Clara Butt’s Australian Tour: 1907
DOI link for Clara Butt’s Australian Tour: 1907
Clara Butt’s Australian Tour: 1907 book
Clara Butt’s Australian Tour: 1907
DOI link for Clara Butt’s Australian Tour: 1907
Clara Butt’s Australian Tour: 1907 book
Clara Butt and Kennerley Rumford gave the impetus for the initial financial success of the agency when, in the summer of 1907, they put the management of a tour to Australia and New Zealand in the hands of Ibbs and Tillett, who in turn linked up with an Australian agency to make arrangements on the ground ahead of the tour party's arrival. This was the firm of J. and N. Tait, consisting of a family of four brothers, headed by Frank (later Sir Frank) Tait. They virtually monopolized concert giving in Australia because they had their finger on the pulse (and purse-strings) of Australian taste, and they loved the Rumfords for their box office appeal. Ibbs sent a few letters of instruction before leaving Britain, to the Australian Press Association in London, and to Tait in Australia. This was sent to the former:
We should feel greatly obliged if you could see your way to cable out news regarding Madame Clara Butt and Kennerley Rumford's "Farewell" Concert before leaving for Australia, which takes place at the Albert Hall tomorrow afternoon [29 June], and for which we have already sent you tickets, and mention in your cable that Mr and Mrs Rumford have just received a letter from Her Majesty the Queen through her Equerry, the Hon Sidney Greville, saying she regrets she is prevented from being present at the Concert and desiring her Equerry to say that she wishes Mr and Mrs Rumford all success in their tour in the Colonies. All the Agents-General of Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania have accepted invitations to be present at the Concert. We should of course be prepared to bear the cost of such cable if necessary. (28 June 1907)Having told Tait much the same, a letter from Ibbs continued:
By the way, it has been suggested that we should give a Concert at Colombo on our way back from Australia, as I understand we spend two days there. You might make a note regarding this, and I could discuss the matter with you when we meet.
We are sorry to hear that the prospects for Madame Albani are not encouraging, but we feared this would be the case. Mr Rumford and I interviewed the P.O. Company on Monday last, and they are evidently doing everything they can to make Mr and Mrs Rumford comfortable during the voyage. They are fixing electric fans etc in all the cabins and are giving a separate table at dinner to them. In mapping out the itinerary of the tour, you will not forget that Mr Rumford would like to give one or two Vocal Recitals apart from the tour Concerts and these I understand you to say would be chiefly in conjunction with Musical Clubs in Melbourne, Sydney etc. I may cable you to give us a few more days rest before commencing operations as Mr and Mrs Rumford think this will [be] necessary. I hope therefore it will not upset your plans to any great extent.
The Recital which Messrs Frank Merrick and Carl Barre gave on Saturday last was a great artistic success, and I think the enclosed [not extant] notices (seeing that they are written by our ultra-clever London critics) are really very good. You will notice that I have edited them pretty freely and you can therefore make very good use of them, as they are all from very important papers here. (28 June 1907)After the farewell concert, Ibbs reported:
We are only just recovering from the excitement and enthusiasm of last Saturday at the Albert Hall, which really was an extraordinary sight. I did not cable you, as I had an intimation from Mr Preston that he intended cabling fully regarding the Concert, and also that Her Majesty the Queen had sent Mr and Mrs Rumford a letter expressing her regret that a state engagement prevented her being present at the Concert as she had hoped to be and wishing Mr and Mrs Rumford every success on their tour through the Colonies. By this time you will probably have made very good use of these cables. Many thanks also for your cable saying that you had postponed the opening Concert to 51Tuesday September 10th, which suits our plans very much better as Mrs Rumford feels that she should certainly have a longer rest after her voyage.
The reception given by the "Austral" Club duly came off on Wednesday last, and was a very crowded Function. This news also you will probably have had by cable. Mrs Rumford spent a solid hour autographing photographs for enthusiastic members and their friends. The Princess Christian yesterday sent her godson (Master Victor) a very handsome hammered silver bowl and spoon for his birthday, and he is to be taken to pay a state visit to his Royal Godmother at Schonberg House tomorrow morning.
