This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.
German born British musician Geroge Henschel was born in 1850 and became a close friend of Brahms whom he met in 1874 when the composer was 41 years of age. A multi-talented musician, Henschel was a baritone, pianist and conductor. In 1877 Henschel took part in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem with the composer conducting while in 1881 he became the first conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was also a friend of Moscheles and Tchaikovsky. Remarkable then, to have a recording of him conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1927.
Portrait of British baritone, conductor, and pianist Sir George Henschel (1850-1934) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
Here he is directing a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21, recorded at London’s La Scala Theatre in December 1926 and February 1927. It is Henschel’s only orchestral recording and was the first of a complete recording (by different conductors) of all the symphonies made to commemorate the centenary of the death of Beethoven in 1927 while this year we celebrate 250 years since the great composer’s birth.
This week's selection comes from Lucy Armstrong, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.
This is an extract of a recording of Introduction and Allegro by Edward Elgar from 1940. Like many recordings in the Stuart Pollard Collection, it is an off air recording of a performance by Arturo Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra. The piece is well known but that is not what made it get stuck in my head. Even from the first couple of seconds I recognised it and it triggered memories from my earlier life as a musician. I had not listened to the piece in nine years but it instantly felt so familiar again, hearing it in this new context, as part of this collection.
This piece featured prominently in my life during my final school year when I was 17–18 years old. This was a year of lots of change and stress but the constant in my life was my involvement with the local music trust and especially the chamber orchestra. We rehearsed Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro almost every week during that year and played it in several concerts in the UK and then Finland. The piece became so familiar to me that I formed a love-hate relationship with it. It was one of the most challenging pieces I had played at that point in my career. Despite the intense training at the music trust, I still felt insecure with particularly challenging parts of the piece such as passages in which semiquavers were passed intricately between both violin sections. I especially remember some delicate moments regarding those semiquaver passages at the Temppeliaukion Church (Rock Church) towards the end of our tour in Finland.
A particular memory comes to mind when hearing this piece. I had innocently turned up to the first rehearsal of the year with my viola but on arrival I was told ‘wrong instrument’ and was shocked to find that without knowing it I had been appointed as principal second violin. I had to play the conductor’s violin on that day and the sudden change of plan made finding the concentration to sight read the Elgar very difficult. Being principal second violin added new pressures such as responsibility for starting the fugue. This became one of my least favourite parts of the piece and I was often very stressed by it because of the challenge of setting a good foundation for this part of the piece and for stopping everyone from rushing. Memories of my experience with Introduction and Allegro were triggered instantly on hearing the recording in the Stuart Pollard Collection but they intensified on hearing the fugue so that is why I selected an excerpt of the fugue to share this week.
Having changed careers by gaining work experience and studying to become an archivist over the past three years, my time as a musician can start to feel distant. I had a great commitment to music so it can feel strange to no longer have such close connections with it. However, working at the British Library is a positive experience because discovering pieces like Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro in the collections of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project enables me to link what I am doing now to the childhood hobby that gradually took over my life.
Sir Stephen was already terminally ill, and our sessions inevitably were punctuated by the need for rest. Yet to sit and remember the details of his musical journey through some of the finest religious institutions of the UK seemed to infuse him with remarkable vigour, despite his undoubted suffering.
From his childhood experiences as a chorister at Worcester Cathedral to his early posts at Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral and thence to the music directorship of King’s College, Cambridge, there seemed an infinite number of anecdotes to tell; and we spent some valuable time exploring the development and inner workings of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast annually live from King’s.
Our interview also encompassed Sir Stephen’s lucid explanations of musical techniques that are potentially in danger of disappearing - species counterpoint and the realisation of a baroque figured bass. We discussed his assessment of the personal qualities required to be a good organist and a sensitive choral conductor; and how to deal - or how not to - with a large group of excitable youngsters on a choir tour. There is much more besides.
As a music student in Cambridge in the 1980s, starting there only a few years after Sir Stephen began his music directorship at King’s College, I was aware of him and his work almost every day, though our paths crossed rarely (I was at a different college and I can’t sing!). The presence of King’s College Chapel at the heart of town and gown, the pervasive influence of the English choral tradition upon which he built so strongly, and my own sense of not quite belonging to this exquisite and rarified world all got under my skin. Talking to him this year was moving and cathartic on the personal level; and I hope that the interview recording will serve as a valuable memorial in perpetuity, and one that will inspire others as it inspired me.
