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Pianos and Pianists in Nineteenth-Century Oxford

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2011

Susan Wollenberg
University of Oxford


The history of nineteenth-century pianism has, not unnaturally, been told largely in terms of the work of the central Austro-German (and related) ‘schools’: essentially, Beethoven and his contemporaries and successors. This has remained the popular view, although certainly it has in the past been counteracted in various ways, including, in the specialized literature, vast geographical surveys such as the final volume of Newman’s sonata trilogy. Nevertheless, this publication, indeed not unreasonably, sets out its agenda at the start with ‘four composers – Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, and Brahms … as main cornerstones of the Romantic sonata’, thus establishing these assuredly as its framework, while ‘the main Austro-German centers – notably Vienna, Leipzig, and Berlin’ are viewed as ‘the international meccas’. As far as I am aware, the study of ‘pianos and pianists’ in a specific location and time, as presented here, and in terms of social history rather than a ‘composers-and-works’ narrative, has only recently begun to impinge on this area. And in relation to my chosen location, Oxford, the historical viewpoint has also been skewed by factors peculiar to a university city of this type. The time is ripe for a new look at pianos and pianists in nineteenth-century Oxford, drawing information from archival research and contemporary printed sources.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2005

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1 Newman, William S., The Sonata Since Beethoven (Chapel Hill, 1969), 1011Google Scholar . For a recent repertoire study that locates its subject outside mainland Europe see Hardy, Lisa, The British Piano Sonata 1870–1945 (Woodbridge, 2001)Google Scholar , which gives in its Introduction a serviceable – if basic and somewhat simplified – overview of the preceding period.

2 Among earlier and important areas of enquiry, also situated outside mainland Europe, the notion of the ‘London Pianoforte School’, to which scholarly attention was at one time mainly given (by Alexander Ringer and others) in connection with Beethoven, has, in the aftermath of Nicholas Temperley’s monumental edition of that same name, recently undergone significant re-evaluation by Salwey, Nicholas (‘The Piano in London Concert Life, 1750–1800’, D.Phil. diss. (University of Oxford, 2001))Google Scholar . One recent contribution to the subject conceived very much in sympathy with some of the aims of the present article is Dorothy de Val, ‘“Legitimate, Phenomenal and Eccentric”: Pianists and Pianism in Late Nineteenth-Century London’ in Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies, 2, ed. Dibble, Jeremy and Zon, Bennett (Aldershot, 2002), 182–95Google Scholar . For a highly informative genre-based research study see Ellsworth, Therese, The Piano Concerto in London Concert Life between 1801 and 1850 (Ann Arbor, 1992)Google Scholar . Ellsworth's, ‘The Piano Concertos of Mozart and Beethoven: Early Performances in Nineteenth-Century London’ in Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies, 2, ed. Dibble, and Zon, , 169–81Google Scholar , highlights a particularly interesting area within the field . Loesser's, ArthurMen, Women and Pianos: A Social History (London, 1955)Google Scholar forms a special exception among the older literature, and indeed is probably unique in its wide (if selective) coverage of pianos and pianists in a variety of locations. The standard recent work on the piano is Ehrlich, Cyril, The Piano: A History, rev. edn (Oxford, 1990)Google Scholar , to be supplemented by Rowland, David, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Piano (Cambridge, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 For details see especially Shaw, H. Watkins, The Succession of Organists of the Chapel Royal and the Cathedrals of England and Wales from c. 1538 (Oxford, 1991)Google Scholar and Pacey, R. and Popkin, M., The Organs of Oxford: An Illustrated Guide to the Organs of the University and City of Oxford (Oxford, 1997)Google Scholar.

4 For recent overviews of music in nineteenth-century Oxford see Wollenberg, S., ‘Music’ in The History of the University of Oxford, vol. vii (Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Pt 2), ed. Brock, M. and Curthoys, M. (Oxford, 2000), ch. 18Google Scholar ; and Wollenberg, S., Music at Oxford in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Oxford, 2001), Pt 2Google Scholar : ‘The Nineteenth Century’.

5 Jackson's Oxford Journal, 28 Nov. 1840.

6 Philip Hayes, 6 Keyboard Concertos, 1769. See notes (by Holman, Peter) to English Eighteenth-Century Keyboard Concertos (Hyperion: CD A66700) recorded by Paul Nicholson and the Parley of Instruments, directed by Peter Holman, 1994Google Scholar.

7 Magdalen College Archives, information by courtesy of the Archivist, Robin Darwall-Smith.

8 Programme in Oxford, Bodleian Library [Ob], Mus. 1 d.64/1 (27 Oct. 1788). This visit seems to have pre-dated the documented tour that Hummel is known to have undertaken.

