St James's Hall

St James's Hall

St. James's Hall was a concert hall in London that opened on March 25, 1858, designed by architect and artist Owen Jones, who had decorated the interior of the Crystal Palace. [R. Elkin, "Queen's Hall 1893-1941" (Ryder, London 1944), p. 16, note, says 1858.] It was situated between the Quadrant in Regent Street and Piccadilly, and Vine Street and George Court. There was a frontage on Regent Street, and another in Piccadilly. Taking the orchestra into account, the main hall had seating for slightly over 2,000 persons. [Elkin 1944, 16.] It had a grand hall convert|140|ft|m|0 long and convert|60|ft|m|0 broad, the seating was distributed between ground floor, balcony, gallery and platform and it had excellent acoustics. [R. Elkin, "Royal Philharmonic - The Annals of the Royal Philharmonic Society" (Ryder 1946), 67.] On the ground floor were two smaller halls, one convert|60|ft|m square; the other convert|60|ft|m by convert|55|ft|m. [ [ "Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - St James's Hall" in "the Victorian Dictionary"] ] The Hall was decorated in the 'Florentine' style, with features imitating the great Moorish Palace of the Alhambra. The Piccadilly facade was given a Gothic design, and the complex of two restaurants and three halls was hidden behind Nash's Quadrant.Hobhouse, Hermione. "History of Regent Street" (Macdonald and Jane's, London, 1975), p. 84 ISBN 0362002347] Sir George Henschel recalled its 'dear old, uncomfortable, long, narrow, green-upholstered benches (pale-green horse-hair) with the numbers of the seats tied over the straight backs with bright pink tape, like office files.' [H. Henschel, "When Soft Voices Die" (Methuen, London 1949).]

The Hall was built jointly by two music publishing firms, Chappell & Co. and Cramer & Co., in the hope of attracting the growing audiences for fine musical performances that attended the Crystal Palace and the halls being built in the provinces. It stood empty for nearly a year after its opening. [R. Pound, "Sir Henry Wood" (Cassell, London 1969), 34-35.] For almost half a century thereafter, the Hall was London's principal concert hall [ [ Survey of London: volumes 31 and 32, Chapter IV] ] , to be succeeded by Queen's Hall in the 1900s and later by Wigmore Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall. It became famous for its 'Monday Pops' concerts and Ballad Concerts, as the home of the Philharmonic Society and the Christy Minstrels and for the many famous conductors and performers who gave important performances there.


The first performance at the hall was "The Hymn of Praise" by the Vocal Association, under Julius Benedict.C. Pearce, "Sims Reeves - Fifty Years of Music in England" (Stanley Paul, London 1924), pp. 205-07.] Sims Reeves sang Beethoven's 'Adelaide' there (the first of many successes), accompanied by Arabella Goddard, in a concert at the end of May 1858. According to Reeves' biographer, 'The hall itself met with general approval, but the arrangements for chorus and orchestra were severely condemned.' In the same year, one of the first complete performances of J.S. Bach's "St Matthew Passion" to be heard in England was given there under William Sterndale Bennett, with Sims Reeves, Helen Lemmens-Sherrington, Charlotte Sainton-Dolby and Willoughby Weiss. [Reeves, Sims. "My Jubilee: or, Fifty Years of Artistic Life" (Simpkin, Marshall, London 1889), pp. 178-79. cf W. Sterndale Bennett (Ed.), "Grosse Passions-Musik composed by John Sebastian Bach" (Lamborn Cock, Hutchings, London 1862).]

The Christy Minstrels

The hall became known for its continuous production of blackface minstrelsy from 1862 until 1904. [According to ['s+hall%22+minstrels&source=web&ots=SGKh4d_D7f&sig=0qpLaYc_9pzN2dXKSKOXe8Ag9yE&hl=en#PRA9-PA727,M1 "The Encyclopaedia Britannica", eleventh edition, Vol. XXI, p. 726,] the Christy Minstrels played at the theatre beginning in 1862 and later evolved into the Moore and Burgess Minstrels, which continued at the hall through 1904. See also [ this article] .] [ [ Notes to "Ray Andrews Classic English Banjo,"] citing Reynolds, Harry: "Minstrel Memories: The Story of Burnt Cork Minstrelsy in Great Britain 1836-1927" (London, 1928)] Known as the Christy Minstrels and later the Moore and Burgess Minstrels, the Hall's resident minstrel troupe performed in one of the smaller halls located on the ground floor near the restaurant, below the main hall. [Elkin 1946, 67.] Gilbert and Sullivan's 1893 comic opera, "Utopia, Limited", contains a joke in which the Court of St. James's is purposely confused with St. James's Hall and its minstrel shows, and a parody of a minstrel number is included in the same scene. [ ['s+hall%22+minstrels&source=web&ots=0gio3zxJXj&sig=-SGvcOb5kYBQNGqjmVMcxieq7xY&hl=en "Utopia, Limited" scene] ]

