seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Death of John McCormack, Renowned Irish Tenor

Papal Count John Francis McCormack, KSG, KSS, KHS, Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control, dies in Booterstown, Dublin, on September 16, 1945.

McCormack is born on June 14, 1884, in Athlone, County Westmeath, the second son and fifth of the 11 children of Andrew McCormack and his wife Hannah Watson. His parents are both from Galashiels, Scotland, and work at the Athlone Woolen Mills, where his father is a foreman. He is baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Athlone, on June 23, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone and later attends Summerhill College, Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peter’s Church in Athlone under his choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil. He marries Lily Foley in 1906 and they have two children, Cyril and Gwen.

In March 1904, McCormack becomes associated with James Joyce, who at the time has singing ambitions himself. He persuades Joyce to enter the Feis Ceoil that year, where the not yet famous writer is awarded the Bronze Medal.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini, father of the novelist Rafael Sabatini, in Milan. Sabatini finds McCormack’s voice naturally tuned and concentrates on perfecting his breath control, an element that becomes part of the basis of his renown as a vocalist.

In 1906, McCormack makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year, he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor. In 1909, he begins his career in the United States.

In February 1911, McCormack plays Lieutenant Paul Merrill in the world premiere of Victor Herbert‘s opera Natoma with Mary Garden in the title role. Later that year, he tours Australia after Dame Nellie Melba engages him, then at the height of his operatic career, aged 27, as a star tenor for the Melba Grand Opera Season. He returns for concert tours in subsequent years.

By 1912, McCormack is beginning to become involved increasingly with concert performances, where his voice quality and charisma ensures that he becomes the most celebrated lyric tenor of his time. He does not, however, retire from the operatic stage until after his performance of 1923 in Monte Carlo, although by then the top notes of his voice have contracted. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he can sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart‘s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni, and his Handelian singing is just as impressive in this regard.

McCormack makes hundreds of recordings, his best-known and most commercially successful series of records being those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s. He is Victor’s most popular Red Seal recording artist after tenor Enrico Caruso. In the 1920s, he sings regularly on radio and later appears in two sound films, Song o’ My Heart (1930), playing an Irish tenor, and as himself appearing in a party scene in Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British three-strip Technicolor feature.

McCormack is one of the first artists to record the popular ballad “I Hear You Calling Me” written in 1908 by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. He records it twice for Odeon Records starting in 1908 and a further four times for Victor between 1910 and 1927, becoming his best seller. He is the first artist to record the famous World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in 1914. He also records a best-selling version of another popular World War I tune, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” in 1917. He also sings songs expressive of Irish nationalism and endorses the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. He is associated particularly with the songs of Thomas Moore, notably “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms),” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” Between 1914 and 1922, he records almost two dozen songs with violin accompaniment provided by Fritz Kreisler, with whom he also tours. He records songs of Hugo Wolf for the Hugo Wolf Society in German. In 1918, he records the song “Calling Me Home to You.”

In 1917, McCormack becomes a naturalised citizen of the United States. In June 1918, he donates $11,458 toward the U.S. World War I effort. By then, his career is a huge financial success, earning millions in his lifetime from record sales and appearances.

By 1920, Edwin Schneider has become McCormack’s accompanist and the two are “inseparable.” When Schneider retires, Gerald Moore takes over as accompanist from 1939 to 1943.

In 1927, McCormack moves into Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, County Kildare, and adopts a very opulent lifestyle by Irish standards. He also owns apartments in London and New York. He hopes that one of his racehorses, such as Golden Lullaby, would win The Derby, but this never occurs.

McCormack also purchases Runyon Canyon in Hollywood in 1930 from Carman Runyon. He sees and likes the estate while there filming Song o’ My Heart (1930), an early all-talking, all-singing picture. He uses his salary for this movie to purchase the estate and builds a mansion he calls ‘San Patrizio,’ after Saint Patrick. He and his wife live in the mansion until they return to England in 1938.

