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.
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 Maitland, The Times‘ music critic was in rapturous voice in the following day’s report: “…from first to last, it was a feast of delight…”
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.”
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.
To find out where collections of concert programmes featuring the Aeolian Hall are held, consult the Concert Programmes website.