My profound thanks to his wife, Emma, for her help and forbearance during the recording sessions and to King’s College, Cambridge for funding the interview.
Jessica Duchen interviewed Stephen Cleobury for the 'National Life Stories: General Interviews' collection. The interview can be listened to at the British Library in St Pancras or Boston Spa and found by searching C464/99 at sami.bl.uk
Here we have two interpretations by Czech quartets separated by almost ninety years, each passionate and invigorating, but how different they sound!
I first became aware of the Bohemian Quartet (or Ceské Kvarteto) in a fascinating talk Robert Philip gave at the IMS Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music in 2013, in which he played their recording of Dvořák’s American Quartet. This initial encounter made a strong impression on me and I have since spent time at the British Library as an Edison Fellow delving into the Sound Archive's collection of early recordings of Czech quartets playing Czech repertoire. The Bohemian Quartet’s recordings are especially revealing, and exemplify an approach to expressivity and ensemble that differs markedly to some performance styles today. In particular, their use of variation in bow technique, portamento, vibrato, tempo and rhythm all stand out as noteworthy. Perhaps surprisingly, performance practice of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Czech music has received less scholarly attention than other national schools, and the work that has been done in this field is not often reflected in performance today.
A particular interest in Dvořák led to my proposing his lesser-known quartets for a recording cycle with my former string quartet (the Albion) for Signum Classics. One of the CDs also features Josef Suk’s short Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn 'St Wenceslas' for String Quartet, Op. 35a. Two discs coincided with initial visits to the British Library. The Edison Fellowship has since provided a valuable opportunity to dig deeper into questions that arose when listening to the Bohemian Quartet and recording Czech string quartets.
Experts in historical recording are united in their praise of the Bohemian Quartet, and particular for their achievement of a genuine equality across the four players. Chamber music specialist Tully Potter describes them as ‘by common consent, the first great modern chamber ensemble’ (liner notes to The Czech Quartet Tradition, Biddulph), and Robert Philip calls them ‘the string quartet acknowledged as the first modern “ensemble of equals”’ (Robert Philip Performing Music in the Age of Recording, 21). Celebrated violin pedagogue Carl Flesch first encountered the Bohemians in 1894, writing in his Memoirs:
Hitherto, one had been accustomed to see in quartet ensembles chiefly a foil for the dominating leader, as was the case above all in the Joachim Quartet... here for the first time one heard ensemble playing by four congenial individualities who were on the same technical level. (Philip Performing Music in the Age of Recording, 122-123)
Their career spanned forty years of chamber music making from the early 1890s to the 1930s, with few changes of membership in that time. By the time the ensemble reached its tenth birthday they had already performed a thousand concerts, and they kept up this pace for most of the quartet’s existence. They toured extensively throughout Europe and collaborated with the likes of clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (1906), violist Lionel Tertis (1906 and 1929) and many other illustrious musicians. Great composers such as Elgar and Janáček were among their many admirers. On hearing them rehearse his String Quartet Elgar exclaimed, ‘The reason I have lived so long is so as to experience your performance’ (Tully Potter, unpublished chapter). Czech composer Janáček was similarly enthralled by their playing, writing to his muse Kamila Stösslová, ‘I’ve not yet heard anything so magnificent as the way the Bohemian Quartet played my work’ (Tully Potter unpublished chapter). When Czechoslovakia came in to being in 1918 the group changed their name to the ‘Czech Quartet’, although in practice the name ‘Bohemian’ stuck.
The Bohemian Quartet in 1895 Karel Hoffmann, Hanuš Wihan, Oskar Nedbal, Josef Suk
The quartet’s members knew Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) personally and were closely associated with the music of Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884). When the violinist Antonín Bennewitz (1833-1926) became Director of the Prague Conservatory in 1882 he, alongside the cello professor Hanuš Wihan (1855-1920), began encouraging more chamber music at the institution. In 1891, at Wihan’s suggestion, the Bohemian Quartet was formed. The original membership consisted of violinists Karel Hoffmann (1872-1936), Josef Suk (1874-1935), violist Oskar Nedbal (1875-1930) and cellist Otakar Berger (1873-1897). The upper three were pupils of Bennewitz, and Berger studied with Wihan. After Berger’s illness and early death he was subsequently replaced by Wihan, who then became the group’s cellist for the bulk of their career.
