Alas Prince Albert died in 1861 and in her grief, Queen Victoria asked for large projects that would fulfil Albert’s dream and memorialise his contributions to British society. Although I am not a huge fan of C19th Gothic, the queen loved the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. This statue-monument, designed by Sir George Scott in a Gothic Revival style, was opened in July 1872 by Queen Victoria.
Royal Albert Hall in the background.
Both in Kensington
Photo credit: Daily Mail
Directly opposite the monument is Royal Albert Hall, also in South Kensington. It was Henry Cole, Prince Albert’s collaborator on the Great Exhibition and a champion of the arts and sciences, who pushed the building of the great hall along. Said to be inspired by Cole's visits to ruined Roman amphitheatres, the design and solidity of the Hall were in actually simpler than originally intended, given that much of the money earmarked for the construction had been diverted to the building of the Albert Memorial. How unfortunate.
Nonetheless the auditorium inside is huge, covered by a domed skylight of painted glass, wrought iron girders, fluted aluminium panels and large fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs. The centre can seat 6,000 guests while another 2,000 can be added at the top of the hall, in the space taken up by the surrounding gallery. And the exterior, presumably inspired by the red brick and terracotta architecture of Northern Italy, is impressive. Queen Victoria loved the long terracotta frieze composed of allegorical groups of figures, all involved in artistic, scientific or cultural activities. The figures reminded her of Albert at the height of his powers.
Royal Albert Hall interior.
Note the modern fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs hanging from the dome
I knew all about the much loved British institution called The Proms, a series of concerts held every year from mid July. But I had no idea when The Proms started. Perhaps the Proms started at a site other than the Royal Albert Hall, and only moved there after 1871.
No! There seem to have been two men responsible for The Proms, according to the BBC. Henry Wood had quality musical training and was successful as a pianist & conductor. Impressario Robert Newman was manager of the newly built Queen's Hall who had already organised symphony orchestra concerts at the hall. Newman wanted to reach a wider audience by offering more popular musical programmes, adopting a less formal promenade arrangement, and keeping ticket prices low. And in 1895 they got together to launch the first Proms season, with Henry Wood given the conductor's baton of a permanent orchestra at Queen's Hall. So The Proms started in 1895, 24 years AFTER Royal Albert Hall opened.
Last Night of The Proms
at the Royal Albert Hall
Photo credit: London Hotels
I am not sure why the BBC took The Proms over, perhaps for financial reasons, but we can definitely say that the BBC Promenade Concerts were founded in 1930. Tragedy struck in May 1941 when the Luftwaffe bombed Queen's Hall. The only other hall available in London for orchestral concerts was the Royal Albert Hall, opened as we noted in 1871. Thus The Proms took place in Royal Albert Hall in 1941 and have run continuously ever since.
Today The Proms Season includes 70 concerts, a different concert for each night; the greatest excitement is probably reserved for Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March, to which Land of Hope and Glory is sung. The Last Night of The Proms is the biggest night, including for us in Australia. On Saturday 13th September 2014 there will be flag flying and nationalist sentiment. complemented by the final song, Hubert Parry's Jerusalem. All the audience will pelting it out in good voice.