Flautists of the Hallé Orchestra
In 1774 no fewer than 26 flautists established the
Gentlemen’s Concerts in
The orchestra was formed in the mid- nineteenth century during a period of great invention for the flute when almost all aspects of the instrument were being modified, changed or improved. Of the numerous models available at this time, professional flautists eventually took up the Boehm flute unanimously and by the end of the century most British orchestral players were using Rudall Carte Boehm system cocuswood flutes.
By the mid 20th century, Hallé flautists were still using wooden instruments. They produced a tonal blend of dense, firmly centred sound characteristic of most British orchestras at that time and some players supported the wooden flute nearly to the end of the 20th century. Hallé principal, Roger Rostron retained a wooden instrument until the 1980’s.
It is not my intention to open a debate on wood versus metal but merely to point out the kind of instrument used by many of the flautists to be mentioned here.
Training and experience in the late 19th and early 20th
century differed greatly from that of more recent times. Then, many of the
Hallé’s flautists had gained their experience in a variety of ensembles.
Visiting opera companies flourished in the 1890’s and regularly gave
Some of them had little formal training as we know it today but found that the advice of their teachers plus their varied early experiences served them adequately. They quickly became good sight readers. They were flexible players and proud of their achievements. Principals often showed their prowess in solo pieces accompanied by the rest of the orchestra and in their turn became teachers of the next generation.
Players of the early Hallé years took on teaching appointments at the Royal Manchester College of Music or taught privately. And so started a long line of teacher-pupil relationships in Hallé flautists spanning more than 100 years and establishing a tradition which is unique in British orchestras.
So who were these players?
Hallé’s first principal flute was one, Edward De Jong (1837-1920). From the very beginning (1858), he maintained a high profile with regular solo appearances and Boehm’s Fantasias figured highly in his repertoire. Between November 1858 and January 1865 (seven years) De Jong played no fewer than thirteen solos at Hallé concerts, including his own ‘Scotch Airs’ and Fantasias.
Following the performance of his own rather difficult ‘Fantasia on Faust’ in 1867, there were fewer opportunities for solo work. Hallé concerts saw an increase in vocal rather than instrumental soloists and this no doubt influenced De Jong’s decision to leave the orchestra and set up his own Saturday Popular Concerts.
Charles Hallé considered this a rival venture of course, but De Jong had an orchestra of 60 players, including John Taylor, principal flute and Eugene Damaré (1840-1919), who appeared regularly as piccolo soloist. Although Damaré eventually wrote more than 400 pieces, he is now only remembered perhaps for his little solo entitled, “The Wren”.
De Jong’s concerts pleased audiences and critics but
financial constraints soon brought them to an end. However, he continued to
play as soloist and conduct concerts at venues such as Buxton,
Edward De Jong had started life in
Of his playing, another writer was to note that – “in his hands the flute became articulate…….it literally sings, especially on the lower register”. This can still be ascertained today, to some extent, when listening to his 1904 recording of “Auld Robin Gray”, where his ringing tone, firmly centred, shines through the surface noise of the cylinder. He was about 67 when he made this recording –
Following De Jong as Hallé principal, Jean Firmin Brossa (1839-1915) was 32 years of age
when he arrived in
However, his Hallé tenure began in the De Jong tradition of
presenting himself as soloist. Following
Nevertheless, during Brossa’s 29 years as Hallé principal,
opportunities for further work as a soloist were few and far between but his
performance of Bach’s Suite No.2 in B minor in 1899 – a first for
The programmes of the 1880’s were varied and Charles Hallé,
then in his sixties, continued to seek out new works for his orchestra. His
friendship with Berlioz resulted in Brossa taking part in the first complete
The Boehm flute at this time was still undergoing minor changes in design: changes mainly concerned with the key system in attempts to offer flautists greater facility in fingering. Brossa developed an extra F# device. He worked on and perfected a small touch key for use by the third finger of the right hand. It is still found on many flutes in use today.
This little touch key duplicates the F# action of the regular key and it has advantages in moving between E and F#. It makes it easier to trill and improves the F# through better venting. The year 1895 seems to be the earliest recorded sale of a flute with Brossa’s F# key fitted, the work being carried out by Rudall Carte who offered it as an optional extra.
That same year marked the death of Charles Hallé and his
orchestra was left in a state of flux. By 1900 Brossa had retired from
orchestral playing but continued to perform as soloist at concerts outside
His contribution had been lengthy, showing great loyalty to the orchestra, dedication to pupils and the furtherance of the flute as a solo and orchestral instrument.
