Of Music and Musicians
Maurice Horwood - President 1985 -1998 John Crosdale - Conductor 1967 to date
The name of the Society has confused many into thinking that only works by Beethoven are played by the orchestra. In 1949 The Manchester Evening News critic was enthusiastic about the concert but remarked that:
'It seems odd that the concert contains no items by the composer after whom the Society is named.'
The original founders thought of naming their society The Manchester Orchestral Society, but there was already an orchestra of that name, and so they chose the present name because Beethoven stood, in their opinion, for the finest music ever written. Throughout the Society's existence a selection from the full range of classical music suitable for amateur orchestras has been played.
The choice of music from that range has, however, changed over the years. It is easy to think that what we have today is, and always has been, the norm, but this is no more true of concerts than it is of anything else.
In the 1980s those who attend a Beethoven Society concert can expect an Overture, a Concerto (or vocalist with orchestral accompaniment) and a Symphony, with perhaps a Suite if the other items are fairly short.
The May 1986 programme is typical
The whole of each of these items was played. In the nineteenth century, however, audiences were accustomed to quite a different pattern of programme - usually longer and far more varied. For example, the programme for December 1892 was as follows
Two movements only of the Symphony and the Concert were played, but even so, the concert must have lasted much longer than those of the present day. Many, but not all, of the above composers will be familiar to today's audiences. In addition works by other composers, now rarely heard - and sometimes forgotten - were played. Raff, Gade, Reineke, Balfe, Thomas, Gurlitt, Steck, Lachner, Goltermann, Vieuxtemps, Hoth, Wieniawski, Flotow and Proutare among some of those composers whose works were played regularly. No doubt historians of the future will find that some music which features regularly in today's concerts will not have stood the test of time. Some works played today, however, would be very familiar to the original founders. In particular, those of Beethoven (appropriately enough) appear on the programmes of both the 1880s and the 1980s. All of his symphonies, and many of his overtures are as popular today as they were a hundred years ago. Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony has retained its popularity, and Mozart Overtures such as The Magic Flute and Figaro are played just as frequently. The Merry Wives of Windsor Overture by Nicholai still appears regularly at the Society's concerts, but not so often as in earlier days - it was played 10 times in concerts during the first 25 years. Works by Haydn are still occasionally played but their scores do not contain sufficient variety to interest wind and brass players in the orchestra of the 1980s.
In the first 25 years Haydn symphonies were played 13 times. No works by Brahms (a comparative newcomer) were played by the orchestra in the early days, and Dvorak featured only very rarely, although today they both appear regularly on the programme. They are examples of composers whose work caters for the full range of modern orchestral instruments, providing interesting playing for all members of the orchestra. The Society has a long tradition of encouraging young players, and many of those who played with the orchestra as members or as soloists have moved on to make their mark in the wider music world. Probably the youngest soloist - a pianist who played in 1891 - was Pauline St. Angelo, aged only 14 years old; more recently, in 1981, Malcolm Rarity (15 years) played the Weber Clarinet Concerto. Some performers with the orchestra who are now more widely known are: Roderick Barrand, Vincent Billington. Harrison Birtwistle, Arthur Butterworth, Raymond Cohen, Neville Duckworth, David Fanning, Xenophon Kelsey, Clifford Knowles, Alf Livesley, Peggy Moore, Stephen Penney, Jeff Smith and Pauline Tinsley.
Originally the Society was able to establish a Subscription List (there were 81 on the List in 1895) of people who, in return for an annual payment, were invited to the or- chestra's concerts. An annual invitation concert is still given today, although the occasion would seem very different to earlier audiences. Until the second world war concerts were much more formal. Dinner jackets were worn, not only by the orchestra, but also by most of the audience. However, concert invitations did concede that 'morning dress may be worn in the back rows'.
Soon after the Society was founded, the need for a music library was felt. On the back of the concert programme in April 1893, it was announced that:
'A Library of Orchestral Music is being formed in connection with the Society; some works have already been promised, and the Committee invite the co-operation of their friends and subscribers. The Honorary Conductor, Mr. Cockrell, will be happy to give every information as to the works which would be most acceptable, and the number of parts necessary'
The library was added to at intervals, and over the years the Minutes note that devoted Librarians (with the assistance of other committee members) have sorted the music; discarded what was felt to be dated and no longer required; repaired and bound what remained; and found suitable cupboards and shelving to store it in - the present Librarians (Janet King and Freda Eyden) are no exception.
During the Second War the library was spread round different members to minimise the likelihood of loss, and alas it suffered during the numerous moves in the 60s and 70s. It contains many of the classical works - all the Beethoven and Brahms Symphonies for example and numerous overtures - and these have been invaluable. Of course, the Society also makes use of the facilities of the Henry Watson Music Library (Henry Watson was one of the Society's Vice Presidents for many years), and of other nearby collections of music, particularly when drawing up a concert programme. But to be able to play through an alternative piece once or twice without the necessity of borrowing from outside the Society's own resources has been a blessing.
The 1904 AGM Minute that recorded:
'The Librarian's lot is not a happy one, it is full of hard work and much responsibility'
could be echoed by many down the years! And it could also be said about many of the other people who have worked to keep the orchestra in being during the whole of its hundred years by performing a host of administrative duties - arranging the rehearsal rooms; providing refreshments at rehearsals and concerts' making arrangements for concerts; and helping to transport music stands, instruments (basses, and percus- sion), and music to and from those concerts. A particularly demanding job is that of looking after the membership of the orchestra and making sure that there are sufficient numbers of players at the concerts in all the relevant sections. This is a thankless task and our present membership secretaries, Joan and Rosalind Corser, have served us well for many vears. As the Societv moves into its second century it can hopefully look forward to many more who are willing to take such responsibility, so that the orchestra can keep playing for another hundred years.