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Eric Greene (Tenor)

Born: 1903 - London, England
Died: December 6, 1966 - London, England

The English tenor, Eric Greene, was born into a musical family [1]. At age 10 he won a choral scholarship to Winchester Cathedral where he was solo boy for the greater part of his five-and-a-half years as a chorister. He was also accepted as an organ pupil at Winchester and was eventually allowed to take choir practises and even play the cathedral organ for some of the less important services; this included playing at Sunday evening services for the armed forces during World War I. His ambition was divided between becoming a cathedral organist and an orchestral conductor, but when he left school the prospect of earning a living in music was not bright, so at 17 he began work at the Westminster Bank head office in London. Greene's musical interests continued however and in 1922 he applied for and was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, but when it was discovered he was working at a bank, he was advised that he could not be admitted to the Academy. Luckily, his considerable musical abilities were taken into consideration and special arrangements were made for him to be allowed to commence his studies each afternoon after 4pm. Thus, for the next three-and-a-half years he was a business man until tea-time and a music student afterwards. He was also appointed organist at St. Peter's Church, Great Windmill Street, London during that time.

Eric Greene's first major opportunity as a singer came in 1927 when Sir Henry J. Wood chose him for the Evangelist's part in a performance of J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) at the Queen's Hall, London, given by students of the Royal Academy. His performance convinced Sir Henry that he was a good Bach tenor in the making and from then on he gave Greene personal tuition. Sir Henry J. Wood also engaged him for his first professional engagement to sing in Edward Elgar's The Apostles.

The demand for Eric Greene's vocal services soon made it necessary for him to choose between banking and music; he decided on the latter and went on to become one of England's foremost oratorio tenors, singing all the major works including E. Elgar's Dream of Gerontius and even playing the continuo as well as singing the Evangelist in the J.S. Bach's Passions. Other engagements included solo tours of America, Canada and Europe and he sang in the choir at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

During World War II, Eric Greene was appointed organiser of the C.E.M.A. (Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts) in the counties of Devon and Cornwall where for six months he arranged and took part in over six hundred factory concerts.

While Eric Greene was also a fine singer of German lieder, it was as a singer of English music that he excelled for his voice had a true lyrical and serene style. It was the beauty of tone and his skilful use of the Authorised Version of the Bible that originally gave distinction to his treatment of the narrator's part in the Passions; he performed J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) over five hundred times.

In later years, Eric Greene turned his attention to teaching at the Royal Academy of Music and to choral training. In 1947 he became President of the London Bach Society and it was his idea that they should perform the Matthew Passion (BWV 244) complete and in German for the first time in 1952. Another of his achievements was the creation and maintenance of a group of sightless singers, the Pro Canto Singers, with whom he produced many excellent performances. Eric Greene died on December 6, 1966.

[1] The family
Eric Green was one of nine children - all musical. His sisters Dorothy (soprano) and Nora (contralto) also won scholarships to and studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London. His father, Harold Greene was a tenor in the choir of the Chapel Royal at one time and his mother, Isobel Wallace Wilson, was a contralto and a campanologist (player of handbells) on which she performed for Queen Victoria. Corinne Opie is Nora's daughter and, together with her late husband Ramon Opie, tenor, worked for many years as a professional singer (mezzo-soprano) under her maiden name of Corinne Bridge - mainly in New Zealand and the UK - where she studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

 

Source: An obituary notice in The Musical Times (February 1967) and Donald Brook's book Singers of Today
Contributed by
Corinne Opie (March 2006)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

Conductor

As

Works

Reginald Jacques

Tenor

BWV 244 [sung in English]

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Tenor

BWV 244 [Evangelist]

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Last update: żOctober 19, 2009 ż13:01:47