Monday, January 17, 2022

Court Theatre: LITTLE SHOP OF HURRAHS



I have been connected with the delicious spoof musical Little Shop of Horrors for a long, long time. I had clients in the first grand London production, in the film, and went on to cast the show on three continents. I even traipsed to Sheffield a couple of decades ago to see a production ... 



So, when I saw that my local theatre had recovered (hopefully permanently) from its production of mediocre and scissors-and-paste musicals, and was preparing to give us this show, I called up my Mentor and said 'This year, I shall come'.

It's odd what we get served up here in Christchurch, NZ. Basically, there are three sources of musical theatre. (1) the professional Court Theatre (2) the amateurs who have, nowadays, taken upon themselves the name of Showbiz (3) the students, otherwise NASDA, who supply many of the best artists to (1) and (2).

Options recently? Well, the amdrams are part of a share-cost affair with other NZ amdrams, so we just get Big Famous Musicals of Recent decades. Been there, seen that, don't need to see it for a 20th time. But it's amdrams, so everyone has fun, everybody's friends buy tickets ... just as they did when I was an amdrammer in the 1960s.

The Professionals? I have lived near Christchurch for 20 years. I have not been overly impressed by the staging standards and especially the show-choices at the Court Theatre in recent years. Thus, I have not attended all that often.

The students .. ? Yessssss. This year we had The Drowsy Chaperone! (Hello, Court Theatre!). Previously, The Music Man, City of Angels, Spring Awakening, Once on this Island ...

When will the professional (subsidised) theatre catch up!!!!

End of lecture


TONIGHT

OK. I went with mixed feelings. The production was promoted, with many photos, as being 'different'. I didn't want it to be 'different' ... I just wanted it to be GOOD.

Well, it was both. In fact, with a few reservations, I think it was, all in all, the most enjoyable Little Shop I've ever seen.

Different? Well, we don't have a lot of big, black-voiced jazz singers in Christchurch, so the part of Audrey II was remade around a large local lass (who was a lad last time I saw her) with airs of Divine. The idea and the performance came off splendidly for 9/10s of the show. It was grand to be able to see the plant's expressions and not just hear a disembodied voice.



Secondly, the piece was souped up a tad, with the three Skid Row girlies turned into a rather intrusive glamour backing-group with airs of the Supremes, jigging endlessly about to somewhat excessive choreography in very non-Skid Row costumes. But singing the theatre roof off!

Actually, I'm surprised the roof was still on. I think this was the loudest, most over-amplified show I've ever attended in my 60 plus years of theatre-going. Even the bar staff, in the wonderfully-decorated foyer (their menus headed 'Feed Me') confided in me 'it's awfully LOUD isn't it'. It was.

But, the triumph of the evening was in the core of the matter. Unobtrusive, clever, fresh direction (Benjamin Henson) and quite outstanding casting and performances.

I have seen most of the players before. Some come from NASDA, the local music-theatre school, with which I was periodically associated over the last quarter of a century. However, the knack lies in casting such performers correctly, and here that knack was a 100% winner.

Rutene Spooner was Seymour. I last saw him as Amos ('Mr Cellophane') in Chicago. He was the Seymour of one's dreams: just the right amount of naïveté and adorableness, and a triple threat (as befits a NASDA graduate!) with a ringing singing voice that he finally got to use to its full. A five gold star performance.

His Audrey was right up there with him. Monique Clementson had the role absolutely down to a T, teetering on her unsteady high heels on her way to her date with her nasty boyfriend, singing sweetly and gormlessly ... I didn't think anyone could equal the original Ellen Greene in this role. This lass did.



The nasty boyfriend was played by Roy Snow (Billy Flynn in Chicago). A Court musical wouldn't be a Court musical without Mr Snow, and I for one would feel robbed if he weren't in the cast. He was as superb as ever, toying with the over-the-topness of the role, and singing up a storm, although he suffered, as he suffocated, from the distortion of the over-amplification.



Way back when, when we were casting the three 'chorus girls', the auditions were short and sweet. Each postulant was made to sing, cold, the line 'Alarm goes off at seven'. Try it, it's not easy. Reminds me of my opera debut in Amahl and the Night Visitors. Umpteen bars rest, then come in bang on E ... (or was it E flat?).

Well, these three ladies (Ezra Williams, Kristin Paulse, Jane Leonard) would have surely passed the acid test. Once again, fine casting. If I prefer the trio as a 'backing group' rather than a 'fronting group', that's just me. Folks like a bit of conventional glam, even in Skid Row.



I think the first time I saw Jonathan Martin on the stage was indeed 20 years ago when he played Stine in NASDA's City of Angels. Tonight, he was a first-rate Mr Mushnik, sufficiently Jewish without stooping to Faginesque burlesque, and his song-and-dance-duet with Seymour got (rightly) the biggest applause of the night.



Of Brady Peeti's Audrey II I have spoken. It was grand ... until ... the one directorial piece of rather crass misjudgment.

When Little Shop the musical was filmed, the producers wanted to feature the jazz singer Bertice Reading. But there is no role in the piece that Bertice could play. So they invented one that would give her a chance to Do A Number. I (her agent) thought it was a pretty poor number but anyway she did it, got her large fee and I got my 10% of said fee and hoped I'd heard the last of the Rocky Horror -esque 'Mean Green Mother from Outerspace'.

No such luck. It was exhumed as a vehicle for Ms Peeti and tacked on the end of the show as an anticlimactic sort of megamix, with the cast in vulgar pantomime costumes ... Such a shame ... after the perfect finale of Seymour and Audrey I disappearing, like Don Giovanni, into the depths of death ... and the (inaudible) final obituary, to have to sit through this bit of tasteless trumpery ...

I wish I'd left before it. Then I would have no hesitation in declaring the Court Little Shop my favourite ever. Turn the sound down by 30% (or 50%), obliterate the megamixup and its mean green mother ... and, yayyy. A first-rate evening in the theatre. See you again in two years.

Why two? Because the next musical is a jukebox affair and I don't do those. Hopefully the Court won't leave the gems of the ancient and modern musical to NASDA ...







