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-----"BEN DAVIES."


"BEN DAVIES." THE GREAT TENOR'S BIOGRAPHY. The Musical Times for August contains an interesting article, together with an admirable portrait of Mr. Ben Davies, the eminent tenor. The story of his career, as he modestly relates the ups and downs of his life, is as eventful as it is interesting, says our contem- porary. Benjamin Grey Davies was born January 6 (The Epiphany), 1858. The place of his birth was Pontardawe, a populous village about eight miles from Swansea, situate in the same valley as Craig.y. Nog Castle, the residence of Madame I Adelina Patti. The father of Ben was an engineer. Like many of his countrymen be was an excellent local preacher, and his services were in great demand for supplying the various pulpits round about Swansea. But when his eldest son, Ben, was only seven years old the breadwinner of the family was prematurely called away by the angel of death, leaving behind him a widow and four young children, the youngest only three weeks old. It was a terrible blow, and a less ccurageous woman than his true-hearted widow would have been crushed in spirit. Financially Mrs. Davies had nothing? but rich in a fervent belief of a kind and never- failing Providence, she bravely fought the battle of life for the sake of her children with a herioc devotion meriting the highest praise. She doubtless recalls the struggles of those dark days when she worked so hard to provide for the wants of her quartet of little ones-a daughter and three sons, one of whom is now a schoolmaster, and another an accountant. And to-day, in the fame of her boy Ben and the positions in life of her other two sons, Mrs. Davies, from the quietude of her Welsh home, must surely perceive the silver lining to the dark cloud of her early widowhood. "Her children rise up, and call her blessed." Ben began to sing when he was about five years old. At the age of six he was a member of a choir that competed for a prize at an Eisteddfod at Carmarthen. He started on tonic sol-fa, and to-day he pays a high tribute to the system, with its mental effects and its invaluable aid as a means of producing good readers of the staff notation. He thinks out all his intervals and modulations in sol-fa. At an early age he joined the choir of the Congregational Chapel at Cwmbwrla as a boy alto; he never sang soprano. Later on he conducted a tonic sol-fa class at the chapel. But there was not the least idea that he would become a public singer. In fact, not only his mother, but the good people of the chapel thought he must have inherited the preaching gifts of his father that he should go to college, and, in due time, blossom forth as "The Reverend Benjamin Davies, D.D." He says: To this day my mother is dis- appointed that I did not become a preacher. I sometimes extemporise a sermon to show her that I should have proved a failure in that capacity; and then friends console her with the remark that I often preach a sermon when I sing such strains as If with all your bearts,' and I Be thou faithful unto death. Who will doubt the truth of this? As a clergyman wrote in one of the London papers: Was there, for instance, a lovelier sermon preached in London that (Christmas) day than the opening recitative air < Comfort ye,' sung-I bad almost writtenqpoke?i- c,,loriously by Mr. Ben Davies, and what is true singing but elevated poetic speech?" These words "-r--1'1' sliowM be pondered over by all aspiring young vocalics,' yea, and even by those of older growth it is never t\ro late to mend. Ever since I was twelve years old I have earned my own living," says Mr. Davios. I held a situation in a store in Swansea for some years—rantil I was twenty, in fact. In the year 1873 I$aid my first visit to London as a member of the Soutli Wales choir, formed ;and coooucted by Caradog, which competed at the National Musical Meetings held at the Crystal Palace. The other day, when I sang the terror solos in Elijah there,. I could not help recalling my first appearance on the Handel orchestra twenty-six years ago as a boy of fifteen, when I was one of the altos in Caradog.'s choir" One result of this, his first visit to London, was that Ben Davies lost his voice—in other words, it suddenly broke before he retnrned home. "I>on t sing for years," was the advice earnestly given to him by a friend, which he very wisely followed. For the next five years he worked steadily on as a salesman at the store, and, to bis credit be it said, he is not ashamed to own it in these days of