It is a sad reflection of Britain’s attitude towards its own music that British composers have rarely been accorded the attention they merit. This was particularly the case in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when all too often a work was forgotten after one performance. Much music from this period remains unpublished, and the revival even of published works – as with the published trios on this disc – depends on the survival of a single copy of the music. The four trios here are all premiere recordings – in fact, not a single note of music by any of the composers featured (with the exception of Thomas Dunhill) has ever been recorded. This music is undeniably appealing: brimming with melodic and rhythmic inventiveness, readily approachable and exceptionally well crafted. These works represent a cross-section of the British music scene in all its variety between 1890 and 1910, and certainly did not deserve the neglect into which they had fallen.
ROSALIND ELLICOTT - SECOND TRIO (publ. 1891)
Scherzo (Allegro) – Trio (Meno mosso)
Rosalind Frances Ellicott: born Cambridge 1857, died Seasalter 1924; studied piano (1874–76) at the Royal Academy of Music under Frederick Westlake; studied composition for seven years under Thomas Wingham (a pupil of Sir William Sterndale Bennett). Second Trio: first published 1891; dedicated to the cellist Alfredo Piatti; first performed 6 December 1895 at a British Chamber Music Concert at the (Small) Queen’s Hall with Agnes Zimmerman (piano), Emile Sauret (violin) and Charles Ould (cello); first modern performance Summerhayes Trio, 12 July 2002, Maltings Arts Centre, St Albans, Herts.
Rosalind Ellicott’s father, the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, had no interest in music whatsoever, and it was Rosalind’s mother, a singer involved with the founding of the Gloucester Philharmonic Society and the Handel Society in London, who encouraged her daughter’s musical development. Ellicott’s first published composition (Sketch, for violin and piano) appeared in 1883, and shortly afterwards, she began composing ambitious choral and orchestral works. Many of these were given their first performances at Gloucester festivals: Dramatic Overture (1886), Elysium (1889), The Birth of Song (1892), and Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (1895). Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Rosalind turned her attention to chamber music – there were more opportunities to perform and hear chamber music than large-scale works – but after 1900, Ellicott began to disappear from the public eye, moving to the south coast after World War I.
Ellicott’s contemporaries felt that her music had great strength of character, some even suggesting that it was superior to that of her male colleagues – praise indeed in an age when women were still very much restricted by convention. It was thought until recently that only Elysium and The Birth of Song, together with a few songs and small instrumental pieces, had survived. However, while leafing through a rather uninspiring pile of sheet music in a second-hand bookshop in the New Forest, I unearthed a copy of Ellicott’s two piano trios, the last page of the first trio missing. After further investigation I found that no other copies of these works existed. Very much within the nineteenth-century British tradition, the work nevertheless exhibits an individual voice of great charm and passion.
ALICE VERNE-BREDT - PHANTASIE TRIO (1908)
Moderato – Andante cantabile – Allegretto – Maestoso – Adagio doloroso – Andante cantabile – Allegretto – Maestoso
Alice Verne-Bredt: born Southampton 1868, of German musicians who had settled in England in the 1850s; sister of Marie Wurm (1860–1938), who returned to Germany and enjoyed success as a pianist and composer; Alice had violin lessons early on from her mother, and piano lessons later from Marie Schumann (daughter of Robert and Clara); died London 1958. Phantasie Trio: composed 1908; dedicated to Mrs Fritz Rommel; no record of a contemporary performance found (though the parts used for this recording have pencil markings); first modern performance given by the Summerhayes Trio, 24 April 2002, Culzean Castle, Scotland.
One of ten children, Alice harboured ambitions at an early age of becoming a singer, but sadly, her voice was permanently ruined by typhoid. The family anglicized its name from Wurm to Verne in 1893, and Alice married William Bredt, a keen amateur musician. Alice and William contributed substantially to the success of the piano school set up in London in 1909 by Alice’s sister Mathilde (1865–1936). Alice took on sole responsibility for the school’s junior department, where her many pupils included Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, for whom she composed a wedding march.
Despite Alice’s compositional fluency, she was mainly self-taught, and although quite prolific, few of her works were published. The Phantasie Trio is a immensely lyrical and dramatic work and won a supplementary prize in the annual chamber music competition inaugurated in 1906 by Walter Cobbett, a wealthy businessman and another keen amateur musician. Entries for Cobbett’s competition had to be works of one movement in several contrasting sections. The Phantasie Trio is in the form A-B-C-A2-B-C-Coda, and there are contrasts between dramatic, lyrical and playful music. The work’s focal central section is a slowed-down version of the opening theme, presented with a new rhythmic emphasis. The players asked to play in a doloroso manner, invoking a pathos typical of the Romantic period. The reappearances of the B and C sections are somewhat shortened, and the coda dies away with one last utterance of the opening theme.
