Some years ago now I was given a copy of Ireland’s ‘Earth’s Call’, inscribed ‘to Victor Beigel from John Ireland: December 1918’.
Victor Rudolph Beigel (1870-1930), seen right in the photograph, was a near contemporary of the composer, a pianist and sought-after singing teacher. Ib Melchior, describing the circumstances under whch his famous father Lauritz Melchior came to study with Beigel described him thus:
Beigel was a heavy-set Viennese with a big, gray handlebar moustache and a shaven head. Because of his vast knowledge of music and his language abilities he had been accepted in the most distinguished society. His opinions were quoted with awe and he was without doubt the most fashionable singing teacher in London (Melchior, p.85).
While Beigel was revered as an outstanding teacher, he was also a natural entertainer, often singing Viennese popular songs in social gatherings, on one memorable occasion alongside Noel Coward. He was friendly with the painter John Singer Sargent, with Grainger and with Sybil Colefax. Beigel was also known for his war work, creating his own charity, performing and putting on concerts to raise money for his Wounded Soldiers’ Concert Fund.
Ireland gave Beigel a copy of ‘Earth’s Call’ shortly after it was first published in 1918. It seems likely that he knew him personally through connections with other singers, and through London musical life more generally. There are a number of plausible connections. Beigel taught John Goss, a friend of Ireland, and one of the Harrison sisters, Monica. He also played an important part in the life of the tenor Gervase Elwes. Elwes studied intensively with Beigel in 1903, his teacher even going so far as to live in Elwes’s country house, Billing Hall in Northamptonshire, mixing daily lessons with croquet and fishing. A letter written by Elwes at this time waxes lyrical about the benefits of this period in his life:
Beigel is really the most delightful person in the world-he is such a charming person and he joins in everything so vigorously and with so much spirit and go. After the singing lessons we go and fish in the ponds. I had two splendid lessons today and really my high notes are improving wonderfully. The lessons are simply glorious (Elwes, p. 131).
Beigel’s charitable work went in a new direction after Elwes’s tragic death in 1921, whereupon he set up the Gervase Elwes Memorial Fund. It was originally intended to assist young musicians, in 1926 renamed to become what we now know as the Musicians Benevolent Fund.
Collins, L.J. (1998). Theatre at War, 1914-18, London, Palgrave MacMillan.
Elwes, Winefride and Richard (1935). Gervase Elwes: The Story of his Life, London, Grayson & Grayson.
Melchior, Ib (2003). Lauritz Melchior: The Golden Years of Bayreuth, Fort Worth, Baskerville.
The London Gazette, 11 March 1930, p. 1609.