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Charles Hallé. Lithograph by Walker & Bentall after an oil portrait by Victor Mottez. Plate from Life and Letters of Sir Charles Hallé, London, 1896.

Sir Charles HALLÉ (1819-1895)

November 2019

(b.Hagen, Westphalia, 11 April 1819; d.Manchester, 25 October 1895)

Obituary from The Illustrated London News , 2 November 1895.

Musicians all over the world heard with deep regret of the sudden death on Friday morning, Oct. 25, of the famous pianist Sir Charles Hallé, who had been conducting two evenings previously with all his accustomed energy and care a concert at Liverpool.  Sir Charles had quite recently returned from a successful tour in South Africa, in which he and his talented wife, so long known to the public as Madame Norman-Néruda, had won fresh triumphs.  His death, which took place in the presence of Miss Néruda, was due to an apoplectic seizure, and the sad circumstances of his decease were increased by the absence in Denmark of Lady Hallé.  Only two or three days before his death Sir Charles was saying to a friend that he felt ten years younger as a result of the sea voyage from the Cape, where one of his sons resides.  There was a pathetic appropriateness in the close of his life coming at Manchester, which owes so much of its musical education to the enthusiasm which Sir Charles has exhibited since 1857.  The Manchester folks were loyal to their favourite, and Sir Charles and his magnificent orchestra had come to be greeted as old friends rather than simply as artists.

Charles Hallé was a native of Hagen, where he was born in 1819, a fact which the Queen once recalled in conversation with him as being the same year as that of her Majesty’s birth.  He was taught his notes on the piano at the age of three by his mother.  He joined the amateur orchestra which existed in the little German town, playing the kettledrum.  His father, Friedrich Hallé, who was an organist, took him to Arholtzen, in order that Spohr might hear him play, and the great composer induced him to give a concert.  Until the age of fifteen his father was his instructor ; thereafter he went to Darmstadt, where Rinck and Gottfried Weber were his teachers.  The latter was an early riser, and Hallé often began his lessons at six in the morning.  Next he studied at Paris, without, however, any fixed instructor, practising by himself for more than ten hours a day.  He met and heard Chopin, Kalkbrenner, and Liszt.  At last, after three years’ hard work, he played at the Conservatoire, having chosen some of Beethoven’s sonatas for his début, which was entirely satisfactory.  In 1846 he organised some chamber concerts, and had the pleasure of seeing in his audience Lamartine, Georges Sand, Guizot, Victor Hugo, and other celebrities of the period.  Then came the Revolution, which compelled him to seek a living in England in 1848.  He played at Covent Garden, once more selecting Beethoven for his début.  In 1857 he instituted the annual series of concerts at Manchester, and after a brave struggle succeeded in making them a success.  He married in 1842 Désirée Smith, an American lady, who died in 1866.  Seven years ago Sir Charles married Madame Norman-Néruda, the greatest lady violinist the world has ever known.  He was created a knight in the same year.  His son, Mr. Charles E. Hallé is well known in the art world, and his daughter, Miss Hallé, has achieved a reputation as a sculptor.  Sir Charles was conscientiously exact in his interpretation of works.  His Schubert recitals were particularly enjoyable.  There was an air of reverence about his playing which was wonderfully impressive.  He was greater as a conductor than as a composer, but it was as a pianist he was greatest.

