T. L. (Thomas Lamb) Phipson.

Voice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences online

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There can be no doubt that amateur orchestras,
advantageous as they may be (under a good con-
ductor) from an educational point of view, are to
a great extent a '' delusion and a snare " as regards
the attainment of anything approaching to perfec-
tion. They are generally doomed to a short exist-
ence, unless the places vacated by those who depart
to pursue their respective callings are constantly
filled by other performers equally good. Now,
that is practically impossible in any given locality,
except large centres like the metropolis ; but even
in the case of the Bohemian Orchestral Society,
which for four years held its own with the best
orchestras in London, its existence was doomed
to cease at the expiration of that time.

Nevertheless, it was a source of so much pleasure
and profit, that in a work like the present a few
lines devoted to it may, perhaps, be acceptable ;
and they will show what can be done by a woman
of energy, whose powers of persuasion and method
vanquished all difficulties.

The Bohemian Orchestral Society was founded
by Mrs. T. L. Phipson, who organised the meetings
and the concerts, and chose the first members — a
mere handful of musicians — as a nucleus, which
soon spread to considerable dimensions. The con-
ductor was Mr. R. H. Gould, who was educated in
Germany as a musician, and held for some time
the position of Capel-meister at Boppart, on the


Rhine. He had a very extensive knowledge of
modern, and even ancient music, was a good
vioHnist, and a very capable conductor. Under
his guidance during these four years, were grouped
eight first violins, eight second violins, two altos,
two violoncellos, one double-bass, two cornets, two
clarionets, one flute, two hautbois, and a piano, as
follows : —

Conductor : Mr. R. H. Gould.

First violins : T. L. Phipson (leader), G. C. Bower, C. Archer,

W. Butler, W. F. Oliphant, S. Addington, G. A. Briant,

and G. Ross.
Second violins : H. Silverlock (leader), D. Worger, P. Bryant,

G. Adams, H. Dickens, J. Klopp, A. Nicholson, and H.

Violas : E. Heron-Allen, J. Dacie.
Violoncellos : Walter Barnard, Rev. W. Tldmarsh.
Contra-basso : W. Riches, John Evans (occasionally Alfred

Clarionets : Herbert Adams, G. Wood. Flute : A. Adams.
Hautbois : W. Spencer, B. Watkin.
Piano : Mrs. T. L. Phipson.
Honorary ine7nbers : Mrs. Bramwell Davis (contralto), Miss

Winifred Smith (mezzo-soprano), Mrs. H. Rutter (soprano),^

Miss Buckland (contralto). Miss Lusher (soprano), Ch.

Haigh (baritone), Sidney Adams (basso), Walter Allen

(tenor), John Williams (tenor), M. Hazard (comic reciter),

Messrs. G. and H. Watts (reciters). Miss Osborn (piano).

^ My sister, a friend of Ch. Gounod. It was she who induced
him to write I'he Redemption ; without her strenuous arguments he
would never have given to the world that important work. I dedicated
to her my little work on Bel/mi.


Miss Alice Edwards (piano), Mrs. Tidmarsh (piano), Miss
Mary Taylor (member of the committee).
Some of the honorary members always took part in the
Door-keepers : Messrs. Pain and W. Pain. There were four
other servants and a constable, always in attendance at the

The orchestra met for practice every Friday
evening in my drawing-room (which was regularly
cleared out for the occasion), punctually at eight
o'clock, and at a quarter-past ten, coffee and
refreshments were served in the dining-room. At
eleven, every one was turned out.

The rules respecting practices, rehearsals, and
concerts were printed, and strictly adhered to. The
annual subscription of each member was £\y or 5s.
payable quarterly in advance. The meetings took
place every week for ten months of the year. If the
annual subscription did not suffice to pay the con-
ductor's salary and music, &c., the deficiency was
easily made up from the proceeds of the concerts.
As to the music, various members, and sometimes
the conductor himself, presented now and then a
new piece to the society.

This was no great burden, as orchestral music is
purchased at very small cost.

The parts were loosely bound into thin volumes,
so that the pages were easy to tum^ and would, when
open, lie quite flat upon the desks — a matter of more
importance than most people would imagine. They


were under the charge of Mr. A. Adams (flute solo).
The accounts were kept by W. Spencer (hautbois)
and John Adams (member of the committee).

It was my endeavour never to allow any piece to
be performed in public unless there had been four
full 7'ehearsals^ and to take on to the concert plat-
form only music of which every member knew his
part thoroughly.

