The outbreak of war, patriotism and music

With the outbreak of world war one in the summer of 1914, you would expect a severe effect on the music and theatre business, but how severe was it?

Whilst critics were claiming that ‘Musical Manchester’s’ reputation was already on the wane, this seemed to have turned around in the months leading up to the outbreak of war. In April and May 1914, three separate articles were written in the Manchester Programme claiming that the critics were wrong as both the Carl Rosa opera company and the O’Mara opera company had filled the house every night. There was also an increase in the number of opera companies performing at this time, as well as the two already mentioned, the Castellano opera company performed at the Princes theatre in May; the Moody Manners opera company returned to Manchester in April for the first time in five years; and the D’Oyly Carte opera company performed at the Theatre Royal in both March and April.

However, even though opera seemed to be on the increase, war inevitably had an effect on the stage business. The Manchester Programme was cut shorter, from 20 pages down to 16, and one article reported that the theatre business was suffering the most. One of the lead columnists for the Manchester Programme, Strephon, wrote that people should not be down and should continue going to the theatre to keep spirits high. In the same article he talks about the many young men who are enlisting but points out that those who are staying home and continuing to work are still doing their patriotic duty and should not be criticised. This could indicate that one of the reasons there was less theatre goers at the outbreak of war was due to them not agreeing with young men staying behind to perform on the stage.

Another factor that affected the theatre business was the war breaking out during the summer vacation period, meaning European stage performers and orchestral members were out of the UK and struggled to return. One such person was Michael Balling, the German conductor of the Halle. In his absence the Halle enlisted a number of conductors to take his place, however only two were mentioned in the Manchester Programme. The first was Woof Gaags who led two concerts with approximately half of the orchestral members. It wasn’t until the end of November when Thomas Beecham took the role of conductor that the Halle returned with the full orchestra in the usual weekly spot at the Free Trade Hall.

Katrina Ingram

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