On Wednesday 15th December 1920, 99 years ago, you could have paid four pence to go along to Shirehampton Public Hall for a concert of the Avonmouth and Shirehampton Choral Society. Also among the performers that night, alongside the young singer (and later actress) Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, and teenage local cellist Helen Just (who would go on to have a distinguished teaching career at the Royal College of Music) was violinist Marie Hall, already a well-known star.
Marie Hall was a protegée of Philip Napier Miles, squire of nearby Kings Weston and himself a talented amateur musician. Napier Miles was a good friend of Ralph Vaughan Williams, who had come along to the concert for the first ever performance of his new work The Lark Ascending, in a version for piano and violin, which he had dedicated to Marie Hall.
Also on the programme that evening were Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, a selection of songs (including a newly written one by Napier Miles himself), Bach’s concerto for two violins, and some choral works by Hubert Parry.
We don’t know how the concert went – there are no accounts or reviews. No doubt the audience of 200 were appreciative, but perhaps didn’t realise the significance of the event until the orchestral premiere took place the following year and The Lark Ascending became an instant success. It remains one of Britain’s most popular and best loved pieces of music.
We have booked Shirehampton Public Hall for 15th December 2020, to celebrate the centenary of this concert. The plans are not quite finalised, but there will certainly be a performance of The Lark Ascending by a star violinist, and we certainly won’t have kept the original ticket price! Watch this space for further details over the coming months.