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Brodsky and his circle: European cross-currents in Manchester chamber concerts, 1895-1929

Thomason, Geoffrey Edward (2016) Brodsky and his circle: European cross-currents in Manchester chamber concerts, 1895-1929. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Adolph Brodsky (1851-1929) is today remembered principally as a Russian violinist, notably as the soloist in the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Like many performers he has otherwise received little scholarly attention in a historiography hitherto weighted towards discussion of music as a compositional act and thereby undervaluing the roles of performers as intermediaries between composers and their audiences. This study, the first to examine Brodsky’s career as a chamber musician, focusses on the interrelationship between the contacts and formative influences developed in his earlier years in Europe and the USA, and his period as Principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1895-1929. It argues that these influences placed him in an advantageous position to stamp his own imprimatur on the repertoire he chose to present in his adopted city and thereby influence the tastes of his audiences there. Brodsky was able to take advantage of the substantial German community in Manchester to offer a repertoire centered largely on the Austro-German canon, at the same time introducing to Manchester audiences less familiar repertoire by those composers with whom he had forged friendships in Europe. These included Grieg, Busoni and Nováček as well as Tchaikovsky and Brahms, all of whom formed part of his circle during his professorship at the Leipzig Conservatoire, 1883-1891. Building on a tradition developed by Charles Hallé, Brodsky established Manchester as a thriving centre for chamber music which not only complemented its reputation for orchestral music, created by Hallé and continued by Hans Richter, but also rivalled the contemporary chamber music culture in London. Whereas late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century concert life in the capital is beginning to emerge as a fruitful area of study, parallel developments in Manchester have to date received next to no attention. What little body of writing exists has concentrated on orchestral music, ignoring both chamber music and the interrelationships between performers, audiences and repertoire. This thesis charts Brodsky’s increasingly predominant role in shaping the discourse of chamber music in Manchester over the best part of the two decades prior to the First World War, bringing to the city a distinctive “brand” in its chamber concerts which at that stage no other British city could offer. Central to its argument is the positioning of the war and its aftermath as a cultural watershed in Manchester, accelerating an incipient decline in the popularity of chamber concerts and necessitating the emergence of new models in order for the tradition to continue. The dissipation and increasing ostracism of the city’s German community, many of whom supported Brodsky’s chamber concerts, weakened the link between Brodsky and his audiences. Brodsky’s absence from Manchester as a wartime internee, a questioning of the pre-eminence of the Austro-German repertoire he had championed, the rise of a younger generation of performers bringing newer repertoire, and the emergence of new audiences are all viewed as contributing to a decline in Brodsky’s role within the city’s post-war pattern of chamber concerts. In his final years Brodsky thus found it increasingly difficult to maintain his status within a musical landscape offering challenges to pre-war patterns of repertoire and a shifting demography of performers and audiences. This study draws on sources including letters, concert programmes and press reports to examine Brodsky’s contribution to a period in Manchester’s cultural history, and to a specific musical genre, both as yet overlooked within the emerging discourse of nineteenth- and twentieth-century British music studies. It thereby accords the city its due importance as one whose musical life prior to the First World War was particularly susceptible to the absorption of European influences to carve out its own distinctive role in British chamber music, the legacy of which, though moderated by the war, was strong enough to survive and continues today.

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