Percy Pitt was instrumental in bringing Hans Richter to London for the famed Covent Garden Ring Cycles of the early 20th Century, and later on joined the fledgling BBC as its music director, making numerous records with the BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, including many “Operatic selections” both on Columbia and its sister label, Regal.

PercyPitt

I’d recommend Daniel Chamier’s book “Percy Pitt of Covent Garden and the BBC”, published in 1938. Pitt died during the night of November 22nd 1932, probably from a heart attack. He was only 62. The book is very much a glowing tribute to the man, and therefore paints a very positive picture, but also makes clear that though he may not have been one of the greats, he was a very fine musician – a conductor, pianist, composer, arranger – and a very good music director both at Covent Garden and at the BBC. He spent a very fruitful time in mainland Europe as a student, and was competent in several languages. The letters between him and Richter quoted in the book suggest a very strong and close working relationship, particularly where it comes to their efforts to champion opera in English at Covent Garden, particularly focused around the English Ring of 1908. After that it was very much a losing battle with the syndicate to get opera in the vernacular in the house. It was left to the Beecham Opera Company and the Carl Rosa company to continue the fight, and to perform a wider repertoire than the very traditional one that the syndicate at Covent Garden promoted.

In the early years at the BBC Pitt conducted live broadcasts of several operas – Hansel and Gretel (the first live opera broadcast in Europe, complete on Jan 6 1923), The Magic Flute, Pagliacci, Siegfried, Marriage of Figaro, Faust and Madam Butterfly. Then there was a broadcast of La Boheme with Melba as Mimi.

Like Adrian Boult some years later, Pitt was forcibly retired from the BBC when he reached the age of 60, in January 1929. Hamilton Harty assumed that Pitt’s retirement was voluntary, and wrote to hope that it wasn’t for health reasons.

It’s a fascinating biography, and well worth seeking out a copy.

Prior to his work in the Columbia studios with the BBC Wireless SO, Pitt conducted for HMV – mainly as an accompanist for singers such as Louise Kirkby Lunn, Clarence Whitehill, Luisa Tetrazzini, Minnie Saltzmann-Stevens, Maria Gay, Emmy Destinn, John McCormack, Titta Ruffo, Fernand Ansseau, Miriam Licette, Edith Evans, Rosina Buckman, Robert Radford, Edna Thornton, Marie Louise Edvina, Graziella Pareto, Dmitri Smirnov, Florence Austral and Chaliapin. The first record below is by a lesser known singer, Jeanne Brola. It’s also worth noting that Pitt did make some purely orchestral records with HMV: Wagner excerpts in particular, and interestingly in 1912, the 2 Intermezzi from Wolf-Ferrari’s Jewels of the Madonna – which he recorded again for Columbia in 1926.

NB – Hans Richter’s conducting is discussed in Filson Young’s 1911 study of music and musicians, “More Mastersingers”, within a section on The Art of the Conductor

Thomas – Mignon – Polonaise (Io son Titania)
Luisa Tetrazzini, soprano with Orc
hestra conducted by Percy Pitt

Thomas – Mignon – Polonaise – Tetrazzini

(mp3 file – click to play, or right click the link, then select “Save as”)

Gramophone Monarch 053142
Matrix 2171f
Recorded 20th December 1907, London
Plays in score pitch at 76.8rpm – original record has a lot of wear, so the sound is noisy in places

Delibes – Lakmé – Bell Song (Dov’e l’Indiana bruna)
Luisa Tetrazzini, soprano with Orc
hestra conducted by Percy Pitt

Delibes – Lakmé – Bell Song – Tetrazzini

(mp3 file – click to play, or right click the link, then select “Save as”)

His Master’s Voice 053150
Matrix 2172f
Recorded 20th December 1907, London
Plays in score pitch at 76.8rpm

Gounod – Roméo et Juliette – Waltz
Luisa Tetrazzini, soprano with Orc
hestra conducted by Percy Pitt

Gounod – Roméo et Juliette – Tetrazzini

(mp3 file – click to play, or right click the link, then select “Save as”)

His Master’s Voice 053142
Matrix 2524f
Recorded 1st July 1908, London
Plays in score pitch at 76.8rpm

Tosti – Aprile
Luisa Tetrazzini, soprano
Percy Pitt, piano
Gramophone Monarch Record 053229
Matrix 3103f (053229-II)
Recorded 2nd June 1909

