Albert Edward Sammons CBE (23 February 1886 – 24 August 1957) was an English violinist, composer and later violin teacher. Almost self-taught on the violin, he had a wide repertoire as both chamber musician and soloist, although his reputation rests mainly on his association with British composers, especially Elgar. He made a number of recordings over 40 years, many of which have been re-issued on CD.
Albert Sammons was born in Fulham, the second eldest of four children. His father was a shoemaker and good amateur violinist. Sammons started to receive some lessons from his father around the age of seven. Apart from these lessons, he was virtually self-taught. His first professional engagement was in the band at the Earls Court Exhibition in 1898; the conductor was so impressed by the 12-year-old that he made him leader. He left school at this time and became a professional musician - partly to bring extra income to the household, as his father was a compulsive gambler.
Sammons's father took both Albert and his eldest brother Tom to symphony concerts at St James's Hall and Queen's Hall. The boy began to gain a reputation for his reliability and was engaged by many London musical establishments, as well as in the 'Hungarian' and 'White Viennese' bands popular at the time. Sammons also received a few free lessons from the Eugène Ysaÿe-trained Spanish violinist Alfredo Fernandez. At 16, relations with his father reached a point where Albert and his brother left home to stay with friends, only returning when his father walked out to join the band on an ocean liner and the two brothers were therefore obliged to provide for the rest of the family.
His first concerto performance was the Mendelssohn E minor Concerto at the Kursaal Concert Hall in Harrogate in 1906. He married Laura Tomkins in Middlesbrough on 31 October 1907 (divorced 1920). Around this time Sammons was recruited to play at musical parties for the upper classes at their country houses.
He was the leader of the British Symphony Orchestra in a series of Amalgamated Musicians' Union Sunday concerts at the London Coliseum in 1908-1909. Conductors of the concerts included Jimmy Glover and Alick Maclean. He was also engaged by Ernesto Bucalossi at the Waldorf Hotel and Wyndham's Theatre. It was at the Waldorf that Thomas Beecham heard him and in August 1909 offered him the position of sub-leader (soon to be leader) of his orchestra, which later included opera seasons at Covent Garden, and the 1911 Diaghilev season. He also consolidated his solo career by playing the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Queen's Hall in 1910. The conductor Adrian Boult commented on his rise in British violin-playing, "he had had no special preparations, no training abroad, no scholarship luxuries".
In 1910, with Thomas Petre (second violin), Warwick Evans (cello), and Harry Waldo Warner (viola) he formed the London String Quartet, with whom he remained until 1917. The quartet gave concerts mainly in the UK but travelled to Amsterdam and Paris, with a repertoire extending from the classical period to contemporary works - including Verklärte Nacht in the presence of the composer.
Sammons, William Murdoch (piano), Lionel Tertis (viola) and Lauri Kennedy (cello), founded The Chamber Music Players in 1921, giving their first private performance on 6 January of that year, and first public concert at Haverstock Hill, London on 13 January, going on to give many concerts at the Wigmore Hall and around the UK.
He mainly appeared in the UK, although he did lead the Beecham orchestra for a six-week season with the Diaghilev company at the Kroll Opera House, Berlin in 1913 and, having played under Pierre Monteux for the Diaghilev seasons, was invited to lead the orchestra at the Casino de Dieppe, giving two concerts a day, and extending both his orchestral and chamber music repertoire.
Sammons was particularly associated with Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto in B minor, which he first played on 23 November 1914. He made the first complete recording of the concerto on 18 March and 10 April 1929 with the New Queen's Hall Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood, which displays "wonderfully assured portamenti carried as if on the breath of a great singer" and "immense structural strength". He estimated that he played the concerto over a hundred times, including at The Proms. He gave his last performance of the Elgar on his 60th birthday in 1946, with George Weldon conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He also made the first recording of Elgar's Violin Sonata in E minor in 1935.
In May 1915 a chance encounter in London with Frederick Delius led directly to the composition of a violin concerto in which Sammons probably assisted considerably even to the point of writing some link passages. On 13 July 1916 Sammons gave the first UK performance of the Violin Sonata of Claude Debussy, only six weeks after its Paris premiere. After the end of the First World War, Sammons all but gave up string quartet and orchestral playing to concentrate on a large, regular programme of solo work and chamber music recitals throughout Britain and Ireland, and later, broadcasts. He played a part in the rehabilitation of Fritz Kreisler, by presenting (along with Dame Nellie Melba) a laurel wreath at the Austrian violinist's first appearance in England after the war. Between May and the autumn of 1929 Sammons and Tertis carried out around 1,000 string auditions for the formation of the new BBC Symphony Orchestra.
He married Olive Hobday (the daughter of one of his accompanists) on 5 December 1921. Shortly after, they moved to Bognor Regis (in the same road as William Murdoch), where he lived for the rest of his life.
During the Second World War, he continued his busy concert schedule around the UK, travelling by train, as well as appearing at the National Gallery concerts.
From 1946 Sammons spent less time playing and more teaching. As a teacher, he had worked at the Midland Institute in Birmingham from the 1920s, but from 1939 he taught privately and at the Royal College of Music. His pupils included Alan Loveday, Hugh Bean and Samuel Kutcher. He became a Fellow (FRCM) in 1944.
He composed many short pieces for violin and piano, which he included in his recital programmes and recorded. A Cradle Song of 1915 is dedicated to his second daughter and the Lullaby of 1923 to the third, Colleen. His Phantasy Quartet of 1915 won the Cobbett Prize. He also made editions of others' works and published books of studies and exercises.
The onset of Parkinson's disease forced his retirement from public performance in June 1948. He attended a testimonial concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 7 December in a wheelchair, and heard a tribute from Arthur Bliss, with others in the programme from Joseph Szigeti, Fritz Kreisler and Sir Adrian Boult.
He died in Middleton-on-Sea in 1957, aged 71. Boult said of him after his death that he was distinguished by "his selfless interest in music-making of all kinds, whether in Queen's Hall or in some humble mission hall in far-off Wales or Scotland. He was a great musician in every sense of the word".
His violins included a Gofriller (he bought another, 1696, Gofriller in 1927), a Felice Guadagnini, and a Nicolas Gagliano. At the Cobbett competition in February 1923 he played in a 'blind' comparison of a 1731 Stradivarius and a modern instrument by Alfred Vincent. When Sammons sold the Gofriller in 1951 he gave the new owner a list of all the works he had played on it.
As leader of the London String Quartet (1910-1919):
Albert Sammons made his first recording in October 1908; his last was made on 16 April 1946 (Edmund Rubbra's 2nd sonata with Gerald Moore). Other recordings (with dates) include, as leader of the London String Quartet:
As a soloist: