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Hubert Eisdell - Childhood and Education

Born September 21, 1882, Hubert Eisdell grew up in Hampstead, London at a time when musical life in England was undergoing what has been described as a "renaissance". This renaissance was characterized by a renewed interest in English traditions of composition and music making.

Until about 1900, English musicians had relied almost exclusively on foreign influences for musical inspiration and educational instruction. Then a new generation of musicians in twentieth-century England began to change the standards for English music, resulting in a movement of growth and freedom in attitudes toward music making in general. Amateur singing became more popular, both in the home and in universities and community organizations. Music began to be accepted as a legitimate subject for study, and institutions like Cambridge and Oxford universities expanded their programs of music study and practice.

Approaches to composition were changing as well. While late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English composers such as Edward Elgar (1857-1934), Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Hubert Parry (1848-1918) did not completely reject foreign compositional models, they began to forge links between English music and other European musical traditions.

Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), who studied with both Parry and Stanford, was the first to make a serious study of English folk music and traditional English church music and use these as an inspiration for his own compositions. Vaughan Williams' work had an important influence on other English composers, particularly in the solo songs they wrote. Composers such as Liza Lehmann, Roger Quilter, Cyril Scott, Ivor Gurney and Arthur Sullivan (of the operetta duo Gilbert & Sullivan) also used English folk tunes and poetry as inspiration for many of the songs that they composed in the early twentieth century.

During this time of cultural change, Hubert Eisdell began receiving his earliest education. After attending Highgate School, where he excelled as an athlete in cricket and football, Eisdell enrolled in Cambridge University and graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Classics. He was an active member of the Amateur Dramatic and Footlights Club at Cambridge and appeared in a number of productions as an actor and singer.

Upon graduating from Cambridge in 1905, Eisdell came to Canada for the first time. While there he visited his cousin Sir William Mortimer Clarke, who at the time was the lieutenant-governor of Ontario. Eisdell also accepted the position of games master at the Grove Preparatory School (now known as Lakefield College) in Lakefield, Ontario, and held this position for two years.

After returning to England in 1907, Eisdell spent a considerable amount of time with his friend Gervase Elwes (1866-1921). Elwes had taken up a singing career, against his family's wishes, after working for some time in the diplomatic service. He became one of the most celebrated tenors in England and strongly encouraged Eisdell to become a professional singer.

Elwes descended from a long-established county family, and often entertained the leading musical figures of his day at his estate in England. His circle included composers Cyril Scott, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Roger Quilter, pianist/composer Percy Grainger and composer/conductor Sir Edward Elgar. Eisdell visited Elwes' estate frequently and developed friendships with these individuals.

Elwes proved to be an important influence in Eisdell's life. He coached Eisdell on pieces such as Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge (1909), which Eisdell performed in both England and Canada to great acclaim. A masterpiece of early twentieth-century English music, On Wenlock Edge is a song cycle based on a text by English poet A.E. Housman (1859-1936) and scored for tenor, piano and string quartet.

Elwes also introduced Eisdell to two of his teachers: Victor Beigel, an English pianist who also taught voice, and William Boosey, director of the popular Chappell Ballad Concerts in London. Eisdell studied with Beigel, and through Boosey secured his first concert engagements, making his stage debut in 1909 as a soloist in the Chappell Ballad Concerts at Queen's Hall. Eisdell was frequently engaged for subsequent Chappell Ballad concerts.

During this time, Eisdell met Tasmanian pianist and composer Katharine Parker (1885-1971), a former student of Percy Grainger. They married in 1910, and their only son, Michael, was born one year later. Parker accompanied her husband on numerous occasions and he gave public performances of her compositions for voice, including "Love in Summer" and "As a Star" in Wigmore Hall on April 28, 1919. In 1915, he recorded her songs "Love Ships" and "The Road to Love" with the Gramophone Company.