22 September 2020

Richard Tauber's 'Pagliacci' Parlophones

With thanks to Daniel O'Hara for this information which complements my post on Tauber's film Pagliacci.

Such a Game, recorded on 20 September 1936

30 April 1936

CE 7625 - Prologue, part 1 - take 1 published (possibly other unpublished takes were also made)

CE 7626 - Prologue, part 2 - takes 1 to 3 - all unpublished

CE 7627 - On with the Motley - takes 1 to 3 - all unpublished


4 June 1936

CE 7626 - Prologue, part 2 - take 4 published  (possibly there was also an unpublished take 5)


9 September 1936

CE 7627 - On with the Motley, takes 4 and 5; take 5 - published


20 September 1936

CE 7842 - Slumber Song, take 1 published, take 2 exists as a test

CE 7843 - Such a Game, take 1 published

CE 7844 - Harlequin's Serenade, take 1 published

19 September 2020

Richard Tauber's film of 'Pagliacci'

Richard Tauber as Canio in the British Chemicolour Prologue

Richard Tauber starred as Canio in this adaptation of Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci. Filmed at Elstree Studios by Trafalgar Films in black and white and British Chemicolour.

Its trade world premiere was in London on 11 December 1936. At its public world premiere in Vienna  on 14 January 1937 as Der Bajazzo, it was shown simultaneously in four cinemas with Tauber appearing in person at each cinema. The UK public premiere was at the Carlton Cinema, Haymarket, on 18 March 1937. Its US premiere, as A Clown Must Laugh was on 11 October 1938.

Tauber's costume is that worn by Enrico Caruso for the production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1913. It was specially loaned by the British Museum.


Canio Salvatini, head of the troupe ... Richard Tauber 
Nedda Salvatini, married to Canio but in love with Silvio ... Steffi Duna (sung by Angela Parselles in the Play)
Trina ... Diana Napier 
Tonio, the fool ... Arthur Margetson (sung by Robert Easton in the Play)
Silvio, in love with Nedda ... Esmond Knight
Beppe, a comic trouper .. Jerry Verno
Leone ... Gordon James
Coachman ... Ivan Wilmot
Coachbuilder ... John Traynor
Officers ... Daley Cooper, Jnr., Ambrose Day, Harry Milton, Roy Findlay, Joe Roncoroni

Director: Karl Grune

Libretto: Ruggero Leoncavallo (original Italian libretto)

Story adaptation and dialogue: Monckton Hoffe, Roger Burford

Lyrics: John Drinkwater

Dialogue supervisors: Leon M. Lion, Rosse Thompson

Writers: Bertolt Brecht (uncredited), Fritz Kortner (uncredited)

Music: Ruggero Leoncavallo, arranged by Hans Eisler

Conductor: Albert Coates, assisted by Boyd Neel

Choreography: Wendy Toye

Cinematography: Otto Kanturek

Camera: Alfred Black

Art direction: Oscar Friedrich Werndorff

Film editor: Walter Stokvis

Production manager: Fritz Brunn

Sound engineer: Bert Ross

The Era

Wednesday 1 January 1936

(A Grune-Tauber Picture.) KARL GRUNE, Director; RICHARD TAUBER, Star. 

The Era 

Wednesday 1 January 1936

Coming plans include I Pagliacci to be directed by Grune, with Richard Tauber as the star. Max Schach acquired the sole rights of Leoncavallo’s opera, and intends to make the film version in an entirely original way. 

In securing these rights, it is now common knowledge that American and British producers have had to alter their plans. 

Daily Mirror

Friday 17 January 1936

For his next story, Pagliacci, Karl Grune is going to try Swiss locations. I gather RICHARD TAUBER and Co. will start work on the story of the famous opera in the vicinity of Wengen, up on the Scheidegg. At that height they should be assured of sun and snow.

Daily Herald 

Thursday 6 February 1936



From Our Film Correspondent

 A new British company, Trafalgar Films Ltd., has been formed with guaranteed world distribution by the United Artists combine.

Its first two pictures will be Pagliacci, Leoncavallo opera starring Richard Tauber, and Elizabeth of England, in which Flora Robson and Robert Donat will probably appear.

Chairman of the new company is Mr. Max Schach. 


The Era

Wednesday 19 February 1936

Max Schach’s Latest Plans 

MAX SCHACH, the go-ahead presiding genius of Capitol Films, has recently concluded agreements for the production and distribution of a fresh batch of films. Apart from those announced some time back, the current arrangements bring his commitments up to twelve pictures, all of these to be finished within fifteen months. Trafalgar Films Productions, the newly-formed unit, will be responsible for three. They will be released in this country and the States by United Artists. Schach has just signed a contract with London Films to rent a block of their Denham studios for a period of three years. The rent to be paid over that time will amount to £350,000. The first film to into production there will be Pagliacci

A Film Of "Pagliacci"

Date: Tuesday,  Aug. 11, 1936

Publication: The Times (London, England)

Work began at Elstree yesterday on the production of a film based on Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci. The cast includes Herr Tauber as Canio, Mlle. Steffi Duna as Nedda, Mr. Arthur Margetson as Tonio, Mr, Jerry Verno as Beppo, Mr. Esmond Knight as Silvio, Miss Diana Napier as Trina, and Mr. Arthur Chesney as the Coachbuilder. Mr. Monkton-Hoffe and Mr. Roger Burford have prepared the screenplay; Mr. John Drinkwater is responsible for some of the lyrics; and Mr. Albert Coates, assisted by Mr. Boyd Neel, has undertaken the task of preparing Leoncavallo's music for the screen.

Falkirk Herald

Wednesday 15 April 1936


Does the British film goer want opera on the screen? For years this burning question has exercised the great minds of our film magnates, keeping them awake o’ nights and turning their scanty locks prematurely grey. 

One British producer, more courageous—or more reckless, if you like—than the rest, has acquired the film rights of Puccini's I Pagliacci, and will shortly put the operatic problem to a practical test.

But, alas! once again America has forestalled us, for within the next week or two there will presented, positively for the first time on any screen, Mickey’s Grand Opera, co-starring Madame Clara Cluck, the world-famous coloratura soprano, and Signor Donaldo Duck, "tenoro robusto" of great power and range. M. Miki Mouse, the celebrated maestro, whose brilliant conducting of the William Tell overture in The Band Concert will long be remembered, will wield the baton. 

M. Mouse’s business manager, Walt Disney, declines to divulge the name the opera concerned, but declares that it is definitely not I Pagliacci. "Signor Duck," he says, "is a tenor of considerable promise, but 1 am afraid he is not yet capable tackling 'On with the Motley'—but for heaven’s sake, don’t tell him I said so.” 

Daily Mirror 

Saturday 18 April 1936



RICHARD Tauber, the tenor, and his fiancee, Diana Napier, the film star, are to be married in a London register office late in June, when Tauber's decree against his Austrian wife is made absolute. Part of their honeymoon will be spent in Brighton, where Miss Napier's mother lives. When I saw the couple last night, on their return from Vienna, where the tenor has been singing in the State opera season, they were radiantly happy. They have come back to London to appeal in two new films, I Pagliacci  and Land Without Song, which will both be made at Denham by Trafalgar Films. The wedding will take place between the making of these two films. "We would rather forget the past and look forward to the future," Miss Napier told me. "We are planning the wedding to take place immediately after Richard and I have made the I Pagliacci film."

Nottingham Evening Post

Monday 20 April 1936




Ambitious plans have been announced Max Schach which, if realised, will make him one of the most influential forces in British film-making. 

The first of these projects is the filming of Leoncavallo's opera, I Pagliacci, with Richard Tauber, which is to start in a few days. This is believed to be the first time that a whole opera has been adapted for filming. 

A considerable amount of additional incident leading up to the situation depicted in the opera is to be introduced, it is learned, but the story will be substantially adhered to and most of the original music retained. Negotiations are proceeding for a well-known film prima donna to play opposite Herr Tauber.


The rights of the opera were obtained for the sum of £20,000, probably a record price for British company to pay for a subject. Mr. Schach learned that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had been buying every available opera, and had an option on I Pagliacci for £20,000. If they wished to take it it was necessary for them to hand in a telegram of acceptance at Los Angeles before two o'clock on a certain date. 

Mr. Schach cabled a deposit of £5,000 to the agents for the sale, and asked that the opera should be sold him if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer did not accept. The latter handed in their telegram at 2.35 p.m., and the opera became Mr. Schach's by 35 minutes.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette

Saturday 25 April 1936

To Be Married in June 

Diana Napier, the Bath-born film star, and Richard Tauber, have returned by air from Vienna, and are back in London, making plans for their wedding in June and for the honeymoon in Brighton. "Half a year for a divorce, an endless struggle with authority, and at last we are free," Miss Napier said in interview on Friday night. "Through it all, Richard has been singing in Italian opera and teaching me German. He succeeded so well that he is to take the title role in Pagliacci, his new film, and I am to speak German in Vienna next Christmas." 

