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Posted in Actors, Historical articles, Music, Theatre on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about Adelina Patti originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 267 published on 25 February 1967.
There was a thunder of applause as the old lady walked on to the stage at the charity concert. She smiled as she looked down at the audience – many of whom were on their feet in their enthusiasm – and made a slight sign to the leader of the orchestra. Music swelled throughout the theatre and the old lady burst into song. At the age of 71 Adelina Patti was making her final appearance.
She was born in Madrid on February 19, 1843, and right from the start her Italian parents realised that their daughter was destined to be a great singer. Her father paid for her music lessons, impatient for the day when he would see his Adelina walk on to the stage as an opera performer. That day came in 1859 when she made her debut as Lucia in the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.
Overnight she became famous. Critics raved about her clear soprano voice, and her “fans” queued for hours to hear her. Many people have to wait for years to get their “break” on the stage, but with Adelina Patti her success was instantaneous, thanks to the wonderful quality of her voice.
In 1861 she came to London where once again her success was repeated. From England she travelled to the capitals of the world where she was hailed as the greatest soprano of all time.
After a wonderful career she planned to retire in 1895, marking the occasion with a farewell concert in London. But she was not allowed to remain in retirement. She sang at another farewell concert, and then another, and yet another.
In 1914 Madame Patti returned to the theatre for the last time in aid of charity. She died five years later on September 27.
Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, London, Music on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Muzio Clementi originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Most infant prodigies fade into obscurity while they are still very young. Not so Muzio Clementi, the pianist and composer, who lived for a time at No. 128, Kensington Church Street.
Clementi was born in Italy, the son of a musically-inclined silversmith. His father noticed the child’s unusual sensitivity to music and he persuaded a choirmaster in Rome to develop the boy’s talent.
Muzio Clementi was an apt pupil.
By the time he was 12, he had composed an oratorio – a complicated piece of music scored for voices, solo and chorus, backed by an orchestra. His confidence grew with his ability and he eagerly tackled much more difficult musical themes, so that at 14 he had already achieved several full-scale works, the themes properly counterpointed with subsidiary melodies. One of these – a mass – was performed in Rome and was accounted one of the musical sensations of the day.
Clementi’s fame – and his music – reached the ears of Peter Beckford, an English MP who was visiting Rome at the time. Impressed by the young Italian boy’s talent, Beckford persuaded the father to send him to England for further training under his care.
So Clementi came to live at a Wiltshire country house, where he studied hard at languages and science as well as music. He spent many hours exploring the possibilities of the new instrument that was replacing the harpsichord – the piano. In 1773, he was sent to London for his first public concert and from then on his success was immediate and lasting.
By 1777, he was conductor at the Italian Opera in London, and in 1780 he set off on a European tour, playing in Paris, Strasbourg, Munich and Vienna. He met Haydn, and played a musical ‘competition’ against Mozart before Emperor Joseph II of Austria; the contest was declared drawn. Clementi admired Mozart’s touch, and his own style subsequently changed, although he denied that Mozart’s influence had any bearing on this.
From 1782, Clementi was one of London’s most fashionable music teachers, and he later went into business as a piano-maker and music publisher. As he grew older, he devoted more time to composition, producing over a hundred sonatas and several symphonies, since lost. He died in 1832 and was given a public burial at Westminster Abbey.
Modern piano-playing techniques are still based on those developed by Muzio Clementi.
Posted in Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Anna Pavlova originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Anna Pavlova dancing in Swan Lake
Almost as one, the audience of the London Palace Theatre rose to its feet, clapping and cheering. On the stage in the spotlight stood a small, slight figure in ballet costume.
Again and again the curtain swept across the stage, only to be pulled back yet once more when the audience continued their wild applause. Each time, the ballet dancer bowed gracefully, her eyes sparkling with joy at the success of her debut.
Next morning, the reviews in the newspapers were full of praise for the dancer, Anna Pavlova.
