To give audiences an alternative to the Victorian equivalent of a choc-ice-on-a-stick in the concert interval, and something improving to read during the concert interval other than the extensive programme notes, the organisers of the St. James’s Hall Monday popular concerts hit upon the bright idea of providing the “Entr’Acte”. This was an extract from an article, critical appraisal or extended letter by a prominent musician, critic or scholar of the day on a musical topic which was nearly always completely unrelated to the music being performed. They make fascinating reading and I thought it would be interesting to share some examples with you to whet your appetite.
5th January 1880: in a programme of chamber music by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Chopin we are given Hans von Bulow’s essay on Anton Rubinstein’s opera Nero (not exactly core repertoire today). It was first published in translation in the Musical World (Vol. 57 no. 52, Dec 27 1879, pp 824-826) and contains, inter alia, a fascinating glimpse of how von Bulow viewed the grand opera scene at the time:
“Despite of Richard Wagner and Jacques Offenbach, his [Rubinstein’s] involuntary colleagues in battling with the internationalised Parisian dragon (called grand opera), the dragon still goes on vomiting forth flames. Look at the well-nigh undiminished power of attraction exercised by Meyerbeer’s five-acters” (The ROH has just given Robert le Diable for the first time since 1890… so perhaps Meyerbeer’s “five-acters” had lost a little of their magnetism in the intervening years).
In complete contrast on 12th January 1880, this is followed by the conclusion of an article taken from the Musical Times (Vol. 20 no. 441, Nov 1 1879, pp. 569-572) [unattributed – but presumably by the editor] on “Work and mission of my life” by Wagner (who had no time for poor Meyerbeer) which had recently been published in the North American Review (Vol. 129 no. 273, Aug 1879) the essence of which is neatly summed up by the reviewer thus “Throughout the narrative we meet with Wagner’s superb self-confidence in intensest form…The lesson in the entire article is a warning against the intrusion of personality in art”.
4th December 1882 gives us the conclusion of an article from the Birmingham Post on Sir Julius Benedict’s cantata Graziella which was first performed at that year’s Triennial Festival. Benedict, a pupil of Weber’s was an accomplished pianist, composer and conductor (he conducted every Norwich Festival from 1845 to 1878) and was one of the busiest musicians of the time. One of his (many) lighter compositions for piano was Recollections of the Monday Popular Concerts (1867) where he acted as accompanist for many years.
My final entr’acte is from the programme for March 28th 1898 where the audience were able to enjoy Joseph Joachim’s Quartet in Beethoven op. 18 no. 1 and op.127 as well as Haydn’s op.77. Here we have an article entitled “The canker at the heart of music” reprinted from the Musical Standard (Vol. 9 no. 221, Mar 26, 1898: pp191-192). The author is almost certainly Edward Baughan, a music journalist, who was editor of the Standard from 1892 – 1902 and afterwards the music critic of the Daily News. He also contributed articles to a range of periodicals and was the author of a biography of Paderewski. In essence he bemoans the lack of audiences, and especially those with genuine musical taste, despite musical activity in the country being rich, varied and full of home-grown talent. “Money backing the performance of works which are not of good quality,” he says, is not protested at by any audience because “the demand for good music is less than the supply”. The same people were seen at the various concert series on offer in London (which then had a population of 4 million) “…one can become quite familiar with the faces of the people who support them…”.
…now where do I dispose of my ice-cream carton before the second half?
Postscript: records for the St. James’s Hall concert programmes held at the University Library will be available on the Concert Programmes Project website shortly. Watch this space for further information.