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Thomas Beecham (Sir)

Thomas Beecham (Sir)

(1879 - 1961)

 

Sir Thomas Beecham, (Baronet) was an English conductor and impresario best known for his close association with the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic orchestras.

He was also closely associated with the Liverpool Philharmonic and Hallé orchestras and considered a giant of British music, dominating the scene for the first half of the twentieth century.

Son of a wealthy industrialist and baronet, Thomas Beecham had the luxury of being able to draw on family monies to promote projects close to his heart. After a row with his father during his early years as a conductor with a growing reputation, the money stopped for a while and did not flow again until they were reconciled.

Sir Thomas Beecham was a major influence on the musical life of Britain and he was Britain's first international conductor.

During his career he introduced Britain to the works of Richard Strauss - particularly "Elektra", "Salome" and "Der Rosenkavalier" and also to the works of Delius- whom he much admired and had a long friendship with. It was Mozart, however, whom he revered above all other musicians.

He and his young colleague Malcolm Sargent founded the London Philharmonic.

His professional début as a conductor was in 1902 at the Shakespeare Theatre, Clapham, with Balfe's "The Bohemian Girl", for the Imperial Grand Opera Company. Commentators noted that the grand name was not matched by the reality ("grandly named but decidedly ramshackle") but nonetheless Beecham was engaged to tour with four other operas including "Carmen" and "I Pagliacci".

1910 was a landmark year for Beecham when he either conducted or was responsible for 190 performances at Covent Garden and His Majesty's Theatre. His assistant conductors at that time were none other than Bruno Walter and Percy Pitt.

During the same year he mounted 34 different operas, most of them completely unknown to British audiences at that time.

In a feast of opera, London's total opera performances for that year amounted to no less than 273 performances, far more than the box-office demand could ever support...only 4 operas that Beecham staged made money: Richard Strauss's new operas "Elektra" and "Salome", both receivied their first and highly-publicised performances in Britain and "The Tales of Hoffmann" and "Die Fledermaus" were the other two.

In 1946, Beecham founded the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and introduced Covent Garden audiences to "Così Fan Tutte", "Der Schauspieldirektor" and "Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail"- he also regularly programmed "The Magic Flute", "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro".

Of the operas in the Verdi repertoire Beecham conducted eight during his long career- "Il Trovatore", "La Traviata", "Aida", "Don Carlos", "Rigoletto", "Un Ballo In Maschera", "Otello" and "Falstaff".

In 1904, Beecham met Puccini himself through Puccini's librettist, Luigi Illica. At the time they met, Illica was busy revising "Madama Butterfly" after it had just had its disastrous première.

Beecham rarely conducted Butterfly but he did conduct "Tosca", "Turandot" and "La Bohème" in the years that followed. His recording of "La Bohème" in 1946 with Victoria de los Ángeles and Jussi Björling, has seldom been out of the catalogues since its first release.

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