Sir Thomas Beecham - Encyclopedia


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"SIR THOMAS BEECHAM, 2ND Bart. (1879-), English musical conductor, was born April 29 1879, son of Sir Joseph Beecham, 1st bart. (1848-1916), who had made a large fortune at St.;Helens, Lancs., as proprietor of " Beecham's Pills." Young Beecham was educated at Rossall and for a time at Wadham College, Oxford. His father was keenly interested in music and had given financial support to a number of musical enterprises in the North of England, where the son acquired considerable experience as a conductor. In 1905 he gave his first concert in London with the Queen's Hall orchestra. A little later he founded first the New Symphony orchestra and next the Beecham orchestra, both first-rate concerns. In 1909 he appeared in London as opera conductor, and in Feb. of the following year the Beecham Opera Co., consisting entirely of English-speaking singers, was inaugurated. The season was started at Covent Garden in the following year when among other operas produced for the first time in London were Strauss's Elektra (Feb. 1910), Delius's Romeo and Juliet in the Village and Debussy's L'Enfant Prodigue. In the same year there was a further season at His Majesty's theatre during which Strauss's Feuersnot was given, its London premiere. Further London seasons followed in later years, all with decided artistic success. These led up to the great climax when in 1913 the Beecham season of opera and ballet at Covent Garden included the production of Strauss's Rosenkavalier and The Legend of Joseph. Later in the same year there was a magnificent season at Drury Lane of Russian opera and ballet, made famous not only by the splendour of the productions of Russian opera in the vernacular, which in all probability would never otherwise have been heard in London, but by the remarkable singing and still more remarkable acting of Shaliapin, who then made his first appearance in England. During the second and third years of the World War there were Beecham seasons of opera at the Shaftesbury and Aldwych theatres, when pronounced success was achieved by performances of Valkyrie and Tristan and Isolde sung in English. Beecham's own version of Bach's cantata Phoebus and Pan was given at the latter theatre. In 1917 the Beecham Opera Co. were once more at Drury Lane, and in 1920 Beecham organized a somewhat ill-starred cosmopolitan " grand " season at Covent Garden, during which Puccini's socalled triptych, Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, was given for the first time in Great Britain. From 1915 to 1918 Beecham was conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Society, whose very existence during the World War he practically guaranteed. In 1916 he was knighted, and shortly afterwards he succeeded to his father's baronetcy. The lavish expenditure of his private fortune upon opera in English ultimately led to financial embarrassments which in 1920 - I necessitated the suspension of his musical activities.

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