You will be amused to hear that Mrs Rumford's reverence for superstition has decided that under no consideration will she start on this tour on a Friday, and therefore that the whole troupe of us are to go to Tilbury on Thursday the 18th inst., spending the night there, so that we can say that we started on the journey any day but a Friday!! You could possibly work up a little personal paragraph on this.
Another item that would afford good copy was the really extraordinary instance of that terrific thunderstorm raging last Saturday afternoon whilst Mrs Rumford sang "Abide with me" and "Kathleen Mavourneen". The latter was an unique experience as the lightning was playing all around her nearly the whole time, and the crashing of the thunder seem to chime in with the grand chords of the Organ, however this I need not enlarge upon to you!
I saw Miss Murphy and she told me most positively that Melba would not be visiting Australia this Winter but there are persistent notices in all the papers that it is her intention to do so, so I should think it probably means that she will. (5 July 1907)While John Tillett remained behind in London, Robert Leigh Ibbs set off with the Rumfords on the SS Mongolia and arrived in Melbourne on 26 August 1907. Throughout the tour Ibbs sent a series of letters back to London, most of them to Tillett, but some also to his press contacts urging them to write reports of the singers' success and progress. Extracts from the letters provide a vivid account of the high and low points of this strenuous undertaking. The first quoted was written a week after their arrival and was to the journalist E.J. Shellard based in Bristol, where Clara Butt grew up, was educated and where she married:
It may prove of interest to your readers to have a few notes on the voyage etc of Mme Clara Butt and Mr Kennerley Rumford and of their arrival in Australia for their extended tour of the Australian colonies. We left Tilbury on the P & O S.S. "Mongolia" on July 19th in most lovely weather, which continued the whole way to Aden, which we reached on August 4th. There was not a cloud in the sky and scarcely a ripple on the water the whole of this time, so everyone proved to be a splendid sailor! Leaving Aden we ran into a south-west monsoon, and we rolled heavily for four days, which was practically the only bad bit we had the whole voyage. We had the first series of sports between Aden and Colombo, but although we all took a very active part, were none of us among the prize-winners. The night before we reached Colombo (August 9th) Mr and Mrs Rumford gave a concert in aid of the Nautical Charities, which was a great success and realised a large sum. Mr Merrick, Mr Barrie, Mr Godfrey assisted. Mr and Mrs Rumford autographed three programmes which were put up to auction and realised £17. a substantial addition to the Charities.
We spent the next day ashore at Colombo, which is one of the most lovely places imaginable. We sailed that night for Fremantle and for nine days we did not even see another ship! On the Monday we arrived at Fremantle and took on board His Excellency the Governor-General (Lord Northcote), Lady Northcote and staff, also the Governor of Western Australia and Lady Bedford, to all of whom Mr and Mrs Rumford were presented. We arrived at Port Melbourne early on the morning of August 26th, and at 9.30am an influential deputation, headed by the Lord Mayor arrived on board to welcome Mr and Mrs Rumford, bringing great masses of the most lovely flowers. At 11 o'clock we left the ship and took a train to Melbourne, where there was a crowd waiting at the station. Mr and Mrs Rumford drove off in pair-horse carriages to the hotel, where they found their drawing-room a perfect bower of flowers, which kept arriving almost every half hour. The next day the Lord and Lady Mayoress officially welcomed them at the Town Hall at a reception. Some 700 guests were present including the Prime Minister and the wives of nearly all the other ministers. There was a huge crowd in the street, who cheered Mr and Mrs Rumford lustily as they drove along. Wednesday 52brought one of the most charmingly unaffected and sincere of any of the functions, which will be offered Mr and Mrs Rumford. There is to be a Womens' Work Exhibition held here next month on a very large scale, which is being organised by Lady Northcote. An immense choir of 1300 ladies' voices and a full band (also of ladies) has been formed by Mrs Franklin Petersen (wife of the Principal of the University) and trained by her, and the Committee gave a reception to Mr and Mrs Rumford at the Guildhall on Wednesday evening. The Prime Minister and the Lord Mayor were both present. Mr and Mrs Rumford got a tremendous reception on entering the hall, the choir singing the National Anthem. Mrs Petersen made a most charming little speech in which she emphasised the fact that they welcomed and honoured Mrs Rumford, not only as a great artiste but as a woman and a fond mother. The President then asked Mr and Mrs Rumford's acceptance of a magnificent harp of violets etc, bearing the inscription "A welcome to Australia from the Womens' Work Exhibition", and bouquets as well. Then came the most touching event of all. Little girls came forward leading most lovely toys beautifully decorated