Archive

Streets


The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is the oldest of the capital’s orchestras and the first British orchestra owned by its players. As a self-governing body, LSO gave its first concert on 9 June 1904, conducted by Hans Richter (the first principal conductor until 1911) at Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, Westminster. Since 1982, the orchestra has been permanently based in the Barbican Centre. Among conductors with whom it is most associated are, in its early days, Hans Richter, Edward Elgar, and Thomas Beecham. In more recent decades Pierre Monteux, André Previn, Claudio Abbado, Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev have been working with the orchestra. Simon Rattle will take up his position of musical director from September 2017. The creation of LSO was the result of a musical uprising in which immigrant musicians played a prominent part. 

At the turn of the twentieth century there were no permanent salaried orchestras in London. Musicians were contracted on an individual basis. Since there were competing demands for the services of performers and no binding contracts, a player was free to accept a better-paid engagement at any time. He (it was male dominated profession) would simply hire another player to deputise for him at the original concert. In September 1903, Robert Newman, the manager of the Queen’s Hall, and the conductor of his promenade concerts, Henry Wood, unilaterally decided to end this chaotic system. In response, approximately half of its players resigned from the Queen’s Hall Orchestra. Musicians were not highly paid, and removing the opportunity of more lucrative engagements was a financial blow to many of them. Some of the leading players decided to form their own orchestra. 


The principal movers of the initiative were horn players Adolf Borsdorf, Thomas Busby, and Henri van der Meerschen, and trumpeter John Solomon. As performers these men were highly regarded and referred to as ‘God’s Own Quartet’. Busby organised a meeting in which he set out the principles. A new ensemble named the London Symphony Orchestra was to be run on co-operative lines, something ‘akin to a Musical Republic’. Members would share in the orchestra’s profits at the end of each season. The proposal was approved unanimously. Newman held no grudge against the rebels, and made the Queen’s Hall available to them. He and Wood attended the LSO’s first 1904 concert which included the prelude to Die Meistersinger, music by Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Elgar, and finally Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. German music ruled the capital.


Henri Louis van der Meerschen was born in Brussels on 30 September 1866. He attended the Brussels Conservatoire studying under Louis-Henri Merck. There he earned the Premier Prix with distinction in 1885 after which he was invited by Bruges-born Eugène Goossens to become a member of the celebrated Carl Rosa Opera Company at Drury Lane. This company had been founded by Hamburg-born Karl Rose with the aim of producing operas in English. The British premier of Puccini’s La Bohème and Madame Butterfly were among his successes. He was also the outstanding performer of Wagner at the time, presenting The Flying Dutchman (1876), Rienzi (1879), Lohengrin (1880), and Tannhäuser (1882) to an English audience. Having joined Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra, Van der Meerschen was one of the four rebels who initiated the foundation of LSO. 


In 1914 the LSO had just reached its tenth birthday. Financially sound and artistically refined, the orchestra was acknowledged to be among the finest in the world. The outbreak of war intervened. Conductors and musicians cancelled tours and performances because they were unable to travel; some members of the orchestra were enlisted. In spite of difficulties, LSO declared that it would continue playing concerts. By 1916 the situation became more problematical. Grave news from the front spread gloom and pessimism at home. The Zeppelin bombardment of London kept audiences indoors. At the start of the year conscription had been imposed. By July 1917 thirty-three members of the orchestra (about a third of its male membership) were sent to the trenches for active service. An increasing number of female players acted as their replacements. 


Traditionally, the LSO had strong German roots and preferences. In 1915 it had initiated a successful ‘Three Bs Festival’: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. An attempt to repeat the treat in 1916 hit the brick wall of a hostile press and public opinion. In September 1916 the Pall Mall Gazette attacked the orchestra in a crusading series of articles for the overwhelming presence of German music in their repertoire. It argued that those in London ‘who have felt war in their skins are not to be drugged with sound, however sweet’. LSO was forced to present a more patriotic, if not jingoistic program of performances. 


