March 7 1912 marked an interesting date in Mancunian musical history. For one thing it was the occasion of a performance of Richard Strauss’ great opera Elektra. This work had received its UK premiere at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 1910 with Edyth Walker in the title role and Sir Thomas Beecham conducting. However, in Manchester it was the turn of the Bavarian Mr. F. Cortolezis to conduct the work at the Theatre Royal. Beecham, for his part, was directing the Hallé Orchestra at the Free Trade Hall. The Manchester Guardian reviewer, ‘X’ notes that Elektra ‘seriously interfered with the attendance’ at the Halle concert.
The second worthy event of that day was the fact that, according to ‘X’, this was Sir Thomas’ first appearance at a Hallé Concert in the city, in spite of the fact of him being then one of the most prominent figures in the musical life of the country, and is unquestionably a brilliant and accomplished musician’. However, Michael Kennedy has noted that this was not actually Beecham’s first encounter with the ‘band.’ This will be the subject of another post.
And the third significant event of that day was a performance of Frederick Delius’ Dance Rhapsody – probably the first in Manchester.
The Manchester Guardian reviewer writes that this piece was ‘the most interesting and at the same time the most completely successful work given by the orchestra. Here Mr. Beecham was evidently thoroughly at home, and we are grateful to him for a performance that should do much to convince our musical public that in Delius we have a composer of real genius –a man who stands entirely outside and above the so-called young English ‘school’ with which, unfortunately, he is frequently identified by some of our impatient and not too discriminating enthusiasts, who would have us believe that he is but one of a shoal of equally gifted English writers’.
The reviewer analyzes the Dance Rhapsody, and in so doing is a wee bit unfair towards Clause Debussy, although I guess I can see where he is coming from.
‘His music has a subtle and exotic charm that belongs to no ‘school,’ and arises chiefly from his exquisite harmonic sensibility, in which quality the only composer at all comparable to him is Debussy. At the same time one does not feel the sense of monotony that sometimes becomes oppressive through Debussy’s constant use of a restricted scale and even when he [Delius] embarks on a veritably sea of chromatic harmonies there is no trace of the restless feeling that accompanies the mere mechanical invention so largely relied upon by many modern German as well as English composers and too often mistaken for originality of thought.’
The other works at the concert included Mozart’s Prague Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Liszt’s Symphonic Poem Tasso: Lament and Triumph, Gretry’s Ballet Air for Strings and Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. So all in all it was a good night in Manchester for Richard Strauss!
Finally Michael Kennedy in his book The Halle Tradition has noted that the Guardian reviewer who was signed as ‘X’ was in fact R. J. Forbes, the Principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music. Apparently, in a letter to James Agate, critic and diarist, he had written the review, Samuel Langford (1862-1927), the regular correspondent being ‘indisposed’ by attendance at the opera.