Joseph Charles Holbrooke was born in 1878 and his earliest grounding in musica came from his father (also Joseph), a fine pianist and a touring musician in the music halls. Holbrooke junior later adopted the German spelling of his name, and most (but by no means all) of his works were published under that appellation, as were many of his articles and other publications.
In 1893, when he was fifteen, Holbrooke’s father decided he had nothing more to teach im and entered him as a student at The Royal Academy of music. Here, he won many honours and wrote some fine music, despite finding himself not infrequently at loggerheads with this tutors. In 1900, after Augustus Manns gave the first performance of Holbrooke’s tone poem The Raven at one of his Saturday Afternoon Concerts at Crystal Palace, his career began to take off. From 1897 to 1899 pieces for solo piano, or violin and piano flowed from his pen. Some were written for the leading soloists of the day but many were ‘bread and butter’ offerings designed for his pupils.
However, it is not until we reach Op.42 that we discover a really important piano work by Holbrooke: the set of Ten Rhapsodie-Etues. Some of these, it is true, are reminiscent of the sort of virtuoso studies produced by Henselt or Moscheles in the mid-19th century but other are more contemporary in style. One of the most impressive of Holbrooke’s piano works in a ore modern idiom is Barrage, composed at the end of the First World War.