Charles Hallé was born in Hagen, a small town near Dortmund in Germany and settled in Manchester in 1848. Soon after his arrival in Manchester he organised a series of chamber concerts with the first series given in the older part of what is now Manchester Art Gallery.
One of Hallé’s aims was to make music accessible to all and his chance for this came in 1856 when he was asked to form an orchestra for the Art Treasures Exhibition.
"The Committee – Sir Thomas Fairbairn… was chairman – acted with unparalleled energy and succeeded in bringing together a marvellous collection of masterpieces of the different arts, such as I believe had never been equalled since. I was most anxious that music should hold its own, and not suffer by comparison with the other arts."
Hallé was given the time and means to realise his vision:
"To this end a first-rate orchestra was absolutely necessary… Fortunately the committee agreed with my views, placed ample means at my disposal, and I succeeded, not without considerable trouble, in bringing together a thoroughly satisfactory band by engaging competent performers from London, Paris, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Italy, in addition to the best of our local players. Concerts took place every afternoon, but I conducted only on Thursdays. They soon became one of the chief attractions of the exhibition. The whole exhibition was like a beautiful dream."
As musical director Hallé devised a programme which was a mixture of light pieces and more challenging items. He claimed that "Thousands and thousands of people from the northern counties heard a symphony for the first time" at the exhibition, though it does not appear that whole symphonies were performed. On the other hand it is clear that many people were hearing a symphony orchestra for the first time. Each of his programmes included at least one symphonic movement and along with popular pieces by composers like Mendelssohn and Rossini he introduced new composers like Verdi and Strauss. Beethoven was the mainstay of his life and his music was included often.
"The first concert took place in the exhibition yesterday afternoon. The attendance, as indeed for the first, was almost too numerous, and it was not easy to move about with comfort either to oneself or to others. At one time (towards 4’oclock) nearly 10,000 persons were within the building, of whom about one fourth had paid at the door, the others by season ticket … some grand specimens of metal works from the Windsor collection were so crowded … it was difficult to catch even a glimpse throughout the day without waiting with exemplary patience. "
Guardian May 7 1857
For the exhibition too, a ballad was composed - The Manchester Exhibition Ballad. The ballad was recorded by Mark Dowding and Chris Harvey in 2005 as part of the Manchester Ballads CD and can be listened to below.
© Mark Dowding & Chris Harvey
Visit Mark Dowding's website.