Composers Datebook®

Opening of Royal Albert Hall

Composer's Datebook - Feb. 25, 2023


In London on today’s date in 1871 an audience gathered in the newly-finished Royal Albert Hall to attend the first-ever concert to be performed there. This occurred a month BEFORE the official opening of this famous Victorian edifice as a special thank-you for the workers who constructed the building.

The orchestra that played that concert was famous in its day – though now totally forgotten. It was called The Wandering Minstrels and its players were all British aristocrats – Lords, Right Honourables, and senior military – who from 1861 to 1896 played exclusively for charity events. One strict rule of membership was that only amateur musicians were allowed. If you earned even one penny as a professional, you were out.

That happened to one member, the composer Frederick Clay, who had to leave The Wandering Minstrels when music he wrote for the stage started to pull in a few pennies. Clay even collaborated with W.S. Gilbert, the famous librettist for Sir Arthur Sullivan, who himself occasionally performed as a guest with The Wandering Minstrels.

And yes, it’s likely that the Gilbert & Sullivan song A Wandering Minstrel I from The Mikado was an in-joke reference to the aristocratic orchestra, especially since Nanki-Poo, who sings it, was (after all) a nobleman in disguise.

Music Played in Today's Program

W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911) & Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) "A Wand'ring Minstrel I," fr "The Mikado" D'Oyly Carte Opera Company; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Royston Nash, conductor. London/Decca 425190

On This Day


  • 1727 - French composer and organist Armand-Louis Couperin, in Paris;

  • 1943 - George Harrison (of the Beatles), in Liverpool, England;


  • 1643 - Italian composer Marco da Gagliano, age 60, in Florence;

  • 1682 - Italian composer Alessandro Stradella, age 37, is murdered in Genoa, apparently in retaliation for running off with a Venetian nobleman's mistress;

  • 1906 - Russian composer Anton Arensky, age 44, in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Terijoki, Finland (Julian date: Feb. 12);


  • 1705 - Handel: opera "Nero," in Hamburg; This was Handel's second opera;

  • 1850 - R. Schumann: "Concertstück (Concert Piece)" for Four Horns and Orchestra, by the horn quartet of Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Julius Rietz conducting that orchestra;

  • 1877 - Tchaikovsky: symphonic-fantasy “Fancesca da Rimini,” in Moscow (Gregorian date: Mar. 9);

  • 1881 - Tchaikovsky: opera “The Maid or Orleans,” at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Feb. 13);

  • 1888 - Benjamin Godard: opera "Jocelyn," in Brussels;

  • 1905 - Koussevitzky: Double-Bass Concerto, in Moscow, with the composer as soloist (Julian date: Feb. 12);

  • 1911 - Victor Herbert: opera "Natoma.", in Philadelphia;

  • 1932 - Carl Ruggles: "Sun-Treader" for orchestra, by the Paris Symphony, Nicholas Slonimsky conducting;

  • 1973 - Broadway premiere of Sondheim: musical "A Little Night Music"

  • 1993 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Symphony No. 3, by the New York Philharmonic, Jahja Ling conducting;

  • 2001 - Robert Capanna: String Quartet No. 2, in Philadelphia, by the Mendelssohn String Quartet.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®