Anthony Bernard

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Anthony Bernard (25 January 1891 – 6 April 1963)[1] was an English conductor, organist, pianist and composer.

Early life[edit]

He was born Alan Charles Butler, apparently the son of a Thames lighterman. But he changed his name by deed poll in 1919 according to the National Archives.[citation needed] Further family research has uncovered the fact he was an illegitimate child of the Edwardian band leader Thomas Bidgood and Rosetta Casselden. Another of Thomas Bidgood's sons was the dance band leader Harry Bidgood (Also known as Primo Scala.)

He studied with Joseph Holbrooke, John Ireland, Leonard Borwick and Sir Granville Bantock. He was appointed organist at St. Augustine's, Ramsgate in 1910. He worked in some other churches, and also became well known as an accompanist to singers, such as Muriel Foster, who retained him for the rest of her career, and John Coates.

Career[edit]

In 1921 he was one of the people at a luncheon convened by Sir Edward Elgar, the other invitees being Arthur Bliss, Eugene Goossens, John Ireland, Adrian Boult, and W. H. "Billy" Reed, leader of the London Symphony Orchestra. The purpose of the meeting turned out to be Elgar's suggestion that Bliss, Goossens and Herbert Howells each write a new piece for the 1922 Three Choirs Festival, to be held in Gloucester. Bliss's contribution was his A Colour Symphony.[2] Goossens wrote Silence for chorus and orchestra.[3] Howells wrote Sine Nomine for wordless chorus[3] (which was not given its second performance until his centenary year 1992).[4] Elgar's own contribution was his orchestration of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 542.

London Chamber Orchestra[edit]

That year Anthony Bernard formed the London Chamber Orchestra (LCO), and led them in unfamiliar and better-known repertoire from the early masters through to contemporary composers such as Frederick Delius. He also founded the London Chamber Singers. From 1922 to 1926 he conducted the Dutch Chamber Orchestra, and in 1926 he took the LCO on a tour of Spain. He conducted the British National Opera Company in 1924 and 1925.

Notable performances[edit]

He conducted the first performance of Christian Darnton's Octet for flute, clarinet, bassoon, cornet and string quartet, on 26 March 1927.[5]

In 1927, he presented a festival of the music of Manuel de Falla, in which the Harpsichord Concerto and Master Peter's Puppet Show had their first performances in England; the solo part in the concerto was played by Falla himself. In 1928 his orchestra became associated with the New English Musical Society. In 1929, Bernard conducted the London Chamber Orchestra in the first complete recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. It is not certain that this recording was officially issued, and only excerpts are now known to exist.[6]

Anthony Bernard conducted the first recording to be released of Frederick Delius's Sea Drift (1929) with the baritone Roy Henderson and the New English Symphony Orchestra, and was praised by the composer's wife Jelka for his conducting.[7][8]

He also conducted the first concert performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams's A Christmas Carol Suite, on 17 December 1929 in London.[9] Lennox Berkeley was another composer who entrusted the first performances of some of his works to Anthony Bernard.[10]

Other activities[edit]

In 1930 he organised a festival of Italian music from the 11th to the 20th centuries. He performed similar services for French music and was later honoured by the French government for his services. He also conducted opera both at home and abroad, and wrote incidental music for and directed productions of plays by William Shakespeare and others. From 1932 to 1942 he was musical director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. His activities also included conducting orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Concerts Colonne, and others in Copenhagen, The Hague, Madrid, Athens and Prague. Later in life, he wrote a great deal of incidental music for radio plays. His other compositions include an organ prelude, Rorate Coeli (1916), Variations on a Hill Tune, for piano (1920), and songs.

Robert Simpson dedicated his Symphony No. 2 (1956) to Anthony Bernard, who conducted the premiere performance with the LCO.

Bernard died in 1963, aged 72.

Bernard and Elgar[edit]

Anthony Bernard played a role in the story of Edward Elgar's Concert Allegro, Op. 46, for piano solo. Elgar started to revise and shorten the piece after its first performance by Fanny Davies in 1901, and even toyed with the idea of turning it into a piano concerto. These revisions were never finished, and the original version was never published. Elgar may have given the manuscript away; in any event, it was not found in his papers at his death, and was considered lost. In around 1942, however, Bernard was given the manuscript (by whom is not recorded), and was asked to arrange the piece for piano and orchestra. He thought it worked better as a solo piano piece, and did no work on his commission. The manuscript was still in his study when it was bombed during World War II, and it was assumed destroyed along with other papers of his. After his death, however, his widow came across the manuscript. It came to the attention of the pianist John Ogdon and the musicologist Diana McVeigh, who together worked on it to extricate the original work from Elgar's crossings out, additions and changes, all made after Fanny Davies' first performance. Ogdon gave the first modern performance of the work in 1969.

Recordings[edit]

His recordings were numerous. They included:

Personal life[edit]

Anthony Bernard was married twice, his first marriage ending in divorce. His elder daughter Nicolette Bernard was an actress.[12] The younger, Christine Bernard, was an editor, publisher, author and agent.[citation needed]

The singer-songwriter Elly Jackson is his great-grand daughter.[13]

References[edit]