The early war period, the patriotism of the theatre business and the first links between Thomas Beecham and the Royal College of Music

In the early war period the theatre business struggled and seemed to grow more and more patriotic as the months went by. In an article about the upcoming performances from the Moody Manners opera company in December 1914, the columnist wrote “The programme is a popular one, and , naturally, none of the German operas will be done, it is a pity but we shall have the pleasure of seeing them on a more suitable occasion”. It was not just in the performances themselves but also the performers in which we see a pull away from Germany, and the continent in general. In the first 6 months of the war the Halle, The Brand Lane and the Harrison concerts consisted mainly of British performers. The only exception that i can see is Ada Crossley, an Australian singer who performed with the Brand Lane orchestra in December 1914. This is a far cry from the usual mix of nationalities that performed with these orchestras on a regular basis before the war.

There was also a cry for patriotism from the critics and columnists in the Manchester Programme. In December 1914, Strephon, lead columnist, said that footballers should be signing up to go on the front line not “in the pursuit of an inflated bladder”. He claims that other sportsmen were already engaged in battle on the continent and footballers should be no different.This seems a little hypocritical since only a short time before he was claiming that those staying behind and continuing to work were still performing their patriotic duty. In the same article he had also been encouraging people to continue going to the theatre, is football not also a form of entertainment? He added to his argument that sportsmen were strong and therefore ideal as soldiers, however the following month he claimed that endurance and spirit was the most important thing, which actors have in abundance. He said this is response to a critic claiming actors were not suitable for war since their job requires them to live in a fantasy world.

In February 1915, Strephon wrote another article slamming those he deemed to be unpatriotic, this time it was the ‘greedy shipowners’ who he believed were at fault for the rising cost of bread. There was a shorter article following this explaining that the government were giving out war bonuses to help with rising cost of living. This shows another in which the theatre business was affected by the war. Not only were the usual audience numbers reduced by men going to war, but also by the rising cost of living making it more difficult for those at home to continue going. The lower audience numbers were commented on by another critic when discussing the last Harrison concert of the season. He cries “where was musical Manchester?” His criticism is not only harsh considering the rising cost of living but also due to that concert not being advertised. How can the public be criticised for not attending an event they probably did not know about!

It was in this period of chaos that Thomas Beecham first working with the Royal College of Music by holding a competition. He wanted a new baritone for his orchestra and let the Royal College of Music run the competition and choose the winner. One of his stipulations was that the entrants must be a current or past student of the college. This competition was won by Hamilton Harris from Droylsden, Manchester and he performed with the Halle in their final concert of the season.

Katrina Ingram

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