Born in Russia on 31st January, 1885, as a young girl Anna studied dancing at a ballet school. Soon she gained success on the stages of the great Russian Theatres, and from there she travelled to the various capitals of Europe. She was considered a great exponent of the ‘Russian school’ of dancing. Later she was hailed as the greatest classical ballerina of all time.
In 1909 she came to London, where she established her reputation at the Palace Theatre. She liked England and made it her home in between the extensive tours she made to other parts of the world. She died on 22nd January, 1931. Her most famous role was that of a swan in the ballet Swan Lake.
Posted in Bible, Historical articles, History, Music, Religion on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about George Frederick Handel originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
George Frideric Handel
Who Said “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself”?
The answer is George Frederick Handel, describing his feelings when he composed the Hallelujah Chorus.
The Hallelujah Chorus, possibly the most famous chorus ever written, brings to a close Part 2 of Messiah, which is certainly the most famous of all oratorios. (An oratorio is a dramatic choral work, often on a sacred theme.)
Messiah, with words selected from the Bible by Charles Jennens, was composed extremely fast – beginning on 22nd August, 1741. It was completed by 14th September! Its first performance took place on 13th April, 1742, at the Music Hall, Fishamble Street, Dublin, for the benefit of various local charities, including the Society for Relieving Prisoners, the Charitable Infirmary and Mercer’s Hospital.
We know on good authority that Handel was greatly moved when he composed the Hallelujah Chorus – the words of the quotation were spoken to a friend. At the first performance in London, at Covent Garden Theatre on 23rd March, 1743, the entire audience, headed by King George II, rose to its feet at the beginning of the chorus and stayed standing until it had finished, an act of homage which has been observed at performances of the work ever since.
Handel’s fortunes were restored for a time by the success of his oratorios, but Messiah became almost too popular in the 19th century, and tended to make people forget Handel’s other works. Mammoth performances took place in Victorian times, with gigantic choirs and huge orchestras. Nowadays, the music is usually performed much as Handel actually wrote it, and, though it has lost none of its popularity, its performances are closer in spirit to that great night when George II and the Covent Garden audience rose to their feet.
“Hallelujah” (Alleluia) derives from two Hebrew words meaning “Praise Ye Jehovah!”
Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Music, War on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about John Brown originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 250 published on 29 October 1966.
The last moments of John Brown
Looking across the timber barricade which surrounded the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, John Brown, a thin, grey-haired man of nearly 60, could see a strong force of United States marines approaching.
“Take cover!” he called out to the other men with him, who included three of his sons.
John Brown, a loyal American farmer, was preparing to defy his own country’s troops. How could such a situation come about?
It began when, at the age of nine, John Brown saw a slave beaten to death, he vowed that he would do something to help the poor slaves and set them free. All his life he struggled against the custom in the Southern states of America of using slave labour to work the plantations. And he brought his sons up to share his own enlightened views.
John Brown knew that he could not force the Government in Washington to free the slaves, because of the fear that the Southern states would rebel.
So he had prepared a plan; and now, on the night of 16th October, 1859, he was carrying it out.
“We’d best run for it, Mr. Brown,” one of the men said. “Know who that is, leading the marines? That’s Colonel Robert E. Lee. He’s a Southerner, and he hates everything you stand for.”
John Brown shook his head. “Why do you think we broke into the arsenal?”
He looked round him at the rows of rifles in their racks, and grinned to himself. For this was the climax of the plan he had built up carefully over the years.
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Posted in America, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, Music, Theatre on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about New York originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 249 published on 22 October 1966.
Scenes and behind scenes at the Metropolitan opera by Henry Mayer
The Metropolitan Opera House, New York, has established itself as one of the world’s principal centres for the production of opera.
Sponsored by a group of millionaires, the first theatre was completed in 1883 and opened on 22nd October, with a production of Gounod’s ‘Faust’. The public was at this time beginning to take opera more seriously, partly because of Wagner and the Bayreuth festival of opera, which he founded. The introduction of new lighting techniques also had a surprising effect, for when electric lighting was installed at the Metropolitan in 1893, the theatre lights could, for the first time, be turned off completely. The immediate effect was to stop idle gossiping during performances, a practice which had always caused complaint from serious students of opera.
