Delving into the archives of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
AS THE ROYAL CONSERVATOIRE OF SCOTLAND TURNS 170 YEARS OLD ANN FOTHERINGHAM ENTERS THE INNER SANCTUM OF THE MUSIC AND DRAMA SCHOOL’S FASCINATING ARCHIVES
BRAM Stoker, Buffalo Bill and Sir Henry Irving walked into a bar … It sounds like the opening to a bad joke, or the premise for a piece of avant-garde theatre, but it did happen, back in 1891 in Glasgow.
The three men – along with other invited guests – enjoyed cod a la bechamel and a fricassee of tripe, followed by bakewell pudding and a compote of green figs, and listened to a speech by Sir Henry, the first actor to be knighted for services to drama. The unlikely meeting is revealed in a series of fascinating scrapbooks held in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s archives.
“Bram Stoker worked for Sir Henry, so he was here in his capacity as secretary at what was a very important occasion,” explains archivist Stuart Harris-Logan, adding as an aside: “It is said Sir Henry may have inspired Stoker’s descriptions of Dracula – just have a look at the photographs of old and you can see it, can’t you? That long, pale face, the stern expression.
My first task was to search through the cupboards to discover what we had. We’ve been lucky that staff and alumni have kept so many fascinating items
“The ‘book of strangers’ – a visitor’s book to you and I – reveals that William Cody, Buffalo Bill, was also present. He was in town with his Wild West show.”
The book of strangers – which also includes the signatures of Charles Dickens, who delivered the inaugural address at the first official soiree at the then-Glasgow Athenaeum in 1847, and of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1848 – is one of the many fascinating artefacts on the shelves.
The range of instruments, manuscripts, leather-bound ledgers, performance ephemera, photographs and more is breathtaking in its beauty and scope; a collection of hundreds of little snippets of Scotland’s musical and theatrical past. But the book of strangers remains one of Harris-Logan’s favourites.
“I’ve searched through it to find Chopin’s signature – I know he performed at Hutcheson’s Hall in September 1848 so it’s very likely he would have popped in, but perhaps he simply wasn’t asked to sign the book,” he sighs. “It is very frustrating.”
Harris-Logan, 36, who is from Ayrshire, is a former ballet dancer and librarian who “fell into” archiving when he started compiling private collections for composers and artists of note. Hard as it might be to believe, the RCS had no official archive until he took on the role five years ago.
“My first task was to search through the cupboards and drawers to discover what we actually had,” he says. “We have been extremely lucky that staff and alumni have kept so many wonderful, fascinating items.”
The archive, perched high above the city in a renovated whisky bond in Maryhill, has been officially “relaunched” to tie in with the RCS’s 170th anniversary.
The building, built in 1957 for Highland Distilleries on the banks of the canal, is also home to Glasgow School of Art’s archive and a handful of creative companies and collectives – photographers, clothing labels, filmmakers and musicians – which all sit happily together.
The RCS archive room, at first glance, looks quite ordinary – rolling shelves, lots of boxes, a desk or two where Harris-Logan sits poring over documents and sorting photographs, the stunning view from the windows over the canal and beyond.
But then you notice the vivid pink frock in the corner, or the strange, snake-like instrument lying on a shelf, and suddenly the urge to peek inside the boxes or leaf through the pages of the worn, leatherbound ledgers is overwhelming.
“It is a joy to work here, to be involved in preserving something so important to the city’s heritage,” says Harris-Logan.
“I love discovering things and meeting people who want to donate items, and hearing their stories.”
The RCS has had many names and many homes since it started life in 1847 as the Athenaeum on the corner of Ingram Street. (Incidentally, although that building was demolished, to make way for the new post office, the front doorway was salvaged and now stands as the archway entrance into Glasgow Green from the Saltmarket.)
Set up to “provide a source of mental cultivation, moral improvement and delightful recreation to all classes”, the Athenaeum provided music classes to begin with, adding drama to the curriculum in 1886. It moved into its Buchanan Street premises in 1888 and the School of Music was set up in 1890, with its own principal (Allan Macbeth, a graduate of the Leipzig Conservatorium) and its own prospectus.
THE Scottish National Academy of Music was formed in 1929, gaining royal status in 1944, and the Queen Mother was patron until her death in 2002. Included in the collection is a great photo of the Queen Mother on one of her official visits, “helping” to paint scenery and unusually, Harris-Logan points out, with one of her gloves off.
In 1950 the Glasgow College of Dramatic Art was created, and in 1962, the college opened the first television studio to be located within a UK drama school. The title of Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama was approved in 1968 and it remained so until it became the Royal Conservatoire in 2011.
In 1987, the RCS moved from the Victorian building on Buchanan Street to the current custom-built building on Renfrew Street and the second campus, the Wallace Studios at Speirs Locks, opened its doors in 2011.