Friday, January 14, 2022

January 2022: A is for Australia, Angst and Ardern, B is for Beasties and Books, C is for Christmas and Catlets, D is for Diabetes ....



It is a month today since I arrived back home from my Ardern-imposed exile in Australia...

The Angst is fading ... I feel it will never wholly disappear during what remains of my life ... but Gerolstein is working its soothing magic ... the setting, the folk, the critturs ..


Of course, the favourite critturs are Sherbertte's five incestuous (?) kittens ... They have made themselves throughly at home, bouncing across the lawns, galumphing down the gladdies, digging up the flower pots, escalading the fences ... and even making a cats cradle of the top of what is supposed to be their peacock-proof enclave..


Their juvenile energy is amazing ..



Books. Well, brother John and I have had a prolific writing year ...



which has really come to a peak at the dawn of 2022 ... This week, John carried off the Corsham StoryTown Festival Poetry Prize for his poem Fingers Farooqi paints a story on the town wall during the night ...

A new and revised edition of my The Musical, a Concise History, with a 21st century chapter by my friend, Jamie Findlay has hit the bookstores...



And, any moment now, it will be followed by our first book together (after twenty-odd each, individually) at the ages of 76 and 72!

For some years now, we have been translating poetry from the French, at first mainly for John's volumes of international poetry, The Song Atlas and 52 Euros ... which led to, which led to, which led to .. We had a joyous time with the atmospheric, friendly works of Verhaeren, delved into everything from Yourcenar to Maeterlinck .. and our version of Baudelaire's The Cat was even named Poem of the Week by the Guardian newspaper. We were, at one stage, asked to turn our talents to the poetic (?) works of Genet. I started. Reams and reams of pretentious poppycock ... we both cried 'hold, enough' simultaneously, and dived, instead, with view-hallooo! into the wonderfully multi-coloured work of silly old Petrus. If you don't know about him, you'll enjoy discovering him. A wannabe, a dying-to-shock-and-stir guy, who actually had -- hidden among the slagheaps of posing and pretension -- some nuggets of gold to deliver ....



Yes, the new year has begun 'en trombe' ... but, alas, one less cheerful left-over from 2021. It seems that, doubtless thanks to my experiences of last year, I have fallen prey to senile diabetes. So another battle begins ...

And meanwhile the Family Books meuble is beginning to bulge at the edges ... We have over overflowed into the side-shelves! There is just a wee spot for Petrus .. I suppose I shall have to catalogue it one day ...


Time for a little stroll in the gardens before cocktail time ...








Sunday, January 9, 2022

Jenny the contralto or, the fiddler's bride


PRATT, Jenny [PRATT, Jane Mary Ann] (b 49 Rupert Street, St James Middlesex 26 September 1846; d Barnes 1926)

Mezzo-soprano Jenny Pratt had a variegated career, which ebbed and flowed for over thirty years, during which she changed name no less than five times.

Jenny was born Jane Mary Ann Pratt, the daughter of Thomas Fenwick Pratt (d 12 May 1871), a printer-compositor from Gibraltar, and dressmaker Mary Ann Bright née Fairney (b London 23 March 1825; d White Hall Park 28 July 1898), a jeweller’s daughter from a large London family. She was born sometime in 1846, and christened 25 October, which was apparently somewhat too close to her parents’ wedding date.

I don’t see any connection between the family and music, except that a Mr Henry Nelson who was ephemerally ‘secretary of the Italian opera’ is the Pratt’s house-guest in the 1861 census, but, soon after that, Jenny was enrolled in Dr Wylde’s new London Academy of Music. The St James’s Hall-based Academy had already produced its first ‘star’ pupil in ‘Mr Renwick’, and it seemed as if Miss Pratt – under the tutelage of Gustave Garcia -- might be the next. She was awarded the Academy’s first prize in singing in 1865 – ahead of Blanche Cole, Dove Dolby, Fanny Holland and Francis Gaynar – and shown off at the 1866 pupils’ concert in ‘Una voce poco fa’ and the Tancredi duet with Miss Dolby, with her laurels intact.

On 24 June 1867, Miss Jenny Pratt made her first public appearance, and it was at St James’s Hall, at the most fashionable concert of the season, that of Julius Benedict, on the most starry bill of the year including artists from Titiens, Dolby and Nilsson to Mongini, Santley and Reeves. Why? How? But Benedict would invite little Miss Pratt to his mighty concerts for a number of years. It can’t have been just because she sang his ‘By the sad sea waves’ so nicely.



She sang at Kate Gordon’s concert (‘a Rossini aria with taste and judgement’), and did the rounds of the spa towns and resorts, before on 7 December making a debut at the Crystal Palace, singing ‘Fanciulle che il core’ and Edward Silas’s version of Longfellow’s ‘The Curfew’, alongside Edith Wynne and Nelson Varley.

With the new year, Jenny Pratt made another first appearance, on the bill of the fifth of the season’s Boosey Ballad Concerts, singing the contralto favourites ‘The Lady of the Lea’ and ‘The Storm’ on a bill where the other contralto was Mme Sainton-Dolby.

During 1868, she appeared at the Crystal Palace, the Schubert Society, St James’s Hall, the Beethoven Rooms, with Mme Lemmens-Sherrington in the provinces, at Mr Austin’s concerts and at St George’s Hall, almost always purveying ‘The Lady of the Lea’, ‘Il Segreto’, ‘By the Sad Sea Waves’ or Benedict’s ‘Rock me to sleep’.

When Charles Goffrie’s Lujza Liebhart concerts at the Agricultural Hall began in September, Miss Pratt was on several of the programmes (‘By the sad sea waves’, ‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘Ben e ridicolo’). The other contralto was the unknown Sofia Scalchi ‘from Bologna’. The conductor, Julius Benedict.

In 1869, she can be seen at the concert of the harpist J Balsir Chatterton singing a song written by that gentleman’s son, T Davenport Chatterton (‘My soul is dark’), at the Glasgow Saturday Evening concerts, at the Holborn Amphitheatre giving the Stabat Mater alongside a lecture, at concerts of Austin, Miss Clinton Fynes, L S Palmer and Benedict, but when she returned to Glasgow, in early 1870, it was in a different capacity and under a different name. She was Mdlle Prati.

