PHI CD 140: Elsie Suddaby - The Lass with the delicate air Volume 2 Recorded 1924-1949
Orchestral Accompaniments by Barbirolli Beecham Coates Collingwood Sargent
The Lass with the delicate air. Arne. By thy banks, gentle Stour. Boyce. Oh, yes, just so. (Phoebus & Pan) Bach. Conductor: Lawrance Collingwood. Though the reviling tongues assail us. Bach. Conductor: John Barbirolli. O sleep why dost thou leave me so. "Semele" Handel. Conductor Lawrance Collingwood. From 1947 recording of Handel's Messiah conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He shall feed His flock. How beautiful are the feet. I know that my redeemer liveth. To heart ceasing. Purcell. With Isobel Baillie - soprano. Conductor: Sir Hugh Allen. Almond Tree. Schumann. Faith in Spring. Schubert. Benedictus from Schubert's Mass in G. Philharmonic Choir conducted by Kennedy Scott. Cradle Song. Schubert. From Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge - Taylor: Spring had come. Conductor: John Barbirolli. And he rushed into the Wigwam.
(The Death of Minnehaha). Conductor: Dr. Malcolm Sargent. My mother bids me bind my hair. Haydn. Spring. Henschel. Shepherd, thy demeanour vary. Brown. Love's Garden of Roses. Haydn Wood. Conductor: George Byng. Loch Lomond. Trad. Blackbird Song. Scott. Whither. (Autumn) & The Violet. Delius. Conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Concluding section of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir, conductor Albert Coates.
Elsie Suddaby (1893-1980)
A short biography by Martin J. Monkman, Amphion Recordings
Elsie Suddaby was born in Wortley, Leeds on Twelfth-Night, 5th January, 1893. Her father, William Driver Suddaby, who originated from Dalton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, had moved to Leeds and established a successful chain of furniture shops in that city. Elsie's mother, Margaret Oriel née Briggs, a Leeds lass, gave Elsie her first piano lessons at the age of seven. These lessons were continued by the Armley musician Harry H. Pickard and, under his guidance, she won the gold medal of the Associated Board for her piano playing.
At this time Elsie's real musical talent was considered to lie with the piano. She was an outstanding pianist and, after leaving school, she gave piano lessons in the front room of the family home.
Another of her piano tutors was Mr T. J. Hoggett, who, on hearing Elsie sing, recognised that there was both a great gift and talent in her voice and recommended her to Sir Edward Bairstow, the organist of York Minster (1913-1946) for lessons. Elsie's younger sister, Muriel (mother of Martin Ellwood), also went to Bairstow for piano lessons. In the early days Muriel would accompany Elsie while she practised her singing. It was whilst with Dr. Bairstow that Elsie changed musical direction from the piano to singing.
Sir Edward Bairstow (1874-1946) was one of the nation's leading musical figures, a great teacher, conductor, composer and organist. On the day of her first lesson, Elsie arrived a few minutes early. She was waiting for her first lesson with the great man when, all of a sudden, the door to his teaching-room flew open and out dashed a young lady in tears, with Dr Bairstow uttering some uncomplimentary comments about this poor girl's musical talents. Then a few seconds later, propelled at high velocity, out followed the pupil's music. Despite this highly unnerving first encounter with Bairstow as a teacher, Elsie Suddaby and Edward Bairstow grew to respect and admire each other. During the nineteen twenties and thirties Elsie was to return to York to sing at many performances conducted by him at the Minster.
In his autobiography, Blessed City, completed by Dr. Francis Jackson, and published by Sessions of York,(ISBN 1 85072 182 30), Bairstow writes:
"Elsie was a grand girl. She was an excellent pianist and could read splendidly, both on the piano and in vocal music. She had a wonderful spirit, worked harder than anyone, and would never give in. She had much difficulty with her voice in early days and with her breathing. The very things which she does with such perfection of art now - soft, very tender high notes, long drawn out phrases with no apparent effort - all these presented great difficulties to her then and for quite a time to come."
On another occasion, after listening to one of her radio broadcasts, Bairstow was moved to write the following letter to her:
"You amazed even me, who knows your singing so well. I'm quite sure there is no one in the country who can sing like that. I have heard and still hear so many that I know. Your voice is as good and fresh and beautiful as ever, but I think you have matured and got a broader background. It is not often that I am really moved, but you gave me a lump in my throat all right."