The Metropolitan Opera House was responsible for the launching of such stars as Caruso, Melba and Toscanini.
Posted in Bible, Historical articles, History, Music, Religion on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about John and Charles Wesley originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 235 published on 16 July 1966.
It was fortunate that the house of the parson at Epworth in Lincolnshire was large, for he had a very big family. His two most famous sons, John and Charles, were the fifteenth and eighteenth children born to the Reverend Samuel Wesley and his wife, Susannah.
John and Charles were both sent to a famous school, John to Charterhouse and Charles to Westminster, and from there both went on to Oxford.
It was during their student days at Oxford that the two brothers showed the earnestness of their religious beliefs. They met regularly with a few friends for prayer and study of the Bible, and behaved with a seriousness by no means common among their fellow students. Of several nicknames given to them at this time, one has survived to become the title of their followers even two centuries later. That was the name ‘Methodists’, which referred to their methodical and disciplined way of life.
In 1735, when John was 32 and Charles 28, the brothers sailed to the New World colony of Georgia as missionaries. It is strange to learn that these two men, who were later such amazingly effective missionaries among their fellow-countrymen in Britain, were a dismal failure in America! Within two years they were home again.
John then underwent an experience which changed his whole life. Christianity took on a new and deeper meaning for him, and became a religion of the heart, as well as of the mind. Soon afterwards Charles Wesley underwent a similar change of heart, or ‘conversion’.
In the course of the next half-century, John Wesley travelled on horseback an average of 8,000 miles every year. He prepared his sermons at a little desk attached to the saddle of his horse, and for the most part delivered them in the open air, often to large crowds.
Many of the clergymen in the places he visited did not like either his message or his methods, and refused to allow him to preach in their churches. As a result John Wesley gradually found himself a stranger in the Church of England, in which he had been brought up, and eventually he began appointing his own ministers to look after those who had heard him so gladly. In this way there began the groups of ‘the people called Methodists’ who today form the world-wide Methodist Church numbering 12 million members, of whom about three-quarters of a million live in Britain.
Charles Wesley was outstanding as a writer of hymns, of which he wrote more than 5,000. Today many of them are still sung by Christians of all denominations, and there can scarcely be anyone who does not know a few lines of his most famous composition, ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’.
Posted in Customs, Historical articles, History, Music, Politics, Religion, Royalty on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about traditional British songs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.
William III at the Battle of the Boyne by Kronheim
Many of you will have sung a song at school called The Vicar of Bray. It was written in about 1720 by someone who evidently knew the way in which the loyalties of clergymen had been severely tried during the previous half-century. Yet any clergyman who wanted to keep his job between the years when the Commonwealth rule ended in 1660 and Queen Anne came to the throne in 1702 must have had to change his views almost as often and as completely as did his forefathers between the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The ‘Vicar of Bray’, whether real or imaginary, was just such a person, for the chorus states
‘That whatsoever king shall reign,
I’ll still be the Vicar of Bray, sir.’
Charles II revived a belief strongly held by his father and grandfather; ‘Kings were by God appointed’ as the Vicar of Bray dutifully taught his flock. In his reign laws were passed which made it very difficult for anyone to worship except in accordance with the ways of the Church of England. The ‘Five Mile Act’ for instance, passed in 1665, forbade any clergyman to come within five miles of any city or large town unless he had taken an oath not to try to alter the government of either Church or State. This law was enforced with equal severity on Roman Catholics and Non-Conformists, as the Puritans were often called.
