TALKS 2007-8

All talks are non-technical and illustrated with recordings; the average duration of each talk is about two hours (including an interval) but performances can be adjusted to suit the requirements of a particular audience.

•  A Century of English song

Garry Humphreys surveys the rich heritage of British song from the time of the 'English musical renaissance' at the end of the 19th century until the late 20th century, from the viewpoint of a former professional singer specializing in this repertoire and joint editor of the ongoing Thames Publishing series, A Century of English Song.

•  'The trees are singing my music': Edward Elgar illuminated

This is the story of Edward Elgar and his rise to fame as England's greatest composer since Henry Purcell. Despite his 'pomp and circumstance' image (at least to those whose knowledge of the man and his music is superficial), he was the son of a provincial shopkeeper, a Roman catholic in an Anglican musical environment and, unlike other members of the Victorian Musical Establishment, he never attended a college of music. At the same time, he longed to be accepted into the Establishment he so despised and, even when it happened and he became Master of the King's Musick, he was still full of self-doubt and unexpectedly vulnerable.

And yet he was a man of great wit and humour with a genius for friendship, and in polite Victorian society feelings that could not be expressed in words and actions were expressed in music that plumbs the depths of feeling in so many hearers. In it is embodied in particular the atmosphere of his native Worcestershire which he loved, and to which he returned at the end of his life.

This talk aims to put Elgar into perspective and to try to explain why his music sounds as it does and affects us as it does.


•  Elgar and Germany

This talk looks at the many ways in which Elgar and his music were influenced by Germany and by Germans, from early visits to Bavaria and to Bayreuth where he attended performances of Wagner's operas to the many artists of German origin such as Jaeger of Novello's, the conductors Hans Richter and Alfred Rodewald, the singer Ludwig Wüllner, and a multiplicity of other musicians who befriended him and promoted his work. After its disastrous first performance in Birmingham, it was in Germany that The Dream of Gerontius gained its initial success and earned for Elgar the epithet 'Meister' from none other than Richard Strauss. Stylistic comparisons are drawn with music by Strauss, Brahms, Wagner, etc.

'Outstanding . . . I have rarely found an event so absorbing, both in subject matter and in presentation. Not a word or a bar of music were wasted!' (Music club secretary).

•  Edward Elgar: songs of a life    NEW FOR 2008

Edward Elgar, master of the orchestra, is not primarily regarded as a song composer; and yet he wrote more than seventy songs, from the age of fifteen until the year before he died. They are of variable quality but reflect various aspects of the composer’s life and the world in which he lived. Garry Humphreys, a former Elgar Society member, professional singer and joint editor of the series ‘A Century of English Song’, reviews the songs and the context in which they were written, and argues that they are significant in our understanding of this complex man.

•  'The man who writes tunes': a portrait in words and music of the composer Eric Coates

Eric Coates became a household name in the 1940s and 1950s when many of his compositions were used as BBC radio signature tunes ('Music While You Work', 'In Town Tonight', 'Desert Island Discs', etc.). This talk by a fellow Hucknallite, who in preparing it worked closely with the late Austin Coates, the composer's son is generously illustrated with recordings of his music, and traces Coates's career from its beginnings in Nottinghamshire, to London as a professional viola player and to subsequent international fame as a composer of marvellous light music.

•  Music for a Coronation

Prompted by the fiftieth anniversary of the Queen's Coronation, Garry Humphreys looks at the music that has been performed at the ceremony, with particular emphasis on the pieces performed on 2 June 1953, but looking back to earlier years, including settings of familiar words to unfamiliar music now superseded by later composers. Recordings from the actual service in Westminster Abbey are included.

Garry Humphreys was a professional chorister in the choirs of Southwark Cathedral, St George's Hanover Square, The Temple Church (under Dr George Thalben-Ball) and St Vedast Foster Lane over a period of 25 years and so has first-hand familiarity with much of this music.

•  A carol is not just for Christmas

Carols are one of the most universally familiar musical forms, and primarily associated with Christmas. But originally the carol was actually a dance, later accompanied by words often of a lewd nature! sung by the dancers, not at first connected with Christmas, and even today carols may be sung at other times of the year, such as May Day and Easter.

Garry Humphreys traces the fascinating history of this popular genre, together with recordings illustrating words and music used over a period from the Middle Ages until the present day.


Other talks are available, or may be written to order for specific occasions. All are thoroughly researched before writing, so at least a year's notice is usually necessary if a new talk is requested. Please e-mail Garry Humphreys, who welcomes enquiries and will be pleased to discuss your particular requirements.


Fees: Negotiable.

Garry Humphreys

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