After the Pagliacci film they will take love-sick, but tragic, roles in another film, Land Without Music. The only thing Richard cannot teach his Diana is how to sing. "Not a note in her head which might be accurate," he said in despair. Asked if he had acquired anything abroad, his only answer was, "a good figure," for Miss Napier has been taking the chocolate and sausages out of his diet. He has retaliated cutting down her cigarettes.

The Era

Wednesday 29 July 1936

Steffi Duna, the Hungarian brunette who danced in Radio’s Technicolor La Cucharacha and Dancing Pirate, arrives on the Berengaria to-day. She will play Nedda opposite Tauber in Capitol’s Pagliacci

The Era

Wednesday 12 August 1936


Trafalgar’s Screen Opera 

PAGLIACCI, Trafalgar's screen opera, has gone into production at the B.1.P. Studios. It is being produced by Max Schach as his first subject for United Artists’ release. 

Richard Tauber is playing Canio, and is directed by Karl Grune. They call it an "operatic film" as distinct from a "filmed opera." 

Monkton Hoffe and Roger Burford have prepared the screen play whilst some of the lyrics have been devised by John Drinkwater. Albert Coates, assisted by Boyd Neel, will be responsible for putting the Leoncavallo music on the screen.

The cast also includes Steffi as Nedda, Arthur Margetson as Tonio, Jerry Verno as Beppe, Esmond Knight as Silvio, Diana Napier as Trina, and Arthur Chesney as the Coachbuilder. 

Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 20 August 1936


There is good news for opera lovers. and particularly those who find Covent Garden prices beyond their means. It is that the first of what may well prove to be a cycle of films based on the world's greatest operas has gone into production in a British studio. The first shots of Pagliacci have been taken at Elstree, and Karl Grune, who is directing, has under him a cast of considerable talent. Richard Tauber is Canio, and Steffi Duna is Nedda, Esmond Knight is taking the part of Silvo, Nedda's lover. and Arthur Margetson, Jerry Verno, Diana Napier, and Arthur Chesney have leading parts. The all important task of putting Leoncavallo's glorious music on the screen has been entrusted to Albert Coates and Boyd Neel. and I am told that it will he played by the most carefully selected orchestra which has ever been employed in a film studio. Several of the lyrics have been written be John Drinkwater, and it is altogether a very ambitious project. 

The Era

Wednesday 2 September 1936


Chemicolour Process 

At the Elstree Studios last week I saw a colour film that carries us a stage nearer perfection, writes an Era correspondent. 

It was a demonstration of the British Chemicolour process, the joint invention of Otto Kanturek, Karl Grune, and Viktor Gluck. 

Technically described as a subtractive process, Chemicolour is based on the colours of the colour spectrum—yellow, red, green, and blue —and is produced by a photographic galvanochemic system. 

It is claimed that not more than 12 to 15 per cent more light is needed than in black and white films. 

The actual printing of Chemicolour copies is carried out, as in the case of black and white films, by mechanical means, and can be shown on the screen in colour within forty-eight hours of shooting. 

No additional projection light nor any kind of adjustment to the projector is necessary. 

The first film in which the British Chemicolour process is being used extensively is Pagliacci, the Trafalgar Films production, now being directed by Karl Grune at Elstree, for world release by U.A. 

The pictures shown ranged from sea scenes to interiors, shots of Ann Harding and Steffi Duna being particularly pleasing. The colours are as "natural" as any that have ever been seen on a screen, and, to my mind, their composition is more successful than in other systems. 

The Stage

Thursday 10 September 1936

The mechanics of film-making. 

The theatre compère of the Evening News relates that he went to Elstree to see Richard Tauber doing some scenes for the soreen version of I Pagliacci. Tauber was seated on a property caravan as Canio, and a loud speaker on the floor was giving out "On with the Motley," from one of the tenor's records. Tauber was not singing, only making lip movements to the song. Then he began rehearsing, acting in unison with the words of the song. The record, it is stated, was repeated twenty times or so, Tauber accompanying it with his acting. We are told that Richard Tauber is going to be "a revelation as an actor in this film." Perhaps; but there are things that, as Dundreary said, "no fellah can understand."

The Tatler

Wednesday 30 September 1936

Richard Tauber, who is in the big group with his clever young wife, is also amongst the toilers at Denham, and has just finished a picture of I Pagliacci there.

Linlithgowshire Gazette

Friday 9 October 1936


Rapid progress in the production of the Max Schach-Trafalgar subject Pagliacci has brought the film version of Leoncavallo’s most famous opera, under the direction of Karl Grune to its final stages of shooting. 

Work has been concentrated during the last few days the filming of the play within the play in which the tragic climax of the drama of jealousy is reached. 

As in the opera, a strong dramatic effect obtained in the film in this sequence by the juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy, the climax being reached during the performance of a traditional Italian comedy known to now as a Harlequinade, into which a delightful ballet sequence is introduced, with Steffi Duna, Tauber’s leading lady in the film, dancing as Columbine. 

For this sequence a lavishly mounted and beautifully designed set has been constructed representing the stage and the auditorium of a travelling Italian theatre of the beginning of this century. 

Linlithgowshire Gazette

Friday 16 October 1936


Succumbing to a persuasiveness reminiscent of the car salesman's tactics to-day, Richard Tauber has bought a a very nice caravan, too, with sliding panels revealing bed complete with a model of brunette to add to the persuasiveness. 

This delightful scene at Italian caravan vendor's at the beginning of the century, has been one of the many taken during the last few days by Karl Grune, busy completing the Max Schach-Trafalgar screen version of Pagliacci starring Richard Tauber, and with Steffi Duna, Diana Napier, Esmond Knight, Arthur Margetson, and Jerry Verno in other principal roles. 

Considerable interest has been aroused in the trade since Max Schach's acquisition of the film rights of Leoncavallo’s great opera was announced, to the possibility of this production leading to a cycle of screen of the classic operas. Discussing this possibility in a published interview the  other day, Karl Grune stated his belief that the successful film opera can be achieved I only when the original abounds in real human and dramatic situations, as does this famous drama jealousy. Screen audiences, continued Grune, are accustomed to films being true to life, and the artificial conventions of the stage opera must be dispensed with before can become, acceptable film fare. 

This principle he has applied in Pagliacci. Leoncavallo’s music is used in its entirety, mostly as background music, but wherever singing has been introduced it has been done in logical and convincing manner. 

Belfast Telegraph

Monday 19 October 1936


Mr. and Mrs. Richard Tauber (Diana Napier) have left London and will be away for six months. Twice during that period they will fly back from Vienna to London—for the premieres of the two Max Schach films, Pagliacci, and Land Without Music, in both of which Tauber stars and Miss Napier plays a leading role. After its trade-show last week. Land Without Music was hailed as Tauber's finest film yet. Mr. and Mrs. Tauber will spend a week in Switzerland, with Tauber concerts in Basle and Berne, and two or three days in Salzburg, where he is to sing again. Then they will have a holiday in the Austrian Tyrol before going to the furnished house they have taken in Vienna for the opera season. Tauber opens the season on November 12 in 'Don Juan. Early in the season he will sing I Pagliacci, which was a tremendous success at the same opera house last winter. At the close of the season Mr. and Mrs. Tauber will go to Cairo, and in April will return to the flat they have taken in Culross Street, Mayfair. 

The Australian Woman's Mirror

3 November 1936, p. 41


Steffi Duna, most attractive young Hungarian actress from Hollywood, over here to play Nedda to Richard Tauber’s Pagliacci, likes us all very much and London in particular, because it was at Grosvenor House four years ago that she met John Carroll, the six-feet of American manhood, to whom she engaged herself two days before leaving New York.

The pretty Hungarian can act (I dare say you saw her in La Cucuracha and Dancing Pirate, Hollywood’s color films), but she is leaving all the family singing to husband-to-be. He was the singer who appeared with her in the American film Hi, Gaucho. In the Pagliacci film Nedda’s operatic airs will be recorded, and Steffi Duna will just open and close her mouth prettily to suit the music. Sounds simple, but you just try it! Australian singer Angela Parselles provides the voice. They predict  here that it won’t be long before she’s a film star in her own right. 


The Era

Wednesday 25 November 1936


(“Era" Studio Correspondent) 

It is announced that, following a special viewing of I Pagliacci by the directors of Capitol-Trafalgar Productions, it has been decided to include those scenes which were shot in colour. 

These scenes comprise about one third of the action, and all of the material will be used in the final copy of the film. 

