Hudleston Music

Musical Life in Madras

British India in the mid-19th century was not completely isolated culturally, although tastes were always out of date because of the sheer physical delay involved in transport to and from Europe. Musical activity, however, was often similar to that in England, albeit on a much smaller scale. There were orchestras and choral societies active in Calcutta, for example, where the works of Handel and Corelli were well-known and often performed. Madras had its own ‘Society of Amateurs’, which, as far as I can tell, was an orchestral group, or at least a large chamber ensemble, led by the violinist T. (probably Theodore) Rencontre, to whom Hudleston dedicated one of his compositions. Hudleston may have in fact been the Society’s librarian, as so much of their music is now in his collection.

Musical instruments and printed music were readily available in India. Hudleston had much of his music imported by James Hogg, a bookbinder and publisher in Madras, and Burkin Young, a bookseller in Calcutta. There were other importers in Madras, some of whom dealt in instruments as well as printed music. During the 1840s we find Joseph Eastmure and Franck and Co. advertising frequently in the newspapers, and by 1855, J. Croom, Macbeth’s, and Green and Co. were also active.

The demand for European musical instruments and printed music was large enough for these shopkeepers to import, in addition to printed music, woodwind and brass instruments, and grand and square pianos from makers as renowned as Broadwood or Stodart. By the 1840s, even guitars by Panormo, specially designed for the tropical climate, were available, as these two of the advertisements in the Madras Spectator indicate:

Saturday, August 30, 1845
J. EASTMURE Begs to intimate that he has received by the late arrivals [...] an invoice of Panormo guitars, manufactured expressly for this climate [...]

Saturday, January 25, 1846
J. EASTMURE has for Sale Panormo and Wrede Guitars, the former priced 100 Rupees, the latter 50 each [...]

It is very interesting that guitars by Panormo – among the most respected guitar makers of the 19th century – were not only available in India, and in Madras in particular, but were also specially constructed to withstand the Indian climate, which was very challenging to musical instruments. It is also interesting that demand for guitars in British India was high enough for Eastmure to offer, in addition to fine Panormo instruments, more modest ones by Wrede. (Wrede does not appear as an instrument maker in The London Trade Directory from 1800 to 1850 and unfortunately nothing more is known about him or his guitars).

Another advertisement in the Madras Spectator from the same period is further evidence of the popularity of guitars in India, and of the practice of purchasing them from London dealers before traveling:

Thursday, February 12, 1846
The Property of an Officer leaving for the Mysore division [...] A handsome Spanish Guitar, rosewood, with silver frets, and a supply of spare strings – was purchased of KEITH & Co., London, has been but little used, and is in excellent order - Price 80 Rupees.
For further particulars, apply to Messrs. EDWARDS and CO., Bangalore.

There was very little, if any, professional music making in Madras, and the Madras Almanac rarely lists any civilians as musicians by trade. Occasionally simple advertisements appear, looking for musicians, such as this one, again from the Madras Spectator:

Thursday, August 21, 1845
A French Horn Player

There were, however, amateur or semi-professional musicians in the Madras area, many of them connected with St George’s Cathedral or the military establishment. Madras newspapers of the time often advertised the sale of band instruments (such as clarinets and bassoons), and vacant positions for players and conductors in the military bands of the Madras infantry. These military “bands” sometimes included a string orchestra, however, so it is possible that orchestral music by major European composers was in fact performed.

This advertisement in the Madras Spectator reveals the rather unexpected combination of a military regiment and a string orchestra:

Monday, 15 January 1855
Under the distinguished patronage of the Right Honorable the Governor Lord HARRIS
The celebrated Vocalist and Dramatic Reader will have the honor of giving the first of her select and Popular Entertainments on the evening of Wednesday 17th January 1855, on which occasion she will be assisted by several Professionals and Amateurs.
The String Band of Her Majesty’s 43rd Regiment will also perform at intervals during the evening [...]

Mrs. Grieg and the “amateur” who accompanied her received favourable reviews, and so did the String Band:

Madras Spectator
Friday, January 19, 1855
[...] The Amateur who rendered his assistance at the Piano Forte, performed a Fantasia on several favorite Scotch airs with much success, and displaying considerable execution in the variations introduced. As for the Bands of Her Majesty’s 43rd Regiment, it is only necessary to say their musical proficiency was exhibited in its usual large form [...]

Mrs. Grieg’s concerts went on for about a month. Her last concert, on February 27, was announced as her “Farewell” concert, indicating that she was not a local, and that by 1855 performers were even traveling to India from England and Europe.

It would be deceptive, however, to suggest that such large scale public concerts were frequent in Madras, especially during the early decades of the century. There is very little evidence of concerts such as Mrs. Grieg’s in the Madras press; among the British community in India, domestic chamber music was far more common.

Hudleston’s work as a composer and arranger began in Madras in the 1840s. Frederic Zscherpel, the organist and music director of St George’s Cathedral, had encouraged him several years earlier to write a guitar method, a work Hudleston began, but never completed. His opinion was that the existing methods of Carulli, Aguado, and Sor were sufficient, and that “no guitar player should be without [these] works.” In 1841, he did write a short treatise on harmonics on the guitar, as he believed “the most eminent guitarists had not gone so deeply into the matter as they might have done”. (Hudleston’s treatise will soon be published here.)

Hudleston’s original compositions are exclusively for solo guitar, and are mainly variations on popular songs and airs. They are all technically very demanding – rapid scales for the left hand alone, virtuoso arpeggios, tremolos and extended use of harmonics are all frequently encountered – although harmonically they are rather banal.

Hudleston’s arrangements are more interesting. For solo guitar, he arranged works by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, and Bellini, as well as a host of more obscure composers of the day. He also made arrangements for clarinet and terz guitar – a rather rare combination, inspired, no doubt, by the presence of a good clarinettist in Madras. Like his compositions, Hudleston’s arrangements require a high technical proficiency and are very faithful to the original works – sometimes unreasonably so!

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 Site created Sept 2007.
 Last updated 13 Dec 2014.

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