I first came across Herman Finck in an album of piano pieces. After much effort, I managed to plough my way through his waltz , In the Shadows . It is not that difficult, although there are a few passages where it is very easy to stumble. Somewhere in the past, I have heard an orchestral version of this tune – possibly on one of the Guild Light Music series. However, apart from that he has been a closed book to me – and I guess to many other folk too. Yet, that was not always the case. According to the liner notes, his was once a household name.
His biography is easy to locate on Wikipedia and is given in the liner-notes. However, a couple of headlines will not go amiss. In spite of the German-sounding name, he was born in London on 4 November 1872 – the same year as Ralph Vaughan Williams! He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, before embarking on a career as musical director at the Palace Theatre in London. He was to remain there for twenty years. Other posts at this time included principal conductor at the Queen’s Theatre and also the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Additionally he travelled to the Lancashire coast to conduct concerts in the seaside town of Southport. Alongside his conducting, he wrote a considerable corpus of music including scores for the theatre, for silent movies and for the concert hall. Many of these diverse pieces are recorded on this present CD. Herman Fink died shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War on 21 April 1939.
The present CD is an excellent cross-section of Finck’s music. A variety of genres are explored including the purely orchestral, extracts from his revues and musicals and a number of ‘patriotic’ songs from the Great War.
Two of his musicals are characterised by the ballet from My Lady Dragonfly and the operetta Decameron Nights . They are competent examples of the (extremely) light music genre presented on this CD. Songs from the revues such as The Passing Show and Round the Map are represented by Queen of the Flowers and Gilbert the Filbert . Dances include Hullo Girls , which was composed for the Palace Theatre, and Pirouette , written for Anna Pavlova.
Stylistically, do not expect Edward Elgar, Edward German or Haydn Wood. This music is good, well written and enjoyable: however, it is largely ephemeral. I guess the nearest thing would be music written for the annual pantomime or possibly for a television series. Yet, when all is said and done, this CD is a piece of musical archaeology: it is exciting to unearth it some 90-odd years after it was composed.
Divine Arts has made an excellent release with their exploration of Herman Finck. They have captured the mood and the spirit of the Edwardian and Georgian times. The singers and the band sound perfectly home in the music hall and end-of-pier environment – and that is not a slight or criticism. The performers are all from the Bel-Etage Theatre in Tallinn, Estonia, which was itself an old music-hall. The company is well regarded in its championship of British music including Gilbert & Sullivan and Lionel Monckton. They support a ballet troupe and two orchestras who fulfil many engagements at home and abroad.
The sound quality is good. The liner-notes are sufficient and have a number of evocative images and photographs, including the cover of the sheet music to In the Shadows. I look forward to subsequent releases from this accomplished group.
Finally, the waltz that I learnt to play all those years ago has an interesting history. Originally composed for the Palace Girls at the eponymous theatre it was called Goodnight – however, it was later changed to In the Shadows . Finally, this was one of the last numbers played by the orchestra on the Titanic before she sank. It is played on this CD in its vocal waltz incarnation.