Friday, June 25, 2021

Hereward, a cantata


I have never heard Ebenezer Prout's cantata, Hereward. Well, the heyday of choral groups has passed, and the composition and performance of cantatas have, sadly, become a rarity. Unless they have a name such as Mendelssohn or Sullivan attached to them. But in Victorian days, every composer worth the name turned out such pieces; the great music festivals commissioned them, sacred and secular, from British and foreign writers; choral groups nation-wide, from the grandest ones in the big cities with their professional soloists to the small village societies, performed them ...

But, fashions change. And fashion hasn't been enormously kind to the legacy of the very worthy Mr Prout either. His didactic works -- much admired in their time -- are referred to only by specialists; his work as an editor, examiner, and adjudicator, a teacher in both England and Ireland (Hon Mus Doc, Trinity, Dublin), of course, died with him; and his compositions -- symphonic and choral -- don't get much of a hearing. Even his long-definitive performing edition of The Messiah seems to have been bypassed. I see some of his orchestral music has made it to youtube, but, alas, not the cantatas: Hereward, Alfred and The Red Cross Knight. 

But Ebenezer has been written about muchly, even if he has not made a home in the general consciousness as the Mendelssohns and the Sullivans have, so I shall not repeat his important professional history except to say that, in 1876, he was appointed as musical director of the Borough of Hackney Choral Association. The group was highly successful. I see that in 1878 they performed, amongst such works and Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream music and Weber's Jubel, Schumann's Faust music with soloists including Clara Samuell, Irene Ware, Lottie Reimar, Elizabeth Bolingbroke and Sydney Tower; and in the second concert Annie Marriott, Frederick King and Frank Boyle from the National Training School were featured. The East End choir had made its mark quickly. And it would soon make it even more thoroughly.

Prout had, for many years, been a piano teacher at the Crystal Palace, which I imagine is where he encountered William Grist, schoolmaster, language teacher and writer, who was involved with the annotation of the Crystal Palace programmes. Grist, the son of a Norwood grocer, came to theatrical notice with his adaptation of Mozart's L'Impresario for the Palace in 1877 and he would go on to write and translate libretti for A C Mackenzie (Jason), Henry Gadsby (Columbus), the Carl Rosa opera (La Juive &c) and Alice Barth, as well as for Prout. But libretti didn't feed the family. He tried his hand at secretarial work, journalism, and latterly took a job at Brock's fireworks factory, but when he died at the age of 56 (19 November 1896) he left but 42L to his family. One daughter married a member of the Corri family, another played with the D'Oyly Carte companies as "Minnie Harrold".

Grist supplied the text of Hereward, based on Kingsley's novel, for Prout to set (opus 12), and the result was highly positive, for both composer and libettist:

The critics were very largely in favour --  "Hereward is an honour to native art. We point to it as a good thing achieved .." (Musical Times),  'a really clever and musicianlike work', 'a good specimen of honest workmanship wedded to considerable imaginative powers' -- with the choruses, particular, winning enthusiastic praise. Only the odd critic was found who hissed that it reeked of 'the modern German school', 'recalled Mendelssohn', or worst of all, in its use of a couple of leitmotifs aped the unspeakable Wagner. But the German papers spoke of the 'sehr g√ľnstiges Erfolg' of the work ...

In fact, although the choruses were picked up for performance as single numbers -- and indeed, the opening 'Landless and lawless' was performed by the Melbourne Liedertafel just 8 months after the premiere -- it was Alftruda's song of triumph 'Hail, the power (ossia 'might') of woman' which, as delivered by the young Welsh soprano, Marian Williams, proved the take-away number. Barton McGuckin, the original Hereward, also repeated his 'Short and Blissful' as a single.

After the premiere performance at St James's Hall (4 June 1879), with Miss Williams and McGuckin teamed with Aline Osgood, Mary Davies and Frederic King, the Hackney Society performed their piece at Shoreditch Town Hall and at the Crystal Palace, as it set off  ... where?  Well, I thought I'd find out .... so I made a little list of performances culled from old newspapers

1879 4 June St James's Hall Davies, M Williams, Osgood, McGuckin, F King
1879 4 November Shorditch TH Osgood, M Williams, Jessie Jones, Shakespeare, F King
1879 20 December Crystal Palace M Williams, Anna Williams, Frances Brooke/Rose Dafforne, Harper Kearton, F King
1880 March Brixton Choral Society at St Peter's Hall, Lordship Lane md William Lemare
1880 August Brighton Harmonic Society, Australia md Julius Herz 
1881 18 January Newcastle Anna Williams, Henrietta Tomlinson, Kearton, Bridson
1881 July Watford selection
1882 14 March Newcastle Marian Fenna, Miss Tomsett, Shakespeare, Bridson
1882 17 May Timaru, New Zealand

1882 29 April Clifton Philharmonic Society
1883 29 October Shoreditch TH
1884 20 June Grosvenor Choral Society Mary Worrell, Louise Bond, Alfred Kenningham, F Bevan
1884 Glossop Dale Philharmonic Soc
1885 Glossop Dale Philharmonic Soc md: C Hall
1885 16 October Huddersfield

1885 25 November Bury Musical Society
1886 19 February Grosvenor Society Iver McKay (Hereward)
1886 29 March Ashton under Lyne Leighton, Alma Halowell, Seymour Jackson, Tufnall
1887 11 March Huddersfield Leighton, Marriott, Holbery Hagyard, Brereton
1887 9 December Dewsbury Leighton, C A Davies, Jackson, W Riley
1887 10 December Leeds same group
1888 April Launceston Philharmonic Society, Tasmania selection
1888 6 March Darwen
1888 28 November Bury Vinnie Beaumont
1889 15 November Bradford Festival Choral Society
1890 4 February Accrington
1891 3 March Todmorden Kearton, Riley
1892 7 April Holmfirth Choral Society Marianne Rea, C W Fredericks, W Riley
1892 20 May Grosvenor Society
1892 15 November Glossop Town Hall
1895 27 March Accrington Medora Henson, Maggie Davies, Thurgate Simpson, David Bispham
1895 5 December Keighley Musical Union
1895 7 November Holmfirth Choral Society
1896 3 November Todmorden
1898 15 February Victoria Hall, Ripon
1898 18 March Huddersfield Choral Society Leighton, Marie Duma, William Green, A Black
1900 November Holmfirth
1901 12 November Keighley Musical Union
1903 17 December Newcastle
1904 6 February Haslingden Orchestral Society
1906 15 March Jarrow Clare Addison, Agnes Winter, Henry Beaumont, Ballard Brown
1909 1 December Accrington Choral Society

I notice that a Mrs Mueller sang Alftruda's air in a concert in Wellington, NZ in 1905 ... also Clara Leighton, Marian Fenna

I can find no performances in America or Europe, but maybe the subject matter put them off.

I'm sure there are many more dates to find. If you find any, do send them to me!

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