She had become Italianised, because she had been hired as a minor member of the Covent Garden Italian Opera Company alongside Mademoiselles Madigan, O’Brien, Clinton, Schofield, Bailey et al. Both she and Mlle Madigan were billed with the principals, but the only role I can see Jenny playing during the season is Third Boy in Il flauto magico. The company continued to Liverpool and to London, and Jenny remained a member, although rarely seen.



In 1871, she was back being ‘Jenny Pratt’ once more ‘a capital mezzo-soprano’ or ‘an exceedingly good contralto’ or ‘a clear and powerful contralto’ in the occasional London concert, and many more at the seaside resorts which she seemed to favour. Margate voted her ‘one of the best singers we remember to have heard at the Hall by the Sea’. Margate would remain a regular date.

In the autumn she took part in Rivière’s Covent Garden Proms (including Elijah), in November she visited Belfast for the Monday Pops, and December she was seen singing the Stabat Mater and the Sundays for the People. In early 1872 she returned to the Boosey Ballad concerts (‘The Skipper and his Boy’, ‘The Green Trees Whispered’) and later fulfilled a season at the Surrey Gardens.

But, in June 1872, she stepped back into being ‘Mdlle Prati’ for a little while, to play the role of Martha opposite Hervé in Doctor Faust (Le Petit Faust) at Holborn. A critic who was clearly out of sympathy with opéra-bouffe disliked the whole show and found ‘the only trace of refined acting or pretty singing is in Mdlle Prati’s performance of Martha’. Which would mean she didn’t play the grotesque Martha as the authors intended. The show – with Mrs Paul replacing Hervé – didn’t last long, and she was soon back at Margate (‘a special favourite here’) giving her ‘Minstrel Boy’, ‘Cherry Ripe’, ‘Charley is my darlin’’ and ‘Love was once a little boy’.




In 1873-4, once more, she alternated the seaside, the Boosey Ballad Concerts, the Sunday concerts (Stabat Mater, Jephtha, Judas Maccabeus, St Paul, Elijah) and the Covent Garden Promenade Concerts, where she played Grimwald, the page, in the first performance of Meyer Lutz’s The Legend of the Lys with Constance Loseby, J H Pearson and Furneaux Cook. At Tunbridge Wells, she turned to the politer form of operetta when she played in Randegger’s The Rival Beauties.

‘Politer’ theatre did not last long. In September 1874, Miss Pratt opened at the Philharmonic Theatre, Islington, in the first English-language production of Giroflé-Girofla, starring Julia Mathews. After her not-very-heavy dame in Le Petit Faust she was cast, this time, as the soubrette, Paquita, opposite Fannie Manetti as Pedro, and was adjudged ‘sprightly’. From the Phil, she progressed to Holborn again, cast by John Hollingshead, with the Gaiety Theatre company, first as Thisbe to Connie Loseby’s Cinderella (‘excellent singing … vivacity’), then as Madame Lange in La Fille de Madame Angot. ‘Her acting fell a little short, but her singing atoned’, as she brought down the house with the famous waltz finale. When she appeared as Fleurette in Bluebeard it was commented that ‘she is becoming much more at home on the stage, she acted in a graceful and ladylike manner as Fleurette and her good voice was employed with considerable skill’.

When the company returned to the Gaiety, Miss Pratt went too. She appeared in singing roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (‘Over hill and over dale’) and as Ceres in The Tempest singing the music which shapely Marian West as Ariel could not manage. Next, she was deployed to the Alexandra to repeat her Madame Lange, before her contract terminated. Miss Pratt continued her theatrical phase a little longer. She visited Liverpool where she played -- ‘the celebrated vocalist’ -- at the Amphitheatre in a ‘special adaptation’ of the Paulton brothers’ The Black Crook (Princess of Balzac), The Waterman and After Dark (with a song) but, after that, she seems to have simply folded up the stage, and returned definitively to the concert platform.




Over the next years, her name appears repeatedly in the same selection of venues, at the Brighton and Scarborough Aquariums, with Rivière at his Covent Garden Proms or his Aquarium concerts, at the Alexandra Palace… She also changed her name again. On 11 March 1878, Miss Pratt became Mrs William Henry Eayres, wife of the divorced violinist.



This was not a good idea, for Eayres was a serial adulterer with a scandalous history. His first wife had dragged him through the courts and noisily displayed his sexual misdeeds in a ‘letter to the musical profession’, which ended her up in the courts for libel. Jenny didn’t keep him on the straight and narrow for long. By 1882, he was at it again, and, in 1884, ended up in court again at the behest of one Alexander Glen Collins, whose wife he had repeatedly borrowed. The lawsuit went to the House of Lords, and became a much quoted precedent on ‘condoning’. I don’t suppose Jenny condoned, but she didn’t divorce him till 1887.

Mrs Eayres (as ‘Madame Jenny Pratt’) appeared from time to time in London (Aquarium, Alexandra Palace, Crystal Palace), but spent the large part of her time entertaining in the ‘spots’ of England: at the Blackpool Winter Gardens, the Southsea Pier, the Scarborough Aquarium, with the Southampton Philharmonic Society or at the Winter Gardens, Morecambe. She gave the occasional Athalie, Undine, or The First Walpurgisnight, but more often was heard in her old favourites or a new ballad such as Behrend’s ubiquitous ‘Auntie’.

Latterly, she took out little concert party troupes, sometimes with her pupils, and this seems to have been where she encountered a young stationery traveller with a deep bass voice named Ernest John Robinson (b Hoxton, October 1860; d 11 Victoria Avenue, Finchley, 2 September 1929). As soon as she had divorced, they were married, and in her second marriage Jenny found the happiness she had not found in the first. The Robinsons had two daughters, Victoria Jane Maryann (b 102 Gaisford Street 24 May 1888; d Worthing 18 July 1975) and Ethel Annie Fairney (b 65 Patshull Rd Kentish Town 11 October 1891; d Worthing 21 May 1979).



