Hidden amongst the papers of Lee Thistlethwaite, deposited by his son Frank, stored in the treasure house that is the Anderson Room basement at the UL, I came across a battered envelope labelled “letters to Mr. Reynolds, oboe player in the Hallé”. H’mm, I thought, I wonder what’s in here. Opening the first of the letters revealed a confident, forward-sloping handwriting in black ink, with the signature Max Bruch. Max Bruch? Yes indeed, and that was not all – the other four were from Charles Hallé himself, Enrico Bevignani, August Manns and Auguste Vianesi. Together, these letters give a fascinating glimpse into Reynolds’ life.
So, let’s go back a bit. Charles Reynolds joined the Hallé in 1871, and was principal oboe until his retirement in 1916. He played under Hallé and Richter, and taught the young Leon Goossens. He also played in the Liverpool Philharmonic under Max Bruch from 1880 – 1883. The letters are here because Lee Thistlethwaite (of whom more in a later blog) purchased some of Reynolds’ effects after his death in 1917.
The first letter, from Charles Hallé is short and to the point:
“Kindly bring your Corno Inglese to the rehearsal tomorrow as there is a part for it in ‘L’Arlesienne'”
The kind of thing that these days the orchestra’s fixer would send a text about.
The second is from the conductor Auguste Vianesi who was putting together personnel for several operatic events including the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera in New York for Henry Abbey. He has clearly been in correspondence with Reynolds about possible players and this letter offers work to viola player Mr. Haslam, oboist Mr. Foreman and cornet player Mr. Saxby.
Next comes the letter from Max Bruch. Dated March 1884, it is a reference for Reynolds.
“The quality of his tone is very good, and I have no hesitation in saying that I consider him competent to take the place of first oboe in any, even the best, orchestra…”
There is, frustratingly, no addressee, so we can only speculate whether this was a generic reference or for a specific post. Unless anyone reading this knows more…
Fourth in the sequence is the letter from the conductor and composer Enrico Bevignani, dated April 1885, concerning Reynolds’ contract for a performance of Lakmé (a close search of Musical Times on JSTOR reveals this to be June 6th at the Gaiety Theatre).
“…we will produce the first night a new opera (Lakmé) and we shall perhaps have a few rehearsals before the opening [!] – but after that I can assure you we shall have very easy work.”
According to The Times, “Signor Bevignani conducted with care and energy, securing an excellent ensemble” (Monday 8 June 1885).
Finally, we have the letter from August Manns, conductor and Director of Music at the Crystal Palace from 1855 – 1901. The handwriting is expansive, hurried, confident and bordering on illegible, the signature a grand flourish. The topic? A response to an enquiry from Mrs. Reynolds about whether she might join the choir of the Handel Festival – alas and alack, the lists were already closed and so she was too late. Then we have this:
“Accept my sincere good wishes for your well-deserved advancement in Hallé’s Orchestra, which, no doubt, will give satisfaction and be of advantage to all who are concerned in Hallé’s valuable art-work.”
So, what do these few letters tell us? That Reynolds was a busy professional player, working not only in the Hallé but also for others as opportunities arose. Clearly well-connected and certainly respected as a musician. They also demonstrate the importance of letters as primary research sources, and, to my mind at least, how important it is that they are well-documented.