- Harry Plunket Greene
Harry Plunket Greene (b. Dublin
24 June 1865: d. London 19 August 1936) was an Irish baritone singer who was most famous in the formal concert and oratorio repertoire. He made a great contribution to British musical life also by writing and lecturing upon his art, and in the field of competitions and examinations. He also wrote a classic book in the fly-fishing genre.
Plunket Greene was educated at
Clifton Collegeand initially expected to follow Law at Oxford. However, after he was 'smashed up' in a football accident he had a year's convalescence. Discovering his musical calling he studied under Arthur Barraclough in Dublinbefore attending the Stuttgart Conservatoryfor two years under Hromada in the early 1880s. He also studied in Florencewith Vannuccini(a pupil of Lamperti), and in London with Alfred Blume.Eaglefield-Hull 1924.]
He made his debut in London (at the People's Palace, Mile End) in 1888, in
Handel's "The Messiah", and in the next year appeared in Gounod's "Redemption". In 1890 he made operatic debuts as Commendatore in "Don Giovanni" and as the Duke of Verona in "Romeo et Juliette", at Covent Garden. Thereafter he elected to make his career in recital.
In oratorio, his first Festival appearance was at
Worcesterin 1890. Plunket Greene created the title part in Parry's "Job", at the Gloucester Festivalin 1892. This includes the "Lamentation of Job", an extremely long (28 page) and sustained oratorio scena. David Bisphamsaid of his performances that he 'created the part and rendered it many times with superb dramatic feeling.' [Bispham 1920, 159.] In this, as in most of Parry's songs, Plunket Greene recognised the perfect declamation of Parry's writing, the accent upon word-values falling naturally and correctly in the music. As a result he became the original exponent or dedicatee of many of the lyrical works of Parry, and also of Battison Haynes('Off to Philadelphia'), and of Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford wrote 'Songs of the Sea' for him. Although his voice was not exceptionally powerful he used it with great style, musicianship and intelligence.
George Bernard Shawfound him 'fairly equal to the occasion in the wonderful duet' from Bach's Whitsuntide Canatata, "O, Ewiges Feuer", with the Bach Choir. In April 1892 (sharing the platform with Joseph Joachimand Neruda, Fanny Davies, Alfredo Piattiand Agnes Zimmermann (piano)) he sang admirably in his first set ( Lully, Cornelius and Schumann) in a Monday Popular Concert , but made little of his second group. In November 1893 at the first of George Henschel's London Symphony Orchestra concerts for the season he performed Stanford's new song, "Prince Madoc's Farewell", so patriotically 'that he once or twice almost burst into the next key.' Shaw's strictures on his diction were no doubt taken very seriously by the singer, who studied to make absolute clarity and naturalness of diction a central point of his teaching and example. [Shaw 1932, i, 107, 129; ii, 73, 89; iii, 86-88.]
Recitals - partnership with Leonard Borwick
During the 1890s (from 1893) Plunket Greene became one of the foremost British performers and interpreters of the German lied, especially of
Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. This he did in association with the English pianist Leonard Borwick(the brother of a schoolfriend), a Frankfort pupil of Mme Clara Schumann's noted for his powerful rhythmic delivery, and who (like his fellow-pupil Fanny Davies) was closely involved in the London work of Joachim. Plunket Greene and Borwick formed a musical friendship which lasted until Borwick's death.
Plunket Greene was touring in America in Spring 1893 and wrote to Borwick suggesting they should deliver a song and pianoforte recital in London, unlike the more usual form of miscellaneous concert with a mixed company. The first recital was in
St James's Hallin December 1893, followed by a tour throughout the country, and this pattern was repeated for ten years. Borwick played his own programme as well as accompanying, but after a couple of seasons Samuel Liddlecame in as accompanist. Pioneering this model of the recital, they gave a lead to that movement in London. Their rules were to maintain musicianship, avoid the glare of publicity, and never to take care of hands or voice.
