Bygone concert venues: the Aeolian Hall

The entrance to the Grosvenor Gallery which became the Aeolian Hall in 1903.

The entrance to the Grosvenor Gallery which became the Aeolian Hall in 1903.

It’s been quite a while since we visited one of the many venues represented in our concert programmes collections here at the University Library: browsing amonst them recently, I came across our modest collection for the Aeolian Hall. Only a couple of dozen, but what names to conjure with – Manuel de Falla, Albert Sammons, Henry Wood, Pablo Casals to name only four. Having whetted your appetite, let’s look through the little collection in more detail.

The Aeolian Hall began life in 1876 as Sir Coutts Lindsay‘s Grosvenor Gallery at 135-137 New Bond Street. Nothing if not entrepreneurial, Coutts Lindsay also constructed an electricity  generating station in the building, supplying nearby properties with the very latest in the way of lighting. By 1903, however, the building had been taken over by the Orchestrelle Company, manufacturers of the pianola, as a showroom for their instruments. The main art gallery became the concert hall and the building re-named Aeolian Hall when the company also changed its name. The BBC took over the building during WWII, using it until the mid-seventies and it is now the London flagship store of Belstaff’s.

Bach Concert May 1st 1906 for the endowment of a Bach Museum at Eisenach. Cambridge University Library

Bach Concert May 1st 1906 for the endowment of a Bach Museum at Eisenach.
© Cambridge University Library

We don’t know exactly how our little collection of programmes arrived here, but, given some of the accompanying material, it was most probably via Cyril Rootham and Edward Dent. The earliest, for May 1st 1906, is for a special Bach concert in aid of the purchase of what was then thought to be Bach’s birthplace at Eisenach, which was to become a museum (which indeed, it still is). Henry Wood and the Queen’s Hall Orchestra did the honours. Fuller MaitlandThe Times‘ music critic was in rapturous voice in the following day’s report: “…from first to last, it was a feast of delight…”


Recital by Liebich and Manuel de Falla, 24 May 1911. © Cambridge University Library.

Recital by Liebich and Manuel de Falla, 24 May 1911.
© Cambridge University Library.

Our second example is a (very foxed) programme for May 24th 1911, in which the pianist Franz Liebich performed with singer Mlle Berchut and the composer Manuel de Falla. Not surprisingly, the programme had a very Iberian feel, with piano pieces by Albeniz and Granados performed by Liebich, de Falla playing his own “Pièces Espagnoles” [MRS.8.684-6] and also accompanying Berchut in two of his songs. The concert ended with Liebich and de Falla on two pianos giving arrangements of Debussy’s “Evening in Granada” from Éstampes and “Images no. 2: Iberia“. It was de Falla’s first appearance in London as a letter from Liebich’s wife Shirley to Edward Dent, found inside the programme, explains: “I enclose for you a programme of my husband’s Spanish concert in 1911 which was the first of its kind and at which our friend Señor de Falla made his first appearance in this country as a pianist playing a group of his piano pieces accompanying his songs and taking part in a duet for 2 pianos of Debussy’s ‘Iberia’ which both pianists had severally rehearsed with M. Debussy in Paris.”

Next an intriguing handbill in which “Mr. Donald Francis Tovey begs to announce Two Concerts of works for Pianoforte & Violincello with Señor Pablo Casals“. The concerts were for 2 and 9 June 1910, each to include a Brahms cello sonata and two works for cello and piano by Tovey himaself. The Times’ critic was kind about Tovey’s own works, but waxed lyrical in his report of Casals’ account of the Bach G major cello suite “…given with superb mastery. It was indeed difficult to know what to admire most – the player’s control of rich and varied tone, the strength and flexibility of his bowing, or his beautiful phrasing.”

Handbill for Tovey and Casals concerts June 1910. © Cambridge University Library

Handbill for Tovey and Casals concerts June 1910.
© Cambridge University Library

Our final selection is of two programmes for the two concerts, on 16th and 23rd October, which took place in the Aeolian Hall as part of an extensive Delius Festival organised by Sir Thomas Beecham in the autumn of 1929. Six concerts in all were given between 12 October and 1 November – all entirely of works by Delius, who came over to England for the occasion. The programme for 16th October featured vocal works and works for small orchestra: here is The Times’ critic (this time, probably H. C. Colles) again: “‘The First Cuckoo‘ is the quite perfect piece for small orchestra, and it and ‘The Song Before sunrise’ and “Summer Night on the River’ were played beautifully, as only Sir Thomas Beecham can play them”. The second concert concentrated on chamber works and small vocal pieces, The Times reporting with considerable ambiguity that “The present programme showed that Delius’s true medium of expression is the orchestra…” conceding though, that the String Quartet “..was deftly played by the Virtuoso Quartet.” And there, with the applause ringing in our ears, we must take leave of the Hall and the many musicians who have graced its platform.