Mrs Jane Robinson continued to work as ‘Madame Jenny Pratt’ into the 1890s, but there was one more name change to come. Ernest chose to be called ‘Mr Ernest Loder’ for his modest career as a professional vocalist, and somehow the Robinson family became known as Loder. Jenny could be seen appearing in the occasional local concert at Clacton-on-Sea or Frinton, with ‘Go, lovely Rose’ or ‘She wore a wreath of roses’, up to the turn of the century, as ‘Mrs Loder’.

Mrs Loder seems to have died in 1926. Mr Loder died three years later (3 Victoria Avenue, Finchley 2 September 1929) leaving a fortune of 22,000 pounds. There must have been a lot of money in stationery.

William Eayres got himself another, much younger, wife, from Scotland, whence he had fled awhile, and he died in 1920.







Friday, January 7, 2022

A star in New Hampshire: Mrs Nichols.

 

I strayed today.  In my daily pre-breakfast zip through the pages on ebay, I have a system. Well, you have to reduce the number of items to look at or breakfast would never happen. So I 'search' for my keywords with a few minuses.  -Rare. Anything labelled 'rare' is almost certain not to be. -! Any listing full of exclamation marks is going to be a waste of time ...    I haven't got the time to waste on such as 'RARE! Dancer!! Christina Nilson'. Anyway, that's my ebay method. 

I also, alas, have a handicapped right arm/hand (legacy of a stroke) and have been reduced to typing with two fingers, so sometimes mistakes happen, and yesterday I pushed the wrong key when applying my filters and landed on 'Rare Antique Victorian American Costumed Singer Emma Nichols PA CDV Photo Lot!'  Emma [J] Nichols? Never heard of her. A plain little lady with the most preposterous cloak and tiara .. what on earth was she. Well, let's have a late breakfast ...



Here's the result.

Emma J NICHOLS was indeed, for a decade, a singer in the western part of America. But that is not a costume. That was evidently her platform garb. For Emma was a ballad singer with minor concert groups in, mostly, the western part of the United States. 

Emma was born Emma J DAVIS in Lowell, Mass 4 February 1841. Father was Zebulon Davis (1798-1868), a farmer in Rockingham, New Hampshire, mother Sally née Huckins, and there were three elder siblings (Daniel, Rebecca, Laura). Emma married, in her teens (August 1858) a clerical worker by the name of Thomas J Nichols, son of a local shoemaker.

By 1860, already, she is advertising as a teacher of singing, and by 1862 she is the soprano with Father Jim T Gulick's 'Continental Old Folks Company', a company performing olde tyme songs, in 18th century costumes around 1 and 2 night stands from New Brunswick, Trenton, Princeton, Bordentown, Burlington, Mount Holly, Frankford ..  fellow performers, Messrs George M Shep(p)ard, J H Holloway and Gulick.


Mr Gulick went on to become one of Newcombe's Minstrels, the Dupres and Benedict Minstrels.

'Father Kemp's Old Folks Company' 'from Reading, Mass' (37 members) had originally (1857?) been an amateur group which had sung its 18th century chorales in costume at Niblo's Garden in 1859. The star act was 92 year-old Grandfather Foss with his Great Grandfather Fiddle. Emma soon transferred to the Kemp group (now 22 people with her as featured soprano), which made a trip to England in 1860 to show their novelty act. Mr Nichols was now 'Father Kemp's treasurer.  Emma 'the celebrated New England Songstress' stayed for nearly a decade years with these two troupes (which became ''Father' Kemp junior's' and the Continental Old Folks), progressing in her billing to 'the Jenny Lind of America'. In 1869 I see her setting out from Neponset, Mass, as a member of Spaudling's Bell Ringers, through Plainfield, Washington, Hackettstown, Orange, Newton, Newark ...

In 1870 (20 February), Emma gave birth to a son, Edwin Bowley Nichols, by  time Mr Nichols was listed as 'professor of music'. I don't see her performing thereafter. She is listed in 1870 as 'Music teacher'. Thomas is 'farm labourer'. 

Emma died of peritonitis at home at Plaistow NH, one day after her 39th birthday. I don't know what became of Thomas. Edwin (shoecutter) married, had a son, and weeks later committed suicide (24 October 1896), aged 26. The son changed his name ...

Bit of a sad tale, really. Better put my filters back on.

And look what's turned up after all that!


Happily, they don't carry the story to its end.

And what IS that cloak? An 18th century New Hampshire national costume?








Friday, December 31, 2021

Nelson, NZ ... a century and a half ago

 

I came upon this photo today. 

That looks pretty old, said I to myself, said I. 




Well, the city of Nelson is not very much older than the birth of commercial photography, and I see that the Nelson museum's collection of photos begins 'from the 1860s' ... so ...

Alexander Fletcher (b Macduff 1838; d Fitzroy 13 November 1914) -- who took this photo -- set up as a photographer in Bronti (sic) Street 'next house to Captain Walmsley', Nelson at the end of 1861, and he left the city, with his new bride, Catherine Reid McGee, the pubkeeper's daughter, in 1870.  So we can safely say that this shot ws taken 'in the 1860s'. He wasn't Nelson's first photographer. Mr. J N Crombie, Mr Lane and Mr Davis had variously preceded him, along with others of brief duration, by three years or so, but Mr Fletcher was the first to make an extended go -- nine years -- of it. After which he, apparently, had a shot  at gold-mining, before heading to Melbourne ...  where he ran an art gallery in Collins Street, and supervised the Fine Arts at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition ... wow! he was presented with a bronze medal by the Prince of Wales for his organisation of the Melbourne Exhibition 1882.

I'm sure the local Nelsonian museums have other examples of his work but ... well, I first looked upon this street, Trafalgar Street, sixty-five years ago. There was Mr Glasgow, the lawyer's on the right, and there was a pub to the left. One on the right too, I recall. The cathedral was at the photographer's back. If I remember, that's a windmill at the far end. Pubs and churches tend to survive ... and the Oddfellows' Hall cum theatre, on the left, way down the bottom ..

Anyway, I didn't intend here to write a history of Nelson, or building or photography in Nelson. Just to preserve, for my own pleasure, this picture of the early days of Nelson ... the city where I grew up.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A heap of Lost Chords. Really Lost?

