This month we explore a recent acquisition to the Archive collection, a small document that combines important Rothschild interests – a sound business proposition, the love of music, and ambitious creativity.
The company of composers and performers has been a repeating feature of Rothschild family history. Chopin, Liszt, Paganini and Rossini (a close friend of Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) and his sisters) came often to the Paris salons of James' wife Baroness Betty de Rothschild (1805-1886). Some were lucky enough to be taught by masters: Chopin gave lessons to Betty, her daughter Charlotte (1825-1899) and her niece Hannah Mathilde (1832-1924), Rossini to Louise (1820-1894), daughter of Nathan Rothschild (1777-1836), and Mendelssohn to her sister Hannah (1815-1864), who also learnt the harp from the great master, Parish Alvers. With such inspiration, it is little wonder that some ventured themselves to compose. Charlotte, Betty's daughter, published some piano pieces in the style of Chopin. Most prolific by far was Hannah Mathilde who, in the 1850s and 1860s, composed a series of piano pieces and lieder based on words by Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset, Goethe and others - many at the request of singers of the calibre of Adelina Patti. Marriage brought further musical connections. Marie Louise (1892-1975) and Nellie Beer (1886-1945) both married Rothschilds and were both great-nieces of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer.
At his country estate at Halton and in his London town house, Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918) numbered Arthur Sullivan, Adelina Patti and Nellie Melba among his many musical friends and Liszt and Rubinstein graced his London parties. Alfred's contribution to music rested, not only on the six piano pieces, Les boutons de roses, which he wrote, one for each of the daughters of Mayer Carl von Rothschild (1820-1886) and his wife Louise (1820-1894); more lasting perhaps in the memory were the performances of his small orchestra at Halton, the players selected to be perfectly matched in height and in the shape of their moustaches, all conducted by Alfred himself with a diamond-studded ivory baton.
Walther Straram, musical entrepreneur
The Archive has recently acquired some correspondence, in French, in the hand of the chef d’orchestre, Walther Straram (1876-1933). The papers would appear to include a business plan for the 'operation and practical performance' of his renowned orchestra, the Orchestre des Concerts Straram, including costings and a draft programme of performance pieces, c.1918.
Born Walter Marrast in London in 1876, Walther Straram was a conductor active in France during the early twentieth century. He used an anagram of his surname, Straram, professionally. He worked at the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique in Pari before founding his own orchestra, the Orchestre des Concerts Straram in 1925. This ensemble was considered by some to be the finest orchestra in France at the time. Straram's orchestra championed contemporary music, contrasting with the traditional repertoire associated with the other leading orchestra in Paris: the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. In a bold move, Straram premiered Ravel's Boléro with the Orchestra of the Opéra, Théâtre de l'Opéra, in Paris on 22 November 1928, following this with premieres of Messiaen's earliest orchestral works, Les offrandes oubliées with the Orchestre des Concerts Straram, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 19 February 1931 and Hymne au saint-sacrement, with the Orchestre des Concerts Straram, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 23 March 1933. In addition, the Orchestre des Concerts Straram was conducted by Stravinsky for his first recording of The Rite of Spring in 1929, and also for the world premiere recording of the Symphony of Psalms in 1931.
Walther Straram’s ‘business plan’
The plans outlined by Walther Straram demonstrate an ambitious creative vision grounded in a practical and well-thought out sustainable plan. The plans are accompanied by a covering letter, dated 15 October 1918, written from 27 rue de Belles Feuilles, Paris. The recipient of the letter is unknown, but the plans, together with costings for investment in the Straram orchestra were clearly aimed at wealthy and influential patrons and backers. It is tempting to speculate that the letter was written directly to members of the Rothschild family via a private secretary or the Rothschild bank in the rue Laffitte. The French Rothschild family, well-known throughout Paris for their patronage and support for musicians and artistes would have been ideally placed to consider supporting a new novel musical endeavour, and the clarity of Straram’s vision and his succinct and convincing plan would no doubt have appealed to the family’s business principles, whilst his ambition to present new contemporary works would have presented the opportunity to push the boundaries of musical excellence and achievement. Straram’s covering letter is short and to the point. He begins by clearly explaining his need for funds, and requests an appointment (possibly with the French Rothschild bank or a member of the family) to explain further his proposals.
