Sunday, 28 October 2012

Ignaz Moscheles: New Year in Edinburgh 1828


I do not apologies for my continued interest in Ignaz Moschles (1794-1870): he is one of the most significant characters in European musical history. The fact that he spent a considerable amount of time in the United Kingdom makes him of importance to all historians of Victorian musical endeavour. 
In 1828, while people were still wishing each other ‘a happy new year,’ Ignaz Moscheles arrived in Edinburgh. Someone had found him lodgings in Frederick Street, and curiously, he was ‘much struck by the ‘curious specimens’ of architecture’ that he saw there. I guess that it is strange to find such discussions in a musician’s diary.

EDINBURGH, 3rd January—Yesterday's walk through the streets was a series of surprises. As I looked at the old houses, consisting in some instances of sixteen stories, inhabited by the poorest families, renting single rooms, each with its dimly lighted window, I seemed to look at a feeble attempt at illumination. Standing on the viaduct [1] which connects the Old and New Town, I had these old houses to my left, on the right, the handsome Princes Street, and the whole of the new quarter, now in the process of building, which is to consist of a number of crescents, squares, and streets, filled with palatial houses, built of freestone. Such buildings are to be seen elsewhere, but Princes Street is certainly unique in its way; there is a long row of houses on one side, intersected by sloping streets, from which you get a view of the Frith of Forth, while the opposite side opens to your view Edinburgh Castle on its rock, to which you ascend by a terrace garden. As I was taking my evening stroll, I saw a party of Highlanders, kilt and all, coming off guard. They marched down from the Castle and passed close by me, regaling my ears with genuine Scottish music of drum and fife’. [2]
‘Our lodgings in Frederick Street, which were taken for us beforehand, were curious specimens of architecture. One peculiarity consisted in a raised ground-floor, that ran under the neighbouring house, but disconnected with any staircase leading to the upper stories. The next house that, on the contrary, had no rooms on the ground-floor, and the visitor, after mounting a staircase, found a bell, which secured his admission to the first story. House doors and steps were quite open; many other houses were constructed on this curious principle."
The success of this winter expedition, undertaken by Moscheles for professional purposes, was seriously imperilled by an Italian Opera Company [3] which had forestalled him, and he was obliged to put up with a third-rate orchestra, got together any how from regimental bandsmen ; the Highlanders, with their bare legs and kilts, being the poor substitutes for a well-trained orchestra. The concert room was only two-thirds full, but Moscheles, in his fantasia, the ‘Anticipations of Scotland,’ created great enthusiasm; and the newspapers, one and all, condemned the apathy shown by this poor attendance at his concert. This appeal to the good sense of the Edinburgh folk had its effect, for the two next concerts were filled to overflowing.

Notes
[1] Old North Bridge built in 1763 and demolished in 1894 when the current North Bridge was constructed by Sir William Arrol.  The new Bridge opened in 1897.
[2] No mention of the bagpipe; that was to come later.
[3] However, the Italian Opera were not performing on the first night of Moscheles recital. Caledonian Mercury, Thursday, January 10, 1828

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