The Belgian women at the College

By early 1915, there were more than a quarter of a million Belgian refugees in Britain. They had fled their homes after the German army had invaded Belgium in August 1914, an event which directly lead to the British declaration of war. After a chaotic start with refugees arriving in their thousands the newly-formed War Refugees Committee became more organised and more than 2500 local committees were set up to receive and assist Belgian refugees all over the country including the Manchester area. Here are the stories of two talented Belgian women who each contributed to the musical life of the Royal Manchester College of Music during the First War World and in its immediate aftermath.

Both were refugees from the town of Malines (or Mechelen) near Antwerp. Augusta Bertrand was the first recipient of the inaugural Will Pearce Memorial Scholarship for piano which she won in open competition in July 1915 aged 15. The 1915 Annual Report notes that there are three Belgian refugees attending the College. She went on to hold the scholarship for the four years that she was a student in the college. The Scholarship was endowed by Mrs Will Pearce a former student in memory of her late husband who was also a “distinguished student and Halle scholar of the College”. Augusta was taught by Ellen Arthan and was a regular perfomer at the open practices or students’ musical evenings. She also had Ensemble Classes with Dr Brodsky. She completed 12 terms at the College leaving at Midsummer 1919. As most Belgians returned to their country after the war had finished, Augusta probably did the same as I can find no record of a marriage or death in the UK. However, I can find no trace of her in Belgium archives either, so if anyone knows anything further about her, let us know.

Some Belgians remained in the UK like the second musician. Madeleine Vanhamme is mentioned briefly in the Musical Times of March 1915 “The Bolton Amateur Orchestral Society at a Relief Fund concert on January 13, had the assistance of Mlle Madeleine Van Hamme, a Belgian contralto.” She would have been 25 or 26 and probably would have had some singing training in Belgium. One month before the war finished on 7th October 1918, at age 29, Madeleine started her singing studies at the Royal Manchester College of Music under the famed soprano Miss Marie Brema. She completed eight terms at the RMCM until Easter 1921. The same year she married Percy Tankard in Bolton and they had one daughter Patricia Tankard in 1926. Unfortunately, as with many of the women who studied at the RMCM, the next piece of information is her death in 1975 in Merseyside.

What kind of music did they play and sing? Did they know each other? The answer to the second question is certainly yes as they were both in the College from September 1918 to Midsummer 1919 and both were from the same town in Belgium. They also performed in the same Annual Public Examinations of Friday July 18th 1919: Augusta performed the 2nd and 3rd movements of Schumann’s Pianoforte Concerto and Madeleine sang the Beethoven aria “Ah! Perfido”.

As a talented pianist, during her time at the college between 1916 and 1919, Augusta appears many times in the Open Practices playing solos and in ensembles. On Tuesday 10th July 1917, for example, she plays the piano in Beethoven’s Piano & Strings Trio Op. 1 No 3 in in C minor (2nd and 4th movements) with Gertrude Barker and Kathleen Moorhouse. A year earlier on Thursday 8th June 1916 Augusta performs Bach Partita no1 in B flat. In December 1918 she plays two Chopin Studies (Study in E major Op 10 No 3 and Study in A minor Op 25 No 11).

By contrast Madeleine’s appearances at Open Practices seems to have been limited to one on Wednesday February 19th 1919 when she sang two songs by contemporary French composers: “Psyché” by Emile Paladilhe and “L’Ane blanc” by Georges Hüe. Madeleine also performed solos at the In Celebration of Peace concert organised by her teacher Marie Brema on Tuesday December 10th 1918 when she sang two Belgian songs and one French:  “Les Cloches de Flandres” by Paul Kochs, “Ik ken een lied” the most popular song written by the 19th century Belgian composer Willem de Mol, and “Chanson de Route”  by Paul Puget with words by the French writer Alfred de Musset, famous for a two-year affair with novelist Georges Sand, who was also Chopin’s lover.

For some interesting information about Belgian refugees in the Manchester area and where to find further information https://gm1914.wordpress.com/tag/belgian-refugees/ and http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/448/archives_and_local_history/506/multi-cultural_manchester/11

Katherine Seddon

 

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