Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

The Virtual Gramophone
Canadian Historical Sound Recordings

Biographies

Hubert Eisdell - Early Career

In 1910, Eisdell went on an 80-concert, 50,000-mile tour to the United States and Canada with a troupe arranged by Liza Lehmann (1862-1918). Lehmann was an English composer and teacher who had also enjoyed a successful career as a singer until she retired from the stage in 1895. The music for this tour featured many of her compositions, including "Ah! Moon of My Delight" from In a Persian Garden, a song cycle for four voices and piano.

Lehmann developed a friendship with Eisdell and Katharine, and she became godmother to their son Michael. Eisdell would later record other songs from Lehmann's In a Persian Garden with the Gramophone Company, including "They Say the Lion and the Lizard Do", "Wake, for the Sun", and "Alas! That Spring Should Vanish with the Rose".

Eisdell also enjoyed working relationships with other composers of his day. Robert Coningsby Clarke, Roger Quilter, Cyril Scott and Teresa del Riego composed music especially for Eisdell's voice. Healey Willan, an English composer who later settled in Canada, dedicated his song "Brigg Fair" to Eisdell.

Eisdell made his first commercial recording in November 1912, on the HMV label: a ballad, "Somewhere a Voice is Calling", by Arthur Tate. He went on to make many recordings, consisting largely of popular ballads by songwriters such as Eric Coates and Francesco Paolo Tosti. They proved extremely popular and sold in the tens of thousands.

Eisdell's recordings on the Columbia label include Coningsby Clarke's song "Daphne" and del Riego's songs "O Dry Those Tears" and "The Reason". The latter pieces were recorded with del Riego at the piano. Percy Grainger greatly admired Eisdell's voice and commented, "He is one of England's most lovely and famous singers, with a pure, ringing voice, exquisite style and perfect diction" (Horwood, p. 15-16).

Eisdell continued to secure engagements in England, performing as a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Society, Royal Choral Society, Hallé Orchestral Concerts, Bach Choir, Royal Amateur Orchestral Society, London Choral Society and Bach Cantata Society. He also sang at the Leeds Festival with director Sir Thomas Beecham, at the Norwich Festival and Queens Hall Promenade Concerts with Sir Henry Wood, and at the Three Choirs Festival with Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Ivor Atkins. In April 1914, he performed at the Torquay Festival Pavilion, appearing with soprano Carrie Tubb and conductor Aubrey Brain in a program that included Percy Grainger's "Colonial Song" and "Molly on the Shore".

During First World War, 1914-1918, musical activity in England decreased significantly. Conscription was not enforced until 1916, but at the beginning of the war, optimism was high, and many enlisted voluntarily, including English composers Ernest Farra, George Butterworth, Denis Browne and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Of these, all but Vaughan Williams were killed.

Hubert Eisdell's singing career was temporarily interrupted during the First World War when he served as a lieutenant-at-sea with the London Division of the Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve (R.N.V.R.) from 1915 to 1917. In 1918, he joined the staff of the Admiralty as the secretary to Commodore H. Douglas King, C.B., where his duties included securing the coast from a patrol boat.

After the war, the expanding recording industry and the development of broadcasting helped to reconstruct musical life in England. Just before he completed his term as secretary, Eisdell signed a contract with the Columbia Graphophone Company (later the Columbia Gramophone Company), agreeing to record exclusively for them. He recorded prolifically for the company until his last recording session on March 31, 1933.

Eisdell's recording repertoire included Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (directed by Felix Weingartner); Messiah (directed by Sir Thomas Beecham); Sir Edward Elgar's The Apostles; and art songs by Roger Quilter, Katharine Parker and Liza Lehmann. He also recorded "Dear Love of Mine" from Arthur Goring Thomas' Nadeshda and "Megan" by operetta composer Ivor Novello (1893-1951). In November 1923, he was the tenor soloist in the recording of the piano quintet arrangement of Roger Quilter's song cycle To Julia, one of Quilter's most acclaimed vocal compositions.

On the live stage, Eisdell's repertoire was also widely varied, and included performances of oratorio (Elijah and Messiah), and Bach's St. Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass. He also performed in a number of operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan.

In 1921, tragedy struck when Eisdell's close friend and mentor Gervase Elwes died as a result of injuries from an accident during a tour of the United States and Canada. His memorial service took place at Albert Hall in London on May 24, 1922, and Eisdell honoured Elwes by singing "Our Dead", a sonnet for tenor and orchestra by Edric Cundell, and the last work Elwes performed in England.

The 1920s proved to be a particularly fruitful time in Eisdell's career. In addition to a busy recording schedule, he made a recital tour of Australia and Tasmania in 1921.

In 1923, he sang at the Aeolian Hall in London in a program that included songs by composers from the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as well as songs by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Gabriel Fauré, Hubert Parry, Arnold Bax, Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky.

Also in 1923, Eisdell appeared in the first performance of one of Roger Quilter's finest songs, "Go, Lovely Rose", at a Promenade concert in Queen's Hall. Based on a text by poet Edmund Waller (1606-87), "Go, Lovely Rose" was dedicated to Eisdell. The following summer, Eisdell appeared as the character Harlequin with Marie Tempest and Frederic Ranalow in the Clifford Bax/Armstrong Gibbs fantasy Midsummer Madness. He also played the lead in Almond Eye at the Scala Theatre in London.

While Eisdell's concert repertoire was widely varied, he became known for his performances of folk songs and popular ballads, or "potboilers" as he called them and some critics questioned his choice of repertoire. Eisdell defended his choice of music in an article entitled "Trials of a Tenor":

Singing in practically every part of the country I find a constant demand for old favourites. The public never tires of the familiar folk songs and ballads like Tosti's "Parted". I am asked to sing these everywhere, and their reception is always very cordial….The English public has … been brought up on melody, and it is fully aware of the fact that music can be good, and even 'highbrow' without losing its melodious qualities….

After all, music, to the average person, is not a matter of cleverness. One may revel in the beauty of a Beethoven symphony without the slightest knowledge of the wonderful technique that made it possible…. The public knows what it wants. From music it wants a thrill; not a shock. Beauty, emotional power, and sincerity -- those qualities will always give music an irresistible appeal…" (Music Masterpieces, 1926).