In 1920 the young composer Gerald Finzi (1901 - 1956), whilst visiting the Royal College of Music, heard the song "Sleep" from Ivor Gurney's Five Elizabethan Songs sung by Elsie Suddaby accompanied by Edward Bairstow. This performance was the inspiration for Finzi's life-long quest to discover the poems and songs of Gurney from every possible source.
Bairstow taught his pupils and the singers under his direction to "sing from the heart" and this Elsie Suddaby never failed to achieve. She spoke with great praise and respect for Bairstow for the rest of her days.
In many ways Elsie Suddaby was in the right place at the right time. She was the first young British soprano to take full advantage of the new technologies of the day and was a pioneer of both broadcasting and the gramophone. Her first radio broadcast was made on 28th April, 1924 from London. She sang very frequently on the radio for over 30 years and gave her final broadcast, a programme called 'I've Brought My Music', which consisted of ballads, transmitted by the BBC Home Service on the 21st September, 1956.
In 1924 Elsie Suddaby signed a recording contract with The Gramophone Company. This contract was later renewed and extended until 1931. During this period she was one of HMV's big stars and recorded prolifically. Under the 'Artist Engagements' section of HMV's magazine, 'The Voice', her name appears alongside the other great singers and performers of the day, names such as Robert Radford, John McCormack, Peter Dawson, Mark Hambourg, Paderewski and Moiseiwitsch.
Elsie's earliest recordings were made using the old acoustic system [1,17 & 18]. However with the introduction in 1925 of the electric microphone the quality of sound and possibilities for recording were vastly increased. Hence she was recorded in relatively clear tones when she was in her prime.
In 1947 Elsie was engaged as the soprano soloist in HMV's recording of Handel's Messiah conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. The other soloists who took part were Marjorie Thomas - contralto, Heddle Nash - tenor and Trevor Anthony - bass. However this performance of Messiah remained unpublished until 1953. when it was released on four LPs - HMV ALP 1077 - 1080. The three extracts heard on this CD are taken from EMI's 78 rpm metal negatives [6-8] . Her last commercial recordings were made by EMI in 1951 and 1952 and feature on Amphion CD PHI CD 134.
As well as her radio broadcasts and gramophone records, Elsie was very well known as a concert performer. Her career took off in 1922, the year she first sang at the Three Choirs Festival, held at Gloucester. She appeared regularly at the this festival for nearly 30 years, her final performance being in 1951 at Worcester. In the early days at this festival she sang under the direction of Sir Edward Elgar, Dr. Herbert Sumsion, organist of Gloucester Cathedral, Sir Percy Hull, organist of Hereford Cathedral and Sir Ivor Atkins, the organist of Worcester Cathedral. She appeared at the Norfolk and Norwich Music Festival between 1928 and 1936 and was involved in performances conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Henry Wood. In 1938 she was chosen by Sir Henry to be one of the sixteen soloists in the first performance of Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music, written to celebrate the Jubilee of Sir Henry's Promenade Concerts. She appeared at the Albert Hall in Promenade Concerts and in performances of Hiawatha [14 & 15]. She also sang at the Leeds Music Festival and the Festival of Contemporary Music.
For nearly 20 years, from the mid 1930's she sang with the London Bach Choir and is still remembered today by surviving members of the choir for her performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and his B Minor Mass. The St. Matthew Passion was recorded in 1947 by Decca with Suddaby as the soprano soloist and Reginald Jacques conducting.
She was often to be heard, all over the country, singing in Messiah, more often than not with her good friend the contralto, Muriel Brunskill (1899 - 1980), and Elsie was godmother to Muriel's son, Desmond. In her unpublished autobiography, Muriel Brunskill recalled the occasion when she first met Elsie in the early 1920's.
"I was sent to sing Brahms' "Alto Rhapsody" for the first time, with the Bradford Choral Society, conducted by Dr Edward Bairstow, a great musician who did not suffer fools gladly, and one had heard harrowing tales of his caustic comments. I therefore approached this undertaking with some trepidation, so, much to my relief when at the end of the performance he leaned towards me from the rostrum and said, 'A most creditable performance'. On going into the artists room I found a young lady from Leeds, a former pupil of Bairstow, Elsie Suddaby. That first meeting was the beginning of a life-long friendship, and I should say I have done more concert work with her than any other soprano. Now that we are both retired our meetings are still one of thegreat pleasures of life." Elsie frequently journeyed to Wales to sing at concerts both for and with the Welsh miners. She never ceased to marvel that after a day hard working down the pit they could find it in themselves to stand up and sing so magnificently.