This was no easy task, as many of the younger
members were often very desirous of performing
compositions that were much beyond their powers ;
and they fancied that if they managed to scramble
through them at the practices, they might play them
in public. However, by adhering strictly to this
determination we were rewarded by success. Indeed
one evening Mr J. G. Callcott said, alluding to the
Bohemian Orchestral Society, ^'It is the smallest,
but one of the best orchestras in London ;" and
something similar was said by another no less emi-
nent musician. That we managed, even on the
coldest nights in winter, to rouse our audience to
enthusiasm, may be realised when I note that at the
New Town Hall, Wandsworth, and at the Assembly
Rooms, Putney, three of our orchestral pieces were
encored — the overture to // Flauto inagico (Mozart),
Le Moulinet (Joseph Strauss), and March in Tann-
hauser {y<J 2L<gw^x). I need scarcely add that it is very
rarely indeed that an orchestral performance is
re-demanded by the audience. I do not allude to


encores obtained by pieces for cornet or clarionet
solo with orchestral accompaniment, which were
frequently re-demanded.

With regard to our repertoire^ it comprised a great
number of compositions, about sixty in all, and it is
really astonishing how much work we managed to
get through in four years. Of these I give the names
of some eight-and-twenty, which include most of
those we took for our concerts, as the list may
prove useful for other societies: —

Overture, Le Mendtrier de St. Waast^ A. Herman (with violin

Fantasia, Loreley^ Nesvadra and Zoeller (very effective).
Overture, Cleopatra, Blancheteau.
Overture, Crown Diamonds, Auber.
Overture, Masaniello, Auber.
Overture, // Flauto niagico, Mozart (re-demanded at our third

Overture, Calif de Bagdad, Boieldieu.

Symphony in G minor, Haydn (performed at our first concert).
Gavotte, Rosalind, J. Barnard (easy and pretty).
Gavotte in F, Reyloff.

Overture, Diademe, A. Herman (easy and very effective).
Overture, Le Chevalier Breton, Herman {idem).
Overture, Zanipa, Herold (extremely brilliant \ requires much

Minuet, Boccherini (an old favourite in many orchestras).
Ave Maria, Zoeller (cornet solo with orchestral accompaniment).
Pas des Patineurs, Glinka (very brilliant).
Overture, William Tell, Rossini (difficult).

Polka, Les Folies, Waldteufel (with cornet solo, highly effective).
Valse, La Manolo, Waldteufel.
Romance sans Paroles, La Melancholie, Barret (for hautbois



Polka Mazurka, Afy Love, Metra (very pretty and effective).

SeW^iac/e, Va.\se Espagnole, Metra.

Invitatiofi a la Va/se, Weber (Riviere's edition ; but there is an
easier edition now published).

Moulinet Polka, Joseph Strauss (encored at our concerts when-
ever played).

March, Tan?ihmcser^ Wagner (encored at one of our concerts).

Les Sautet'ellesiTho. Grasshoppers), by G. and A. Delbriick (very

Da)ise des Czechs^ by Kottaun (Bohemian dance ; often per-

Souvenir de Cadix^ Boldro, by Bosisio (rather difficult).

Overture, Esmcrdlda, Alphonse Herman (easy and brilhant).

V Italie^ Valse, by Mt^tra (very beautiful).

There were many other compositions, by Auber,
Ad. Adam, Rossini, &c., but those above named,
with the exception of the overtures to William Tell
and Masaniello (which were being studied when the
orchestra was broken up), were those we rehed upon
for our performances in pubHc.

As the concert-rooms at our disposal were not
extremely large, the rooms seating only from 300 to
500 people, and the tickets always cheap (half-a-
crown and one shilling), we considered ourselves
lucky when the proceeds of the concerts brought in
•£20 to ;£30, which they usually did. The lowest
result was ;£i9, i8s.

We gave the name of ^^ Bohemian " to this society
because all the members of it, with the exception
of three or four, were, in many respects, thorough
Bohemians, even the ladies.


Besides his salary, our conductor received a fee
of two guineas for each concert.

These pleasant meetings had occasional draw-
backs, to which it is necessary to allude. The con-
ductor, residing at a considerable distance from the
place of meeting, was sometimes late, and sometimes
did not attend at all, in which case one of the first
violins or the hautbois had to conduct, and the
practice resolved itself into mere amusement.