James II, who succeeded Charles II in 1685, was a Roman Catholic, and naturally tried to make things easier for his fellow-believers. He produced a ‘Declaration of Liberty of Conscience’ which he ordered to be read in all churches. (This is mentioned in verse two of our song.) But the leaders of the Church of England opposed this, and joined with politicians who were planning to replace James by William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant prince. The final battle between their forces was fought in Northern Ireland where the rivalry between Catholics and Protestants (still known there as Orangemen) remains strong, even in modern times, and comes to a head every twelfth of July, the anniversary of James II’s defeat in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. According to our song, the Vicar of Bray abandoned loyalty to James II and kept his position by swearing allegiance to William! Doubtless many like him would have said
‘With this new wind about I steered’.
From that time onward the Established Church of England seemed secure; it could keep both Roman Catholics and Non-Conformists at a disadvantage by barring them from many privileges, such as entry to the Universities or becoming Members of Parliament. Its own fortunes were increasingly tied to the political parties of the day; to gain advancement in the church it was essential to support the party in power. So we find the Vicar of Bray was a Tory in Queen Anne’s reign and a Whig under George I, quite content to say:
‘And George my lawful King shall be
Until the times do alter’.
Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Music, Royalty, Theatre on Tuesday, 9 April 2013
This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 220 published on 2 April 1966.
The Royal Albert Hall
After the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, the question of a memorial arose. It was decided that in addition to the great canopied statue of the prince, now in Kensington Gardens, there should also be a Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Science.
In May, 1867, the foundation-stone of the building was laid on a site opposite the Albert Memorial, and on March 29, 1871, the Royal Albert Hall was officially opened by Queen Victoria. The laying of the foundation stone is seen in the illustration on the left.
The hall was designed and built by Captain Fowke of the Royal Engineers at a cost of £200,000. The building is not, as many people think, circular, but a nearly true ellipse. The interior is 219 ft. long by 185 ft. wide, while the centre floor space, or arena, which is reached by six staircases, is 102 ft. long and 68 ft. wide. The roof is 136 ft. above floor level.
Fowke based his plan for the hall on the Roman Amphitheatre at Nimes, in the south of France. Unlike Roman amphitheatres, the Albert Hall was completely roofed over with glass.
But the great roof of which the designer had been so proud was just a huge sounding board which echoed down into the hall every musical note that was played on the stage. It was not until someone thought of building a canopy over the orchestra that the acoustics were improved. In 1949, in a further attempt to improve them, the original glass roof was replaced by an aluminium one. Even so, the echo has not been got rid of completely, and you can still hear it in certain parts of the hall.
Posted in Actors, English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Music, Shakespeare, Theatre on Tuesday, 26 March 2013
This edited article about the English theatre originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 210 published on 22 January 1966.
Lilian Baylis ejecting a drunk from the gallery of her beloved Old Vic
She was not good-looking, not very tidily dressed, and she had a will of iron. Loved – even worshipped – by some, she was disliked and laughed at by others.
She was not well educated, though she had taught music and dancing in South Africa in the 1890s, when that part of the world was very like America’s Wild West.
Her name was Lilian Baylis and, though she was not an actress, she was the most important woman in the whole history of the English Theatre, because it is to her we owe the Old Vic Company (now the National Theatre) the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, and the Royal Ballet.
The Old Vic, then called the Royal Coburg Theatre, was built in the Waterloo Road in 1818: by the middle of the same century it was one of the roughest, most disreputable theatres in London, playing the most lurid “blood and thunder” melodramas to very rowdy audiences.
Then a charitable reformer called Emma Cons took the theatre over – by this time it was called the Royal Victoria Hall – and converted it into a place where respectable working people and reformed drunkards could come for wholesome entertainment. There were lectures, concerts, readings – and coffee and buns.
For a time the building was called the Royal Victoria Coffee Music Hall, but it soon became popularly known as the “Old Vic.”
Miss Cons was a worthy woman, but she never made theatre history. It was her niece, Lilian Baylis, who did this. Miss Baylis joined her aunt in 1898, when she was twenty-four, and became the Old Vic’s manager.
When the first World War broke out in 1914, two years after Emma Cons had died, the Old Vic was flourishing, but desperately short of money. There was already an opera company there, run on very simple lines, with the operas sung in English; there were film shows – and the very beginnings of a Shakespeare company.
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