In residence for the whole active life of the hall, the Minstrels had their permanent home there, but their interests often conflicted with those of the main hall. In January 1890, for instance, George Bernard Shaw wrote:

At the Hallé orchestral concert... I was inhumanly tormented by a quadrille band which the proprietors of St James's Hall (who really ought to be examined by two doctors) had stationed within earshot of the concert-hall. The heavy tum-tum of the basses throbbed obscurely against the rhythms of Spohr and Berlioz all the evening, like a toothache through a troubled dream; and occasionally, during a "pianissimo", or in one of Lady Hallé's eloquent pauses, the cornet would burst into vulgar melody in a remote key, and set us all flinching, squirming, shuddering, and grimacing hideously.' [G. B. Shaw, London Music in 1888-89 as heard by Corno di Bassetto, etc (Constable, London 1937), 299-300.]
Only a fortnight later, the band, at first subdued, broke out in a 'wild strain of brazen minstrelsy' during the final bars of the funeral march in the Eroica Symphony. After the movement was applauded a member of the audience began calling out that a complaint should be lodged, and won general approval, "hear, hear", and people standing up to look at him. [Shaw 1937, 305-306.] On one occasion Lady Henschel and her daughter went to hear Joseph Joachim play at a Saturday 'Pop', but were so aware of the 'rhythmic gay sounds, thumping and shimmering away in a most enlivening manner', that they decided to go and hear Moore and Burgess instead. [H. Henschel, When Soft Voices Die (Methuen, London 1949), 66-67.]

Monday and Saturday 'Pops' and Ballad Concerts

S. Arthur Chappell, who had his own business in Bond Street selling brass and woodwind instruments next door to the family firm, devised the idea of the Monday Popular Concerts, which established the fame and popularity of the hall. George Bernard Shaw reported that the concerts at the hall contributed greatly to the spread and enlightenment of musical taste in England. [Shaw 1937, 297.] Monday 'Pops' were held in the evening, and Saturday 'Pops' on Saturday afternoons. These were chamber-concerts. Their programmes were almost exclusively 'classical', and consisted of piano and organ recital, singers, violinists, string quartets and other chamber ensemble. [Henschel 1949, 66-67.] They were managed by John Boosey, and latterly by William Boosey. In 1861 the "Musical World" observed: 'classical chamber music of the highest order is brought week after week within the reach of the shilling paying masses as it has now been no less than fifty-two times at St James's Hall.... swelling the total of the Monday Popular Concerts to no less than sixty-three within two years of their foundation.... Such a result is unparalleled in the history of musical entertainents.' [C. Pearce 1924, 231-32.]

George Bernard Shaw gives an interesting narrative of the 'Pops' between 1888 and 1894. [Shaw 1937, passim: G.B. Shaw, "Musical Life in London 1890-1894" (Constable, London 1932), passim.] Shaw admired the Joachim Quartet, led either by Joachim himself or often by Mme Wilma Norman Neruda (Lady Hallé) (and later still by Eugène Ysaÿe), with ('modest') L. Ries (2nd violin), ('solemn') Herr Strauss (viola) and the ('gentle') cellist Alfredo Piatti. This was certainly the 'star turn' in that period. [Henschel 1949, 66. (The epithets are George Henschel's.)] They frequently played full works, or even groups of works, at the 'Pops': their larger ensemble was often heard in the Beethoven "septet". Among soloists heard in 1888-90 (the 31st and 32nd seasons) [Monday 27 January 1890 was the 1105th Pop] were Charles Hallé, Alma Haas (Beethoven op. 110), Agnes Zimmerman (Waldstein), Edvard Grieg, Bernhard Stavenhagen (Schumann "Papillons"), Arthur de Greef (Chopin), pianists; Joseph Joachim (Brahms), Mme Norman Neruda, (Bach concerto for 2 violins), violin; Bertha Moore, Charles Santley ("Der Erlkönig", "To Anthea"), Marguerite Hall (Schubert, Brahms, Henschel), singers. [Shaw 1937, 40-42, 59-61, 68, 297-99, 318, 336-338.] The concerts were mixed, often consisting of a chamber-work, some songs, and instrumental solos.

