A Dream of Germany: Music’s War-Torn World

‘Now I am indeed in the musical Germany of which I have so long dreamed.’
Henry Chorley, Music Critic of The Athenaeum, in 1839

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These concerts were given in 2014 at St John’s Smith Square, at SJE Oxford, and as part of conferences at the Warburg Institute & QMUL. The video flyer can be seen here.

Brilliant, beautiful music, practically unknown, from:
• Battison Haynes, Malvern’s mirror-image of Elgar, but who died young
• Percy Sherwood from Dresden, ruined by the Great War
• Gerard F. Cobb, whose definitive Kipling settings made him ‘the Dibdin of the Army’
• Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Leipzig’s leading master of the keyboard

Rarities even from better-known composers:
• Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Tennyson song-cycle & the Duo Concertante
• Sir Sterndale Bennett’s Sonata Duo
• Sir Hubert Parry’s English Lyrics
• Percy Grainger’s transcriptions of Sir Charles Stanford’s Irish Dances
• Sir Edward Elgar’s Carillon and the first London performance of Karg-Elert’s solo piano transcription of Elgar’s Falstaff
• Sir George Dyson’s Cello Sonata
• The Four Hymns of Ralph Vaughan Williams O.M.

The musical world put in context:
• The Teacher-Pupil chain Mendelssohn, Sterndale Bennett, Sullivan
• The Cambridge links between Sterndale Bennett, Cobb, Stanford & Vaughan Williams
• Mendelssohn scholars Sullivan, Sherwood & Dyson
• British composers who studied in Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Frankfurt & Stuttgart
• The role of Oxford & Cambridge, the Academy & the College
• The colleagues who never met: Elgar & Karg-Elert

The Programmes

Concert I c.70’
Teachers & Pupils 1830-1880

Sterndale Bennett Sonata Duo
Sullivan The Tennyson Song Cycle: The Window
Mendelssohn Song without Words: Duetto
Sullivan Duo Concertante

Concert II c.60’
High Victorians 1880-1900

Battison Haynes Vier Lieder
Stanford tr. Grainger Four Irish Dances
Parry English Lyrics
Sherwood First Cello Sonata

Concert III c.40’
The Regimental Musician & the Volunteer Reservist

Elgar tr. Karg-Elert Falstaff

Concert IV c.90’
The Great War

Karg-Elert Sechs Kriegslieder im Volkston (Dehmel)
Karg-Elert Cello Sonata
Elgar Carillon (Cammaerts)
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Cobb Barrack-Room Ballads (Kipling)
Dyson Cello Sonata
Vaughan Williams Four Hymns

The centenary of the outbreak of the Great War is an important opportunity to consider the cost of conflict and celebrate the achievements of international coöperation.

Historically, musicians make a splendid case-study of the fruitfulness of international amity. For many, many years British composers were inspired to study and work in Leipzig, Dresden, Frankfurt and Berlin, while German musicians pursued careers in London. The sudden loss of centuries of fertile musical exchange between Britain and the great cultural centres of Germany is one of the least appreciated consequences of the Great War.

Back in the eighteenth century, musicians from Leipzig found that Great Britain, with its German-speaking court, was a desirable haven from the stresses of the Seven Years’ War. Carl Friedrich Abel, for whom JS Bach wrote the gamba sonatas, arrived in London in 1759, the piano-maker Zumpe followed in 1760, and JC Bach arrived in 1762. Zumpe invented a new type of square piano, and Bach & Abel wrote concertos for it – the world’s first piano concertos, created in London by Germans.

In the 1830s and 1840s Felix Mendelssohn was the darling of English musical society, and his orchestra and conservatoire at Leipzig became the focal point of all English musical aspiration. William Sterndale Bennett, later Professor at Cambridge and Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, was taken under Mendelssohn’s wing there in 1836. After the latter’s death, the Mendelssohn scholarship brought Sterndale Bennett’s pupil Arthur Sullivan to study at the Leipzig Conservatoire from 1858 to 1861. John Francis Barnett was a fellow student of Sullivan’s, who went on to become professor of composition at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

Charles Villiers Stanford, one of the most successful composition teachers of all time, with Holst, Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells & Arthur Bliss amongst his pupils, studied in Leipzig and Berlin. Hubert Parry, Professor at Oxford and Director of the Royal College of Music, after lessons in London with Sterndale Bennett and in Stuttgart with the English émigré Henry Hugo Pierson, ended up back in London with the German émigré, Edward Dannreuther, who had studied in Leipzig under Moscheles. Walter Battison Haynes, a chorister at Malvern, studied in Leipzig too, under Carl Reinecke. Edward Elgar, too poor and provincial to manage his dream of formal study there, nonetheless enjoyed a whirlwind fortnight of concerts over New Year 1883. Fritz (later Frederick) Delius studied there from 1886 to 1888.

In the later nineteenth century an Anglo-German musical community thrived in Dresden, just down the railway-line from Leipzig. Gerard Cobb, who had been a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, studied in Dresden at the encouragement of Sterndale Bennett. He returned to Trinity College and became the Bursar, in which capacity he helped Stanford, another Trinity man, to get to Leipzig. Cobb’s settings of Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads enjoyed an enormous vogue during the Boer War. Most prominent of the Dresden Anglo-German musicians was the composer Percy Sherwood, who was actually born there. He won the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1889. At the outbreak of the Great War, he was on holiday in England, and subsequently lived permanently in London, abandoning his brilliant German career for a life as a jobbing harmony teacher – one of music’s minor tragedies.

George Dyson won the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1905. During the Great War Dyson wrote the official British handbook on How to Throw a Hand Grenade – a foretaste of his successes in more musical aspects of education, which eventually saw him the Director of the Royal College of Music in London. His Epigrams for solo piano present a day-in-the-life of a soldier in the trenches.

The way in which the War interrupted the friendly musical interchange between Britain & Germany is dramatically illustrated on the manuscript of Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s brilliant virtuoso piano transcription of Elgar’s symphonic study Falstaff. Novello’s had already published Karg-Elert’s transcriptions of Elgar’s two symphonies. But after his signature at the end of the Falstaff transcription comes a note:
Leipzig, on the 6th day of mobilization 1914

Karg-Elert signed up as a regimental musician. The transcription was never published. The Anglo-German musical dream suffered a rude awakening.

Sir Hubert Parry’s son-in-law, the politician Arthur Ponsonby, later Leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords, wrote in his diary on New Year’s Eve 1914:

Never can 1914 be forgotten. The time before August seems so remote that it is almost impossible to believe it was really this year. The war occupies the whole field of one’s vision and has filled my mind every day and every hour since the awful opening days of August. It has been an inward and personal growing pain and a shattering of all my views on morals, politics, religion and the whole life of mankind: … the chaos into which everyone and everything was hurled; and most of all the utter unnecessariness of it all.

Had there been a great cause, a great provocation, a great attack, a great danger, the fearful event of a European war would have seemed justified and natural. But there was no reason, no cause, no animosity, no national peril, nothing but a hopeless clumsy utterly meaningless diplomatic entanglement for which all the Powers were more or less responsible: and here we are with awful losses of life daily, suffering, ruin, increasing hardship, growing dislocation of national life and nothing but despair or the false note of jingo arrogance and self-righteousness.

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