Sex Congress, Cigarettes and David Bowie: The Hidden Story of Wigmore Hall | Classical music
May 31, 1901
Wigmore Hall, in Wigmore Street, London W1, opened on May 31, 1901 with a concert featuring, among others, an Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni and the Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaÿe. The concert hall was known until 1916 as Bechstein Hall, named after the German piano maker whose showrooms were adjacent and who built the hall. Bechstein was forced to cease operations in Great Britain during World War I and the place was sold and renamed Wigmore Hall and opened under the new title in 1917. Over the past 120 years it has established itself as l one of the biggest recital venues in the world.
Stephen Hough, June 1, 2020
“Large buildings attract attention, but large concert halls must also catch the ear… Great acoustics not only make the music created on stage better: it is part of the creation process itself. So opens Stephen Hough’s 2019 book Rough Ideas.
Here is Stephen reading this first chapter and, above, a link to his own arrangement of Bach / Gounod’s Ave Maria played from an empty hall – in a concert that was the first live performance on BBC Radio 3 since Britain’s initial lockdown in March 2020. It thus marked the end of the national musical silence. It was a beacon of hope for the industry and a deeply moving experience.
Adair Concerts, 1921-1928
The Adair concerts were a series of Sunday entertainment for WWI veterans who had physical and psychological injuries, now known as PTSD. The programs included magicians, imitators, ventriloquists, bell ringers, singers and ensembles. Free cigarettes were handed out, probably Woodbines. One of the charms of this leaflet is the important note that smokers are urged not to drop ashes on upholstery or carpets. The very important draw guaranteed a full room. The concerts were hosted by host Basil Leakey, known as Alan Adair. We hope to organize future concerts and outreach work for 21st century veterans.
Lotte Lehmann, 1957 and 1959
Famous german soprano Lotte Lehmann gave masterclasses in 1957 and 1959, which were extremely popular with students and the public. A young soprano (later a mezzo-soprano), Grace Bumbry, participated in the premiere, and here is pictured with Lehmann. Bumbry became a pioneer for a generation of African American singers and continued to perform in major opera houses around the world. In 1959, Janet Baker, 25, participated in the Lehmann masterclass. The British-born mezzo – now Dame Janet – recently celebrated her 85th birthday with this remarkably candid interview at Wigmore Hall, in conversation with actor Simon Callow.
Amadeus String Quartet, January 10, 1948
Arguably one of the greatest string quartets of the 20th century, the members of Amadeus included three Jewish refugees who had been driven from Vienna after Hitler’s Anschluss of 1938. Norbert Brainin, Siegmund Nissel, Peter Schidlof and Martin Lovett have made over 200 famous recordings spanning repertoire of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert as well as 20th century greats Bartók and Britten, who wrote their last string quartet for them, the first of which was premiered just after his death. in 1976. By chance, Britten is buried alongside conductor and composer Imogen Holst, who funded the costs of the Amadeus Quartet’s first recital performed here at Wigmore Hall in 1948.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1902-10
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, known as the African Mahler, was a frequent visitor to the hall in its first decade, often appearing in performances of his own works; his songbooks and violin works were extremely popular. He wrote his remarkable Nonet in F minor for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano in 1893 when he was only 18 years old. Here is – above – a sparkling tale of the Nonet, recorded in an empty room on August 1, 2020 with Wigmore Hall’s associated ensemble, the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective.
David Bowie, May 22, 1969
A 23-year-old musician and experimental artist appeared in the last issue of a concert given by folk musician Tim Hollier and singer Amory Kane. His name was David Bowie, and it was only months away from the release of his groundbreaking single Space Oddity. Perhaps an unexpected figure in the history of the venue, this was not his first appearance as, the previous year, he had performed here with his folk and mime multi-media trio, Feathers. His appearance in 1969 saw him take the stage not as a musician, but as a dancer. As Hollier, Kane, guitarist Rick Cuff and drummer Clem Cattini performed the last song of the night, Evolution, Bowie donned a spacesuit to perform a contemporary balletic dance that could have represented a journey to rebirth, removing pieces. of her costume as the piece progressed. .