 



Sullivan's setting of Procter's poem 'The Lost Chord' has been popping up in my daily doings recently. Ezra Read, then Louise Homer ... bringing with it the odd query in my mind... so I investigated a little...


A LOST CHORD

"It may be that only in heaven, I shall hear that great Amen"



One of Arthur Sullivan's best remembered concert songs. And one of the principal reasons that Miss Adelaide Ann Procter makes her way into works of musical, as opposed to poetical, reference to this day.

Miss Procter was the daughter of well-known writer 'Barry Cornwall' (Bryan Waller Procter): 'delicate' 'doomed', who moved in the more obvious Sapphic circles, a Catholic convert, and a fluent writer of verse in the mostly sentimental, religious vein of the time, a genre brought her an enormous popularity with the magazine and poetry-buying public.

The poem entitled 'A Lost Chord' was first published in the March 1860 edition of the short-lived English Woman's Journal, and the following year it began appearing, reprinted, in provincial newspapers in Britain --the Northampton Mercury, The Leicester Chronicle, Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, The Dover Express et al -- and America, as well as being included in Miss Procter's second volume of Legends and Lyrics (1861).



It seems to have been set to music for the first time in 1864, appearing within months in different versions on each side of the Irish sea.
The English one comes from Exeter


William Pinney (1845-1906) was a local lad, the son of an elder William Pinney (b Shute 17 August 1808; d Exeter 18 June 1879) who had been a trumpeter inthe devon Yeomanry, a sergeant in the Devon militia, and who played for forty years in the Exeter Theatre orchestra. William jr was set to music at an early age, and in his teens was assistant organist at Exeter Cathedral. He would go on to be organist at Sidmouth and Ramsgate, earn a Mus Bac at Oxford (1880) and become long time organist at St George's, Hanover Square (1876-1892). Here, still in his teens, he turned out his version of Miss Procter's verse: alas, I cannot find a copy. Whether it were first published by Mr Smith or not, it was smartly picked up by Boosey ...



The Irish version can be spotted in May 1864, sung by basso Richard Smith of Dublin, but when it was published, it didn't receive such a kindly welcome. The Musical Standard took a hatchet to, especially, the poetry ...


They were clearly not the only musicians to have a go at the words: when Montem Smith sang one of these (I suspect the Robinson) at the Bury Athenaeum (1865) the local press sniffed that the words had been 'set to better music by a local amateur'. And in 1865 I spy a version by G A Macfarren published by Metzler, and one by Simon Waley (Lucas, Weber & Co).

Bessie Palmer sang the Robinson version at several concerts, including her own 5 June 1865 and Miss Berry Greening's in February 1866, Fanny Poole also took it up, and I would guess that most of the uncredited amateur performances in the later 'sixities were of the Irish setting. 

Boosey, Metzler and Lonsdale each had their 'Lost Chord', so Chappell had to join the band. At the end of 1870, they turned out a version by one 'Anne Hall' 'pupil of W T Wrighton'. The 'devoted student' may or may not have existed, I can find no other trace of her, but the Musical Standard rubbished her piece completely: 'Her knowledge of composition is evidently extremely limited -- so limited indeed that we cannot recall any song the contains greater errors in the harmony or more singular mistakes in the notationn'. Neither did he spare the lyrics. 'Miss Adelaide Procter has written some good lyrics [...] but "The Lost Chord" which sounded like "a Great Amen" is not one of them. It is not adapted to music, unless the composer have a taste for the ridiculous ...' 

Strange, then, that so many song writers had chosen to set these 'ridiculous' words? And it was not over yet. In 1875, while Miss Churcher of Southampton, Miss Greer of Belfast, Miss Wood of Gravesend, Mrs H Freeman of Bicester, Miss Hemming of Droitwich e tutti quanti were giving their Great Amen at amateur concerts, composer and music publishers John Blockley (b Westminster 5 July 1801; d 6 Park Rd, Hampstead 24 December 1882) produced his version


And look! The lady at the enormous pipe organ has been replaced by ... a self-portrait! 


I don't the firmly feminist Miss P would have been happy about that!  But she was dead and gone, at the age of 39 ...

Charlotte Sainton-Dolby



Lonsdale annouced a reprint of the Robinson for its circulating music library 'as sung by Madame Sainton Dolby', Chappell kept the Hall version doggedly on its lists -- though apart from a Miss Dilke at Nuneaton no one seemed to sing it -- the Blockley and the MacFarren did better: I see the latter sung by Miss Coyte Turner; and both made their way to the Antipodes ...  and after a little more than a decade it seemed that the "Great Amen" would finally be put to sleep.

But, as we know, that wasn't to be. Quite what inspired Arthur Sullivan to take up a not-very-well noticed text, for the umpteenth time, I know not. The story I was taught at Dame Rumour's knee was that the poem was set in mourning for the death of his brother, Fred. Fred died 18 January 1877. Sullivan's version was sung in public for the first time on 31 January 1877. Quick work. We are also told that it was 'written for' the American contralto Antoinette Sterling of the Boosey Ballad Concerts.  Perfectly probable: professionally, versions of the song had been sung principally by a low voice, and almost always a contralto, even of the quality of Miss Palmer and Mrs Poole. The business arrangements of the bringing out of the song had, anyway, had time to be arranged. Apparently Dr Sullivan and Miss Sterling each got 6d per copy of sheet music sold. I imagine that, for that emolument, she was obliged to sing the song a specified number of times. She sang it countless times.

The arrangement was obviously not secret: the practice was widespread. However the London correspondent of one of America's squeamiest rags The Chicago Tribune (a certain Charles Landor) decided to make himself a namelet and reported: 'The music is in my opinion of the most indifferent, monotonous character and I thought that this original singer displayed some disgust at the advertising trick which made it part of her performance'.  I presume that he was meaning the money things rather than Sullivan's family grief. But with the Chicago Tribune ... who knew? I don't think Madame Sterling would have been 'disgusted' with her royalty. One report which I have read estimated that 'The Lost Chord' sold 25 million copies... and that was in the nineteenth century!