The process utilised was British Chemicolour, and, outside of certain studio executives, it will be the first time that it has been seen by an audience. 

It is the joint invention of Karl Grune, Otto Kanturek, and Victor Gluck, who have been working on it for years. 

Pagliacci is the first film in which Chemicolour has been used, and following the premiere, about which an announcement is expected shortly, it will be available to other film producers. 

Optimistic claims are being put forward about the future of colour in films, and I do not wish to cast a pre-preview damper on the possibilities of the process mentioned. 

It is doubtless all that is said about it, but from the all-colour films I have seen during the past two years, and from what I have heard as to the public reaction, I should say that colour is going to mean considerably less than stereoscopy, which, when it does arrive in perfection, will provide the final and lasting touch to illusion.

The Era

Wednesday 9 December 1936


Pagliacci First Big Show 

Friday night at the Hippodrome Theatre, when the Capitol-Trafalgar Production, Pagliacci is shown, the trade will have its first opportunity of viewing the British Chemicolour Process. 

Karl Grune directed Pagliacci, which stars Richard Tauber and Steffi Duna, and about one-third of the finished production is filmed in Chemicolour. 

The colour sequences were photographed under the supervision of Otto Kanturek. 

The Era 

Wednesday 9 December 1936

Trade Show Diary

Look Before You Book


December 11 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Hippodrome, 8.45


Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette

Saturday 12 December 1936

Courageous British Production 

A FILM has just been completed in London which may start a new "cycle" and open the eyes of the world’s producers a wealth of new material. To have this effect, of course, it must a pioneering effort and the courage of the British company who made it is to be applauded. 

The title of this film is Pagliacci and its star is Richard Tauber. It is a screen transcription of Leoncavallo's opera. 

Will it be successful? ..... Tauber and Karl Grune, its director, are sure it will, but they are artists. Max Schach’s company, Trafalgar Films, is not quite so sure, though it naturally feels considerable pride in its product. Company chiefs regard it more as an experiment than a probable money-maker. This film is the first screen opera. It is quite distinct from the previous operatic ventures of Grace Moore and Lily Pons, because they were films of contemporary and conventional life, introducing , by a back-stage story, several operatic excerpts. 

But Pagliacci is not a series of excerpts and not a film of modern life punctuated by a few song recitals. It has the story of the opera as its story basis and Leoncavallo's music as its only music.

Changes In Score

There has, of course, been necessity to reduce the original piece to the running time of a modern movie, but nothing of importance has been omitted. The residue of the music, if serving no purpose in the story, has been used for background accompaniment.

Before commenting on the production's chance of success, I should describe to you what changes have been made in the original score.

Opera in the form presented on the stage will be realized by everyone to be unsuitable for the screen. This is especially so in the case of Pagliacci.

Those familiar with it will know of the intense emotion and melodramatic characters. Even its story has a base of unstinted melodrama concerning a man who experiences such an extreme jealousy that he stabs his wife during a stage performance and then, emotions still uncontrolled, stabs his wife’s lover, who is among the audience. 

It was a difficult subject to bring to the screen without spoiling the music, which will always be its greatest charm, and its fiery emotion had to be accommodated to the more realistic and restrained needs of the cinema. 

The opera is a play within a play, and for the film the inner portion—the performance during which Canio commits the murders—has been retained in its entirety. 

John Drinkwater has translated it into English in rhymed couplets, and it serves its original purpose as the climax of the story. 

Action Introduced 

The outer portion, which leads to the climax, has in places been abbreviated, in others extended, to allow the cinema audience to follow in greater detail the events that cause the terrible jealousy. In this way the essential screen action has been introduced. Karl Grune has aimed at making a good film and, with the eager assistance of Tauber, has worked hard in attempt to show the world that his belief in opera as a screen subject is justified.

But film-goers are interested only in the entertainment with which they are presented, and the aims and ideals of the men behind the scenes are often the objects of shattering criticism.

That is why there is doubt about the success of Pagliacci and also why, if you are discriminating in your taste for films, you should try to see it.

If drama and music which, incidentally, was directed for the film by Albert Coates, are both efficiently transcribed, there will be satisfaction for the enthusiasts of both arts, but if, for instance, a film-goer were more interested in drama and found in this film it was weak, his reaction would condemn, despite the possibility that the musical part was excellent.

Divided Audience

That is the inevitable fate of a film which provides for differing minds. There is always a divided audience and conflicting opinion.

To succeed, Pagliacci must be well acted and sung and must possess action, which is the primary qualification of a modern film. With this, there is no reason why it should fail.

But in Heart's Desire, there was a Pagliacci-like portrayal by Tauber which was intensely painful to watch. You will remember this embarrassing scene - when the star staggered in the wings of the theatre because of disappointment in love.

If the realism in the new film is not better than that it is a certain failure.

Until the film is seen no criticism can be made, and meanwhile I applaud the courageous scheme of Trafalgar Films and wish it success.

With developments in interpretation opera could be made interesting film-fare. It would be joyously welcomed by some, who are growing tired of entertainment and will accept it even if it is utter rubbish.

Dundee Evening Telegraph

Wednesday 16 December 1936

LEONCAVALLO'S Pagliacci, the first classic opera to be transferred to the talking screen, has just been completed. It was shown privately to the film trade last Friday. Part of the picture has been made by new colour process—British Chemicolour.

If the experiment is successful—only the picture-going public can decide that —it will open up a wide new field of screen material. 

Richard Tauber, Steffi Duna, Diana Napier, and Esmond Knight are principals. Hans Eisler, famous continental musician; Albert Coates, and Boyd Neel were responsible for the musical side of the work.

Tauber has a rich sense of humour, and made Mr Coates his butt while production was in progress. 

The tenor was going over one of his songs softly between scenes, and ' Mr Coates was standing by when he noticed that on the piano was a little packet of throat lozenges. 

Interested to know what kind of lozenge Tauber considered suitable for his valuable throat he opened the packet —to find an assortment of tin-tacks and steel screws. 

With a fine show of anger, Tauber snatched the packet from him. Tauber then shrugged his shoulders resignedly. 

"What is the use?" he said. "I can hide it no longer. You have learnt the secret of my voice."


The Era 

Wednesday 16 December 1936



STEFFI DUNA'S uncommon name attracted some attention when she was launched in films by Cecil Lewis, at Elstree, some four years ago. Since then it has been in the Hollywood news, but her performance in support of Tauber in the Max Schach production of Pagliacci is Miss Duna's first real screen justification. 

She is a trifle too young for the role, and fails to convey a full sense of the tragic destiny of the femme fatale. There is also a slight misunderstanding over the gestures required from her in the scene with Punchinello at the finish.

Otherwise, it seems to me, this young woman establishes the qualities that make for box office appeal, a tribute, one may suppose, to the directorial skill of Karl Grüne.

Mr. Grüne also seems to have been exercising his persuasive powers on Richard Tauber, whose acting improves as he slims. He is quite surprisingly well-cast as the tragic clown, strikes just the right note of fatuous geniality as the uxorious husband, and also conveys a substantial impression of impending doom, though there is little left for any player to say or do or sing on the subject of the clown with a breaking heart. He has been dramatic currency since drama began. 

In the Italy of Leoncavallo the tragedy could but end with the death of all three principals, because that satisfies the bloodthirsty demands of vendetta, but in Anglo-Saxon countries one imagines that the girl would elope with the other fellow, and that the husband would be called some years later to her death-bed repentance after her lover had deserted her.

Many people, perhaps, will be inclined to think that the best single performance in the production is that given by Esmond Knight in the “co-respondent” role of Silvio. 

It is marked with an intensity of passion that is Latin in fervour, though Latins, of late, have not been getting away with all the passion, and there is a topical ring in the line: "Which is more important, Love or Duty?"

Arthur Margetson reveals appropriate menace in the role of the rejected suitor, Tonio. Diana Napier’s personal appeal is distinctly formidable in the role of the slighted Trina. Jerry Verno has some deftly handled comedy opportunities that slacken the too keen tension of tragedy. Apart from the tragic climax, in which conventional treatment is unavoidable, there are two episodes that stand out. 

One is the disaster that overtakes the touring company in a mountain pass, when one caravan is seen to run backwards and topple into the abyss. Another, the best, shows the company breaking into song as their caravan descends from the snow line into the valley. This is in the happiest vein of cinema, and atones for much that is fragmentary and disconnected in the scenario.

Opening and closing sequences are photographed in British Chemicolour process, and, as colour, are as good as anything we have seen. 

Whether colour can do anything to strengthen dramatic values is open to question. In some aspects it is definitely distracting, but Miss Duna at least gained 50 per cent, in beauty when she turned into a Chemicolour star. 

