Another flight of the gentle lark

In the Summer of 2000 I had the great pleasure of meeting James Gillespie, editor of The Clarinet Journal, during the International Clarinet Association (ICA) convention in Oklahoma. James asked me if I would like to contribute a regular column. These personal reflections are now reprinted with his permission. The following ‘Letter from the UK’ was first published in September 2010 in The Clarinet Journal, the official publication of the ICA. 

It’s always thrilling to uncover something that no one has known about for many years. In this case I’m talking about one hundred and sixty five years! And particularly so when it makes some unexpected and delightful connections. This all came about when a friend happened upon a very rare concert programme dated January 16th 1845.

Readers may recall that I used to teach in a wonderful school housed in an imposing old stately home. The original estate that is now Stowe School was owned by various noble families over the years and during the first half of the nineteenth century it was occupied by the extremely noble sounding Richard Plantagenet Temple Nugent Brydges Chandos Grenville (1797–1861), The Second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos and Member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire.

In January 1845 Stowe had some rather special visitors – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Such a State occasion was a major event and the Duke spent lavishly. On January 16th, the second of the three-day visit, he organized a large-scale concert which took place in Stowe’s beautiful music room. It featured, both as orchestral player and soloist a certain Mr. Lazarus. The orchestra was conducted by the famous and flamboyant Mr Jullien and they played selections from popular operas, movements from symphonies as well as a host of occasional pieces. Lazarus himself was soloist in Sir Henry Bishop’s arrangement of ‘Lo, here the gentle lark’, first performed just two years earlier in this version, with flute player Joseph Richardson who played the obligato. 

I found all this particularly exciting for two reasons. Firstly, having researched widely over the past few weeks, especially in Pamela’s Weston’s extensive writings about Lazarus, I could find no previous mention of this performance. 

To discover the second reason we need to look at dynasties. Pamela loved tracing clarinet dynasties. Here’s mine: I was taught, at the Royal Academy of Music, by John Davies (still going strong now in his 90s) who was taught by George Anderson (himself teaching at the Royal Academy of Music up to the time of his death when he was into his 80s) who was taught by Henry Lazarus (who was teaching right up until his own 80th year). Because each of these great characters of the clarinet world had such long working lives I’m only three generations removed from Lazarus. So it was very exciting to discover that Lazarus himself had played in the very same Music Room in which I have given so many performances. I haven’t played there for a while but I’m going to try to arrange a performance of the Bishop for next January 16th – only a hundred and sixty six years later!

As far as his own additions to the clarinet repertoire is concerned Henry Lazarus was responsible for a fair number of still popular works. As a composer he is best known for his operatic fantasias (particularly those on I Puritani and Ernana). He was also the dedicatee of some fine pieces. I especially love the Six Nocturnes by Charles Oberthür and then of course there’s his notable and comprehensive Tutor, “The New and Modern Method” published in 1881. I bought my copy (the new edition) interestingly enough in Los Angeles on a trip there a few years ago! I’m sure many readers will have their own copy on a shelf somewhere. If yours has perhaps suffered neglect recently then don’t forget the many colourful and enjoyable duets it contains. Mine gets used in almost every lesson I give – my pupils love those grand symphonic duets – ideal for warming-up or sight reading. And Lazarus’s instructions for performance are still delightful to read, “when performing before an audience, bear a calm appearance, emit the sounds without showing externally the difficulties that have to be overcome, and it will greatly impress those around you with the apparent facility of your execution.”

Indeed as a teacher Lazarus held some very prestigious positions. He was professor at the Royal Academy of Music for nearly forty years, the first ever clarinet professor at the Royal College of Music and he taught at the famous Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. His obituary, in an edition of The Musical Times, of April 1896, stated simply: He was, in the opinion of many, the most accomplished clarinettist which this country has produced, his playing being characterized by fullness and beauty of tone and an unerring technique. 

The Henry Bishop arrangement of Lo, here the gentle lark, for clarinet, flute and piano is still available from Fentone Music. What are you doing next January 16th?