I’ve always had a bit of a fondness for almanacs, yearbooks and old travel guides. What would probably have seemed at the time fairly uninteresting becomes something quite different when you’re viewing it over a hundred years later. Yearbooks and trade gazettes are great examples of time capsules displaying the interests and preoccupations of the period of which they were a reflection.
Recently some music literature in need of a new home arrived at the Pendlebury, one of the goodies included The year’s music 1899 (a partial run of the annual journal (1896-1898) could already be found at the UL, classmark L409.d.24). So, what was happening in 1899? Who were the famous names? What should you buy for the musician who has everything? You may be surprised…
There was great excitement at Covent Garden, where Wagner’s Ring was staged “under conditions resembling, as far as possible, those prevailing at Bayreuth”. In fact tickets for the two cycles sold out astonishingly quickly prompting the introduction of an “Intermediate Cycle”, which was “as eagerly patronized as the others”. The predominance of mentions of Wagner in musical literature and periodicals was also noted.
Sir Arthur Sullivan wasn’t so fortunate, when his light opera The Beauty Stone proved to be an unexpected flop. The Philharmonic Society (they wouldn’t become Royal till 1912) welcomed Engelbert Humperdinck, who was conducting for the first time in England, to their concert series, and Saint-Saens played an organ solo during the final concert of the season.
Henry Wood, generally regarded today as a great promoter of British music, received some censure for not conducting enough “native” music, having produced 42 works by Russian composers (I’m assuming this wasn’t referring solely to 1899!), Verdi’s latest works were introduced to an enthusiastic audience by students of the Royal Academy, while Charles Wood’s ode On Time was premiered in Cambridge by CUMS. As well as CUMS, there was also the University’s Musical Club, which met in the less than salubrious surroundings of Falcon Yard, which had already been designated as one of the worst slums in Cambridge.
The London Ballad Concerts entered their 32nd season. They featured an unusual mixture of contemporary art and popular songs alongside period instruments. One concert, for example, featured a Venetian lute dating from 1560 and a Bergonzi viola da gamba dated 1702. All the period instruments were played by the Dolmetsch family – Elodie, Helene and Arnold – who are appealingly referred to as “ancient instrumentalists”.
It could be a dangerous life appearing in a London Ballad Concert: “A most unusual combination of adverse circumstances caused the absence of no fewer than three of the principal performers originally announced for this concert. Miss Clara Butt met with a serious carriage accident at Moreton-in-Marsh; Miss Ada Crossley severely sprained her ankle, and Mr. William Henley injured the first finger of his left hand….”. Violinist, Leonora Jackson, leapt into action and covered for the injured Mr. Henley.
Sunday concerts were widely available, especially in London, and were aimed at those who might not normally think of going to a classical music concert. Cheap seats could be had at the Royal Albert Hall, and there was free standing room (pre-Health and Safety era) for up to 4000 people.
Choral singing was very popular, and choirs were often enormous. The Tonic Sol-Fa Festival which took place at the Crystal Palace in July 1898 featured a juvenile choir of 5000 voices, and an adult choir of 3000.
In November 1898 the musical copyrights of the publishers R. Cocks were auctioned off. The most expensive items, which were presumably those considered to be potentially the best selling, are now forgotten; an indication perhaps of the transitory nature of popular music – For all eternity by Angelo Mascheroni (MUS.53.65) and The Sailor’s Dream by J. Pridham were the two star buys.
Outside the UK, Wagner’s Tannhauser was premiered in Alexandria, there was a British music festival in Brussels, and Grieg organized a festival of Norwegian music in Bergen as part of the International Fisheries Exhibition. Classical music was popular in Australia, with hundreds of disappointed concert goers in Sydney unable to attend the event put on by Madame Albani’s Concert Company. The Conservatorium Grand Opera, though still advertising for a second bassoon and third and fourth horns, were able to give their first concert at Adelaide Town Hall in the summer of 1898.
Musical deaths in 1897-1898 included many now forgotten names, who provide a snapshot of musical life of the period. They include Joseph Luigini, the first producer of Aida in Paris; Dicran Tchohadjian, the “Verdi of the Orient”; Antoine Francois Marmontel, piano teacher of Bizet and Wieniawski; and Norman Neruda, son of Lady Halle, who was killed in the Alps.
The Year’s Music didn’t just reflect the previous year’s work, it was also a shop window, especially for singers, whether you aspired to sing Wagner, or wanted to be a “humorous vocalist”. There were also advertisements for all things musical. What better for the musician in your life than the “Nocturne candle” – the only reliable candle for musicians, especially designed for piano use?