It is a challenge to define the parameters of this venerable and beloved fixture of nineteenth-century London concert life. Its name alone seems designed to create maximum confusion.
First, “popular” is hard to define. One explanation is when they began, they were meant to be popular in content, with a variety of performers of lighter music. However, Arthur Chappell was persuaded to offer “classical” music instead. Consider the following program from 1860:
Which was this program, then?1The Musical World, March 31, 1860, p. 201. The popular or the classical?2“This was the beginning of an avowedly ‘classical series,’ as distinguished from concerts of a somewhat different character, previously given under the same name. It was also the start of an adventurous undertaking.” R. Peggio, “Concert-Room Impressions”, The Musical Standard 28 (December 1901), 401.
Second, the concerts were considered two separate series, the Saturday concerts and the Monday concerts. In an entry for an early Grove’s Dictionary edition (1900) for “Saturday Popular Concerts,” George Grove wrote that they alternated with the Monday concerts through the season; “in programmes and performances the two sets of concerts are alike.”3George Grove, A dictionary of music and musicians, Vol. 3 (London: 1900), 242. Did that mean the program given on Saturday was repeated on Monday? No. I think he meant they were alike in both being chamber music concerts. This distinction was necessary because there was another series, the orchestral Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts, that ran concurrently. (Why wasn’t a name invented that applied to both? For instance, a name that actually described what it was, such as the “Classical Chamber Music Concerts.”)
The Monday evening concerts began in 1859 (or 18584Joseph Bennett, Forty Years of Music 1865-1905, p. 347, and “Chappell.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.) and six years later the Saturday afternoon series was added.5Here is one theory of why they began: “For many years past Dr. Joachim has been under contract to Messrs. Chappell, who, we understand, paid him a specified fee to come here for a certain number of weeks before Easter, to play at the Popular Concerts and such other engagements in town and country as they might arrange for him. It was in order to give Dr Joachim fuller occupation during this contract that the Saturday “Pops” were originally started.” The Violin Times 8 (Feb 1901): 60. The end dates for both series are unclear. The current Grove Music Online article on London gives the dates for Chappell’s Monday Popular Concerts as 1859–76 and the later Saturday Popular Concerts as 1865–1904.6“London (vi).” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 12 Feb. 2021. The end date of 1876 remains a mystery to me at this stage in my research.
In 1898 it was announced that, “with the conclusion of the fortieth season of Monday and Saturday Popular Concerts the Monday Concerts will cease to exist as a regular feature.”7The Annual Register (United Kingdom: Rivingtons, 1899), 129.Another early Grove’s Dictionary entry on the Popular Concerts states that “after the season of 1897-98 the Monday evenings concerts were given up.”8W.C., “Popular Concerts, The,” Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Fuller Maitland vol. 3 (1907), 791-92. However, the Monthly Musical Record reported three years later that the Monday concerts were to be discontinued, meaning they were still happening.9MMR Sept 1901 p. 199. Another journal confirmed the news in January of 1902 that “the Monday evening Pops have succumbed to old age.”10The Organist and Choirmaster Vol. 9, Iss. 105, (Jan 1902): 222. For 1901-02 and 1902-03 there were no Monday concerts, but for the last season of 1903-04, the Monday concerts came back again.
The program below (part of the 1897-98 season), a Saturday concert that took place on a Monday, indicates something, perhaps the foolishness in according significance to the days of the week.11I think initially the Joachim Quartet concerts were considered a special case of Saturday concerts in which concerts on Monday were added. However, other players were on some of these concerts on Mondays to the end of the 1900-01 season.
One (the only?) indisputable fact was that they took place in St. James’s Hall, which was built in 1858 and demolished in 1905.
Another confusing aspect of this concert series concerns the string quartet associated with it. It seems to have been conceived as the regular ensemble for the chamber music series, analogous to an orchestra for a symphony concert series. But the programs were an old-fashioned mix of solo, chamber, and vocal music for which a pianist and a singer assisted on the program. Furthermore, not just quartets, but sonatas, trios, and larger combinations were played; the Beethoven Septet and the Schubert Octet were audience favorites. The concerts were not synonymous with the quartet (such as the Joachim Quartet series), and the performers were determined by the program.
Das Streichquartett im Wort und Bild from 1898 represents this London quartet with two different entries. The common players are Louis Ries, Ludwig Straus, and Alfredo Piatti. The first entry calls the group the “Joachim’sche Quartett (London)” and is led by Joachim.
Joachim, Ries, Straus, Piatti (1888), from The British Museum, Asset no. 1613102537
The second “Londoner Quartett” has Wilma Norman-Neruda leading the group. She started in 1869. Joachim’s London visit was usually from February to April. The series typically began in November, so she led the quartet during the first three months, and Joachim for the last two. The illustration below from 1872 is perhaps the most famous representation of this ensemble, and striking for the prominence of Norman-Neruda, with her ruffles and voluminous skirts leading the men. Sherlock Holmes went to a concert specifically to see her in his first story, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887.
With over 1500 concerts spanning forty-six seasons, changes of personnel were inevitable. Ludwig Straus occasionally led the quartet, from the 1860s to as late as 1891. Other collaborators during the early years included some old-timers from the first half of the century. The two configurations pictured were the most well known.
George Bernard Shaw’s criticism from 1888-1894 indicates that starting in 1891, various candidates were being considered to head the quartet and rejuvenate the series.12No other London music reporter that I have read indicated this was going on. The Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe led several Popular Concerts in 1891 and the critics were impressed. As one of Ysaÿe’s biggest fans, Shaw declared: “there can no longer be any doubt that the leadership of the quartet at the Popular Concerts will be safe in his hands for another generation.”13Music in London 1890-94, vol. i (London: Constable & Co., 1932), 194.
