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A Study of British Influence on Musical Taste and Programming: New Choral Works Introduced to Audiences by the Melbourne Philharmonic Society, 1876–1901

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2011

Janice B. Stockigt
University of Melbourne


When the Annual Report of Melbourne Philharmonic for 1899 complained about the lack of public support for new musical enterprises of the Society, it stated that more encouragement of the local press was needed so that ‘public curiosity might be excited, an artistic taste educated, and a desire created to hear what the Old World had approved’ (my italics). The domination of British opinion in the assembly of a music library for the Melbourne Philharmonic Society during the years of its existence in the nineteenth century, focusing upon the years 1876 to 1901, is investigated in Part I of this article. Factors influencing the choice of repertoire during this era – particularly the influence of the British publication The Musical Times and Singing-Class Circular (founded in 1844) – are noted. Examination of reports and reviews in the Musical Times supports the hypothesis that much of the new repertoire acquired by the Melbourne Philharmonic Society during these years was the direct result of opinions expressed in that publication, and the availability of performance materials publicized by Novello, Ewer, and Co. through the Musical Times, which was also published by Novello. ‘What J. Alfred Novello had on offer was unashamedly a house magazine … firmly dedicated to the advertisement of Novello's publications’. In the cultivation of musical taste, and in the development of libraries of choral societies, the activities of the publisher extended an authority far beyond the UK, placing the Musical Times in a formidable position of power throughout the English-speaking world. Part II explores three works to receive their Australian or Melbourne premieres at concerts given by the Philharmonic Society in the final quarter of the nineteenth century: each item was promulgated by the Musical Times.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2005

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1 Melbourne Philharmonic Society (hereafter MPS) Guard Book (GB) (1888–1924). Melbourne Philharmonic Society Guard Books in 2 vols. Vol. 1: 1853–1887 (unpaginated): ‘Programmes, critiques, reports, rules &c. of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society; from its establishment in 1853. Collected and arranged by R.B. Caunter. (Hon. Sec. 1870)’ 1853–1887. State Library of Victoria, MSF 13266. Vol. 2: 1888–1924 (paginated). These volumes record the progress of the society through the chronological presentation of annual prospectuses, concerts, handbills, press reports, and annual reports. Great consistency occurs until 1883 (Guard Book 1), when gaps begin to appear in the collection. The hiatus continues to the end of the volume (1887).

2 The 25-year period 1876–1901 has been chosen as it is richest in primary source material.

3 Observed by Hurd, Michael in Vincent Novello – And Company (London, 1981): 134Google Scholar.

4 MPS GB (1853–87).

5 MPS GB (1853–87).

6 MPS GB (1853–87).

7 This sum must include the new Lipp upright grand piano donated by the Society's Secretary (1891–1901) Henry Buck in 1898. The Annual Report (AR) for 1895 reported that on his visit to Europe, Henry Buck had ‘secured many advantages which the Society had invariably failed to secure by correspondence, including concessions in royalty fees, loan of numerous works for perusal, and considerable information concerning the management of kindred Societies in England’. MPS GB (1888–1924): 122.

8 Mosé in Egitto, two performances in 1873, given in conjunction with the Royal Italian Opera Company. Carne, W.A., A Century of Harmony: The Centenary History of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society (Melbourne, 1954): 82Google Scholar.

9 The Bohemian Girl, performed in 1869. Carne, A Century of Harmony: 73, which also reports a performance of the Fair scene in 1870 (p. 75).

10 Ernani, performed twice in 1869, and once in 1870 (in conjunction with Lyster and Smith's Royal Italian Opera Company). Carne, A Century of Harmony: 73, 76.