“15 Oct 18. Paris 27 rue de Belles Feuilles. Sir, I send you herewith the agreed information, I was able to indirectly touch Mister Citroën, as well as Mister Rateau whom I think to see - as you will be able to realize, it lacks the capital of 96000f. to subscribe including 48000 to call only. Now, if you can set up an appointment for me, I would like to explain to you what my painful figures in the budget figures I am communicating to you relate to the operation and practical performance of this business. Please accept, Sir, the expression of my most distinguished feelings. Walther Straram”
The next section of the document concerns the programme of works Straram is going to present. A ‘Modern programme’ including works by ‘Debussy - The toy box - children's ballet; Honegger - Dance show; Le Fleur - Aucassin and Nicolette; Auric - The Lady of the Heart; A. Caplet - Country inscriptions; R. de Gourmont - vocal music; Pollet - Children's Paradise – ballet; D’Olonne - The One and the Other; Chabrier - L’Etoile; Satie - Portrait of Socrates; Darius Milhaud - The Prodigal Son; Ravel; R. Hahn - Christmas pastoral’, and a programme of ‘Ancient Works’, including works by ‘Cambert – Pastoral; Mozart - Ascanio in Alba - Theater serenade; Carissimi – Jephthah; Pergolesis - The mistress servant; Purcell - Dido and Aeneas’. Straram then lists a series of ambitious collaborations between composers, musicians, vocalists and artistes for the coming year. Finally, having tempted potential backers with his creative programme, Straram then lists the precise figures (in French francs) needed to make his dreams reality; the plan includes provisions for revenue generation by rental of the 'theater' premises during 'non-playing' months:
‘Expense Forecast - Calculated over the whole season, i.e.: 21 weeks overhead, rent, preparation, installation included for the whole year: Rent 6888; Heating 3360; Lighting 1680; Cleaning 420; Control staff 2,184; Administration and Publicity 4620; Workers 3036; Installation 1008; Orchestra 27988; Choirs 10080; Artists 50400;Costumes 8400; Decors 4200; Direction 25000. Total 149,264 or 1,776 f. by representation. It should be noted that the theater can all be rented during the non-playing months and would thus reduce the rent. Rent Opportunities: Cabins 22 places at 15 Fr = 330f; 140 seats at 10 Fr. = 1400f;1st series, 2nd series 100 places at 10 Fr. = 800f; 3rd 49 places at 6Fr. = 294f; Parquet 65 places at 3Fr. = 195f; Av. 6 seats scene at 20Fr. = 120f. Total = 3129f
At the end of the document, Straram lists the shares currently subscribed - “The shares subscribed currently amount to 29000f: Mr Fontaine 10000; Mr Gélis Didot (exporter and importer in America food, 265 rue St Honore) 10000; Princess of Polignac 2000; Mr Rémond 1000; Mr Phélippon 500; Me Dreyfus 1000; Mr Roussel 1000; Mrs Moore 1500; Bne E de Rothschild 1000; Mrs Brooks 1000; Me Lubeck 500. There are currently 10000f. promises not yet subscribed. If or does not count this sum it is used to subscribe 96000f to perfect the capital. We have provided for the incorporation of the company to call half of the capital.” These include 1000 shares already taken by ‘Bne E de Rothschild’; this could have been Germaine, Baronne Edouard de Rothschild (1884-1975) or Adelheid, Baronne Edmond de Rothschild (1853-1935), both of whom were patrons of the arts.
It is not known whether the plan found favour with its intended recipient, but in the inter-war period, the Straram Orchestre des Concerts flourished and was at the centre of Parisian musical life, the melodious heart of a city of vibrant culture and an avant-garde artistic scene.