So Sir Charles Hallé, “ the Bayard of Music, sans peur et sans reproche,” as Berlioz was wont to speak of him, has passed away !  I shall, however, not venture to speak of the deceased pianist in the spirit of musical criticism, leaving that to an abler pen, but a few reminiscent notes may not prove altogether uninteresting (writes “ T. H. L.”)  Few knew how indefatigably Sir Charles Hallé studied to attain the mnemonic mastery of the great classical masterpieces, especially of Beethoven’s sonatas.  From memory he could play no less than thirty-three of these, one of which occupied three-quarters of an hour in its recital, and no sooner was the fortnightly recital at St. James’s Hall in the early sixties over than he began to practise for the next. Between each item of the programme he would plunge his fingers into hot water to relieve any symptom of cramp and fatigue.  So occupied was he (I am speaking of the period ten years ago, when I knew him fairly intimately) with his Tuesdays, from October to March, conducting alternately the Philharmonic Concerts and his own at Liverpool, and presiding over the “ Gentlemen’s concerts” in Manchester, and on Thursdays during the winter leading his own orchestra in Manchester – the finest at the time, according to Herr von Bülow, in England – that he had little leisure ; so much so that he could not find opportunity to give instruction even to his daughter.

Very characteristic of this wear-and-tear of his incessant occupation, it struck me, was his appearance on the arrival of the train which brought him on a few hours’ visit to my country house in Kent.  He stepped from the railway carriage with his hat on, it is true, but he was sans gloves, sans stick or umbrella.  Over his coffee and cigar he made an admirable raconteur, and the fine collection of old programmes and remarkable letters, with a host of caricatures, among which Richard Doyle’s took no small space, would often remind him of incidents in his life which were as interesting as they were unique.  Charles Hallé, though a German by birth, was a complete Englishman in his intense love of our insular institutions and convenances, while his dry sense of humour reminded me frequently of the Land of Cakes. From the Fatherland he probably inherited the love of family characteristic of the Teutonic race.  He loved to speak of his childhood’s days, and of his mother, whose pet he was.  To her he owed his first instruction when only three years old, and it is related of him, for it was, of course, before his ken of memory, that on returning from a visit to a relation he remarked, “ Uncle’s piano is a quarter of a tone sharper than ours,” and the boy was right.  He was especially proud, too, of his son C. E. Hallé’s artistic talent.

As a pupil of Kalkbrenner, in Paris, he made the acquaintance of Chopin, Liszt, Cherubini, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, and Paganini.  I remember his telling me of an exciting moment he experienced at Paganini’s house.  The great violinist had given up playing, but one day he opened his violin-case and tuned his instrument.  Now he (Hallé) would hear that divine genius at last !  But, alas ! it was not to be.  Paganini tuned the instrument, but returned it to its case.

I don’t think that Charles Hallé was a courtier, yet he was brought intimately in touch with crowned heads.  Princes and Princesses had rather to step down to meet him on the common platform of musical communion.  The late Prince Consort was more a friend than a patron of Charles Hallé, for he was frequently asked to revise his Royal Highness’s compositions, and he was generally consulted in musical affairs, such as the choice of instruments for the royal household.  Perhaps one of the most interesting episodes in Charles Hallé’s life has never yet been told in print, for he was most reticent as to his visits to Court, and most modest as to his own experiences.

We all know of and deeply sympathise with our most gracious Queen’s years of mourning consequent on her great bereavement.  In the earlier days it was felt that some mental tonic was imperative, and Charles Hallé was invited to Osborne by one of the Princesses to afford some moments of distraction with music.  It was an anxious time for Hallé. True, he had played before the Queen at the Château d’Eu in 1843, when her Majesty was Louis Philippe’s guest, but it was another matter now. The performance was to be quite informal, of course.  It took place in the “ school-room,” as it was termed, and was altogether en famille.  “ What shall I play play ? ” he asked.  It was left to him, and he played the “ Moonlight Sonata,” if I remember rightly.  He came for a night, but he stayed six days, varying his performance and graduating it from lighter to lighter movements, which had the effect of producing the most desirable results.  Charles Hallé was sometimes induced to show to very intimate friends many souvenirs of royal favour — perhaps friendship would be the more appropriate term, for our popular Prince and his fair Princess frequently informally dined with the great musician, and with Lady Hallé, whose playing on the violin has not inappropriately been described as “ angelic.”  Sir Charles Hallé is no more, but the music from his hands still reverberates through the spheres of memory.

Recitals in Bournemouth with Madame Neruda