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.
Part of my Volunteer role at the RNCM Archive has been to select content for the final pop-up banners. It has been surprisingly difficult choosing which documents to highlight and write about when telling the stories of the Hallé and the Royal Manchester College of Music during WW1 as there are so many fascinating items. We wanted to tell 3 stories on 3 banners; the changing repertoire, how the musicians, students and teachers were affected and the role of gender within the organisations. As I have now finished this, I thought I would write about some of the items I have chosen here, including items which didn’t make the cut but still give an insight to the changes the war created.
In a Hallé Concerts Society Programme for 1918-1919 there is an advertisement for Forsyth Bros. Ltd. It explains that there is a vast shortage of Pianos as manufacturers were instead made to produce planes for the war. I love the honesty in the advertisement as it admits that the prices for the Pianos are high but reasonable in consideration to the war situation. It also shows how the war must have really effected their Music Business, although there would have been more female students who would have played the Piano during the war, which may have helped.
This is the last page of a speech by Gustav Behrens addressed to members of the Hallé Concert Society in 1914. The speech tells of the complications the war would create but the need to continue putting on the Concerts. This last page gives a list of possible Conductors who would be willing to work for free to save the Hallé’s expenditure. Notice how they are all of British, or Allied origin. Finally, it is made clear that the music played will be ‘bright and cheerful’ to keep up moral during Wartime.
There are various items belonging to Carl Fuchs and amongst them is a Christmas card sent from his Prisoner of War camp in Germany. Carl Fuchs was a German Cello teacher at the Royal Manchester College of Music who had travelled to Germany in 1914 to visit family. Unfortunately, having been in the UK for so long, he was seen as suspicious and was interned at the Rhuleben Internment Camp when war broke out. The camp was quite relaxed and whilst there Carl Fuchs even helped to create a band.
The 1918 Annual Report for the Royal Manchester College of Music highlights the broad spectrum of troubles the College had coped with during the year such as male students and teachers leaving the college to fight in the war, as well as the teacher Carl Fuchs being detained in Germany. The Roll of Honour lists the names of students who had left the College to fight, including those who were killed in action. With so many male students having left, the College took in a large amount of female students during the war to take their place and were able to keep afloat because of this. There then came such a huge overhaul when after the war, returning men were given grants by the government to attend the college as a sort of rehabilitation programme and the demographics of the college changed once again.
It was particularly difficult finding evidence of the Hallé’s introduction of female players, but it was finally discovered whilst scouring through the Halle Society’s Librarian Notebooks where I found a list of names of players in the Hallé Orchestra Concert for February 15th 1917 including 5 women playing second violin. Before the war there were no female players in the Hallé apart from singers or guest players. As the numbers of men dropped during the war, the Hallé had no choice but to introduce female players for the first time. Unfortunately, when Hamilton Hartly became Conductor in 1920 it was all reversed as he was widely apposed to women playing in his Orchestra.
Recently I have been looking through the Henry Watson Music Library, in particular Gustav Behrens’ notebooks. Behrens was the Chairman of the Hallé Orchestra Society and his collection of notebooks contain News clippings, letters sent to members, speeches by Behrens, and annual and financial records. Altogether they give an insightful look at the effects WW1 had on the Hallé Orchestra and how different people came together to keep the concerts running during a financially tense and difficult time.
With the war beginning in 1914 the Hallé came into trouble firstly with their conductor Michael Balling being away in his German homeland. A letter addressed to Balling from August 24th 1914 says ‘the whole matter of your conducting the concerts during the continuance of the war is fraught with many difficulties’. As a result, it was decided that there would be a number of guest conductors during the coming concert season with the orchestra finally settling with Thomas Beecham. For the entirety of Beecham’s time as a Conductor during the war he didn’t take a fee which almost certainly helped towards the Halle’s war time success. Interestingly, advertisements were put out asking for purely English conductors in contrast to the German Mr Balling.
As the war progressed the Halle was faced with financial difficulties and tough decisions to make in order to save money and make a profit. It is clear from the records that it was a priority to keep the musicians of the Halle in work. In a speech to the members of the society the Chairman, Gustav Behrens, spoke of how musicians would be ‘placed under the painful necessity of applying for public relief’ if they weren’t in work over the winter season. The speech goes on to say that the musicians will be paid but only half that of their normal rate which the players accepted. Because of this at the end of the 1914-1915 season a profit was made in contrast to the previous season which had made a loss. With the sacrifice the musicians had made in mind, they were then refunded with the profits. During this time a committee was also set up to help musicians of the North. A clipping from the Daily Post advertises the ‘Committee for Music in War Time’ in which Behrens was an Honorary Treasurer. It outlines its duties which were to ‘cover the interests of needy musicians’ by ‘giving employment to singers and instrumentalists who are entirely dependent on their professional work’.
Over the span of the war years the repertoire of the Halle changed. Thomas Beecham, the newly appointed conductor took the opportunity the war on Germany created by introducing music from other nationalities where previously there had been a great focus on German music. One article from the Guardian on September 10th 1915 expresses how there were as many as ’52 composers and almost every nationality from Europe’ in the 1915-1916 season programme. The same clipping also reports ‘the music of living German composers is almost by legal necessity barred’. It wouldn’t have been right to play current German music, but in contrast music by the Great Masters like Wagner and Beethoven, who came before the current German Empire, were very much accepted and loved so Beecham took the opportunity to put on big Wagner nights. Beecham also introduced Saturday concerts where smoking was allowed and there was a more relaxed feel, these concerts proved popular and continued after the war.
The Society’s Annual Reports throughout the war highlight the problems the Hallé encountered during each seasons’ year and how they planned to overcome them, such as increasing subscription fees or asking for an increase of money from Guarantors. Subscription numbers appear to drop throughout the war and the Annual Report for 1916-1917 explains ‘darkness of the streets’, ‘shortage of petrol’ and ‘curtailment of Railway accommodation’ are all reasons as to why subscribers hadn’t been attending the Concerts.
It has been really interesting to see through the collection how the Halle was plunged into change during WW1. They faced but overcame many troubles by sacrificing wages and concerts, changing and updating the music played and adding Saturday concerts, all which contributed to keeping the public morale high during the War. In a detailed article from The Times on 20th March 1918, the Halle is described as having a ‘new lease of life’ since the war had begun. It has also been lovely to read how the Musicians livelihoods were at the forefront of the society’s priorities. With the article also mentioning the great success of the Music in War Time Committee being a ‘sign of the increasing interest in serious music’.
Check it out! We’ve been published in the Manchester Region History Review. Inside is a summary article about some themes on the project written by RNCM Archivist, Heather Roberts. Browse the fabulous magazine or skip straight to the middle for our article summarising the mysteries and nuances we have been exploring.