Whilst examining WWI material at the Greater Manchester County Record Office, I was shocked to discover the following letters:
Both were sent to the Hallé Orchestra in 1914, and although the second is harder to read, the message is the similar.
I observe you are going to meet, perhaps you will appoint an English Man to conduct in future + not a German you have been properly had and fooled, your present financial position is mainly due to your idiotic policy, no Englishman was good enough to take charge of your bit of a Band, take care that you will not be boycotted.
Below is the envelope that the above letter arrived in:
My immediate reaction to seeing these documents was dismay – this isn’t the sort of letter one might expect to see sent to one of Manchester’s most esteemed musical institutions. However, during WWI, times were very different, and tensions between Britain and Germany were running high, as we can see from the above letters.
So who is this German conductor whom the anonymous letter writers so vehemently opposed?
My research indicates that the man in question is Michael Balling, a German-born conductor who led the orchestra between 1912 and 1914. His predecessor was Hans Richter, a renowned Austrian-Hungarian musician. Charles Hallé, the founder of the orchestra, was also from Germany. He was born Karl Hallé in Hagen, Germany in 1819. All contributed to the musical heritage of Manchester. All would have been associated with the ‘enemy’ side during WWI, which led to the unfortunate scapegoating and persecution of many German-born UK citizens, including those in Manchester.
I also came across another, related document, concerning the German cellist Carl Fuchs, one of the members of the original Manchester Brodsky Quartet and later a teacher at the Royal Manchester College of Music (today known as the Royal Northern College of Music).
Note the explanation for Fuchs’ absence (in brackets beneath the title and musicians). Below he mentions his detainment in Germany at the start of WWI and his part in the Brodsky Quartet:
Evidently WWI was a difficult time for German-born citizens of (and visitors to) Manchester. In the coming weeks and months I hope to find out more about the difficulties they encountered at this time, and their lives in the city.
I’m also interested in whether any past or present Manchester residents or institutions had links with Germany between 1914 and 1918. It is often easier when discussing war, to talk about ‘sides’, and to dehumanise the ‘enemy’:
Above: Anti-German propaganda cartoon from WWI (source)
Using the material held at the Greater Manchester County Record Office, I hope to uncover a more complex story…