Pagliacci, in my judgment, is a film that blends popular favour and prestige appeal to a degree unsurpassed by any production in sight. It is a notable addition to the films that strengthen the industry’s morale. Now stand by for a moment, and Mr. Betts will tell you about the music.



(“Era” Music Critic) 

In adapting Leoncavallo’s opera Trafalgar began with the advantage of having two of the most famous tenor solos in the whole of music, the Prologue and On With the Motley

This effort goes a long way towards what some of us think would be the ideal marriage of opera and film. It is, indeed, the first real attempt to reconstruct opera on the screen and adds a new pleasure to the cinema. 

Though the music has had to undergo considerable change in order to allow for explanatory sequences in talk and action, Karl Grüne has directed the picture with a view to the best presentation of the outstanding numbers, and he has obviously had keen co-operation from his singers and orchestral conductors—Albert Coates and Boyd Neel.

Richard Tauber’s voice is ideally suited to the part of Canio. The Prologue has, I think, never been better sung, and his On With the Motley is a really artistic achievement. It is more subdued than is customary—its tone, and the suggestion of pent-in emotion give the performance a power of actuality that enthralled the trade show audience. The famous sob which with Caruso seemed to shake the stage was suggested as the involuntary heart-cry of a strong man broken by an unexpected sorrow. Tauber’s singing in the rest of the play did not always reach this unusually high level, but it was always extremely good. 

An interpolated lullaby was beautifully done. In the rearrangement of the musical score, the other characters have not been too well served, though most of them have good opportunity to show what they can do as actors. 

Orchestral playing and its recording were kept on a high plane, and the added portions of the music had been artfully contrived. There was, I thought, one production mistake. Canio’s last The comedy is ended was not nearly so effective when taken from the stage and said in front of the curtain.

The Era

Wednesday 6 January 1937 


Look Before You Book


January 7 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Futurist, 10.30


January 6 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Empire, 11


January 12 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Scala, 10.45


January 6 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Paramount, 11


January 7 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Piccadilly, 10.45

The Era

Wednesday 13 January 1937


Look Before You Book


January 13 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Paramount, 10.45


January 19 - Pagliacci, United Artists, Queen's, 10.30

Forthcoming British Films

Date: Thursday,  Feb. 11, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)

Mr Max Schach has arranged for the Capitol Corporation to show in New York during the next few months Love From a Stranger, Dreaming Lips, with Miss Elisabeth Bergner, and Pagliacci.

Linlithgowshire Gazette

Friday 12 February 1937


Vienna has been the centre of an unusual world premiere this last week. The Max Schach production, Pagliacci, directed Karl Grune, was given simultaneous premieres at four Vienna’s finest cinemas and drew record crowds to each one. 

Richard Tauber, who is currently singing in the opera season in Vienna, made personal appearances the stage all it cinemas during the evening. He received rousing ovations from the packed houses, and at each cinema he was called on to say few words of thanks. 

Vienna—city of music, musicians, and music-lovers—has not restrained itself offering praise for the screen brilliance Leoncavallo’s beautiful opera Pagliacci. They say that Tauber’s voice is ideally suited to the role of Canio, that the Prologue and On With The Motley are great artistic achievements, and that the film blends true opera with popular cinematic entertainment, the latter being high praise for the director, Karl Grune. 

These four simultaneous premieres attracted a great many Viennese music-lovers, many of whom are notoriously suspicious of mechanical reproduction of singing, and who were at once converted by the faithful recording and the fidelity of reproduction in in which (they said) Tauber's voice was as perfect they were accustomed to hearing it in the Vienna Opera House. 

It is reported that the Duke of Windsor has been acquainted with the fact that Pagliacci now showing in Vienna, and a visit from this royal patron of music is confidently expected in the near future. 

Linlithgowshire Gazette

Friday 26 February 1937
In a few weeks' time, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, with Tauber as Canio, will be presented at a West. End cinema, whilst the incomparable Paderewski will soon be seen and heard in a specially written film called Moonlight Sonata. In this the great Polish musician plays several compositions besides the name piece, including Liszt’s second Hungarian Rhapsody and his own very popular minuet. 

Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald

Saturday 6 March 1937
Then there is Richard Tauber in airs and songs from his new film, Pagliacci, from the famous opera; he sings in English. There is the Prologue (R020329), and On with the Motley and Such a Game (RO 20330). I know the opera, but not the film; these records suggest that the latter is thrilling, or is it Tauber's tenor voice?

Sunday Mirror

Sunday 7 March 1937

Pagliacci With the Eternal Triangle

Tauber Good as Ever 

I suppose that nothing can be achieved in films without experiment, And I again suppose that Pagliacci, presented at the Carlton, is a wholly commendable effort. It is, in a way, interesting, since so many filmgoers have shown by their absence from cinemas that they do not want to see opera in pictures. 

This film answers that objection in two ways.

The lesser of these is that it adds to the opera a meaty melodrama of a troupe of strolling players getting embedded in a storm You know that there is not one character on the Elstree Alps and working out a triangle drama with gusto. 

The greater of these is the presence of Richard Tauber, who is one of the most popular stars in Britain and who, at least, will not imperil that position by his acting in Pagliacci

The film starts in colour and ends in colour.The process used is something new which Karl Grune, director and producer of Pagliacci, has introduced to Britain. 

These colour sequences are taken from the opera as shown on the stage and are very good asl far as the colour is concerned and entirely marvellous as far as the singing of Richard Tauber is concerned.

Between this colourful beginning and this colourful ending there is the bulk and body of  a spicy triangle drama played somewhere in the aforesaid Alps. 

It is not bad. I think Karl Grune had an idea when when he started this film, which is more than can be said for most, but the charm of the film to me is not any directorial experiments but the personality and the singing of Richard Tauber, who is one of the best fellows in films and who made Blossom Time one of the greatest successes that was ever made in London.

Richard is a Dick anyone would welcome in films or in fact. 

And I give a lot of the credit for that to about a beautiful young man who was im- s cheerful, practical and charming wife, whom you used to know as Diana Napier. 

New British Films

Date: Monday,  Mar. 15, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)

Herr Karl Grune, who directed Fritz Kortner in Abdul the Damned, is the director of Pagliacci, a new British film which is to be shown at the Carlton Theatre next Thursday. Parts of the film are in colour, and the leading players are Mr. Richard Tauber, Miss Steffi Duna, and Miss Diana Napier. 

Opera And Ballet

Date: Wednesday,  Mar. 17, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)


Concerts & c.

Date: Thursday,  Mar. 18, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)

CARLTON, Haymarket. (From 12 o.c.) RICHARD TAUBER singing the World's Greatest Melodies in "PAGLIACCI." STEFFI DUMA, DIANA NAPIER (A).

Sunday Mirror

Sunday 21 March 1937


CARLTON, Haymarket - Richard Tauber in PAGLIACCI with Steffi Duna and Diana Napier (A.) Tnt. 5.45 & 8.30

New Films In London

Date: Monday,  Mar. 22, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)


Few operas combine sadness and song more generously than Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, and in numerous films scenes of tragedy have been rounded off with an aria taken from it. It is not surprising therefore that an attempt should be made to make more of the opera and to produce a film under the title of Pagliacci. The title is not a fair reflection of the content of the film, which has Mr. Richard Tauber in the part of Canio, Miss Steffi Duna as Nedda, and Miss Diana Napier as Trina, and is to be seen this week at the Carlton Cinema. 



 It would certainly be exasperating if a more serious opera than Leoncavallo's was converted into a film with sporadic songs. As it is, there is not enough contrast between the occasional music and the long passages of incident or dialogue to exasperate either those who go to this film for the music or for the story. Contrast there is, because the songs are harshly and abruptly inserted in the narrative, but there is no very obvious incongruity of value. Mr. Richard Tauber has, of course, a flexible voice and can use the most conventional and purely decorative aria as a medium for lavish and melting sentiment. But though the opera has ceased to exist as such, the fragments that remain are not enough, at any rate as they are treated here, to suggest the mutilation of a work of art. Only at the close, in the play within a play with which Pagliacci ends, is there a little continuous opera, and this is certainly more attractive than the rest. But it is photographed in colour. Unfortunately an operatic flavour has penetrated into the passages of purely cinematic storytelling. The conversation often has the unconvincing diction of recitation. Passionately warbled in Italian, the lines might do very well and suggest the quick ardours of the South; spoken in English and by actors who are accustomed to the indirect and half-articulate expression of emotion, the result is absurd.