Edward Elgar, who had been LSO’s principal conductor during 1911/2, was living in London at the outbreak of war. In 1914 he was asked to contribute to an anthology called King Albert’s Book to raise money for Belgian refugees affected by German occupation. Brussels-born playwright, poet and translator Émile Leon Cammaerts had moved to England in 1908. He translated works by John Ruskin into French and selected a number of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories in La clairvoyance du père Brown. In 1933 he was appointed Professor of Belgian Studies at the University of London. He married actress Helen Tita Braun (stage name: Tita Brand), a daughter of the Wagnerian diva Marie Brema (who was born Mary Agnes [Minnie] Fehrmann, the daughter of merchant from Bremen in Liverpool). Elgar set Cammaert’s poem ‘Après Anvers’ to an orchestral accompaniment. It was premiered under the name of Carillon by the LSO on 7 December 1914 at the Queen’s Hall. The composer himself conducted and Tita Brand recited the poem. It roused anti-German spirits at the time and was revived for the same reason during World War II with a new text by Laurence Binyon.


For resident German musicians in Britain the war years were a bitter and painful experience. Impresario Alfred Curtis was born Alfred Schulz-Curtius around 1853 in Germany. He settled in London in the early 1870s. He founded a music and artists’ management agency at no. 44 Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, in 1876. He was the first to bring Richard Wagner’s music to the London public. In 1882, he arranged the British staging of the Ring Cycle under the Hungarian conductor Anton Seidl. During decades of professional activity, Schulz-Curtius organised dozens of concerts in London’s venues and worked with many of Europe’s major conductors and performers. At the beginning of the First World War he was arrested and interned as an enemy alien, despite of having become a naturalised British subject in 1895, and changing his name by deed poll to Alfred Curtis in September 1914. He died in March 1918.


Adolf Borsdorf was one of the leading figures in the rebellion against Newman and Wood in 1903/4 and the subsequent foundation of the LSO. Born on 25 December 1854 in Dittmansdorf, Saxony, he studied French horn at the Dresden conservatory and played in a military band. In 1879 he moved to London where he stayed for the rest of his life. He was appointed Professor at the Royal College of Music, South Kensington, when it was founded in 1882. He was playing principal horn in the orchestra that Henry Wood conducted at the first Promenade Concert in the Queen’s Hall in 1895. He was also in the orchestra when Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel was given its first English performance in 1896 with the composer conducting. Enjoying an international reputation, he used his influence to secure Hans Richter to conduct LSO’s first concert. 


The intensity of anti-German feeling during of the First World War would deeply hurt him. At the outbreak of hostilities, he had been living in London for more than thirty years and his wife was British. In spite of that, the members of the orchestra turned against him. They requested his removal from their ranks. By October 1915 he was told that he would not be allowed to play again until the end of the war. In November he felt forced to resign from an orchestra he himself had helped to create and to flourish. Borsdorf never performed professionally again. He died in April 1923. His vital contribution to London’s musical culture in general and to raising the standard of British horn playing in particular was only recognised in retrospect. The risk of whipped up patriotism is that it quickly runs sour. In becoming an expression of resentment rather than pride, the spirit of tolerance is sacrificed.


Painter Egbert Jasperszoon van Heemskerk was born in Haarlem in 1634. He settled in London about 1674 and made a career as a genre painter. His contemporary reputation was that of a prolific and skilful painter of tavern and drinking scenes, peasant feasts, and Quakers-meetings. He frequently introduced his own portrait into his pictures. 
The loutish tone of his work was appreciated by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, for whom he painted a number of works. Rochester was a member of the drunken Merry Gang at Charles II’s court. His attachment to Heemskerk’s work was in line with his personal behaviour. Heemskerk’s work was also reproduced in engravings, especially mezzotint. He died around 1704, but his reputation endured.


Portrait engraver and draughtsman Abraham Blooteling was born in Amsterdam in 1640. He was the pupil of the engraver Cornelis van Dalen. In 1660 he appears in Paris, where he was apprenticed to the well-known engraver Pierre van Schuppen, himself of Netherlandish birth. This explains the French character of his engravings. 