The Hall became known for the "London Ballad Concerts," which began in the 1860s and moved in January 1894 to Queen's Hall. They "were started... by Messrs Boosey 'for the performance of the CHOICEST ENGLISH VOCAL MUSIC by the MOST EMINENT ARTISTS'." [Elkin 1944, 91.]

The Philharmonic Society

The Philharmonic Society of London, founded 1813, until 1869 gave its concerts in its rooms at Hanover Square, which had seating for only about 800. The Society decided to move permanently to St James's Hall, and a complimentary additional concert, held at St James's Hall, was given to its subscribers at the end of the 1868-69 season. Charles Santley, Charles Hallé, Therese Tietjens and Christine Nilsson were the soloists. [Elkin 1946, 65.] When the move was made, the Society remodelled its charges to obtain a wider audience and compete with the Crystal Palace and other large venues, and introduced annotated programmes. The Society remained at the hall until 28 February 1894, when it moved to the Queen's Hall. [Elkin 1944, 52.]

There were major events in 1870–71, when a Beethoven centenary season was held, with all nine symphonies performed. The Schaller sculptured bust of Beethoven was presented to the Society and collected (in Pesth) by Sir W. G. Cusins. It was exhibited at the Society's first concert in 1871, and a replica was placed at the front of the platform at every Philharmonic concert thereafter. The Society's Gold Medal incorporated an image of the bust. Another major event of 1871 was the original presentation of medals to ten distinguished musicians. [Elkin 1946, 67-71.]

Notable Philharmonic performers at St James's Hall

In 1871, Gounod conducted a concert of his music. In 1873 Brahms's Requiem had its English première; Edward Lloyd first sang before the Society; and Hans von Bulow made his London début, playing the "Emperor concerto" and Bach's "Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue". In 1874, Pablo de Sarasate and Camille Saint-Saëns played there, and in 1875, August Wilhelmj. Other Philharmonic Society highlights of the next few years included performances by George Henschel, Xaver Scharwenka, Emile Sauret, Joseph Joachim and Edward Dannreuther. [Elkin 1946, 72-73.]

Changes of management were introduced in 1881 following the Society's recovery from a financial crisis. Concerts were moved from Monday to Thursday evenings, to make way for the Monday Night Popular Chamber-Concerts, known as the 'Pops'. [Elkin 1946, 76.] The 1881 season included two performances of Berlioz' "Roméo et Juliette"; Scharwenka gave the British première of his second pianoforte concerto, and Eugen d'Albert and Emma Albani appeared before the Society. Over the next two years many choral works were given with the Philharmonic Choir, including works by Liszt, Anton Rubinstein, Weber, Beethoven and Brahms. [Elkin 1946, 77-78.]

In 1883, Cusins retired as conductor, and for one season there was a team of Honorary conductors. Dvořák conducted his First Symphony in March 1884. Sir Arthur Sullivan conducted the concerts of 1884–87, and as guest conductors, Dvořák, Moritz Moszkowski and Saint-Saens were heard in works written for the Society. Among the soloists were Tivadar Nachez, Fanny Davies, Lillian Nordica, Ella Russell, Emma Nevada, Josef Hoffman and Franz Ondriček. [Elkin 1946, 79-80.]

F. H. Cowen succeeded Sullivan as conductor from 1888–92. In his first season Grieg played his Piano Concerto and Tchaikowsky made his first appearance before an English audience introducing two works. Johan Svendsen and Charles-Marie Widor also conducted in that season, and Clara Schumann made her farewell performance to the Society. Tchaikowsky returned in 1889 to conduct his Piano Concerto with Wassily Sapellnikoff making his English debut (who three years later created a furore with the Liszt E flat concerto); and Agathe Backer-Gröndahl and Eugène Ysaÿe also made their English debuts. In 1890, Dvořák conducted his Fourth Symphony. Paderewski, who gave four recitals at St. James's Hall for his début in 1890, returned there for the Society in 1891 to perform the Saint-Saëns' C minor, and the Rubinstein D minor, concerti. Leonard Borwick and Frederic Lamond also performed there for the Society. Cowen gave many concerts of contemporary English composers such as Sullivan, Hubert Parry, Alexander Mackenzie, Charles Villiers Stanford, and of his own works. [Elkin 1946, 82-85.]

In 1892 Alexander Mackenzie succeeded Cowen. In the 1893 season, Tchaikowsky gave the English première of his Fourth Symphony, Saint-Saens conducted his "Le Rouet d'Omphale" and played his G minor concerto, and Max Bruch conducted his own second Violin concerto with Ladislas Gorski as soloist. In November 1893, a presentation was made to the Society's Secretary Francesco Berger in appreciation of ten years service. Soon afterwards, Queen's Hall opened its doors, and the Society moved there in the following February. [Elkin 1944, 52; Elkin 1946, 87-88.]