Entertainments Index

Date: Thursday,  Apr. 1, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)

Carlton - Pagliacci  

The Australian Woman's Mirror

1 June 1937


Britain Can Equal U.S.A. in This 

KITTY GWENN Writing from Denham 
TECHNICOLOR is getting a grip on British studios these days, prompted no doubt by the success of Wings of the Morning, which, although it proved a difficult proposition to photograph on account of the many outdoor scenes and the vagaries of the English climate, certainly warranted the trouble. 
Some of the shots are unbelievably lovely, and Annabella (as I have already mentioned in previous letters) is an excellent choice for the leading role, playing her dual (or should one say treble?) role with great charm. The rest of the cast acts well up to her, too. 
Following that initial venture into color we have a second example of it in the opening sequences of Pagliacci, Richard Tauber’s latest film, introduced to bring out the carnival spirit at the beginning of the story, but it rather disconcerting to jump from color into black and white for most of the story, and then back into color again for the operatic sequence which forms the climax. 
Tauber admirers will want to see Pagliacci because it gives the singer his best singing role. Music-lovers will appreciate it because it is the first real attempt to adapt grand opera - the whole opera not excerpts - to the screen, but the average filmgoer will probably be critical about the acting, which frequently falls short of dramatic value and the slowness of direction which seems characteristic of all Tauber films. 
Taken all round, however, it is pleasant entertainment. The singing is excellent, and Steffi Duna, Hollywood’s first technicolor actress looks most attractive as the fickle Nedda.


Entertainments Index

Date: Monday,  July 19, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)

Stoll - Pagliacci

Entertainments Index

Date: Wednesday,  July 21, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)

Stoll - Pagliacci

Entertainments Index

Date: Saturday,  July 24, 1937

Publication: The Times (London, England)

Stoll - Pagliacci

Everyones in Queensland

1 September 1937, p.12

An Evening in a London Picture House 

READERS might like to know how a picture house in London, outside the West End theatres, puts over an evening's performance. In Tottenham Court Road, just on the fringe of Oxford Street, Paramount has an immense picture house. There are other theatres in the locality but they are not to be compared with this theatre. It is modern in every respect, seating about 11,000, and has attached to it a restaurant and a dansant. In London theatres cater for the masses and the classes, and there is a decided class distinction. This theatre I refer to is built tor the masses...
I noticed an announcement that next week Richard Tauber would make a personal appearance on the stage, one of the pictures to be screened having him as the star performer, "Pagliacci".

ABC Weekly

3 November 1945

Angela Parelles, who sang the role of Nedda

Western Mail

Saturday 11 November 1950

Opera on the screen 

On with the motley and out with the big drum. Pagliacci (director Mario Costa), Italian screen version of the Leoncavallo opera at the Globe Cinema next week is, in my opinion, as perfect a translation of opera from stage to screen as we can fairly ever hope to see. 

It is no small comfort to know, too, that the advent of this important picture will help to lay the poor, miserable ghost of a prewar screen Pagliacci with Tauber, which must have haunted every studio planning to tackle another screen opera ever since. 

The Leoncavallo opera ("twin" of Cavalleria Rusticana, which, Mario Costa might get around to filming one day), is, of course, eminently filmable. 

It is a turbulent tale of passion and jealousy, shot through with violent oaths and love's gentlest cadences. Wisely, Signor Costa has taken no liberties with the music or action. 

What he has done is to tear down the three constrictive walls of the stage, extend the scene of an from the narrow streets of little Italian market town to the wooded countryside around it, and bring the emotions of the four principals into vivid close-up.

Sandwell Evening Mail

Tuesday 1 February 1994

Channel 4, 2.00 FILM: Pagliacci (1936) Tragic opera starring Richard Tauber

Crawley News

Wednesday 16 April 1997

Channel 4, 2.35 FILM: Pagliacci (1936, Musical) A film version of Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera. Starring Richard Tauber

11 September 2020

Letting off Steam: Railways and Musical Life in Nineteenth Century Britain

Note: I wrote this while studying for a degree in music at Royal Holloway College, University of London, between 1976 and 1979. The resources available for research in those days were more limited than the are today, but I believe this original research still has some value and present it "as is".


The initial development of the world's civilizations has always depended on the ease of communication between one group of men and another. In Ancient Egypt, for instance, the Nile provided not only the irritation necessary for the successful cultivation of crops but also a reasonably satisfactory means of communication between the many towns and settlements built on the banks of the river. As time passed, however, the countries whose civilization depended on transport by water to be invaded by hordes of barbarians who possessed a faster means of communication: the horse.

For 2,500 years the man on horseback remained both the symbol of power and of civilization. But the horse also limited the progress of civilization since it was an animal, incapable of sustained speed over a long period of time, possessing in average speed of only twelve miles per hour. The Industrial Revolution in Britain saw the widespread use of the stationary steam engine to pump water out of mines and to haul wagons up inclined planes. The railway had been in existence in some form since the early seventeenth century. It was not long before the two were put together and in 1804 Richard Trevithick produced a steam engine which was powerful enough to push itself along on wheels: the "Iron Horse", had been invented.

Before the railways came

Before the coming of the railways, travel of any sort was expensive and slow. To the performing musician, for whom fast travel has always been a necessity, this presented problems which seemed insurmountable. Britain's roads were in an appalling, condition, so it was difficult for any wheeled vehicle to progress along them at any reasonable speed.

The virtuosi of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as Paganini, favoured the post-chaise which was a light, fast carriage. Unless they were rich enough to possess their own (in which case they would still have had to hire horses every ten miles or so), post-chaises proved expensive - a journey from London to Manchester costing £10 - £15 and taking three or four days, depending on the season. (For comparison, a farm labourer earned on average £10 per annum).

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, singers in particular were finding that they had to spend a good deal of their time touring in the provinces. By the 1790's all-night travelling had become an occupational hazard: a Miss Leake sang a role in My Grandmother at Drury Lane, and on the following night had one in The Children in the Wood in Birmingham. Performing musicians, at least, were in need of a much faster, cheaper and reliable means of transport.

The Industrial Revolution in Britain

The Industrial Revolution was of far greater social than economic significance. It created new communities on a vastly larger scale than the towns and villages of pre-industrial society. In many of the larger towns and cities, such as Doncaster, Sheffield and Chester, musical societies had been formed towards the end of the eighteenth century.

With the growth, particularly in the north of England, of a large working class, it was only natural that they too should show great interest in practical music-making. The most popular manifestation of this was the choral society, often a development of non-conformist chapel choirs, which performed the oratorios of Handel, Haydn and others. People from many different walks of life combined together to furnish their communities with the best music that lay within their capacity.

Picked singers were often asked to sing in the larger regional festivals of such towns as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and those of the Three Choirs. Before the coming of the railways, transport to and from these festivals always proved a problem, as can be seen from this report by William Willington of the Newcastle Festival of 1824:

Mr James Cordwell ... and several other Lancashire chorus singers, were engaged to sing at the festival ...; Mrs Shepley and some other female singers were engaged to sing there. There were no railways then, only one stagecoach, and all the seats in this were occupied. They started about six o'clock on Sunday night. These veterans said there was nothing for it but walking, consequently they set off and walked all Sunday night and got well into Yorkshire by light on Monday morning. To make matters worse it rained most of the night. They called at a roadside inn, got breakfast, a good rest, and got straight to St. Nicholas Church, and found the principals, band and chorus, rehearsing Israel in Egypt. The chorus was rather unsteady the rehearsal went on afterwards to the conductor's entire satisfaction.

Fifteen years later they could have made the journey in around two hours and for the cost, per person, of the breakfast they ate.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway

The year 1830 saw the official opening of the first modern railway, which ran between Crown Street in Liverpool and Liverpool Street in Manchester. The principal reason for the railway was commercial, and at first, passenger traffic was the main user since it was popular with the merchants who conducted their business in Liverpool, yet preferred to live in Manchester.

Soon after the success of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, it was decided to link London with both cities by means of a line running via Birmingham. The result was the Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Newton-le-Willows (on the L & MR), and the London & Birmingham Railway between Euston and Curzon Street.

The impact of the completion of the main line cannot be overestimated, for not only did it connect the three towns but also Rugby, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Stafford and Warrington. It also saw the founding of the town of Crewe (until then a village of barely 300 inhabitants), connection with several other towns of importance by means of branches, and the beginnings of London's "commuter belt".

