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Edward German (1862-1936)
Old English Melody ("Early one morning")
The English folk song "Early One Morning", described by The Graphic as 'a prime favourite of the servant maid in the time of Nelson', has been for many years the subject of arrangements and variations by composers as diverse as Rutland Boughton and Benjamin Britten. Edward German (1862-1936) was particularly fond of it, and he used it extensively in his incidental music to The English Nell, a light four-act comedy by Anthony Hope and Edward Rose first performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1900. Written for Marie Tempest, the play established her reputation as a comedy actress, and it was she who invited German to provide the music. Chiefly remembered now are the three Nell Gwyn Dances, which became especially popular in both the orchestral and piano solo versions, but it is in the Overture that German's favourite folk tune first makes its appearance, on its own and then as counterpoint to the Merrymakers' Dance.
Old English Melody for flute and piano was published in 1901, shortly after the first performance of the play. It was written for his friend Frederick Griffith, with whom he performed frequently and to whom he had previously dedicated Saltarello, Suite for flute and pianoforte and Intermezzo. The treatment of the tune initially follows in some detail the Overture version, especially in the use of a triplet obbligato, but German goes on to develop it into a miniature concert piece, with a dramatic climax and a joyful reprise.
© Colin Bradbury