Delv­ing into the archives of the Royal Con­ser­va­toire of Scot­land


The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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

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