Whereas in the past it had taken at least three days to get from London to Manchester, it was now possible to do the return journey in the same day. The two railways opened officially in 1838, and in the Musical World for September of that year we find comment on the use of the lines by musicians:

EFFECT OF RAILWAY TRAVELLING. - Mr Mori, together with Madame Grisi, Madame Albertazzi, Lablache, lvanoff, &c, gave a concert on Monday in Birmingham; the following evening they performed in Manchester on Wednesday evening they gave a concert in Liverpool, and tonight (Saturday) they gave a second concert in Birmingham. They have thus visited the two greatest towns in the north of England, and the capital of the midland counties twice in the course of six days, and remained two nights in each town, during the space of time nearly one-half of which, under the old system of travelling, would have been alone consumed on the road. - Liverpool Chronicle

The Railway Mania

The 1840s saw a time of great industrial expansion due to the influence of the railways. They also saw what became known as "Railway Mania", in which many lines were projected and a lesser number actually constructed. The opening of a new line was always an important event whether it was a branch line to a market town or another section of a main line. The celebrations held at such an event were known as "gongoozling".

Many of the new lines were commemorated in broadside ballads, which were intended to be sung to popular tunes of the time. The following was written for the Port of Tyne Journal and therefore cannot be strictly said to be a broadside at all, it does, however, possess many of the general characteristics. It refers to the opening of the Newcastle and Shields Railway in 1839 and was intended to be sung to the popular tune La Pique:

Well many droll sights have I seen in my time,
In many a ship, in many a clime:
But old Shields metamorphosed, as shell been today,
Why, my old wig from brown, Jack, you see has turned grey.

Why, when I was a lad, Jack, and old mother you know
As women will do, Jack, a-gadding would go,
We talked only a month, and then WALK’D up to town,
And JEM JOHNSON’S WHERRY convoyed us all down.

Then coaches and steamboats and gigs came in play,
And the hacks and the wherries were all done away;
But the sand-banks by water, up high banks by land,
Brought our steamboats "up-standing" and gigs to a stand.

Howsomever, you see, Jack, some Captain they tell
Sticking fast on a sand-bank as often befell,
RAIL’D so hard at the river, as I have heard say
That they got up a RAILROAD – it was opened today.

And like the ship's ways, Jack, it stretches among
The hills and the valleys, old Tyneside along;
And the ships lay in line, with a thing at their bow
Like a fiend from the pit, Jack, that took then in tow.

For it snorted and roared, and struggled and screamed,
Like the horrible shapes that mayhap we have dreamed;
Then another wild scream, Jack, another deep groan,
And like underground-thunder, the phantoms were gone!

They say it's all science - say it’s all bam -
For it either is witchcraft or else it’s a sham,
To rush like a thundercloud up to the town;
I'm afeard it will end in their all rushing DOWN. 

Compositions influenced by the new railways

Not surprisingly, many musical compositions appeared during the nineteenth century which showed the influence of the railways. Many pieces were intended to be musical evocations of a ride in a railway train, for which the most suitable popular musical form was the galop. In the slow introduction the composer could illustrate the train starting off and accelerating, and then in the main body of the work he could depict it rushing through the countryside.

Probably the most famous of these galops was the Excursion Train Galop which was published in about 1844. Not only did it reflect the current craze for excursion trains but the cover also showed a train-load of excursionists travelling under the Shakespeare Cliff on the newly-opened London to Dover line (South Eastern Railway), thereby being doubly topical.

In 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, as a result of which more people than ever before travelled by train, there appeared in the Musical Times an advertisement for a song composed by a pupil of Moscheles: "THE RAILWAY PLATFORM, a Song for Railway Passengers of every class. The Music by John Thomas Cooper. Price 6d. To be had at all the Railway Stations."

Not only was the subject of the song novel, but also its price was remarkably low and its method of distribution unusual. A little later, in 1855, there appeared advertisement for a whole choral work inspired by the railway. This was Sir George Macfarren’s Song of the Railroads, the title of which bears an uncanny resemblance to Berlioz’s work of 1847, Chant du Chemin de fer, which was written to commemorate the opening of the French railways designed to connect with the South Eastern at Dover.

The development of the seaside resort

Directly linked to the expansion of the railways was the quite phenomenal growth of the seaside tourist industry, with its important, though not immediately obvious nowadays, musical consequences. Until the railways came, as far as holidays were concerned, there were two classes of people: those who were on holiday all the time and those who almost never took a holiday in the sense that we understand of a period of a week or more away from work and home.

For one class, the aristocracy and gentry, life was one long holiday. In the summer, however, it was usual to visit an inland spa such as Bath or Cheltenham, or a continental one, such as Baden-Baden, or, increasingly, because of the patronage of the Prince Regent, a seaside resort such as Brighton or Scarborough. The intention of these visits was to allow one’s body to recover from the excessive eating and drinking of the previous year by means of mineral waters and sea-water.

Every spa town of any importance possessed one or more Pump- Rooms where patients took the waters. These usually contained a resident orchestra which provided a suitable musical background for conversation. This orchestra was made up of both local and London players and often performed from 7a.m. till late at night.

For the other class, from the industrialist down to the farm labourer, holidays away from home were practically unknown. For these people the word "holiday" retained its original meaning of a "holy day" when work ceased to allow attendance at church services. The Industrial Revolution began an attack on holidays and leisure.

The new factory owners wished to keep their establishments open as much as possible so they imposed stern rules about unpunctuality and attendance at work. Naturally this led in time to protests for shorter hours, a Saturday half-day, and eventually an annual holiday. Since a substantial part of the population lived in a smoky industrial environment it was to be expected that during their short holidays they should wish to get away to the country or, even more, to the seaside which they knew their "betters" favoured so greatly. Until the railways arrived, however, this was impossible, yet once the first real "holiday line" was opened between London and Brighton in 1840 it was immediately assailed by "those swarms ... daily and weekly disgorged upon the Steyne from the Cancer-like arms of the railroad." The day-trip to Brighton became especially popular and in 1846 an excursion train of 44 carriages drawn by four locomotives carried 4,000 passengers to that resort.

As the seaside resorts boomed, the spas declined and their orchestras and conductors found a new place at the seaside. Later in the century these bands came to contain music students from London, the best known of these being Gustav Holst, who played in Stanislas Wurm's "White Viennese Band" in Brighton. Examples of resorts which had important and good (because they contained so much London talent) orchestras are :Llandudno, Scarborough, Weston-super-Mare, few Brighton, St. Annes-on-Sea, Eastbourne ("The Devonshire Park Orchestra") and Bournemouth.

The programmes heard by the holidaymakers were designed, after the manner of many Victorian concerts, to entertain yet instruct. A typical programme would contain several vocal numbers, selections from famous operas, an overture and a symphony by Mozart, Haydn, or even Beethoven. The importance of these orchestras cannot be overestimated. With the spread of education, interest in the arts was growing which was not easy to satisfy, particularly in the case of music, so that a band of first-class professional musicians was something new for most holidaymakers.

The music festivals

The day-excursion became very important as far as music was concerned. It facilitated attendance at that very Victorian musical event, the Musical Festival. As we have seen, before the coming of the railways small festivals were in existence, but travelling to and from them caused problems. It was now possible, however, not for just a few singers of a choir to attend a festival, but for a much greater number to be present.

One of the first instances of the railways’ direct contribution to a festival occurred in 1846. It was usual for a London contingent to be sent to the Birmingham Festival each year. However, in that particular year the festival committee bad been fortunate enough to receive as their main commission, Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah.

Mendelssohn especially came over to Britain to conduct the piece and while in London, rehearsed the 38-strong London contingent as well as the soloists and the orchestra. On the Sunday afternoon prior to the opening of' the festival, they all met at Euston station at 2p.m. and were conveyed, together with the "gentlemen of the Press", in a special train to Birmingham, arriving around three hours later.

It is interesting to note that when Mendelssohn travelled to Birmingham in 1837 for the Festival which was to contain the first British performance of his oratorio St Paul, he travelled by coach, starting his return journey after the morning concert on the last day and arriving in London at midnight.

The Three Choirs Festival

The cities of the Three Choirs also deserve study since easy travel between them was vital to the success of the Festival. What. is more, the railway transformed and revived the festival which, in the middle of the century was in grave danger of having to cease. The Festival Chorus was made up of the choirs of the three Cathedrals, together with contingents of singers from Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester and the surrounding countryside. The chorus of the home town was naturally the largest.

The three contingents rehearsed the works separately and only a very little time before the actual festival (if at all) did they get together and rehearse as one. The orchestra at that time was also drawn from the locality. Easy communication between the three cities therefore became vitally important in the weeks leading up to the festival. By the 1860s the three cities were linked by rail to most parts of Britain.

It was not until the 1870s that the direct line from Worcester to Hereford was completed, however, since problems were encountered while tunnelling through the Malvern Hills. Before that date it was necessary to travel, very awkwardly, via the lines to Leominster or Newport if one wished to reach Hereford from Worcester or Gloucester, which must have caused a great deal of inconvenience.

