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Fritz Bennicke HART (1874-1949)
The Bush, Symphonic Suite, Op. 59 (1923) [39:55]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Richard Divall
rec. 17 March 1993, Melbourne Town Hall, Australia.
Idyll, for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 169 (1949) [17:48]
Ronald Woodcock (violin)
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Graham Abbott
rec. 22 February 1994, ABC Studio 520, Collinswood, Adelaide, South Australia.
ANTHOLOGY OF AUSTRALIAN MUSIC CSM38 [57:43]
Experience Classicsonline


This disc of performances of orchestral music by Fritz Hart has recently come into my possession. It seems that it was first released in 2003 and is, I feel, deserving of a further reassessment. See previous MusicWeb International review by Michael Herman. 

With regard to the accomplishments of the composer Fritz Hart it is extremely difficult not to focus on his association with the great teacher and composer Sir Charles Stanford. Some sources state that Hart studied under Stanford at the RCMA. For example Imogen Holst is quite categorical in her book Gustav Holst - A Biography writing of her father, “His first friend at college was Fritz Hart, a fellow pupil of Stanford’s.” (Faber and Faber, London, edition 2008) However, it seems more likely that Hart was not a formal pupil of Stanford. Stanford clearly took an enthusiastic interest in the young student and encouraged him significantly. It was essentially Hart’s friendships with fellow RCM students Gustav Holst; William Hurlstone; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; Frank Bridge et al that led to a close collaboration, especially with RCM opera productions conducted by Stanford. For these amateur productions the versatile Hart wrote librettos, acted and also sang tenor roles. Stanford was impressed with Hart’s literary talent and warmly referred to him as the, “poet laureate to the RCM.”
 

There is little doubt that Stanford was a formative influence on Hart’s general music development. Biographer Dr. Peter TregearB writes, “Although never taking private composition lessons under Stanford, Hart nevertheless found himself in the close company of a number who did, including William Hurlstone, Evlyn Howard-Jones, Thomas Dunhill, John Ireland, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and, after an absence of three years to study history at Cambridge, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Together they made a close-knit band, Hurlstone and Coleridge-Taylor in particular joining Holst as close friends of Hart.” This precocious band of Stanford acolytes would meet regularly at Wilkins, a Kensington tea shop. These friendships are discussed by Vaughan Williams’ in his Musical AutobiographyC and also in the biography of Thomas DunhillD. 

Metaphorically speaking Stanford seems to have sprinkled stardust on his circle of pupils and associates at the RCM, a group, benchmarked by those who went on to achieve the greatest acclaim. The list is undoubtedly headed by the distinguished pair: Vaughan Williams and Holst. Following on behind are the successful composers: Bridge, Howells, Gurney, Coleridge-Taylor, Ireland, Bliss, Dyson and Moeran and the conductor Leopold Stokowski. Other lesser lights among the Stanford pupils include: Walford Davies, Edgar Bainton, Harold Darke, Haydn Wood, Cecil Rootham, Hamish MacCunn, Rebecca Clarke, Thomas Dunhill, Eugène Goossens, William Hurlstone, Geoffrey Toye, Arthur Benjamin, Gordon Jacob, George Thalben-Ball, Cecil Forsyth and Arthur Somervell. All attained various degrees of success during their lifetime and there are several recording of their scores in the catalogues. There are also a number of Stanford pupils and associates, although achieving some success during their careers, who have faded almost completed from the radar; with commercial recordings of their scores a distinct rarity. This category includes William Henry Bell, James Friskin, Emil Kreuz, Sydney Peine Waddington, Nicholas Gatty, Richard Walthew, Landon Ronald and Edward Naylor. I would have to include Frit Hart in this category - composers who have been generally ignored and virtually abandoned. 

