During the war orchestral music became more popular in Manchester. My research leads me to believe the Sir Thomas Beecham’s efforts in enterprising and advertising is what drew the large audiences to his concerts.
By mid 1917 Sir Thomas Beecham began changing the shape of things at the Halle. He decided that the Halle will not be restricted to Thursday nights and will play on some Saturdays throughout the season and on one Friday. He also announced that as well as the Grand Opera at the end of the season he would also run one over the Christmas period. This shake up of events drew a lot of attention from the Press, as did Beecham’s other enterprising activities. He put a proposal to the council for the building of a new opera house in Manchester, stating he would hold opera seasons over a period of at least 10 years. In December 1917 Beecham took the job as President of the Royal College of Music in Manchester. All of this activity ensured the press attention when Beecham started his new Christmas Opera season with the Halle.
In December 1917 the Manchester Programme published a full page article on Beecham singing his praises. It stated that he had conducted whole operas from memory as his musical memory is phenomenal. It also claimed that his musical knowledge ranged from 16th century to modern day which is unequalled by any other conductor. Quite an accolade! This free advertising continued when his Opera season opened on Boxing Day 1917 with another full page article. This was repeated the following week with the Programme discussing the opera and how well it was being received. It was at this point that Beecham criticised the press, saying that they were the biggest to enemy to musical progress. The columnist in the Manchester Programme disputed these claims saying that Beecham was being less than just, he added that all local critics have been praising Beecham consistently. The Programme then did not report on the opera for the following 3 weeks and even when it did include an article towards the end of the season it was significantly shorter than they had been previously and mainly discussed Irish baritone, Frederick Ranalow.
The press seem to have forgiven him by the time he returned with his second Grand Opera season in May 1918. The Manchester Programme printed a full page article the week before it began and published an article every week of the Opera season discussing how well it was going and highlighting key singers.This was repeated during the Christmas Opera Season in 1918, with articles printed weekly discussing the success of the Halle and included a full page article on Beecham in which he is put on equal footing with Sir Charles Halle and Richter. During the period of July 1917 to December 1918 Sir Thomas Beecham and the Halle orchestra appeared in the Manchester Programme frequently. In fact there were a lot more articles printed on the Halle and other orchestral concerts than there were on musical theatre. Within the numbers for musical theatre i have included operettas and comic operas that had begun to appear towards the end of the war. In the graph below you can see how the number of articles on musical theatre dropped dramatically in this period despite the number of musical plays being performed increasing. This indicates that the popularity of musical theatre had not waned but the Programme had decided to shift its focus towards orchestral music, which could be argued was Beecham’s influence.
Beecham’s popularity in the Manchester Programme continued after the war, with his Grand Opera season in May 1919 receiving weekly articles, including 2 full page spreads. His Christmas opera season that began on Boxing Day 1919 also received weekly articles in the Programme, sometimes printing two articles in the same week and one article being dedicated to Beecham and his greatness. This shows how Beecham increased the visibility of the Halle by ensuring they appeared in the Manchester Programme most weeks. He understood how important advertising was and used it to it’s full potential.
The strength of Beecham’s advertising skills also stretched to the Promenade concerts. In September 1917 Beecham led a 3 week season which was advertised weekly in the Manchester Programme and began with a full page article in which Beecham stated that these concerts were “free and easy” and were aimed at enticing people unacquainted with orchestral music through prejudice or apprehension. In September 1918, Beecham ran a 4 week season of Promenade concerts, again they were advertised and this time received 2 full page articles in the Manchester Programme discussing the success of the orchestra. This gave the Promenade more visibility than they had ever had, at the start if the war they were ran by Michael Balling, also conductor of the Halle yet did not draw the attention of the Programme’s columnists. In fact even adverts for the concerts did not start to appear in the programme until Oct 1915, showing that there had been no form of advertisement before Beecham was in charge.
It wasn’t just in Manchester that orchestral music was increasing in popularity. Between November 1914 and February 1915 the Leeds Orchestral concerts ran. there were reports that the concerts were becoming more popular and the reason was believed to be advertising. So was Beecham following a trend or was he the one to start it? Either way it seemed to work as he managed to keep the Halle thriving during the war period when theatres in general were suffering.
by Katrina Ingram