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Henry Wood Promenade Concerts

"Ladies and Gentlemen - the Proms!"

Amongst music-lovers in Britain - and, indeed, in very many other countries - the period between July and September 21 is a time of excitement, of anticipation, of great enthusiasm.

We are in the middle of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts - the Proms.

London music-lovers are particularly fortunate, for those who are able to obtain tickets can attend the concerts in person. Every night at 7 o'clock (Sunday excepted) a vast audience assembled at the Royal Albert Hall* rises for the playing and singing of the National Anthem. A few minutes later, when seats have been resumed, the first work of the evening begins.

* (Albert Hall - the Royal Albert Hall in London, built in 1867-1871, is in the form of an amphitheatre covered by a glass dome; capable of seating about 8,000 people, the hall is much used for concerts, balls, boxing, public meetings and other events; in 1945 it was the meeting-place of an International Youth Conference which set up the World Federation of Democratic Youth.)

But even if seats are not to be obtained, the important parts of the concerts can be heard - and are heard - by a very great number of people, because the B.B.C. broadcasts certain principal works every night throughout the season. The audience reached by this means is estimated to total several millions in Britain alone, and that total is probably equalled by the number of listeners abroad.

The reason why such a great audience is attracted is that the Proms present every year a large repertoire of classical works under the best conductors and with the best artistes. A season provides an anthology of masterpieces.

The Proms started in 1895 when Sir Henry Wood* formed the Queen's Hall Orchestra with a Mr Robert Newman as its manager. The purpose of the venture was to provide classical music to as many people who cared to come at a price all could afford to pay, those of lesser means being charged comparatively little - one shilling - to enter the Promenade, where standing was the rule.

* (Wood, Sir Henry Joseph (1869-1944) - a British musician, founder and for 50 years conductor of the promenade concerts - now the Sir Henry Wood promenade concerts - at Queen's Hall and (later) Royal Albert Hall, London. He did more for music in England than any other man of his time, being early in popularizing the Russian composers, also Brahms and Dvorak, and insisting on a generous proportion of British works in his programmes.)

The coming of the last war ended two Proms' traditions. The first was that in 1939 it was no longer possible to perform to London audiences - the whole organization was evacuated to Bristol. The second was that the Proms could not return to the Queen's Hall after the war was over - the Queen's Hall had become a casualty of the air-raids (in 1941), and was gutted.

(English Life and Language)

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