On January 11 1895 at St James's Hall, Borwick and Greene gave the first complete public performance of Schumann's "
Dichterliebe" to be heard in London. Their musical partnership was still active in 1913, but the demands of their separate tours became so great by the early 1900s that they agreed not to continue their former recital programme unless it could be done whole-heartedly. Plunket Greene toured especially in the United States, where he considered the audiences especially attentive and appreciative, and in Germany. He also liked northern English audiences better than southern ones, and liked singing to audiences of public schoolboys. [This section, ref Plunket Greene 1934 ("Blue Danube to Shannon"), 74-89.]
Gerontius and after
Plunket Greene was a friend of Elgar's, and appeared in his Malvern Concert Club events. [Young 1956, 126-127.] He was the original baritone in the first (October 1900) performance (Birmingham Festival) of
Elgar's " Dream of Gerontius", alongside Marie Brema(angel) and Edward Lloyd(soul), under Hans Richter. In June 1900 Elgar had written to Jaeger, 'he sings both bass bits and won't they suit him. Gosh.' [Young 1956, 84.] Although his recordings, and some commentators, suggest the voice was not a large one, [e.g. Eaglefield-Hull 1924.] it must have been capable of sustaining and projecting a considerable tone at this time, for both the "Gerontius" baritone solos require this. Moreover, for this most personal of his works, Elgar must have felt some real aptness in the choice. Arthur Somervell's song-cyle, on Tennyson's 'Maud' was originally produced (with twelve songs) in 1898 and was championed by Plunket Greene. In c.1900 he married the daughter of Hubert Parry, and their first son was born a year later. He also gave the first performance of Somervell's ' A Shropshire Lad' cycle, at the Aeolian Hallon 3 February 1904, and so had the distinction of being the first to sing settings of A.E. Housman's lyrics, which afterwards became so fundamental an inspiration to the composers associated with the English song revival of that period.
Gervase Elwesfrom the start of his professional career and was his lifelong friend. At Elwes' audition for the Royal College of Musicin 1903 Greene wrote to encourage him with the favourable reactions of Parry and Stanford, [Elwes 1935, 127.] and soon afterwards put him up for the Savile Clubin London. [Elwes 1935, 155.] In 1906, he joined the party at Briggto sing in the second festival there organized by Elwes and Percy Grainger, and declared his wish to be in many more of them. [Elwes 1935, 165.] When Elwes died in 1921, Greene wrote 'I always felt he [Elwes] was the man I most looked up to.' [Elwes 1935, 281-282.] 'In the "St Matthew Passion", (he) made us feel that he of all men was best fitted to tell us the greatest story in the world.' [Elwes 1935, 296-297.]
Plunkett Greene's recordings were made first for the
Gramophone Company, in 1904-1906. He included folk-songs in his recitals, according to them the same values of diction, phrasing, rhythm, and interpretative sincerity which he brought to art-songs. In later years, as he moved into the field of song-lecturing, he did great service to the cause of British folk-music. His last recordings were made by the electric process for Columbia Records: his late recording of 'Poor old horse' is an affecting example.
On January 24 1910 he appeared in the memorial concert at
Queen's Hallfor August Jaeger(Elgar's 'Nimrod'), singing a group of songs by Walford Davies, and Hans Sachs's monologue from " Die Meistersinger". [Elkin 1944, 41.] He made his first appearance in Henry Wood's Promenade Concerts at the Queen's Hall in October 1914 singing Stanford's "Songs of the Sea" with the Alexandra PalaceChoral Society. [Wood 1946, 295: Elkin 1944, 70.] He had declined to fulfil an engagement to sing them there for the "Stock Exchange Orchestral Society" in 1907 on hearing that they still used the high English Concert pitch. [Elkin 1944, 104.]
