Beatrice Harrison (9 December 1892 – 10 March 1965) was a British
cellist active in the first half of the 20th century. She gave first
performances of several important English works, especially those of
Frederick Delius, and made the first or standard recordings of others.
1.1 Early training
1.2 A musical family
1.3 First performances of the Delius repertoire
1.4 The Elgar concerto
1.5 '... a nightingale singing along with her'
1.6 Wartime again
2 Centenary Concert
Beatrice Harrison in Literature
7 External links
Beatrice Harrison was born in Roorkee, North-West India. The Harrison
family moved back to England during her childhood and she studied at
the Royal College of Music, London, and afterwards under Hugo Becker,
and at the High School of Music in Berlin. In 1910 she won the
Mendelssohn Prize, and made her debut in the Bechstein Hall, Berlin.
A musical family
Beatrice was the sister of May Harrison, violinist, a student of
Leopold Auer; Margaret Harrison, a pianist, but perhaps better known
as a breeder of Irish Wolfhounds and a dog show judge; and Monica.
Like the family of Mark Hambourg, this was one in which the children
were taught separate instruments so that they could play in ensemble.
May had once stood in for
Fritz Kreisler in a Mendelssohn concert at
Helsingfors. Both May and Beatrice won the Gold Medal of the
Associated Board for violin and cello respectively. The Harrison
family became friends with
Roger Quilter and his circle through the
Soldiers' concerts in 1916. On 11 March 1918 Beatrice performed
Cello Concerto in B minor with the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra under Thomas Beecham.
Hugo Becker had spoken to Sir
Henry Wood of his admiration for
Beatrice Harrison's playing even before her debut. Both Edward Elgar
and Wood were great admirers. May and Beatrice performed together
under Wood's baton in Brahms' Double Concerto.
First performances of the Delius repertoire
Beatrice was the first performer of Delius's
Cello Sonata (Wigmore
Hall, 31 Oct 1918): on 11 November, May gave the first performance of
the Delius Violin Sonata No. 1, which she later recorded with Arnold
Bax at the piano.
Roger Quilter attended both performances, for they
were also playing his music in concerts at that time. The Violin
Concerto, written at
Grez-sur-Loing in 1919, had its first performance
Queen's Hall with
Albert Sammons (the dedicatee) under Adrian Boult
in the same year. Beatrice and her sister gave the first performance
of Delius's Double Concerto (which he had completed in 1915 and
dedicated to them) in his presence at a
Queen's Hall Symphony
Concert in January 1920. After this Delius returned to Grez and, at
Beatrice Harrison's request, began work on his
Cello Concerto. She
Cello Sonata at a concert in
Paris on 8 June. After two
months' uninterrupted work in his
Hampstead flat, Delius finished the
concerto in the spring of 1921, and it was performed by the cellist
Thomas Beecham called 'this talented lady.' When Delius's
remains were re-buried according to his wishes in a southern English
country churchyard, on 24 May 1935, the village chosen was Limpsfield
near the Harrison home at
Oxted in Surrey:
Beatrice Harrison played
after the service, at which
Thomas Beecham gave the oration.
The Elgar concerto
Harrison and Elgar on the recording session of Elgar's
at HMV studio, November 1920.
Harrison gave the first festival performance of Edward Elgar's Cello
Concerto outside London, at the
Three Choirs Festival
Three Choirs Festival in
1921. By 1924 she had toured in Europe and America, and in November
1925 she reappeared at the Royal Philharmonic in the all-Elgar
concert, performing the
Cello Concerto under Elgar's baton (he had
insisted that she be the soloist whenever he conducted the work, after
she studied the work with him prior to making an abridged,
pre-electric recording). This was the occasion upon which the Gold
Medal was awarded to Sir Edward by
Henry Wood on behalf of the
Society. A year or two later, when the advent of electrical recording
had improved the technical potential of the gramophone, Beatrice
Harrison was the soloist chosen to make the 'official' HMV recording
of the concerto with Elgar conducting.
In 1929 at the Harrogate festival she was a contributor at a festival
concert of works associated with the Frankfurt Group (Quilter and
colleagues), and in 1933 Quilter re-arranged his 'L'Amour de moy' for
her for a broadcast.
