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Edward James Loder (1809-1865) - The Lost Bicentenary 

He was supposed to share a bicentenary with Verdi and Wagner, though very much in their shadow. For a century and a half, such reference works as have noticed him have recorded Edward James Loder as born in Bath, England, in 1813 - no day or month, just the year. However, with his supposed bicentenary looming, a couple of genealogical researchers (Lorna Cowan in the UK and Debra Smith in Queensland) came up with a detailed genealogy of the Loder family. This produced baptismal records that indicated that Loder was actually born on 10 July 1809.
But who was Edward J. Loder anyway? Few music-lovers will know of him, and those who do may be aware of little more than his songs (The Diver was long popular with basses) and perhaps a couple of opera titles: The Night Dancers, Raymond and Agnes. So why bother with him now? Well, there’s certainly a case for maintaining that the whole fashion for disparaging Victorian music has been a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Alongside the likes of Sterndale Bennett and G. A. Macfarren, Loder was one of the most prominent and respected composers of English birth of the early-Victorian age. Unlike them, he held no major academic post; but his compositional talent was such that any self-respecting nation should prize.
He came from an extensive musical family that thrived in the musical life of Bath in Regency days when that city was a hub of British musical life. His violinist grandfather John Loder (c.1757-95) and organist great-uncle Andrew Loder (c.1752-1806) began a musical relationship with Bath that was developed by the next two generations. John’s son John David Loder (c.1788-1846) gained especial eminence not just in Bath but around Britain as leader of orchestral and chamber performances at a time when the leader was at least as important as the conductor. His sons included not just Edward James but also violinist John Fawcett Loder (1809-1853 - Edward’s twin) and cellist William Sowerby Loder (c.1812-1851). A brother of John David Loder was flautist and pianist George Loder (c.1794-1829), whose children (Edward’s first cousins) included George Loder (1816-1868), active in America and Australia as well as Britain, and Kate Loder (1825-1904), a gifted pianist and composer noted for performances of music by Weber, Mendelssohn and Brahms.
Edward showed such early promise as pianist and composer that he was sent off to Frankfurt to study with Beethoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838), whom Edward’s father had known from Ries’s years in London. Edward then began as performer and teacher in Bath, and in 1831 married soprano Eliza Watson. However, the marriage didn’t last. Eliza continued to perform with other members of the family in Bath throughout the 1830s, before migrating to America with her siblings. Edward meanwhile moved to London and seems thereafter to have been largely cut off from his family.
His early piano compositions gained favourable mention in The Harmonicon in 1833. However, his big break in London came with the opera Nourjahad, which (though soon eclipsed by John Barnett’s The Mountain Sylph) initiated a new phase in native opera when produced at the English Opera House in July 1834. Further smaller works followed for the same theatre, but the failure of the venture and Loder’s seemingly constitutional inability to build upon opportunities soon saw his output reduced largely to popular songs. These were often mere potboilers, and they totalled several hundred for a range of London publishers in just a few years. Further operas Francis the First and The Deer Stalkers were considered inferior stuff when produced at Drury Lane and Balfe’s English Opera House respectively. Others such as Little Red Riding Hood and Ruth were announced but never materialised.
Yet there was more to his output than those potboilers - not least a sonata for flute and piano and some half-dozen string quartets, of which the fourth, in E flat (1842), was particularly admired. Then, in 1846, The Night Dancers, with a libretto based on the Giselle story, was produced with appreciable success at London’s Princess’s Theatre, where Loder was for some years musical director. Again, though, he was unable to build on the opportunity. Full-scale operas were announced but failed to materialise, and his further output for the Princess’s Theatre was headed by an operetta The Young Guard and a ballad-opera Robin Goodfellow (both 1848).
A change of management at the Princess’s Theatre cast Loder again somewhat into the wilderness - specifically Manchester, where from 1851 he was musical director at the Theatre Royal. Here he continued to produce music, including some for Macbeth to complement that long attributed to Matthew Locke. Loder’s overture was published and admired. In Manchester, too, he finally achieved performance of his opera Raymond and Agnes, which had been announced originally for the Princess’s Theatre in 1848. Despite music that stands out amongst British operas of its time, it made little impression either then or when produced in London in 1859. Music that challenged Verdi and Wagner was perhaps not what audiences expected to hear in a British opera!
