Archive for tenors

Lord Berners (1883-1950): Come on Algernon

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, also known as Gerald Tyrwhitt, was a British composer of classical music, novelist, painter and aesthete. He is usually referred to as Lord Berners.

His father, a naval officer, was rarely home. He was raised by a grandmother who was extremely religious and self-righteous, and a mother who had little intellect and many prejudices. His mother ignored his musical interests and instead focused on developing his masculinity, a trait Berners found to be inherently unnatural.

The eccentricities Berners displayed started early in life. Once, upon hearing that you could teach a dog to swim by throwing him into water, the young Gerald promptly decided that by throwing his mother’s dog out the window, he could teach it to fly. The dog was unharmed, though the act earned Berners a beating.

After devising several inappropriate booby traps, Berners was sent off to a boarding school in Cheam at the age of nine. It was here that he would first explore his homosexuality; for a short time, he was romantically involved with an older student. The relationship was abruptly ended after Berners accidentally vomited on the other boy.

After he left prep school, Gerald continued his education at Eton College. Later, in his autobiographies, Berners would reflect on his experiences at Eton, claiming that he had learned nothing while there, and that the school was more concerned with shaping the young men’s characters than supplying them with an education.

As well as being a talented musician, Berners was a skilled artist and writer. He appears in many books and biographies of the period, notably portrayed as Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. He was a friend of the Mitford family and close to Diana Guinness.

Berners was notorious for his eccentricity, dyeing pigeons at his house in Faringdon in vibrant colours and at one point having a giraffe as a pet and tea companion. His Rolls-Royce contained a small clavichord keyboard which could be stored beneath the front seat. At his house he had a 100-foot viewing tower constructed, a notice at the entrance reading: “Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.

He was also subject throughout his life to periods of depression. These became more pronounced when Berners, who had lived in Rome from 1939 to 1945, found himself somewhat out of favour after his return to England.

He died in 1950 at Faringdon House, bequeathing his estate to his companion Robert (‘Mad Boy’) Heber Percy, who lived at Faringdon until his own death in 1987.

His epitaph on his gravestone reads:

“Here lies Lord Berners
One of life’s learners
Thanks be to the Lord
He never was bored”.

Vibrato: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

I must say, having listened recently to Benjamin Britten’s recording of The Dream of Gerontius that like cholesterol there is good and bad vibrato. Yvonne Minton (what a beautiful voice) represents the good creative use of vibrato whereas Peter Pears represents the bad, using it permanently. Actually performances of Elgar’s music seem to suffer from excessive vibrato generally. Did he ask for it in scores? But of course Roger Norrington went too far the other way and played Elgar with no vibrato at all … with horrendous results.

I know that Pears’ voice is like Marmite – you love it or you hate it. But comparing his performance with (for instance) a more recent Gerontius release (from CBSO/Oramo), I much prefer the passion of Pears to Lavender who (with a rather all-purpose, non-expressive vibrato) sounds rather like a rather annoyed accountant, rather than a human being about to meet his maker.

Bad vibrato is the all-time killer for me as far as musical enjoyment is concerned (it keeps me away from a lot of opera).

Classical Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory

%d bloggers like this: