A native of London, Pitt studied music in Europe at the Leizpig conservatory, then at the Royal Academy of Music in Munich with Josef Rheinberger, and for six months in Berlin. Returning home in 1893, he became associated with the Queen's Hall which Robert Newman (an old family friend) had helped to build in 1893 and put on the first series of Promenade Concerts there in 1895. Pitt took over as accompanist at Queen's Hall in 1896 and accompanied the sung solo items at the first of Henry Wood's Prom concerts in August 1897. He was appointed by Henry ('Harry') Higgins in late 1902 as Music Advisor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (where André Messager was Musical Director), also acting as musical coach and assistant stage conductor. He was assistant to Hans Richter in 1903, preparing the chorus and orchestra for a complete 'Ring' cycle (given twice) under Richter's baton.[n 1][n 2] Richter conducted the Ring (in German) at Covent Garden in 1905, '06 and '07. Pitt became Director of Music at Covent Garden in 1907 after Messager's departure. In 1908, he was again Richter's assistant in a highly regarded production of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung sung in English. He remained with the company until 1915, when he joined the Beecham Opera Company as conductor. There he remained until 1920, when he became director of the British National Opera Company; he stayed with that company until 1924, when he was again associated with the Beecham Opera company. From May 1923 he was Musical Director of the BBC, becoming full-time Director of Music in November 1924, remaining there until he was succeeded by Adrian Boult in 1930. Pitt died in London in 1932.
His association with Richter gives special interest to his recordings of extracts from the Ring (1908 and 1921-2: all made for HMV). In his early years he enjoyed considerable repute as a composer of well-crafted light orchestral music.
"His conducting methods were a trifle peculiar. He had a habit of burying his head in the score and waving his arms over his head like a gesticulating stag-beetle... This habit rather detracted from the personal magnetism which great conductors exercise, owing to the orphaned orchestra seeing nothing less abstract than a baton."
List of works
- The performances were "busting," according to Pitt in a letter to Elgar, "but I need not tell you how great Richter was..." (Chamier 1938, p. 105).
- The very first complete 'Ring' in England was conducted by Anton Seidl at Her Majesty's Theatre, 5-9 May 1882 ("Wagner's music in England". Musical Times, Vol. 47, No. 763, 1 September 1906, p. 593), and Gustav Mahler gave the first at Covent Garden in 1896: (Parker 1900, p. 39). Richter had given the very first complete Ring at the Bayreuth Festival in 1876.
- Chamier, J. Daniel (1938). Percy Pitt of Covent Garden and the BBC. London: Edwin Arnold & Co. (Edited from Pitt's unpublished MS autobiography)
- David Ewen, Encyclopedia of the Opera: New Enlarged Edition. New York; Hill and Wang, 1963.
- Parker, E. D. . Opera under Augustus Harris. London: Saxon & Co.
- Briggs, Asa (1995). The Birth of Broadcasting. History of Broadcasting in the U. K., Vol. I. OUP. ISBN 9780192129260.
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