G & M CentenaryThe following text is a slightly edited reproduction of a booklet published in 1975 by Kirklees Libraries and Museums Service (
Huddersfield Glee & Madrigal Society
The Huddersfield Glee & Madrigal Society, conducted by Richard Steinitz, in Huddersfield Town Hall on the occasion of the choir’s centenary in 1975
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AN DIE MUSIK
Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden Gracious Art, in how many grievous hours wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstricht, when the storms of life held me, hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden Hast thou warmed my heart to love hast mich in eine besser Welt entruct. And raised me to a better world. . . . . . . Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür Gracious Art, I thank thee for this du holde Kunst, ich danke dir. Blessed Art, I thank thee. Franz von Schober (trans. S.H.C.) set to music by Franz Schubert
As the President of the Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal
Society during the Centenary celebration I am honoured by the
request to write a few prelusive words to the history of the Society,
in readiness for the celebration in 1974 and 1975.
This chronicle will, I am sure, be of particular value on two counts. First, it will be a source of reference in years to come for those desirous of acquainting themselves with the story of the early days and the growth of the Society, the persons and events concerned in the first hundred years. Secondly it will serve as encouragement to those who now serve and will hereafter serve to ensure the continuance of the Society during its second century.
The Glee and Madrigal Society provides a wonderful opportunity of preserving a specialist type of music; music to which our country has made such a valuable contribution, particularly at the time of our greatest period in literature. It would be a sad loss if such music were to be forgotten or neglected.
“By the common consent of the whole musical world there is no music in existence which surpasses in its moving beauty that for unaccompanied voices of the 16th and early 17th centuries.”
I would like to express my appreciation of the work done by our Conductor, Mr Steinitz, the Officials, Committee and Members, and to thank all those who have supported the Society over the years to make these celebrations a possibility.
Finally, on behalf of the Society, I extend grateful thanks to
Mr Sidney H. Crowther for preparing our Centenary Brochure
and I take this opportunity to acknowledge the very valuable
service over a long period of years given by him for the benefit of
music and the music lovers of Huddersfield and its surrounding
Anyone who could have gone to the concerts of the Glee
and Madrigal during the hundred years of its existence would have
heard much superlatively good choral singing and many of the
leading soloists of the day. And they would also have heard a
great deal of English music.
None of us who are living now can be quite sure what the Glee and Madrigal Society sounded like in the seventies and eighties, but we do know what other people said about them. They came in first in important competitions. They were generally praised – “the cream of the Choral Society” is what The Examiner once called them.
A valuable part of their work during the past hundred years is that they made it possible to hear the English voice. Almost any mature musician who has written for a choir has had his chance in Huddersfield. From William Byrd to Benjamin Britten, from the time of Elizabeth I to that of Elizabeth II, there has been an unbroken and a naturally evolving tradition of music for “choirs and places where they sing.”
The Glee and Madrigal Society has made us aware of this and has served British work by giving it a place alongside German, French and Italian music.
In the days when a Glee and Madrigal Society programme was “a book of words,” it sometimes struck me what interesting anthologies of English poetry these books of words were.
If a good patriot is one who takes pride in the language of his country, then the Glee and Madrigal has long served a patriotic cause.
A STONE MASON’S FOUNDATION
The founder of the Glee and Madrigal was one Ben Stocks,
who seems to have been a quite remarkable man. He began his
working life as a working mason and became one of the leading
architects of the town. I was told many years ago that he had a lot
to do with the architecture of the Town Hall. If not the architect
of the hall, he was, it could be said, one of its ornaments, for he
became an alderman and very important city father.
Ornament he was in more senses than one, for I was once told that one of the carved heads of stone which are to be found on the building is his portrait.
Some time early in 1875 Mr Stocks heard of a choir competition to be held in Manchester in March of that year. He entered a choir, although at that moment he had no singers! He sent out circulars to a number of vocalists and received favourable replies from twenty-eight.
Joshua Marshall accepted Mr Stocks’s invitation to become conductor. This Mr Marshall was associated with the music shop that bore his name, both in Huddersfield and in Bradford. Olga Haley, who fifty years ago gained a national reputation as a singer, was his grand-daughter.
Joshua Marshall was also conductor of the Choral Society. It was natural enough, therefore, that Mr Stocks should turn to him for help. Neither troubled about an accompanist, for Mr Marshall conducted rehearsals from the piano.
The first three rehearsals were in the “music depot” of Messrs Wood and Marshall’s, then in Cross Church Street. The choir moved then to the Zetland Hotel, where there was better accommodation, and perhaps also improved amenities. At any rate, at the Zetland the singers could sit round one table – the traditional and comfortable way.
Of the twenty-eight who replied to the original invitation, twenty-five made up this choir. This seems to have been oddly balanced, for there were seven “women trebles”, five “contraltos and altos” (four of them male altos), six tenors and seven basses. Only one woman contralto!
Among the tenors was one Joel Hirst of the Parish Church Choir, for whom the new choir was a stepping stone to a professional career: he later became a lead with the Moore and Burgess Minstrels.
