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Bryceson Treharne

June 10, 2019

The G. Schirmer Vocal Scores of the major Gilbert and Sullivan works are in every enthusiast’s library. At the first rehearsal of nearly every production of the 9 most popular G&S operettas all over the English speaking world, the singers open their Schirmer scores, some brand new, some yellowed with age, and on the title page, they see one of two names:

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OR

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Treharne edited Trial, Pinafore, Pirates, Iolanthe, and Mikado.

Rickett edited PatienceRuddigore, Yeomen, and Gondoliers.

(Schirmer never released editions of The Sorcerer, Princess Ida, Utopia Limited, or The Grand Duke.) 

In this editorial capacity, Treharne and Rickett are surely two of the most significant figures in Gilbert and Sullivan of the 20th century. It turns out they also led extraordinary lives.

Today I’ll tell you what I discovered about the editor of the five most popular scores: a brilliant musician who had a passion for amateur theatre and a man whose experience in the First World War would define his entrance into the American musical scene. I will cover the equally fascinating Rickett next week. 

Bryceson Treharne was born in Merthyr Tydfil, 23 miles north of Cardiff in Southern Wales, either in 1877 or 1879, about the time Gilbert and Sullivan were writing their first successful pieces together. He displayed musical talent early, working with the organist Thomas Westlake Morgan. Bryceson started studying music seriously at the age of 12 and became an accomplished pianist and organist with a mop of unruly hair. At the age of 16, he won the Erard Scholarship, which paid for three years tuition to the Royal College of Music in London and the loan of an Erard grand piano. In his case, the scholarship was extended by a year. The audition required him to play Beethoven’s 3rd piano sonata, a Chopin piece of his choice, and to sight read for the judges. Preliminary rounds were held in 12 cities, and the finals were held in London.  He must have been an exceptionally fine pianist.
Bryceson Treharne

At the Royal College of Music, Treharne studied with some of the greatest English musicians of his time. He studied organ with Walter Parratt, who was Master of the Queen’s Musick for Queen Victoria. Parratt was a genius who could sight read complicated organ music while simultaneously playing chess. Treharne studied piano with Franklin Taylor, who had worked with Clara Schumann, and he also worked with Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford. His classmates would have included a young Gustav Holst, John Ireland, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Like many of his countrymen, Treharne then went to Europe to study in Paris, Milan, and Munich, finally returning to Wales to teach at Aberystwyth University College from 1900-1901. He had music published in Aberystwyth, but he must have been restless, because in 1901, at the age of 22 (?) he moved to Australia to take a teaching position in Adelaide at the Elder Conservatorium.

Treharne AdelaideIn Australia, he played recitals of Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Bach, he preached a ‘sermon’ on Brahms, and he met Muriel Matters, who would become an important activist for women’s suffrage. The two of them would later be romantically linked and briefly engaged, but the match was a poor one. Matters biographers speculate that Treharne’s ideas about women were not progressive. They clearly shared a great interest in the latest developments in poetry and music. (Please do yourself a favor and spend some time looking into Muriel Matters)

Muriel Matters

Bryceson Treharne  was fascinated by the latest developments in the world of drama. In 1902 he started a discussion group for students interested in singing, literature, and drama, and in October, Muriel Matters read Tennyson’s Enoch Arden while he accompanied with a score written for the poem by Richard Strauss. At that time, the score was only 5 years old. Years of literary and dramatic exploration in Treharne’s class culminated on September 24, 1908 with a performance of Shaw’s Man of Destiny, and Yeats’ Land of Heart’s Desire. Interest was immediate and overwhelming, and soon a fledgling theatrical company had over 500 subscribers paying 5 shillings a year for two tickets. He advocated strongly for the importance of theatre, writing in 1912:

“I hold that the theatre is a public need; that its status is of vital concern to the community; and that in Australia at present it is not fulfilling its functions.”