Puccini – La Boheme – They call me Mimi
Jeanne Brola, soprano
Orchestra, Percy Pitt
His Master’s Voice 03464
Matrix HO 1219ac
Recorded 10th November 1915, Hayes

Wagner – Götterdämmerung – Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine
Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt

Wagner – Götterdämmerung – Siegfried’s journey to the Rhine – Pitt (without side join)
Wagner – Götterdämmerung – Siegfried’s journey to the Rhine – Pitt (repitched horn calls for side join)
(mp3 files – click to play, or right click the link, then select “Save as”)

His Master’s Voice D 559
Matrices Cc 133-II, 132-I (3-0611, 3-0612)
Recorded 6th May 1921, Hayes, Room 1.
Plays at 76.8rpm

This is a curious recording. The first side has the later matrix number, and though it begins as usual, when the first horn call is reached, we find the passage transposed down a minor third into D major. The bass clarinet line is given to lower strings, and a coda is appended. The second side begins from the second horn call, now at score pitch of F major.  This means the sides do not join easily. The first file above gives the two sides in full. In the second version, I have digitally repitched the horn call passage into F major (without changing the tempo) to effect a side join and make the piece continuous.

Rossini – Semiramide – overture (abridged)
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Columbia 9076
Matrices WAX 1178-2, 1179-2 or -3 (5742, 5743)
Recorded 3rd and 16th December 1925
Available from March 1926 to April 1941

Drigo – Les Millions d’Arlequin – Serenade
Boccherini – Minuet
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Columbia 9092
Matrices WAX 1180-1, WAX 2343-2 (5744, 7139)
Recorded 3rd December 1925, 13th January 1927
Available from March 1927 to February 1948

This is the third issue of this catalogue number. Previous issues had the Boccherini on WAX 1181-1 (rec 3/12/1925) available from June 1925, replaced in 1926 with WAX 1181-3 (rec 11/6/1926), replaced with the current version in March 1927.

Rimsky-Korsakov – Le Coq d’Or – Russian Dance, Bridal Procession
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9101
Matrices WAX 1311-2, 1312-1 (5902, 5903)
Recorded 22nd February 1926
Available from August 1926 to January 1937

Glazunov – Concert Waltz in A
Puccini – Le Ville – Witches’ Dance (La Tregenda)
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9114
Matrices WAX 1313-2, 1314-2 (5904, 5905)
Recorded 22nd February 1926
Available from October 1926 to January 1939

Wolf-Ferrari – The Jewels of the Madonna – Intermezzi Act 2 and 3
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9091
Matrices WAX 1316-1, 1315-2 (5907, 5906)
Recorded 23rd February 1926
Available from May 1926 to January 1937

Coleridge Taylor – Christmas Overture
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9137
Matrices WAX 1317-2, 1318-2 (5908, 5909)
Recorded 23rd February 1926
Available from December 1926 to January 1939

This was actually arranged after Coleridge-Taylor’s death by Sidney Baynes (who wrote the famous Destiny Waltz) and was published in 1925. This recording by Pitt is likely to be the first recording of the work. Malcolm Sargent recorded it on one side for HMV in the early 30s.

Balfe – The Bohemian Girl – overture
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Columbia 9160
Matrices WAX 1501-2, 1502-3 (6165, 6166)
Recorded 27th April and 11th June 1926
Available from January 1927 to April 1941

Bizet – Carmen – selection
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Bizet – Carmen – selection – Pitt
(mp3 file – click to play, or right click the link, then select “Save as”)
Columbia 9125
Matrices WAX 1509-1, 1510-1 (6172, 6174)
Recorded 28th April 1926
Available from March 1927 to April 1941

Rossini – The Barber of Seville – overture
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Columbia 9166
Matrices WAX 1499-3, 1500-4 (6163, 6164)
Recorded 11th June 1926
Available from February 1927 to February 1948

Delibes – Coppelia – Entr’acte and Valse; Prelude and Mazurka
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Columbia 901R
Matrices WAX 1775-1, 1776-1 (6460, 6462)
Recorded 8th July 1926
Available from September 1926 to March 1942

This was the electrical remake of Columbia 901, Matrices 75150-2, 75149-1, recorded July 7th 1922 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Goossens, and available from October 1922 to August 1926.