'... a nightingale singing along with her'
Beatrice Harrison's performances became well known through broadcast
in the early days of BBC sound radio. She made some 'live' recordings
in which she sat and played her cello in the garden of her house at
Oxted, and the nightingales which frequented the place sang as she was
playing. The tunes thus recorded included Songs my mother taught me
(Dvořák), Chant Hindu (Rimsky-Korsakov) and the
Londonderry Air (the
tune of Danny Boy). Records were also issued of the nightingales
singing alone and of the dawn chorus in the same garden. These
recordings were extremely popular.
One person has suggested that the bird sounds heard on the BBC
recordings were not those of a real nightingale, but of a talented
whistler, Maude Gould. However, listening to the track the sound is
clearly that of a nightingale, and the sounds heard are not
Harrison appeared as herself in The Demi-Paradise, as a cellist
playing accompaniment to the singing of nightingales for a BBC
Beatrice Harrison's grave at St Peter's Church in Limpsfield, Surrey,
photographed in 2013
Perhaps inevitably the Elgar Concerto was the work with which she was
most closely identified, not least in her performances for Henry Wood.
There was a very successful performance in August 1937, and another at
the Elgar Concert of 27 August 1940, with the
Orchestra, in the old Queen's Hall, less than a year before it was
destroyed by German bombing. On this occasion the soloist's style was
particularly animated, causing her ringlets to 'dance' in such a way
that the orchestral players were distracted. During the concert, there
was a rattle of gunfire outside and plaster fell inside the hall. Sir
Henry considered her performance the finest he had ever directed. She
was one of the English soloists who took part in Wood's very final
season in July 1944, a month before his death.
Beatrice Harrison owned and played a cello made by Pietro Guarneri
(Pietro da Venezia) (1695–1762).
She died in
Surrey in 1965.
On 9 December 1992 at
Wigmore Hall the
Beatrice Harrison Centenary
Concert was given by cellist
Julian Lloyd Webber
Julian Lloyd Webber and pianist John
Lenehan. The programme consisted of works especially associated with
the cellist including the
Cello Sonatas by John Ireland and Delius as
well as the Pastoral and Reel by
Cyril Scott which Lloyd Webber played
with Harrison's sister, Margaret, on the piano.
(Not a complete list)
Cello concerto (New Symphony Orchestra cond. by Edward Elgar)
HMV D1507-9 (3 records).
Cello Sonata (w. Harold Craxton, pno) HMV D1103-4 (2 records).
Delius: Elegie, and Caprice (Orchestra cond. by Eric Fenby) HMV B3721
Delius: Entr'acte and Serenade from Hassan Incidental Music (w.
Margaret Harrison, pno). HMV B3274 (1 record).
Nightingales/Londonderry Air/Chant Hindu HMV B2470 10"
Dawn in an old world garden/Nightingales HMV B2469 10"
Nightingales/Songs my mother taught me etc. HMV B2853 102
Beatrice Harrison in Literature
Beatrice Harrison's performances with nightingales formed the subject
of a poem 'The Nightingale Broadcasts' by Robert Saxton which won the
2001 Prize of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association.
Her nightingale recordings were the inspiration for a 2004 play by
Patricia Cleveland Peck, The
Cello and the Nightingale , 
Beatrice Harrison's performances with nightingales are referred to as
a dramatic device in order to introduce an episode with nightingales
in John Preston's 2007 novel The Dig.
Frederick Delius (Hutchinson & Co,
R.T. Darrell, The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (New
Arthur Eaglefield Hull (Ed.), A Dictionary of Modern Music and
R. Elkin, Royal Philharmonic, The Annals of the Royal Philharmonic
Society (Rider & Co,
V. Langfield, Roger Quilter, His Life and Music (Woodbridge, Boydell
R. Pound, Sir
Henry Wood (Cassell,
H. Wood, My Life of Music (Gollancz,
Beatrice Harrison, The
Cello and the Nightingales. The Autobiography
of Beatrice Harrison, Edited by Patricia Cleveland-Peck. Foreword by
Julian Lloyd Webber. (John Murray,
The Harrison Sisters Issue, The Delius Society Journal, Autumn 1985,
Beatrice Harrison Page". Retrieved 17 July 2008.
^ Arthur Hutchings in "The Concerto" (Penguin Books, 1952), article on
Delius's concertos, page 267.
^ Lee-Browne, Martin; Guinery, Paul (October 1, 2014). Delius and His
Music. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 352–260.
^ http://www.colander.org/gallimaufry/Birdsong.html Birdsong and Music
BBC recordings of
Beatrice Harrison and birds
Review of Beatrice Harrison's Centenary Concert
A 2015 article by Iain Logie Baird introducing much new research about
the nightingale broadcasts and the microphone used.
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