Several of the RCM composers from this era, probably frustrated by the limited amount of opportunities afforded by the fierce competition, searched abroad to improve their professional prospects. The subject of this disc Fritz Hart was one of several former RCM students to take advantage of colonial links by emigrating to Australia in 1908. Former Stanford pupils Edgar Bainton emigrated to Australia in 1934 and William Henry Bell moved to South Africa in 1912.

Fritz Hart, composer, conductor, writer and singer was born in 1874 at Deptford, in what is now designated as the Greenwich area of London. A chorister at Westminster Abbey under Frederick Bridge and a student of the Abbey School, Hart later studied at Eton Public School. After leaving school in 1889 Hart’s first job was as a junior clerk for a City stockbroker. After a year working in a Westminster architect’s office he moved on to London’s Coal Exchange. 

Hart’s father, realising that his son was not suited to the world of finance and commerce, agreed to a career change, allowed Fritz to sit an entrance exam at the RCM. From 1893 during his three year period of study at the RCM Hart undertook tuition in piano, organ and some singing. There Hart came under the influence of luminaries Stanford, George Grove and Hubert Parry, and there is plenty of evidence that he involved himself fully in college life. 

After leaving the RCM in 1898 with a glowing reference in hand from Parry, the RCM director, Hart’s first professional appointment was as an actor for a touring theatre company. Later he worked for four years as a conductor in music theatre for the Wilson Barrett company. A conducting engagement followed in 1901-02 for the D’Oyly Carte ‘D’ Company touring under William Greet. In 1903, it seems that Hart returned to Wilson Barrett’s theatre company and in 1905 he gained employment as a musical director for George Edwardes’ theatre company at the King’s Theatre in Hammersmith. 

A watershed in Hart’s career came in 1909 when he took the brave step of emigrating to Australia on the steamship China for employment as a conductor for the theatre company of J. C. Williamson in Melbourne. The resourceful Hart in 1912 became a music critic for The Age, a Melbourne newspaper. Significantly, at this time, Hart met George Marshall-Hall and was appointed as a lecturer at Marshall-Hall’s, Albert Street Music Conservatorium in Melbourne. Hart’s career had progressed and in 1916 he succeeded founder Marshall-Hall as Conservatorium Director holding the post until 1937. Another prestigious appointment was Hart’s conductorship of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 1928. During his years in Australia, Hart kept himself up to date with the work of his contemporaries in England, frequently receiving copies of newly published scores, for detailed study, by his friends Vaughan Williams, Holst, Granville Bantock and Philip Heseltine. 

From 1938 Hart travelled across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and became a regular guest conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. This appointment led to his making a bold move and settling on the island. He was made the orchestra’s permanent conductor in 1937 and subsequently became the first professor of music at Hawaii University. The outbreak the Second World War proved difficult for Hart’s musical creativity and he concentrated on other activities including the completion of some 24 novels and some verse. He died in Honolulu in 1949. 

David Dunhill outlines in the biography of his father Thomas DunhillD how in 1936 he met Hart, his father’s good friend, who had returned briefly to England. “Tom was happy in his company…He was an attractive person of high vitality and the ability to make anyone he met feel he was really interested in him or her…and thought him one of the most remarkable people I had yet encountered”.

Currently the most accessible resource for information on Fritz Hart is the entry in Grove Music Online. Hart’s prodigious compositional output amounts to well over 500 surviving scores, the majority of which were songs. His love for the stage is demonstrated by the writing of 22 operas. Prof. Richard Divall, the conductor of The Bush on this disc, has accentuated to me the great breadth of Hart’s enormous oeuvre. It embraces most genres but is especially notable for the large quantity of song settings. I am aware that Richard Divall has edited Hart’s unperformed Symphony, a Fantasy for violin and orchestra, the Mass (1912) and is enthusiastic about a high quality String Quartet. There are several volumes of Hart’s works published by the Marshall-Hall Trust and the University of Melbourne. I believe that some of Prof. Divall’s Hart editions, in particular the String Quartet, are lodged in the British Library. It has recently come to my attention that one of the world’s finest chamber ensembles is showing great interest in studying string quartets by Marshall-Hall and Hart.