The choir did well at Manchester, coming in first and gaining a £70 prize – competitions in those days were generous with prize money, for £70 a hundred years ago was a lot of money. They celebrated their success in April, going to the Zetland where the singers and their friends sat down to what was described as a “substantial knife and fork tea.” Satisfied doubtless no less with their tea than with their success at Manchester, they decided to go on singing together under the title of the Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal Society, with Ben Stocks as secretary, treasurer and librarian.
The new Society had its first concert in the old Armoury, and opened its programme with Battye’s Hail Memory, which for so many years afterwards was a favourite with the Society.
The new Glee and Madrigal was at once a success. By all accounts they sang very well, and support was such that they became financially prosperous – so much so that a few years after their foundation they offered prizes for original compositions. Distin’s Jack Homer was one of the two prize-winners.
This happy state was not kept up. It was complained that members were neglecting rehearsals. It may now seem unbelievable that it was thought desirable to tempt laggards to return to the rehearsal room by offering them sixpence per rehearsal! – and half-a-crown for the concert.
Though eighty years ago sixpence could purchase perhaps many times as much as it can now, the inducements were in vain. The laggards would not even “sing a song of sixpence.”
This seems to have been a pattern of many societies – early enthusiasm succeeded by apathy. Similar ups and downs may be noted in the history of the early days of the Colne Valley Male Voice Choir, who like the Glee and Madrigal in 1884 faced dissolution, soon after their formation.
On June 9th, 1884, the members were told that “in prospect of a still further diminishing of the number of subscribers and public support brought about by the great competition in the town in musical entertainment and other adverse circumstances, your committee feel, after seriously considering the matter, that they cannot do other than recommend that the Society be dissolved.”
Dissolved the Society was in June 1884 – but it was re-formed in August of the same year. Joseph Woodhead, proprietor and founder of The Huddersfield Examiner, was the president of the re-formed Glee and Madrigal – the beginning of a long association between the Society and the Woodhead family – and his energy and readiness to put his hand in his pocket rallied the former officials. In spite of this break in the activities of the Glee and Madrigal it is surely still possible to speak of its continuity of existence during a hundred years, for no winter passed without its series of Glee and Madrigal concerts.
It appears that there was another similar choir in existence at that time – The Orpheus Society – for we find that Orpheus made a bid for the music library of the Glee and Madrigal when the latter was “dissolved.”
There was still another, for the cover of the original minute book of the G. and M. bore the title Huddersfield Glee Society.
The new Society still regarded itself as a competitive as
well as a concert choir. The old choir came in second in
Manchester in 1882 when they sang Hail Memory, which did
not please the adjudicator. They were back to winning form in
1886 when they competed in Liverpool and were placed first in
the mixed voice class and first also in the male voice section.
What valuable prizes they gave in those days – £50 for the mixed
voices and £40 for the male voices!
The biggest competitive effort in which the Society was concerned was, however, in 1887 when the Welsh National Eisteddfod was for some reason held not in Wales but at the Albert Hall, London.
Huddersfield entered this competition – the Glee and Madrigal chorus as the nucleus of the mixed voice choir, with the male voices being substantially those of the G. and M. This double intervention into a Welsh Eisteddfod aroused an intense interest, and before the departure to London the choir gave a concert in the Town Hall before an audience that packed every available place.
And when they came back there was a huge crowd waiting for them in St George’s Square. They returned, of course, as winners – or at any rate as joint winners, for the mixed voice choir shared the £200 first prize with a Welsh choir and £50 prize for the male voice choir with another Welsh entry.
A dead heat in both classes caused a great deal of controversy. It was popularly thought that the reason for this was that the judges dare not give a clear first to an English choir at a Welsh Eisteddfod!
Those with inside information, however, declared that the Welsh judges on the panel favoured the Huddersfield choir, and the English judges the Welsh choirs. Whatever the facts behind the adjudication, the arguments after it were prolonged and often heated.
It cannot be surprising therefore that the Huddersfield singers should have had such a great reception when they returned home, so that “Johnny North,” the conductor, had to appear at a window of the George Hotel to acknowledge the cheering of the multitude.
The event attracted attention from outside the town. Archibald Ramsden of Leeds, whose name is still preserved in the music shop, presented the Glee and Madrigal with a £250 grand piano. Oddly enough the “G. & M.” did not use this piano a great deal, for they allowed the Choral Society to use it for rehearsals – the Choral giving for many years a subscription to the G. & M. in return.
That instrument took a lot of punishment on Friday nights at the Choral practices and it is only a few years since it had to be abandoned.
If I may be permitted to jump ahead, it is interesting to see that history repeated itself in 1924, when Harold Sykes, then secretary of the Glee and Madrigal, organised a choir to sing at an invitation Eisteddfod at the Crystal Palace. The Holme Valley Male Voice Choir also represented this district, and the result was that both the Huddersfield Choir and the Holme Valley came in first.
The Welsh choirs there did not fare happily. They were defeated also in the women’s choir section (won by the Turner Choir from Nottingham).
