Baron Fredéric Alfred d’Erlanger – Prélude Romantique
(b. Paris, 29 May 1868; d. London, 23 April; 1943)
Baron Frédéric d’Erlanger (known among his friends as ‘Baron Fred’) was a latter-day Renaissance man. A millionaire and successful banker, he invested heavily in developing countries, financing chain stores in South America and railways in South Africa. He was a patron of the arts throughout his career, a founder member of the Oxford & Cambridge Music Club, a trustee of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and a board member of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He was also a composer of some note.
d’Erlanger’s father had been a Jewish German from Frankfurt-am-Main, whose birth name was Emil Erlanger and whose own father owned the banking firm of Erlanger and Sons. Emil later settled in Paris, was ennobled by Queen Maria II of Portugal and Ferdinand II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and adopted the name Frédéric Emile, Baron d’Erlanger. He mar- ried an American and headed a banking empire that, among other things, financed the Greek, Portuguese and Swedish governments. The family moved to Britain in 1870 to avoid the Franco-Prussian war, but his son Frédéric Alfred returned to Paris until 1886, when he finally settled in London, taking British nationality.
Frédéric Alfred had taken music lessons in Paris with Anselm Ehmant – his only formal training – and embarked on a sec- ondary career as a composer. He did not write much, but he was consistent throughout his life in producing works of high quality that (perhaps because of his commercial standing) were often performed, including several times in Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts. Most notable were six operas, including Tess (based on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbevilles), premiered in Naples in 1906. He also wrote the ballet Les Cents Baisers for the Ballets Russes in 1931.
The Prélude Romantique is a late work – from 1934 – but in style it could have been written at any time during the previous 50 years. One commentator has described it as being between “high-class Ketèlby and low-grade Elgar”, though that is perhaps unfair since it suggests little more that that d’Erlanger belongs firmly among composers such as Saint-Saëns, Glazunov, and even Richard Strauss, whose lived well into the 20th century without altering their styles very much. The Prélude Romantique was first performed at a Promenade Concert in the Queen’s Hall on 16 August 1937, conducted by Henry Wood. Wood repeated it at the Proms the following year.
Phillip Brookes, 2020
For performance material please contact Schott, Mainz.