Blooteling came to England in January 1673 on the order of Prince Rupert, then living at the court of Charles II. He was a key figure in the transfer of Dutch mezzotint to England, where the technique was adopted with such success that it later became known as the ‘English Manner’.  The subject matter of his mezzotints includes religious, genre and allegorical scenes, but his portraits after works by Peter Lely and Anthony van Dyck were particularly admired. 

Increasingly, Blooteling divided his energies between London and Amsterdam. He certainly continued to work for the English market, and quite possibly continued to make London his main base. In his later career he acted more as a publisher than as an engraver. The Hollstein catalogue of prints lists 143 engravings and 138 mezzotints and the National Portrait Gallery holds sixty-eight portraits associated with the artist. Blooteling died in 1690 in Amsterdam.


In June 1672, Charles II issued a declaration in which Dutch artists are invited to move to England. After the Restoration there was an expanding market for paintings in England, especially portraits and marine subjects – but increasingly also for landscapes in the Italianate or northern styles – that could not be satisfied by English artists. Leiden-born marine painter Willem van de Velde (of Flemish descent) responded to the call and left Holland for London to enter in the service of the king. Personal careers counted for more than loyalty or national pride at the time. 

He was joined by his son Willem van de Velde the Younger who was to become the most famous of all marine painters, originating a rich English tradition in this genre. Soon after arriving they began their first major commission for the king, designs for a set of tapestries of the recent sea-battle of Solebay during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. He initally he lived with his family in East Lane, Greenwich, using the Queen’s House (now part of the National Maritime Museum) as a studio. 

Following the accession of William and Mary this facility was no longer provided, and by 1691 he was living in Sackville Street, now close to Piccadilly Circus. Over the next three decades or so they painted pictures of ships, battles and the sea for the court, the aristocracy and naval officers. Willem the Elder died in December 1693, his son in April 1707. 


In 1670, twenty-year old merchant and financier Solomon de Medina, of Portuguese Jewish origin, moved from Middelburg to London. He established a successful business supplying imported silks and other luxury textiles to the rich and famous. From 1689 onwards Medina acted as London factor for Antonio Alvarez Machado and Isaac Pereira, both of similar backgrounds, the ‘providiteurs généraux’ to the army of William of Orange in England and to the land forces of the allies in the Low Countries. In 1697 he moved to Richmond, becoming the first known Jewish resident there. 

On 18 November 1699 William III dined at Medina’s house in Richmond, probably at Heron Court. Modern day Heron Square contains the site and some of the surviving buildings of old Heron Court which became the focus of Jewish population in eighteenthth century Richmond. Heron Court itself was once called Herring Court, but the name was changed for reasons of social grace. On 23 June 1700, in recognition of his services, the king knighted Medina at Hampton Court. He was the first professing Jew to be knighted. After the king’s death in March 1702, Medina returned to the Netherlands where he was involved in the food supplies to the allied troops throughout the campaigns of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. In 1711 he was summoned before the parliamentary commissioners for examining the public accounts. Medina admitted that he and his predecessors had regularly paid commission on their contracts to Marlborough. His evidence was used by the Tories to bring about Marlborough’s downfall. Medina died in 1720.

 
Ticino, the southernmost canton of Italian-speaking Switzerland, is known for its chestnuts. Traditionally, unemployment was high there. For centuries locals gained an additional income from selling roast chestnuts on the streets of cities such as Milan, Genoa or Lyons. The men would return home in spring with the money earned in the previous winter and then, in late summer, work on the next yield of chestnuts. During a succession of poor harvests between 1847 and 1854, large numbers of young men reluctantly left their homes in Valle Leventina or Val di Blenio for other European countries. The 1851 London census shows that a number of Ticinese workers were employed as artisans or waiters. Others continued selling chestnuts, large amounts of which were imported to the West End. Many of these immigrants had travelled by foot over the St Gottard Pass (only open from June to September) and then moved onto Calais via Geneva, Lyons or Paris. The prospect of finding paid work in London’s Swiss-Italian catering industry encouraged a further exodus of emigrants in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Many of them brought political convictions and home hostilities with them.