The quartet’s teachers were also closely connected to Dvořák and Smetana. Both professors worked alongside Dvořák at the Prague Conservatory (Dvořák later succeeded Bennewitz as Director). Bennewitz gave the public premiere of Quartet No.7 Op.16 in A minor (29th December 1878, Prague). Wihan premiered the ‘Dumky’ Trio with the composer himself at the piano, and was the dedicatee of Dvořák’s B minor Cello Concerto, the arrangement of Silent Woods for cello and piano, and the Rondo in G minor. The Bohemian Quartet’s original members also all had close personal relationships with Dvořák. Three of the group’s founders: Suk, Nedbal and Berger were also Dvořák’s composition students, and Suk was also his son-in-law. The quartet gave the world premiere of Dvořák’s G major quartet Op.106 (9th October 1896), having given the first Prague performance of the A flat Quartet Op.105 earlier in that year on 21st January.
Bennewitz premiered Smetana’s Trio in G minor, and was a founder of the Kammermusikverein in 1876, a chamber music society whose nationalist principles spurred Smetana to write his first string quartet later that year. In the British Library Archive there is a very interesting radio programme from 1995 (H5456/2) by Duncan Druce on ‘From my life’, in which he talks of the initial resistance to this piece in some quarters. The Bohemians, however, made it their own: they first performed it in 1892, and so it was part of their repertoire from the beginning. Nedbal’s delivery of the opening viola solo— turning round to face the audience and playing it from memory— was much commented on by many illustrious witnesses, such as Sir Arnold Bax and Eric Coates.
By the time the Bohemians made their recordings in the 1920s, Hoffmann and Suk were still in the group, but in rather acrimonious circumstances in 1913 Wihan had been replaced by the younger Ladislav Zelenka (1881-1957) and Nedbal by Jiří Herold (1875-1934). (Happily, though, the British Library also has a couple of short recordings of Oskar Nedbal. Nedbal’s departure caused a scandal as he ran off ran off with first violinist Karel Hoffmann's wife in 1906!)
Given its members’ personal connections to Dvořák, the Bohemian Quartet’s recordings should clearly be a starting point for anyone interested in performance practices for this repertoire. With their pedigree it is perhaps particularly striking that the expressive devices that this group used—with one foot still firmly rooted in the nineteenth century—have largely been overlooked, especially when we think of the interest in period performance and the rise of this with regard to the music of nineteenth-century composers. Dvořák seems to have been particularly neglected. As Martin Jemelka has commented in a recent article (‘Antonin Dvořák’s Music made on period instruments’ Czech Music, 2012), only a small handful of chamber music discs of this repertoire touch on historically informed stylistic awareness.
Although the Bohemian Quartet’s recordings date from the 1920s, they clearly embody a fundamentally nineteenth-century performance style. They played on gut strings throughout their careers, there is considerable flexibility in their approach to tempo and use of rubato (they are far from metronomic), ensemble is less tight, rhythms are more gestural than exact, and obviously portamento is much more audibly prevalent than vibrato. There are some lapses of intonation in these recordings, which perhaps should be put down to the players’ advancing years. Since vibrato and portamento have been discussed in studies of historical recordings elsewhere, albeit not greatly in relation to this repertoire, I would like to draw attention here to some different features—those involving the players’ use of the bow.
In a sense it is surprising that the bow has received so little attention, since any string player would agree with Louis Spohr’s proclamation that the bow is the ‘soul of playing’ (Milsom Theory and Practice in late 19th-century violin performance, 34). Robert Philip provides some clarity as to the Bohemian Quartet’s general style, and comments that the
old ‘German’ way of playing extended far beyond Joachim’s direct influence. Different versions of it can be heard in recordings of the Rosé, Bohemian, Capet and the original Budapest Quartet. . . . The so-called German school was therefore not just a narrow group associated with Joachim, but a wider culture of violin playing, which, for a time, resisted the trend towards more powerful and assertive styles. Its preference for a broad style of bowing, and little vibrato, was a continuation of early nineteenth century practice. (Philip Performing Music in the Age of Recording 192-3)
Earlier Philip describes the old German grip 'with the low elbow, the fingers are close together, and roughly at right-angles to the bow.'