Another difficulty consisted in preventing certain
members of our orchestra giving their services to
other orchestral societies and thereby neglecting
our practices and rehearsals. The esprit de corps
which should have held our members firmly to-
gether, considering the great success of our concerts,
was sadly deficient. Times were when I imagined
that there existed no little jealousy of the success of
our leading violinist as a soloist ; and there was a
marked disincHnation to take advantage of his long
experience in matters of style or taste. For my
part I was not sorry when I ceased to be hampered
with these rough Bohemians. As president of the
society my word was law ; but I was dealing with a
set of men who were, to a great extent, lawless, and
to whom it was constantly necessary to deal out
kindness and pity.

The final break-up was due to several causes :
first, the illness of my dear father, and the conse-
quent failure of my own, usually robust, health ;



next; the withdrawal of some members, diffi-
cult to replace, who were going abroad, and the
death of one of our able 'cellists, the Rev. W.
Tidmarsh. Lastly, my wife had found that she
could obtain more funds for the various charities in
which she was (and still is) interested — the Hambro
Orphanage, the Royal Ladies' Homes, and the Waifs
and Strays — by other means less fatiguing than
orchestral concerts.

I had also come to the conclusion that a really
good orchestra, composed of amateurs, though it
may shine brilliantly for a short time, cannot last
long, and entails an immense amount of labour and
anxiety to keep it in a thoroughly efficient condition.

Still, with all these drawbacks, such societies
should be promoted and patronised, provided they
are conducted by first-rate musicians. They facilitate
study, conduce to correctness of reading and the
acquirement of good style. In many respects an
orchestra is superior to the string quartet, which
is more suitable for chamber music. I had a good
opportunity of judging of this one evening that I
heard the same composition performed as a quar-
tet after it had been played by the orchestra : the
quartet, though perfectly performed, sounded very
thin and poor indeed. The difference was striking.

After the Bohemian Orchestral Society ceased to
exist I lost my father, and did not appear in public
for many years.


At last, one night I was prevailed upon to play
at the Kensington Town Hall. On this occasion a
ludicrous thing occurred. A friend of mine related
that he sat in the body of the hall, just behind two
ladies, one of whom said to the other —

^' Who is this Dr. Phipson ? How is it we have
never heard of him before ? "

To which the other replied —

" I do not exactly know ; but I believe his father
was a celebrated violinist."

My poor father ! a landed proprietor and gentle-
man of fortune ; one of the most intelligent, most
benevolent, and respected of men ! I had been
absent from the concert-room for about five years,
and now I was confused with my excellent and
most worthy father !

It was more complimentary to me than to him.



To persons fond of music — and that means almost
all the world — there can be few greater treats than
the perusal of certain works devoted to those whose
lives have been consecrated to that delightful art.
Were I asked whether most interest attaches to the
life of a great general or to that of a great com-
poser, I should not hesitate to declare that I derive
more pleasure (and probably as much profit) in
reading the life of Rossini than that of Napoleon —
the first is full of poetry and amusement ; the second
full of brutality and horrors.

The culture of music, which now pervades all
classes of society more than it ever did, seems to
be a measure of progress in civilisation. In order
to " love one another," we must sing and play to
subdue the brutal instincts of our nature, which are
ever ready to predominate.

The pleasure derived from certain works induces
me to mention here those which I have found par-
ticularly interesting.

Many years ago I read two small volumes of
Henry Phillips' musical recollections, an amusing



book full of anecdotes, with a sketch of the career
of this celebrated baritone. It is written in very
bad English, and though a little vulgar at times, is
truthful, amusing, and instructive. Among other
curious things, he tells us how Madame Malibran
wanted Balfe to transfer to her part the beautiful
song The Light of Other Days. But Phillips pleaded
hard to retain it, as it was the only song in the opera
with which he was sure of making his effect, and he
had studied it with great care. At last Malibran
gave way, laughing, but keenly regretting the loss,
and he made a great impression with it on the first
night of its production.