 

Hungerford Market, created in 1680, was located between the Strand and the Thames on a site formerly occupied by an estate belonging to the Hungerford family of Fairleigh in Wiltshire. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the old market had become dilapidated and was rebuilt in 1831. It was here that Carlo Gatti, a member of an impoverished patrician family from Marogno in Ticino, opened a French-style café after his arrival in London in July 1847. He was the first in a dynasty of restaurateurs and theatre owners. He began his career selling ‘goffres’ (a kind of waffle sprinkled with sugar) in Battersea Fields and from a stall at Hatton Wall in the Italian immigrant quarter of London. 


From there he went on to open a number of cafés in the area which created a stir for their elegant marble tables, plate-glass mirrors, red velvet seating, small string orchestras, and high quality fare at moderate prices. He recruited relatives and locals from Ticino to work as waiters, chefs and managers in his establishments. In the course of the 1850s Carlo became the first mass manufacturer of ice cream, which had previously been an expensive delicacy. By 1858 he claimed to have sold up to ten thousand penny ices a day. Chocolatier Battista Bolla was born in 1819 in Ticino. He established his premises at no. 129 Holborn Hill. In 1849 he joined forces with Gatti. They exhibited their chocolate making machine at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although imported from France, is was a ‘must see’ novelty in London at the time. Under pressure from his clientele and always willing to expand, by the end of the decade some of Gatti’s outlets began to provide ‘chops and chips’, thereby becoming London’s very first ‘Swiss café-restaurant’. Energetic and garrulous, and in spite of enormous commercial success, ‘Il Gatton’ (The Big Cat) never lost the demeanour and mannerisms of a mountain peasant.

The leading members of the next generation were Agostino and Stefano, the sons of Carlo’s brother Giovanni Gatti. In 1862, when Hungerford Market was demolished to make way for Charing Cross Station, the family was amply compensated, allowing to plan new ventures. The brothers opened a music-hall named Gatti’s Palace of Varieties at Westminster Bridge Road. After 1882 they redeveloped the interior of the Royal Adelaide Gallery to create a café-restaurant with entrances onto the Strand, William IV Street, and Adelaide Street. They installed an electricity sub-station in the cellars. The bar was much frequented by actors and gained a reputation as the Marble Halls because of its rich decoration which gave rise to the line ‘O God bless Gatti and the Marble Halls’. By the 1890s the Gallery was employing between 180 and 200 predominantly Italian-speaking waiters and forty chefs in enormous subterranean kitchens. Of the sons of Ticino who made the long trek to London, the Gatti’s were by far the most successful immigrants – but there were others figures too with an intriguing tale to tell. 


Pietro Pazzi travelled from Ticino to Paris after the floods that devastated his valley in the winter of 1868/9. In 1870, most likely in connection with the upheavals of the Franco-Prussian War, he moved to London. Having worked as a waiter first, he opened Pazzi’s Restaurant at no. 271 Seven Sisters Road. The spot was well chosen. Finsbury Park station had been opened in 1869, marking the north-eastern limit of the suburban railway of what was to become the London underground system. Driven by nostalgia and radical political views, Pazzi founded the Unione Semionese in 1875. The union held its meetings and celebrations at his restaurant. The political divisions within his canton of origin were reflected in the London exile community and tore its unity apart. The split became public. Some, like the Gatti family, were hard-line conservatives. Stefano and his older brother Agostino acted as political recruiting agents and regularly shipped their waiters to Switzerland to vote for their conservative allies. Others, like Pazzi, resentful of the poverty that had forced their migration, became radicalised by the anarchist and socialist ideas circulating in the capital at the time. 