The Welsh choirs showed their disappointment vocally. The glass ceilings of the Crystal Palace vibrated to the sound of Land of My Fathers and Cwm Rhondda. The sound given out by hundreds of Welsh was magnificent – even if we deplored it as a demonstration, it was a stirring experience.
The G. & M. had an enviable record of competitive successes. At Manchester (1902) they were first in the mixed voice section (£40). At Shrewsbury in 1905 and again in 1906 they were first in both the mixed and male voice sections.
In 1906, however, at New Brighton Tower, they lost by two marks to the Colne Valley Vocal Union, and at New Brighton the following year they were again second to the Colne Valley Choir.
About this time, however, the choir became more interested in travelling than in competitive work.
“MY FATHER KNEW LLOYD GEORGE”
The Glee and Madrigal must be the only choir to have
received a testimonial from the War Office.
Here it is, dated 12th December, 1916:
“I had meant to write to you to tell you how much I enjoyed that wonderful performance at the Abbey the other day, and I was not only in admiration of the soloists but of the skill and technique which the chorus displayed in the rendering of that wonderful oratorio. I came away thrilled, and as I said before intended to write and tell you of my appreciation of your splendid effort.
Very sincerely yours,
D. Lloyd George.”
The letter was addressed to Mr (later Sir) Charles Sykes, who had been largely responsible for organising a visit to London to perform Elijah at Westminster Abbey on November 24th. This was followed by a miscellaneous concert at the Central Hall, Westminster, on the following day, but for some of the choir the most interesting part of this trip to London was that they were invited to sing – at breakfast time – at No. 10 Downing Street for the delectation of this famous Welshman.
The G. & M. went to London the year afterwards, when on December 14th they again sang in the Abbey: this time, Handel’s Messiah with Agnes Nicholls, Phyllis Lett, Gervase Elwes and Robert Radford as the principals. (Could they have had a better quartet of soloists at that time?)
Thus many members of the G. & M. may sing the words of the now popular ditty My father knew Lloyd George with literal accuracy.
This association with Lloyd George went as far back as 1909, when the “Welsh Wizard” came to address a Liberal meeting in the Town Hall. He stayed with Mr Charles Sykes, at Broomfield, where a choir of Huddersfield singers had been organised by Mr Sykes to sing in the honour of the celebrated guest. The Welshman’s heart was warmed by this serenade.
The invitation to sing at No. 10 was therefore a return compliment.
They were dark days in December 1916. The war was not going too well, and before long conditions were to seem worse. Lloyd George was emerging as one of the great leaders of the war effort, but he took time off to go to the Abbey to listen to Elijah and to interrupt breakfast to welcome singers at No. 10.
Charles Sykes became one of Lloyd George’s industrial advisers during the war, and in the 1918 General Election he became National Liberal member for Huddersfield, defeating Ernest Woodhead, the Liberal candidate, who was also, at another time, a president of the Glee and Madrigal Society.
The visits to London were part of a busy programme of war-time efforts. These included a collaboration with the Band of the Royal Marines – a miscellaneous concert on Friday, July 21st, 1916, and a “grand performance” of Elijah on the following Sunday.
Soloists, who appeared at the miscellaneous concert as well, were Carrie Tubb, Phyllis Lett, Frank Mullings and Robert Radford. Major George Miller conducted the Marines Band, which for Elijah numbered fifty performers.
A feature of the miscellaneous programme was a performance of Sibelius’s Finlandia, then something of a novelty. The programme included an overture, William Tell, by Suppé! Was this an error, or did Suppé follow Rossini in writing an overture of that name?
As a result of these two concerts, £1,270 – a lot of money in 1916 – was handed over to St Dunstan’s.
BLACKPOOL AND THE ISLE OF MAN
The Society did a great deal of touring during the nineties –
as far afield as to Douglas, Isle of Man, or just to Blackpool.
Their first such occasion was on August 4th, 1889, when they sang Messiah at the Castle Mona Palace, Douglas. For this they received a fee of 75 guineas. They were back in Douglas a fortnight later, this time with Elijah, and then again in September they repeated Messiah.
There were three more concerts in Douglas in 1890, one only in 1891, and two in 1892. During 1893 the choir got no further than the St George’s Hall, Bradford, and the Town Hall, Leeds, and thereafter they stayed at home for four years.
Four years at home seems to have been long enough. Interest in the Isle of Man seemed also to have waned, so that in 1897 they turned to Blackpool. They gave three concerts on the North Pier with programmes made up from Elijah and Messiah.
The North Pier authorities seem not to have been as generous (or well off) as those at the Castle Mona, Douglas, for there at Blackpool the Society received no more than 65 guineas.
Annual appearances at the North Pier continued during 1898, 1899 and 1901.
By 1901 the repertory had changed. It was now Haydn’s The Creation, and a preserved copy of their Easter programme shows that this performance shared the honours with the Promenade Concerts of “Monsieur Speelman’s Splendid Orchestra.” It was Monsieur Speelman who conducted The Creation. Admission was one shilling – reserved seats two shillings!