Articulation markings seem to carry implications for bowing that are not exemplified in performances of this repertoire today. Where staccato dots are marked, the stroke is much more varied and often on the string (which is to say that the bow is not lifted off the string at the end of the note, as would be more common in modern performance). Moreover, any figure marked with a dot at the end is sometimes stopped rather than lifted. There are many examples of this in the Bohemian recordings, such as in the second movement Polka from Smetana’s Quartet No.1.
This recording is by a slightly younger Czech group—the Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet—which was made just a year after the Bohemian Quartet’s own. Again we hear the more on-the-string style that we encountered with the Bohemians. In the Ševčík-Lhotský’s rendition occasionally the bow will be thrown as an effect (e.g. violin 1 second movement bar 11), whereas the Bohemians were a little more controlled here.
Similarly, in the opening of the ‘American’ quartet of Dvořák both Hoffmann and Herold from the Bohemians prefer a more ‘on-the-string’ approach.
This prevalence for more on-the-string strokes might in part be a result of the old ‘German’ style of bow-hold described above, lending itself more to these kinds of on the string strokes. Clive Brown (in Classical and Romantic Performing Practice 1750-1900) and David Milsom (in Theory and practice in late nineteenth-century violin performance) have also both commented that in the nineteenth-century German school the upper-half of the bow was used more frequently for off-the-string strokes.
It is also noticeable that the Bohemians are not always consistent with their strokes: they sometimes vary articulation on a repeated passage on a second hearing. Often this is clearly for musical variety, but there are also examples where differences in articulation could be down to age. This is illustrated in the accompaniment in the first movement in this passage in the Dvořák ‘American' Quartet.
Clearly Hoffman’s bow control is not the same—or perhaps this could also be put down to different priorities. If you listen again to the very start of the movement in the previous extract you can audibly hear Hoffmann put the bow to the string and the sound is slightly shaky.
It is worth pointing out that the Bohemian’s articulation and right-hand choices often link to emphasising rhythmic shapes and gestures. For instance, double-dotting is apparent in the extracts above in the first movement of the Dvořák ‘American’ and the Smetana ‘From my life’ opening. In the Smetana Polka we heard earlier the ‘quasi Tromba’ theme is double-dotted in the viola and violin, and is particularly striking when it reaches the first violin in terms of rhythmic gesture: the first two quavers of the bar are marked slurred with a dot under the second, and Hoffmann and Herold play with the beat-placement here to make the rhythm particularly dance-like.
In fact, wherever there are a couple of repeated rhythmic values together they are often played with a lengthening of the first of the group. One good example is the evocative harmonic turning point in the first movement of the Dvořák ‘American’
Often this rhythmic flexibility will be led by the first violinist, and there are many examples of this throughout the recordings. For me, the Bohemian Quartet’s rendition of the second movement of the Dvořák ‘American’ offers a masterclass in rhythmic flexibility.
In line with nineteenth-century practice the group significantly slows down into more restful passages of music and then rushes through more excited bits: listen again to the opening of the polka extract from the Smetana ‘From my life’ second movement above, and here again is a fuller version of the last extract to show how the group first pushes through, followed by an extreme winding down into the second theme.
Portamento is used by the players to emphasise the dissipating of energy in this passage—a device which is used with similarly effective results elsewhere.
The Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet also use rubato and portamenti in the manner of the Bohemians. As a final example, listen to this beautiful, swooping rendition of Osakar Nedbal’s Valse Triste played by the Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet recorded on 28th May 1929.
Although the Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet clearly had their own very different interpretations of Czech masterpieces, the fact that they also used similar expressive devices as the Bohemians bolsters the argument that these were fundamental to the character of this repertoire and not just the product of an unusual idiosyncratic ensemble.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways in which the time spent with these recordings during this Fellowship has influenced my approach to this repertoire in my playing. I am looking forward to building on the work undertaken during my Fellowship with a Research trip next month to Prague, as a recipient of the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s Amplify Grant. This visit will then feed back into my chamber music teaching at the RIAM, to help the students develop a performer-oriented understanding of stylistic traits and broaden their expressive palettes.
I am very grateful to the British Library and to Jonathan Summers for his guidance throughout this Fellowship, and to Tully Potter for sharing his fascinating materials and insights into the world of the Bohemian Quartet with me.
During my fellowship I also wrote an article on Ševčík’s teaching for The Strad magazine.