11 See undated printed sheet (printed at the Argus Office, Collins Street East, Melbourne). MPS GB (1853–87).

12 Cited in Carne, A Century of Harmony: 74.

13 Argus (27 Mar. 1880). Clipping in MPS GB (1853–87).

14 Unidentified press clipping, MPS GB (1853–87). This work was first given by the MPS in 1858.

15 The Annual Report for 1899 noted that ‘The Committee refer with very great pleasure to the generous action of the members in presenting to the Society two new works, “Hiawatha's Wedding” and “The Ruins of Athens.”’ MPS GB (1888–1924): 109. A version of this work by Paul England was first produced at the Royal Albert Hall by the Royal Choral Society on 16 March 1898. Of Beethoven's work, The Musical Times and Singing-Class Circular (hereafter MT) 39 (Apr. 1898): 244 noted that ‘after many vicissitudes and long stretches of neglect, the “Ruins of Athens” has at last been offered in an intelligible and useable shape’.

16 The volumes described here are kept at the Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music, Richmond, Victoria, with the exception of some critically rare items that are individually protected in controlled environments. The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic has had a policy of zero disposal of scores throughout its history. Restricted access to individual scores for research purposes may be granted on request to the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, 31 Victoria Street, Melbourne, Australia, 3000.

17 The works in this volume were printed by Harrison & Co, No. 18 Paternoster Row. The inside cover of the volume bears the name ‘John Belkin’, which has been deleted.

18 I acknowledge the President of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society, Rod Reynolds for his advice on the contents of this volume.

19 ‘This score was printed for members of the Handel Society by Cramer, Beale, & Co. No. 201 Regent Street, in 1866–7.’

20 ‘Printed and Sold by Preston, at his Wholesale Warehouse, 97 Strand, London, of whom may be had the compleat scores of Messiah, Alexander's Feast, Acis & Galatea.’

21 MPS AR, 1862, GB (1853–87). These four works were performed at a Miscellaneous Concert given at the Exhibition Building on 7 October 1862.

22 MPS AR, 1876, GB (1853–87).

23 MPS AR, 1899, GB (1888–1924): 109.

24 MPS AR, 1899, GB (1888–1924): 109.

25 Argus (13 Sep. 1882). MPS GB (1853–87).

26 MPS AR, 1878, GB (1853–87). There is evidence that numerous hand-copied parts once existed in the library of the Society. Annual Reports from the 1890s often thank Mr Lamble, a former librarian of the Society, for loaning scores and parts, and for copying music for use in performances. The AR for 1896 noted that he copied more than 700 pages of music during that year. MPS GB (1888–1924): 93. These materials can no longer be found.

27 The AR for 1883 noted that the President offered a work to the Society. The Redemption (Gounod) was first selected by the Committee, but, when it was discovered that the complete copies were not obtainable, Handel's Oratorio Jephtha was substituted. In that same year, Nicholson and Co. offered to present the Society ‘with whatever work may be selected by the Hon. Conductor and Hon. Secretary’ MPS GB (1853–87). Overseas travels of key members of the Society are often noted in the annual reports. These members must have returned to Australia with news of musical successes in England and with recommendations of works that might be performed in Melbourne.

28 The commercial aspects of the firm of Novello are well described in chapter 5 of Victoria Cooper's The House of Novello: Practice and Policy of a Victorian Music Publisher, 1829–1866 (Aldershot, 2003),Google Scholar where this observation is made: ‘The beginning of the nineteenth century saw the expansion of the “puff” or self-promotion by an advertiser in the columns of an editorial or by a publisher in reviews of his edition. The possibility that a journal also served as an advertisement must be taken into account’: 122.

29 I acknowledge with appreciation the advice of Dermot McCaul from the State Library of Victoria.

30 Works given their Australian or local premieres by societies other than the MPS are not included in Appendix II, even though the MPS subsequently acquired the performance materials and programmed the works. For example, (Sir) Michael Costa's Eli was first performed in Victoria by the Brighton Harmonic Society in 1876, which then offered the performance materials to the MPS, who purchased them ‘at a moderate cost’. Carne, , A Century of Harmony: 97; MPS GB (1853–87)Google Scholar.

31 Excluded from Appendices I and II are instrumental works, concert performances of opera, and works by Australian composers, or British and European musicians who settled permanently in Australia. See Jennifer Royle ‘Musical (Ad)venturers: Colonial Composers and Composition in Melbourne, 1870–1901’ (this issue).