To date the only works of Hart that I have encountered are those on this disc which form part of an Anthology of Australian Music on Disc. The release is a joint venture from the School of Music at the National Institute of the Arts, the Australian National University, Australian Music Centre and ScreenSound Australia. Comprising 41 discs some of the series can be purchased as individual titles. Evidently the recordings originate from ABC radio broadcasts from 1993/94.

The first work on the present disc is The Bush which Hart completed in 1923. As its title suggests it is seemingly a musical representation of the Australian outback as seen through the eyes of its English born, bred and trained composer. Nevertheless, the score is a remarkable perceptive evocation of the dynamics of the Australian landscape. One can easily imagine The Bush as a depiction of the musical imagery of the landscapes created by Hart’s friend Sir Arthur Streeton (1867-1943) the eminent Australian painter; such as say, the oil paintings: Golden Summer, Eaglemont (1889); At Templestowe (1889); Whelan on the Log - The Selector's Hut (1890) and The Purple Noon's Transparent Might (1896). The sound quality is close and clear, however, a certain amount banging and coughing is audible with audience applause at the end of the score.

The opening movement of The Bush, marked Poco lento e sostenuto develops from a mood of relative calmness to an approaching thunderstorm; rather evocative of the music of his good friend Holst. To my ears the atmosphere convincingly suggests the mystery and eeriness, and the immense vistas of the Australian outback. Marked Allegro vivace the second movement contains often frantic and edgy music. The conductor cites leitmotifs portraying nature sounds such as birdcalls and possibly the movement of a wombat. In the third movement Adagio the proceedings take on a lyrical, almost hymn-like quality. A sense of rhythmic mysticism in the string layers reminded me at times of the characteristic sound-world that Alan Hovhaness was to employ over thirty years later in his tone poem Mysterious Mountain (1955). Here one can imagine Hart suggesting an inspiring and affecting harmony between heaven and earth. Sadly, at point 3:03 (track 3) a loud extraneous thump from somewhere in the Concert Hall momentarily interrupts the tranquil mood. Hart’s love of the opera is documented and I was fascinated at 4:46-4:53 (track 3) by a very brief Puccini-like episode. The fourth movement Allegro contains a robust and spirited opening, highly reminiscent of the opening to Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity from Holst’s The Planets (1914-16). From 3:05 (track 4) Hart develops a folk-like theme in a way similar to Holst in Jupiter. In the concluding Lento Hart seems to be evoking an opulent portrait of the nocturnal atmosphere of the outback. With the flickering woodwind and murmuring strings I was reminded at times of the Ravelian fantasy world of Daphnis and Chloe (1909-12). In several ways the brilliant finale was suggestive of the strong Holstian inspiration to the score. I believe that The Bush could easily gain significant popularity if a classical radio station was to include, say, the impressive opening movement on its playlist.

One of Hart’s final scores to be completed, the Idyll for violin and orchestra was composed in 1949 for Konrad Liebrecht the concertmaster of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. At the time Hart had been living in Honolulu for around thirteen years. Any late-Romantic single movement work for violin and orchestra composed by an Englishman will invite comparison with Vaughan Williams’s 1914 The Lark Ascending, a masterwork for violin and orchestra. Not surprisingly I know of no comparable score by an English-born composer from the same period that can inhabit the same elevated league as The Lark Ascending.

The Hart Idyll is performed by impressive violin soloist Ronald Woodcock and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Graham Abbott. It was splendidly recorded in the ABC Studio 520 at Collinswood, Adelaide. The responsive solo violinist plays throughout virtually the whole of the seventeen minutes of the score. A mood approaching pastoral tranquillity permeates Hart’s writing against the soloist’s romantic rhapsodising. Despite episodes of intensity and passionate displays that contrast with an overall peacefulness, the score, although attractive and a valuable addition to the repertoire, lacks the memorable quality of the finest works in the genre. The Idyll is in some ways similar to Julius Harrison’s Bredon Hill a Rhapsody for violin and orchestra (1941), a score evidently inspired by the Malvern Hills and prefaced by A.E. Housman’s verse. 

