New book reveals the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to be the UK's oldest surviving professional symphony orchestra

The Original Liverpool Sound - The Story of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic makes new claims

9 January 2009

RLPOThe Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is the UK's oldest surviving symphony orchestra, it has been revealed.

In The Original Liverpool Sound – The Story of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, to be published 4 February 4 2009, authors Darren Henley and Vincent McKernan have discovered that the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra can trace its continuous history of regular concert-giving as far back as 1853.

The book is the first ever hardback history of the RLPO, and the proof that a formally contracted group of regular players goes back over 155 years makes the RLPO the oldest orchestra in the UK still in existence.

Manchester's Hallé Orchestra is normally recognised as the oldest symphony orchestra in the country, but the new research overturns this. The Hallé was formed in 1858, a full five years after the Liverpool Philharmonic's committee papers show that it first engaged its professional band.

Though the Liverpool Philharmonic Society formally came into being on 10 January 1840, amateur players were only bared from performing in 1851 and by 1853 the annual accounts show that there were fifty-one players making up the Liverpool Philharmonic, all of whom were on annual contracts.

A letter of 1851 from W. Baetens, the Principal Viola player, contains the following passage: 'The object of my writing is to convince you (if this is necessary) that Our Band, I mean 'The Phil of Liverpool' do not require so many Rehearsals as we had last year.'

Such documentary evidence shows that the Liverpool Philharmonic was an orchestra with a regular fixed rehearsal schedule and contracted players by 1851. By February 1853, not only were the personnel performing in the orchestra at the Liverpool Philharmonic Society's concerts contracted, but they remained relatively unchanged each season.

The theory that Charles Hallé took over the Liverpool Philharmonic and simply replaced it with players from Manchester is not borne out by a close analysis of the make-up of the Liverpool Philharmonic before, during and after Hallé's period in charge. Throughout his time with the Liverpool Philharmonic, the two orchestras had distinct identities with Hallé refusing to simply replace the Liverpool Philharmonic with his own orchestra before taking the Liverpool job. He was also allowed by the Liverpool Philharmonic's committee to bring the Hallé Orchestra itself to perform popular concerts in Liverpool, further underlining the separate identities of the two organisations. The Original Liverpool Sound – the Story of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic proves conclusively that the two orchestras were never one single entity.

By Dominic McHugh

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