The Music Lovers’ Concert Club

The Music Lovers’ Concert Club

In wartime Bury St Edmunds, local music-loving residents and visiting forces personnel created an audience for classical music, both live and recorded. The national Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts – a war-time precursor of the Arts Council – recruited groups of professional musicians brave enough to undertake tours to blacked-out towns outside blitzed London. From 1942 CEMA Concerts as they were known, were arranged in the Guildhall Court Room by a local Organizing Secretary, the public-spirited piano teacher Miss E Gwen Davy. The following advertisement appeared in the Bury Free Press in July 1942:

A review of the concert read as follows:

CEMA Concert – Well known Artists at Bury

Three well known artists, Marjorie Hayward, Joseph Farrington and Gerald Moore, gave an excellent programme on friday evening… The room was practically filled and each of the numerous items was greatly enjoyed. Marjorie Hayward played Air (Purcell), The Rope Dancer (Moffatt), Gondoliers (Frank Bridge), and Hungarian Dance (Brahms); and as an encore, Kreisler’s Viennese Melody. She joined with Gerald Moore in playing Brahms’ Sonata in A major for violin and piano Op. 100, and later the pianist gave Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 13 ‘Pathétique’ and, as an encore, Heller’s Prelude in E major.

Joseph Farrington sang two groups of solos. In the first were Droop not young lover (Handel), High Priest’s song (Mozart), Ruddier than the cherry (Handel) and, for an encore, the negro spirituelle [sic] Sweet Peace, while the second group consisted of Summer time in Bredon (Graham Peel), Silent Noon (Vaughan Williams), Childer ways (Walford Davies) I’m a Roamer (Mendelssohn). His encore in this group was the nautical air, The Plank.

The piano was lent by the Museums and Libraries Committee.

In the following month, another concert review said:

The Ebsworth String Quartet, newcomers to the musical life of the town, charmed those of present with their delightful Dittersdorf, Frank Bridge, Haydn and Dvorák…Mr Elton Halliley voiced the appreciation of those present, and expressed the hope that we could be favoured by another visit of this versatile quartet.

For their return visit in the 1943 series they performed a Haydn Quartet Op. 50, No. 1, Beethoven’s Op. 18, No. 3, plus an adventurous rarity, the Arnold Bax First Quartet.

True to war-time uncertainty, plans for one programme had to  be adjusted. Gwen Davy’s great friend, the local professional pianist Kathleen long was ‘away on Government business’. Miss Davy was able to engage the talented Russian pianist-composer Nina Milkina and the Welsh tenor Parry Jones with Ella Ivimey as accompanist. All were well-known from their broadcasts for the BBC.

At the end of September, a BFP headline ‘Silverman Quartet at Bury’ introduced a piano quartet who often broadcast and recorded. They performed quartets for piano and strings by Mendelssohn, Schumann and the Mozart G minor. Leonard Silverman was quoted as saying, ‘a very good audience to play to’.  We should like to think this comment has been frequently repeated since.

In December, Adele Verne, piano, with Murray Davies, baritone and Ella Ivimey, accompanist, presented:

Another Delightful Evening at Bury

The pianist made a popular choice: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, and Chopin items. Liszt’s Rhapsody No. 2 received remarkedly vigorous treatment. She was the recipient of a handsome bouquet from Miss Wormald. Murray Davies had a well-contrasted programme, of Bach, Handel arrangements by Somervell, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, with Sinding and Stanford. His encores included the negro spiritual Joshua at the battle of Jericho.

In February 1943 the reviewer wrote:

We had the pleasure of an evening of some of the best music presented in a manner to satisfy the most fastidious. Arthur Catterall, violin, Kathleen Moorhouse, ‘cello and the pianist Maurice Jacobson formed a delightful combination with trios by Mozart and Beethoven and individual items by Arensky, de Falla, Liadov and others. The Guildhall was crowded and the audience most satisfied and responsive.

The final concert of this first series was by the English Singers, a vocal quartet with pianist, who sang informally seated round a table. Their programme, which was entitled A Survey of English Song, also included piano solos, after which Mr E J Sewell expressed the audience’s appreciation of the help given by CEMA in enabling local people to hear, during the series of concerts, some of the world’s best music presented by some of the country’s best artists, and loud applause greeted his thanks to Miss Gwen Davy for her local organisation work. He hoped that it would be possible to continue these concerts. The BFP review endorsed this tribute to Miss Davy, and also included recognition of the help rendered by Miss Wormald throughout the series.

As it happened, that ‘final concert’ was not the last one of the season, because Kathleen Long gave her promised piano recital in April 1943.  This was held in the Hall of the Guildhall Feoffment School, Bridewell Lane. By now the Court Room at the Guildhall was proving too small for audiences over eighty in number, therefore larger venues were needed such as this School Hall, or eventually the elegant ballroom, the Athenaeum Hall, on Angel hill (which was then in constant use as a forces canteen).

Now it seemed the local Committee was established, and in November 1943 an unassuming birth announcement appeared in the Local News column of the BFP:

Music Lovers’ Concerts

With the Mayor as President, Councillor E J Sewell as Chairman, and Miss Gwen Davy (St David’s, Sparhawk Street) as Hon. Secretary, a representative Committee has been formed in Bury St Edmunds whose purpose and hope it is to organise some high-class concerts with famous artists under the general title of ‘Music Lovers’ Concerts’. It is hoped to arrange these in the New Year, the first being in January, and among the artists in mind for the season are Albert Sammons, Eda Kersey, Kathleen Long, Nina Milkina, Thelma Reiss, Joseph Farrington, Trefor Jones, etc. It is believed by the Committee that all lovers of good music in the town and district will be glad to know of the real effort that is being made on their behalf, and an appeal is issued, asking those interested to help the project by being good enough to contribute one guinea to the season’s guarantee fund, without which it will be impossible to secure the services of the well-known artists it is hoped to engage. Subscribers to this guarantee fund will have a first choice of reserved seats.

