Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Holmes, Alfred

HOLMES, ALFRED (1837–1876), violinist and composer, son of Thomas Holmes of Lincoln, was born in London 9 Nov. 1837. He was principal soprano boy at the Oratory, King William Street, Strand, about 1847. His father gave him his first lessons in violin-playing; the study of Spohr's ‘Violin School’ and the practice of Rode, Baillot, and Kreutzer's music followed, with the result that Holmes became a finished player before he was twenty. In July 1847 he and his younger brother, Henry, his equal in talent and knowledge, played at the Haymarket Theatre for Benjamin Webster's benefit. About 1852 Spohr heard them in England, and was delighted by their renderings of his works; but their formal introduction to the public as violinists was delayed until 5 May 1853, when they appeared at the Beethoven Rooms, and their performance of Kalliwoda's double concerto, and of soli by various composers won high praise. In 1855 the brothers made the first of a series of concert tours on the continent, beginning with Brussels. In 1856 they visited Germany and created much sensation. Spohr heard them at Cassel, and his favourable impressions of their playing were so thoroughly confirmed that he dedicated to them his three grand duos for two violins, Op. 148, 150, and 153 (Spohr, Selbstbiographie, ii. 374). Vienna was visited in 1857, Sweden 1857–9, Denmark 1860, Amsterdam 1861. In 1864, after some successful concerts in Paris, the brothers parted. Alfred Holmes settled in Paris, and established a quartet party, but, encouraged by Berlioz, devoted himself chiefly to composition. In 1867, however, he played during a tour through Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Russia, and produced in April 1868 at St. Petersburg his symphony ‘Jeanne d'Arc.’ This work was performed in 1870 at the Théâtre Italien, Paris, where it was received with enthusiasm, and on 27 Feb. 1875 at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Holmes's ‘Jeunesse de Shakespeare,’ fragments of a symphony, was given at a Concert Populaire (Paris); and his opera ‘Iñez de Castro’ was accepted, although never performed, at the Grand Opera, Paris. Holmes died at Paris 4 March 1876, aged 38; a sympathetic notice of him by M. D. Nisard, member of the French Academy, appeared in the ‘Patrie’ of the 7th of the same month. Not long afterwards, two overtures, ‘The Cid’ and ‘The Muses,’ the last work from his pen, were produced in England.

His works are: Symphonies—‘Jeanne d'Arc,’ for soli, chorus, orchestra, with French words; ‘The Youth of Shakespeare,’ ‘The Siege of Paris,’ 1870; ‘Robin Hood,’ produced in Paris; ‘Charles XII’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ never produced. An opera, of which Sir Michael Costa thought well, ‘Iñez de Castro,’ 1869, in five acts, libretto by Louis Uhlbach. Overtures: ‘The Cid’ and ‘The Muses,’ performed in London, 1876. Pieces for violin and pianoforte, including two nocturnes, Op. 10, c. Op. 14; and ‘La Lamentation,’ Leipzig, Op. 8; pieces also for the pianoforte alone.

[Grove's Dict. i. 743; Fétis's Biographie Universelle des Musiciens, Supplément, i. 480; Musical Times, v. 176, 205; Musical World, liv. 205; authorities cited.]

L. M. M.