#38 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #4 – Frederick Hymen Cowen

(Continue from Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #3)

Chapter 3 of the book provded details to a few concerts Madame Pratten played after the passing of her husband. One of them describes her playing Giuliani’s third concert for terz guitar, with the piano accompaniment by Giuliani’s niece:



As mentioned in my previous post, it doesn’t seem like Madame Pratten composed any pieces for guitar and flute. I wonder what this piece was? Did she compose a guiar/flute duet for this occasion? If not, whose piece did they play? Did she have some unpublished virtuosic guitar/flute duet that she used to play with Robert Sidney Pratten? Just for kicks, I looked up Olut Svensden, and found one piece of news:

Seems like the guitar/flute duet being performed was not an amateur piece. What about “Patten’s Concertstuck movements from Macfarren’s Concerto and Doppler’s Channt d’Amour?” – which Pratten are we talking about…?


Looking up Cowen and The Corsair complicated matters quickly. Frederic Hymen Cowen (1852-1935) was a forgotten British composer who composed many vocal works. Born in Jamaica, he followed his family to England at 4, showed high aptitude in music, and had his first piece published at the age of 6:

From Musical Times, November 1, 1898

(The Jstor link that contains the short biography of Cowen from 1898 wrote completely in the lens of the imperial England…)

For better or worse, Cowen was called the “English Schubert”. Although not the most reliable source, Cowen’s name appeared in Philip Bone’s The Guitar and Mandolin: Biographies of Celebrated Players and Composers, in Moritz Hauptmann’s entry :

Bone, p.146

This excerpt reflected a few interesting things:

1) I have come across Hauptmann before, but mainly as a music theorist. I didn’t know he actually played and composed for the guitar. And there is indeed a piece of his for guitar and violin on IMSLP.

2) Although Cowen is largely forgotten today, it is great to see him being listed amongst celebrities such as von Bulow, Sullivan, and Joachim.

3) I have come across Joseph Joachim in my 19th century performance practice class. His Bach recordings were amongst the earliest recordings ever made, and gave us a glimpse into how to play in a 19th century manner. I love his Romance in C. And there is nothing more romantic about the F-A-E Sonata and its relationship with Brahm’s 3rd Symphony – all a big-in-circle game between Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, Joachim, and Albert Dietrich. I have never known Joachim played the guitar before switching to the violin though. All I could find was “Joseph’s interest in music was stimulated by hearing his older sister, who studied voice and accompanied herself on the guitar. He became fixated on the violin when his father brought him a toy violin from a fair.”

Thanks to the internet, one can find the reduction to The Consair on IMSLP. The Consair is a cantata for four soloists, chorus, orchestra, and the guitar. Since there’s only a reduction, the specific instrumentation is unclear. The reduction is divided into 5 PDF files, and a few guitar entrances marked, on p. 19 – 21 of segment 1, and p.19, 20, and 26 of segment 5 – a bit of symmetry there?

Segment 1, p.19 of PDF
Sengment 1, p.20 of PDF

I only listed the above two excerpts, because that’s basically what the sections marked “guitar” do – chordal accompaniment and arpeggios. I assume the guitar would be playing during the recitatives and tremolo (with continuous strumming, not the Recuerdos de la Alhambra-type).

Cowen’s autobiography, My Art and My Friends, is also available on IMSLP. I only quickly glanced through it, and although The Corsair was mentioned a few times, there was not any references made to the guitar part or Madame Sidney Pratten. Why did Cowen incorporate the guitar in a work where it would be so difficult to hear? I am not aware of any 19th century large choral work that employs the guitar with an orchestra and/or a chorus (maybe Mahler’s 7th Symphony from 1904-5 is one, if we extend the 19th century to the 19th century style), so The Corsair is quite a special work. Why did Cowen not mentioned it at all? Because of the guitar’s bad reputation? Because it’s not worth mentioning? Or maybe Cowen deliberately left it out in his autobiography? Perhaps the commissioner of the piece asked for a guitar part?

From Musical Times, November 1, 1898

(continue to Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten #5)

5 thoughts on “#38 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #4 – Frederick Hymen Cowen

  1. Hi Ken,

    Enjoying reading this series on Madame Pratten,

    Is it true the guitar had a poor reputation in the eyes of the musical community at the time? I would be curious to learn more about the reasoning behind and evolution of the guitar’s reputation.


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