Ticino did not just produce restaurateurs. Historically, the Ticinese were professional masons, stonecutters, stucco workers and sculptors. One of them, Raffaele Monti had joined the insurgents in the 1848 Italian rebellion. After defeat by the Austrian army, Monti fled to London where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He allied himself with manufacturers of ornamental sculpture and became involved with the Crystal Palace Company, which transferred Joseph Paxton’s exhibition building to Sydenham, Kent, in 1853. Monti provided allegorical statuary for the palace and its grounds. More intriguing is the figure of Angelo Castioni. Born in 1834 in Stabio, Ticino, he had settled in Paris. He took an active part in the 1871 Commune. As a member of the central committee and the commander of a battalion of the National Guard, he was held responsible for the executions of several conservatives. He took refuge in London in 1872. A sculptor who specialised in finishing the work of other artists, he established himself at no. 3 Upper Cheyne Row (his nephew Rudolph Pelli, also a sculptor, lived at the same address). By the 1880s he was assistant to the most eminent sculptor of the age, Viennese-born Edgar Boehm, a close and loving friend of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter. 


Politically, Castioni remained a radical. In August 1890 he travelled to Tuscany at the request of Boehm to select and order marble blocks directly from the quarry in Carrara. He made a detour to Bellinzona, the cantonal capital of Ticino, where on the evening of 10 September a popular uprising broke out. During the troubles Luigi Rossi, a conservative politician and member of the State Council of Ticino, was shot dead with a revolver by a flamboyantly dressed figure with an enormous red beard. The assassin was Angelo Castioni. With the support of fellow revolutionaries he was smuggled out of the country. Pietro Pazzi actively backed the September revolution and it was rumoured that he had organised the murderer’s quick and safe return to London.

The Swiss government formally requested Castioni’s extradition from Britain. He was arrested and brought before the magistrate at the police court at Bow Street. The extradition treaty with Switzerland, dated 26 November 1880, stated that a ‘fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offence in respect of which his surrender is demanded is one of a political character, or if he prove that the requisition for his surrender has in fact been made with a view to try and punish him for an offence of a political character’. Since the murder had been politically motivated, the request for handover was rejected thus setting a precedent that established the principle of immunity for such crimes in English law.
Following the failure of the September 1891 uprising in Ticino, Pazzi turned his back on his radical past and became an upright British citizen. He died in August 1914, a wealthy man, and was buried as Peter Pazzi in the prestigious Circle of Lebanon vaults at Highgate Cemetery, surrounded by the great and the good of England. In 2015 an unsigned portrait bust of Pazzi was discovered in the family vault, most likely the work of Angelo Castioni and made in gratitude for the help he had received from his benefactor. Having renounced his radical past, Pazzi kept the bust away from curious eyes which may have led to embarrassing questions. He took it to his grave instead.


The family name Gollancz originates from the town of Golancz in west-central Poland. It is also the name of a prominent Jewish dynasty of London immigrants which has a varied but distinct literary reputation. 

Rabbi and scholar Hermann Gollancz was born at Bremen on 30 November 1852. He came to England when his father was appointed rabbi of the Hambro Synagogue in Leadenhall Street, City of London. Hermann was the first Jew to obtain the degree of Doctor of Literature at London University. In 1902 he was elected Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London. He was the first British rabbi to be granted a knighthood. On retirement he presented his valuable library of Hebraica and Judaica to the University (which is housed as a separate collection within the splendid Mocatta Library). 


His younger brother Israel Gollancz was born in London. A Shakespeare scholar, he was Professor of English Language and Literature at King’s College from 1903 to 1930, and a founder member and the first Secretary of the British Academy. He edited the so-called ‘Temple’ Shakespeare, a uniform edition of the complete works in pocket size volumes. It was the most popular Shakespeare edition of its day. 

Hermann and Israel were brothers to Alexander Gollancz, a wholesale jeweller, who was father to publisher Victor Gollancz, born on 9 April 1893 at no. 256 Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale. Having rejected the orthodoxy of his parents, Victor became an independent thinker and an advocate of women’s rights. In 1918 he joined the publishing house of Benn Brothers (founded by the liberal politician John Benn: Gollancz recruited H.G. Wells for his employers), before starting his own firm in 1928. His publishing methods were revolutionary. 


In collaboration with Stanley Morison, he devised a striking typographical dust jacket featuring black and magenta on a brilliant yellow background, which was used on most of his titles. Gollancz was primarily an educationist, and his main concern as a publisher was to encourage an awareness of current affairs and, above all, send a socialist message. In 1933 George Orwell issued his debut novel Down and Out in London and Paris with Gollancz, his first publisher.


