I opened a box…

What’s in the box?
CC0 Creative Commons

As has previously been mentioned on MusiCB3, my colleague Susi has, until relatively recently, been busy cataloguing some of the many concert programmes that we hold here at the UL. Those catalogued so far can be found on the Concert Programmes database – the go-to site for concert programme archives. Today, I happened to be burrowing among the concert programmes, looking for some information on a forgotten violinist (so forgotten that I have failed to find anything about him), but while rootling through a small clutch of London concert programmes from the 1920s-’30’s, I came across a couple of strange boxes of as yet uncatalogued odds and ends.

Most programmes don’t come to us under the Legal Deposit Act, many come as part of a much larger collection, such as a composer’s archive, a few we have bought, more have been given to us, and as such they are, well, how can I say this? Often a little unexpected. So, I opened a box, and look what jumped out….

It’s July 1895, so how about a trip to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to see “The first appearance in England of the Ducal Court Company of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha” performing Fidelio and Der Freischutz? While you’re there enjoy M.B. Foster & Sons Pure Mineral Water, quaff some Guinness Stout, and savour the gentle scent of Sanitas disinfectant, “as used in this theatre”.

Although most of our programmes are music related, we do have some surprises. For the “fourth year in succession” Maskelyne and Cooke “Illusionists and anti-spiritualists”  appear at the Egyptian Large Hall in Piccadilly, ready to debunk all things spooky, from the “mystic and oracular tambourine” to the highly trained hound, via a spot of self-levitation. It must have been a fascinating evening.

A beady-eyed lammergeyer, photographed by Richard Bartz.

I think I would have rather enjoyed the Egyptian Hall. Twenty years before Maskelyne (around 1855), the Hall was completely re-vamped for Mr. Albert Smith’s travel lectures, “from Mont Blanc to China”. Containing an imaginatively decorated hall, you could enter a public tea garden, admire signs in real Chinese script, and discover the best way to ride a dromedary. Looking for adventure nearer home? How about a panorama of the Rhine, a leisurely trip to the Alps to glimpse the beady eye of a lammergeyer eyeing up a dead chamois, or venture to the Mediterranean and tremble at the eruption of Vesuvius.

A small (8.5 x 14.5 cm) envelope celebrating Mr. Albert Smith’s ascent of Mont Blanc.

In 1892 there was an unusual event combining horticulture and music – the International Horticultural Exhibition – in which concert programmes, lawn mower sales, and Bovril for ladies sat rather uneasily side by side. The Coldstream and Grenadier Guards’ Bands took centre stage, alongside concerts from the Exhibition’s String Band. There was even a resident organist, Mr. H.C. Tonking, formerly organist at the Royal Aquarium; who from May to September performed over 3,000 pieces, in what was claimed to be “The biggest show on earth”.

The programme also advised on other events to attend – how about going to the Floral Maze; or for the more adventurously inclined, take a free seat at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show? Gardening was evidently deemed to be of interest to ladies, as the back pages extol suitable items for women – including a new state of the art gas stove. The poor woman advertising it appears to be cooking fish, chicken, and what looks suspiciously like a badger(!), alongside a ham joint, cakes and pies, a saucepan of soup and manages to boil a kettle for a cup of tea (much needed I suspect) while wearing the world’s tightest corset. It would all be much easier if only she used Titan Patent Soap, guaranteed to make you trip the light fantastic while warbling a Victorian hit of the day.

Roast badger, anyone?
Some adverts from the programme for the International Horticultural Exhibition 1892.

Appealing to the female market was very much in mind in 1928, when a concert was given by the British Women’s Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra may have been female, but the conductor (a very young Malcolm Sargent), soloists, and composers remained resolutely male. Although in some ways this may have seemed like a bit of a step in the right direction, and a boost to the use of female musicians, the promoters were evidently not expecting a mixed audience to turn up to the concert, with the advertisements all aimed towards women – from swimwear to the perfect trousseau, and the ubiquitous gas stove, as recommended by a (male) doctor.

Moving to more recent times, the oddities continue. The fourth Summer School for Singers took place in 1963 at the Commonwealth Institute Theatre (now part of the Design Museum). One of the events included a performance of Orazio Vecchi‘s L’amfiparnaso, “the first opera in madrigal form,” and featuring the Lanchester Marionettes. Viewing a production on YouTube, one can imagine that the puppets would have added a level of other worldliness to the 1963 production.

Finally, from this box of delights and oddities, a charming ticket from 1938, to a concert of Handel’s music. Professor J.B. Trend was evidently keen to attend, especially as there was going to be “a silver collection in aid of the scheme for the purchase of Handel’s house in Brook Street as a National Memorial”. In the event, it would be almost 70 years before the Handel House Trust were able to lease the whole of 25 Brook Street and the upper floors of no. 23. In the meantime, another music icon had briefly lived there, and although most of the Brook Street properties are related to Handel, the upper floors of no. 23 are decorated as they would have been when Jimi Hendrix lived there in the latter part of 1968.

For more fascinating advertisements and concert programme oddities, watch out for our mini-exhibition opening at the end of June.

MJ

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About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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