Elsie gave many first performances of works by the British composers of her day, including works by Finzi, Walford Davies, Plunket Green, Elgar and Ethel Smyth. She also gave many first performances of foreign works in England, including Honegger's "King David", Kaminski's "Magnificat", Vycpalck's "Four Last Things of Man", Florent Schmitt's "Psalm" and Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand". She sang at memorial services given for Elgar, Walford Davies, Plunket Green, Ethel Smyth and Eda Kersey.
There was a friendly rivalry between Elsie Suddaby, the Yorkshire lass, and from over the Pennines, Isobel Baillie, was the other great British soprano of the inter-war years. Baillie's first commercial recordings were issued in 1927, three years after those of Suddaby's first appeared. The two ladies shared the concert platform together on a number occasions. One such occasion was a Royal Command Performance held at the Albert Hall to celebrate Empire Day on the 24th May 1938. Part of this performance was preserved on record by HMV. 
During the Second World War, despite great difficulties with transportation, Elsie continued to maintain a full and busy schedule of concerts and recitals all over the country. She was often to be heard singing and playing the piano at the Myra Hess lunchtime concerts held at the National Gallery in London. These concerts were an inspiration to those who attended in the early dark days of the war. At this time she became a friend of Kathleen Ferrier, the British contralto, and Elsie was of great support to her in the early days Ferrier's career. They sang together many times, their performances in Bach's B minor Mass being of particular note and merit.
In 1947 she was invited by Dudley Gordon to sing in the first performance of Messiah given by the Haddo House Choral Society conducted by June Gordon. Elsie became a good friend of the family, spending many happy holidays at Haddo House. Her last appearance there as a performer was in 1958. From these early performances, in which Elsie Suddaby played so great a part, the musical life of Haddo House has grown, so much so that it is now one of the major centres of music and the arts in the north. The Choral Society is still conducted to this day by June Gordon.
From 1953 Elsie Suddaby started gradually to reduce her public appearances and finally retired in 1960 at the age of sixty seven. To the public she was known as "The Lass with the Delicate Air". This song by Arne she often used as an encore. In appearance she was a delicate and appealing lady who always dressed beautifully, yet quite simply. She had a kind, sympathetic and generous nature and was of a modest disposition.
As a musician Elsie was very definite as to how the music should be performed and had a firm yet kind way of making sure things were done her way. When she sang she would stand quite still, perhaps sometimes a gentle sway as she became more and more absorbed by the music. She looked, and at times sounded, angelic, her voice clear, pure and natural. As a talented pianist she could study the score for herself, playing her own accompaniments. There was no need for a voice coach, who otherwise might have got in the way of her performance and the music.
Before the war, Elsie had moved south to live in Hampstead, North London, moving to Bracknell, Berkshire during the war and finally to Northwood, Middlesex shortly after she had retired from singing. During all this time she was supported by her life-long friend, Jean Allen - a devoted admirer of her singing. Jean Allen died suddenly in 1975 and Elsie agreed to go into the nursing home at Radlett in Hertfordshire. The disabling effects of Parkinson's Disease by this time had become quite pronounced. Elsie was befriended by Mrs Margaret Polhill, a near neighbour, who helped her with her correspondence, listening to music and reading together.
At the Myra Hess lunchtime concerts, during the second war, Elsie met and became friends with the well known actress Joyce Grenfell, who was making the tea there! Elsie would sing at Cliveden, the home of Lady Astor, Joyce's aunt. In 1975, on hearing the news of the death of Jean Allen, Joyce wrote to Elsie, expressing her sympathy and ending her letter with this tribute.
"This brings much love and I hope you are able to go on enjoying books, music, some good friends and lots of affection from all those who know and remember your lovely contribution to music. I know I am full of appreciation and affection for it. Love dear Elsie, Joyce."
Elsie Suddaby died peacefully in her sleep on 24th April, 1980 at the age of 87. She was by this time a slightly forgotten figure in the musical world. I hope that with the release of this second Amphion CD of Suddaby's recordings, it will be realised that Elsie Suddaby was one of the great British sopranos of the twentieth century and that generations to come will enjoy her sheer artistry and musicianship.
© Martin J. Monkman, Amphion Recordings, November 1995.
Revised April 1997.