Robert Easton

Robert Easton (Sunderland, June 8th 1898 – 26th May 1987) was a British bass of the mid–twentieth century. As a boy, he sang in his local church choir. He joined the BEF in 1915, and was severely wounded while on service in Flanders. He had a long convalescence, and had a leg amputated. After that he wore an artificial leg. He claimed to have drifted into singing, eventually studying in London with Bozelli, Norman Notly, Harry Plunket Greene and Dinh Gilly.In 1922 he sang in several concerts with the National Sunday League. He made his Prom debut in 1926, where one of the items he sung was “I am a roamer” from Mendelssohn’s “Son and Stranger” – this was to become a regular feature of his concert programmes. His range enabled him to cope with ease in the wide two-octave leaps and even at a rapid speed his impeccable enunciation made the words clear. In 1929 he replaced Harold Williams in the annual Crystal Palace performance (under Beecham) of “Messiah”. Between 1933 and 1939 he sang at Covent Garden, appearing as Sparafucile, Titurel, the King in Aida, the Father in “Louise”, Colline and Fafner. In 1938 he was chosen as one of the 16 soloists in Vaughan Williams’s “Serenade to Music.”

Easton was a versatile singer, equally successful in opera, oratorio, recitals and as a concert artist. He was a true basso profondo, with a highly individual, instantly recognisable, dark timbre and rapid flickering vibrato. His range was from F# above middle C, down to a low Bb below bottom C. He was one of Columbia’s exceptional trio of ‘profondos’ in the inter-war years, along with Norman Allin and Malcolm McEachern. He recorded for Vocalion between 1923 and 1925 and then for Broadcast and Regal Zonophone. For these labels he had to use pseudonyms, so he also appears as Robert Merlyn, Robert Raymond and Graham Stewart.

In 1930 he was chosen by Beecham to sing Mephistopheles in the English language recording of Gounod’s “Faust” with Licette and Nash. He also sang in Stanford Robinson’s complete recording of Stainer’s “Crucifixion.” In 1938 he was involved in the famous “Lisa Perli” deception, and featured as Colline in Beecham’s recording of Act 4 of La Boheme.

After 1940 Easton confined himself to broadcasts, concerts and oratorios and during the 2nd World War made concert tours with ENSA and CEMA, appearing in France, Belgium and Germany, as well as in Britain. A 1969 broadcast showed him to have lost no vocal quality over the years and he continued to make occasional concert appearances as late as 1985, mainly for the Council of Music in Hospitals. He was a frequent festival adjudicator, on one occasion according a prize to Janet Baker.

He spent his later years at his home in Haslemere, Surrey with his wife of 60 years, and his daughter Margaret.


Mendelssohn – Son and Stranger – I am a roamer
Gounod – Philemon and Baucis – Vulcan’s song

Orchestra, A W Leggett
Robert Easton, bass

Download – Mendelssohn – Son and Stranger – I am a roamer – Robert Easton

Download – Gounod – Philemon and Baucis – Vulcan’s Song – Robert Easton

(mp3 files – right click the link, then select “Save as”)

Columbia 9210
Matrices WAX 2330-1, 2331-1 (7116/7)
Recorded 7th April 1927
Available from September 1927 to January 1946The Mendelssohn plays in C major at 80rpm, the Gounod in A minor (a semitone below score pitch).This recording was reviewed in The Gramophone, September 1927:

Robert Easton. – The two records on this disc present a singular contrast – the same fine bass voice in both pieces, but a difference of style and effect that is simply astonishing. It is, however, no mystery, no problem beyond solution. The singer knows how to make every point in I’m a roamer. He gets away with it from the starting-gate, and from that point is a winner as well as a roamer – tone, rhythm, words, humour, everything pat and perfect to the finish. With Vulcan’s Song it is otherwise. Here too slow, there too fast; now too deliberate and heavy; nearly always too lugubrious – the true significance of Vulcan’s allusive remarks and the satire of his own ugliness and deformity, showing what a mistake it is for him to quit Venus and his own fireside to go on nocturnal adventures – the humour of all this is utterly lost, thanks partly, perhaps, to the fatuity of the English translation. That, I suppose, is why Santley always insisted on singing this song in French.

Moss – The Floral Dance
Allitsen – The Lute Player
Robert Easton, bass (credited as Graham Stewart)
with harp, piano and violin accompaniment

Mediafire link for Floral Dance and Lute Player recordings

(These are zip files – left click the link, download the files, then unzip when downloaded)

Broadcast Twelve 5032
Matrices LO116X, LO117
Recorded September 1928, 78rpm in Bb major and B minor respectively
Vaughan Williams – Serenade to Music
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Henry J. Wood
Isobel Baillie,
Lilian Stiles Allen, soprano
Elsie Suddaby, soprano
Eva Turner, soprano
Margaret Balfour, contralto
Muriel Brunskill, contralto
Astra Desmond, contralto
Mary Jarred, contralto
Parry Jones, tenor
Heddle Nash, tenor
Frank Titterton, tenor
Walter Widdop, tenor
Norman Allin, bass
Robert Easton, bass
Roy Henderson, baritone
Harold Williams, baritone

Download – Vaughan Williams – Serenade to Music – Henry Wood

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

Columbia LX757-8
Matrices CAX 8367-2A, 8368-2A, 8369-1, 8370-1
Recorded 15th October 1938

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