That same night all the singers went to sup with
Balfe at his rooms in Regent Street ; but Phillips
arrived late, and when the servant opened the door
a gust of wind extinguished the candle she held in
her hand. As the staircase leading to the supper-
room was narrow and awkward to mount, Phillips
stumbled, and called out to some of the artists to
open the door, that he might see where he was.
When Malibran heard his voice she exclaimed, '^ Oh
dear, just fancy, the light of other days coming up
in the dark ! "

He also tells a story of Lindley, the celebrated
violoncellist, who was afflicted with nervous stam-
mering, and had a great fondness for parrots, bar-
gaining with a boy in the Strand who had one of
these birds for sale. When, stammering and stutter-


ing, he asked the lad if the bird could speak, ^^ Yes/'
he replied, ^'a good deal better than you can, or I
would cut its head off ! "

An admirable and important work is Sutherland
Edwards' '' Life of Rossini." The library of no
musician should be without it. Some of the stories
told of this wonderfully gifted composer since that
work appeared are very curious. My friends in
Paris vouch for the truth of the following : —

With great difficulty the Italian maestro was once
induced to go and hear an opera by Richard Wagner.
I think it was Lohengrin, Next day several persons
rushed into his room to learn what he thought of it.

" Oh, my friends," said Rossini, *' it is a lengthy
work, of considerable importance, upon which it
would be difficult to give an opinion after a first
hearing only — but, as far as I am concerned, I shall
not give it a second ! "

Shortly after this, Wagner and some companions
called upon him. Hearing them on the stairs,
Rossini hastily placed the score of Lohengrin on the
piano, and when the German composer entered, he
said, pointing to it —

*' You see, illustrious maestro^ I am studying your

** But the score is upside down ! " exclaimed the
other, seeing how the book was placed.

** Yes," returned Rossini calmly ; '' the fact is, I
have had it the right way up for some time, but could


make nothing of it ; " and then all present began to
laugh, including Wagner himself.

The manner in which Auber got the poem or
libretto of Gustavus is rather singular. Rossini had
composed nothing since 1829, when his Guillaume
Telly written for the Paris Opera, was produced with
such enormous success. Nothing interfered with
this triumph until Meyerbeer's Robe7't le Diable came
out ; and people say that Rossini was not a little
annoyed at the effect it made upon the Parisian '
public. At the same time the poem of Gustavus
was offered to him, but he refused it abruptly.

" No, thank you," he said dryly, ** I shall do
nothing more for you French fellows ; I am going
to Italy for two years ; I may, perhaps, return when
the Sabbath of the Jezvs is over!'

This was an allusion to Meyerbeer, who was a
man of Jewish extraction, and to the success of
Robert le Diable.

The libretto of Gustavus was then offered to
Auber, who accepted it.

One afternoon in Paris, after a hard day's work, I
w^as enjoying a cup of coffee and a cigar at the Cafe
du Divan ; an organ-grinder was murdering an air
from La Cenerentola when Rossini and a friend
happened to pass. He stepped off the Boulevard,
w^ent up to the man, seized the handle of the organ
and turned it to the proper time the air should be
played. Then slipping a five-franc piece into the


man's hand, he told him never to forget to play that
air slowly, just as he had heard it.

A most charming singer in French Opera at
Brussels in the fifties was Aujac, second tenor at
the Theatre de la Monnaie. I heard him in Guil-
laume Telly Fra DiavolOy and several other operas.
His voice was very sweet and round, and he was
an excellent musician and actor. It w^as a very
great treat to hear him sing the opening song (with
chorus) in Guillaume Telly the fisherman's song —

" Accours dans ma nacelle
Timide jouvencelle,"

standing right at the back of the stage, and giving
his whole voice to the swell on the A, which was
about the highest chest note he could reach. He
was a handsome man upon the stage, and a great
favourite with the audience.

At the Italian Opera in the same city, and at the
same time, we had Signor Luchesi, a most charming
tenor, and in spite of his lameness a capital actor.
After singing a little in London, he retired to his
native place in Italy as a professor of singing,
where, I regret to say, he died a few years ago.
He sang exquisitely in L Elisire d'Amore of Doni-
zetti ; but the An?ta Bolena of the same composer
did not suit him so well. He was most excellent
as Almaviva in Rossini's // Darbiere, In this
character I preferred him to Mario, on account
of the clear and distinct manner of his scales and


vocalisation. There was always something of the
amateur in Mario's scales ; they were generally
taken somewhat nervously, and too rapidly to be
sufficiently distinct. But I did not hear Mario
until Verdi's // Trovatore was brought out about
1856, and some people said his voice was not
then w^hat it used to be. However, he was cer-
tainly magnificent in that opera, with Madame
Frezzolini (soprano) and Graziani (baritone), for
both of whom it was written, and Madame Alboni
as Azucena the gipsy. At a very short interval I
heard both Mario and Luchesi in Rossini's // Bar-
bierCy so that I had a fair opportunity of comparing
these two admirable tenors.