In the event, both venues mentioned above were used. The next series set off to a positive start as indicated by the BFP headline early in 1944:

Good Music at Bury

There is an encouraging number of subscribers to the Guarantee Fund, and for the first of these Music Lovers’ Concerts last Thursday we had a delightful combination in Eda Kersey, Joseph Farrington and Gerald Moore, and the public reaction was such that the Feoffment School Hall was literally packed.

The reviewer mentions that Gerald Moore, who was paying his second visit here, had recently been described as one of the foremost accompanists in Europe; the quote continues ‘In his recent book The Unashamed Accompanist he cleverly deals with the exacting work of an accompanist who must be expert in, and intimate with, all the varying styles of a host of composers and on whom the success of the vocalist or instrumental artist so much depends. This Gerald Moore demonstrates to the full.’

By April 1944 there was a occasion to plan for a larger concert in the Athenaeum.  The BFP described the Club’s first orchestral venture:

It was thrilling to see the Athenaeum packed on Tuesday evening for the Music Lovers’ Concert. There were many more who would have attended had the hall capacity not been larger, for a number were disappointed in not being able to secure tickets. It illustrated once more the need for a decent=sized concert hall in the town. At the same time it justified the decision of the Council in  granting the use of the Athenaeum for the concert, and we are sure few of the Services grudged giving up their club to the towns-people for one evening. To hear such instrumental music Bury’s music lovers usually have to go to Cambridge, Ipswich or Norwich, and the opportunity of seeing such artists here was really appreciated.

In January 1945, the BFP reviewed another famous international pianist, Louis Kentner:

Brilliant Recital at Bury

Under the auspices of CEMA, to a packed house in the Feoffment School Hall… lighting for the pianist was not too good, and there was an unfortunate vibration in the piano. But the renowned pianist’s powers did not apparently suffer… the programme consisted of Brahms Variations on a theme of Handel, Liszt Sonata, Debussy Childrens’ Corner, plus Balakirev and Albeniz.

Later in the year, the Club arranged another visit from the Boyd Neel Orchestra, this time with Frederick Grinke as solo violinist in concertos by Bach and Ireland; and in December the Hirsch String Quartet came to play Beethoven Op. 74, Debussy and Haydn Op. 74, No. 3. As the reviewer RED commented in the BFP ‘…a concert that will live long in the memory.’

From a unique copy of a Music Lovers’ Concert brochure for the 1950-1951 series found in the Suffolk Record Office in Bury, we can admire the long service of the majority of the earliest Committee members who served into the 1960s and beyond.

Among these were keen pianist Cecil Croger, from Whipps’ fishmongers in Whiting Street, famed locally for deputising at short notice when Flanagan & Allen appeared at the former Playhouse in the 1930s, and Roland E Dixon, whose initialled comment appeared above, came from the family butchers known for their sausages. Elton Halliley, the local Conservative agent who lived in St Mary’s Square, and whose wife was a music-lover, hosted visiting artists. His son John began his working career at a Guildhall Street solicitors, but is more recently known to TV viewers as an actor in the war-time re-creation Dad’s Army, using his mother’s surname of Le Mesurier. He has also another connection with the Club – his godmother was Kathleen Long. Wilfred Mothersole is also a name known to many present-day music-lovers, as former Cathedral assistant organist and a long-serving Choir member. Both he and his wife Mildred were accompanists for rehearsals at the Bury Operatic and Amateur Dramatic Society, of which he later became conductor. Miss Marjorie Wormald from the town’s music shop Harpers (which served as the booking office until the 1970s) has already appeared in another role as presenter of bouquets to soloists.

During the 1950s the Club had an established series of four to five concerts during the winter months, given in different venues; the Committee continued to be led by Charman Cllr E J Sewell and Secretary Gwen Davy, with the help of the Hon. President Kathleen Long (hoping to retire to her ‘beloved Bury’).

As sets of annual programmes show the vocabulary and cost have changed, but the variety of concerts has remained generally consistent.

In 1961 official Rules were drawn up, forerunners of today’s Constitution:

1. The name of the Club shall be the Bury St Edmunds Music Lovers’ Concert Club

2. The object of the Club shall be to promote high class chamber concerts in Bury St Edmunds.

3. The members of the Club shall be those who subscribe for the whole series of concerts…in any one season.

4. The management of the Club shall be vested in a Chairman, Hon. Secretary, Hon Treasurer, and a Committee of not less than four and not more than nine members, to be elected at the AGM.

As the Club neared its 21st birthday in 1963, change was in the air. The Club’s first Chairman, now Alderman Sewell OBE, died ‘after his faithful term of 18 years’ in office’ according to the EADT. Another long-serving Committee member, Elton Hallkiley, after being made a life member in 1963, died the following year, having been ‘one of two or three who started the concerts 20 years ago’.

Meanwhile, further changes were imminent. The Theatre Royal was being reopened and, to encourage a variety of arts activities on its premises, a national appeal was being organised.

Source: A Brief History of the Bury St Edmunds Concert Club by Betty Birkby

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