9 Mee, J.H., The Oldest Music Room in Europe: a Record of Eighteenth-Century Enterprise at Oxford (London, 1911), 31Google Scholar.

10 Jackson's Oxford Journal, May 1791; programme in Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1 (18 May 1791).

11 Programme in Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1.

12 Ibid. I am grateful to Professor Howard Colvin for information on St John's College.

13 Ibid. Presumably this was a violin concerto arranged for piano.

14 On the institution of the ‘Benefit’ see Simon McVeigh, ‘The Benefit Concert in Nineteenth-Century London: From “tax on the nobility” to “monstrous nuisance”’, in Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies, 1, ed. Zon, Bennett, (Aldershot, 1999), 242–66Google Scholar ; and on Benefit concerts in Oxford, see Wollenberg, , Music at Oxford, chs 4Google Scholar (‘Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Oxford’) and 9 (‘Nineteenth-Century Concert Life’), passim.

15 Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1. For information on the Leander brothers (Lewis Henry and Vincent Thomas), see Highfill, P.H. Jr,, Burnim, K.A. and Langhans, E.A., eds, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660–1800, 16 vols (Carbondale IL, 19731992), vol. 9, 181–2Google Scholar . The ‘quarterly choral nights’ (originally denoting performances of large-scale choral works) became partly diluted from the later eighteenth century onwards by the introduction of a more miscellaneous format for these, mixing vocal with instrumental items more in the spirit of the regular concert programmes.

16 For the 1802 programmes see Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1. The Mozart item is of especial interest in view of the relative paucity of such performances documented in London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: cf. Milligan, Thomas B., The Concerto and London's Musical Culture in the Late Eighteenth Century (Ann Arbor, 1983)Google Scholar ; Ellsworth, The Piano Concerto in London Concert Life; and Ellsworth, ‘The Piano Concertos of Mozart and Beethoven’.

17 Programmes featuring Vicary for 9 June (organ concerto) and 10 June (piano accompaniment) are preserved in Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1.

18 Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1.

19 See programmes of 10 June 1807 and 27 June 1808 in Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1. For an example of a separate accompanist, see the programme for 20 Nov. 1809, ibid., with Vicary accompanying Miss Bolton (a regular singer at Holywell) in a song by Bishop.

20 Music Room, 23 May 1814 (Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/2).

21 Music Room, 27 and 28 Nov. 1807 (see Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/2) No composers are given for these items, which may possibly but not necessarily indicate that they were the performer's own compositions; perhaps, though, in this case the composer was Giacomo Gotifredo Ferrari (1763–1842).

22 Mee, , Music Room, 175Google Scholar.

23 The room itself was still standing, and indeed still stands today and is in regular use for musical performances.

24 The Star was an ancient inn; its concert room was opened in October 1832. Jackson's Oxford Journal (20 Oct. 1832) carried a notice of the ‘Grand Entertainment at the opening of the Large Room at the Star Inn’, described variously as ‘the new and magnificent room’, ‘a large and splendid room’, and as a space that would ‘enable the fair sex to engage in those pleasures which were so agreeable to their tastes’. Although it was not designated here specifically as ‘Assembly Rooms’, this was evidently the intention.

25 For the background to this see Wollenberg, S., ‘“So much rational and elegant amusement, at an expence comparatively inconsiderable”: The Holywell Concerts in the Eighteenth Century’ in Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain, ed. Wollenberg, Susan and McVeigh, Simon (Aldershot, 2004), 243–59Google Scholar.

26 Other family members were involved in William Marshall's performances: on 15 May 1807 Messrs W. and F. Marshall played in a ‘Concertante’ for piano and violin in the second of Marshall's and Reinagle's joint Benefit concerts at the Music Room (cf. Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/1). Apropos of Marshall, F., Mee notes (Music Room, 185)Google Scholar that ‘Frederick Marshall, perhaps a brother, was a pianist, and played a concerto at the Music Room on March 18, 1811’. The concerto on this occasion (again for Marshall's and Reinagle's Benefit) was for ‘Grand Piano Forte’ by Ferrari; see the programme in Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/2.

27 See Wollenberg, , Music at Oxford, 168–9Google Scholar.

28 His dates are given in the RSM list as 1784–1875, and he is described as a performer on the piano and other instruments ( Matthews, Betty, The Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain: List of Members 1738–1984 (London, 1985), 130)Google Scholar.

29 Jackson's Oxford Journal, 1 May 1824. Musical instrument selling and instrumental teaching also experienced a growth in individual enterprise during this period. I am grateful to Michael Kassler for sharing with me information on B. Sharp.

