Last month I attended a hugely successful ‘Sounding the Salon’ event, which recreated an after-dinner concert originally given on Wednesday 12 March 1873 by Mary Gladstone – the daughter of the Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone – at the concert’s original venue, 11 Carlton House Terrace, London. This was then the Gladstone house, but is now part of the British Academy.
‘An Evening with the Gladstones’ – organised by Phyllis Weliver (Professor of English at Saint Louis University) and Dr Sophie Fuller (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) – featured as near as possible the same programme as the original evening. It included outstanding performances of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances (1869), Handel’s Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 1, No. 3 (1732) and ‘Where’er you Walk’ from Semele (1743), and the Spohr ‘Barcarole’ from Sechs Salonstücke, Op. 135 (1846-7), given by Elena Abad (violin), Irina Lyahovskaya (piano), and William Branston (tenor). Uniquely, descendants of the Gladstone family were among the audience, which had been specially invited for the concert, which was both recorded and filmed.
Many of the details for the reconstruction were supplied from Mary Gladstone’s diary and from wider knowledge of the period about how salon concerts were staged. The audience, for example, were scattered into groups, rather than kept together in one block as is usually the case today. Also, while it was held in a large room (as can be seen from the photographs) the placement meant that the audience and performers were surprisingly near to each other. This created a feeling of shared intimacy (despite the room’s opulence and height), a feeling that is perhaps a rare commodity at concerts today – even at small studio events. Despite the proximity, the acoustics were strong yet surprisingly clear and bright, which was demonstrated perhaps most of all in the performance of Handel’s ‘Where’er you Walk’.
The original guest list in 1873 included the Duke of Edinburgh, Lord & Lady Sydney, the Duke & Duchess of Cleveland, the Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait and Miss Tait, and Lord Rosebery, among others.