Marian Anderson, June 15, 1928
Described by conductor Arturo Toscanini as possessing a voice “… heard once every hundred years”, American contralto Marian Anderson made her Wigmore Hall debut on June 15, 1928. American Artists Against Racism in the States -United in the middle of the 20th century. Once refused permission to perform in front of an integrated audience at Constitution Hall in Washington, she became the first black soloist to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In this first program, she performed African-American spirituals alongside Purcell, Schubert, Schumann, Debussy and music by a British composer. Roger quilter, with the composer himself at the piano.
Congress of the World League for Sexual Reform, 1929
This Berlin-based World League for Sex Reform coordinated a policy for greater openness around gender equality, led by Magnus Hirschfeld, the German doctor and sex therapist. He chaired the league’s Third International Congress in London, which was attended by many prominent British feminists. Other London sites declined the convention and the Wigmore management hesitated before agreeing to take the reservation. Over several days, presentations were made by doctors and principals as well as prominent writers including George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell, while HG Wells, Hugh Walpole and Aldous Huxley sent their endorsements.
The congress concluded that it was against all kinds of censorship on sexual matters in literature, scientific publications, pictures and other representations. He also said that no campaign for sexual empowerment was possible without sex education for young people, and that education should not only enlighten young people about scientific facts, but also awaken in each individual a sense of responsibility. personal with regard to life and social relationships.
Many of the league’s books and records were destroyed at its headquarters in a Nazi raid in 1933, and the league was abolished in 1935.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, May 2, 1948
One of the greatest lieder singers of her time, and celebrated in the Viennese operetta and operas by Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was a great champion of Austrian composer Hugo Wolf (1860-1903). This signed photograph of her can be found in the Wigmore Archives along with this charming, undated handwritten account of her first recital.
I gave my first London recital in this Wigmore Hall a long time ago – May 2, 1948. It was presented by the Philharmonia Concert Society; in this same series Dinu Lipatti performed her first and only recital in London. It is nice to go back to places where you have been happy, especially in a room where the acoustics are so good. This program may at first glance seem strange to you. Last fall I had to sing six recitals in Paris in three weeks, so we decided to break away from the usual chronological order of the song recital and look for an equally valid new form. I believe we found it by arranging groups of songs often by composers from different eras, each group dealing with similar aspects of life. There are two reasons for the preponderance of Hugo Wolf’s songs: their range extends across the broadest field of human experience and emotions; for me he is the greatest songwriter. I hope this new form of recital program inspires young singers to be resourceful, expand their repertoire, and get their audiences thinking – in Wigmore Hall.
English poetry of various ages, May 14, 1946
This is one of my favorite programs in the archives, for an event organized by the Society of Authors, and given by a company of poets and actors. Readers included John Gielgud and Edith Evans alongside TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice reading their own work. The Times critic noted: “If the second part of the program, devoted to contemporary work, comes in splendor, it is more the fault of the poets than of the poetry. Mr. C Day Lewis, Mr. Louis MacNeice and Mr. Dylan Thomas read their own work much better than Mr. Walter De La Mare, Mr. TS Eliot and Miss Edith Sitwell. The Queen and the young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were present for this remarkable event.
Miss Hope Springs, LGBTI pride 2021
And finally, here’s an exclusive live cabaret recording with the famous Miss Hope Springs, which takes us on a roller coaster ride for an hour earlier this year. His alter ego, Ty Jeffries, is a prolific composer and writer influenced by the Golden Age of Hollywood and the great American and British songbooks. Wigmore Hall has been a regular haunt over the years for similar artists including Hinge and Bracket, Kit and the Widow, and even Dame Edna Everage. Enjoy the show!