properity. When he was nineteen he suddenly discovered that he had a tenor voice. A friend advised him to compete at an Eisteddfod held at Swansea on Good Friday, 1877. Its no use for me to try, its absurd to think of it," replied Ben. However, he ultimately changed his mind and sang before an audience of 5,000 people, who were unstinting in their applause. The test piece was Love in her eyes sits playing." There were fifteen of us," he says, I never dreamt that T should get the prize. In fact, I was walking away, when someone told me that I had to sing again, and the result was that I came out first. The prize was half-a-guinea, which amount was placed in a bag, and, when I marched up to receive the award, hung round my neck. One of the adjudicators was the late W. A. Howells, who was kind enough to predict that some day I should become a great singer. Shortly afterwards Brinley Richards visited Swansea and I was advised to sing to him. He very kindly listened to me and thereupon urged me to come to London and study at the Royal Academy of Music. I took some time to consider a proposal involving such an important change in my life. My mother was against it; she still thought that I ought to be a preacher! But at last I decided to take the plunge. I had saved enough money to pay my Academy fees for six months, and by means of a few engagements, with some help from my mother, I managed to live for a year in London, during which time I boarded with an aunt at Kilburn. I had an uncle who, from beginning life in very humble circumstances, became an inspector of mines at £1,000 a year. He very generously offered to keep me during my next year at the Academy. But before I returned to London for my second Academy year my uncle died. All my money was gone, and I thought that I should have to go back to the store. Friends were very kind to me. They not only urged me to continue my studies, but organised a concert for me which realised a profit of JE50 to £60. But I gave it all to my mother, and deter- mined to pay my own way by the proceeds of engagements, which I did, and I was able to meet all the payments for my fees as they became due." Mr. Davies remained at the Academy for three years—1878-79-80. At the end of his first year he took a bronze medal, and a year later a silver medal. He subse- quently took the Evill prize for Declamatory English singing" in 1880, and the Parepa- Rosa gold medal in 1881. He is now a Fellow of the Institution. His singing professor at the Academy was Signor Fiori. But Mr. Randegger took a great interest in the young Welshman. His first oratorio engagement came about in a curious, though very gratifying, way. On December 20, 1879, he, as a student, sang the tenor solos in; the Hymn of Praise" at an Academy concert given in St. James's Hall. The j sightless Principal said to him after the performance Davies, I could listen to your singing of that beautiful music all night." Seated next to Sir George Macfarreu on that occasion was a very distinguished singer, whom, for the time being, we will call Q." On the morning of the concert Q." had received a letter from Joe" Robinson, of Dublin, asking him if he could recommend a tenor to sing the solos in St, Paul." That same evening "Q." wrote to Robinson strongly recommending Davies, who had so greatly pleased him at the Academy concert. The Dublin conductor thereupon asked Davies if he would be willing to sing for twenty guineas." "1 should think I mould" said Ben to himself; aye, even ten Upon his arrival in Dublin, Ben made his way to Robinson's house. As he stood on the doorstep a German band—Robinson's agony- mongers—were in the midst of their blasting operations. The door was partly opened by Robinson himself, who, to Davies's astonish- ment, nasally and furiously ejaculated, Go away, go away." "Old Joe," poor man, thought that the Welsh tenor was the German band man who had come round for the money! He wis highly amused at his precipitancy, so much so that when (at the reheaisal) the band applauded the young Academy student, Robinson spoiie of him as "the German bandmaster who had come round for the money He then related the doorstep incident, greatly to the amusement of the orchestra. Robinson, who was much pleased with Daviests singing, said to him afterwards, H I suppose you don't know to whom you are indebted for this engagement— you were recommended to me by Mr. Santley." Opera, not oratorio, was to claim the attention and energies of Ben Davies for the next few years. At one of the Academy opera per- formances-it