Delius Festival programmes for 16 and 23 October 1929. © Cambridge University Library.

Delius Festival programmes for 16 and 23 October 1929.
© Cambridge University Library.


To find out where collections of concert programmes featuring the Aeolian Hall are held, consult the Concert Programmes website.


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7 Responses to Bygone concert venues: the Aeolian Hall

  1. robertpriddy says:

    In 1949, I was taken by my uncle to see and hear ITMA being recorded at the Aolean Hall. Tommy Handley died not many months later, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I worked at the Hall in 1969 and it was home to offices and two recording studios but in the library was a wall filled with steel cabinets containing sheet music, as well as housing music scores of BBC live music programmes, such as the Goon Show and the Braden Beat etc with its own bookbinder onsite, as well as the the archive of Ludwig Koch and his birdsong recordings. Where did it all end up I wonder. The library was under the capable direction of Bill Sullivan. Recording artists were always dropping in. What a great place to soak up was once a thriving music hub.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sw says:

      This is fscinating Ray, thank you so much for sharing your memories. SW

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks SW. The BBC was a vast network operating in many different buildings. I also worked in 1964 at Broadcasting House sound archives, and at TV drama based at Kensington House, now a hotel in Shepherds Bush. So many memories. Even in the sixties there were cost cutting plans afoot!

        Liked by 1 person

    • My father, Hywel Hughes, was for many years the librarian you refer to; his office, B10, was full of the buff coloured envelopes containing all the orchestral parts; when music was required for a show, my father would make up piles of the individual parts in the order that they would be played for each instrumentalist required. Often, when parts were missing, he would copy out with pen and ink the missing part from the conductor’s score. All this material was then taken to the studio for rehearsal and subsequent recording/transmission usually at the Paris Cinema in Regent Street. Then the process was reversed with all parts being restored into their original envelopes on their original shelves in B10 Aeolian.

      I spent many many hours helping him during school holidays and remember clearly working with such artists such as Harold Smart (organ) and Stan Roderick (trumpet).; among programs were “The Goon Show”, “Beyond our Ken”, “The Navy Lark”, orchestras were Stanley Black’s “Dance” and Cyril Stapleton’s “Show Band” both containing many top class musicians playing below their level. Another name that comes to mind is David Francis who had a program called “Sound of Strings”.

      There was also an excellent canteen also in the basement and I can remember meeting quite a few of the stars down there. High point of my day was being allowed to attend rehearsals and occasionally I sat up in the control room with the engineers and producers such as John Browell.

      I also remember their tape recording machine at the Paris – a Ferrograph model 2A/H. I bought myself one of these subsequently which I still use to this day.

      Hope this is all of interest – halcyon days indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • How fascinating Richard. Your memories coincide with my own in some respects. I remember John Browell well. Another producer at the Hall was Ray Harvey who ran a band in which I played tenor sax. I used to eat in the basement canteen and sat down with Bill Sullivan who ran the library and was inspired too by the musicians during breaks. I remember one session with Russ Conway shadowed by the resident pianist in case of fluffs! The Ferrographs were everywhere in BH studios and if i’m right were floor standing. I recall the Paris being in Lower Regent Street, and where Does the Team Think was recorded with a live audience. Either there or the Playhouse. Not quite sure. I remember David Francis with his shock of hair. I think he contributed some arrangements . I know there was a room where two copiers would provide added parts or alterations. One was Bert Lally, an irascible character and related to Jimmy Lally, known for his miniature band parts. There was a food soldier whose name i’ve forgotten (Reg) whose job it was to carry an immense bag with MSS to other local studios. Interestingly I had to file the brown arrangement bags you mentioned into the library.
        Many years later I became a pianist with the Johnny Howard Band who would do broadcasts on a regular basis and during the resurgence of Music While you Work in the eighties. Another office in the building contained all the recordings of bird song by Ludwig Koch, you may remember him!
        It would always nice to hear back with any extra titbits!
        Regards Ray

        Liked by 1 person

      • mj263 says:

        Thank you so much for this Richard. Fascinating and what wonderful memories to have. SW


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