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IBBS AND TILLETT: The Rise and Fall of a Musical Empire
by Christopher Fifield
April 2005
244 x 172 mm
Includes 78 b&w illustrations
724 pages
Ashgate Publishing Limited
1 84014 290 1

This is a massive book that everyone researching figures who crossed Britiish concert thresholds during the last century must have or be able to consult.

It bears all the signs of a labour of professional compulsion such is its broad sweep and its presentation of detail: 692 pages for just under thirty pounds. No doubt some ex-Ibbs and Tillett money went in to keep the price down.

Essentially this is a history of a concert agency - in fact THE British concert agency. It was founded in the late nineteenth century and foundered amid allegations of scandal in 1990. Along the way anyone who was anyone in the classical music field nationally or internationally was on Ibbs and Tillett’s books.

The book hits all the right notes and hits them adroitly, capturing a range of audiences. The narrative by Chris Fifield races along, pausing for fascinating asides. If it feels like a name-dropping fest what else would you expect from a history of a concert agency. And this is, after all, a large part of its draw.

The main body of text runs to 372 pages. I suspect that Fifield's challenges included what to leave out. I get the impression that the I&T Archives are well stocked and there may yet be make rich pickings for researchers of other musical subjects. There are 18 appendices covering in total about 270 pages and a bibliography as well as an unstinting 42 page index.

Anecdotes and vignettes abound. How about this one recalled by pianist Joseph Cooper who remembered that Emmie Tillett liked: having good-looking young men around her ... ‘she also enjoyed playing bridge with Solomon, Moiseiwitsch and Hess Hesss could speak and wouldn't, Solomon couldn’t speak but tried and Moiseiwitsch never said anything so everything was conducted in silence.’

Joeske Van Walsum's fully quoted description of the world of the classical artist agent brings us up to date with the rise of word of mouth and the decreasing influence of newspaper critics.

We can witness artists like Casals, Pears and Ferrier declining engagements due to the poor fees on offer.

Emmie gave many after-concert meals for the famous. Her household kept notes of the food preferences of celebrities. Cherkassky loved ice creams plenty; Clara Haskil very light food, no salt

There’s also Emmie's lionising of the great and gorgeous and of those rising to greatness.

There are board room struggles alongside last minute substitutions e.g. Heather Harper when Vishnevshkaya was denied access from USSR for Britten's War Requiem as well as squabbles with artists who felt themselves short-changed.

Emmie’s 'control-freak' nature led to her dismissal of two visionary members of staff who had signed up Radu Lupu behind her back. She is noted as expecting ‘such behaviour from Harrison who is from Yorkshire but she did not expect it from Jasper with his family background'.

Of the firm’s refusal to use anything other than surface mail even for international correspondence and their antediluvian office procedures..

How about the splenetic Joseph Holbrooke who wrote complaining that his name was reproduced in smaller letters than that of other composers and of the codes used to hide the fees paid to one artist from other artists and from the competition

And it's not just a London story - all the regional festivals are there and there are plenty of international references.

It is naturally very much an artists' history rather than a composer one but composer-performers are of course mentioned. Appendix 13 reproduces the letters between Ibbs and Elgar 1899-1932, 14 between Rachmaninov 1911-1930.

Emmie Tillett's only surviving diary covering the years 1965 to 1969 is aflood with names and telegraphed impressions and reminiscences including being an extra in a crowd scene for 'Dixon of Dock Green'.

There are 77 truly striking plates; many seem unfamiliar. Rachmaninov in 1911 living up to his smile-shrivelled reputation, a smouldering Dora Labbette, a youngish Monteux in 1927, a time-worn Harriet Cohen striking an affected ecstatic stance, Hess and d'Aranyi horsing around swapping violin and piano in two pictures, Serkin in his twenties, film star lookalikes Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick, Ashkenazy with black hair, Ogdon similarly dark and intense (Mrs Tillett in her diary recalls with some relish cutting Brenda Lucas dead - why ...?) and a very young Lesley Garrett.

The across-the-page width of the printing is notable and makes the book a little recalcitrant to read.

This is a great big palatial book; that's the first impression. Its splendour is in its detail and its finish. It is also very readable - packed with good stories but with a fascinating sweep across the decades.

Rob Barnett

Contents: Preface; N. Vert: 'a veritable Napoleon of managers'; An American venture and the death of Vert: 1902–5; Memoirs of Pedro Tillett; The first year: 1906; Clara Butt's Australian tour:1907; Artists and auditionees: 1906–12; Artists and auditionees: 1912–14; Concerts and festivals: 1910–14; Artists and auditionees: 1914–18; Agencies and artists: 1918–23; Artists and auditionees: 1920–29; Letters from artists: 1920–29; Letters from conductors: 1930–39; Letters from pianists: 1930–39; Letters from instrumentalists, singers and composers: 1930–39; Artists and auditionees: 1930–39; The politics of music: 1930–39; A conductor in 1933; Concerts, artists and auditionees: 1940–49; Agency changes: 1940–49; Kathleen Ferrier; Artists and agents: 1950–59; The winds of change: 1960–69; End of an era: 1970–82; The final decade: 1980–90; Appendices; Select bibliography; General index.

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