In 1856 Loder returned to London, only for his career to be cut short by illness - probably syphilitic in origin. This forced retirement from public performance, so that the London production of Raymond and Agnes was under the musical direction of his cousin George. Though Edward continued to compose in a relatively small way, what seems to have been his final public appearance was for curtain-calls at a revival of The Night Dancers by the Pyne-Harrison company at Covent Garden in 1860. Thereafter, tended by his (evidently bigamous) second wife, his health declined until his death in London on 5 April 1865.
Native opera production in Loder’s time was a precarious business. There was no real native operatic tradition, and managers and public were suspicious of attempts to nurture it. Publishers’ need for detachable ballads for home consumption, combined with a demand for spectacle, meant the results were always a compromise. That Loder even so failed to take full advantage of opportunities in the way of others (such as Balfe and Wallace) seems to have owed much to what G. A. Macfarren referred to as Loder’s “foible of unpunctuality”, while many years later W. A. Barrett referred to him as “irregular and unbusinesslike in his habits”.
Encouraged little, therefore, by the composer himself, posterity has come to know little of his output. His most enduring composition was for long the bass song The Diver, taken up by ‘Signor Foli’ (A. J. Foley) and then recorded by Robert Radford, Norman Allin and Foster Richardson, and in 1975 by Benjamin Luxon accompanied by André Previn (EMI EMD 5528). Beyond that, Ernest Walker and others have singled out for especial praise Loder’s I Heard a Brooklet Gushing, a setting of an English version of Wilhelm Müller’s ‘Wohin’ even described as superior to Schubert’s own. However, the CD era has largely passed Loder by.
Such attention as he has received in the past fifty years has been due largely to the advocacy of Nicholas Temperley, latterly professor of musicology at the University of Urbana-Champaign. Most particularly Temperley presented Loder to a wider public with a revival of Raymond and Agnes in Cambridge in May 1966. Lacking the original libretto (with crucial spoken dialogue), Temperley produced a revised and curtailed version, emphasising the dramatic element at the expense of the residual ballad content. Whilst his structural changes attracted criticism, there was widespread praise for the music. Thirty-six years later Charles Osborne could still devote Opera magazine’s “I can’t manage without…” feature to Loder and Raymond and Agnes.
Among further expressions of admiration for Loder’s operatic output, George Biddlecombe in his Romantic English Opera (1994) described the Act 2 duet for Raymond and the Baron in Raymond and Agnes as “one of the most original and dramatic pieces in all English opera of the period” and declared that neither it nor Giselle’s death in The Night Dancers “has an equal in any other English opera of the period”. The Night Dancers is now represented on a CD of Victorian opera overtures conducted by Richard Bonynge (SOMMCD 0123), while the BBC has broadcast excerpts from Temperley’s version of Raymond and Agnes on two occasions. The more recent broadcast, in 1995, is available on CD from Oriel Music Trust, 79 Ffordd Glyder, Port Dinorwic, Gwynedd, LL56 4QX. More about Loder’s operas can be found on the Victorian English Opera website (
Copies of the original libretto of Raymond and Agnes are now known to exist. Thus a key part of a project to revive interest in Loder’s music is the production of a modern performing version, using the original libretto and the autograph orchestral score in the Library of Congress. The new edition is being undertaken by Dr Valerie Langfield, who already has to her credit performing editions of Balfe’s The Maid of Artois, Falstaff and The Bohemian Girl and Macfarren’s Robin Hood - all either staged or recorded.
Besides Raymond and Agnes, what more of Loder’s music should be revived? His songs, as all admit, were mostly potboilers. However, besides describing I Heard a Brooklet Gushing (1850) as “a very real masterpiece”, Ernest Walker singled out Robin Hood is Dead (words: George Soane) as having “a good sort of folk-tune about it, as well as considerable pathos”. Geoffrey Bush has described Invocation to the Deep (words: Felicia Hemans) as being “equally admirable”. Among Loder’s sacred songs and ballads there is also The Lamentation, broadcast with I Heard a Brooklet Gushing by the BBC in 1988. Even the more popular songs of the time are surely worth exploring. The Brave Old Oak (words: Henry Chorley; 1834) gained such popularity in America that it was turned into a campaign song for William Henry Harrison in the 1840 Presidential Election campaign. 
