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Sir Eugene Goossens by David Stybr

British composer and conductor Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) was one of the great conductors of the early 20th Century. Born in London and from a very musical family [brother to Leon (oboist), Sidonie and Marie (harpists)], he made many recordings with many orchestras over a period of nearly 40 years. His career was noted for its numerous unusual twists and turns. Early in his career he worked with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, where his father and grandfather had been leading conductors in their own times. Goossens also conducted for Sir Thomas Beecham's British National Opera Company and for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. He became a fixture in London musical scene, along with Beecham and Sir Henry Wood. Goossens also promoted new works by British composers and those from the continent.

In 1923 Goossens accepted an invitation by George Eastman (the founder of Kodak) to come to the United States as the first chief conductor of the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra in New York State. Goossens then conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Ohio from 1931 to 1946. There he was noted for his adventurous programs, elegant demeanor on the podium, and public eloquence. In 1942 Goossens commissioned a series of 10 fanfares from American composers as a patriotic gesture during wartime. The composers included Henry Cowell, Morton Gould, Roy Harris, Howard Hanson, Walter Piston and Virgil Thomson. The most famous of these, and perhaps the most popular fanfare ever composed, was Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.

After more than 20 years in the United States, Goossens embarked on a new phase of his career in Australia. From 1946 to 1957 he served as Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Director of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. He greatly changed both repertoire and teaching standards, and he worked toward the eventual construction of the Sydney Opera House. Through a combination of inventive concert programmes and charisma, Goossens greatly increased the size and sophistication of audiences for concert music in Sydney. He encouraged Australian composers, and gave the first performance of the ballet Corroboree by John Antill in 1950. However his tenure came to an abrupt end due to an Australian legal scandal. Goossens returned to his native London.

In the final years of his life, Goossens made the recordings for which he is best known. Fortunately for him (and for us listeners) Everest Records in the late 1950s made a series of impressive stereo recordings on specially-designed 35mm magnetic film which were issued on LPs. Many have been reissued on CDs and the results are still impressive. Goossens' return to the United Kingdom at this time gave him better access to orchestras as a guest conductor, excellent recording technology, and celebrity status.

As well as his work as a conductor, Goossens composed throughout his career. His music included piano works, chamber music, 2 symphonies, ballets, tone poems, concerti and 2 operas. In the 1920s Goossens was regarded as one of the foremost British composers along with Walton and Bax, but much of his music has been forgotten. The expressive nature of his music fell out of fashion in the 1950s and 1960s.


My interest in Eugene Goossens has recently been revived in a roundabout way. A long vacation in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in December 1998 and January 1999 gave me a superb chance to investigate the many fine composers in these countries. One can never have too much fine music, eh? Among the CDs I found were Uruguayan conductor Gisèle Ben-Dor's performances of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera's complete ballets Panambí and Estancia see review. These now stand alongside my old but vivid Everest stereo LPs of the ballet suites in energetic performances by the London Symphony Orchestra with Eugene Goossens.

My collection contains only a few recordings by Goossens, but they are unforgettable. The force of his personality, combined with the adventurous diversity of composers (in this case John Antill of Australia, Max Bruch of Germany, Alberto Ginastera of Argentina and Heitor Villa-Lobos of Brazil) make a tremendous effect.

John Antill (1904-1985), Australia: Corroboree: Ballet Suite.
London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Eugene Goossens.
Everest LPBR-6003 (United States).

Max Bruch (1838-1920), Germany: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor
Fritz Kreisler, Violin; Royal Albert Hall Orchestra / Eugene Goossens (Recorded 1924).
Pearl GEMM 250/1 (2 LPs) (United Kingdom). + Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major; encores.

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), Argentina: Estancia: Ballet Suite; Panambí: Ballet Suite.
London Symphony Orchestra Sir Eugene Goossens.
Everest LPBR-6003 (United States). + Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2: O Trenzinho do Caipira.


My many business and pleasure trips to France, Germany, the United Kingdom etc. have tremendously enlarged my LP and CD collections. A long vacation in southeast Australia in December 1996 and January 1997 gave me an excellent opportunity to buy about 50 CDs of Australian composers. No wonder I always need another suitcase when I travel. There I also found a CD of music composed by Eugene Goossens performed by Vernon Handley and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the same ensemble which Goossens had conducted for more than a decade.

Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), United Kingdom: Symphony No. 2; Concertino for Double String Orchestra; Fantasy for Nine Wind Instruments
(Janet Webb, Flute; Guy Henderson, Oboe; Lawrence Dobell and Christopher Tingay, Clarinets; John Cran and Fiona McNamara, Bassoons; Robert Johnson and Clarence Mellor, Horns; Daniel Mendelow, Trumpet). Sydney Symphony Orchestra / Vernon Handley.
ABC Classics ABC 442 364-2 (Australia).

On this site we have reviewed all the ABC discs: Piano music Divertissement etc Symphony 1 Symphony 2

An excellent review of this CD is in the July 1996 _Gramophone_, and it serves as a brief analysis of Goossens the composer:

"It was David Measham's fine account with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra for Unicorn-Kanchana (11/80 - nla) of Eugene Goossens's mightily impressive First Symphony (1940) that originally alerted me to the music of this formidably gifted composer/conductor. Its equally imposing successor (completed in 1945) is, if anything, an even more teemingly inventive, tightly knit creation, scored with a power, assurance and imagination that often take the breath away. On first hearing it is the sheer sweep and emotional scope of Goossens's opulent vision which impress most. Further acquaintance reveals an underlying formal strength allied to a rugged beauty which proves immensely rewarding. Indeed, the epic grandeur and turbulent demeanour of Goossens's admirably ambitious inspiration suggest (to this writer, at any rate) a strong kinship with another Second Symphony from two decades earlier, that of Sir Arnold Bax (a work whose belated première Goossens himself had given in May 1930).

"The two remaining pieces are also well worth getting to know. The splendidly lusty outer sections of the _Concertino for Double Sting Orchestra_ (1928) frame a central episode of rapt loveliness (sample the luminously textured writing from 6'26" onwards). Originally conceived for string octet, the Concertino is a marvellously crafted affair and an exhilarating addition to the British string-band works written this century. The _Fantasy for Nine Wind Instruments_ dates from 1924 and captivates by dint of its fluency, consummate blend of colour and engaging, distinctly Gallic wit. I should, however, point out that on two copies of the CD I tried there was a momentary disturbance at 1'38" into this final item (though not enough to spoil enjoyment).

"Vernon Handley directs all this material with his customary authority, tireless zeal and unflagging sense of purpose. Moreover, he draws a strongly committed, utterly sympathetic response from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (Goossens was their chief from 1947 to 1956), and the engineering is unobtrusively natural. (The Symphony, by the way, was recorded live and the enthusiastic applause has been rightly retained.) All told, an extremely valuable release. Here's hoping for more Goossens from the same source. AA"

David Stybr, Chicago, Illinois, USA

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