'The Lost Chord' as sung by Miss Sterling at St James's Hall, accompanied on the harmonium by J W Elliott, on 31 January 1877 was immediately a decided hit. Song and singer were admirably suited, and Boosey programmed the piece liberally through the season of the London Ballad concerts, sung each time (and contractually) by Miss Sterling. If it were a piece of song-plugging .. and the Boosey concerts were, naturally, that .. it surely worked. And that wasn't always so. Helen Lemmens-Sherrington's attempt, for example, to launch 'The Liquid Gem' was a memorable failure. At the Boosey concerts, they plugged as hard as they could, but many were the songs introduced by Sims Reeves, Santley, Miss Sterling, Madame Lemmens and other concert stars which were folded away after their first season.

Not this one. In spite of the odd snooty critic ('the melody recalls Mrs J W Bliss's well known (sic) Bridge'), during the years that followed just about every top contralto in Britain -- and even some fine but inappropriate sopranos or baritones -- had a crack at Sullivan's version of the perhaps unjustly scorned words. I have picked up (in order of up-picking), during the song's first twelvemonth out, Florence Winn, Mrs Bradshaw(e) Mackay(e), Mrs Osborne Williams, Fanny Poole (abandoning the Robinson), Edith Wynne, Emily Dones, Fanny Danielsen-Ashton, Helen(e) D'Alton, Martha Harries, Elizabeth Mudie-Bolingbroke at the Leeds Festival,  Lena Law, Fanny Robertson, Alice Fairman, Annie Butterworth, Fanny Edwards, Julia Derby, Mary Cummings, Cola Schneegans, Florence Rice Knox ... as well as uncountable amateur ladies throughout the country and the colonies ... and a few men, particularly of the Reverend persuasion (Rev Cole-Hamilton of Northampton, Rev Amcotts-Jarvis of Lincolnshire, Rev T Everett et al), and even a Master Charlie Davis of Oswestry and a Master C Pugh of Wrexham. The treble versions can hardly have been as ludicrous as Mr W H Jude's. The gentleman presented an Entertainment at Liverpool, backed by 20 singers from the Edgehill Vocal Society. He sang 'Cheer, boys, cheer', 'From Rock to Rock', the Judge's song from Trial by Jury ... and 'The Lost Chord'.

In spite of Chicago's attempt at sabotage, the song made its way swiftly to American concert-rooms .. I see Herietta Beebe performing it before the year was out, and a Mrs C P Whitney of Virginia ... then Mrs Knox again, Emily Winant and others ..

America, too, produced its own versions of Procter's poem, of which this one has survived 


I think the 'Wm Herz' may have been Prussian-born Professor William of Hutsville, Alabama (1830-1879), so this version (in spite of the 'The') may pre-date Sullivan's.

Sullivan's success didn't prevent other folk from trying to cash in. Music publisher/songwriter William M Hutchinson, 'composer of 'Dream Faces' and 'When the Children are Asleep', produced (under the pseudonym of 'Julian Mount') and published (under the pseudonym of 'William Marshall & Co') round about 1882


At some stage Procter's words were glued to some homogenised Beethoven, and then of course came the 'arrangements' of Sullivan's music promoted by Boosey. William Kuhe (1877) for the piano ..


Dr William Spark, who had played the organ part in the voice/piano/organ version arranged the piece for organ,


 
there were 'versions' for brass and wind, for strings and squeeze-boxes, and there were parodies









 
and one H W Petrie of the iconoclastic US of A, and composer of 'Asleep in the Deep', perpetrated an 'answer' to Miss Procter's poem under the title 'The Lost Amen'.


In the century and a half since Miss Procter penned her words, and a little less since Fred Sullivan died and his brother penned his music, 'The Lost Chord' has been more or less permanently on the music stands of the world. It has been recorded and recorded, voices other than that for which it was intended have adapted it to their ranges with usually less rather than more effect, I have heard it played by a brass band, described as a 'hymn' ... and, yes, I sang in myself in the 1960s. Well, who can resist 'It May Be That Death's Bright An-gels ...'? Almost as stentorian as Hahn's 'Invictus' ...

Of all the triumphant and enduring songs to have been introduced at the famous Boosey Ballad Concerts, I think 'The Lost Chord' may claim to be the most triumphant and the most enduring.  But, nevertheless, I should love to hear all the others ...  Anyone got a Pinney?








1910 recording of Sullivan's version ... in two parts!  I wonder who hid behind the pseudonym of 'Alice Craven'.






Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Covid and Kurt: or the critical dangers of civil servants



Well, I'm home. My winter holiday in Yamba turned into a locked-down, locked-out (of New Zealand) saga of eight months. Wrecked my equanimity, destroyed my bank balance and left me with an utter disdain for 'civil servants' and 'proto-government agencies' ...

Since this Covid thing erupted, I have been a model citizen. I have fulfilled every requirement promoted by the Folk who have appointed themselves to positions 'in charge' of Public Health. And by our Prime Minster, who started out trying, but latterly has seemingly been simply soignering her image (new biography out for Christmas ... how tacky!) for her post-PM career. 'The Woman who saved the Kiwis'. Job for life at the United Nations? Shame, she was a good leader until she started believing in herself.

Well, anyway, thanks to a foolish letter from government (accusing me, like an athlete, of 'missing a control'), today the kettle of my indignation against the 'authorities' finally boiled over. So I'm blogging.

COVID and KURT

When Covid started to be mediatised, I was in New Zealand. I make no comment on what other people and governments did. I don't really know. I don't watch TV, and other media where the more melodramatic journos live, I haven't read a newspaper in 30 years ...

But it seemed sensible not to go to my 'Winter Palace' in Australia for Winter 2020 ... I don't know why ... but, hey! it would make me $$$ as a holiday let! Well, that was the theory. Until NSW went into lockdown and nobody holidayed ...



Fleeting thought: Omigod! It is about time Australia became a Country instead of a collection of bits.

OK. April 2021. The Baroness Ardern announces a travel-bubble. NZ-AUS. Fool that I was, I believed her. I mean, gosh, this is our Prime Minister. Trust is obligatory. I flew to Coolangatta 19 April.