Surprises may also lie in store in Loder’s instrumental music. Of six string quartets, nothing alas seems to survive beyond the Minuet and Trio of no. 3 in an arrangement for piano duet (from which a string quartet version could readily enough be reconstructed), together with incipits for no. 6 (1853). Of his involvement with the flute, R. S. Rockstro tells us that he provided the piano part of Charles Nicholson’s fourteenth fantasia (on Through the Forests from Der Freischütz). Beyond that, a youthful Theme and Variations for Flute and Piano was published, and the remarkable Sonata that survived in manuscript in the Royal College of Music with a central movement titled The Somnambulist has been completed by Nicholas Temperley and published by Oxford Music.
Not least there is the music for piano - Edward Loder’s own instrument. Here again Temperley included the early Introduction and Rondo Brillant in his collection ‘The English Piano School’ (1985). There are other impressive works of the same period, including the Minuetto and Trio, Andante Sentimentale, and Allegro Scherzando, of which The Harmonicon in 1833 described the Allegro Scherzando as “bold and energetic; the modulations … many and fearless, [with] discords for which he has no precedent that immediately occurs to us”. There were scattered later pieces, but altogether too little, as The Musical World bemoaned in 1856 when describing Loder’s published nocturne Moonlight on the Lake as “a little gem … equal in merit to the most refined cappriccios of the modern romantic school”.
Alas Moonlight on the Lake is seemingly not to be found in British libraries. Does any reader have a copy? Missing, too, is the published overture to Loder’s Macbeth music, as well as much more besides - including the six string quartets. Reports of sightings will be gratefully received! Even without them, and even if a bicentenary celebration is denied us, Loder’s music is surely worth renewed investigation.
Principal Compositions
Operas: Nourjahad, London: Lyceum (English Opera House), 21 July 1834; The Covenanters, Scottish ballad opera, London: Lyceum (English Opera House), 10 August 1835; Francis the First, London: Drury Lane, 6 November 1838; The Deer Stalkers, Scottish operatic melodrama, London: Lyceum (English Opera House), 12 April 1841; The Night Dancers, London: Princess’s, 28 October 1846; The Young Guard, operetta, London: Princess’s, 20 January 1848; Robin Goodfellow, ballad opera, London: Princess’s, 6 December 1848; The Island of Calypso, operatic masque, Exeter Hall, 14 April 1852; Raymond and Agnes, Manchester: Theatre Royal, 14 August 1855; Never Judge by Appearances, drawing-room opera, Liverpool: Crosby Hall, 3 November 1856; The Countess, operetta, London: New Royalty, June 1862. 
Incidental Music: The Widow Queen, historical drama, London: Lyceum (English Opera House), 9 October 1834; The Dice of Death, romantic drama, London: Lyceum (English Opera House), 14 September 1835; The Foresters, drama, London: Covent Garden, 19 October 1838; Macbeth, Manchester: Theatre Royal, April 1854; plus orchestral music and songs for many other productions at the Princess’s Theatre, London, and Theatre Royal, Manchester.
Songs: The Brave Old Oak (1834); The Three Ages of Love (1836); The Lamentation (1840); The Outlaw (c.1840); Invocation to the Deep (c.1840); The Bare-Footed Friar (1844); Philip the Falconer (1845); Robin Hood is Lying Dead (c.1846); The Diver (c.1848); I Heard a Brooklet Gushing (1850); There’s a Path by the River (1853); Martin the Man at Arms (1855); plus over 300 others.
Piano Music: La Leggerezza, op. 15 (c.1830); Rondo Pastorale (c.1830); Introduction and Rondo Brillant, op. 17 (c.1830); Minuetto & Trio, Andante Sentimentale, and Allegretto Scherzando, op. 19 (1833), Minuet and Trio (from a Sonata) (1840), Three Tarentellas [sic] (1842); Moonlight on the Lake, notturno (1856); Lisette at Her Spinning Wheel, poem without words (1859); plus fantasias and other pieces.
Other Instrumental Music: Six string quartets, of which the Scherzo and Trio of no. 3 was published in an arrangement for piano duet; Theme and Variations for flute and piano (c.1830); Sonata for flute and piano; Study in G for violin and piano.
Other Works: Part-songs, hymns, piano and vocal tutors, many song and other arrangements.
Andrew Lamb

Anyone interested in the Loder project - most particularly in performing Loder’s music - is invited to contact Andrew Lamb through MusicWeb International.