Liza Lehmann (1862-1918)
The Daisy Chain Bird Songs Four Cautionary Tales and aMoral
Liza Lehmann was the eldest daughter of the painter RudolfLehmann and his wife Amelia, daughter of the Edinburgh publisher and writerRobert Chambers. Rudolf Lehmann, who later settled with his family in England,was born in Hamburg and was himself the son of a German painter and his Italianwife. Christened Elisabetha Nina Mary Frederica, Liza Lehmann was born inLondon, to ensure British nationality if the child had been a boy, although theLehmanns were living at the time in Rome. Rudolf Lehmann was distinguished inthe artists' colony there, his friends including Liszt, who always demandedbacon and eggs when he visited the Lehmanns. On settling in London the familycontinued to move in established social and artistic circles, with RudolfLehmann enjoying a very considerable reputation as a portrait painter.
The four girls were educated at home by a series ofgovernesses and Liza Lehmann was encouraged in particular in her obviousmusical interests by her mother, herself a gifted if diffident amateur musicianbut her daughter's honest critic and mentor. Liza Lehmann was able to benefitas a singer from the help of Jenny Lind, whose classes she later attended. At thesame time she was able to reach a certain ability as a pianist throughsympathetic lessons with Alma Haas. She had lessons in singing with AlbertoRandegger and in composition with Raunkilde in Rome, followed by further studyof composition with Freudenberg in Wiesbaden and with Hamish MacCunn in London.For some time she wintered with her mother in Italy, and with her family dinedon one occasion with Verdi, whose portrait her father was drawing. Othernotable musical personalities with whom she came into contact early in her lifeincluded Clara Schumann, with whom she stayed for three weeks in Frankfurt,studying Schumann's songs. There she also met Brahms, by whose bluff and coarsemanners she was not impressed, particularly when he ate a whole tin of sardinesat breakfast and then drank the oil from the tin in one draught, as sherecounts in her colourful autobiography.
By this time Liza Lehmann had embarked on a career as asinger, appearing in concerts and recitals, performing in oratorio and in variousLondon concert series. There was even an appearance at the Berlin Philharmonic,in response to an invitation from Joseph Joachim. Meanwhile the family's socialconnections and her father's work brought contact with leading painters,including Lord Leighton, Millais and Alma-Tadema, and, among those who sat forher father, Robert Browning. She enjoyed a successful and busy career as asinger from her debut in 1885 at the London Popular Concerts until her farewellrecital in 1894, before her marriage to the composer, artist and writer HerbertBedford, at the time earning a living in the City. Her sister Marianna marriedEdward Heron-Allen, a man of wide interests, but known to musicians for hisbook on violin-making. The third of the girls, Amelia, married the writer BarryPain, author of the Pooteresque Eliza stories, and Alma married Edward Goetz,whose mother had some contemporary reputation as a composer.
Marriage for Liza Lehmann and the end of her career as asinger, brought to a more definite conclusion by what seems to have been Bell'spalsy, which had a permanent effect on her vocal cords, allowed her to returnto composition, in which she had had an interest since early childhood. She wonparticular success with a series of song-cycles, of which In a Persian Garden,written in 1896 and based on texts from Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam, provedimmensely popular. This followed the earlier The Daisy Chain of 1893, a set ofchildren's poems, and there followed In memoriam in 1899, based on Tennyson,and the Lewis Carroll and Hilaire Belloc nonsense and comic songs of 1908 and1909. Her vocal music led to extended concert tours in which she served asaccompanist, including two very successful if exhausting tours of America. Forthe stage she wrote a musical farce Sergeant Brue which won some success in1904, and other stage works included a light opera The Vicar of Wakefield whichbrought a quarrel with the librettist Lawrence Housman, who objected to cuts inhis extensive text and was actually evicted from the theatre at the firstperformance. Her final attempt at opera was with Everyman, the morality play,staged in London in 1915. In her later years she served as professor of singingat the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was seriously affected by thedeath in 1916 of the elder of her two sons, who contracted pneumonia duringmilitary service. Her second son, Lesley, was the father of the conductorSteuart Bedford, who accompanies the songs here, as his grandmother once did,and of the composer David Bedford. She completed her memoirs, which give afascinating picture of the times in which she lived, late in 1918, shortlybefore her death.
Of German parentage, born in London in 1786, Charles EdwardHorn was taught music by his father and by the famous castrato Rauzzini,embarking on a career as a singer and composer. He is chiefly known as thecomposer of Cherry Ripe, a song inserted into an opera in London in 1826 andone that gave rise to accusations of plagiarism, finally settled in his favourin court, because of alleged similarity to a song by Mozart's English pupilAttwood. Liza Lehmann's arrangement of the song has remained among the mostpopular of the 150 songs that she wrote.
The Daisy-Chain is a light-hearted cycle of songs, includingone with words by Alma-Tadema. The present songs from the collection start withFairies to which the setting of Stevenson's Keepsake Mill offers a sterner,masculine contrast. Alma-Tadema's If no one ever marries me earned a parodyfrom a singer, a gentleman of some weight, as If no on ever carries me, asuggestion that appealed to the composer's sense of humour. Stars and The Swingset texts from Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses, a collection of poemsonce familiar in every nursery. Mustard and Cress is very much of its period,aptly and unpretentiously set.
Bird Songs of 1906 were first performed by Blanche Marchesi,settings of verses by A.S., conjecturally identified by Steuart Bedford asAlice Sayers, the family nurse, who remained with the Bedfords after thefinancial reverses experienced by Herbert Bedford through the Boer War. Thesettings are admirably suited to their purpose, with a nice use of illustrativedetail in the accompaniment.
Magdalen at St Michael's Gate, a setting of a poem by Henry Kingsley,the adventurous younger brother of Charles Kingsley, was among those songs thatLiza Lehmann described as her publisher's step-children, selling less well thansongs in a lighter vein, but much valued by her. The song was written forNellie Melba, who often sang it in her recitals, and makes some technicaldemand on a singer. The composer's eclectic choice of texts fell on ConstanceMorgan's Evensong that inspired a poignant song. It is here followed byLongfellow's Endymion, a substantial setting which seems originally to havebeen intended for voice and orchestra. The moving setting of Shelley's Musicwhen soft voices die is here followed by the very different To a little redspider. Dusk in the Valley turns to George Meredith for its inspiration,written in the last period of her life, while The Lily of a Day, a setting of apoem by Ben Jonson, is a lament for the death of her son to whose memory it isdedicated. Her version of Christina Rossetti's When I am dead, my dearest waswritten shortly before her death in 1918.
Liza Lehmann's delightful mock-serious settings of a groupof Hilaire Belloc's C