Symphony N.5 in F
Frederic Hymen Cowen
(b. Kingston, Jamaica, 29 January 1852; d. 6 October 1935, London)
Symphony No. 5
Late Victorian Britain saw a desire to create a ‘national’ school of music to rival the German tradition. As with the Mighty Handful in Russia, though working separately, five composers were at the forefront of this move: Arthur Sullivan, Frederic Hymen Cowen, Alexander Mackenzie, Charles Villiers Stanford, and Hubert Parry. They achieved varying degrees of success with their own music (one commentator said that it would have been greater had they been called ‘Sullivanski, Cowenkoi, Mackensikoff, Stanfordtscheff and Parrykine’) but they did lay the foundations for the next generation of Vaughan Williams, Holst, Bax, Ireland and the like. The least well remembered of these musicians is Cowen.
He was born at Kingston, Jamaica, the fifth child of Frederick Augustus Cohen, his birth being registered in the name of Hyman Frederick Cohen. Frederick Augustus later moved to London, changed the family name to the less Jewish ‘Cowen’, and became treasurer of Her Majesty’s Opera and subsequently of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The brothers and sisters were all gifted, and included a recognised artist, Lionel, and an accomplished actress, Henrietta. Frederic showed an early aptitude for music, being encouraged by Sir Henry Bishop, taking lessons with John Goss and Julius Benedict, before eventually studying at Leipzig and Berlin with Ignaz Moscheles, Carl Reinecke, Louis Plaidy and Friedrich Kiel. His career was to be mainly as a conductor, notably of the Royal Philharmonic Society, the Halle, Liverpool Philharmonic and Scottish orchestras, and of the Handel Triennial Festival. It was through his conducting that Cowen became acquainted with Liszt, Rubinstein, Brahms, Grieg, Dvořák and many other contemporary musicians.
As a composer, he achieved most success with his songs (more than 300 of them) and choral works, but he regarded his six symphonies as the pinnacle of his output. The Third Symphony (“The Scandanavian”) was his most successful (MPH score 749) and all six show a comfort with large structures, as well as a genuine flair for orchestration. That said, none could be said to be ‘forward looking’, and each is a good example of a post-Mendelssohn, post-Schumann European symphony. It would take the maverick Edward Elgar and the young Ralph Vaughan Williams to breathe new life into the British symphony.
The Fifth Symphony was commissioned by Stanford for the Cambridge University Music Society. It was first performed at Cambridge on 9 June 1887, conducted by the composer.]
Phillip Brookes, 2012
For performance material please contact Novello, London. Reprint of a copy from the collection Phillip Brookes, Roxas City.
The Phillip Brookes Collection
210 x 297 mm