Verdi – Selection from Il Trovatore
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9185
Matrices WAX 2340-1, 2341-1
Recorded 13th January 1927 in the Wigmore Hall
Available from April 1927 to April 1941

Verdi – Aida – Grand March
Verdi – Aida – selection
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Columbia 9259
Matrices WAX 2350-1, 2351-1 (7147, 7148)
Recorded 14th January 1927
Available from December 1927 to April 1941

Mendelssohn – Ruy Blas overture
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9278
Matrices WAX 2457-1, 2458-1 (7266, 7267)
Recorded 15th February 1927
Available from February 1928 to April 1941

Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker Suite

Side 1. Overture Miniature
Side 2. Marche
Side 3.(a) Danse de la Fée Dragée; (b) Danse des Mirlitons
Side 4. (a) Danse Chinoise; (b) Danse Russe, Trepak
Side 5. Danse Arabe
Side 6. Valse des Fleurs (abridged)

BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
(Later pressings credited as BBC Symphony Orchestra)
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9260-2
Matrix WAX 2911-1, 2907-1, 2908-4, 2909-1, 2910-2, 2906-1 (7843, 7844, 7846, 7847, 7852, 7845)
Recorded 29th June 1927
Available from December 1927 to February 1948

In the 1890s and early 1900s, Pitt was London’s celesta player of choice for this work, and it was when Hans Richter finally got over his dislike of Tchaikovsky and agreed to conduct it that he met Pitt, and began a working relationship that proved particularly fruitful in the years when they both worked at Covent Garden. The suite is, as usual, spread across 6 sides, but is, unusually, not presented in score order.

I don’t know if Pitt harked back to earlier days and played the celesta himself, or if it was left to one of the BBC percussionists. It’s a lovely recording of the suite, though, and the final movement has a glorious account of the harp cadenza, played by Sidonie Goossens (who died in December 2004, aged 105).

Verdi arr Tavan – Selection from Aida
New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9304
Matrices WAX 3133-1, 3134-1
Recorded 25th November 1927
Available from April 1928 to January 1940

Puccini arr Tavan – Selection from La Tosca
New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9305
Matrices WAX 3135-2, 3136-2
Recorded 25th November 1927
Available from April 1928 to June 1940

Puccini arr Tavan – Selection from Madame Butterfly
New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9306
Matrices WAX 3137-1, 3138-2
Recorded 25th November 1927
Available from April 1928 to April 1941

Ambroise Thomas – Selection from Mignon
New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9308
Matrices WAX 3215-2, 3216-1
Recorded 3rd February 1928
Available from April 1928 to January 1940

Leoncavallo arr Tavan – Selection from Pagliacci
New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9441
Matrices WAX 3217-2, 3277-1
Recorded 3rd and 15th February 1928
Available from September 1928 to April 1941

Wagner – Tannhäuser: Grand March, Pilgrims Chorus
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Percy Pitt
This is a later pressing credited to the BBC Symphony Orchestra
Columbia 9826
Matrices WAX 4484-2, 4485-1 (10948, 10947)
Recorded 20th December 1928 – “Recorded in a Concert Hall”
Available from August 1929 to February 1955

Sullivan – Selection from HMS Pinafore
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Regal G1069
Matrices WAX 4564-3, 4567-3
Recorded 18th January and 18th February 1929
Available from July 1929 to March 1941

Saint-Saëns arr Luigini – Selection from Samson and Delilah
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Regal G1072
Matrices WAX 4568-1, 4569-1
Recorded 19th January 1929
Available from October 1929 to March 1941

Wagner arr Luigini – Selection from Lohengrin
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Regal G1074
Matrices WAX 4598-1, 4599-1
Recorded 29th January 1929
Available from November 1929 to March 1941

Sullivan arr C Godfrey Junr – Selection from Iolanthe
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Regal G1067
Matrices WAX 4597-4, 4698-2
Recorded 28th and 2nd February 1929
Available from June 1929 to March 1941

Rossini arr Respighi – La Boutique Fantasque selection
BBC Wireless Symphony Orchestra, Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Regal G1065
Matrices WAX 4697-2, 4707-1
Recorded 26th and 28th February 1929
Available from May 1929 to March 1941

Suppé – Poet and Peasant: Overture
“Augmented Symphony Orchestra” , Percy Pitt
Available to download from Historic Recordings
Columbia 9760
Matrices WAX 5148-3, 5149-7
Recorded 3rd September 1929
Available from December 1929 to October 1951

From the Columbia discography this and the Tannhäuser record (recorded December 1928) were the last Pitt recordings to be issued, and the only two still in the Columbia catalogue by 1950.