HERBERT OPPENHEIMER (1875-1968)
In 1985 or thereabouts I was searching for piano music in a secondhand bookshop in Newent and came across a small pile of manuscripts, all for piano solo. The signature "Herbert Oppenheimer" on the title pages was distinguished and confident, and the musical writing was clear, ambitious and technically accomplished; one could see at a glance that it was the work of a successful man, and a pianist of some ability. I gathered up what was left of them, (for some had clearly been sold) paid about ten pounds, and after a quick play-through later that week, thought no more about them until a few years later when I was leafing through a copy of "The Rose Annual" for 1969 looking for an article on climbing roses. What I found caused me to have a closer look at the music...
Herbert Oppenheimer, D.H.M.
He was a great supporter of the late Courtney Page, who was Secretary of the Society for many years, and on on occasion, I remember, when the Council was criticising Page, he came back specially from Switzerland during his holidays, to take the chair as President.
Oppenheimer was born in Frankfort in 1875 and joined the Society in 1912; he was elected to the Council in 1921 and became President in 1931-2. He was President on two other occasions, in 1937-8 and in 1943-4, unique in the history of the Society.
He started in practice in 1899 when he founded the firm of Herbert Oppenheimer, Nathan and Vandyck and remained in practice about 60 years. (The firm was in existence until 1988; it was a large legal practice-ND ) Apart from his profession and his roses he was also a musician of distinction - indeed, in his youth there was talk of him becoming a professional pianist, but fortunately for us this was decided against and he came to England to become a solicitor. During his later years he devoted more time to his music and wrote a number of short pieces for the piano, which were highly regarded and played by Myra Hess at her concerts."
Bertram Park...Rose Annual, 1969
I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has piano music by Herbert Oppenheimer, or anyone who heard him play. Please send me an email.
HERBERT OPPENHEIMER: the music I have:
I will write my impressions of the music after playing it again. There are some similarities with Burrows.
I have also found an online reference to a piece written by Oppenheimer published by Joseph Willams in 1950, entitled 'Storm Predule'; 7 pages. Anyone have a copy? I will supply a copy of his first Scherzo in exchange.
OPPENHEIMER'S MUSIC - SOME IMPRESSIONS
It seems that Oppenheimer was a Chopin enthusiast; his pieces all have Chopinesque titles, and one can sometimes hear faint echoes of the romatic era in the music. Most of the pieces last about five minutes, and are well structured, the sections being well-defined and nicely finished off; he was careful about detail and had a gift for melody. One can see why they were used by Myra Hess in her recitals.
His pieces show a fondness for the 'neopolitan' chord, which crops up in many of the pieces. The style is quite florid and needs a good technique and nimble fingers, but there's nothing 'atonal' or 'advanced' about the harmonies; nothing like the virtuostic late Burrows studies or the Burrows sonata. They are closer in style to the Lyric pieces, and around three times the length.
Click on the thumbnail below for a sample of the manuscript of his scherzo no. 1, and on Scherzo 1 / Valse 1 for the recordings I did in July-Aug 2012.
............I also have an interesting article about rose growing by Oppenheimer dating from 1933, entitled 'Doing Things in Time'.
Judging by the excellence Oppenheimer showed in three fields (founding a well-known legal firm, writing piano music, and becoming three times President of the National Rose Society) , doing things in time was a rule he followed.
In early 2018 I was surprised to be contacted as follows:
I have found the reference to the music of Herbert Oppenheimer on your website and as far as I understand you have created a CD with two of his pieces, "Scherzo" and "Valse."
My late husband's mother, Joy Wyld, born Oppenheimer, spent a lot of time at Weir Bank as a child and young adult and was a talented pianist. She was Herbert's niece, and she recounted that she and her uncle Herbert would play duets on the grand pianos in the reception rooms at the house. There is now no-one left in the family to confirm that Herbert had lessons with Clara Schumann in his youth; the family was German initially and came from Frankfurt.
Herbert came from a talented family - he was one of three brothers: Julius, J's father, was an art collector with an eye for Italian C20th painters, and Alfred was a businessman but also a member of the Magic Circle, the organization for professional magicians.
It was family history that Herbert, as a very impressive lawyer, contributed to the drafting of the reparation clauses in the Versailles treaty (but then some would say these clauses were so harsh as to contribute to WW2.)
I have beside me a photograph dating from about 1877 showing Herbert aged 2 or 3 years standing beside his baby brother Julius. Herbert is wearing a frilly dress with big buttons and a ruched front, and he has lace around his knees and boots on his feet. A very serious child.
I am enclosing a photograph of Herbert with his dog. Most of the photos are dated 1933 so that is probably the date. (Click the thumbnail for a bigger picture)
By the way, although Herbert lived at Weirbank near Maidenhead and grew roses (he had a gardener, Betteridge, who probably was entitled to some of the glory), when he needed to be in London he had a chauffeur and kept a suite of rooms at the Ritz.
Later update: EB has supplied some other interesting papers and a picture and these will be put here soon.
Nigel Deacon / Diversity Website
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