He railed against melodrama and Music Hall productions, insisting that Ibsen and Shaw would clean the air of ignorance. He produced more than 80 plays, writing music for many of them, and then in 1911 Treharne returned to England. Some of the sources I found indicated he was on a sabbatical (from which he would never return). The company he started, the Adelaide Repertory Theatre is still in operation. It is, in fact, the longest surviving amateur theatre company in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 1912, Treharne went to Berlin to work with Gordon Craig, an English Modernist director and innovator then working in Germany. He spent time in Milan, Vienna, Paris, and Berlin. 1914 turned out to be a momentous year. He married Maud Thackeray, a soprano. Then in July, he went to Munich to see the Wagner Festspiel, intending to go on to the Salzburg Mozart Festival. He did not anticipate the outbreak of the Great War, and was detained in Lindau, with a group of English tourists, moving on to Kempten, and finally to Ruhleben, a prison camp converted from a horse racing facility west of Berlin. Maud was released and went to London to work for her husband’s release. 

The paintings of the camp here are by Nico Jungmann, another inmate.

Ruhleben

“At first conditions were appalling,” Mr. Treharne said in an interview for Musical America. “There was not even a blanket to be had and we slept on the ground. Then, finally, we were given one blanket each; much later beds were provided, and prisoners were allowed to receive packages of food from home, but for the first six months we subsisted largely on acorn coffee- without milk and sugar- and prison bread. It was not the regulation ‘war bread,’ which is largely composed of rye and potato flour, but contained chopped straw and sand, to which the rye and potato flour was added. The sand got in one’s teeth in shocking fashion,”

His interviewer asked him why the bread contained sand. Treharne continued:

“Because, to comply with the requirements of international law, the bread served to prisoners had to be of a standard weight, and the straw was added for bulk. Once a week we got rice, for which we were very grateful, but the greater part of our meals consisted of the acorn coffee, prison bread and soup made from boiled cabbage or turnips; meat was a rarity. We were marched down to the kitchens to get our portion of acorn coffee at seven o’clock in the morning, then we were marched back to barrack before we were allowed to drink it; sometimes we were delayed a half hour in reforming in fours to march back, so the coffee was not very hot by the  time we got a chance at it. In some of the lofts in the stables at Ruhleben where we were held, there were from 250 men to 300 men; they were crowded so closely that it was impossible to lie on one’s back in sleeping, there was just room to lie on one’s side. Men with all sorts of ailments were crowded in together. There was one especially shocking case of tuberculosis, but finally we had a change of doctors and the new physician sent the man at once to a sanitarium. He was exchanged later and died shortly after reaching England.

“Our chief hardships came from the brutality of the guards who seemed to delight in ‘taking out’ their personal hatred of the English directly on us. Another hardship was in being refused all visitors, but we were allowed to receive and send letters. The English prisoners owe a very real debt of gratitude to Ambassador Gerard, for conditions became much better after he interested himself in our behalf.

“Yet, in spite of all the hardships and discomforts, I found Ruhleben a good place in which to work. One becomes very active mentally on a limited diet. It really seems to act as a spur; one’s head becomes clear and the amount of mental labor which can be performed under such conditions is quite surprising. Then the setting was ideal. Off on one side was a green, rolling forest. I never tired of gazing at it and it was no end of an inspiration to composition.

“We had plenty of music in camp at all times. A really fine orchestra was organized among the prisoners and we gave many concerts; once we presented the ‘Messiah‘ with a male choir, a very interesting innovation.”

Eventually the camp wore him down to the point where his health deteriorated, and he experienced a complete physical collapse. He was finally included among 150 men to be exchanged for German prisoners, but no papers of any kind were allowed to leave the camp. Treharne had written almost two hundred songs in the camp, one act of an opera set in Japan, and some orchestral pieces, so he begged the censor to use his influence to make an exception, and when the exception was granted, all the material was eventually sent to him in England. He returned to England by train on December 7, 1915.

Considering that Treharne would one day edit the standard vocal score of The Mikado, two details about his time at Ruhleben are startling. The Japanese opera Treharne was working on had a libretto by the Japanese Art critic Okakura Kakuzo, who spent his career exploring and contextualizing the intersection of Japanese and Western culture. According to press accounts following his release from the camp, Treharne made no attempt to imitate Japanese music. Without access to the opera itself, we can at least remark on how forward thinking Treharne’s approach seems to have been, in collaborating with a Japanese librettist, and in not attempting to mimic Japanese musical content.

