Classical Music on the Web

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


by Philip Scowcroft

We remember W H Reed nowadays as the leader of the London Symphony and other orchestras who was friendly with Sir Edward Elgar, particularly during the latter years of his life, although earlier Reed had helped him in the composition of the his Violin Concerto and had taken part in the first performances of all three Elgar chamber works. He has left us his impressions of Elgar and his music in Elgar As I Knew Him (1936), a most sympathetic, yet not, I think, consciously idealised account of the older man, and, in Dent's Master Musicians series Elgar (1938), which many of us think was not entirely superseded by its replacement in that series, by Ian Parrott, many years afterwards,

Reed was born in France on 29 July 1876 and studied violin and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He joined the LSO in 1904 and became its leader in 1912, holding the position until 1935, when he exchanged it for that of Chairman of the Orchestra. He taught violin at the Royal College of Music conducted orchestras - mainly amateur ones - and acted as examiner and adjudicator (indeed he died, at Dumfries on 2 July 1942, whilst examining for the Associated Board). But comparatively few recall that he was a composer of some repute even before he met Elgar in the early years of this century. It is perhaps worth mentioning at least the titles of some of his works.

Many of these were orchestral. There was a shortish (about 17 minutes long) Symphony for strings, a Violin Concerto in A Minor, a genre piece subtitled The Lincoln Imp and a symphonic poem, Caliban. (The Violin Concerto was published in piano reduction in 1918 in which year it had a performance). His lighter music was perhaps more popular. Of his orchestral suites some - like Down in the West Country, for strings and timpani with Widdicombe Fair as its last movement - seem to reflect a love of his native district, others - Shockheaded Peter, Scenes from the Ballet, Miniature Suite for strings and Aesop's Fables do not. Individual movements like the overture, Merry Andrew, the Valse Brillante and the caprice Will O' the Wisp enjoyed a considerable vogue. Valse Brillante (1898), the overture, Touchstone (1899), Valse Elegante (1903), the symphonic poem Among the Mountains of Cambria (1922) and the Suite Venitienne (1903) were all first performed at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. We should not forget, either, that there are a number of excellently written pieces for junior orchestra, with titles like Stately Dance, Patrol, March of the Prefects and School March, which would still be useful even today were a teacher lucky enough to find them. Bournemouth did its bit for performances of Reed as it did for other British composers - the Viola Concerto (1918), the Rhapsody for violin and orchestra in E Minor (1920), The Lincoln Imp, Aesop's Fables (1925), Shockheaded Peter (1933) and Will O' the Wisp (1924) were all played there. Other orchestral items were the Variations Caracteristiques for strings, Elegie, Intermezzo, Pastorale and the Men of Kent, but they were not played at Bournemouth, so far as I know.

Nor did Reed ignore vocal music. He composed songs plus a choral ballad Earl Haldan's Daughter (1939) and a Treasury of Christmas Music for mixed voices with accompaniment ad lib. He published some piano music including arrangements of Suite Venitienne and others of his orchestral pieces. More importantly he wrote chamber music; he was, after all, a fine chamber musician. His String Quartet No. 5 in A minor (1916) won a second prize in the Cobbett Competition that year and Cobbett himself wrote approvingly of its "graceful writing and striking harmonic effects." Other works - and there must have been at least four other quartets - included an unpublished String Trio, Risenlied for violin and piano, the Introduction and Rondo Caprice for clarinet and piano and the Rhapsody, published in 1927 for viola and piano. This in fact received two concert performance in my home town of Doncaster in 1927 and 1929 and was then reckoned a most attractive piece. This was about the time that Lionel Tertis was trying hard to persuade composers to write for the viola. Perhaps an enterprising violist could exhume this and thus begin a modest revival of W H Reed the composer?

© Philip L Scowcroft.

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