with flowers, which they begged Mr and Mrs Rumford to accept for their children. Both Mr and Mrs Rumford were almost overcome by this perfectly charming "touch of nature". The Premier of Victoria made a racy speech, saying that he had recently met the King of England, but now he had the honour of meeting the Queen of Song. Mr Rumford replied that the extraordinary warmth and genuine pleasure with which all in Australia had welcomed his wife and himself had touched them more deeply than he could say, and neither of them would ever forget such genuine kindness or regret having undertaken the tour. He warmly praised the wonderful singing of the huge ladies' choir, saying that in England in order to get such splendid results the aid of man had to be sought, but in Australia women were able to achieve such remarkable results unaided. They were pelted with flowers on leaving the hall.Ibbs's first letter to John Tillett also described the initial events of the tour, but then discussed the matter of other artists, ticket prices and the tour itinerary:
We got into port about 8am and at 9.30 a large deputation of influential people arrived on board and welcomed the Rs. We went ashore at 11 and up to Melbourne by train, being greeted at the station by a large crowd. Flowers and cards in profusion. Today we have had a tremendous function at the Town Hall, an official reception by the Lord and Lady Mayoress. About 700 present and a huge crowd in the street, who cheered the Rs as they drove away. Tomorrow they are to be received by the "Women of Melbourne" and a choir of 1300 females are to sing a welcome. Friday lunch party at the wealthiest people here, Saturday dinner and theatre party, Sunday luncheon party at Government House with the Governor-General and Lady Northcote, Monday reception by the Philharmonic and Orpheus Societies, then a little rest we hope.
Tait has definitely decided upon 21/10/6 & 5/- [£1–05, 521/2p, 25p] for the prices after long and anxious consideration, and we feel he is right as both Paderewski and Melba charged these, and it would never do to place a lower value on the Rs. Melba is due next week, and has it announced that nothing will induce her to sing, but everyone says that she will. [Andrew] Black [Scottish baritone] is in New Zealand, but doing very little. Tait says he is horribly lazy and won't work and doubts if he will ever come back to England. Poor Albani was an awful frost here, and I hear that her best house was under £50!! Isn't it awful? She has been going round to quite small villages and appears to be shockingly badly worked. There was a writ against her here for £125 for printing and an order was obtained to prevent her leaving for New Zealand. Poor old thing, it is too dreadfully sad. The Besses o' the Barn Band are doing extraordinary business still, and they have been here nearly a year.
Keep all the cuttings whilst we are away. I much fear you won't see us back until the end of May. I will send you a suggested tour for 1908/9 as soon as I can. Don't accept any summer engagements definitely, but you can of course do so provisionally. You might advise Boosey and Chappell that the following dates are practically settled. Sydney October 5, 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19, Brisbane 26, 29, Toowoomba 30, Melbourne return for the Cup [horse racing] on November 6 & concerts 7, 9. Ballarat 11, Adelaide 13, 16, 19, Perth 26, 28, 30, December 3, Kalgoorlie, Tasmania, Launceston Dec 9, Hobart 13, and back in Sydney for Xmas Day, leaving for New Zealand on January 1st.Ibbs held his letter to Shellard back until after the first two or three concerts so that he could report on their success:
53It has been simply colossal and an easy case of "Veni, vidi, vici". Both Mr & Mrs Rumford have made the most enormous artistic success, rivalling their social one. The concerts are simply tremendous, each one being larger than the other until last night it was impossible to get another mouse into the hall. The audience on Saturday night simply went delirious with excitement, the whole house standing up and shouting itself hoarse, whilst Mrs Rumford was simply overwhelmed with flowers, some of the trophies being seven or eight feet high. After the first concert Mrs Rumford sent all her flowers to the Melbourne Hospital, and it took two carts to take them.The popularity of Clara Butt and her party (Ibbs never refers to her other than by her married name) evidently alerted Nellie Melba to make an appearance and remind her fellow countrymen of her own status in Australia. 'Melba arrives tomorrow and has announced that under no considerations whatever will she sing during this stay, but everyone is betting that she will. According to the papers she has maids, chefs, secretaries, valets and motor cars galore with her'. Then the cruellest of luck and the worst nightmare for any singer occurred when both Clara Butt and her husband caught bad colds, probably due to the somewhat treacherous weather they were experiencing (including a hurricane). They took to their beds with nurses and doctors in attendance and arose only on the day of their first concert. Meanwhile the Besses o' the Barn Band continued their 'positively astounding financial success. On Saturday night they actually had an audience of 14,000 people at 2/- and 1/- [10p and 5p in today's money], the receipts being close on £1,000, and this is the 33rd concert they've given in Melbourne alone'. One suspects Ibbs was regretting he was not managing this brass band rather than Clara Butt and her husband. As to future plans and ideas, Ibbs made several suggestions on behalf of himself and his partner to Tait, but received short shrift from his Australian colleague. Tait made no secret of what the country did not want and told Ibbs as much, which he then ruefully passed on to Tillett:
