I always buy old concert programmes if I see them going reasonably cheaply in second-hand bookshops. The other night I found one dating from September 1951. It makes fascinating reading and provides an interesting resource for anyone interested in performance history.
In those day, the front cover, which was a kind of blue-green, proudly proclaimed that ‘The BBC Presents the Fifty-Seventh Season of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts ‘ And 1951 was the year when the Festival of Britain was held in London and all across the kingdom. My programme was for the concert held on Saturday 1 September.
The inside front cover has an advert for Columbia who modestly claim to be ‘the finest name on record.’ The works being advertised were Rachmaninov’s great Suite for Two Pianos, Op.17, Arthur Benjamin’s Caribbean Dance, his Jamaican Rumba and the Mattie Rag, the ‘Popular Song’ from Walton’s Façade and finally Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche suite. They were all played by the husband and wife duo, Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick. They were recorded well before Smith tragically lost the use of his left hand to a thrombosis. The rear cover was a corporate advert for ‘His Master’s Voice’
One of features of Prom programmes at this period were the articles by Alec Robertson entitled either ‘Next Week’s Music’ or ‘This Week’s Music’ depending on the day of the week: they did not ‘do’ Sunday concerts in those days. Robertson ‘looks forward’ to an all Brahms night, to Scheherazade, to Delius Sea Drift and Elgar’s Enigma Variation. He noted that there were only two concertos in this coming week- Alan Rawsthorne’ s Violin Concerto and Lennox Berkeley’s Piano Concerto in B flat. He notes that both of them have ‘a large misuser of lyricism that betokens ‘warmth of heart not always hitherto apparent in their music, and very welcome it is.’ One major ‘novelty; to be heard was Alan Bush’s Piers Plowman’s Day. This was a symphonic suite in three movements evoking the atmosphere of three different facets of medieval life as describe by William Langland in his The Vision of Piers Plowman. A work appears to have disappeared from trace – but perhaps more about that in a later post.
Back to Saturday’s concert: the BBC Symphony Orchestra were performing under Sir Malcolm Sargent. The soloists were Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick – hence the advert.
There were six works in the programme. The first part opened with Roger Quilter’s A Children’s Overture with its delightful compendium of well known tunes – ‘Boys and Girls, come out to play’, ‘Dame, get up and bake you pies,’ ‘I saw three ships come sailing by,’ 'Baa Baa black sheep' and 'Oranges and Lemons'. This was followed by an extract from Verdi’s opera Un Ballo in Maschera. Cyril smith was the soloist in Grieg’s ubiquitous Piano Concerto in Minor. The last work before the interval was Tchaikovsky’s Overture-Fantasia, Romeo and Juliet.
At ‘approximately’ 9.5p.m. Smith and Sellick gave a performance of Camille Saint-Saens’ well-loved Le Carnaval des Animaux for two pianos and orchestra. The concert concluded wth Ottorino’s delightful realisation of Rossini’s melodies in La Boutique Fantastique. Sargent chose to play the suite, which contained some of the most attractive movements in including the ‘Tarantelle’, the ‘Mazurka’, the ‘Danse Cosaque’ and the ‘Can-Can’.
A very useful page in the programme gave details of forthcoming ‘novelties.’ This included the already noted work by Alan Bush, Ernest Bloch Scherzo Fantastique and Peter Racine Fricker’s Symphony No.1, which was receiving its first London performance.
A list of artists making their first appearance at a Prom makes interesting reading. These include Herbert Downes, one-time principal of the Philharmonia Orchestra, the contralto Kathleen Joyce, the Welsh bass Howell Glynne and the cellist Vera Canning.
Finally, a list of members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra concluded the material in the programme. One name that sprang out at me was Sidonie Goossens, the harpist.
Moreover, all this information cost the princely sum of 6d (2½p) which I guess was quite a lot in those days. A man’s wage was probably less than £4 a week. I paid 50p for this fascinating piece of ephemera.