was the garden scene from "Faust"—Carl Rosa was present. Shortly afterwards he asked Davies if he would like to go on the stage. The offer of a salary of £10 a week for the first year, £15 for the second, and £20 for the third, with the option of breaking the contract at the end of each successive year, was a very tempting one to a young beginner, and it was accepted. Bristol was the place of his operatic debut, which took place at the New Theatre Royal on October 11, 18S1. The opera was Balfe's Bohemian Girl," Davies was very nervous. At the end of the first act Rosa said nothing; Better," was his monosyllabic criticism after the second; That will do after the third, when the audience had signified their approval of the tenor, to whom Balfe's old girl proved to be a very good friend. The first appearance of Ben Davies at a London theatre was in the same opera, at Her Majesty's Theatre, January 25, 1882. Ben Davies sang at the productions of the follow- ing operas during his connection with the Carl Rosa Company :-—" Esmeralda (Goring Thomas), March 26, 1883; "Colomba" (Sir A. C. Mackenzie), April 9, 1883; The Canterbury Pilgrims (Professor Stanford), April 28, 1884. In connection with the pre- parations for producing an interesting incident may be recorded. Davies, who took the part of the Sergeant of Marines, had only about 20 bars to sing at the begin- ning of the opera. At a rehearsal, after he had sung his part, be asked leave of the composer to depart. Sir Alexander (then Dr.) Mackenzie said "Yes," and then, turning to a lady sitting beside him, he said, There goes the best artiste of the company, and I have given him nothing to do." Such an unsolicited appreciation could not have fallen upon more sympathetic ears, as, unknown to Sir Alexander, the lady to whom he addressed this highly complimentary remark was Miss Clara Perry, a prima donna of the company, to whom the Sergeant of Marines was then engaged (or nearly so), and who became Mrs. Ben Davies in 1885. Mr. and Mrs. Davies both left the Carl Rosa 1 Company upon their marriage. In the autumn of 1886 they were taking a long holiday. The popular tenor had lent his savings to a friend, on the condition that a portion of the amount could be called in at any time. Whilst stay- ing at Margate Ben Davies discovered that his balance at the bank had run down to £10! I He thereupon wrote to the" friend" asking for part repayment of the loan. In the meantime he had refused an offer made by Mr. J. W. Turner to join his company. The morning after the Turner letter had been posted, he learned from his" friend" that the firm with whom he was connected had become bankrupt! Davies immediately telegraphed to Turner, Letter of refusal withdrawn. I accept." Thus for the next few months, until the end of 1886, he was the leading tenor in J. W. Turner's Opera Company. Although he preferred the concert platform to the stage, concert engagements did not come in so -J Vi- tf.N- •' quickly as he would have liked. Tile London managers would not have anything to say to him. At that time (the beginning ef 1887) Arthur Cellier's famous opera Dorot>-y was little more than dragging out its existence at the Prince of Wales' Theatre. New blood was wanted to galvanise it into life, and this Ben Davies immediately supplied. ¡ ^ly six weeks' engagemEnt." he Sl1ys, I was renewed over and over again, and J ultimately sang the part of Geoffmj Wilder for more than two year*—over 800 nights. T received the same rate of payment through- out the run of the piece— £ 40 a week." 1 began to feel somewhat like a machine, but there was a certain fascination in facing a fresh audience every night. I soon, however, v began to recognise the same faces, somewhat upon the 'here we are again system. One old gentleman, his wife and daughter came regularly once every week and occupied the same seat, I used to give them a little friendly nod. Once when I was returning home im the twopenny omnibus an old lady sitting next to ine said, May I speak to you, Mr. s 'Certainly, Madam,' I replied. hands with you, Mr. Davies?' I responded Yes, you may.' Then she went on to say that she had heard me sin" in Dorothy' ninety times. I hope to go ninety times more/ she added. I've kept all the counterfoils of the tickets, and I've paid every time .t' I never met the old lady again, and I have not the least idea who she was or where she iame from." After "Dot-otby" Mr. Davies turned his energies almost entirely in the direction of concert and oratorio singing. There was, however, one exception, and that was when he sustained the title-rúlt, of Sir Arthur Sullivan's opera Ivanhoe," which was produced on January 31, 1891. In this connection the following extract from a letter written by the composer eight months before the event deserves to beqijoted 1, Queen's Mansions, Victoria-street. S.W., 9-5 90. Dear Mr. Davies, Mr. Carte has, I believe, asked you to see him to-morrow morning about my new opera. You of course know that it is my desire to secure your co-operation, and that I am most anxious to come to an arrangement, for I have followed you with interest from the beginning of your career, and have been delighted to see how my predictions have been fulfille(I.