Tait won't look at [Harry Plunket] Greene or [Josef] Hollman, I'm sorry to say, and thinks Ben Davies will be very ill advised to come out. Music is overdone here, unless you have an absolutely phenomenal attraction. [George] Marshall-Hall [a Melbourne-based conductor who created his own series of symphony concerts] has a big following of all the swagger people here, and finished his season on Saturday, but has had a biggish loss on the season. He only charges 5/-, 3/-, 2/- [25p, 15p, 10p], There does not appear to be such a thing in Australia as a musical agent, and there certainly does not seem to be any use for one. It seems strange that there are only people like Tait who just speculate in artists. Tait tells me that you wouldn't earn £20 a year obtaining engagements. I hope our typewriter has been worn out in booking artists! I've not come across any semblance of business for us out here so far. I'm known as the private secretary and spoken of as such by the Rumfords!!William Arundel Orchard was the first conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which he created out of the amateur material in the city, and which he gradually turned into a professional body. It also played for singers and instrumentalists brought out by the Tait brothers, including Butt on her 1907 tour; it would appear that of the many artists Orchard and his band accompanied, she was the only one with whom they encountered any problems, as Orchard relates in his memoir The Distant View:
With Dame Clara we were rehearsing "Softly awakes my Heart" [from Samson and Delilah]. Towards the end she came in too soon after a few bars rest, so she looked at me and called out in her Amazonian voice, "That's wrong!" "Yes," I said, "you were too soon." "Rubbish," she replied, "I've sung this with the composer [Saint Saëns]. We'll have it again." So we repeated and she was still wrong. "Too soon," I said. "Nonsense, I can't be, " said the Dame. So I turned my stand so she could see the score. The orchestra was getting annoyed. Again the passage was tried and this time as she followed the score things went right; but she was most ungracious about it.54Charles Buttrose wrote of Clara Butt and Kennerley Rumford in his book Playing for Australia (1982):
The duo maintained their grip on Australian audiences for many years. I heard them on their final tour: the once statuesque Dame Clara, getting old, singing most of the concert seated but still with Rumford who, in the chilly Adelaide Town Hall, looked as though he should have been home by the fire with his slippers on, bringing down the house with the duet they made famous, 'The Keys of Heaven'.So even at this stage of their careers Australians were rapturous in their response certainly if Ibbs's account of their first concert is anything to go by:
Well, the die is cast and I think success is assured. Considering their disadvantages Mr & Mrs Rumford sang magnificently and there was little trace of illness about her, but R showed he had a cold towards the end. There was a great crowd to see them arrive and the hall looked splendid. It reached £790, which is considered very good for a first concert. Rumford got a tremendous reception when he went on and was presented with a laurel wreath and a decorated Maori shield after the "Largo". As you may imagine Mrs R had an ovation before she was allowed to commence. After "Divinites du Styx" a perfect furore set in and floral trophies without number almost were handed up in a long stream, the Albert Hall was nothing to it! Each time she appeared more flowers were given up and after "Land of Hope and Glory" the entire audience stood up and shouted at her. Eventually she had to give a third encore and was allowed to leave, dead beat. Melba sent a lovely trophy of white flowers. There was an enormous crowd to see her off and it was quite a picture to see the Rs coming down the main staircase through a huge avenue of flowers, all the attendants lining the stairs carrying the flowers. One bouquet which got rather too near the crowd was snatched out of hand and they fought like cats to get a sprig of it as a souvenir. There is not the slightest doubt the Rs have scored an immense popular success both artistically and socially.While Ibbs was away news came to him of the death of Grieg. The ailing composer, overworked and already committed to the Leeds Festival, realized in the spring of 1907 that he would not have recovered his strength sufficiently to travel later that year and sent one of his last communications to Ibbs and Tillett four months before his death. He had in fact already made his last public appearance, in the German city of Kiel on 26 April, and subsequently cancelled his visit to England.
