Tuesday, February 25
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, cond. London/Decca 425190
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