Bubble.

Well, that Bubble burst pretty smartly, Wendy and Sarah took it all seriously (which I didn't) and flew home to New Zealand pronto.

So, Bubble burst. Lockdown. So, what does a 75 year old handicapped man do, alone in a 1br flat in a semi-foreign land ... ?

Louis and Robert

I survived. But it wasn't that pleasant. Except for flying visits (great fish n chips together!) from the family in Grafton -- trying, themselves, to keep within the 'law' -- and wonderful help from dear pals Robert and Louis, up the hill, who were known to deliver me gourmet home-made meals on wheels, by electric bicycle, during lockdown-isolation, I was pretty much on my own devices. And my aching wallet.



I'd be all right, I thought. Left alone, I'd simply start on writing another book. That worked for a while. Then one day I just stopped. The situation was getting to me. I wasn't eating. I didn't want to get up in the mornings. I didn't care if I didn't wake up in the morning. I understood, now, why folk committed suicide. How many must have actually done so, during this flu-demic? Perhaps they should add that statistic to their 'triumphant' covid data.



Of course, I didn't commit suicide. The dawn sunshine, my books, music, L'Equipe sports results on line (I wonder why I didn't plug in the TV, but I didn't ...) and the odd scaly visitor (without a mask) ... helped raise me out of the slough of Despair each morning ... and Robert was lavish with his invitations to fine dining (in and out) and little jaunts ... but then came the nights, with their horrors and their invitations to sweet dreamless nothingness. Some nights more tempting than others ... did I get near to trying to actually end it all? I have no idea. I was serious at the time.

But all would be well. I was going home 6 October. I had my ticket booked and paid for: Coolangatta to Christchurch.

Queensland closed Coolangatta airport. New Zealand introduced compulsory Quarantine. You couldn't fly into NZ without a booked berth in a Quarantine. Even though sports teams were flying in and out all the time. I was cancelled. Bite the bullet. Apply. An umpteenth panicked email to super-travel-agent Liz, back in Rangiora.

Amazement. Accepted. For 8 December. Where? Logic. I am heading from northern NSW to Christchurch, so I am ordered on to a flight from Sydney to Auckland.

So, instead of the relatively 'safe' journey, during which I would have passed directly Yamba - Coolangatta (by car) and thence to Christchurch ... a total of one flight and two family-car legs ... I found myself condemned to pass by, and change planes at, the two Australasian covid hotspots of Sydney and Auckland, on a total of no less than four different flights. Which, for me, means four transfers in umpteen different wheelchairs ... Was the Government 'protecting' me? Or merely taking care of its statistics?

Then it was weeks and weeks of waiting. The Powers that shouldn't be, at both ends, had been playing the game of changing the rules every ten or twenty days, so just when you thought that all was sorted, scheduled, paid for, somebody 'justified their job' by altering the status quo. Time and again, I had to change my plans; time and again book in (at considerable cost) for another week, another month in Australia ...

And while I waited, a message from the NZ Government. You have been out of New Zealand too long. We are stopping your pension.

We have been sending you letters. Duhhh. Yes, to an empty farmhouse in New Zealand, while I am, as you say, in Australia.

I did not lose my temper. I didn't. I pointed out most politely that I was only in Australia because the NZ government would not allow me back into the country where I was born, lived, paid taxes and rates .. and sent them a scan of my October ticket. Anyway, I see today that the pension payments have restarted. One department of WINZ has a clerk with a brain. But it is a DIFFERENT department which deals with refunding me the money illegally stopped. That little episode was one that pushed me the nearer to the brink ...

So I waited. Expecting, every day, to hear that one government or another had changed its rules ... and getting more and more stressed. But two things happened to alleviate that stress. My beloved Paul arrived from Germany, and the saintly Robert declared that he would accompany me to Sydney and get me on the plane to Auckland.

Together again ...

Paul took me to the Covid testing place in Yamba. Oddly, whereas the actual innoculations had not cost anything, the 'test' (15 minutes paperwork, 15 seconds test) cost 145$ payable in advance. I was past caring. Results in 24 hours. I was cutting it fine. But they don't work on weekends. 

24-hours. Nothing. Paul rings. Gets the woman who DOES know what she's doing at Sullivan Nicolaides. Consequently I got my 'negative' after closing hours, and 16 hours before my flight. And I could stop quivering and enjoy the evening.

So, Paul and I had our last night together for ... who knows how long? ... à deux, at the dear Thai Payu Restaurant, corner table ... and in the morning Sir Rodney the Magnificent picked Paul, Robert and I up in his shiny chariot and we all set out for Ballina airport.

I had thought of a dozen things that could go wrong between Yamba and Sydney but ... none of them did! Paul had packed every conceivable document into a bright yellow folder, which I clutched to my chest, as the Virgin staff bundled me cheerily into w/chair#1 and off we trundled. The 170-seater plane had 168 passengers and -- here's a bit of kindliness and thought -- the staff had put us into the one row with a vacant seat. Big tick Virgin!

Safely arrived at Sydney, the next hurdle was to get from Domestic to International. There's a train, but trains and w/chair#2 are not ideal partners, so we took a taxi. 3km? 4km? $50.



Robert got me safely to AirNZ check-in, my yellow folder did its job, we snacked a mildly indifferent lunch, I hugged Robert a grateful goodbye, and then w/chair#3 and its accompanying assistant and I headed for the departure lounge. The time waiting was pleasantly spent chatting to my fellow wheeley-traveller, the delightful Australo-American film-man, Ben Levin, until we were transported to the bowels of the plane. There was one lady in 1st class; 3 of us in business (which is now called premium economy and is worth the extra); but the back of the bus was bulging. Delightful flight, the best food I've eaten on an airplane probably ever, a glass of whisky which lasted me the whole trip, and I played Bejewelled wotsit all the way across the Tasman to Auckland, and w/chair#4.