THOMAS DUNHILL - TRIO in C major (1900)
I - Allegro moderato
Thomas Dunhill: born London 1877; studied (1893–1901) at the Royal Academy of Music, with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (composition) and Franklin Taylor (piano); assistant music master at Eton College from 1899; died 1946. Trio in C major: manuscript in the Royal College of Music library, dated 27 September 1900; first performance by the Summerhayes Trio, 11 November 2001, St Mary’s Church, Sidlesham, Sussex.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Dunhill came to prominence as a composer of large-scale chamber works, and in 1924, he became the first recipient of the Cobbett Chamber Music Medal. It is a pity, then, that he is today remembered better as a music educationalist than as a composer – many of his more ambitious works languish unpublished and unknown. For most of his professional life, Dunhill was associated with the Royal College of Music, teaching harmony among other things, and in the early 1900s he became involved with what is now the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. His work for the Board took him all over the world. In 1907, he instituted a series of chamber music concerts, specifically to promote the works of the younger generation of composers. The series continued successfully for several years, and gave Dunhill the opportunity to present some of his own works.
Dunhill appears to have composed only the first movement (‘I’), the Allegro moderato, of his Trio in C major. He kept a fairly detailed diary throughout his life, but makes no mention of this work, composed towards the end of his student days. (The work should not be confused with the later Phantasie Trio in C minor (op. 26) of 1907, now lost, or the Phantasy Trio (op. 36) or 1912, which was published.) The movement was written early in Dunhill’s composing career and is reminiscent of Brahms: the opening, which is at once warm and intimate, sets the stage for a movement of drama and passion.
ERNEST AUSTIN - TRIO No. 4 (op. 26, ?1909)
Poco lento, con espressione – Allegro moderato con vigore – Allegro con animo (sic) – [Allegro moderato con vigore] – Molto allegro con fuoco
Ernest Austin: born London 1874; died Wallington, Surrey, 1947. Piano Trio No. 4 (op. 26): composed ?1909; published 1911; dedicated to John Davison; first performed 13 November 1909 at the Steinway Hall, London, with Lily Henkel (piano), Beatrice Langley (violin) and May Muklé (cello).
Ernest had not originally intended to follow his brother Frederic, an eminent baritone, arranger and composer, into music. He worked initially for the Board of Trade and then in business before deciding, at the age of thirty-three, to make music his chosen career. By this stage he had already begun composing and his substantial piano Sonata (op. 1) had been privately printed in 1897. During the early years of the twentieth century, Ernest composed some larger works, including a set of variations for strings on the folk-tune ‘The Vicar of Bray’, which was performed at a Queen’s Hall Promenade Concert (the precursor of today’s Proms) in 1910. Austin was often influenced by old English tunes and folk-music, and wrote (and had performed) a fair quantity of chamber music. However, he is perhaps best remembered for the smaller piano pieces he wrote for young players – tone stanzas, tone sonnets, preludes – and the talks he gave in local libraries, together with his daughter, illustrated with examples from his own music.
Austin was mainly self-taught as a composer, so he developed an individual style not restricted to any particular school. Even so, it is hard to see how Austin’s music could be described as having ‘ultra-modern tendencies’ (Macmillan’s New Encyclopaedia of Music, 1924). There are some stylistic similarities, from a harmony and texture point of view, with Josef Holbrooke (1878–1960) and Cyril Scott (1879–1970), but Austin’s music became gradually more conservative in approach as the twentieth century progressed. The Trio No. 4 is cast in one movement, with three main sections that contrast in mood and tempo, and so may have been intended as an entry for the Cobbett’s chamber music competition.
© Martin Eastick, 2005
We are grateful to David Dunhill for supplying the portrait of Thomas Dunhill and for allowing us to record the Trio in C major of 1900. We are also grateful to the Royal College of Music for supplying the portrait of Rosalind Ellicott and a copy of the Dunhill manucsript. This disc would not have been possible without the help of Martin Eastick, who gave generously of his time and expertise, introducing us to this repertoire, helping us to locate parts for the Ellicott, Verne-Bredt and Austin trios, and writing the notes for this booklet.
The Summerhayes Piano Trio has been critically acclaimed for its performances and recordings, and praised for its innovative programming. The group was formed in 2000, when Joseph Spooner joined the established Summerhayes Duo for a concert on London’s South Bank to mark the centenaries of Aaron Copland and Alan Bush. The concert awoke the Trio’s interest in unusual repertoire, and the group now regularly programmes such pieces alongside classics from the piano trio repertoire. In addition to its concert work, the Trio has undertaken a number of recording projects, including discs of music by Aaron Copland and Alan Bush, the latter one of the great British composers of the twentieth century. The group continues to hunt down previously unknown or unjustly neglected works, and is currently concentrating on English and Russian works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This is a disc to die for. (The Strad, review of Meridian’s Aaron Copland: Chamber Music)
The three artists on Meridian’s instrumental programme have obviously lived with this music and play very sympathetically indeed and with fine ensemble … excitement and real stimulation, lyrical strength and musical pleasure, in varying measures … I cannot recommend it too highly. (Gramophone, review of Meridian’s Alan Bush: Chamber Music, vol. 1)
consummate virtuosity from all three players (The Strad at the Purcell Room)