Competitions and Festivals, Teaching
In his later years Plunket Greene was busily involved in the orgnization of music events and in teaching and administration. In 1923 he made his fifteenth voyage across the
Atlantic(the first had been in 1893), on this occasion to act as a judge in Musical Competitions throughout Canada. From New York he went to Torontoby train to join Granville Bantock. This was to be at the five Festivals of Ontario, Manitoba, Sasketchewan, Albertaand British Columbia. This was the first Ontario Festival (Toronto) (with Robert Watkin-Millsand Boris Hambourgalso in attendance), the 6th in Winnipeg(with Herbert Witherspoonand Cecil Forsythassisting), where the Earl Grey trophy was competed for, the 16th in Edmonton(Alberta), with choirs from Lethbridgeand Calgary, and in Prince Albert they were with Herbert Howells. The promotion and encouragement of these events provided not only a great spectacle and opportunity for music-making, but also infused a competitive spirit into the works of choirs, singers and instrumentalists in the award of prizes (in the tradition begun at Kendal, UK in c.1889), tending to the encouragement of excellence. Plunket Greene repeated the experience in Sasketchewan in 1931, together with Harold Samuel, Maurice Jacobsonand Hugh Roberton. ["From Blue Danube to Shannon", Chapters II and VII.]
Among those to profit from his teaching was Sir
Keith Falkner, whom Plunket Greene coached in his famous interpretation of the "Lamentation of Job" in Parry's oratorio "Job". [Brook 1958, 76.]
*Interpretation in Song (Macmillan, London 1912)
*Pilot and other stories (Macmillan, London 1916)
*Where the Bright Waters Meet (Philip Allan, London 1924)
*From Blue Danube to Shannon (Philip Allan, London 1935)
*Charles Villiers Stanford (Edward Arnold, London 1935)
H.P.G. recorded songs both for Gramophone Company and Columbia records.
"Recordings for the Gramophone Company" (1904-9):
*3-2016 Off to Philadelphia (Battison Haynes). 1904
*3-2017 Molly Brannigan (arr Stanford). 1904
*3-2018 Father O'Flynn (arr Stanford). 1904
*3-2059 (a) Eva Toole (b) Trottin' to the fair (Stanford). 1904
*3-2060 The Donovans (Needham). 1904
*3-2089 Over here (Wood). 1904
*3-2334 The gentle maiden. 1906
*3-2335 Little red fox (arr. Somervell). 1906
*3-2336 Little Mary Cassidy. (1906)
*4-2017 Molly Brannigan (arr Stanford). 1909
*02174 Off to Philadelphia (Battison Haynes). 1909 (12")
*(?number) Abschied (Schubert).
Among the Columbia (electric) recordings are:
* Trottin' to the Fair (Stanford)
* Poor Old Horse (Trad)
* The Hurdy-Gurdy Man (Schubert)
* The Garden Where The Praties Grow (Trad)
In addition to recordings of songs, he also recorded a Lecture 'On The Art Of Singing' for the
Columbia Records"International Educational Society" series (Lecture 75), on four sides, Disc numbers D40149-40150. ["Catalogue of Columbia Records, September 1933" (Columbia Graphophone Company, London 1933), p. 374.]
*D. Bispham, "A Quaker Singer's Recollections" (Macmillan 1920)
*D. Brook, "Singers of Today" (Rockliff, London 1958), 'Keith Falkner', pp 75-78.
*A. Eaglefield-Hull, "A Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians" (Dent, London 1924)
*R. Elkin, "Queen's Hall 1893-1941" (Rider, London 1944)
*W. Elwes and R. Elwes, "Gervase Elwes, The Story of his Life" (Grayson & Grayson, London 1935)
*H. Plunket Greene, "From Blue Danube to Shannon" (Philip Allan, London 1934)
*M. Scott, "The Record of Singing to 1914" (Duckworth, London 1977)
*G.B. Shaw, "Music in London 1890-1894", 3 vols (Contable & co, London 1932)
*H. Wood, "My Life of Music" (Gollancz, London 1938)
*P.M. Young, "Letters of Edward Elgar" (Geoffrey Bles, London 1956)
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