Monday, 27 June 2016

The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, Dunedin, 1889-1890 (Part Four - The Exhibition Musical Arrangements)

The Exhibition Orchestra and Choir
on stage in the Concert Hall
[Source : "The Otago Witness"]

This continues my Blog series looking at the "New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition" held in Dunedin between 1889 and 1890. To read all parts of this blog series please click on "New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition 1889-1890" in the left-hand "Labels" menu.

No Reasonable Expense Should be Spared

Prior to the opening the Exhibition commissioners promised the public "that no reasonable expense should be spared in making the music of the exhibition one of the most attractive features". Judging by the very high calibre of people appointed to the various musical positions, the abundance and enthusiastic support of the choral and orchestral talent available and especially of their desire to be a part of this very special event, the obvious dedication and time spent by so many in achieving such a high standard of musical rendition; the excellent facilities provided at the Exhibition, and the glowing newspaper reports, the commissioners would have been well satisfied.

This image of the Concert Hall, taken during the
Exhibition opening ceremony, affords an
impression of the scale of the building.
[Source : "The Otago Witness"]

The Concert Hall

The main entrance to the spacious Concert Hall, being constructed in wood, is from the eastern Cumberland street annexes from which a wide corridor leads, being flanked with cloakrooms and lavatories. The concert hall itself is 158ft in length, 66ft in width, and 50ft in height with the ceiling being elliptical.The level floor is about 78ft by 65ft. The choir and orchestra have a space on the stage reserved for their use being 47ft by 65ft. Underneath the choir gallery are retiring rooms for ladies and gentlemen, with a music room, library, and lavatories with the ladies entering from the right and the gentlemen from the left.

The whole building is lined with tongue and groove and is distempered with the lower portion up to a height of 5ft painted Indian red and above being buff in colour. The frieze and cornices are picked out in various complementary colours with the frieze finished with a very rich stencil pattern and the ceiling in a light grey with panelled ribs of darker shades running round the hall. All of the seven doors are finished with pediment heads and moulded with dentil blocking (ornamental blockwork) underneath. Five additional fire escapes have been provided. Daylight is admitted by 26 skylights, lighting at night time being "quite satisfactory" while three large Archimedean ventilators draw off heated air. Usefully there is an interconnection from the rear of the concert hall to a room adjoining the dining room.

Mr Arthur Towsey, taken 1901
[Source : Towsey tales]

The Exhibition Choir & Musical Director

Suitably qualified candidates for the important position of Exhibition Musical Director were sought from New Zealand, Victoria and New South Wales, with Mr Arthur Towsey, "a gentleman long and favourably connected with the musical history of Dunedin, and whose general qualifications for the post are beyond question" being appointed to this prestigious post on the 5th April 1889. With the Dunedin Choral Society having become dormant choristers were only expected to number some 200. But places were amply filled, especially by Church choir members, which impressively enabled the enrollment, after "a fair test of musical capacity". of over 400 choristers, specifically between 150 to 367 sopranos, 85 altos, 60 tenors and 72 bases. 

Although the music to be sung at the grand choral concerts would "be of a more ambitious character than the majority of singers have hitherto been accustomed to", the sevens months of constant bi-weekly choral practice prior to the Exhibition opening "augurs favourably for a perfect rendering of the great compositions to which the frequenters of the exhibitions are at intervals, to be treated."  

A number of eminent soloists would be engaged from time to time, including a female vocalist from Leeds England and two from Melbourne Australia, and three male vocalists from Wellington.

Signor Rafaelo Squarise 1856 - 1945
Exhibition Orchestra Leader
[Source : Te Ara The Encyclopedia
of New Zealand]

The Exhibition Orchestra & Leader

Italian born Signor Rafaelo Squarise, "a violinist and composer of repute from Italy, who has for the past few years been a resident of South Australia, where his talent speedily gained most favourable recognition." was appointed leader of the Exhibition orchestra, He was so valued and his popularity in Dunedin so great that even before the Exhibition closed he had decided to settle his affairs in Australia and move permanently to Dunedin where he quickly became "a colourful and energetic figure in Dunedin’s musical history". 

The selection of a suitable orchestra of 30 permanent members is noted as having "...given the musical director and committee a considerable amount of anxiety and trouble" but "the gentlemen who have been picked from [through] out the instrumental talent of Australia and New Zealand will also have frequent opportunities of proving to the exhibition authorities and the public that a most judicious choice has been exercised, and that such an array of distinguished performers has certainly never before been gathered together in this colony." 

These included a premier violinist, Mr James Coombes, Herr Eugene Winckelmann, "a talented exponent of the violincello with 30 years' distinguished experience gained in the choicest musical circles of Germany", Herr Alfred Pleyer, a contrabassist with a good European reputation, and various performers with an established Australian reputation. For choral concerts and special occasions the orchestra would be augmented to a force of around 45 performers by the inclusion of a number of the best amateur instrumentalists. 

The committee completed the required numbers "by availing themselves of the kindly proffered assistance of three well-known lady violinists of this city, who generously and with considerable self-denial will also give invaluable aid at the orchestral concerts to be given during the currency of the exhibition."

The Exhibition Choir and Orchestra
on stage in the Concert Hall, taken
during the opening ceremony.
[Source : "The Otago Witness"]

The Exhibition Hall Organ & Organist

Installed in the concert hall would be an organ "sufficiently powerful in tone to lend efficient aid to the chorus and orchestra". This instrument had been built to the order of Mr A.J. White of Christchurch by Messers Jenkins, Parson, and Sandford of that city, expressly for use at the Wellington Exhibition of 1885 but was then "incomplete". The organ was now fully equipped by the original builders with two manuals, 18 speaking stops, four couplers, and three composition pedals, "a credit alike to the builders and the hall in which it is now erected". [Does anyone know what became of it after the Exhibition?] 

Mr A.J. Barth, the Knox Church organist, "freely and generously placed his valuable services at the disposal of the committee" to assist as organist during grand concerts and well as giving weekly organ recitals "of a high class character".

The Exhibition Orchestra 1889-1890
Burton Brothers Photo
[Source : Hocken Collections]

The Orchestral Music

Daily orchestral concerts were provided free of charge. Wednesday evenings would feature full performances of works by Hadyn such as "Creation" and "Messiah", Mendelssohn's "Elijah", and other lesser known but attractive works. Special concerts would include favourite English, Irish, and Scottish glees and part songs. Saturday afternoons would cater to the "dilettanti" by performing the choicest chamber music.

A resumé of the success of the Exhibition noted that "some exception was taken to the character of the music that was presented by the orchestra, on the ground that it did not include a sufficient number of classical selections. For a few weeks after the opening, however, classical concerts were held, and these were so poorly supported that it was felt advisable to abandon them."

The rustic Band Rotunda in the gardens next to the
'Small Eiffel Tower", complete with a thatched roof
[Source : TeAra The Encyclopedia of New Zealand]
The Brass Bands

During each week the rustic band rotunda in the gardens, complete with a thatched roof, would be occupied by one of the city brass bands. In March 1890 "very liberal prizes" would be offered which, it was expected, "will attract the competition of all the leading bands in this and the other colonies." In all, 16 brass bands competed and "a considerable amount of public interest was evoked over the contest".   

The next blog in this series will provide a description of some of the more interesting Exhibition 'courts'. The complete series of blogs will be available by clicking on "New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition 1889-1890" in the left-hand "Labels" menu.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- NZ History Net / Nga Korero a ipurango o Aotearoa
- Hocken Collections, Dunedin / Uare Taoka o Hākena
- Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin

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