Huddersfield Music Society will be 100 years old next year ... but its early years were marred by tragedy.
The society, known as Huddersfield Music Club until 1962, was launched in 1918 by composer and organist Arthur Eaglefield Hull who also founded the School of Music in Huddersfield and the British Music Society.
He was a major figure in academic circles and wrote biographies of composers as well as reference works on music.
Tragically, it was one of his books, Music: Classical, Romantic and Modern, that is thought to have led to his untimely death in 1928.
Accused of plagiarism and deeply distressed, Arthur attempted suicide by throwing himself under a train at Huddersfield Railway Station. He later died from his injuries in Bradley Lane Nursing Home.
Arthur played a major role in the musical life of Huddersfield and from 1904 until 1920 was organist at Huddersfield Parish Church – a role now filled, coincidentally, by current Huddersfield Music Society (HMS) president Stephen Smith.
The aim of his society was and still is to bring quality, live professional music to the town. And for almost a century, musicians from all over the world – including many who later became famous – have been the society’s guests.
Perhaps the best-known performers to give a recital for the society, which celebrates the start of its centenary season this autumn, were composer, conductor and pianist Benjamin Britten and his partner, tenor Peter Pears, who visited in 1945 and 1947.
But in its early years the society also hosted Polish American pianist Arthur Rubinstein, considered to be the greatest Chopin interpreter of his time; international singing star and Lancashire-born contralto Kathleen Ferrier; American bass singer Paul Robeson, a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement; Belgian violinist Baron Arthur Grumiaux and many other big names in 20th century music. It launched with a lengthy (by today’s standards) concert by Russian operatic tenor Vladimir Rosing, who sang 19 songs.
Current HMS president Stephen Smith believes the organisation may be the country’s oldest music society and says it has often been a stepping stone for unknown young musicians at the start of their careers. The Amadeus Quartet, for example – one of the world’s most famous string ensembles – first played in Huddersfield in 1949 when its musicians were in their 20s and re-visited several times before its reputation grew and its fees became too costly for a provincial music society.
The monthly concerts, now held in St Paul’s Hall at Huddersfield University, have also featured northern premieres of new and contemporary works, as well as recitals of pieces by classical composers. In the early years of the society, for example, members heard the Bartok and Dohnanyi String Quartets within weeks of their London premieres.
Stephen says: “People have got to trust us to put on music that is worthy of consideration. We spend a lot of time on programming and sometimes we get gold. In the new season, for example, we have the Atrium String Quartet who are absolutely stunning. They’ve played for us three times before and been broadcast live by the BBC from one of our concerts.”
Over the 100 years of concerts, HMS audiences have heard everything from medieval music to the latest contemporary compositions. It is one of the few cultural organisations that kept going without a break during the two world wars. During World War Two it hosted the Halle Orchestra in Huddersfield Town Hall and the world-renowned classical pianist Sir Clifford Curzon. Troops were admitted free to all recitals and some artists performed in uniform.
In more recent years the society has tended to focus on chamber music and concerts by instrumentalists, but it still occasionally hosts singers, singing groups and the occasional orchestra. The King’s Singers, a choir based at Cambridge University, and award-winning orchestra Manchester Camerata have been more recent guests.
Musical tastes and music itself have changed over the past century, but as society committee member David Ridgway says: “This is good because it expands what can be performed. We not only embrace ‘stuff’ that people know or recognise but also music which is potentially new to the audience.”
HMS will be looking back at its history and celebrating a love of music at a special fundraising Midsummer Serenade concert on Monday, June 26, in Huddersfield Parish Church.
As well as a recital by Stephen Smith, with a programme of pieces composed by founder Arthur Eaglefield Hull and items by Bach and contemporary American composer Paul Manz, the audience will be treated to a talk by Huddersfield University academic Rachel Cowgill who has been researching the life and work of the society’s founder.
Parish church warden Alan Eastwood will also speak on the history of the church and the ongoing Heritage Lottery-funded renovations.
Tickets for the concert are £10 from Huddersfield Parish Church or by calling 01484 722540.