S.A. Halfpenny 1873 - 1899
This following piece is based on an article written by Eli Kaufman for the ABF 5 Stringer magazine, which was published in issue 184.
My thanks to Eli for permission to borrow some of the material.
Septimus Augustus Halfpenny was exclusively a zither-banjoist who
specialised in playing his own arrangements of popular classics rather than
the typical banjo repertoire.
His arrangements of the popular classics always preserved them invariably in their original keys he considered "that a player should have equal facility in every key.
He started playing the banjo at age 14 and had to overcome family disapproval to take up music professionally –his father originally found him a job in a government office. His father objected even more violently to his sisters (one his accompanist, the other a first-rate mandolinist and a fine banjo player) becoming musicians. It was quite some time before the family accepted his career choice.
A review of his November 17th 1898 concert at the Steinway
Hall appeared in the December issue of The Banjo. The concert was opened by
a pianoforte solo by Miss Dora Halfpenny (SA's sister) and Denza's A
May Morning was sung by Miss Lilias Engholme. In the middle of the first
half of Mr. Halfpenny's performance. Mr. Chas. Conyers gave a clever musical
sketch, and. at the conclusion of the first half of the concert. Mr.
Halfpenny gave "in encore, a bright solo, Quickstep," his own
composition. The pianist, vocalist and humorist also performed in the second
half. For second-half encores, Mr. Halfpenny played the Chopin Valse in E
minor and "in conclusion an exquisite tremolo rendering, without
pianoforte accompaniment, of Mascagni's ‘Intermezzo' from Cavelleria
Rusticana." The review continues as follows: Mr. Halfpenny's rendering
throughout was such as proves beyond question his right to be considered as
the foremost zither-banjoist in England. His tremolo effects
The Morning Leader reported on the concert as "the first banjo recital ever given in England. Alfred Cammeyer took umbrage at this, and in the December Banjo World wrote: The first banjo recital ever given in England came off at the Steinway Hall in the spring of 1889. I was the giver. I played among other selections: Moskowski's Serenata, Pizzicato from Sylvia, L'lngenue (by Ardatti), Chopin's Nocturn in E Flat, and three excerpts from Gounod's Ballet Music to Faust...I was assisted by the Meister Glee singers, who then made their first public appearance in England.
On December 8, 1898, in London, Essex and Cammeyer held their thirteenth
Grand Banjo, Mandoline, and Guitar Festival. This was a huge concert at
which Halfpenny played the Kowalski and Chopin's Funeral
The February 1899 issue of The Banjo reported that he was forced to miss an engagement due to a serious illness. In May it was noted that he was weak but recovering. He did return to some playing and teaching in the summer. But, on September 12, 1899, S. A. Halfpenny died at age 26 Although reports indicated that his long illness was due to a severe affliction of the lungs, he apparently suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died several days later. The Banjo commented: It is seems hard to realize this death of one of the greatest of our English banjo artists, harder still when we think of his youth and the future which was before him, and that he leaves a gap in his profession which must remain for, some time to come practically unfilled. For though upon every instrument there are many players, there are but few true artists, as has been brought home many a time and oft to those in days past who have listened to Mr. Halfpenny's playing. The work which he has done for the banjo is very great; that which he would have done, had he been spared, is yet greater. His sisters continued to run his studio and Ida eventually appeared at many concerts playing some of her brother's compositions and arrangements.
S.A. Halfpenny never made any commercial recordings and only a few of his pieces were ever published.
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