August Manns and the Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts

Sir August Manns. A portrait by Spy from “Vanity Fair” June 1895

Sir August Manns (1825 – 1907) was a key figure in the life of the Crystal Palace until his retirement in 1901. First in 1854 as a clarinet player in Heinrich Schallehn’s wind band until a falling-out over fees for his composition of the Alliance Quadrille (Schallehn, who had commissioned the work, kept the lion’s share which Manns – rightly – felt should be his). He resigned, only to be tempted back in 1855, this time by Sir George Grove himself to conduct at the Palace (but with the proviso that the players be reduced from 58 to 36). He was to hold the post for half a century and in so doing, along with Grove (of whose role more in a later blog post) secured a central place in British musical life, in particular through the Saturday Concerts.

At first, concerts took place in the Court of Musical Instruments, but it soon became apparent that space free from the disruption of visitors to the main body of the Palace was required and the Concert Room at the Palace was built – although not properly completed until 1868 – occupying an area twice the size of Exeter Hall, providing a new organ and extended platform to give a proper performing space largely free from disturbance.

At first, the band was a wind band plus a few strings, but Manns developed this to a full orchestra of about 40 players initially, and then to symphony orchestra size with about 90 players in the later years. He was involved in every aspect of the concerts: building the programmes, developing the repertoire, as well as rehearsing his orchestra, establishing the reputation of the concerts and with this the ability to attract internationally recognised soloists such as Joachim, Piatti, Vieuxtemps, Hallé.

Joseph Joachim by Adolph Menzel

“…the range of the orchestral fare offered at the Palace, reflective of its educational ethos, eclipsed that of any other British concert-giving organization, with a unique record of new works by foreign composers given British first performances, and of new works by British composers likewise.” (Musgrave. The Musical Life of the Crystal Palace. CUP, 1995, p. 84).

Programme notes for Saturday concerts are detailed and contain a wealth of musical examples and were something which Grove took very seriously. Some – but not all – are initialled: G=George Grove, AM = August Manns, CAB = Charles Ainslie Barry. Grove and Manns used their contacts across the musical world and would invite the composers and performers themselves to contribute insights. Over time the notes for some works included the history of performances at the Palace and always indicated the many first performances whether internationally, nationally or at the Palace (which will be covered in a later post).

In the programme for Sat 01 March 1856 there is a note trying to establish what we now regard as the norm for behaviour during a concert: “Visitors are requested to keep their seats during the Performance of the Music. An interval will be allowed between the Pieces, and between the Movements of the Symphony, which can be taken advantage of by those who wish to move.”

Saturday concert for J. S. Bach’s bicentenary. Programme in the Pendlebury Crystal Palace programme collection

Saturday concerts had their heyday in 1860s and 1870s however, competition in central London from the Richter concerts at St James’s Hall, Henschel’s London Symphony concerts and latterly Henry Wood at the Queen’s Hall was too strong and the final Saturday orchestral concerts took place in the 1902-3 season.

Grove pays tribute to Manns in a speech of 1880 reproduced in Graves Life and letters of Sir George Grove, C. B. 1903: “The great glory of the Crystal Palace music is the perfection in which it is played….And to what is this due? To the devotion and enthusiasm, the steady, indefatigable labour of my friend, Mr. Manns.”

The University Library has an incomplete run of Saturday concerts from 1874 to the 1890s bound in a series of volumes. Originally donated to the Fitzwilliam by Mrs H. E. Wooldridge in 1918, they form a part of the Richard Pendlebury bequest and each volume bears his monogram. There are also a number of single programmes.


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1 Response to August Manns and the Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts

  1. Pingback: Berlioz and the Crystal Palace | MusiCB3 Blog

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