Sir Isaac Pitman (The Pitman Collection, University of Bath)
By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music
When Isaac Pitman delivered a speech to the Phonographic Association in 1891 one would think it was to an assembled gathering of enthusiasts of Edison’s discovery of sound recording in the form of the newly invented phonograph. However, Pitman was the inventor of phonography – a system of phonetic shorthand that he developed in 1837 which came to be known as Pitman’s shorthand. By 1886 he had sold one million copies of his Phonographic Teacher in Britain.
Pitman Shorthand 1900 edition
Indeed, for most of the twentieth century hundreds of thousands of women learnt to read and write shorthand and use a typewriter to gain employment as secretaries.
Pitman Shorthand 1970 edition
Isaac Pitman was born in 1813 in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. In 1835 he became a teacher, married a widow twenty years his senior and opened a small school in Bath. He married again in 1861 a woman twelve years his junior. By the age of thirty Pitman, an advocate of spelling reform for the English language, had his own publishing firm and gave up teaching. His system of shorthand was used worldwide and during the 1840s he originated the idea of correspondence courses due to the uniform postal rate adopted in the United Kingdom at that time. He set up the Phonetic Institute at Bath – a printing office and publishing house for the dispatch of books to all parts of the world, a business managed by his two sons.
In 1894 Pitman was knighted by Queen Victoria and he died in 1897 at the age of eighty-four.
Although similar names, but completely different scientific paths, it seems that Pitman’s phonography and the phonograph actually were brought together, for by 1891, when he was nearing eighty, Pitman was unable to travel from Bath to London to give his lectures at the National Phonographic Society meetings.
The London Daily News reported on 20th October 1891 that the Earl of Albemarle would preside over the meeting and that
The speech of Sir Isaac Pitman, who is unable to attend personally, will be delivered by the phonograph, a special messenger having been dispatched by Colonel Gouraud to Bath for the purpose of recording it.
Two days later the Aberdeen Free Press reported that
The two ingenious inventions for mastering the human voice were brought in contact tonight at the annual meeting of the London District of the Phonographic Society. Mr Isaac Pitman was unable to be present in the flesh, yet his spoken message was entrusted in Bath yesterday to Edison’s phonograph, and was delivered tonight in London to his disciples. Before the phonograph delivered Mr Pitman’s speech, Colonel Gouraud explained on its behalf that, in order to be heard in the hall, it was not necessary to speak loudly into the instrument, but that one ought rather to pronounce one’s words clearly and deliberately. Mr Pitman, knowing that his remarks were to be uttered in a large hall, had attempted to raise his voice in proportion, with the result that his speech came in a somewhat vague and husky manner from the phonograph. Nevertheless, it could be heard by an attentive listener at the back of the building. The diplomas of the Phonographic Society were afterwards distributed, and there was an exhibition of typewriting, which is becoming a vast industry for young women in the Metropolis.
However, the correspondent of the Coventry Evening Telegraph disagreed about the quality of the recording and thought that
Phonography and the phonograph were in pleasant companionship last night. The occasion was the first annual meeting of the National Phonographic Society – an association founded to advance a well-known system of shorthand writing, and to test, and attest by diplomas, the efficiency of public teachers of the art. The venerable founder – Mr Isaac Pitman – was unable to be present, but the speech that he would have delivered was spoken by him at Bath on the previous day, and recorded by one of Edison’s phonographs. By this means it was reproduced with such clearness that every word was heard by the audience which filled the Memorial Hall, London.
Cylinder box lid
The first cylinder of Pitman’s recorded speech has survived so we can now hear the voice of a man born more than two hundred years ago. Here is the commencement where he thanks the Earl of Albemarle, a transcript of which is below.
Isaac Pitman, to the phonographers speaking here tonight. My Lord Albermarle, Ladies and Gentlemen, phonographers all, I greet you right heartily. I would be present in person if I could leave my desk with a clear conscience so that, even from a hundred miles from London, I can speak to you without writing thanks to Mr Edison, Colonel Gouraud and his assistance. And especial thanks are due from the, the disassociation for obtaining thus my invisible presence.
And here is the least worn part of the cylinder where he speaks about phonographers are phonography bringing him into contact with people across the world.
Their labours, by extending phonography to all parts of the earth where the English language is spoken have brought me into communication with a great number of people who reside in distant countries extending from California in the West to Japan in the East and Tasmania in the South.
There is a memorial plaque to Pitman in Bath Abbey the inscription of which reads:
Inventor of Pitman’s shorthand. His aims were steadfast, his mind original, his work prodigious, the achievement worldwide. His life was ordered in service to God and duty to man.
