Pump Room Orchestra Bath: Three Centuries of Music and Social
by Robert Hyman and Nicola Hyman
The Hobnob Press, soft covers, 214 pages
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On Monday 17 April 1939, Time magazine reported that Bath’s
Pump Room Orchestra was to be disbanded. The reason given was
‘that for its size, Bath's orchestra had set a new record in
box-office flops. This year's expected deficit: $25,000 (then
about £6000)’. At that time the eighteen-piece group, conducted
by Maurice Miles was the oldest established orchestra in the
British Empire. This was apparently the end of an era that had
begun back in the early 1700s under the auspices of England’s
most famous dandy and early style-guru, Richard ‘Beau’ Nash.
The money saved by the council was put towards the building
of an air-raid shelter situated below the Pump Room. However
that was not the end of the matter: in February 1940, the Bath
branch of the National Council of Women organised an Eighteenth
Century Tea Party to ‘boost morale’. It featured such famous
Bath characters as Jane Austen, the Linley sisters and the Countess
of Huntingdon. The ‘soundtrack’ to the event was provided by
a string quartet drawn from members of the disbanded orchestra.
The music performed included Purcell, Handel and Mozart.
Some 72 years later, ‘the band still plays’ in the Pump Room.
To be fair it is not a large orchestra, but a Trio with four
members-including one of the authors of the present book, Robert
Hyman! It plays every day of the year except Christmas and Boxing
Day. The tradition has been maintained.
The Pump Room Orchestra Bath: Three Centuries of Music and
Social History is about the ‘struggles, joys, tragedies
and ambitions of the ‘forgotten army’ of musicians who have
spanned three centuries. The sweep of the narrative explores
the story of the early Pump Room Band as it metamorphoses into
the Orchestra and finally into the present-day Trio.
This is a book that will appeal to a wide variety of readership.
Firstly it will be required reading for all local historians
in and around Bath: the Pump Room was (and are) an integral
part of a city that owes it origins to the ‘Aquae Sulis’ (the
waters of the goddess Sulis) which were deemed curative for
a wide range of maladies. Secondly the massive readership of
Jane Austen will enjoy knowing some background history to her
characters, especially Catherine Morland from Northanger
Abbey who visited the Pump Room as part of the novel. There
are also many people interested in Georgette Heyer’s recreation
of the Georgian and Regency periods, especially her novel ‘Bath
Tangle’. From a musical point of view, the story of the music
at the Pump Room is full of interesting characters, such as
Thomas Linley, Frank Tapp and Sidney Jones. There were many
visits from international artists and composers including Edward
German, Myra Hess, Albert Coates, Peter Dawson and Haydn. The
works played at the concerts range from Storace to Sullivan
and from Johann Strauss to Ethel Smyth.
The presentation of the Pump Room Orchestra’s history is largely
chronological. It begins with a brief introduction outlining
the development of the Spa as a fashionable tourist attraction
and destination for the halt and the lame. There is mention
of ‘a band of musick’ playing under a sycamore tree on the Gravel
Walks in 1670. The story develops through ‘Beau’ Nash’s early
Pump Room Band by way of Francis Fleming and the famous Thomas
Linley. Other names that appear are William Herschel, astronomer,
organist and band leader, Venanzio Rauzzini who was a castrato
for whom Mozart had written the aria ‘Exsultate Jubilate’ and
Sidney Jones, onetime violinist aboard Cunarders. Each twist
and turn in this fascinating and often disturbing tale of friction
and backstabbing is given in some detail. Many famous characters
make cameo appearances throughout these pages: it is almost
a compendium of artistic endeavour throughout the ages.
From amongst this mass of history three things especially interested
me. Firstly there was the visit of Haydn to Bath in August 1791.
The composer’s music had been popular in the city and his Symphony
No.53 in D major was (likely) played at the Pump Room. Whilst
in Bath, Haydn stayed at the home of Rauzzini. The second thing
was the disturbing story of Otto Heinrich who was a violinist
in the Pump Room Orchestra for some twenty-five years. However
at the outbreak of the Great War this Bath musician, violin
maker and teacher was branded as an ‘alien’ by the authorities
and was ‘threatened with internment and bleak times for his
family of ten children.’ It was an episode that was to be repeated
up and down the country and affecting many musicians and artists
with German sounding names –including Gustav Holst at Thaxted!
And thirdly much space is given to considering the contribution
of the Bath-born Frank Tapp (1853-1953). Unfortunately this
composer has largely disappeared from view. Yet in the first
quarter of the Twentieth century he was popular and had his
music regularly played. Although largely remembered (where at
all) for his light music such as his English Landmarks Suite,
including ‘Ascot’, ‘Tintern Abbey’ and ‘Whitehall’, he is known
to have composed an important Symphonic Variations for piano
and orchestra and also a symphony. He is surely a composer ripe
for rediscovery: who could resist titles such as Overture
Beachy Head (Guild
GLCD5107) and Fighter Command (Guild
The book is extremely well presented. It is printed on good
quality paper, in a clear and highly readable font and is well-bound.
Many quotations from contemporary letters, newspapers and diaries
add a personal interest: all sources are referenced. Included
in the text are plenty of illustrations and a centre section
of some 14 colour plates: there are photographs, drawings and
engravings of all the key players in the story. The book is
not burdened with footnotes: all references are placed at the
end of the book in a clear and legible font. A formal bibliography
is not given, but in its place is a listing of sources. The
comprehensive index is helpful to all serious readers.
I have one minor concern. The history of the Pump Room Orchestra
is complicated, with many names flitting in and out of the story.
It would have been extremely helpful to have given a kind of
summary in tabular form by date.
Finally I enjoyed reading the book: it is written in a good
‘popular’ but never pedestrian, historical style. It is not
an ‘academic’ book as such, but that does not belittle the depth
of the study and the care and attention given to the presentation
At today’s prices this not an overly expensive book and is priced
at £14:95. Bearing in mind the superb presentation and the above-mentioned
proliferation of illustrations this is certainly excellent value.
I am presuming that this book will be on sale at all bookshops
and tourist attractions on Bath, including the Pump Room. However,
this is an important contribution to historical musicology and
as such will also find its way into many academic institutions.
Certainly it gives me many ideas for future investigation, not
least the musical compositions of Mr Frank Tapp.