When, in the 1950s, George Schubert, a distant relative of the composer, discussed the concept for a Schubert Society with Gordon Honey and Alan Tabelin, the two young men enthusiastically took up the idea. They enlisted the support of their friends in London’s music circles and planned a concert for the launch of such a Society.
The inaugural concert, sponsored by George Schubert, was held on 19th November 1957 in St. James’s, Piccadilly. In an all Schubert programme Pauline Brockless (soprano) with the Goldsmiths’ choir, Gordon Honey (baritone) and a section of the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Basil Cameron performed.
The primary purpose of the Society was to perform the music of Franz Schubert, but in order to include the wider repertoire of classical music in forthcoming Schubertiades, the only rule the Society imposed was that every performance includes at least one work by Schubert.
Records of the early activities are unfortunately no longer available. In October 1960, Martha Eitler (violin) and Alan Tabelin, who had become Hon. Secretary of the Schubert Society, performed Italian Songs for the German YMCA in London and the potential for a successful collaboration between the Schubert Society and the German YMCA for the performance of regular concerts was discovered. As a Grand piano was a prerequisite for such a project, the YMCA bought a Blüthner with funds donated by the Embassy of the German Federal Republic.
The first Schubertiade in the hall of the YMCA’s “Lancaster Hall”, a recital of Lieder and songs by Schubert, Brahms and Strauss by the young tenor Austin Miskell, accompanied on the piano by Alasdair Graham, was held on Monday, 8th May 1961. The late Brian Brockless (composer, organist and conductor) wrote in a review of “the enjoyment of this most successful evening”. The regular series of Schubertiades commenced in October 1961 and became the crown of the cultural events in the Lancaster Hall. Over the years a pattern emerged in that Alan Tabelin engaged the artists and arranged the performances for each season, and volunteers and staff of the YMCA and Lancaster Hall Hotel staged the concert in an informal and hospitable atmosphere, publicised the events and produced the printed programmes.
It is impossible to name the hundreds of artists, who over the years gave generously of their services. But at the risk that some are overlooked, we like to name, in no particular order, and in addition to those already mentioned, the artists who shaped the profile of the Society in the early years: The Schubert Duo Christopher Wood and Jo Spanjer (Piano), Alfred Kitchin (piano), Francis Loring (baritone and translator of Schubert Lieder), Derek Hammond-Stroud (baritone), Paul Hamburger (piano), Gary Peacock, (piano), Kathron Sturrock (piano), Dr. Rudolf Sabor (Director of East Ham Academy of Music), Ivor Keys (Professor of Music).
Alan Tabelin managed to interest many distinguished artists in the work of the Society. At the same time, and in keeping with the purpose of the German YMCA, he dipped into the international pool of emerging young artists and gave many talented young musicians the opportunity to perform in London at the beginning of their careers. They came from twenty different countries from all over the world.
Over the years the song cycle “Die schöne Müllerin” was performed twice by John Barker (baritone) and Helen Cawthorne (piano). The song cycle “Die Winterreise” was performed eight times. One of these performances was by Francis Loring and Paul Hamburger in connection with the opening of the new Lancaster Hall on 21st October 1973. Another “Winterreise” performance by Samuel Oswald (tenor) and Hans Staehli (piano) on 19th October 1975 was a Gala Benefit Concert in aid of The Living Theatre for the Disabled.
Amongst other special events was the concert to mark the 150th Anniversary of Schubert’s death on 15th October 1978, with the West Indian Duo Gretta Barrow (piano) and Edmund Reid (violin) performing. In 1997 an extended season of Schubertiades was held in celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Franz Schubert. In his enthusiastic manner, Alan Tabelin had arranged a wonderful series of all Schubert programmes well in advance.
A special mention must be made of the outstanding services of the renowned Piano Duo Isabel Beyer and Harvey Dagul. Over the years the couple gave 25 performances of fourhanded piano music. From 1991 to 2003 these became our very popular New Year’s concerts.
Alan retired to Suffolk in 1990, but saw it as his duty to make the journeys to London in order to preside over the Schubertiades until his death on 26th January 1998. He had been leading the Schubert Society for over 40 years, arranging around 220 concerts. The March 1998 Schubertiade was dedicated to his memory. The renowned pianist Angela Lear played Chopin and Schubert, and was joined by Professor Guy Jonson, formerly Senior Piano Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, for a Schubert Duet finale.
For years the Schubert Society has provided a Schubert Prize for the best performance of a “Lied” in the Anglo-Austrian Music Society’s Richard Tauber Prize Competition for Singers in the Wigmore Hall. In memory of Alan Tabelin the German YMCA augmented the Schubert Society Prize in 2000, and the first recipient was the baritone Michael Dewis.
Continuing the highly specialised work of Alan Tabelin became a real challenge for the Society as well as the German YMCA. Thanks to the encouragement and support from the friends and artists Isabel Beyer, Harvey Dagul, Angela Lear and Mark Packwood, and especially thanks to the willingness of the founder member Gordon Honey to preside over forthcoming Schubertiades, the future looked most promising. Indeed, by the 50th Anniversary, the total concerts performed will be in excess of 280 and the concertgoers continue to turn up in good numbers. Joan Robinson (pianist) summed this up for all artists: “From the performers’ place on the platform, I must say that the crowded hall was a lovely sight!”
Secretary pro tem 1998-2003
Schubert Society History from 2007
In 2007 the Society celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a few extra concerts, a Schubert Party with Schubert Lieder and Jazz by the Dixie Ticklers (all together performing the Lied “Die Forelle” in Dixi style) and a Jubilee Concert at St James’s Piccadilly with Nigel Foster (piano) and Robin Tritschler (tenor). All this was received with great enthusiasm and the Schubert Society continues to thrive.
The Sunday Schubertiades have been augmented by a new series of Wednesday afternoon concerts called Peter’s Music Live, roughly 6-8 times a year since 2010. It was thought there were so many fine artists applying to perform and only a limited number of concert opportunities. Programme Committee member Peter Stokes had played records and CDs to the members of the German YMCA for a number of years, so it seemed logical to bring live performances to this already existing music programme. Artists and audience both enjoy the experience.
The Schubert Society Prize in the Anglo-Austrian Music Society’s Richard Tauber Prize Competition for Singers had two more winners with Seho Chang (baritone in 2008) and Leslie Davies (mezzo-soprano in 2011). When the competition ceased at the Wigmore Hall it was decided to combine forces with the London Song Festival for a new Singer Prize. The connection had been established even before the Song Festival had started. Nigel Foster, its founder and pianist, had played for the Society on a number of occasions and had been adjudicator for our 2010 Schubert Society Lieder Duo Competition. The latter was a competition between the major London music colleges and was won by Mae Heydorn (mezzo-soprano) and Marek Ruszczynski (piano). In 2014 the first Singer Prize was won by Rowan Pierce (soprano) at the London Song Festival master class adjudicated by Ian Partridge. It is now an annual event.
Secretary 2003 – 2023