Opera Scotland

Song of Hiawatha 1922Dundee Amateur Choral Union

Read more about the opera Song of Hiawatha

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's cantata in three sections was a hugely successful work during the early decades of the twentieth century.

It seems that when it was performed in London - an annual event at the Royal Albert Hall conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent from 1928 to 1939 - choir (over 600 plus dancers) and audience alike used to turn up dressed in an approximation of native American costume.

John Perry probably regarded his brief solo role this Wednesday as a gentle warm-up for the next three evenings, when he would be at the other end of the Murraygate, in the King's Theatre, leading the Carl Rosa Opera Company in the title roles of Samson and Delilah, Tannhaüser and Il Trovatore.

For the first part of the week, without the services of John Perry, the Carl Rosa season had begun with Faust and Carmen.

The Wednesday evening show, in direct competition with Hiawatha, was Cav and Pag. The role of Santuzza was taken by the company's leading dramatic soprano, Eva Turner.


Local Press Comment

Dundee Advertiser: Thursday,  9 February 1922

Choral Union's Success - Brilliant Performance in Caird Hall - Song of Hiawatha

'After the exceptionally fine performance of Gerontius earlier in the season the Dundee Choral Union had good reason for expecting a continuance of public support; and at their second concert last night in the Caird Hall there was quite a satisfactory audience to hear Coleridge-Taylor's Scenes from the Song of Hiawatha.There were several empty seats, but considering the crowd of musical events in the city this week that was not to be wondered at. Certainly the audience got great pleasure and satisfaction from last night's performance, for the singing of both chorus and soloists touched a high level, and was at times brilliant.

'The chorus seemed scarcely as large as at the first concert, although they took up the same room. But the programme stated there were 300 voices, while a full accompaniment was provided by the Scottish Orchestra. Miss Louise Trenton, a singer new to Dundee, was the soprano soloist; the tenor was Mr John Perry, already known in the city, and with a local connection, and Mr Herbert Heyner, a singer with a great reputation, filled the baritone role. Mr Charles M Cowe conducted.

'Last night's was the first full performance of the trilogy, the first and second parts only having been given as far back as 1902 by the same Society, then under the baton of Mr David Stephen. Despite the time that elapsed between the writing of these sections, the work has a wonderful homogeneity.As in Elgar's work, unusual rhythms and bold but beautiful modulations into closely related keys figure largely. The composer caught the spirit of the poet's idyll of the red man; and The Wedding Feast is a graphic musical narrative of a joyous, primitive people at play.

'It is unfolded by the chorus throughout, the only divergence being a charming love song (allotted to a tenor voice) of the ''brave'' to his beloved.The short second portion robes contrast in a sombre garment, the grief of Hiawatha at the death of his wife being depicted in the grey tones of despair. The last section is much broader and wider in its scope, and, although preserving the unity of the earlier part, is more free in form and bolder in its modulations.

Coleridge-Taylor had a wonderful fertility and resource in dealing with rhythm, and time and again a familiar phrase in a wonderfully new guise served to display an economy of means that was surprising.

'The chorus sang with admirable spirit and brightness of tone throughout, the brilliancy of the sopranos in the first part helping to make several fine effects. The balance of parts was very good.  In this section exacting demands are made on the chorus through the kaleidoscopic light and shade and change of tempo, and the members rose nobly to the demands of their conductor.  articularly effective was the broad treatment given to the Pau-Puk-Keewis choruses, and the explosive bursts of the boastful Iagoo were particularly well marked.

'Dynamic expression is a feature of the work, and throughout was given with fine effect.  Fine piano singing marked The Death of Minnehaha, and the unison singing in the Funeral March was particularly clean. The stirring rhythmic choruses of the closing section were marked by some fine crescendoes, and with their rich orchestral colouring were the most striking of the work; and the beautifully massive closing ''Farewell''  broadly outlined and finished in big effect.The Choral Union have every reason to be proud of their performance.

'Much of the success of the evening was due to the fine singing of the soloists. Miss Trenton's treatment of the opening solo to the third part, ''Spring had come,'' was remarkably clear-cut and brilliant, and in ''From the brow of Hiawatha'' the purity of her upper register added charm to its floating rhythm. Mr Perry lost some of the great beauty of the lyric ''Onaway awake!'' by balladising it, but touched fine heights in the ''black-robed Chief's'' message, which he marked with fine tone and fitting expression.

Mr Heyner's rich voice and careful enunciation made his share of the performance one of the pleasures of the evening. He has a fine dramatic sense, and all he did bore the stamp of careful study. The appeal in ''Gitchee Manito'' and the ''Farewell'' of the second part were intense in their vocal realism; and ''Hiawatha's Vision'' was beautifully descriptive. He gets an infinite variety of colour into his work, which throughout was deserving of high praise.

'The accompaniments of the Scottish Orchestra were uniformly good, the basses particularly being noticeable for beauty of tone. The orchestration of the trilogy is delightful in its unconventionality, and full of contrast, and the rich percussion effects and the free use of the harp give infinite variety to the melodic narrative. 

Mr C M Cowe conducted with a clear and steady precision that welded chorus, soloists, and orchestra, and the high quality of the performance is another testimonial to his painstaking zeal in the Choral Union's behalf.'

Performance DatesSong of Hiawatha 1922

Map List

Caird Hall | Dundee

8 Feb, 19.30

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