E.H. Fellowes, the scholar and performer who “found” the English composer, John Dowland, and rediscovered the lute song. Part 2 of 4


Fellowes’ interpretation of Tudor music 

As a church musician himself, Fellowes recognized that what little Cathedral repertoire there was in his day was usually poorly performed. “The interpretation of Tudor music began to force itself on my attention,” he wrote. “It became increasingly clear that rhythmic irregularity, as an essential feature of this music, was being generally unrecognized and ignored.” Apart from that, old music was sung much too slowly, and often, in church music, at the wrong pitch. Everything, even sprightly madrigals like Morley’s “Now is the month of maying”, sounded like a dirge.

Fellowes was also an educator who believed in leading by example. He wrote in 1946:

… some representative compositions of Byrd were produced in connection with the William Byrd [c. 1540–1623] tercentenary in 1923. The record of Byrd’s ‘Short’ Magnificat was a revelation in its beauty when rightly performed; it exerted a widespread influence in church-music circles.

And here is that very record, courtesy of the CHARM project, which has digitalised almost 5000 historic recordings from 78 rpm discs and made them available for free download.

William Byrd  – Magnificat (Short Service), ed. E.H. Fellowes, with the English Singers (Flora Mann, Winifred Whelen, Lillian Berger, Steuart Wilson, Clive Carey and Cuthbert Kelly) recorded 29 January 1923. 

His editions

Morley’s four volumes of madrigals had, in fact, been Fellowes’ first editing project, which he completed in the summer of 1912. His edition included irregular barring – then a radical novelty. Unable to find a publisher willing to take the risk, Fellowes made an appeal for subscribers and, within a year, almost 400 people from Washington DC to Vienna had signed up. On the list were such illustrious names as Sir Edward Elgar, Lord Gladstone (the former prime minister), Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Henry Wood, Alfred Einstein (the German-American expert on the Italian madrigal), Bohemian-Austrian musicology pioneer Guido Adler, O.G. Sonneck of the Library of Congress (who bought a clavichord from Arnold Dolmetsch) and Alfred Wotquenne (cataloguer of Gluck and C.P.E Bach). 

Recordings, concerts and lectures

As well as transcribing manuscripts and early editions for publication, Fellowes made it his business to actively promote the music he edited by conducting and giving lecture-recitals, often using his own gramophone records for the illustrations or demonstrating on the lute.

Another quote from his autobiography:

It was in the autumn of 1921 that I entered into negotiations with the Gramophone Company (His Master’s Voice) to make some records of madrigals. It was obviously a good way of demonstrating in a wide field the proper method of interpreting this music …

The Company preferred that their ‘stock singers’ should do the work as being familiar with recording requirements. In the end it was agreed that I should employ the English Singers with the proviso that they should receive no fee unless the Company was satisfied with the result. These records, made in the factory at Hayes in extremely primitive conditions under my direction, were remarkably good. They were followed by many more …


The English Singers 

Fellowes’ editions were further popularized by live performances of the English Singers, a one-to-a-part group trained by him.

He describes the first appearance of the English Singers, at the Aeolian Hall in February 1920, as

the first occasion upon which in modern times madrigals were properly interpreted on a concert platform … The audience was entranced. Here was something quite new to an English audience, and they rose to it.  

When, in 1922, the English Singers gave a concert in Berlin, the German critics naturally assumed that their lively style of interpreting English madrigals was “the fruit of centuries of carefully preserved tradition”. Writing as critic of the Nation and the Athenaeum, the musicologist E.J. Dent put right this misconception:

Their style is the fruit not of tradition, but of scholarship, of historical erudition, by Dr Fellowes, and the common sense supplied by themselves.

One of the singers in this group was Clive Carey, who taught Joan Sutherland (yes, really, La Stupenda), and his correspondence with Professor Dent, resulted in a book that will figure in later posts.

Here’s a recording, made in the same year (almost 90 years ago!), of Thomas Bateson’s “Cupid in a bed of roses” edited by Fellowes, who may or may not have been directing the group. Apparently, they went on to achieve “phenomenal success”, particularly in the USA.   

Finally, a rather quirky recording, complete with spoken announcements, which I just found online. It combines (from both sides of a very small 78 rpm disc) a folk-song arrangement, “Just as the tide was flowing”, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with the madrigal “In going to my naked bed”, by Richard Edwards. The madrigal text is spoken from 2.18 and music starts at 3.20.


Next week: Fellowes’ extraordinary background, an Amati violin and a meeting (aged just 7 years old) with the Hungarian virtuoso, Joseph Joachim


Any comments so far? And does anyone have reminiscences or anything else to add? [Please comment]




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