-Yours sincerely, ARTHUR SULLIVAN." A few appear- ances at the Royal Italian Opera have also to be recorded. Mr, Davies first crossed the Atlantic ia 1893. He had been engaged to sing in a scries of concerts at the World's Fair Chicago, at a fee of £ 600. Passages for himself and his wife had been taken, and they eagerly looked forward to the trip. On the night before their departure he received a cablegram cancelling the engagement "Never mind, let's go," urged Mrs. "Davies;* "something may come of it." He thereupon cabled Too late am sailiug to-morrow." Upon their arrival ar Chicago, the Welsh people and the World's Fair jointly arranged to give seven concerts. Nothing was said to Davies about terms, however. Every concert proved to be a great success, and they were attended by crowded audiences. At the end of the series- which lasted ten days—the manager called the Welsh tenor into his office, when he handed him a pile (about a foot high !) of dollar bills, to the value of the original sum-namely, C600. Thus something did come of it, as Mrs. Davies prophesied. Moreover, her husband has visited America every year since, making seven crossings in all, and singing at three Cincinnati Festivals. He likes Amel ica and the American people very much. The American journals afford him some amusement. One morning he saw displayed in large type on a newspaper contents-bill Is Davies equal to Lloyd ? A matter of taste." One of the critics stated that he bad a fine voice and small feet." Once when crossing the Atlantic ho sang at an impromptu concert given in the saloon of the liner for a charity. The next; morning a typical Ameriean accosted him on deck with the encouraging observation "You have a fine voice. I guess you'd make a very good professional." In 1894 he paid his first professional visit to Germany—a visit which has since become annual. At his nrst appearance in the Fatherland lie was coldly received but his rendering of the "Jeptha" recitative and air thawed the frigid Berlin audience into warmly appreciative applause. One of the critics went so far as to say that the English tenor had restored a lost art to Germany-toe art of the be canto. TKE QUEEN. Mr. Ben Davies has frequently sung before the Queen. On the first occasion (iu 1892) that ha obeyed the royal command, Her Maiesty said to him "Yon come from Wales, where there are some beautiful voices. I have much enjoyed your singing, and I hope that I shall hear you again." Finally, it is interesting to listen to Mr. Davies as he states his views on singing and the study of the art of song. He is very emphatic upon the fatal mistake so often mane by young singers of rushing into publicity before they have become thoroughly grounded in vocal technique. There is no more expressive, and therefore artistic singer before the public than Ben Davies. His career furnishes another instance of what may be achieved by steadfast perseverance, high. ideals, and a patient continuance in well-doing. All honour to him for having attained his present position by sterling merit, straightforward methods, and earnest endeavour. Young singers may not only derive encouragement, but may learn many lessons from the career ot this self- made and estimable man. One more incident and we have done. On a recent occasion, during one of many walks and talks with him. the conversation turned upon the tenor solos in Mendelssohn's Elijah." Mr. Davies thereupon remarked—with no thought that his words would ever appear in print-" I have been ten years trying to sing If with all your hearts,' and only a year ago did I begin to satisfy myself." Th& man who adopts such a creed as this and acts up to it is a true artist. He is worthy to occupy a high place in the roll of distinguished tenor singers of which this country has just oaue to be proud.





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