“Pier-end music” has been used as a term of scorn, but there was nothing to be scorned on the North Pier in 1901. Sir Neville Cardus has pointed out that most of the Hallé players kept themselves going when the winter concert season was over by playing in Speelman’s Blackpool Orchestra.
A diet of oratorio at the Pier End could not be sustained for ever, and it was in 1919 when the Society returned to the Fylde Coast, this time on the Pier at St Annes. A miscellaneous concert there was followed by Elijah at the Blackpool Tower. The soloists were Carrie Tubb, Edna Thornton, Ben Davies and Robert Radford.
There were also visits to Ripon Cathedral where, of course, they sang Elijah. The last big trip was to Belfast in October 1949. There was a miscellaneous programme. Philip Challis and Evelyn Graham were the accompanists and they also played duets. Peggy Castle was a soloist on this memorable occasion.
TRIUMPH WITH BRITTEN
The Society has brought to the town many distinguished
guests. The most famous of them all – though in 1943 few would
have said he was all that distinguished – was Benjamin Britten,
who on November 10th, 1943, conducted the choir in a programme
that contained much of his own work, including Hymn to St
What a great concert this was! It brought also Britten’s double chorus Hymn to the Virgin as well as The Lift Boy and I Lov’d a Lass.
Sophie Wyss, soprano soloist, sang three Britten folk-song arrangements with the composer at the piano. As if all this were not enough there was in Esther Fisher a pianist who made important contributions.
Another composer, Thomas Wood, conducted the Society in his own works in 1936. Roy Henderson, then the conductor, appeared at this concert as soloist. A feature of the programme was Thomas Wood’s Ballad of Hampstead Heath in which the chorus had the collaboration of the Edward Maude String Orchestra.
The Edward Maude String Orchestra were also employed at a Holst concert in 1931, when the composer himself conducted the choir in Hymns from the Rig Veda, as well as part songs, his now familiar arrangement of the Easter Hymn, and his St Paul’s Suite for strings.
Elsie Suddaby was the soloist and Imogen Holst, the composer’s daughter, was heard at the piano. What a fine concert that was!
A fourth English composer to conduct the choir in his own works was E. J. Moeran, who in 1944 directed the choir in his suite Songs of Springtime.
In the earlier days of the Society soloists were usually singers and usually also artists of local reputation, but after the First World War the choir were engaging artists of the calibre of Mullings, Leon Goossens, oboe (1920), Jane Marcus, violin (1930), Margaret Binns (1937), Marie Hall (1937), Jelly D’Aranyi (1936).
Then followed a stream of famous pianists – Solomon, Louis Kentner, Clifford Curzon, Cortot, Moiseiwitsch, Cyril Smith, Pouishnoff, Nina Milkina, Iso Elinson, Josef Weingarten, Smeterlin, Shulamith Shafir, Lili Kraus, Livia Rev, Keith Swallow, Monique Haas, Allan Schiller (in 1956, then aged twelve), Yoko Kono, Kendal Taylor.
The Society were the first in the town to sing the now familiar Fauré Requiem. This was on February 4th, 1939, at the Town Hall, with the BBC Northern Orchestra. H. Foster Clarke was the conductor.
A work with which the Society became involved was Constant Lambert’s The Rio Grande, which they did at Leeds with the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maurice Miles, in September 1948. They repeated this for a BBC recording on October 15th of the same year.
THE ERRAND BOY GENIUS
A special reference must be made to John North, who stood
at the window of the George Hotel to bow acknowledgement to
the cheers of the crowd after his choir’s success at the Albert Hall
“Johnny” North was, I am sure, one of the most gifted sons of Huddersfield. He began his working life at the age of nine, as a butcher’s boy. The Examiner in 1891 recounts that “there came a time when the late Joe Wood had just sent away an errand boy his firm had employed, and little Johnnie North’s mother got Mr Wood to take him in the place of the discharged boy.
“From the first the boy showed marvellous quickness and could not be kept away from the piano. The firm soon took to him and gave him instructors in music. He made rapid strides as a pianist, he became a reliable tuner, he found time to play on the cornet and he became a very good player on the violin.
“As a player, however, he shone as a pianist, and he was a brilliant executant and had extraordinary facility for playing the most difficult music at sight. Mr North was invaluable as a pianist with a small band, keeping the other instrumentalists well together and filling weak places with astonishing tact and neatness.
“He became of great service when quite a youth to Messrs Wood and Marshall when they provided a band of large or small dimensions for evening parties, balls, concerts, bazaars, etc., for he turned out to be a good pianist. Soon after the death of Mr Joe Wood, Joshua Marshall (the conductor of the Glee and Madrigal) left the firm of Wood and Marshall (that would be about 1884) and Mr North became a partner with Mr Wood’s sons in the old-established music business and continued to show great business aptitude as well as musical genius.”