Auckland looked gloomy, uninviting and ghastly. As we were bundled onto a bus, I couldn't help thinking of the trains to Theresienstadt. Some Eva Braun, who had been the least efficient of all my trundlers, snatched away my hand luggage and sent me into a tizz. That bag DOESN'T LEAVE my hands! My computer, my vast box of medications and other necessities of life are within. I fretted all the way to the 'Grand Millennium Hotel' where, after a lengthy lecture from totally incomprehensible policeperson (?), we unbundled, my bag was restored to my lap, and the Best Trundler of All -- w/chair #5 -- got me checked in (consternation in the camp when I admitted to not owning a movable phone OR a credit card) and up to Room 533.

The 'Grand Millennium', in more normal times, I am sure, looks much more attractive. It has clearly been stripped down to its basics for use as a quarantine hospital, and now resembles one of those awful 1980s airport hotels which are only meant to be slept in one night or with a whore. Bare, soulless... but, at least, these days, not sporting stained linen or cigarette burns.



I had made up my mind to be a martyr for a week. The only contact with the outside world -- i.e reception -- is by telephone. I am 70% telephone deaf. So, for seven days, I received my meals in a brown paper bag left outside my door, and saw a person only when the medical staff came to stick something up my nose. Or the Asian 20-somethings in the Colditzish 106 Royalty (I think it must be a hostel), next door, came and went on their scooters.

A room with view ...


The meals varied. The most edible ones were the pasta and noodles and, surprisingly, the braised meat. Chips, popcorn, sweet slices etc, as well as the things my dentures can't handle (green leaves, tomato, apple etc) were left untouched. But there was plenty of it! The greatest lack was liquid. One small bottle of water some days. I was forced to drink the tap water which smells of chlorine.

But the basics were sound. Large, hard bed, excellent strong shower, amazingly forceful toilet, and endless wifi. So, I slept 12-14 hours a day, wrote a little bloggery, and just thought of Gerolstein-to-come.




And finally the fatidic 15 December came. Lovely young chap (w/chair#6) collected me, zoomed me down to reception, and ... more amazement from the staff, NO extras? NO barista coffees even? 'Barista' is a term that always makes me giggle. Girl pulls a handle? And no. If I had to have a week without alcohol, I could also wait till decent Gerolsteinian tea and coffee were available!


 
On to the bus, out to the airport: Auckland looked less grim now that I was leaving it. The rows of clapboard houses in the suburbs were really charming. Not at all like 106 Royalty. W/chair#7. On to                 plane ... Every plane on this mega voyage had been pile on time! Every staff member on every flight (as at the Hotel) had been delightful ... perhaps I don't need to close down my travel days. Especially with Liz the whizz of Hello World to look after my arrangements ..

Touch down in Christchurch. 9.50 pm. W/chair#8. Sweet lass. She trundles me out to the pick up area ... oh, my! It has been super-raining! And there is my dear, dear friend Jo with her 4x4 ... the frets and stresses of the last months gurgle away ...

In 30 minutes we drive up the entrance road to the Castle of Gerolstein ... amazingly, it isn't under water ... hug the wonderful Jo, and ....





It's over. Well, the journey is. Not the covid saga. But for now, I'm just HOME. And it will be a bloody long time before I leave my proprietorial acres again. The house is looking gloriously spic 'n' span. Wendy (long gone to bed) has left chardonnay on ice, and erected an enormous Christmas tree in the living room ... and there is my OWN bed, and a bundle of newborn kitties on the doorstep



I must connect up the computer before tuning in ... and find my little bits and pieces which have strayed from where *I* keep them ... oh Lord! Look at the mail! A pile of stuff from various dimwitted government agencies ... can anyone be SO dimwitted? Or are they staffed by computer-robots?

But it's not over. You must check in for a Day 9 test. I've been tested four times on both sides of the Tasman in the past ten days. But I am a good boy, and Papa always taught me to obey authority unless it were Hitler or Sun Yat Sen. So, 2pm Friday, Wendy drove me to the doctor's and I had one (last?) swabbything up my nose. Result in 24 hours, then this saga is over.

Yeah? Saturday. Email from the Ministry of Health. They work on Saturdays? Why haven't I done my Day 9 test. Ignore them. Sunday ... they work Sundays?.., Why haven't you done your Day 9 test? Unless someone is more dimwitted that can be believed, this is an automatically generated mail. OK. I may be going on 76, crippled, fat and forgetful ... but, although I'm easily frightened by Sun Yat Sen and co, I'm not an idiot. Government has NO RIGHT to send out such messages. A MUCH tighter control of civil servants and their hirelings needs to be exerted, and their right to contact the public with 'official' notices vastly curbed.

Wendy's strong, feisty, little 83-year old mother, living in Richmond, Nelson, has been reduced to a fright-stricken wreck by the plethora of government notices and sensationalist TV reporting. Last night she was taken to hospital with a panic attack. Covid may be having its victims, but how many of us are or could be victims of the way covid is being managed by New Zealand and Australian Governments and media? Myself -- a reasonably sane and wise 75 year-old -- included.

Well, as all the tests I've had -- and I have had more than I ever had in the AIDs era -- proclaim: I'm flu-less.  

Do I feel that certain countries and medias are making a hugely exaggerated thing of this (Shit, no AIDS no Princess Diana, no whatsisname President of USA... what shall we put on our front pages). Yes. I do. I have come to the conclusion that the whole affair is being handled with shameless self-interest. 

I've had acquaintances die this year from this disease (I've also had ditto die from road accidents, cancer, old age, a stroke or a heart attack, and a variety of other causes, natural and unnatural), I've had a number of friends, especially in the UK, suffer from the bug with various degrees of severity. I've had more friends suffer from the 'scare-tactics' our government is using to pursue what they consider the right course in controlling its spread. And these Ministry of Health missives are the straw that has finally broken this normally duteous camel's back.

I've been 'good' for two years. But the next time I get a 'letter' from nzgov ... I'm ignoring it and them. Mental health is just as -- nay, more -- important than physical. And the 'civil service' of New Zealand is not a little damaging to one's health.


The man in the ironed mask

Post scriptum. 5 January 2022. I have just waited in a local chemist shop, with elderly folk in a queue out the door, to get my 'passport'. In 10.45. Out 12.15 ...   what will they think up next?