It was during Brossa’s time as principal that another interesting character turned up. In 1876 the Hallé flute section was increased in number to three. Brossa and Henry Piddock were joined by Fred Lax (b.1858) – piccolo player extraordinaire. He was 18 at this time but his name was already appearing to the forefront of British flautists.
He was a soloist at heart and only stayed in Manchester for one season before touring extensively, eventually ending up in America, settling in Baltimore round about 1920. His business card described him not only as a composer and arranger but teacher of flute, clarinet, flageolet, saxophone and harmony, as well as being an agent for Bettoney Woodwind Instruments.
He was also an early recording artist with the Stanzione & Finkelstein Company, for whom he recorded a performance of ‘Lo, here the gentle lark’ in 1908 - an arrangement by the clarinettist, Charles le Thiere.
From 1900, Vincent Needham continued the now established line of Hallé principals, having studied with both De Jong and Brossa.
Within the next three years his reputation was such that he
was in demand as an orchestral and solo flautist throughout the north of
Richter took him to the Birmingham
Festival in 1903, along with his distinguished colleagues, E.S.Redfern (who was
later to be principal himself), Thomas Marsden,
Fred Hatton (the brilliant piccolo player who never thought twice about
Tchaikowsky’s 4th) and William Dixon ( well
known tea drinker!). This very strong flute section was engaged continuously
for the Festival and it was at one of these concerts that Richter first
It was, however,
He had done much to help Richter popularise Bach’s music in
There seems no doubt that
Following his untimely death, friend and colleague Edward Stanley Redfern took over as principal. Known as Teddy to all his friends, he had played second since 1900 but even at that time he was a player of wide experience and distinction.
At the tender age of 15 he had given his first solo concert
at St. George’s Hall in his home town of
On this and other such instruments he played under Riviere at
But the position in which he took great pride was that of
principal flute for the Grand Opera at
When Redfern took over as Hallé principal in 1916 the orchestra was almost entirely under the direction of Sir Thomas Beecham. Programmes included much recent and contemporary music – works by Delius, Strauss and Debussy. The opportunity for solo work with the Hallé didn’t present itself but no doubt there were many in his audiences who remembered his performances of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.4 with Vincent Needham in previous days.
By 1920 Redfern’s professional life was seriously interrupted by ill health and he died the following year. It was an early end to the life of a remarkable flautist. His most genial and kindly disposition, his rich, smooth tone and remarkable technique were noted by writers in the 1920’s. His obituary in the Manchester Guardian stated that, “Mr Redfern had a refinement of style that was quite his own and something apart from mere dexterity on the instrument”.
Two other members of the flute
section during Redfern’s tenure as principal were William
Thorn (1878-1937) and Joseph Lingard
(1880-1969). Bill Thorn had joined in 1916 when Redfern became principal
and was a pupil of Thomas Marsden. He
gave nearly 20 years service to the orchestra and both he and Lingard became
the first Hallé flautists to broadcast for the BBC from
When the Hallé season opened in 1921, Joe Lingard occupied
the principal’s chair. He had already had a taste of life as an orchestral
principal having had to stand in for Redfern during those final days of ill
health. He was well aware of what was expected of him having served with two
great principals and continued the tradition in fine style introducing Mozart’s
Concerto for Flute & Harp to
His music making outside the confines of the Hallé concerts saw a new departure for it was in 1924 that the BBC started making regular broadcasts. Joe made over 36 live broadcasts between 1924 and 1934, many of which were solo recitals accompanied by Eric Fogg at the piano. A broadcast of Harty’s “In Ireland” with the composer at the piano on St. Patrick’s Day in 1929 must have been a special occasion for both performers. Sadly, these live broadcasts don’t seem to have been recorded so it is fortunate that Harty’s attention at that time was directed towards recording with the Hallé.
In 1929 a 78 rpm recording of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” appeared, thus giving us a chance to hear for ourselves the precision fingering and total control exhibited by Lingard. Even through the surface noise of the disc his performance can be followed note for note. His tone is large and his technique flawless. It is difficult to decide where he breathed!
Joe Lingard died in 1969 after having spent more than 40 years as a professional. A good number of those years were spent teaching at the Royal Manchester College of Music and he was responsible for the training of many excellent flautists – not least of all, Geoffrey Gilbert, who spent 3 years as a Hallé flautist playing alongside his teacher, eventually taking over as principal himself for the 1934-35 season.
In 1933 Harty had resigned his Hallé conductorship and the years immediately following were difficult years for the orchestra. Sir Thomas Beecham was trying to co-ordinate things but soon offered Gilbert a position in his London Philharmonic Orchestra. And so, at 19, Gilbert was a principal of that great body of musicians.