At one time or another – and sometimes in the same season – Mr North conducted the Huddersfield Choral, the Holmfirth Choral, and the Glee and Madrigal choirs, and he was also organist at the Huddersfield Parish Church.
“In these Societies,” runs the Examiner account, “he had the pick of the vocalists and the band of the Choral Society (made up largely of members of the Philharmonic). From his strong qualities as a conductor and as a man sprang largely the great development of the artistic strength of the Huddersfield Choral Society and to them is greatly due the fact that the Society stands so high today.”
The Examiner obituary notice ran to two columns and looks like a solid slab of type. From this it appears that almost every musical activity in the district, large or small, was in the hands of Johnny North. The Examiner described him as a genius, and they could not have been far out.
On October 23rd, 1885 he brought together the Philharmonic and the Glee and Madrigal Society to present the first performance in this country of Guilmant’s Balthazar, in which one of the soloists was Clifford Hallé, a baritone, son of Mr Charles Hallé. Balthazar seems to have made no great impression, but the occasion is one that revealed the enterprise that marked Huddersfield music, even in the eighties. I write “even in the eighties” because so many seem to think that this epoch was one of unrelieved orthodoxy. Mr North died suddenly, after an attack of typhoid at the early age of thirty-nine, leaving a widow and nine children.
J. E. IBESON AND OTHERS
Johnny North was succeeded by Ramsey Bower. Ill health
cut short what promised to be a fine career, and his association
with the Glee and Madrigal lasted only two years. Before Johnny
North was W. H. Cross, a flautist, a composer of operettas, much
admired, who left the town for Liverpool.
J. E. Ibeson, who had a couple of spells as conductor (J. W. Armitage came in between), was one of Huddersfield’s musical pillars as an organist, choirmaster, pianist, and in particular accompanist. Everyone claimed his services in one or the other of these capacities.
Why he gave up the conductorship after nine years is not clear. Probably he felt he had too much to do.
His resignation brought in J. W. Armitage, who worked at Albert Hanson’s piano shop, then in Buxton Road. It is recorded that he had a fine ear for pitch, and a meticulous regard for the proper approach to the words.
After his retirement, J. E. Ibeson came back – but only for a year. One imagines that Ibeson was just “helping out” – which, it would seem, he often did and his short second stint gave the Society time to look around.
DR C. H. MOODY
For the first time in their history it seemed difficult to find
the appropriate man near at hand, and the committee took the
then unprecedented step of going outside the town for their next
conductor – Dr C. H. Moody, organist and choirmaster of Ripon
The appointment worked out very well. True, the new conductor, who had come to Ripon from the South of England, sometimes was completely at a loss to understand what members of the choir were talking about, and was sometimes completely taken aback by the bluntness of some of the men. Gradually, however, a complete common understanding was created.
Dr Moody brought to the choir a new attitude towards music. To say that he tried to turn the Glee and Madrigal into an Anglican Cathedral choir would be to say too much, but there would have been something in the suggestion. Moreover, he brought to the choir kinds of music they had never sung before, thus widening sympathies.
A hard worker, he never grumbled when, during the First World War, the Society put on many charitable concerts – though this involved him in a great deal of travel. When he was awarded the C.B.E., Huddersfield people felt that that was as much a recognition of what he had done with the G. & M. – and that included the Society concerts at Westminster Abbey and the Central Hall, Westminster – as his services at Ripon Cathedral.
Dr Moody worked with the Society for twelve years, and when it became obvious that the association must end, for Dr Moody was beginning to find travel a strain, the Society was able to find his successor on the doorstep – Dr T. E. Pearson.
It was Dr Pearson who conducted the Huddersfield choir at the Crystal Palace competition. He was, like Dr Moody, a church musician, for he was for some time organist at Holy Trinity Church and then at the Halifax Parish Church.
For a while also he was conductor of the Colne Valley Vocal Union and it was to him that the Colne Valley Male Voice Choir naturally turned when they began. He was not able to continue with the Colne Valley men because their rehearsal night was the same as his church choir night.
The Crystal Palace Competition was exceptional in that an orchestra was provided.
Well, an orchestra may be expected to give a lift to any choir, but it was obvious that the conductors of the other choirs had no experience of directing orchestral forces. When Dr Pearson took over he took charge of the orchestra. The difference was astonishing. The “hard bitten” London “pros” really began to play. Sir Hugh Allen was later to say of Dr Pearson that he was “a conductor of genius.”
A great lover of Bach, Dr Pearson was, I believe, responsible for the first performance of the St Matthew Passion in the town – this was at the Holy Trinity Church and at Golcar Baptist. Apart from this, Dr Pearson – a cousin of Arthur Pearson, the Borough organist – was rather in the background of Huddersfield’s music scene. He was already in middle age when he took over the G. & M., and the comparatively short period he was able to hold this office showed that a musician of great talent had been too long neglected.
As with so many other fine musicians, being a lover of Bach meant also that he was an enthusiast for contemporary music.