Ysaÿe did not take over the Popular Concerts, however. Despite Shaw’s enthusiasm, his concerts were sparsely attended in 1891, and he moved on. In 1892 and 1893, Joachim’s student Gabriele Wietrowetz led the quartet several times, and Shaw spoke again of an anticipated change, writing approvingly that
she is in every way a worthy successor of Neruda. I have been a great admirer of Lady Hallé in her day, and am so still; but she missed the highest excellence as a quartet player by depending too much on her genius and too little on the devotion which expresses itself in careful rehearsal. On that point I think Fräulein Wietrowetz will beat her, as it is fit that the younger artist, standing on the older one’s shoulders, should.141 Nov 1893, Music in London, Vol. iii, p. 79.
Joachim’s other star female student, Marie Soldat, led the quartet for the November 1896 concerts. But it was only the retirements of Straus in 1893, and then Ries and Piatti in 1897, that forced the issue of change.
This is the point where Kruse supposedly took over. One typical biographical dictionary entry states: “in 1897 Kruse left the Joachim Quartet and settled in London, where he revived the Saturday and Monday popular concerts with ‘conspicuous success’.”15Sally O’Neill, ‘Kruse, Johann Secundus (1859–1927)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kruse-johann-secundus-3974/text6275, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 9 February 2021. I mentioned this in my first post on Kruse, but I now see it is misleading, even inaccurate.
The Berlin Joachim Quartet played on the Popular Concerts for the first time as part of the 39th season, in the spring of 1897. During this visit and the following two, Joachim also appeared as part of the London group. But in 1900 he took his doctor’s advice and stayed away.16In 1898 and ’99 reviews mentioned Joachim’s performances suffering because he had a cold. Thus the concerts of the spring of 1900 (the 42nd season) were markedly different because of Joachim’s absence. Wilma Norman-Neruda (aka Lady Hallé) continued to lead some concerts, along with Kruse and others. But the main attraction was the now world-famous Ysaÿe, who made a triumphant return to London in three different capacities: as a soloist, an orchestral conductor, and quartet leader of most of the Popular Concerts.
Ysaÿe was also part of the following 43rd season, and when the Joachim Quartet returned in the spring of 1901, it was hard not to compare Joachim to the violinist who had been filling his shoes. The main critic for the London Times, John Fuller Maitland, insisted not only was Joachim better than Ysaÿe, at age 70 he was better than ever. This caused a major controversy in the press that lasted into 1902 and incited critics to spell out Joachim’s shortcomings with unprecedented bluntness.17“The Battle-Cries of Criticism,” Monthly Musical Record, March 1901, pp. 49-50; “Comments and Opinions,” The Musical Standard, May 4, 1901, pp. 271-72; “In the Concert Room,” Monthly Musical Record, June 1901, p. 129.The criticism did not affect the old favorite’s popularity, however; on the contrary, there was a huge show of audience support. Nevertheless, the partisanship cast an unflattering light on the London musical scene, and exposed the conservative and undiscriminating elements that ran all the way from the musical public to the musical elite.
The last three years
New management and new quartet members were announced for the 44th season (1901-02) of the Popular Concerts. The Joachim Quartet’s visits were no longer part of the series, and Joachim did not participate on its concerts. Ysaÿe did not return and and neither did Lady Hallé, but no clear replacement was offered. Instead, a mix of old and new violinists appeared as leaders, which seem to have pleased no one. Dissatisfied critics called for a standing quartet of players who always worked together. So, for the next season, Johann Kruse’s quartet was brought in to be the sole provider for ten concerts.
For some reason, critics took exception to the programs of this 45th season of 1902-03, discovering a suppression of British music, and attendance fell off.18“The Times notices the suppression of British music at the Saturday Popular Concerts, and says that it was never less opportune or justifiable than at the present moment.” Musical Herald (Dec 1, 1902): 370.
For the following year, not only was the Kruse Quartet still in place, but Kruse himself was given the job of choosing the performers and the players. Arthur Chappell had previously overseen every season, so this was a major shift.19“Yesterday afternoon we had the first Popular Concert of the season, which is to comprise forty concerts–twenty of Saturdays and twenty on Mondays. The undertaking is now under the direction of Professor Johann Kruse, and for the first time since their origin over forty years ago the name of Chappell no longer figures on the programme.” The Guardian, October 26, 1903, p. 4.
Forty concerts were announced (twenty each on Saturdays and Mondays), and a drastic increase of novelty in terms of players and repertoire was offered to the public.
I would guess that Kruse took on the project in a frenzy of enthusiasm, with big ambitions for making London the music capital of the world. That spring, in May of 1903, he had presented a Beethoven Festival of eight concerts that included all nine symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and vocal music, with Felix Weingartner conducting. Unfazed by the poor attendance, he announced a “Second Kruse Festival” for the spring of 1904. So, not only did he take over the Popular Concerts, as performer and manager, but he also decided to organize a series of seven orchestral and choral concerts, four of which included himself as a soloist! It must have been impossible to prepare and rehearse properly with so much going on. For instance, he was a soloist on the concerts of 13, 16, 18, and 19 April.
Far from reviving the concerts “with conspicuous success,” Kruse succeeded in finally killing off the Popular Concerts, both Saturday and Monday, once and for all. As Grove’s Dictionary (1907) put it: “Professor Johann Kruse revived them for a season, in 1903-4, but they have now definitely ceased to exist.”20