed the young Merrick into the hands of the famous Theodor Leschetizky (1830 - 1915) at Vienna with whom Merrick stayed until 1901 working with Leschetizky's assistant, Malwine Brée. Returned for further tuition with Leschetizky in 1905. M. Mus. Bristol. FRCM. FTCL. Merrick's first concert was given at Clifton, Bristol in November 1895 in aid of Barnardo's Homes. He made his first London concert appearance in March 1903 at the Bechstein Hall. He also toured as accompanist with Clara Butt. Toured Australia in 1907. In 1911 he married the composer, pianist and teacher Hope Squire, a pupil of Dohnanyi. Later re-married. Professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music from 1910 to 1929.

During the First World War he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector at Wormwood Scrubs. He used his time in prison to teach himself Esperanto. In 1929 he moved to the staff of the RCM remaining there until 1956 when he was employed at Trinity College of Music.
On 15.10.1933 Merrick gave the first performance of John Foulds' Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra with the Reid Orchestra conducted by Sir Donald Tovey. On 4.8.1933 he gave the first broadcast performance of the Dynamic Triptych with the BBC Orchestra under Sir Dan Godfrey. He was amongst the first pianists to broadcast for the BBC from Savoy Hill.

The Prize which Merrick won for his two movement completion of the Schubert Unfinished Symphony recognised the straightforward and simple treatment of the task undertaken and of Merrick's love and respect for Schubert. Grove comments also on the successful imitation of Schubert's style and idiom. He edited a students’ edition of Chopin's works. He also prepared accompaniments in contemporary style to sonatas for violin and figured bass by Veracini, in D minor and E minor, and by Purcell in G minor.

His tastes in music he performed was wide although he specialised in modern music including Prokofiev, Ireland and Bax. Bax dedicated his Paean to Merrick. He studied and gave concert performances with his first wife of many rarely heard works for two pianos. Merrick gave the first performances in this country of Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas 2 to 7. Later he recorded the 3rd and 4th Sonatas for the Frank Merrick Society.

John Field was another composer whose works he championed. His interest in Field dated from 1937 when Beecham's secretary asked Merrick to investigate the Field concertos. Merrick recorded Field's Sonata in C minor and a Nocturne in the late 1930s. In the late 1960s he recorded all the Field Piano Concertos, Nocturnes and other works for Rare Recorded Editions. His completion of the Schubert Unfinished was recorded once by RPO/Stanford Robinson on 78 and also on LP for the Frank Merrick Society.

The various records he made late in life only intermittently reflect the depth and brilliance of his technique and artistic insight. The best of these were issued by the Merrick Record Association between 1961 and 1965. He also made a notable series of records for the Concert Artists label of the Bax Violin Sonatas with Henry Holst. He made records of his two piano concertos with semi-professional orchestras for Rare Recorded Editions (SRRE 156 conductor Oliver Broome and anonymous orchestra and SRRE 128 Beckenham Orchestra and John Foster) and of his Bonny Bluebell Variations. He recorded a selection of his songs to English and Esperanto texts with the soprano Stella Wright on Rare Recorded Editions. With Michael Round he recorded initially for Cabaletta, Bax's music for two pianos and Vaughan Williams’ The Running Set. Merrick was also a teacher and counted Rawsthorne amongst his piano pupils. Published a book, Practising The Piano. He was a vegetarian and a total abstainer from alcohol. CBE 1979. Lived at 5, Horbury Crescent, London.

Works List
Chorus of Echoes for unaccompanied chorus (from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound)
Orchestra: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat (1901); Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor; Symphony in D minor (1912); Celtic Suite for small orchestra (1920, Blackburn 1923 / Bournemouth Dec 1923); Scherzo and Finale for Schubert's Unfinished Symphony (1923?, the winner in the British division of the Columbia Gramophone Schubert Centenary Competition); Overture; A Dream Pageant for strings; Overture for military band;
Chamber: Trio in F sharp minor for piano, violin and cello;
Piano: Piano Sonata; An Ocean Lullaby; Variations on a Somerset Folk-Song, The Bonny Bluebell; Rhapsody in C minor; Paraphrase (in the Bach style) on a Somerset Folk-Song, Hares on the Mountains; (the last four items listed under this heading were included in a programme which gained a Diploma of Honour at the International Rubinstein Competition, Petrograd in August 1910);
Song: various, including The Four Seasons; The Well; The Black rider; Lullaby; Snow; A Summer Night; and October. Some of the songs set Esperanto texts.
Frank Merrick (a draft entry with acknowledgement to Grove V)


Bill Chapman said...

Tomorrow (26 July) is the 125th anniversary of the publication of Esperanto. That's quite an achievement for what started as the idea of just one man.

I'm sure that Frank Merrick would be pleased that the dream lives on.

Unknown said...

Hi, I have found a book belonging to my great grandmother. Inside is a handwritten music piece and is signed Frank merrick Jr. Its going to be early 1900s. Does anyone know where or who to go to, to get more information?
Many thanks