The G & M programmes during Dr Pearson’s conductorship show that the choir was then singing a great deal of Bantock, Cyril Jenkins, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Dale, Elgar, Hugh S. Roberton and T. E. Pearson. Perhaps most notable of all was the performance of the Holst Rig Veda hymns on March 5th, 1929.
Cyril Jenkins was at that time a popular composer – he wrote The Yarn of the Loch Akray for the Holme Valley Male Voice Choir, who were delighted with it. Many thought that Jenkins was “a coming man.” Who remembers him now?
It was something of an achievement to get Roy Henderson to
come to Huddersfield. He was a popular baritone, much in
demand on the concert platform. He was a principal at Glyndebourne,
and was building up a reputation which made him the
most sought after teacher of singing in the country.
He wanted to be a conductor. Taking on the Glee and Madrigal meant being tied up for many days in the year on which he could not accept concert engagements. He must have lost money by the arrangement, but then he was becoming an enthusiast for choral music – later he took on a Nottingham ladies’ choir at the same time as the Glee and Madrigal – but I feel at the start that he was learning the business of conducting a choir as he went on. I told him on the occasion of his first concert that he did not understand the Madrigal; but Roy Henderson always appreciated sincerity – that same thing he instilled into his students – Kathleen Ferrier, Norma Procter, for example; and it is something he taught the choir; he didn’t mind my criticism, and he changed his attitude towards Elizabethan music.
Sincerity was indeed the basis of musical approach. “Words,” he would say, “not only must we hear them, but we must believe that you really mean what you say.”
He strove always for beauty of tone – whether with his celebrated students through whom he did so much to change the character of English singing (think of the difference between Clara Butt and Kathleen Ferrier) or with the Glee and Madrigal. Every rehearsal under Roy Henderson was a valuable lesson in voice production.
One of the more venturesome of Roy Henderson’s programmes was a Holst and Delius Commemoration Concert on March 12th, 1935, which brought Holst’s Ave Maria, The Wassail Song, Rig Veda hymns, Now Is the Month of Maying, Swansea Town, and his Alleluja; and Delius was represented by his On Craigh Dhu (“an impression of Nature”) and The Splendour Falls. The Society had often given the impression that it liked long programmes, and on this occasion Bath’s Spring Wind and Roberton’s The Old Woman were thrown in to fill up – but be it noted it was still an “all-English” concert.
The soloist was Eric Greene (tenor), and in addition to Frank Dodson and Fred Chadwick as accompanists there was the Huddersfield Light Symphony Orchestra (conductor Henry Leah).
The G & M, it may be observed, did very well by Holst. Their commemoration concert was followed in July by a broadcast from the Manchester Studio of an hour-long Holst programme, in which they were accompanied by the BBC Northern Orchestra.
Holst’s Wassail Song, included in the Commemoration Concert programme, was dedicated to the Society.
WITH WOODGATE AT THE PEAK
The Society touched its peak with Leslie Woodgate, who
was the BBC chorus master. He was an entirely new type of
personality – a Southerner who could pretend that he didn’t
understand a word the choir said, a man with a love of wit, who
was moved often enough with mischievous intent. He liked
controversy; an exchange of wits was to him a game to be enjoyed
for its own sake and not for victory; and he would provoke his
listeners with such a remark as “You have the best voices in
Yorkshire, but the best brains are in the South.” That is the sort of
thing I mean by mischievous intent. He liked to trail his coat.
Woodgate was a sound all-round musician and at the BBC he had learned to take up any type of music. He was particularly happy with the male voice choir with Ernest Lush at the piano, and to Huddersfield be brought a passion for modern music, or what then passed for modern music.
He conducted the madrigal much in the way that Beecham conducted Mozart, with a lightness of touch that had magic in it. On the other hand I don’t think he was ever personally committed to Bach. Oh, yes, he could do something with Bach, but I felt that though his brains were in his work his heart wasn’t.
In what he did excel was the modern part-song in which the music illuminated the dramatic character of the text. His conducting of Vaughan Williams’s Valiant For Truth and Kodály’s Jesus and the Traders yielded results that can be forgotten by no-one who heard them.
The Glee and Madrigal have never sung any better than they did with these two works, and I don’t believe that any choir anywhere can have sung them any better.
A Czech exile who attended a concert at which he heard Kodály’s Jesus and the Traders said to me, “I could not have believed that any English choir could sing with such great artistic temperament.”
That is just what Leslie Woodgate and the G. & M. could achieve – this effect of temperament. What exactly it is is hard to define, and usually it is believed to be something possessed by foreigners, Italians in particular, seldom by the English.
Of course, Leslie Woodgate had to face some opposition, both in the choir and on the committee. After all, it is sometimes still difficult to drag some music-lovers into the twentieth century. Too much modern music was a complaint at annual meetings. But Woodgate, whose eyes twinkled with merriment at the prospect of any controversy, had a knack of getting his own way. Those who said either that Kodály was unsingable or wasn’t worth the work that had to be put into it he could placate with patient explanations. He could always show them just how miracles could be performed.
