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Hallé, Sir Charles [formerly Carl Halle]locked

  • Michael Kennedy

Sir Charles Hallé (1819–1895)

by George Frederic Watts, c. 1870

Hallé, Sir Charles [formerly Carl Halle] (1819–1895), conductor and pianist, was born on 11 April 1819 in Hagen, Westphalia. He was the son of a church organist and concert director, Friedrich Halle, and his wife, Caroline Branschedt. He had his first piano lessons at the age of three and soon showed extraordinary talent, giving a public performance when he was four of a sonatina composed by his father. When he was eleven he deputized for his father and conducted all the operas (at least ten) during the annual visit of a touring company. They included Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and Weber's Der Freischütz. In 1835 Halle went to Darmstadt to study with Johann Christian Rinck and Gottfried Weber and the following year moved on to Paris with the intention of taking piano lessons from Friedrich Kalkbrenner. But Kalkbrenner sent him to George Osborne.

With his good looks and personal charm, Halle was soon in demand as a pianist in the fashionable salons. There he met and mixed with the astonishing galaxy of artists living and working in the French capital, not only musicians such as the impoverished Richard Wagner and Chopin, Liszt, Thalberg, Paganini, and Cherubini, but the literary figures Alfred de Musset, Alphonse de Lamartine, and George Sand, and the painter Ingres. Above all, he made friends with Hector Berlioz, attending the first performances of several of his works and studying his conducting methods. Halle was the first pianist to perform all the Beethoven sonatas in Paris and he established a series of chamber concerts, then comparatively rare events, with the violinist Delphin Alard and the cellist Auguste Franchomme.

Halle's first visit to England—where he later added an acute accent to his surname—was an eight-week sojourn in London in 1843. Invited by the Philharmonic Society to play at one of its concerts provided he performed a concerto by one of its directors, he refused. In 1848 the revolution in Paris caused him to escape to Britain with his wife, Désirée Smith de Rilieu (d. 1866), whom he had married in 1841. They had two children by this date, and later seven more. He performed Beethoven's 'Emperor' concerto at Covent Garden and gave a solo recital. But competition in the capital was fierce because so many of Hallé's Parisian colleagues were also in London. He was invited to settle in Bath, but while considering the offer he received a letter from a Manchester calico printer, Hermann Leo, informing him that Manchester was 'quite ripe to be taken in hand' and that Leo considered him 'the fittest man to stir the dormant taste for the art' (Hallé, Autobiography, 146). Leo, who was the leading patron of music in Manchester, had heard Hallé play when he had been in Paris on business. Hallé accepted the offer and visited Manchester in September 1848 to play the 'Emperor' concerto. Hallé's comment on the Gentlemen's Concerts orchestra was, 'I was fresh from the Concerts du Conservatoire, from Hector Berlioz's orchestra, and I seriously thought of packing up and leaving Manchester so that I might not have to endure a second of these wretched performances. But when I hinted at this, my friends gave me to understand that I was expected to change all this' (ibid., 122–3).

Hallé's first contribution to Mancunian musical life was to found a series of chamber concerts. In November 1849 he was appointed conductor of the Gentlemen's Concerts, which had been established about 1770, with carte blanche to re-form the orchestra. This he duly did; he also formed a choral society and in 1854–5 tried unsuccessfully to establish opera in Manchester. In addition he gave piano recitals. In 1857 Manchester staged a great Arts Treasures Exhibition and Hallé was empowered to enlarge the orchestra. The exhibition coincided with the reconstruction of the Free Trade Hall, where Hallé conducted large-scale works for which there had hitherto been neither suitable venue nor adequate performers. Rather than let this orchestra disperse, he decided to establish his own concerts. On 30 January 1858 the Hallé Concerts were instituted, eventually amounting to more than twenty each winter season.

Hallé now proved himself to be one of the outstanding musical educators of the public. The programmes of his concerts steadily increased in quality and he lost no opportunity to introduce as soon as possible the works of contemporary composers—Wagner, Brahms, Liszt, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Parry, Stanford, and many others. In particular he championed the music of Berlioz, giving the first English performances of the Symphonie fantastique, La damnation de Faust, and L'enfance du Christ. He attracted the leading soloists of the day to Manchester and, with his continental contacts, was always able to recruit excellent players for his orchestra.

Hallé also conducted regularly in Edinburgh, Bristol, Liverpool, and London and gave annual piano recitals in the capital. He was a celebrated teacher, his pupils including the princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra). In 1893 he became the first principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music, which opened in October that year as a result of an initiative taken four years earlier to mark Hallé's seventieth birthday. In July 1888, shortly after he had been knighted, he married the violinist Wilma Norman-Neruda (1838?–1911) [see Hallé, Wilma]. With her he toured Australia in 1890 and 1891 and South Africa in 1895.

Hallé's piano playing was, from all accounts, classically correct and scrupulous in its adherence to the composer's score. His temperament was not that of the flamboyant virtuoso either as pianist or conductor, but we can judge from Bernard Shaw's reviews that he had trained a superb orchestra and could persuade it to give remarkable performances of a wide range of composers. He died from a cerebral haemorrhage at his home (now demolished) in Greenheys Lane, Manchester, on 25 October 1895. He was buried on 29 October in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Weaste, Salford. His Manchester concerts, continued by three businessmen and then by a society, were his private property.

With August Manns at the Crystal Palace and, later, Henry Wood at the Promenade Concerts, Hallé was one of the great musical educators of the British public. He transformed his orchestral programmes from a miscellany into virtually the symphony concert of today through a gradual educatory process. Working with most of the same players year after year, he obtained well-rehearsed performances (as Shaw's criticisms of London concerts in the 1890s testify). He also showed that high standards and a strong musical tradition can be established in a provincial city, thereby setting a pattern not only for Manchester, where several illustrious conductors have been content to work with the Hallé Orchestra for long periods, but also elsewhere.


  • C. E. Hallé and M. Hallé, eds., Life and letters of Sir Charles Hallé (1896)
  • The autobiography of Charles Hallé, with correspondence and diaries, ed. M. Kennedy (1972)
  • M. Kennedy, The Hallé tradition: a century of music (1960)
  • C. Rigby, Sir Charles Hallé (1952)


  • NRA, priv. coll., letters to J. M. Wood
  • Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, letters mainly to Stanley Withers


  • V. Moltez, oils, 1850, Hallé Concerts Society, Manchester
  • Duval, drawing, 1859, Forsyth Bros., Manchester
  • G. F. Watts, oils, 1870, NPG [see illus.]
  • photograph, 1880, Forsyth Bros., Manchester
  • photograph, 1888, Hult. Arch.
  • Barraud, photograph, 1889, NPG
  • C. Baugniet, group portrait, lithograph (The Musical Union, 1851), NPG
  • Elliott & Fry, cartes-de-visite, NPG
  • E. O. Ford, marble bust, Man. City Gall.
  • bust, Manchester town hall
  • carte-de-visite, NPG
  • death mask, Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey

Wealth at Death

£8459 17s. 1d.: probate, 30 Dec 1895, CGPLA Eng. & Wales