To return to our books. Another very interest-
ing volume is Lumley's " Reminiscences of the
Opera " ; Mapleson also wrote a similar work, and
every one should read Walter Maynard's (Willaert
Beale) more recent volume, "The Light of Other
Days." Miss Clayton's "Queens of Song," in two
volumes, though not always quite accurate, is an
extremely interesting and clever series of bio-

Santley's memoirs, issued not long ago, give us a
most instructive picture of the miseries of a modern
English student of music in Italy ; it is also a very
entertaining book.

Of recent years we have had Kuhe's memoirs,
the work of the late well-known Viennese pianist,


long resident at Brighton, and Arditi's reminis-
cences, containing excellent portraits of Adelina
Patti, Bottesini, and himself. He tells us how
he sold the now celebrated song // Bacio, with two
other small compositions, for a five-pound note !

Still more recently has appeared Sir Charles
Halle s " Life and Letters," an uncompleted diary,
but a conscientious and truthful work, with excellent
pictures of German musical life.

Two other great works which appeared long ago
are Spohr's "Autobiography," especially interest-
ing to violinists, and Victor Schoelcher's " Life of
Handel," which he wrote in London, not being
able to live in Paris under Napoleon HL on account
of his ultra-republican politics.

The two volumes of the memoirs of Michael
Kelly, now become extremely rare, give a very
interesting account of the life and adventures of
an Irish singer on the operatic stage in Italy at
the beginning of this century.

I should also mention the '' Life and Works of
Cherubini," by Bellasis (London, 1874), as a very
meritorious work, abounding with musical examples
of his compositions, but rather pedantic. Never-
theless, it contains some amusing anecdotes, and
shows Cherubini to have been almost as fond of
botany as of music.

Another recent work is Sims Reeves' " Life and
Recollections," which is well worth reading, and


highly instructive to all who desire to follow the
great tenor's career.

I have nothing to say of Adelina Patti's memoirs,
a small volume by one of her lady friends, except
that I read it with much interest, but it is very
incomplete as a biography.

A new book by the veteran Lavignac, of the Paris
Conservatoire, entitled La Musiqite et les MusicienSy
appeared in 1896. Though too ambitious, it is a
capital book, very instructive and interesting, but
not in the least amusing. I can heartily recom-
mend it to all who are making musical composi-
tion their profession. The articles on modulation
and counterpoint are particularly good.

It may be that few of my readers ever heard
of a remarkable experiment once made by Mehul,
the great French composer, and friend of Gliick.
Having taken for his opera of Uthal the story
of an ancient Scottish bard, he thought that in
order to preserve what is termed the '' local
colour" he would suppress the violins in the
orchestra, and give all the accompaniments to
the altos and 'cellos. In this way he imagined
that he would obtain the necessary sad and melan-
choly character which his work required. This
innovation was a complete failure ; it produced a
heaviness and monotony which fatigued the whole

As the distinguished Flemish composer, Gretry,


left the theatre on the night of this performance,
he said to a friend, " It is, no doubt, very fine,
but I would have given a gold piece to have heard
a few squeaks on a violin."

There are times, however, when one may get
too much, even of the violin ; so I will conclude
this little work by an anecdote which is told of an
eccentric French artist who, like some of our con-
temporaries, was fond of introducing long cadenzas
into the concluding bars of his piece. On one
occasion, when the room was hot and small, and
his last turn came near the end of a very lengthy
programme, he quite lost himself in a long cadenza,
introducing fragments of all the melodies played
or sung during the evening.

It was, certainly, very clever ; but whilst he was
wrapped up in his performance, and the external
world non-existent for him, the audience withdrew
to the last man, and when he had concluded with
a few final chords, he found himself in presence of
the door-keeper with a key in his hand.

^' I am sorry to interrupt Monsieur in his prac-
tice," said the latter, showing him the key of the
room; "but when Monsieur has quite finished,
perhaps he will be kind enough to lock the door."


Abeelen, Henri van den, his

Sunrise on the Righi, i66
Academy of Music at Parma, 113
Adelson e Salvini, opera of, 33
Age, effect of, on violins, 102, 104

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Online LibraryT. L. (Thomas Lamb) PhipsonVoice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences → online text (page 12 of 19)