Memorial Plaque to Sir Issac Pitman, Bath Abbey (By GraceKelly - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Winifred Atwell in the late 1950s (1LP0248992 BL collections)
Guest blog by Edison Fellow Uchenna Ngwe who is studying Black classical musicians in Britain before 1960
Little is known about the early years of Winifred Atwell but she is thought to have been born in either 1910 or 1914. By the 1950s the Trinidad-born pianist had become a household name in Britain and Australia but has become a forgotten figure today.
Although various sources claim that Atwell arrived in London in 1946, BBC documents show that she actually appeared on at least two episodes of the radio programme Calling The West Indies in 1945, and was already living in London by this time. Her first appearance was as piano accompanist to a fellow Trinidadian, renowned singer and actor Edric Connor. In 1993, his widow, Pearl Connor, spoke to Stephen Bourne in this unedited interview about Atwell for the BBC Radio 2 programme Salutations.
Following the 1945 broadcasts, Atwell was asked to perform on the radio on a number of occasions over the next year before her inaugural TV appearance on the BBC’s Stars in Your Eyes on the afternoon of 21st October 1946.
Winifred Atwell made her name mainly from popular music but, as she continued to show in her stage act, she was also well-versed in standard classical repertoire. Soon after her arrival in Britain, she began taking piano lessons with Harold Craxton (1885 – 1971), a well-respected teacher at the Royal Academy of Music and sought-after accompanist. In another unedited interview for Salutations, Michael Craxton, Harold’s son, described Atwell’s visits to the family home to study with his father.
After working with a variety of agents from early on in her career, Atwell was represented by Bernard Delfont Ltd from July 1948. Delfont was a former music-hall dancer and theatrical agent before embarking on a career as a successful theatre and leisure impresario – his brothers Lew and Leslie Grade were also theatrical agents before both becoming television executives. This collaboration proved to be very successful and Atwell was in huge demand for her TV, radio and live theatre performances. By the late 1950s she was earning the equivalent of around £4,000 per TV appearance.
Michael Craxton also refers to Atwell's work with his father on Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. On the 28th November 1954, Atwell made her classical debut at the Royal Albert Hall performing this piece with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stanford Robinson (1904 – 1984). A few days later on the 1st and 2nd of December, Atwell recorded the work for the Decca label with the same ensemble and conductor. These sessions were Decca’s first ever UK stereo recordings but sadly this experiment remains unpublished and the concerto was only issued in mono.
Despite her abilities and considerable public draw, assumptions made due to her race and success outside of the classical genre meant that Atwell was not taken seriously as a classical musician. However, her work mainly with pop and jazz-influenced music led to the achievement of a remarkable amount of success during her career, including two British no. 1 singles – Let’s Have Another Party (1954) and Poor People of Paris (1956). Her highest-ranking classical recording was of the 18th variation from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsodie on a theme of Paganini, which was performed on the soundtrack of the film The Story of Three Loves by Jakob Gimpel. Atwell’s version, with Wally Stott and his Orchestra, peaked at no. 9 in the UK charts in 1954.
I was pleased to correct details of Atwell’s early career through my Edison Fellowship research at the BBC archives at Caversham and to be able to put this into context with the rest of my work on Black music in Britain before 1960.
This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.
This year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte and next year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven. Both men, known the world over by a single name, are joined in history by the fact that Beethoven originally dedicated his Third Symphony to Bonaparte.
In 1806, the score was published under the Italian title Sinfonia Eroica - 'Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.' Apparently, in order to gain a fee from a nobleman for the composition, Beethoven deleted Bonaparte's name and changed the dedication to Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian Lobkowitz.
Title page for Beethoven's Symphony in E flat major, Op.55, 'Eroica' (via Wikimedia Commons)
Composer and conductor Felix Weingartner (1863-1942), a pupil of Franz Liszt, was the first to record all of Beethoven's symphonies, many more than once. This recording of the Eroica was made in 1936 with one of the finest orchestras then and now, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Felix Weingartner circa 1890 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Weingartner brings fresh, clean lines, a taught rhythmic vitality and plenty of colour to the performance. The quiet surfaces of this Columbia recording and the resonance of the Grosser Musikvereinssaal make for an exciting listening experience, particularly the Scherzo (at 29:28) and the Finale (at 33:36).