The Hallé in 1943

An exceptional year

1943 was a turbulent time for the Hallé. Contractual clashes caused 35 key players (over half of the orchestra) to leave in order to continue their work with the BBC. This calamitous situation was compounded by the fact that just a few years earlier 15 players had left in order to serve with H.M forces.

It now seemed as though the orchestra was going to have to fight for its very survival.

Sir John Barbirolli quickly recruited new orchestra members and with a passion to bring music to the people, took the Hallé to play all over the country.

We bring you closer to this journey with never before seen artefacts from the Hallé Archive.

John Barbirolli – A master at the helm

“Having slipped the cable and put to sea, the Hallé Orchestra now braves the elements with a master hand at the helm. Considerable risks are being taken by all concerned to give Manchester and the north of England the best that music has to offer.”

The Manchester Guardian, 7 April 1943

The keen strategic mind of the orchestra’s Chairman Philip Godlee, saw John Barbirolli take the helm after Sir Henry Wood rejected the position due to London commitments. Barbirolli had completed seven seasons as conductor with the celebrated New York Philharmonic, a role which had enhanced his already well established international reputation. Moving from New York to return to war torn Britain was a brave and patriotic move for the British-Italian conductor.

Talking to the press in 1943 Barbirolli stated his plans “…to give the best of music of all schools with the maximum of rehearsal…I am not going to promise you the earth in a few days but I have ambitions for the Hallé and I think they will be achieved.”

He went on to achieve these aims and much, much more. His first season attracted large audiences and involved performances of high quality music, including 11 premiers of works by composers such as Vaughan Williams, Faure and Delius.

The old contemptibles

“Being the survivors of those who began the freak adventure of the new Hallé 1943″

In 1953 John Barbirolli (the orchestra’s conductor) threw a dinner in honour of the Old Contemptibles. These were the members of the orchestra who had joined in 1943 alongside Barbirolli and continued to play under his leadership for ten years. The term, thought to be formed by Barbirolli, expressed a fondness for the players who had the determination and belief to join him of the exciting new journey.

The new Hallé was formed in 1943 from the embers of those players who had stood fast in their positions after the 1942-1943 season . Mr Philip Godlee (Chairman of the orchestra in 1943) announced the orchestra to the press, stating “It will consist of 70 players and will cost £60,000 a year to run”. He added that they “hoped to do 250 concerts, including recordings and concerts for children”.

This new reincarnation of the orchestra included not only some of the best musicians from the north of England, but also 28 female players, an extraordinary change from the previous year of 1942 when there were only 8 women playing in the orchestra.

Members of the rejuvenated Hallé worked hard and rehearsed often, echoing the enthusiasm of their conductor. This level of dedication, combined with Barbirolli’s leadership, paid off and led to rave reviews from the critics. Audience numbers soared, leading to the establishment of a large dedicated following. For a performance at one venue, Belle Vue, 5,000 tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes.

Real music come to the people

During World War II the orchestra supported the war effort by playing at factories and RAF bases as well as performing a series of ENSA concerts for war workers. Their performances reached a wide range people including school children, factory workers, the armed forces often introducing people to the classical repertoire for the first time with a broad variety of music from Bach to Beethoven and Vaughan Williams to Wagner.

Not only did the orchestra play in support of the war effort, it commissioned new works that honoured those fighting for their country. In 1943 the orchestra premiered Threnody for a Solider Killed in Action (by Anthony Collins, a piece based on sketches (a collection of themes and musical ideas) left by Michael Hemming. Hemming was a promising composer at the Royal College of Music who volunteered for the army, becoming Lieutenant in the Kings Royal Rifles.

Sadly, he was killed in action, but when his belongings were returned to his mother the sketches for the Threnody were found. His mother showed them to Barbirolli who commissioned Collins to complete the piece. The orchestra performed it as “A lamentation for all young soldiers lost in battle on what would have been Michael Hemming’s 24th birthday .

With the country in the grip of war, the Hallé took on a gruelling schedule of concerts performing as far apart as Newcastle and Sheffield and extending to venues across Britain. Because many larger halls (such as the Free Trade Hall in Manchester) had been commandeered for war work the Hallé played in cinemas, factories and ballrooms performing for new audiences in spaces they were familiar with.

Mapping the journey

From the Hallé’s very first concert the orchestra has focussed upon bringing music to the people. This vision can be seen in the plethora of concert and performance venues in which the Hallé performed during the turbulent war year of 1943.

This map will guide you through the war torn streets of Manchester to concert venues hidden across the United Kingdom. It will, for the first time, allow you to access never-before-seen: programmes, reviews and newspaper articles from the Hallé’s own archives, linking them with the specific venues in which the orchestra performed and where it’s music was enjoyed.

Entering the map is an opportunity to experience the Hallé as if walking through time:

Mapping the journey