30 See Wollenberg, , Music at Oxford, 183Google Scholar.

31 Thewlis, George, Notes (unpubl.) on the history of music in Oxford, vol. iv, 933 (Oxford, Bodleian Library)Google Scholar.

32 Thanks are due to Therese Ellsworth for sharing with me some enlightening material concerning the impact of women pianists on the London concert scene.

33 Matthews, , The Royal Society of Musicians, 166Google Scholar . Mee, presumably unaware of many precedents, described her as ‘a good pianist, and one of the first lady composers’ (Music Room, 187).

34 Reinagle, Caroline, A Few Words on Pianoforte Playing (London, 1854), 36. Therese Ellsworth has noted the contribution of women pianists to canon formation, especially in relation to BeethovenGoogle Scholar.

35 Jackson's Oxford Journal, 17 October 1863, at the Music Room, then still in occasional use for concerts.

36 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford: John Johnson Collection; Oxford Trade 5, Robert Bruce of the Bodleian Library kindly located this item for me. Mathews’ ownership seems to have persisted until February 1792, when his shop was taken over by Hardy. Note the Masonic symbols surrounding the text of his advertisement.

37 Taphouse, Ltd., The Story of a Music Shop, 1857–1957 (Oxford, c.1957)Google Scholar . Note that ‘the first piano with an iron frame seems to have been sold in the middle 1880's, although for a long time there was considerable prejudice against this new invention as it was believed it spoilt the tone’ (ibid. [25]). In the late 1880s Taphouse's were inviting ‘an inspection of their NEW “OXFORD MODEL,”7–octave, iron-frame PIANO’ (Jackson's Oxford Journal, 9 March 1889 and elsewhere). At the opposite end of the century, an advertisement for Hardy's Music Warehouse in 1812 had included, among ‘every article in the musical line’, mention of ‘Grand and Square Piano Fortes (worthy the notice of schools, being much cheaper than at any other house)’: cf. Wollenberg, Music at Oxford, 54 and Fig. 4.

39 This is shown, for instance, by the series of advertisements in the Oxford Magazine from 1883 onwards. (The Magazine's circulation was likely to have been largely among the university.) For a contemporary photograph of Acott's shopfront, see Wollenberg, , Music at Oxford, Pl. 12 (between pages 136 and 137)Google Scholar.

40 Documents recently found by Russell Ansell of Russell Acott show that the firm operated earlier from premises in Turl Street as well as High Street: a printed auction list for 10 February 1865 at the Corn Exchange, Oxford (headed ‘To the Musical World/Sixteen PIANOFORTES mostly by eminent makers’) specifies that the sale at auction of these and other items, ‘the property of Mr. RUSSELL, of the High Street and Turl Street, Music Seller’, was necessitated by removal of a quantity of stock because of a fire at the latter address; the ‘16 Cottage and other Pianofortes, of brilliant tone and full compass, in elegant Rosewood and Walnut Cases’, ranged in price from around £15 to £25 (for a ‘Concert Grand Pianoforte’), with makers including Broadwood, Collard, and Ziegler of Paris. From the following decade, articles of agreement (dated 29 April 1876) between James Russell of 120 High Street ‘in the city of Oxford music seller and Musical Instrument Tuner’ and Henry Joseph Solman of London, on the latter's appointment apparently as manager, refer to the firm's undertaking ‘periodical … circuits and Journeys’ in and around Oxford ‘and the neighbouring Towns and Counties’. By 28 April 1888 articles of partnership between William George Emberlin (a stationer's of that name survived in the city well into the twentieth century), George Claridge Druce (chemist, of High Street) and Frederick William Ansell (described as ‘Print-Seller’, of Turl Street) show that these three ‘Co-partners’ had in February that year ‘purchased the business of a Music-seller and Dealer in Musical Instruments carried on for many years by the late James Russell deceased at No. 120 High Street’; they agreed to keep the name of the firm. A stock-list dated 24 March 1888 certainly shows the business in a healthy state. Apart from pianos for sale, it lists hundreds of pianos out for hire, many of them to individuals at the various colleges of the university, including the recently founded women's colleges Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville.The addresses of those hiring pianos also include – besides Oxford city and the surrounding county – places as far afield as Lechlade and Banbury. At £20 per instrument (presumably per annum) the total taken in piano hire charges was £6,480 (plus extra for a few other ‘Odd Instruments’). Makers of the 326 instruments in stock included Broadwood, Challen, Collard, Cramer, Eavestaff, Erard and Ziegler. I am extremely grateful to Russell Ansell for letting me know about these documents and kindly giving me access to them.