A significant undertaking that involved Gollancz was the foundation of the Left Book Club (LBC) in 1936. Housed at no. 14 Henrietta Street, it aimed at combating the dual threats of Nazism and Fascism in which authors like Arthur Koestler and George Orwell took part at a time when the need for the dissemination of left-wing politics was keenly felt among British intellectuals. The venture was an immediate success on its establishment, with 6,000 subscriptions after a month and a membership of 40,000 by the end of its first year. Gollancz was also actively engaged with a number of German writers in exile in London during the war (including Hilde Meisel).


The Free German League of Culture (FGLC = Freie Deutsche Kulturbund) was founded in 1939 at an informal meeting held at the Hampstead home of the Jewish refugee lawyer and painter Manfred [Fred] Uhlman. Aiming to represent all German exiles irrespective of religion or race, it was the foremost cultural and socio-political organisation representing anti-Nazism in Britain during the war. On arrival, these refugees were considered enemy aliens and most of them had suffered the pain of internment, either in the Isle of Man or as far adrift as Canada or Australia. At its peak, the League had some 1,500 members. It included a youth wing, the Freie Deutsche Jugend; it created a university in exile, the Freie Deutsche Hochschule; and it formed the core of the Free German Movement which planned for a democratic post-war Germany. The League was formally constituted at a meeting on 1 March 1939, when Uhlman was appointed chairman (later that year he was replaced by the novelist Hans Flesch-Brunninger), and four honorary presidents were elected: the painter Oskar Kokoschka, the drama critic Alfred Kerr, the novelist Stefan Zweig and the film director Berthold Viertel. The FGLC was advertised as politically neutral (to avoid interference from the British authorities), describing itself as an ‘anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist, non-party, refugee organisation’. From December 1939, the FGLC had premises of its own, at no. 36a Upper Park Road, Belsize Park. It was wound up in 1946.


In 1960 Gollancz published Fred Uhlman’s autobiography The Making of an Englishman whose ironical title points to the author’s struggle, as a Jewish intellectual from Stuttgart, to adapt to a life of exile in a British environment that felt completely alien to him. The book contains a vivid account of his internment experiences as an enemy alien at Hutchinson camp, Isle of Man (where he befriended Kurt Schwitters), a description of the depression and frustration he suffered, which was fuelled – even in retrospect – by a sense of outrage at the injustice of his treatment.

A prominent member of the German League was the communist author Jan Petersen. Born Hans Schwalm on 2 July 1906 in Berlin, he led a resistance group of anti-Fascist writers between 1933 and 1935. Being placed on the Nazi death list, he was forced to emigrate to Switzerland, France, and then to England. He was deprived of his German citizenship in 1938. Between 1940 and 1942 he was interned in Canada as an enemy alien by the British authorities. 

Petersen is remembered for an extraordinary act of bravery. In 1934 he had finished the manuscript of his novel Unsere Strasse, a true story about life on Wallstrasse in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg and an account of left wing resistance to Nazism just before Hitler’s ascension to Chancellor. To get this ‘explosive’ manuscript safely out of Germany was a huge problem. He made two copies, sending one to Hamburg where it was to be taken to England by a German soldier, but was eventually thrown into the Channel to avoid discovery. Friends failed to smuggle a second copy into Czechoslovakia. Finally, Petersen pulled off a dangerous trick himself. Dressed in ski clothes to look as though he was going on holiday, he set off for Prague. At the border, the SS guards searched his rucksack, only to find two tasty fruit cakes. Baked inside was the manuscript which remained undetected. The creative process demands courage and commitment. Few authors would have pushed the limits as far as Petersen dared. Translated into English as Our Street, the novel was published in 1938 by Gollancz’s Left Book Club. Petersen returned to East Berlin in 1946 where he was awarded a number of literary prizes in the course of his career. There he died in November 1969. His novel was republished by Faber & Faber in 2010.