Leslie Woodgate lived in London and for years he came to Huddersfield for rehearsals and concerts, arriving one day and going back the next – when someone offered him hospitality; otherwise he went back on the night sleeper.
This was hard labour. On getting back to London he must many a time have been tired out. He insisted that he wasn’t because he didn’t need much sleep. Sir Malcolm Sargent used to say much the same things, affirming that he enjoyed travelling back to London in the sleeper.
Sir Malcolm Sargent endured these hardships because he regarded the Choral Society as his own choir. I once pressed Leslie Woodgate to tell why he put himself to so much trouble to conduct the Glee and Madrigal. He was silent for a moment and then with a smile he said: “I like coming here, you know.”
He was, I believe, happier standing before the Glee and Madrigal than he was with any of his BBC choruses.
A GREAT ACCOMPANIST
For the past hundred years it has been possible to assure any
visiting soloist that Huddersfield could provide him with a good or
even a first-class accompanist. From J. E. Ibeson to Keith Swallow
the district has been amazingly well served by accompanists of
One of these was Ernest Cooper, whose work both for the Choral and the Glee and Madrigal Society earned him the respectful admiration of every singer in the town. He was a more than useful chorusmaster, but perhaps he was better valued at rehearsal at the piano, for there quite often his lead in a difficult passage was just what a choir needed.
An excellent sight reader, able, even when playing at sight, to transpose successfully to meet a singer’s convenience, he earned the gratitude of countless soloists. As an organist he had a reputation of being able to play the final pages of the Fauré Requiem better than anyone else in the Riding and he was indeed often engaged by other choral societies especially to do that.
It seemed so natural to invite him to conduct the Glee and Madrigal Society, and it was a disappointment on both sides that the arrangement did not work out as had been expected.
Mr Cooper’s comment to me was: “I should have started doing that kind of work thirty years before.” There was a lot in that. Artur Rubinstein says that you start to be a great pianist at the age of four! What is the right age to start as a conductor?
Donald Hunt was organist at Leeds Parish Church. His
gifts were the strongest in the directions in which Leslie Woodgate’s
were the weakest. Donald Hunt did not conduct the madrigal with
the light Beecham touch.
The first time I heard him conduct a madrigal I felt that it was rather dull. Then I discovered that I could, if I listened, hear every one of the four or five parts moving with its own individuality, as it were. Such lucidity of part singing was an unfailing pleasure.
As far back as 1925, Mr Ernest Woodhead, then president, reported to the annual meeting that he had received complaints that the Glee and Madrigal was singing too much modern music. But what had been modern in 1925 had become familiar by 1945 – though some of it had failed to survive. Even then, Mr Hunt was pushing forward with what was then “modern” work, and in this field he was a good guide to, say, Britten, Finzi, or Matyás Seiber.
Mr Hunt’s outlook reminded one of the wedding bouquet – “something old, something new.” He could give a venturesome and really attractive performance of Benjamin Britten’s St Nicholas cantata.
He is also well remembered for a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in collaboration with the Leeds Parish Church – in the Huddersfield and Leeds Parish Churches on different evenings.
The small orchestra was recruited mainly in Leeds with Douglas Hall as leader, and Dr Bullivant as continuo at the harpsichord.
RECRUITS FROM MANCHESTER
Gordon Thorne was at the Manchester BBC, and was not
able long to keep up his work with the Glee and Madrigal.
Another Manchester man was Alan Wicks, the first man to play Messiæn in Huddersfield, and that at a Corporation Saturday evening concert. His ability to bring a quality of excitement to the performance of music promised well – but Canterbury Cathedral took him away.
If Mr Wicks’s stay was short, he left behind the memory of a performance of the Bach St Matthew Passion (March 19th, 1957). The soloists were Honor Shepherd (soprano), Janet Baker (contralto), Paul Gage (tenor) and Eric Bowler (bass).
Janet Baker was then at the threshold of her still dazzling career and I do not think she has been heard in Huddersfield since that performance of Bach.
For this occasion there was a cantata orchestra, with Martin Milner as leader. Now he is leader of the Hallé. The continuo was shared by Robert Elliott (piano) and Fred Chadwick (organ). The chorales were sung by the Huddersfield Ladies’ Choir and the recitatives by Phyllis Ambler, Mary Newrnan, Margaret Smith, Jack Ardron, George S. Booth, Edward Sykes and Geoffrey Tattersall.
“Bill” Relton, who came to the Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal Society via Manchester, began his musical career as a boy, playing the flugel horn with the Brighouse and Rastrick Band. To conduct the Glee and Madrigal was therefore almost like coming home.
The boy player had in the meantime become a conductor and an adjudicator at brass band concerts. He had a great reputation in both fields and the BBC appointed him as one of their music staff at Manchester, where his all-round gifts found suitable outlets.
He was the first brass-bandsman in the district who had been invited to conduct a choir. The magnetic personality that had galvanised brass bands, the purely musical technique that makes a championship band, his lively mind and versatility of musical and non-musical interests were valued by the G. & M.