Excuse my not having written earlier. So many alarms have hindered me. Unfortunately I will not be able to appear in the Chappell Ballad Concert the 12th of October as I have to conduct in Leeds the same evening. After Leeds I have still some engagements and, these finished, I am obliged to rest because of my delicate health. That is the reason why I am prevented to accept your kind proposal. (6 May 1907)Ever the businessman, Ibbs told Tillett from Australia: 'How sad about Grieg's death. It's rather a good thing we had not made any arrangement, or it would have been a big disappointment.'
The Rumfords continued their triumphant conquest of Melbourne with Tait having to lay on extra concerts. From the Australian impresario brothers he learnt a thing or two about the presentation of audience figures to the press, 'the Taits have a system of adding £400 to every house; you can increase the receipts of the concerts to any figure you like as the houses look a great deal more; there are only about 40 guinea seats sold for each concert'. Meanwhile Melba continued her support by appearing among the audience and giving the couple supper parties ('I can't imagine what her game is', wrote Ibbs, 'but there must be something on'). Ibbs was very mindful of the value of publicity and self-publicity. Not only intent on ensuring that the success of the Butt tour in Australia was being reported back in English papers and magazines, he also observed55how Australian artists currently working in Europe were receiving the same treatment in Australian papers. Ada Crossley, another contralto, was one such singer. She had made her London debut in 1895 and went on to appear at every great festival in the Empire with such success that she gave no less than five command performances before Queen Victoria in two years. Ada Crossley', wrote Ibbs, 'has cables in every paper regarding her colossal success at Gloucester [Three Choirs Festival 1907], also long letters in the Sydney papers as to her "Royal" engagements and the terrific amount she has to refuse! She works things very well.' While acknowledging how well Clara Butt was going down with the Australian public and noting how necessary it was for native Australian artists to keep their names before the public back home, Ibbs was patently disappointed that he was not going to be able to capitalize on Butt's success with other artists from their stable, as he reminded Tillett:
You must tell Plunket Greene, Nachèz and Hollman that there is no chance here, as Taits will not listen to them, so will you kindly break it to them gently. Greene would be a ghastly failure I'm sure. They won't touch [Vivien] Chartres. The only fiddlers they'll look at are [Jan] Kubelik and [Mischa] Elman, and they are very doubtful about the latter. The Australian people are not musical, although they think they are, but we see the huge difference in enthusiasm when Mrs R sings a German song or 'The Lost Chord'. It is very shocking of course, but painfully true.