The archive – which is open to the public by appointment – includes the Jimmy
Logan collection, gifted by his widow, Angela, in 2002, a fantastic collection of personal papers, music, photographs and more, including the aforementioned panto dame frock and his Big Red Book, presented to the comedian and actor by Eamonn Andrews on This is Your Life.
There are architectural drawings, Board of Governors’ minute books, from 1847 until the present day, paintings, event programmes, performance photographs and even an old blazer and scarf, donated by a student who attended the school of drama in the 1950s.
There are boxes devoted to Erik Chisholm, the Glasgow pianist often referred to as Scotland’s forgotten composer, and to Frederick Lamond, born in a Dennistoun room and kitchen, who became a celebrated pianist under the tuition of Franz Liszt.
“Chisholm was composing music as young as 14, graduated top of his class,” explains Harris-Logan, who is full of fascinating details about the archive’s characters. “He was great friends with Prokofiev and was responsible for more than 100 pieces of music. He was the first composer to include Scottish music in piano concertos, too – he wrote for the bagpipes and piano, for example – and he brought Bartok to Glasgow to perform in the city.”
He adds: “Lamond was born in Dennistoun and though his family had no money, they had an old upright piano in the house, which he turned out to be very good at. The local community rallied round and saved up enough money to send him to study piano in Germany, where his tutor was Liszt. “In fact, Lamond travelled with Liszt and became a celebrated authority on the piano sonatas of Beethoven, becoming the first man to perform the entire cycle back to back.”
Piecing together the archive from a standing start has involved creative detective work on Harris-Logan’s part. A score autographed by German composer Paul Hindemith, for example, led the archivist to Erik Chisholm’s daughter Morag, who agreed to meet and eventually donate her father’s impressive archive.
“That’s the pot of gold,” nods Harris-Logan, with satisfaction. “Finding something so unexpected and so interesting is fantastic.”
THE archive is also home to an astonishing variety of instruments – more than 800 of them, from the odd-looking serpent, an early ancestor of the tuba, to ophicleides, keyed bugles and
It is a joy to work here, to be involved in preserving something so important to the city’s heritage
a horn and trombone made by famed musician and instrument designer Adolphe Sax.
The impressive brass collection is down to former principal John Wallace’s passion for the subject. An accomplished trumpet player, he is best known for his performance as a soloist with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa to an estimated live TV audience of 750 million at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. (Diverse composers including Malcolm Arnold, James Macmillan and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies wrote concertos for him, too.)
It was under his spell in charge that drama was finally funded on the same footing as music, dance was brought into the portfolio and the name was changed to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
One of the archive’s most treasured possessions is Sir Ernest Bullock’s original handwritten score of the national anthem arranged for the coronation of the Queen.
Harris-Logan explains: “Sir Ernest was the principal of the Scottish National Academy of Music, one of the many names our institution has had over the centuries, when it gained its royal accreditation and became the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. He was the organist at Westminster Cathedral in 1928 and became joint musical director and conductor of the Coronation Service in 1937.
“The manuscripts are incredibly neat and precise. And they were never published, so these are the ones played from on the day.”
Harris-Logan is hoping to build on the archive’s personal papers and artifacts from former students and internationally noted artists, performers and researchers.
Already, there are impressive collections featuring Nell Ballantyne, a Scottish stage and screen actress whose career spanned three decades, and Rita Dow, former ballet mistress with famous theatre producers Howard and Wyndham.
The archive is home to the largest collection of Royal Opera House programmes outside London’s Covent Garden, all annotated by esteemed music critic John Steane, who heard and evaluated all the leading singers of the second half of the 20th century.
There are scrapbooks of reviews, too – including many from The Herald and its sister newspaper the Evening Times (which also ran a juicy gossip column devoted entirely to the goings-on at the Athenaeum) and hundreds of photographs.
Building up the archive is a mammoth task, but Harris-Logan is full of quiet delight about the prospect.
“It comes with a sense of responsibility, of course – the idea that you are recording the performance history of Glasgow and creating something of importance throughout Scotland,” says Harris-Logan. “And there are still many, many boxes I haven’t had time to open yet. There is still much to discover.”
Clockwise from top left, opposite page: a signed photograph of composer Richard Wagner; items gifted to the RCS archive by Jimmy Logan’s widow Angela, including his panto costume; the school’s former premises on Buchanan Street; Charles Dickens’s signature in the visitors book; inside the Buchanan Street buidling; Logan’s OBE; and a serpent, an ancestor of the tuba
Left: Harris-Logan is a former ballet dancer and librarian who says he “fell into” archiving. Opposite page: a poster from 1898 promoting a production of Paul Pry at the Athenaeum