Magazine article Gramophone

Hamilton Harty

Magazine article Gramophone

Hamilton Harty

Article excerpt

Hamilton Harty

Musical Polymath

By Jeremy Dibble

Boydell Press. HB, 390pp, 45 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-1-84383-858-6

Sir (Herbert) Hamilton Harty's name may not be familiar to younger readers but for those of a certain age it is revered. Their collections will have at least one of his iconic recordings. There are quite a number, including the first (still the best?) recording of Walton's Symphony No 1 (Harty's last recording, as it transpired), Walford Davies's Solemn Melody (unsurpassed, with the Halle's wonderfully named principal cellist Clyde Twelvetrees), Lambert's The Rio Grande (with Harty as the piano soloist) and Senaille's Allegro spiritoso with bassoonist Archie Camden ('All done in a day: five sides of the [Mozart] concerto and of the Senaille, and parts copied, too!' wrote Camden).

Most famous of all, the two sides of Columbia 9909: Nymphs and Shepherds (Purcell) and the Dance Duet from Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck) with the Halle and the Manchester Schools Children's Choir, a million-seller. In 1989 your reviewer had the pleasure of meeting the surviving members of the choir when making a radio programme to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the recording. Many of them vividly remembered Harty, his postponement of the recording because the choir was not yet up to the standard he wanted, and his insistence that the children's northern vowels be ironed out (he was not totally successful).

Then there are his popular orchestral arrangements: the Handel-Harty Water Music and Royal Fireworks suites were de rigueur for years. These have now fallen out of fashion and Harty's name has not the same glamour about it that still attaches to the older Henry Wood, Beecham (born in the same year, 1879) or the younger Sargent and Barbirolli. But from the early years of the last century until his death from cancer at the age of 61 in 1941, Harty was a force to be reckoned with in the musical life of Britain: pianist, accompanist, chamber musician, organist, composer, arranger and conductor, most conspicuously of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester.

Yet while we are well acquainted with the lives of Harty's peers (and, unlike Harty, there is substantial archive footage of all of them in action), I doubt whether one in ten thousand could tell you anything about him. 'Hay', as he was known to his intimates (a reduction of his first nickname, 'Hayland'), is a figure long in need of a proper biography and Jeremy Dibble, with the definitive biography of Stainer and distinguished monographs on Parry and Stanford behind him, is the perfect man for the job. …

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