Born German Edward Jones in the Vaults Inn (now the Old Town Vaults), Whitchurch, Shropshire on February 17th 1862. He died in London on November 11th 1936. He decided to change the order of his names whilst at the Royal Academy of Music in 1883, apparently because there were two other students also named Jones at the Acadamy. Eventually he dropped the Jones for artistic reasons. During the First World War being named ‘German’ could have caused difficulties for him but his popularity as a composer ensured that no problems arose.
Sir Edward German was a contemporary of Sir Edward Elgar, Sir William S. Gilbert, Sir Arthur Sullivan and Rudyard Kipling. He worked with all of them and was a particular friend of Elgar whose music he admired whilst recognising that Elgar’s work overshadowed his own. Known as the successor of Sir Arthur Sullivan in the field of English operetta, his music being characterised by lightness and grace.
His musical compositions were scored for both voice and instruments and between 1883 and 1922 he was particularly active with numerous scores. In 1901 he collaborated with Arthur Sullivan in composing ‘The Emerlad Isle’. In 1902 he composed ‘Merrie England’ which was produced in various versions up to 1964. In 1907 he wrote the music for ‘Tom Jones’ the final version of which was published in 1930.
He composed several pieces with words by Rudyard Kipling between 1903 and 1918. Perhaps the most poignant is ‘Have you news of my boy Jack?’ a poem published in 1917. Kipling’s son John was serving in France with the Irish Guards and in 1915, at the Battle of Loos, he was posted as wounded and missing. It was two years before the family, after making extensive enquiries, accepted that he was dead.
Edward German’s orchestral and instrumental music, operettas and songs were inspired by English drama, poetry and folklore. Songs like The Yeoman of England, O Peaceful England, The English Rose and God Save Elizabeth made his composition ‘Merrie England’ a light opera standard.
The solo song All Friends Around the Wrekin: A song of Shropshire was a tribute to the county of his birth.
In February 1928 Edward German was Knighted and in 2009 the Sir Edward German Music Festival was held in Whitchurch, the event celebrated the life and work of this famous son of Whitchurch.
Parts of Sir Edward German’s dress uniform, including his sword together with photographs and examples of his work, are on display in the Caldecott Gallery at the Whitchurch Heritage Centre.