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Music at Lunchtime

Free lunchtime music began in earnest in 1940 during the dark days of the Second World War and was designed to boost public morale. Theatres had closed and evening entertainments were suspended because of the heightened risk to public safety from night time air raids.  The danger was all too real and some of the city's famous buildings including the Town Hall, Kirkgate Market and the City Museum in Park Row received direct hits during a heavy "fire blitz" on the night of Friday 14th March 1941.  The Museum's lecture hall was the setting for the Corporation's Wednesday Midday Recitals for many years until the building was demolished during the 1960s to make way for the Midland (now HSBC) Bank. The lecture theatre of the City Art Gallery then housed the recitals for four decades until the opening of the College of Music's concert hall in October 2003.

Young musicians and famous names
Local professional musicians and young artists at the threshold of their careers have always been engaged: a 1946 recital featured 25-year-old John Pritchard as piano accompanist to violinist Edward Dixon.  Pritchard later returned to the City as an established international conductor on many occasions.  Renowned Yorkshire soprano Elizabeth Harwood gave a recital in 1959 while she was a student at the Royal Manchester College of Music.  Established artists have frequently appeared and a study of programmes in the 1950s reveals some of the outstanding names of the day.  These include soprano Isobelle Baillie, baritone Dennis Noble (the soloist in the 1931 premiere of William Walton's Belshazzer's Feast), bass Owen Brannigan, pianists Nina Milkina, Franz Reizenstein, Philip Challis, Gerald Moore and Denis Matthews.  Yorkshire Post music critic Ernest Bradbury was the piano accompanist for his brother, the tenor Stephen Manton, at a January 1951 recital.

Renowned horn soloist's tragic death
Renowned horn soloist Dennis Brain gave recitals in January 1954 and January 1957. Later that year, Brain was killed in a motor accident whilst returning home from engagements at the Edinburgh International Festival. He was just 36 years old.  Fanny Waterman made a return to the concert platform in the role of accompanist for violinist Jurgen Hess at a February 1958 recital.

Recitalists play in Bradford
Many of the recitalists made the journey to Bradford to appear next day (Thursdays) in Bradford Corporation's lunchtime series held in that city's Mechanics Institute - another much loved building razed to the ground during the 1960s.  In those days, the recitals started at 1.15pm and were timed to finish forty minutes later, at 1.55pm, thus fitting comfortably into the then customary one hour lunch break.
Today's recitals are 10 minutes or so longer which might seem at odds with the alarming trend among office and shop workers to take shorter lunch breaks or to eat their lunch on the hoof!

Organ recitals now an institution
Lunchtime music in Leeds continues to be as much a part of the city's cultural traditions as (say) beer and sandwiches at Whitelocks. Stressed city workers, students, tourists and shoppers can enjoy a musical lunch break free of charge at several venues virtually every day of the working week. Monday organ recitals are given in the Town Hall by City Organist Simon Lindley and visiting organists from cathedrals, churches and concert halls at home and abroad. These events have become an institution since the Town Hall instrument was restored in the early 1970s. They used to be given on Tuesdays, which enabled organ lovers to attend the Huddersfield Town Hall series with which Leeds now unfortunately clashes.

New Venue, the University and City Churches
The Wednesday series of Chamber Music recitals grows from strength to strength in its new home, The Venue, Leeds College of Music's 350 seater concert hall from where some of the recitals are now broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. The University of Leeds lunchtime series began in 1912 and the recitals take place on Fridays in the 300 seater Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall. This former Presbyterian Church has been extensively refurbished and is one of the City's most beautiful and acoustically superb music venues.
Regular lunchtime recitals also take place in Leeds' fine City Centre churches including; Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel, Leeds Parish Church, Leeds Cathedral, Holy Trinity on Boar Lane and the redundant seventeenth century Church of St John in New Briggate.

Click images to enlarge
City Museum, Park Row, before bomb damage
City Museum, Park Row, before bomb damage
Mid day recitals, City Museum, 1950
Mid day recitals, City Museum, 1950
Lunch time recitals, City Museum, 1953-4
Lunch time recitals, City Museum, 1953-4
Section of programme, 1953-4, University of Leeds
Section of programme, 1953-4, University of Leeds
Midday recitals, Leeds City Art Gallery and Town Hall, 1976-7
Midday recitals, Leeds City Art Gallery and Town Hall, 1976-7




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003