Hallé, Charles (1819-1895), Knight; pianist, conductor, founder of Royal Manchester College of Music

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Hallé, Charles (1819-1895), Knight; pianist, conductor, founder of Royal Manchester College of Music

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Hallé was born Carl Halle in Hagen, Westphalia, on 11 April 1819, (he added the accent to the ‘e’ later in life, allegedly to ensure its more accurate pronunciation by the French and English). His father Friedrich was church organist and director of Hagen's mainly amateur orchestra. By the age of four, Carl could play the piano sufficiently well to manage a sonata written by Friedrich. He also learnt to play the organ, the violin and the timpani. Under the patronage of Louis Spohr, he gave a piano recital at the age of nine; thereafter his father limited his public appearances to one a year, in Hagen. He first conducted at the age of 11 when his father was taken ill during Hagen's annual visit from a touring opera company, for which the town's musicians provided an orchestra. The boy took over the direction of Weber's Der Freischütz and Preciosa and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. In the summer of 1835, when he was 16, Hallé went to Darmstadt to study harmony and counterpoint under Johann Rinck and to receive general musical instruction from Gottfried Weber. In 1836 he moved to Paris, hoping to become a piano pupil of Kalkbrenner (but in fact studied under George Osborne). In Paris, Hallé soon came to know Chopin, Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner. In recitals in the salons, he introduced Beethoven's sonatas to Parisian audiences: he was the first pianist to play the complete series in Paris and, later, in London. His edition of the sonatas was published by Chappell. He also appeared frequently as a chamber music player, with Alard (violin) and Franchomme (cello). During these years he became a passionate devotee of the music of Berlioz, attending the rehearsals and first performances of several of his works, including the Requiem and Roméo et Juliette. In the revolutionary year of 1848 Hallé decided to leave Paris because of diminishing concert audiences and lack of pupils. Since 1841 he had been married to Désirée Smith de Rilieu, formerly of New Orleans, and he took her and their two children (later there were nine) to London, which he had first visited in 1843. But London was crowded with émigré musicians, so he accepted an approach from Auguste Leo, a Manchester businessman and friend of Chopin, to settle there and to revivify musical life. In 1849 he was appointed conductor of the old-established Gentlemen's Concerts with a free hand to reorganize the orchestra. In 1857, when an art treasures exhibition was held in Manchester for six months, this orchestra was much enlarged and, rather than disband it, Hallé decided to engage it for a new series of concerts at his own risk. The first concert was given on 30 January 1858. Very soon the Hallé Concerts became Manchester's leading musical event; Hallé conducted them, often also appearing as piano soloist, for the remaining 37 years of his life. His programmes were adventurous and he engaged leading soloists of the day. He continued to give piano recitals in London every summer, concentrating on the sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert. In 1893 he saw the realization of one of his long-held ambitions for Manchester: the foundation of a music college in the city. He was appointed principal and piano professor at the RMCM, which opened in October of that year. Hallé was knighted in 1888, the year in which he also married the celebrated violinist Wilma Norman-Neruda (his first wife had died in 1866). With Lady Hallé he gave sonata recitals not only in Britain but on tours of Australia and South Africa. They had returned from the latter only a few weeks before Hallé's sudden death from cerebral haemorrhage. He is buried in Weaste Cemetery, Salford. This biographical history is by Michael Kennedy (in Grove), with additions.

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