Brian Bell, conducting Henschel's "A Sea-Change."
The Story behind Georg Henschel's A Sea-Change:
With the success of Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore in 1878, Boston thought it was high time for an operetta of its own. In the winter of 1883-84 William Dean Howells had written a witty farce detailing a romance of Mr. and Mrs. Vane's daughter Muriel, and a stowaway, Theron Gay, while an iceberg threatens the Mesopotamia's voyage from Boston to England, in a strange parallel with a later movie epic.
Though there were several significant American composers in Boston by that time, easily the most prolific and arguably the most gifted was the first conductor of the Boston Symphony, Georg Henschel.
Henschel was best known as a baritone, having performed the Verdi Requiem with the composer conducting and was a good friend of Brahms, who introduced Henschel as "a singer who composes." Henschel's extensive correspondence with Brahms and his later memoirs serve as some of most interesting and colorful insights of the composer. Henschel served as a torch-bearer at Brahms' funeral. Not only was Henschel a composer, singer and conductor, but an excellent pianist, being the soloist for his Piano Concerto which he wrote in 1882 in Boston. When he gave vocal recitals he accompanied himself at the piano. He was also a great teacher, taking over the studio of Jenny Lind at the Royal College of Music in 1886.Henschel wrote the music to A Sea-Change shortly after concluding his third and final Boston Symphony season in March of 1884. An extremely quick worker, Henschel had the score fully orchestrated in time for a projected premiere at the Bijou Theatre in November. The piano score had been engraved when the Bijou's impresario was fatally injured while attempting to secure his yacht to the pier. With the theatre closed, there was a single private reading of the score at the Boston Museum with George Purdy conducting on January 27th, 1885 in the hopes of a different production. With no takers, Howells sold the rights to Jeanette Thurber, the same Jeanette Thurber who later brought Dvorak to America. Nothing came of it, and the only renditions that were given to the public were a pair of BBC broadcasts in February of 1929. Much of the score was cut, including the Train of the Table Stewards. Thus, this afternoon marks the first known concert performance of this music anywhere.