Walter Bache’s Liszt concerts

Programme for the orchestral concert given on 25th February 1875 in St. James's Hall

To accompany the Liszt exhibition currently running in the University Library and as a little extra to the recent blog post, I thought it would be interesting to look a little more closely at the volume of Walter Bache’s concert programmes in the UL’s collection.

Bache (1842 – 1888) was a pupil of Liszt from 1863 – 1865, also attending masterclasses given by the composer until 1885. He became a dedicated promoter of Liszt’s music to the British concert-going public through two series of annual concerts which he financed: one orchestral and one of solo piano works and songs.  A variety of venues was used at the outset, but both established themselves first at the Hanover Square Rooms and then, in the early 1870’s moved to the St. James’s Hall.

St. James's Hall (public domain)

Bache’s championship of Liszt’s music was against the tide of critical opinion at the time (the arguments and counter-arguments in the professional and general press are fascinating – read Michael Allis’s excellent article in vol. 51 of the Journal of the American Liszt Society), but thanks to his tireless work, the tide did turn. On 28th November 1873, The Morning Post was not backward in coming forward reviewing the orchestral concert at St. James’s Hall the previous day when the symphonic poems “Tasso” and “Orpheus” were performed: “It is advisable that advocates of such ravings as those apparent in both ‘Tasso’ and ‘Orpheus’ and works of that calibre, should not forget that in them the principles of art are entirely laid aside…to listen to incoherencies and wanderings…tries the patience of the most willing listener…”. Ouch.

Programme for Bache's recital on 28th April 1868

However, after the first performance in Britain of the Faust Symphony on 11th March 1880, the Times admitted: “It is indeed very doubtful whether without Mr. Bache’s energetic and unselfsh endeavours, much of Liszt’s music would have been heard in this country and to him, London amateurs mainly owe their acquaintance with one of the most extraordinary artistic individualities of modern times.” Hurrah. On Liszt’s birthday (22nd October) in 1879, Bache finally felt able to devote his annual birthday recital to works entirely by the composer including the Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H, a selection from the Transcendental Etudes and the fourth Hungarian Rhapsody.

Copies of the book of programmes for these concerts were presented to the UL (ours is dated 10th January 1890), the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Trinity College Dublin and the National Library of Scotland as well as to the British Library (then, of course, the British Museum Library) by Bache’s sister Constance.

Bache's recital on 22nd October 1883

COPAC gives details and there is an analytical record of the programmes on the Concert Programmes database created from the BL’s microfilm copy of the volume at the Bodleian. Where it has not been possible to obtain a copy of the programme, its contents have been handwritten (presumably by Constance) and bound into the volume at the appropriate place in the chronological sequence. One outstanding feature of the orchestral programmes are the extensive analytical notes about the works by Liszt being performed – all part of Bache’s strategy for generating interest in, and understanding of, Liszt’s music.  The notes are all written by eminent figures of the time including Bache himself, fellow pianist Edward Dannereuther and Charles Ainsley Barry.

Sadly, Bache died at the age of only 45 and the obituary in the Times on March 28th 1888 had this to say: “Mr Bache was a pianist of considerable merit, but he will be chiefly remembered as the English champion of Liszt’s music, which but for him would probably have been very little known in this country.”


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