Last night [24 September 1907] beat all records. The house was completely sold out by 4pm and over 1000 people were turned away from the doors, apart from the hundreds who were refused tickets during the day. The enthusiasm simply exceeded all bounds and they had hard work to get away from the hall. Melba took 200 stalls and gave Mrs R a big bouquet herself from the front. She's a very clever woman. She gave a big supper at the Grand (Hotel] afterwards to the Rs at which about 40 smart people were present. The floral decorations were beautiful, the initials C. and K.R. being woven all over the place. It wasn't over until about 3am. The receipts were £801, so with tomorrow's final matinee we shall have taken over £5000 here in eight concerts, which isn't bad for a start. We've wanted a bigger hall here for the last four concerts and the police raided us on Saturday and last night, and made us return money to certain people who were standing and send them away. Twenty people even paid 5/- each last night to stand under the platform just to hear, though of course they could see nothing!Once arrived in Sydney, Ibbs (together with Kennerley Rumford) managed to pursue his love of cricket: 'I saw Master [Victor] Trumper make 89 in 32 minutes at Sydney on Saturday. One over 220.127.116.11.6.6!!!' At the start of the tour they had been made honorary members of Melbourne Cricket Club (Ibbs was proposed by Hugh Trumble) and the MCC out from England were about to commence a series for the Ashes. The Sydney concerts were as successful as those in Melbourne ('a blaze of triumph') and from there the Rumfords gave two in Brisbane. A Mr and Mrs Cuzens travelled from the extreme north of Queensland to Brisbane purposely for our two concerts and it took them nearly a week to do it. They had to drive 140 miles and then train for 680 so that the two journeys involved their travelling over 1500 miles. Surely this is a record as regards enthusiasm to hear a concert?' After Adelaide they travelled to Perth when news came that Melba had finally thrown her hat into the ring and set up a rival tour:
Bribe Kingston or [Ernest] Kuhe to give us a fat "par"[agraph] but failing that get one in "London Day by Day" as we must keep them prominently in the Daily Telegraph on account of Melba and Crossley, so please do it at once. Melba gave concerts in Melbourne last Saturday and today, and is to give two big ones at the Exhibition Buildings there at Christmas at cheap prices. Her concerts at Sydney are December 7th and 14th. I knew she wouldn't wait long before making a start, and if we hadn't been the success we are, she would have weighed in with a tour to crush us. This new star of Covent Garden [Luisa Tetrazzini] seems to have hit 'em. She must be a star of the first water, 56but why has she only just shone? How will dear Nellie [Melba] like it? The Bulletin and other rags are already asking this question in their usual coarse way. I fancy she is pretty sick. She had fine concerts here and in Melbourne, but not quite what was expected, and she wasn't in overgood voice in Sydney.Clara Butt's reception in Perth 'turned up trumps in the end and the third concert went like wildfire', indeed such was the demand that, at a day's notice, a fourth was hastily arranged at Her Majesty's Theatre at popular prices. Booking was opened on the morning of the concert with a queue of 200 people already waiting to buy tickets:
From 9 o'clock to 12 o'clock the street was almost impassable and by 12 o'clock the entire house was sold out! Dress Circle at 7/6, Stalls 5/- and unreserved at 3/-, over 2500 tickets being issued in three hours. The scene outside the theatre from 6 o'clock to 8 o'clock baffles description. People fought and struggled to get near, and the trams had to be stopped every now and then to prevent people being killed in the streets. Pandemonium reigned both inside and outside the theatre and heaps of ticket holders never even got inside the doors! Ushers and police alike were swept off their feet, and when at last we were able to make a start the house was a wonderful spectacle. The concert lasted nearly three hours instead of two and both Mr and Mrs Rumford had to sing double and triple encores. The enthusiasm and excitement were simply marvellous. We got into very hot water with the authorities, and Tait was to be prevented from leaving Perth without appearing before the magistrates. However they eventually allowed him to go. He has been fined the maximum penalty of £40 and costs.Tillett was not having much luck getting these events reported in English newspapers despite the pleas from Ibbs, who in turn was evidently being nagged by the Rumfords (probably Mrs) for the lack of coverage. 'I dread the arrival of the beastly paper [Daily Telegraph] each week', he wrote. This letter (dated 10 December 1907) contains an example of the coded system concerning financial matters between the two partners which lasted until the end of Emmie Tillett's management of the firm 70 years later. It was known as the Buckingham code, each of the ten letters in sequence of the word Buckingham given the numbers 1–9 with zero assigned to the final m (causing considerable mirth among the firm's employees in later years when a regular fee of 120 guineas was duly recorded as bum gns). So Ibbs's report that 'The receipts of this "cheap" concert were £ign' signified takings of £576. In a surviving desk diary for 1906 which has sparse entries for Ibbs and Tillett's artists' engagements, it occurs for the first time on 17 February, coincidentally for Kennerley Rumford (juc.u.n. = £23. 2s. 6d. for a vocal recital in Brighton). In later years such a desk diary became a large ledger kept open by Emmie Tillett on her desk. By that time the purpose of the code seemed to be to prevent any artist, who might have had the opportunity to read it, from discovering how much a colleague was being paid.