Not for long, however, for Huddersfield had him only in transit from Manchester to London. Huddersfield could not expect to hold a man like Bill Relton. However, during his stay the Society made a fine recording of The Trumpets by Gilbert Vinter with the Black Dyke Mills Band.
In Arthur Rooke the choir was able to go on its own doorstep. He had been teacher at Almondbury Grammar School, and organist and choirmaster at Lindley Parish Church. Other appointments later took him across the Pennines, where he made a wonderful success with his Manchester Girls’ Choir, which has so often delighted us in the “Mrs Sunderland.”
Mr Rooke is one of those conductors who are able to bring something out of singers that the singers themselves don’t know they have.
Again, unhappily, Mr Rooke felt that he had to give up coming to Huddersfield.
The choir was suffering from having had too many conductors in too short a time, and later conductors have been handicapped by the gradual loss of choir personnel. Needed reinforcements were not coming in.
TRIUMPH IN MONTEVERDI
Of Richard Steinitz, the present conductor, it may be said that
he was born to be a conductor. His father is founder and conductor
of the London Bach Society and has made a special reputation for
himself for teaching London choralists to sing Bach cantatas and
motets in German.
The son became a lecturer at the Polytechnic School of Music, where he conducts the string orchestra. He approached the conductorship of the Glee and Madrigal with an enthusiasm for the job and some evidence that he had learned a lot from his father.
He did not, however, follow his father in trying to teach the choir to sing Bach in German. This was not due to any lack of musical scholarship but rather a shift in its direction, for he took on the enormous task of putting on the Monteverdi Vespers.
No-one can be sure how this work was performed in Monteverdi’s own day, or even what instruments were used, and the beginner looking for guidance may find only confusion, for not all of the contemporary editors of the Vespers provide the same version.
Mr Steinitz preferred his own “realisation” of the work. Students from the Polytechnic School of Music were the instrumentalists, and singers from St Gregory’s R.C. Grammar and Greenhead High Schools helped to realise this complicated score.
The Vespers were thoroughly rehearsed. The performance on 22nd April, 1972 proved a profound musical experience.
Those who took part in it may in all sincerity feel that the triumphs of the Society do not all belong to the more distant past. They may also feel with reason that in their hands the work was as well done as it can have been in this century anywhere else.
He ended the 99th season with a revival of Holst’s Rig Veda hymns, and of Lambert’s The Rio Grande, with Keith Swallow and John Wilson at two pianos. Old memories were revived with Parry’s Songs of Farewell and new expectations were aroused by his own composition, Green Glass Beads, given along with Charles Ives’ The Circus Band. This was the first time any of the music of Ives had been played in Huddersfield.
Few organisations anywhere can have been better endowed
with a secretary than was the Glee and Madrigal for a full
generation with Harold Sykes. To the outsider it often looked as
if the G. & M. was Harold Sykes, or that Harold Sykes was the
G. & M. He always looked to be indefatigable. When he was in
his late seventies he was still so vigorous that men who were much
younger found that he walked too quickly for them!
Not only was he the secretary, but the chorusmaster and deputy conductor, and when twenty years ago the Society had a score or so of broadcast engagements, he was often the man who conducted the studio performance.
The public knew him also as the organiser of a mixed voice quartet which did a lot of broadcasting, creating a reputation “on the air” or at competitive festivals of being the best of its kind to be heard anywhere at the time.
The quartet had strong G. & M. affiliations, for besides Mr Sykes himself (bass) was G. W. Adams and later Harold Starkey (tenor), May Hickson (contralto) and Mabel Jones (soprano).
Over all the years I have known the G. & M. it could be said that you would be certain of hearing good accompaniments at their concerts. I have mentioned Ernest Cooper when I first heard the choir, and then there were Frank Dodson, Fred Chadwick, Dennis Drake, Evelyn Graham, Philip Challis and Jessie Fisher. Never did the stream of accompanists – who were often also piano duettists – seem to dry up.
It was sad that Jessie Broadbent (Jessie Fisher), who had worked with the choir so long and so happily, should have died – at too early an age – just before the Society’s hundredth birthday was reached. Her last public appearance was to sit at the piano for the photograph of the choir which is used in this volume.
Under Mr Steinitz’s conductorship the Centenary Season is
being celebrated with three concerts of widely contrasting character.
The season opened with a revival of music from the Society’s earliest
programmes given in the Town Hall with Victorian costumes and
décor. A Celebration Concert on 22nd March 1975 – close to
the exact centenary of the Society’s first public appearance – brings
the Yorkshire Sinfonia to accompany the Glee and Madrigal.
This is the first time for many years that the Society has engaged
a professional orchestra. The programme of festive baroque music
includes a Birthday Overture by Boyce, the Bach Magnificat, a
Coronation Anthem and an Organ Concerto by Handel in which
the soloist is the Society’s organist, Trevor Walshaw. The season
ends with a repeat performance of the Monteverdi Vespers,
presenting again in Huddersfield a glittering team of soloists, which will
surely be a splendid and fitting finale to the Society’s first one
A CENTURY OF OFFICIALS