32 MPS GB (1888–1924): 68.

33 MT 19 (Apr. 1878): 392.

34 The orchestral parts of Gaul's The Holy City now kept with the library of the MPS, carry a printed label which reads ‘Birmingham Festival 1882’. Apart from the stamp of the MPS, the parts are stamped ‘Norfolk House, Monument Road, Birmingham’.

35 Carne, ; A Century of Harmony: 102–3.Google Scholar For further discussion of Robinson and ‘For Thee’ see Royle, ‘Musical (Ad)venturers’.

36 Times (19 Feb. 1880): 6.

37 MT 25 (Jun. 1884): 350.

38 MT 25 (Nov. 1884): 635.

39 Times (12 Sep. 1884): 4.

40 MT 24 (Jun. 1883): 328.

41 MT 30 (Apr. 1889): 230.

42 MPS GB (1888–1924): 13.

43 MPS GB (1888–1924): 49–50.

44 MPS GB (1888–1924): 66.

45 MPS GB (1888–1924): 117.

46 Weber has observed that by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century this trend in concert life ‘had shifted its focus so much from contemporary to classical repertory that new works now took up a problematic, often marginal place within musical life.’ Weber, William, ‘Consequences of Canon’, Common Knowledge 9.1 (2003): 79Google Scholar.

47 Clapham, John, Dvořák (New York, 1979).Google Scholar Appendix 2, ‘Chronicle of Events’: 187.

48 MT 22 (Apr. 1881): 165–96; MT 22 (May 1881): 236–9.

49 MT 20 (May 1879): 145.

50 Joseph Joachim introduced Dvořák's String Sextet to London audiences at the Monday Popular Concerts on 23 February 1880; reported in MT 21 (Mar. 1880): 125–6. By popular request the work was repeated one fortnight later on 8 March: MT 21 (Apr. 1880): 172–3.

51 MT 23 (May 1882): 281.

52 MT 23 (Dec. 1882): 677.

53 In February and March 1883, the MT advertised the publication by Novello, Ewer & Co. of the score of the Stabat mater. MT 24 (Feb. 1883): 100; MT 24 (Mar. 1883): 116.

54 A further performance of the Stabat mater by the London Musical Society, conducted by Joseph Barnby, was noted in the Musical Times: ‘The London Musical Society must be mentioned in the highest terms of admiration, for to this enthusiastic body of amateurs we are indebted for a hearing one of the finest works of modern times — Dvořák's ‘Stabat Mater.’ MT 24 (Aug. 1883): 423.

55 MT 24 (Mar. 1883): 153–6.

56 MT 24 (Aug. 1883): 424; MT 24 (Sep. 1883): 428.

57 The text of this letter is reproduced by Clapham in Dvořák, 61.

58 Clapham, , Dvořák, 62.Google Scholar The result was the composition of the highly successful Spectre's Bride (op. 69), given at the Birmingham Festival in 1885, conducted by the composer. This work was given its Australian premiere by the Melbourne Liedertafel on 25 October 1886.

59 MT 25 (Mar. 1884): 164.

60 MPS GB (1853–87).

61 Although various annual reports of the Society (including those for 1884–85) are missing from the Guard Books, the benefactor of the score and parts for the Stabat mater – J.C.W. Nicholson of Nicholson and Co. – is acknowledged in the programme of a repeat performance in 1892. MPS GB (1888–1924): 61.

62 MT 25 (Apr. 1884): 203 reported that ‘[the Stabat mater] will secure a permanent place in the repertory of sacred music in England and be handed down with other masterpieces … [Dvořák] has started upon a career the full glory of which we shall not venture to measure’.

63 MT 25 (Apr. 1884): 189–92.

64 A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Grove, Sir George (London, 18791889)Google Scholar was issued in four volumes, containing a total of 25 parts. The first volume (parts i–vi) was published in 1879. In the ‘Appendix’ of 1889, Fuller Maitland contributed an entry on Dvořák (v. 4, 621–4). I thank Jan Smacny for his advice on this matter.