The rest of his career is well documented but let it not be
forgotten that in addition to holding appointments with major orchestras under
great conductors, Gilbert premiered in
He was a prominent teacher too, who helped considerably with the adoption of the so-called French style by English flautists and when he died in 1989, aged 74, The Times described him as “the most influential British flautist of the 20th century”.
Replacing Gilbert as Hallé principal in 1935 was Vernon Harris, a pupil of Vincent Needham. In time honoured fashion he appeared in Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Debussy’s L’apres midi was performed so often during the late 1930’s and early 40’s that of all Hallé principals, Vernon Harris must hold the record for delivering that opening solo, in which he was able to demonstrate the characteristic limpid sound quality and controlled vibrato only he could produce in such pieces.
In September 1941, Sargent directed a Hallé concert at the Pier Pavilion, Llandudno which featured Vaughan Williams’s Greensleeves Fantasia. The opening solo beautifully delivered by Vernon Harris can be heard in a recording made for HMV shortly after the concert.
Made about the same time, a recording of Delius’s “Intermezzo from Hassan”, conducted by Constant Lambert shows him as a fine player with a lovely sound.
Vernon Harris left the orchestra for the BBC Northern in 1943
and the next 3 years saw the principal’s chair occupied by Arliss Marriott. Bill Marriott, a pupil of the
famous Robert Murchie, was well known in
A young Oliver Bannister (b.1926) was appointed at the same time and in their first season together they gave several very successful performances of Bach’s 4th Brandenburg Concerto.
By 1945, Marriott had left for
Following the tradition of previous principals, Oliver Bannister - pupil of Joe Lingard and staunch supporter of the wooden flute – was heard as soloist on a number of occasions. There were performances of Ibert’s “Flute Concerto”, Frank Martin’s “Ballade”, the Cimarosa “Concerto for Two Flutes” with Bill Barlow and no fewer than five performances of the Bach Suite in B minor, two of which were conducted by Hindemith.
Of such performances the critics noted Oliver Bannister’s dazzling skill and brilliant technique. Hallé leader, Martin Milner was later to write that his musicianship was “of such good quality that the other woodwind all played to him – intonation, phrasing, everything”.
He left the orchestra in 1963 to take up the position of
principal flute at
Listen to him here in this recording of “The Aviary” from Saint Saens’s Carnival of the Animals made in 1954, where everything is beautifully controlled.
The artistry of the Hallé wind players during Oliver Bannister’s tenure as principal flute was recognised by everyone as being of the highest quality and for their successors, it was indeed a hard act to follow.
The next five years or so brought many changes and for the first time in Hallé history the orchestra supported an all metal flute section. However, the orchestra was fortunate in finding players of high calibre to carry it through a difficult period. Players such as Douglas Townshend, Peter Lloyd, Chris Taylor, Fritz Spiegl and Frank Nolan.
The arrival of Roger Rostron (b.1937) as principal in 1967 brought not only the return of the wooden flute to the Hallé but a long period of much stability.
Precision, assurance and musicality always marked Roger’s playing and a brilliant, but never harsh, tone
in the higher register and a beautiful mellowness in the lower, is there for all to hear in the recordings made with the orchestra.
There were, of course, the traditional solo appearances with the orchestra – spanning the years 1969 to 1991 – including Bach Brandenburg Concertos. Other works, such as the Mozart Flute & Harp Concerto and Devienne’s Flute Concerto No.8 remain in the memory too.
One highlight of the 1968-69 Hallé season was a performance of “The Childhood of Christ” and I well remember the famous trio for two flutes and harp admirably performed on that occasion under the baton of Andrew Davis.
The 1980’s brought a new departure for Roger Rostron On
With Roger Rostron’s retirement came what seemed like an endless period of decision as to who would fill the vacant chair. Various players thought about trying it out for size, including Andrew Nicholson who remained only for a very short time.
However, the orchestra now has a very able principal flute once again. Katherine Baker, appointed in 2004, is the first woman to fill the position in the whole of the Hallé’s long history. She continues a fine tradition.
Through the restriction of space, I have confined my comment to principals, but let it not be forgotten that
a principal alone cannot make a good flute section in any orchestra. The Hallé has attracted many excellent second flute players and brilliant piccolo players throughout its history – and continues to do so.
Let us conclude the discussion of Hallé flutes with a happy example of fine ensemble, control and articulation from Oliver Bannister, Bill Barlow and Bill Morris in their 1950 recording of ‘Farandole’ from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne.
© Stuart Scott, 2008.