February 11, 2017

Klein the Scholar

HERMAN KLEIN died in London on March 10, in his seventy-eighth year. The veteran critic and teacher will be missed in a large circle. He was a most pleasant acquaintance, shrewd and kindly, experienced and urbane; and the very length of the life he had lived in the midst of musical affairs gave him in his latter years a peculiar distinction.

The range of his recollections seemed extraordinary, for, after all, he was not enormously old—he was not a Francesco Berger. The explanation, in addition to his retentive memory, is that he entered upon the journalistic scene very young—before he was twenty. Also, he had evidently been as a young man no rebel or reformer, but one well content with the world as it was. He lived on into the 1930's retaining not a little of the 1870 outlook on music. He had belonged to an England in which, except for a few fanatics, music was a merely sociable and decorative accessory. Klein, in fact, was a Victorian, a mid-Victorian—a type interesting in any case to meet in the flesh, and in this particular instance quite charming. His conversation was a delight if one had a nose for the vanishing odours of the past.

Klein was one of the professionals urbane enough not to quarrel with the general terms on which music was allowed into English life half a century ago. He did not mind ballad concerts, for instance, and yet he was no fool. No doubt he was never ultra-serious, but he could not be called superficial when for one branch of the art he possessed a true connoisseur's understanding and passion. He had an expert's appreciation of the principles and practice of singing, and hence ballad concerts and performances of Meyerbeer's 'Huguenots' never lacked an interest for him. His youth was the period of the tyranny of the prima donna. Klein was not one to mind this; he enjoyed it, and delighted in comparing Valentines and Marguerites and Carmens. This sort of expertise was the principal accomplishment of a music critic of the 1870's. Klein, when he began, must have been one of the last of the sort. He long outlived all his fellows, and thus it was that the alert, smiling, well-preserved old man seemed to belong to an enormously remote era, the era of Davison and Chorley. Not that he was detached from the present. He was not so serious about the past as all that; but still he was definitely serious on this subject of singing: serious, clear-minded, experienced, and (really, it is the word) scholarly. Even though he did pepper his sentences with quantities of unnecessary French, that was simply the practice of the craft.

Herman Klein was born at Norwich, where his parents taught dancing and music. He himself had singing lessons from Garcia, but his voice was too small for a career. At nineteen he was already engaged in journalism. For twenty years (1881-1901) he was music critic of the Sunday Times. The next seven years he spent in New York; but, preferring London, he returned here and described the American musical world in an unflattering book. In recent years, when the heroines of his youth, Jenny Lind, Tietjens, Trebelli, Patti, were mere names to all but a small minority, he found an eager welcome for the volumes in which he described their almost legendary glories. A good example of the series is 'Great Women-singers of my Time' (1931). He himself reckoned highest among his achievements his translation of 'Carmen.'

R. C.

The Musical Times, May 1934, page 468.


Having served on the board of the same organisation which Klein founded in New York, as well as having discovered his "lost" singing manual, I feel a certain kinship to the man who brought García's teachings to America. That we both have an affinity for the history, nuts and bolts, whys and wherefores of singing, makes me like him all the more. 

It's a curious thing to find a friend in a long dead person.

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