Written by Jeannie Swales
August 1914. The Great War was only days old, and, according to many, it would all be over by Christmas.
In Scarborough, unaware that less than four months later, people would be running for their lives as German warships shelled the town in the historic event that became known as the Bombardment, it was business as usual.
At the seafront Arcadia Theatre, the afternoon of Thursday August 20 saw locals and holidaymakers attending a concert by Marie Hall, ‘the magician of the violin’, as she is described on the pictured hanging card.
Hall (1884-1956) was a native of Newcastle upon Tyne whose early music lessons came from her father, a professional harpist, and who later studied with various well known musicians, including the composer Edward Elgar.
She made her hugely successful public debuts when she was still a teenager – in Prague in 1902, and in London in 1903.
A tiny, jolly woman, she was known for her remarkable strength and endurance and generous-spirited temperament, cheerfully undertaking long, gruelling tours.
She was friends with the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, and helped him with the composition of one of his most famous works, The Lark Ascending, also giving its first public performances, for violin and piano in December 1920 and for violin and orchestra – the British Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult – in June 1921.
Hall owned and played one of two famous Stradivarius violins made in 1709 and originally owned by violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti; in 1988, it was auctioned at Sotheby’s and was bought by an anonymous South African collector for a record £473,000. It is now part of the renowned collection of fine violins at the Chi Mei Museum in Taiwan.
The picture of her playing, surrounded by an adoring – and rather spookily ethereal – audience, is attributed to ‘after W Balfour Ker’. William Balfour Ker was a well-known artist at the time, and a regular cover illustrator for the American weekly news magazine, Life, so it’s not impossible that this image was one of its covers.
Sadly, the Arcadia Theatre was only to survive the Great War by two years. It was demolished in 1920 and replaced by the Futurist, a theatre whose own future now hangs in the balance.
The Arcadia hanging card is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork owned by the borough. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or 01723 384510.
And for more information on the dramatic role that Scarborough played in the First World War, visit the new exhibition Remember Scarborough, at Scarborough Art Gallery until 4 January: http://scarboroughmuseumstrust.org.uk