65 MT 25 (Oct. 1884): 584.

66 MT 26 (Dec. 1885): 738.

67 Noted by Clapham, John in ‘Dvořák's Australian Success’, Czech Music: The Journal of the Dvořák Society of Great Britain 9/4 (Oct. 1983): 6Google Scholar.

68 MPS GB (1888–1924): 90.

69 MT 24 (Sep. 1883): 513.

70 MT 24 (Nov. 1883): 604.

71 MT 24 (Nov. 1883): 604.

72 MT 24 (Nov. 1883): 591.

73 MT 25 (Apr. 1884): 203.

74 Daily Telegraph (30 Sep. 1885).

75 Argus (30 Sep. 1885).

76 Temperley, Nicholas, ‘Barnby, Sir Joseph,’ New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, eds Sadie, Stanley and Tyrell, John (London, 2001), v. 2: 739–40Google Scholar.

77 ‘Barnby's Choral Activities: (1867–96)’ in Scholes, Percy, The Mirror of Music 1844–1944: A Century of Musical Life in Britain as Reflected in the Pages of the Musical Times, 2 vols (London, 1944), v. 1: 31–2.Google Scholar One of Barnby's great contributions occurred in 1870 when he conducted this choir in a performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis ‘without curtailment or alteration’, and ‘not with inverted passages for the voices used elsewhere.’

78 Reports and reviews of the first Australian performances of Bach's St Matthew Passion (1875, 1876) are kept in the MPS GB (1853–87). After these two less-than-successful performances, the work was not programmed by the MPS until 1911.

79 Prospectus for 1892. MPS GB (1888–1924), 60.

80 First performed in Melbourne during the Centennial International Exhibition of 1888, conducted by the composer.

81 MPS AR, 1894, GB (1888–1924): 80.

82 Reported by Banfield, Stephen and Dibble, Jeremy in the article ‘Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel’, in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, eds Sadie, Stanley and Tyrell, John (London, 2001), v. 6: 101–4Google Scholar.

83 Handbill for the performance. MPS GB (1888–1924): 107.

84 MT 39 (Sep. 1898): 627.

85 MT 39 (Sep. 1898): 600–1.

86 MT 39 (Oct. 1898): 673.

87 MT 39 (Nov. 1898): 728.

88 MT 39 (Dec. 1898): 807–8. An account written by Hubert Parry of this first performance is reproduced in Scholes, , Mirror of Music, v. 1: 129–30Google Scholar.

89 MT 39 (Dec. 1898): 820.

90 MT 40 (Jan. 1899): 69.

91 MT 40 (Feb. 1899): 142.

92 MT 40 (Nov. 1899): 748.

93 Banfield, Stephen and Dibble, Jeremy confirm the influence of Dvořák on the young Coleridge-Taylor in their article ‘Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel’, New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: 101–4.Google Scholar ‘The cult of the exotic was then at its height, and the romantic appeal of the Amerindian powerful. In Coleridge-Taylor it became entangled with his endeavour to express his African identity, which he did, following Dvořák's example, by modelling some of his works on negro subjects and melodies of the black and Amerindian peoples.’

94 In the following year J.C.W. Nicholson promised the sequel, Death of Minnehaha, to the Society. MPS AR, 1900, GB (1888–1924): 116. In 1901 these materials were presented to the Society (MPS AR, 1901, GB (1888–1924): 122), and the Australian premiere was given in 1902. Carne, A Century of Harmony: 132.

95 Age (15 Nov. 1899): 8.

96 Argus (15 Nov. 1899): 8.

97 The Plebiscite concert was first suggested in the AR, 1890 (MPS GB (1888–1924): 48), and again in the AR, 1891 (MPS GB (1888–1924): 59).

98 Sometimes named ‘The Choral Symphony’ by the MPS, a work with which Beethoven's Choral Fantasia or ‘Choral Fantasy’ op. 80) is not to be confused.

99 MPS GB (1888–1924): 66.

100 An exception is Eli by Costa, published by Williams.

a Prospectus, 1901. MPS GB (1888–1924): 117. All titles are given as they appear in the Prospectus. The category ‘Miscellaneous’ (comprising 46 items) has been omitted.