41 Maurice, Philip, What shall we do with Music? A Letter (Oxford, 1856), 4Google Scholar.

42 Little college musical activity is documented before the end of the eighteenth century. Graham Midgley mentions a number of instances in the earlier eighteenth century ( Midgley, G., University Life in Eighteenth-Century Oxford (New Haven and London, 1996), 140–41)Google Scholar , but – apart of course from the chapel musical tradition – only in the nineteenth century did the colleges become a distinctive force for music. See Wollenberg, , Music at Oxford, ch. 10Google Scholar (‘The Colleges, II’) for a general discussion, including instances of female participation in concerts.

43 For the background to this culture, see Clark, Peter, British Clubs and Societies, 1580–1800: The Origins of an Associational World (Oxford, 2000)Google Scholar , which refers (89–90) to Oxford, with its ‘galaxy of clubs’ and ‘long heritage of clubbing’, as being ‘rather exceptional’, Clark noting that ‘even Cambridge seems to have had a more restricted mix of sociable, political, and learned associations’. The Oxford college concert culture in the later nineteenth century opened up essentially a private club to the public. The colleges were able to draw on the availability of large rooms (such as College Halls) as well as outdoor spaces (college gardens) for the purpose. An early instance of a college musical society is given by the notice dated 12 December 1817 of an ‘OXFORD MUSIC CLUB’, annotated by hand as ‘a Musical Club consisting of some undergraduate members of St. John's College’, and including in the programme a duo for ‘Piano Forte e flauto’ (with ‘Violoncello ad lib.’) by J. Reinagle, and a ‘Trio (MS.)’ by A.R. Reinagle, for ‘Piano Forte, Violino, e Violoncello’ (Ob, Mus. 1 d.64/2).

44 Oxford Magazine, 16 Oct. 1889.

45 On Hadow's activities as a pianist see Anni Oskala, ‘“Our Versatile Dean”: W.H. Hadow's Musical Activities at Oxford’, Worcester College Record (forthcoming).

46 For more detailed consideration of these and others, see my study ‘Three Oxford Pianistic Careers: Donald Francis Tovey, Paul Victor Mendelssohn Benecke, and Ernest Walker, presented at the Fifth Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain conference’ (Nottingham, 7–10 July 2005).

47 Hardy, , The British Piano Sonata, 14Google Scholar.

48 Wollenberg, , Music at Oxford, 189Google Scholar . On Parry at Oxford see further Dibble, Jeremy, Hubert, C.Parry, H.: His Life and Music (Oxford, 1992), ch. 3, passimGoogle Scholar.

49 Dibble, , Parry, p. 70Google Scholar.

50 Ibid., 49.

51 On Wild see Brown, James D. and Stratton, Stephen S., British Musical Biography: A Dictionary of Musical Artists, Authors and Composers, born in Britain and its Colonies (Birmingham, 1897), 44Google Scholar , where she is described as giving concerts in London and the provinces, and as having ‘gained a good position among the younger pianists of the day’; no entry on Wild appears, however, in any edition of Grove.

52 Oxford Magazine, 11 May 1892, 340, and 25 May 1892, 379.

53 See Wollenberg, S., ‘The Oxford Commemorations and Nineteenth-century British Festival Culture’ in Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies, 3, ed. Horton, Peter and Zon, Bennett (Aldershot, 2003), 225–49Google Scholar.

54 Jackson's Oxford Journal, 10 June 1826.

55 Oxford Magazine, 28 Nov. 1883, 414. Leonard Borwick (b. 1868) made his debut in Frankfurt in 1889 and his London debut in 1890.

56 For example he played in the concert of 23 Nov. 1900.

57 Fuller-Maitland, J.A., A Door-Keeper of Music (London, 1929), 123Google Scholar . I am grateful to Eva Rieger for drawing my attention to this passage. (Fuller-Maitland also commented, revealingly (38–9): ‘I must have been a great disappointment to my parents, for music, the only thing I cared about, was taught me more or less under protest. In the early ‘seventies it was not considered right for a boy to play the piano, and I was encouraged to sing and to play the violin’.)

58 See Woodgate, G.K., The Oxford Chamber Music Society: A Brief History (Oxford, 1997), 56Google Scholar . Mrs Burdon-Sanderson was the wife of a medical professor in the University. Woodgate notes (7) that although the society was opposed to hiring ‘stars’ just to ‘pull in an audience’, it did in fact enjoy ‘in the course of its history’ performances by ‘some artists who were, or would become, famous’.

