Monday, 28 September 2015

The First Thomas Dunhill Chamber Concert on 7 June 1907

I recently came across a review of the first chamber music concert sponsored by Thomas Dunhill on 7 June 1907. I find that even a short review like this needs to be glossed, as many of the personalities are no longer commonly known. In the first concert none of the British works have survived in the repertoire: there are no recordings available. The music in the second concert has faired better. I will add a further review of this concert at a later date.

7 June 1907
Mr. Thomas Dunhill [1] is to be warmly commended for his scheme of chamber concerts given at Queen’s (small) Hall, [2] for the programmes made generous recognition of living British composers. At the first of these, on June 7, the opening work was Mr. Joseph Holbrooke’s Sextet No. 2, op. 32, [3] written ‘In memoriam’ of the late Frederick Westlake [4], the well-known professor of the pianoforte at the Royal Academy of Music. This work consists of three movements, the most significant of which is a central elegie instinct with sincere feeling. The first movement has an expressive principal theme, and contains several impressive passages, but in its entirety is not so coherent as could be desired. The finale is a lively rondo of somewhat conventional character. The work was played in spirited fashion, with Mr. Holbrooke at the pianoforte, and the Saunders Quartet, assisted by Mr. G. Yates. [5]
Three tasteful and effective pianoforte pieces -severally entitled Intermezzo, Prelude, and Caprice - were admirably played by their composer, Mr. James Friskin; [6] and a sympathetic setting, by Mr. Cecil Forsyth, [7] of Rossetti's poem ‘Remembrance,’ was charmingly sung by Miss Phyllis Lett. [8]
The programme concluded with Dvorak’s Pianoforte quintet in A (Op. 81), played by Mr. Thomas Dunhill and the Saunders Quartet. [9]
Musical Times July 1907 p.475

[1] Thomas Dunhill was an English composer and teacher. Born in London on 1 February 1877 he studied with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music.  In 1907 he founded the ‘Concerts of British Chamber Music’ which were to hold an important place in London musical life. They continued until 1919. His compositions include an operetta Tantivy Towers (1931), a fine Symphony in A minor (1916) and a huge quantity of piano music, much of it for teaching purposes. Dunhill died on 13 March 1946 in the Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe.

[2] The Queen’s Hall, Langham Place was officially opened on 27 November, 1893 with a children’s party in the afternoon and an evening concert played before the Prince of Wales. It is most famously associated with Sir Henry Wood and the Promenade Concerts. At the top of the building was a small recital room which had a capacity of about 400. The entire building was destroyed on 10-11 May 1941 by a German air raid.

[3] As always, with Joseph Holbrooke’s music it is difficult to precisely situate this work in his catalogue. I believe that is is Sextet for Piano, String Quartet and Double Bass ‘In memoriam’ op.46 (1905). (See catalogue in Joseph Holbrooke, Composer, Critic and Musical Patriot, Rowman & Littlefield, London, 2015) The work was originally composed as a Piano Quintet no.3 (c.1903). There are three movements: Allegro, adagio and poco vivace-adagio. In the above review it refers to op.32. 

[4] Frederick Westlake was born in Romsey, Hampshire on 25 February 1840. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1855-59. His teachers included Walter Macfarren (piano) and George A. Macfarren (harmony). In 1860 he became associate-professor followed by full professorship of piano in 1863. In 1862 Westlake was appointed to the faculty as piano teacher. He was a member of the Philharmonic Society and the Society of Musicians.  
Westlake composed a Mass in E flat, many hymn tunes, piano pieces, and a collection of part-songs, Lyra Studentium. He completed William Sterndale Bennett’s edition of J.S. Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues. At one of W. H. Holmes's ‘Musical Evenings’ (St George's Hall, October 22, 1873), he performed, with Miss Agnes Channel, Chopin's Rondo, op. 73, for two pianos, probably for the first time in London.
Frederick Westlake died in St. Marylebone, London on 12 February 1898. 

[5] Mr. G. Yates. I was unable to find any detailed information on this musician. He was an active double-bassist in the first part of the 20th century. Any information would be welcome.

[6] James Friskin was born in Glasgow on 3 March 1886. He studied with Alfred Heap in his hometown before gaining a piano scholarship to the Royal College of Music, aged fourteen. He studied there with the pianist Edward Dannreuther and Frits Hartvigson. In 1905 he began study of composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Between 1909 and 1914 he taught at The Royal Normal College for the Blind in Upper Norwood. By invitation of Frank Damrosch, Friskin sailed to the United States during October 1914. He taught at the Institute of Musical Art. He was to become a founder member of the faculty at the Julliard Graduate School, the Institute’s successor.   During 1944 James Friskin met the English composer Rebecca Clarke. They had been at college together. They were married in September of that year.
Friskin’s compositions includes a lost piano concerto, a Suite in D minor for orchestra a number of chamber works including a Cello Sonata, some piano music and various Cobbett-inspired Phantasies. James Friskin died in 16 March 1967 in New York City.

[7] Cecil Forsyth born 30th November 1870 in Greenwich. He was another of the RCM protégés. He studied under both Charles Hubert Hasting Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford. He was a violist in Sir Henry Wood’s orchestra at the Queen’s Hall. Forsyth composed at least two operas, Westward Ho!  and Cinderella, however his undoubted masterpiece is the Viola Concerto in G minor (1903). His treatise on Orchestration (1914) remains an important standard work. Forsyth died as a result of a street accident in New York on 7 December 1941 whilst working for the publishing firm W.H. Gray.

[8] Phyllis Burgh Ker née Lett was born in Wakefield during 1884. As a mezzo-soprano, Lett was a popular recitalist during the nineteen twenties.  The Times reports that she ‘had a pleasing voice of even quality, intelligence and interpretation and persuasive delivery. The RCM Magazine notes that she was possessed with a magnificent contralto voice [and] was perhaps one of the most famous oratorio singers of her day, and was in great demand at the chief festivals…’ Lett died in Yea, Victoria in Australia on 1st June 1962.

[9] Saunders Quartet were originally called the South Place Quartet, It was founded in 1892 by John Saunders. The original players were John Saunders, first violin; A. G. Kentleton, second violin; Thomas Batty, viola; and F. Casano, violoncello. The Saunders Quartet had a considerable impact in stimulating appreciation of chamber music in London.  The quartet featured many new works by contemporary British composers.  It was disbanded upon the death of Saunders in 1919. At the present performance the players were Messrs. John Saunders, H. Waldo Warner, Ernest Yonge and J. Preuvners.

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