McCormack tours often, and in his absence, the mansion is often let to celebrities such as Janet Gaynor and Charles Boyer. The McCormacks make many friends in Hollywood, among them Errol Flynn, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Charles E. Toberman and the Dohenys. After his farewell tour of America in 1937, the McCormacks deed the estate back to Carman Runyon expecting to return to the estate at a later date. World War II intervenes and he does not return.

McCormack originally ends his career at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during 1938. However, one year after that farewell concert, he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He gives concerts, tours, broadcasts and records in this capacity until 1943 when poor health finally forces him to retire permanently.

Ill with emphysema, McCormack purchases a house near the sea, “Glena,” Booterstown, Dublin. After years of increasingly poor health, and a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, he dies at his home in Booterstown on September 16, 1945. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, St. Patrick’s section, plot reference E/120.


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Tenor Frank Patterson

Frank Patterson, internationally renowned Irish tenor following in the tradition of singers such as Count John McCormack and Josef Locke, is born on October 5, 1938 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. He is known as “Ireland’s Golden Tenor.”

As a boy Patterson performs with his local parish choir and is involved in maintaining the annual tradition of singing with the “Wrenboys.” He sings in the local St. Mary’s Choral Society and at a production of The Pirates of Penzance performed with both his parents. His interests extend beyond music and as a boy he represents Marlfield GAA hurling club, plays tennis at Hillview and golf at the Mountain Road course. He quits school at an early stage to work in the printing business of his mother’s family. He moves to Dublin in 1961 to enroll at the National Academy of Theatre and Allied Arts where he studies acting while at the same time receiving vocal training from Hans Waldemar Rosen. In 1964, he enters the Feis Ceoil, a nationwide music competition, in which he wins several sections including oratorio, lieder and the German Gold Cup.

Patterson gives classical recitals around Ireland and wins scholarships to study in London, Paris and in the Netherlands. While in Paris, he signs a contract with Philips Records and releases his first record, My Dear Native Land. He works with conductors and some of the most prestigious orchestras in Europe including the London Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris. He also gains a reputation as a singer of Handel, Mozart, and Bach oratorios and German, Italian and French song. He has a long-running programme on RTÉ titled For Your Pleasure.

In the early 1980s Patterson moves to the United States, making his home in rural Westchester County, New York. A resurgence of interest in Irish culture encourages him to turn towards a more traditional Irish repertoire. He adds hymns, ballads, and traditional as well as more popular tunes to his catalogue. In March 1988 he is featured host in a St. Patrick’s Day celebration of music and dance at New York City‘s famous Radio City Music Hall. He also gives an outdoor performance before an audience of 60,000 on the steps of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Patterson is equally at home in more intimate settings. His singing in the role of the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion is given fine reviews. Further recordings follow, of Beethoven arrangements, Irish songs, Berlioz songs, Purcell songs and others, all on the Philips label.

Patterson performs sold-out concerts from London’s Royal Albert Hall to New York’s Carnegie Hall, and with his family he presents two concerts at the White House, for presidents Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1995. He records over thirty albums in six languages, wins silver, gold and platinum discs and is the first Irish singer to host his own show in Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Rising to greater prominence with the new popularity of Celtic music in the 1990s, Patterson sees many of his past recordings reissued for American audiences, and in 1998 he stars in the PBS special Ireland in Song. His last album outsells Pavarotti.

In recognition of his musical achievements he is awarded an honorary doctorate from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island in 1990, an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Manhattan College in 1996 and the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston in 1998.

In 1999, Patterson learns he has a brain tumour. He has several operations in the following year and his condition appears to stabilise. He is diagnosed with a recurrence of his illness on May 7, 2000. He briefly recuperates and resumes performing. His last performance is on June 4, 2000 at Regis College in the Boston suburb of Weston, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter he is admitted to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York where he lapses into a coma and dies on June 10, 2000 at the age of 61.

At his death accolades and tributes came from, among others, President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Opposition leader John Bruton who said he had “the purest voice of his generation.”