The line from Shrewsbury had reached Hereford by 1858, and as early as 8 a.m. on the first day of the festival in that year, visitors began to arrive in a continuous stream and for two hours they poured forth from the station:

The pressure of the crowd thus collected was such that several ladies fainted. The audience was prodigious, every seat was filled, even the tombs being covered. Persons gladly paid to be allowed to sit on the steps of the gallery, and gentlemen and ladies were content with standing room for the want of better accommodation. - Morning Post

Because of the direct connection with South Wales along the Hereford, Abergavenny and Newport Railways, line a vast number of Welsh visitors also arrived, as The Times noted:

Even the aborigines of which hilly principality are relaxing their antipathy to the "Saxon" music and beginning to admit that there may possibly be even better vocal melody than the vocal Penillion and grander harmony than can be swept from the strings of an antique Bardic harp.

Later, as can be seen from the advertisement opposite, the Great Western Railway brought in yet more Welshmen from Cardiff and other town along their Newport-Gloucester line. In this way the railways brought a much larger number and greater variety of people into the festival audience and ensured the festival’s survival into the twentieth century.

Metropolitan developments

The annual or triennial festival was not the only opportunity the Victorians had to hear symphonic or choral music. In most towns, as mentioned above, there was by the middle of the century, a musical society of some description: often only a choral society, but quite frequently an orchestra as well.

For those lucky enough to live in the new suburbs around London or Manchester there was the opportunity, with the arrival of the railways, of "going up to town" for a concert or really professional standard. As early as 1846 we read in the Musical Times of the first British performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and we learn that:

Our London friends will hail the news of the performance with joy, and happy it is for our country friends that, they live in these railroad times, whereby the facility of being present is so much increased.

The Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace

The largest concert hall in mid-Victorian London was the Crystal Palace, which by then had been moved from Hyde Park to the southern suburb of Sydenham.

The Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition for which it was built in 1851 were of great importance to both the musical and railway worlds. Some people, including the authors of the Official Catalogue, saw in the building itself a gigantic railway station. Like the railways, it was paid for by public subscription and the sale of tickets, but unlike them it made a profit of over 100%, which was devoted to the founding of the South Kensington museum and cultural complex (which eventually contained the Royal Albert Hall, Royal College of Music and Royal College of Organists).

The Great Exhibition contained 19,000 exhibits, ranging from an earthenware water-closet to a plaster statue of Shakespeare, from musical instruments to an express locomotive. The piano was the instrument which benefited most from the exhibition. Up to that date, because of its cost, it had remained exclusively an upper- and middle-class instrument. New methods of manufacture brought down the price so that many which were displayed at the Great Exhibition were suited to the pockets of the working-class. These instruments were known as "cottage or "piccolo" pianos due to their small size and had the consequent advantage of fitting into the smallest of front rooms or parlours.

Not only were ordinary pianos displayed, but also there were many kinds of mechanical pianos, transposing, pianos, and expanding pianos for use on board ship. The Crystal Palace also contained a number of organs by various builders from which enthusiastic councillors could choose the most suitable for their new town halls. A special musical jury was set up to award prizes to the best exhibitors and it included such eminent musicians as Hector Berlioz, Sir Henry Bishop, Sir George Smart, Sterndale Bennett, Cipriani Potter, Thalberg and Neukomm.

The railways played their part in the proceedings by enabling six million people (then, one-third of the population of England and Wales) to visit the Exhibition and ensuring its success. Indeed, the Great Exhibition could riot have been held much before 1851 for it was only in the late 1840s, as has been shown, that the main trunk lines between London and the provinces were completed.

By 1850 practically every town in England was linked by rail with London. The Royal Commission (which included such eminent railway Men as Brunel and Robert Stephenson) responsible for organising the Exhibition took early steps to get the agreement of the railway companies to run cheap excursions at single fare for the return trip, with further reductions for a journey over 100 miles. Subscription clubs were organised to enable the working-classes to visit the Exhibition, and in the event the third-class fare from Manchester or Leeds to London, normally over fifteen shillings single, was as low as five shillings return - the equivalent of a day’s wages for a craftsman.

It should be remembered that this was the first occasion on which the vast majority of these people had even contemplated visiting the capital. As direct result of the Great Exhibition the piano came to be found in most English homes. When the Great Exhibition was over the Crystal Palace was removed to Sydenham. There it was re-erected and enlarged, so that in cubic contents it was almost half as big again as it had been. Dispersed about the building were quantities of sculpture, paintings and every kind of object of art and industry; around it were terraces, parterres, and fountains. It was the old idea of Vauxhall and other Gardens carried out on a gigantic scale, and like those places it was to depend for its attraction partly on musical performances.

There was not much music at the opening ceremony, however. George Grove, who had been appointed secretary, had the brilliant idea of getting Tennyson to write an ode and Berlioz to set it to music, but without success. After a year the conductor of the permanent orchestral was dismissed by a board of directors, annoyed at his poor musical results. He was immediately replaced by a young German, August Manns.

The band, which until then had consisted of 61 brass instruments and three wind, was wisely converted by Manns into a proper orchestra. lie then began a series of orchestral performances, averaging ten a week, of which the Saturday concerts (when the strings were reinforced) were for the next four or five years to attract trainloads of music-loving Londoners. A branch line was constructed by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway directly to the Palace in order to enable people to reach it easily. A little later a special station (the so-called "High Level") was constructed by the London, Dover and Chatham Railway in the grounds.

The size of the Crystal Palace, combined with the easy access afforded to it by the railway, and the easy access the railways now afforded to London, made it the ideal place for the holding of festivals by gigantic choirs and orchestras. The "monster concert" was just another manifestation of the Victorian love of the spectacular which was obvious in the theatre, in architecture and in the construction of such feats of railway engineering as the Snowdon Mountain Railway, the Severn Tunnel and the Tay Bridge.

The Handel Festivals

Officially, the first of these festivals was to be the Handel Festival of 1859, intended to commemorate the centenary of Handel’s death. It was decided, however, to hold a preliminary festival in 1857 to make sure that it would all be possible. The Central Transept was to be used, which would enable an audience of up to 12,000 to be seated comfortably, with a choir and orchestra of appropriate dimensions.

In the event, the railway carried to the Crystal Palace an orchestra of 300 strings; 9 each of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons; 12 each of horns and of mixed trumpets and cornets; 9 trombones, 3 ophicleides, 9 serpents and bass-horns; 3 drums and 6 side-drums. To all this was added a specially constructed 20-ton, 4,384-pipe, four-manual organ, 2,000 singers and the most eminent .soloists. The works performed on that occasion were Messiah, Judas Maccabeus and Israel in Egypt; it was an outstanding success. The entire production was conducted by Costa, who continued to conduct similar festivals triennially until 1880.

The festivals themselves continued until 1926. Over the years the chorus slowly increased in size and it became common for large numbers of chorus-members to travel in by train (special cheap tickets were available) from the provinces. In 1903 the provincial contingent consisted of: Birmingham, 90 voices; Bradford, 90; Bristol, 50; Leeds, 70; Sheffield, 220; other places, 56.

Mann’s Saturday Concerts

Meanwhile, in his capacity as conductor of the permanent orchestra, August Manns introduced many new works, particularly at the special Saturday concerts, for which extra trains were run. It was at the Crystal Palace that Schubert first came before the English public as a symphonist, and many of the younger English composers, such as Sullivan, Parry, Stanford, Cowen, MacCunn.

German and Smyth benefited from performances of their early works at one of these concerts. Edward Elgar also owed a great deal to the Crystal Palace concerts. In his twenties, the rail services had improved sufficiently to allow him to the Crystal Palace:

I lived 120 miles from London. I rose at six, walked a mile to the railway station, the train left at seven; arrived at Paddington about 11, underground to Victoria, on to the Palace arriving in time for the last three-quarters of an hour of the rehearsal; if fortune smiled, this piece of rehearsal included the work desired to be heard, but fortune rarely smiled and more often than not the principal item was over. Lunch. Concert at three. At five a rush to Victoria, then on to Paddington, on to Worcester arriving at 10.30. A strenuous day indeed; but the new work had been heard and another treasure added to life’s experience.

One of the early compositions, Sevillaña, was given by Elgar to his violin teacher Politzer who in turn gave it to Manns, who performed it at the Crystal Palace on 12 May 1884, the first music by Elgar to be heard in London.

Band Competitions

The Crystal Palace, which housed so many different events, was also the scene of the famous brass-band competitions which continued to be held there until the Palace burned down in 1936. It is believed the earliest all-brass bands in this country date from the beginning of the nineteenth century. They proliferated in the industrial north of England where they were set up by philanthropic factory-owners who wished to give their workers something constructive and uplifting to do in their spare time.