Subscription Concerts

Hans Richter often conducted Richard Wagner concerts at St. James's Hall, beginning in 1877. [Elkin 1944, 23.] These 'Orchestral Festival Concerts' (established regularly in 1879 by the violinist Hermann Franke [Henschel 1949, 61.] ), which commenced after Easter, were among the chief rivals to the Philharmonic Society programmes. At the time of Arthur Sullivan's resignation of the Philharmonic conductorship, the Society suggested to Richter that he might become its conductor, and the two series of concerts might be amalgamated under the Society's supervision. Richter did not accept the plan. [Elkin 1946, 82.]

In addition to Richter's series, there was also a nine-year winter series of subscription concerts established and conducted by George Henschel, including a full cycle of Beethoven symphonies in one year, and a rare performance of Richard Wagner's Symphony. The content was planned against a 'permanent background' of Beethoven and Brahms. Helen Henschel refers to 'the famous Wagner cat' which inhabited the Hall. It was said to walk onto the stage during rehearsals whenever any work by Wagner was being played, but never otherwise. [H. Henschel, When Soft Voices Die (Methuen, London 1949), 69.]

Shaw refers to both, noting that Richter's concerts were too expensive, and that Henschel's orchestra was too small. [Shaw 1937, 59.]

Other uses

The Bach Choir, established in 1875 under a founding committee including Sir George Grove and Sir John Stainer, had as a primary aim the introduction to England of Bach's Mass in B Minor. With a choir of between 200 and 250 voices, including the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, and under the baton of her husband, conductor Otto Goldschmidt, the Mass came to performance in April 1876 at St James's Hall, and a second performance was given a month later. [Elkin 1944, 62.]

Henry J. Wood performed the E minor organ concerto of Ebenezer Prout at the Hall with an orchestra under Joseph Barnby, in the late 1880s. Although the performance earned him much praise, he referred to the instrument as 'that terrible box of whistles at St. James's Hall'. [H. Wood, "My Life of Music" (Gollancz, London 1946 edition), 31.] The Stock Exchange Orchestral Society, founded 1883, originally played in the Prince's Hall Piccadilly, but transferred to St. James's Hall until 1894, when they moved to Queen's Hall. [Elkin 1944, 104.] In December 1893 Harry Plunket Greene and Leonard Borwick began their celebrated partnership in Lieder recitals at the hall, which continued well into the new century. In 1895, the 16-year-old pianist Mark Hambourg gave a concert there under Henry J. Wood, in which he played three piano concerti.

The end of the Hall

The Chappell ballad concerts were being managed by William Boosey in 1902, when the hall was owned by a private company. The controlling share was held by T. P. Chappell, chairman of Chappell's: he turned down a good offer to buy the hall because Boosey felt strongly about its old connection with the Saturday and Monday 'Pops' and the Chappell ballad concerts. But Chappell died in June 1902, and the other shareholders accepted a new offer without consulting Boosey, who was badly put out. Then Queen's Hall came into the market, and a friend of Boosey's acting in that interest pointed out that Queen's Hall would be worth much more if St James's Hall ceased to operate. Boosey realised that Messrs Chappell could benefit most by becoming lessors of Queen's Hall, and it was immediately arranged with the result that Chappell's controlled Queen's Hall from 1902 down to 1944. [Elkin 1944, 20-21.] The 11-year-old violinist Franz von Vecsey made his English debut at St James's Hall in April or early May 1904. [Elkin 1944, 30.] It continued in use until February, 1905 when it was demolished [ [ Survey of London: volumes 31 and 32, Chapter IV] ] . The Piccadilly Hotel was afterwards built on the site.Elkin 1944, 16, n.]

1907 building

A new St. James's Hall at Great Portland Street, (on a site previously occupied by St Paul's Church) had its foundation stone laid by the Lord Mayor and Sherriffs on April 20, 1907 ["Court Circular", "The Times", April 6, 1907, pg. 7] . It opened on April 25, 1908 with a series of promenade concerts performed by the newly formed St. James's Hall Orchestra under the musical directorship of Mr. Lyell Taylor. ["Concerts", "The Times", April 6, 1908, pg. 8]


External links

* [ Victorian London - St James's Hall] (Victorian London)
* [ Images of the first hall] (British History On-line)
* [ "The St. James's Hall Christy Minstrels' Illustrated 'Christmas Annual'" - 1868]

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