B A C K G R O U N D
ENGLISH SINGING IN THE MID-20TH CENTURY
England was never the ‘land without music’ that the Germans liked to claim. And though it failed to produce a native composer of first-rank significance between the death of Purcell in 1695 and the emergence of Elgar around 1900, it did maintain a performing tradition that (with the help of visitors from overseas like Handel and Mendelssohn) centred largely on the voice. So there were always choirs. And from the choirs emerged a supply of soloists who rarely conquered the world stage but nonetheless made careers of distinction on home territory.
Essentially they were concert singers kept busy by the thriving but still genteel oratorio circuit. Opportunities in opera were extremely limited. And the recording industry was still in relative infancy.
Most of the emergent English voices gravitated towards Sadlers Wells which by the 1950s had become a chief source of regular work for them – although its survival remained uncertain amid recurrent proposals for it to be merged, either with Covent Garden or with the Carl Rosa touring company (which then closed down in 1960). It was cause for comment in the 1950s that a decade after the end of war, Germany had managed to get 56 opera companies – eight of them senior Staatsoper status – back on their feet while Britain had just a handful, only two of which could be truly called year-round.
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R A D I O 4 D O C U M E N T A R Y O N
J E N N I F E R V Y V Y A N :
O P E N I N G T H E B O X E S,
O R I G I N A L L Y B R O A D C A S T
T U E S D A Y A U G U S T 1 8 T H,
1 1 . 3 0 P M
When JJennifer Vyvyan died in 1974 she left behind a husband, a small son and an awful lot of stuff – which was put in boxes and stored in a loft for almost 40 years until it was re-examined and turned into the material for this website.
Opening the Boxes is a reflection on how all this happened. Presented by the music critic Michael White, who did the research and wrote the site, it features contributions from conductor Steuart Bedford, stage director John Copley, soprano April Cantelo, and Jennifer Vyvyan‘s son Jonathan Crown. Listen to the documentary on iPlayer here (may be up for a limited time).