Many of the larger railway companies who adopted an old-fashioned paternalistic attitude to their employees also encourages the formation of bands or even orchestras. A "Leeds Railway Band" won the large-scale competition, held in the Zoological Gardens, Hull, in 1856. The Musical Times in 1847 informs us that:

In the large workshops of the Great Western Railway, at Swindon, a number of these men have combined to make a most excellent orchestra, seconded by the liberality and encouragement which seems to pervade the Company's arrangement at this village, for the benefit, improvement and amusement of their workmen.

There were also bands at the other railway "villages" of Crewe and Wolverton (where the singing of the church’s congregation was also said to be "far above average").

Competition played a very important part among these bands. The railway had made the possibility of gathering together a large number of bands from all over the country, so that the competitions at both the Crystal Palace and Belle Vue, Manchester, became an annual event. The famous band conductor, Enderby Jackson, managed to persuade the railway companies to provide specially cheap tickets for both the bandsmen and their families to go to these competitions, so it was possible at one time to obtain a return ticket from Leeds to London for as little as four shillings and sixpence.

Choral competitions

Since band competitions were encouraged by the railway companies, it was only natural that before long, a large-scale choral competition should take place. Of course, these had long been the custom in Wales in the form of eisteddfodau, but in England this was not the case.

Small choral competitions had been held at the end of the eighteenth century, but due to the problem prior to the coming of the railways of transporting whole choirs to a particular place, the idea had not become very widespread or popular.

An example of this early type of competition took place at Belle Vue, Manchester, in 1855 .The event called "prize glee singing" and was attended by four choirs, one each from Idle and Bradford in Yorkshire, Burnley in Lancashire, and Etruria in Staffordshire, all of which places were connected reasonably well by rail with Manchester. In spite of this the choirs only consisted of five members each, so it was more reminiscent of the eighteenth-century style of competition than the later nineteenth.

The first true large-scale competition was held at the Crystal Palace in September 1860. It was organised by John Curwen who designed it to show off the achievements of his Tonic Solfa system of musical notation and education. Five choirs took part, this time showing the real influence of the railways since they came from such widely separated places as the Potteries, Finsbury, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Brighton and Edinburgh.

The choirs were given five pounds for expenses but there were no money prizes, the awards being represented by a crimson banner (won by the West Riding), a purple (Finsbury) and an orange one (Potteries). The next year a similar competition was again held in spite of the losses incurred by the previous one. They continued for several more years but eventually had to cease. Their influence was felt in the many competitions held throughout the country and attended by choirs from quite far away by means of the special facilities offered by the railway companies. These competitions did a good deal to raise the general standard of choral singing in Britain and also provided a number of composers with useful outlets for their works, in the form of set-pieces.

The Alexandra Palace

In 1873 a rival to the Crystal Palace opened on the "Northern Heights" of London at Muswell Hill (as opposed to the "Southern Heights"' at Sydenham). This was the Alexandra Palace, named after the Prince of Wales’ Danish wife.

It was designed to attract visitors from the north of England as well as London by means of the newly-opened station at Wood Green, from which a branch line ran directly to the main entrance of the palace, continuing to the Great Northern main line at Highgate. When they arrived at the palace, visitors were pleased to discover that they only had a few steps to climb to the central transept, as opposed to the long flight of steps at Crystal Palace (Low Level).

The north end of the transept was dominated by a brand-new Willis organ, which at the time was the largest in the world blown by two steam-engines. A choir and orchestra of one thousand performers could be accommodated around the organ, where busts of Beethoven, Handel, Rossini, Verdi, Mendelssohn and Auber could be seen.

Sixteen days after its opening the palace was burned down. Since supplies of water were inadequate to fight the fire, the volunteer brigades concentrated on saving the railway station, which had become a Promising source of income in its brief career, nearly one hundred thousand people having travelled to the palace in the sixteen days.

By 1875 the palace had been rebuilt, but of a new design, more solid in construction and, judging from its four water-towers, obviously not meant to suffer the fate of its predecessor. The main feature was the Great Hall, 386 feet long and 184 feet wide, with seating sufficient for 12,000 and a brand-new Willis organ.

The station remained in its original position, outside the main doors to the Great Hall. In spite of all the apparent advantages of the Alexandra Palace it has never been a financial success. Soon after the opening a Choral Society was formed but due to the extremely resonant acoustics of the Great Hall they eventually gave their performances elsewhere.

In the beginning there were many organ recitals on the magnificent new instrument, and fairly frequently choral and orchestral concerts took place, with opera performances in the theatre. Towards the end of the century the concerts dwindled and remained at a low ebb well into the present century.

A very unusual connection between railways and music was made during the first London performance of Elgar’s The Kingdom: during the concert the organ bellows burst and the Trustees decided that

the Great Northern Company be communicated with, as to the steam from their engines entering the boiler-house and damaging the organ, and for the same to be remedied.

Mapleson’s National Opera House

Another musical project in London which had connections (quite literally) with the railway, aim which was even less successful than the Alexandra Palace, was the National Opera House planned by the impresario Mapleson. This building was to have been constructed on the Victoria Embankment on the site now occupied by New Scotland Yard.

It was to have its own station on the new District Railway and would contain changing-rooms downstairs next to the station where opera-goers from the suburbs would be able to change into evening-dress after their journey. Mapleson does not appear to have considered the effect of the vibrations of the trains passing underneath on the building on the performances. The foundations were laid officially in 1876 arid were to have cost f2,500.

The Thames-soaked land caused so many problems, however, that they eventually cost £33,000. Similar problems continued to be encountered and the building had to be stopped due to lack of funds. The railway station became that now known as "Westminster" - and Mapleson’s ambitious scheme came to nothing.

The Carl Rosa Opera Company

Although many provincial towns contained theatres of some description and although operatic performances were sometimes mounted there, first class professional performances were not seen until the coming, of the railways,. Whereas formerly it would have been unthinkable for a whole company to tour complete with singers, orchestra and scenery, the railways made this a distinct possibility and several impresarios took up the challenge. The first of these was the opera company owned by Carl Rosa.

This was formed in 1875 and made its debut at the Princess Theatre in London. It was Rosa’s policy to give all operas in English, thereby removing the snobbery found at the Royal Italian Opera (Covent Garden) where almost all operas were performed in Italian. After the first London season the company toured Britain incessantly, occasionally returning to London for a summer season. The company, by means of the railway, brought opera in good performances to many thousands of people who had never even heard bad performances before.

The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company

In the year of Carl Rosa’s first London season another impresario named Richard D’Oyly Carte persuaded the young Arthur Sullivan to compose curtain-raiser for Offenbach’s La Perichole; the result was Trial by Jury, an immediate success. Following, this Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a two-act comic opera entitled The Sorcerer, which was again produced by D’Oyly Carte’s Comedy Opera Company. The remarkable success of these two works made D’Oyly Carte decide to tour with them both.

In March 1878, they travelled to Liverpool for three nights, then on to Bradford, Glasgow, Aberdeen. Edinburgh, Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Dublin, Liverpool, Hull and ended up on Sheffield on 5th August. Another touring season began in September, during which they revisited several of these towns and added Southport and Brighton to the list.

With the phenomenal success of HMS Pinafore in May 1878, D’Oyly Carte decided that one touring company was insufficient to cope with the provincial demand for performances. He therefore introduced four companies. The "1st Pinafore Company" covered Scarborough, Manchester, Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh, Newcastle Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Brighton and Bristol; the "2nd Pinafore Company" toured Southampton, Bath, Exeter, Plymouth, Jersey, Guernsey, Ryde, Worthing, Eastbourne, Chatham, Tunbridge Wells, Margate, Alexandra Palace, Canterbury, Bury St Edmunds, Colchester, Ipswich, King's Lynn, Peterborough, Huddersfield, Halifax, York, Darlington, South Shields, Sunderland, Carlisle, Preston, Bolton, Hanley. Wolverhampton, Leamington, Cheltenham, Cardiff and Torquay.

These two companies, together with the "1st and 2nd London" companies, (which in fact only gave three performances in the capital) managed to get HMS Pinafore to almost every town of any importance in Britain. If the order of visiting each town is compared with a map of the railway system it will be seen that, with few exceptions, this order was actually dictated by the railways.


Without the development of an adequate railway system during the early part of the nineteenth century, the social and economic progress of England would have been minimal. Generally, fast travel would have been non-existent and industrial growth would consequently have been hindered greatly. There would have been no towns greater than the size which the surrounding countryside could have provided food for.

The railways are now an established part of everyday life. Indeed, so rapidly were they accepted as part of the Victorians' world that it was soon difficult to imagine a life without them. For this reason the profound effects of the growth of the railway system on many aspects of society have been forgotten. One small yet interesting aspect is the development of musical life during the century. At first sight, the connection between this and the railways may appear tenuous, but as has been seen, they played a vital part in this development in many different ways.