The booklet notes by Peter Tregear and Richard Divall are concise and informative. Overall the sound quality is clear and well balanced. Played with skill and considerable affection these are most acceptable readings. The disc should interest any collector specialising in late-Romantic music, especially those who like to look further than the mainstream. Serving the reputation of Fritz Hart splendidly one hopes that these performances will spark off a resurgence of interest in this fascinating Anglo-Australian-Hawaiian composer. I wait in hope for future performances of these Hart scores under English music specialists such as: Vernon Handley, Richard Hickox, David Lloyd-Jones and perhaps one day from violin soloists of the calibre of Tasmin Little and Nigel Kennedy.

Michael Cookson

see also Review by Michael Hernan
 
Addendum:

Dr. Peter Tregear maintains that The Bush pays a certain debt to English music pastoralism for its suggestion of folk melodies and also allusion to the imagery of Gaelic twilight. Hart himself, later provided the following explanation of the score:
 
…what I wanted was the mystical side of the bush, a great song full-throated - the bush has that effect; it is lonely sometimes; it has so many moods, but always mysterious, the great quiet, and the tall trees. I tell you, up in Queensland, in this State, in Victoria, to stand alone in the bush - it’s terrifying.B
 
The suite is in five parts. They are to represent an emotional reaction - my emotional reaction to the Australian bush. The first movement is a prelude, suggesting the mystery of the bush; the second is a scherzo, to suggest the impish and grotesque, or faery element of the bush. Third is to represent the strength and majesty and joy of the bush. But as far as I’m concerned, the human element doesn’t enter into it. It is apart from us, and greater than us, and doesn’t care about us - the bush, that is.”B   
 
In 1933 The Bush together with Joll’s Credo, Op. 98 (1930) won Hart first prizes in both the orchestral and choral sections of the composers’ competition of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Notes:

A It is at times difficult to provide definitive information on pupils of Sir Charles Stanford. In an attempt to clarify whether or not Fritz Hart was a pupil of Stanford at the RCM I have provided the following information:
 
It is sometimes stated or implied in several sources that Hart did study with Stanford. For example:
1) Charles Villiers Stanford. Man and Musician by Jeremy Dibble. Pub: Oxford University Press (2002) ISBN 0-19-816383-5. Pg. 267 and index pg. 513.
2) Biographical details of William Hurlstone on Musicweb International.
Conversely, other sources state Hart’s attendance at the RCM and mention connections with Stanford but not a pupil teacher relationship. For example:
3) Grove Music Online states that “Stanford was a formative influence during his years at the RCM (1893-6) although he did not study composition.”
4) Charles Villiers Stanford by Paul Rodmell. Pub: Ashgate Publishing (2002) ISBN 1-85928-198-2.
(i) Pg. 351 contains a Table 8.2 titled Selective list of Stanford’s composition students (RCM and Cambridge) that is predominantly taken from a list in Greene’s Stanford. The table includes the name of Fritz Hart with the codicil, “Not taught by Stanford but influenced considerably by him at the RCM.”
(ii) Pg. 371 contains a Table 8.3 tiled Selective list of appointments held by former Stanford pupils. The table includes the name of Fritz Hart with a codicil added, “Not taught by Stanford but his influence was clearly acknowledged by Hart.”
 
B Fritz Bennicke Hart: An introduction to his Life and Music by Peter Tregear (M. Music Thesis, University of Melbourne, 1995).
 
C Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Study by Herbert Foss Including Chapter 3: Musical Autobiography by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Pg. 28 Publisher: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. London (1950).
 
D Thomas Dunhill - Maker of Music by David Dunhill. Pg. 10 Publisher: Thames Publishing, London (1997) ISBN: 0-905210-44-1.





 


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