Volunteers’ visit – Hallé Concert Society archives

By Sarah Reynolds, volunteer

Myself and some of the other volunteers have been helping to digitise some of the R.N.C.M.’s records, which in part include notebooks and concert posters from the Hallé librarians. We went to the very new and modern Hallé building at The Bridgewater Hall to meet the archivist and to learn more about their history, their archives and how the R.N.C.M. and The Hallé have worked together since The Hallé’s creation. Whilst I know of the Hallé I did not know a lot about how it all started, so I learned a lot from both the R.N.C.M. archivist Heather and The Hallé archivist Eleanor.

For most people, especially musicians, there are certain names and institutions which are giants in the music world, Beethoven, The Philharmonic, The Royal Albert Hall and many others. Going to them or being a part of them is like walking on hallowed ground. One of these giants is of course The Hallé.

The Hallé was founded by Sir Charles Hallé in 1858, and 160 seasons later it is still going strong. The orchestra has been playing traditional and modern compositions since its first performance in 1858, pushing the boundaries of popular music. They have played everything from the national anthem to Rachmaninov, Debussy, Mozart, Haydn, through to cinematic music, Christmas carols and hymns, even pop music. There is no genre of music which will not be performed, much to the delight of audiences everywhere, as old and young will find something which will become a cherished memory of hearing it played live. Given The Hallé’s popularity today it may be hard to believe that the orchestra we all know and love today have faced many challenges, and at its lowest point had very few members, due in part to World War One.

Before WW1 musicians were able to travel freely to teach, conduct and give performances around the world, many earned their living this way. When war was declared however travelling became more difficult, Adolph Brodsky for example was travelling around Europe and was interned as a Russian “alien” for six months before being released and allowed to travel back to Manchester. Brodsky had been invited by Sir Charles Hallé  to both teach and to lead his orchestra in 1895, tragically several weeks after Brodsky arrived Sir Charles Hallé died suddenly. Brodsky took on Hallé’s position as principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music and continued his work and maintained the high standards that had been set for the rest of his life.

WW1 also brought opportunities for musicians and orchestras, women were allowed to perform more in the place of the men, and it is down to their efforts that music were performed regularly (sometimes several times a day in various places), and continued until the war ended.

The performance itself changed, before the war many of the favourite masters of classical music were German, now the war had broken out against Germany what do they do about playing German music? It was decided to play the old masters, but to not play the German national anthem or most of the modern, contemporary music from Germany. This meant that music from other countries, especially allied countries, enjoyed a surge in the popularity of their music. Whilst it may have been relatively hard to decide what to play, especially with public demand, it was even harder to be a musician with a non – allied or German background. Prejudices against Germanic people grew throughout the war and many businesses would stop employing Germans altogether. Whilst German musicians were still generally employed to perform and teach it was by no means an easy life.

The archives in the Hallé are varied they have everything from personal letters to receipts for music and instruments, photographs, portraits, instruments, programmes, posters, music, registers of the permanent musicians and the registers for the pensions, and everything in-between. Some have been collected by the institution some have been donated by families or the performers themselves, for safe keeping and to help enrich the social and cultural history of the institution.

I loved visiting the Hallé and getting to meet Eleanor from the archives team, I only wish we had been allowed to stay for the whole day as she is a gold mine full of information and stories of the Hallé and the people who have helped to shape it. Seeing handwritten letters between famous composers and conductors, helped to bring their names to life which is not possible when looking at their name on a modern reprint of their music. Hopefully the work between the Hallé, R.N.C.M. and the other musical organisations in Manchester will continue for many more years to come.

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