The second, and more remarkable thing that happened at Ruhleben involved the many musicians interned there who organized a musical society. Treharne was a charter member, as was Canadian conductor Sir Ernest MacMillan. A group of these musicians worked to reconstruct from memory the scores of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, to be performed in an improvised theatre under the grandstands with men in the female roles and with orchestral accompaniment. Ruhleben MikadoThe first Gilbert and Sullivan they performed was a makeshift Trial by Jury, but the year Treharne’s health collapsed they were preparing and performing their second Gilbert and Sullivan operetta: The Mikado, complete with parody lyrics about the camp:

The footballer who kicks the ball

beyond the outer track

And then yells to some pedestrian

To go and fetch it back

And the people who in concerts

Will chatter to their pals

Or the choir of youthful

Cherubim that sing the madrigals

And the man who comes to see the camp

And says, “Wie schön es ist!”

He never would be missed”

MacMillan offered this lyric in a talk to the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Toronto, explaining  that the words referred to a madrigal choir had been formed, and that the last reference was to the Herbert Bury, Anglican bishop of Northern Europe who had been allowed to visit prison camps to see the state of things and had returned to England with a glowing report. The company would later put on Yeomen, Gondoliers, and Pirates, with all male casts.

Ruhleben Mikado 2.jpg

Imagine the future editor of The Mikado, seriously undernourished from eating sand in a German prison camp, working on his own Japanese Opera while his countrymen rack their brains to remember the details of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Japanese fantasy, a score they’d played a thousand times. It must have been like a fever dream.

When Treharne returned to England with nearly 200 songs in tow, he found the wartime atmosphere unenthusiastic about new music, and soon moved to America in 1916. Here he proved an appealingly romantic figure, accompanying Louis Graveure in an evening of his own songs in Aeolean Hall in New York in 1917, the year his son Frank was born.

Bryceson Treharne Musical America.JPG

It was also in 1917 that at singers began recording his song Mother, My Dear. The best of the 9 recordings of the song made between 1917 and 1926 was this one, made by John McCormack: (apologies for the graphic)

In 1919, his most popular work, Corals was printed. It shows Treharne strongly in the tradition of his contemporary Roger Quilter. It has appeared in a prominent anthology, and is sung beautifully here by Kayla Collingwood.

Following the teens, the enthusiasm for Treharne’s music seems to have faded. He taught from 1924-1928 at McGill University in Montreal, then in 1928 moved to Boston to become a music editor. From the late 1920s through the following decade, Treharne wrote Operettas for schools and three cantatas. One of those cantatas, The Banshee had some popularity, receiving a major performance in his native Wales. He became the Music director of The Boston Music Company, a branch of G. Schirmer. Under the pseudonym Chester Wallis, he made simplified piano versions of all the great composers for students. 

Grieg Wallis

Since most of the earlier Schirmer Gilbert and Sullivan Piano Vocal scores have no copyright date, it is difficult to know when or even in what order they were released, but they were without doubt the fruition of a lifetime of Treharne’s interactions with the greatest music of the past and with his own time, his passion for the literature of the stage, prepared with the care of a music educator who loved introducing regular people to great literature and music.

He left behind his wife Maud and a son, Anthony Francis (Frank) when he died on February 4, 1948 in Long Island.

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I’ve done my best to provide accurate and complete information above. If you have access to more complete information or if I’ve made errors, please contact me and I’ll make a correction. 

6 comments

  1. […] week I wrote about Gilbert and Sullivan Vocal Score editor Bryceson Treharne. Today I will bring you information about the other Schirmer G&S editor, Edmond W. Rickett, who […]


  2. […] popular Schirmer edition of Trial By Jury edited by Bryceson Treharne is widely available and many G&S companies already own copies of this edition. There are a […]


  3. […] most commonly used edition is the Schirmer vocal score, edited by Bryceson Treharne. It’s fine, but you will want to take time to correct the errors in the score before you begin […]


  4. […] most commonly used edition is the Schirmer vocal score, edited by Bryceson Treharne. It’s fine, but you will want to take time to correct the errors in the score before you begin […]


  5. […] most commonly used edition is the Schirmer vocal score, edited by Bryceson Treharne. It’s perfectly acceptable. I linked to Amazon here, because most people these days buy from […]


  6. Thank you for this fascinating essay. A very good read!



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