59 Reviews in the Oxford Magazine of ‘Madame Sophie Menter's Pianoforte Recital’ (21 Feb. 1883), 103 [OM: ‘Menter’]; ‘M. [Vladimir] Pachmann's Recital’ (19 May 1886), 184 [OM: ‘Pachmann’]; James Taylor (with Joseph Joachim), ‘Music of the Week’ (13 Mar. 1889), 267 [OM: ‘Joachim/Taylor’]. All quotations in this paragraph are from OM: ‘Menter’. For a summary of the critical reactions to Menter in the London press see de Val, ‘Pianists and Pianism’, 186–7. For the advertisement of Menter's Oxford concert see Jackson's Oxford Journal, 10 Feb. 1883 (‘MR. JAMES RUSSELL/ Has the honour to announce that the Celebrated PIANISTE, MADAME SOPHIE MENTER, WILL GIVE A PIANOFORTE RECITAL …’ on Monday evening, 12 February: tickets (ranging from 5s. in the stalls to 1s.) were available only from Russell's Music Warehouse at 120 High Street, Oxford. The concert began at 8 p.m. and the audience was requested to be seated by 7.55 p.m.).

60 On Jenny Lind in Oxford see Wollenberg, , Music at Oxford, 172–4Google Scholar and ‘The Oxford Commemorations and Nineteenth-century British Festival Culture’, 245–7.

61 All quotations in this paragraph are from OM: ‘Pachmann’. On Pachmann's ‘cult of the eccentric’ see de Val, ‘Pianists and Pianism’, 189–90. For an advertisement of Pachmann's Oxford concert see Jackson's Oxford Journal, 10 May 1886, when James Russell announced that ‘M. VLADIMIR PACHMANN’ would give a ‘GRAND PIANOFORTE RECITAL’ on Thursday 13 May at 8.15 p.m. (tickets at similar prices to Menter's in 1883, and again available only from Russell's).

62 All quotations in this paragraph are from OM: ‘Joachim/Taylor’.

63 Oxford Magazine, VII (18881889), 305 (8 May 1889). Further on Benecke (1868–1944) seeGoogle ScholarDeneke, Margaret, Paul Victor Mendelssohn Benecke (Oxford [1954])Google Scholar.

64 See Woodgate, , The OCMS, 8Google Scholar.

65 Burns, Arthur and Wilson, Robin, The Balliol Concerts: A Centenary History (Oxford, 1985)Google Scholar.

66 For both these programmes see Buck, P.C., Mee, J.H., and Woods, F.C., Ten Years of University Music in Oxford … 1884–1894 (Oxford, 1894), 62Google Scholar.

67 Ibid., 65 and 73.

68 Ibid., 60–3 (1884–85).

69 In the ‘Programme of Compositions by Members’, 4 December 1889, for instance, W.H. Hadow performed his own ‘Sonata for Pianoforte Solo in A flat major’ and Ernest Walker participated in a performance of his own ‘Fantasiestücke for Pianoforte Trio’ (ibid., 124).

70 On all these see ibid., 64–70 (the Ellicott work appeared in the programme for 9 June 1885).

71 Ibid., 60–9, passim.

72 ‘Music of the Week’, Oxford Magazine, VIII (1888–89), 30 Oct. 1889, 39.

73 Oxford Magazine, XVIII (1900–01), 383 (29 May 1901); and cf. ibid., 329 (8 May 1901).

74 Fellowes, Edmund, Memoirs of an Amateur Musician (London, 1946), 183Google Scholar , commenting specifically on a programme marking the thousandth meeting of the OUMC in February 1914, which included the ‘Bach Concerto in C for two pianofortes, played by Parratt and Hugh Allen, successive Professors of Music’, as well as a performance of Mozart's Andante from the Sonata in D for two pianos contributed by Heberden (at that time President of OUMC) and T.B. Strong (as Fellowes noted, ‘the Vice-Chancellor [Strong] and an ex-Vice-Chancellor [Heberden], both of them Heads of Colleges’). It is important to realize that many leading Oxford figures not going on to primarily musical careers had well-founded interests and abilities in music; on Strong, for instance, see Anson, Harold, T. B. Strong: Bishop, Musician, Dean, Vice-Chancellor (London, 1949), esp. 1617Google Scholar and Appendix II (115–25). Dr Moody, organist of Ripon Cathedral, where Strong (b. 1861) served as Bishop 1920–25, ‘discovered that his musical scholarship was as deep as his theological knowledge’ (57).

75 On the growth of pianism elsewhere in the provinces, see also, inter alia, Mackerness, Eric, Somewhere Further North: A History of Music in Sheffield (Sheffield, 1974), 59 ff.Google Scholar on the activities of Wehli, and 105 ff. on local piano firms, and the work of the Foxon sisters.