Sound Designs: The Story of Boosey & Hawkes
From Friday, 17 November 2006
Music Gallery, Horniman Museum
Boosey & Hawkes factory, Sonorous Works, Edgware, North London. The 6 foot tall tuba on the roof was made in the 1930s and was originally positioned outside the Boosey factory on Euston Road.
The names Besson and Boosey & Hawkes are synonymous with Britain’s rich musical heritage. But the closure of the instrument-making company in 2005 marked the end of large-scale instrument manufacture in the UK. A new exhibition, which opens on 17 November at the Horniman Museum, celebrates the important role that Boosey & Hawkes instruments played in the development of the British sound, with the display of over 100 items from the company’s instrument collection and archives.
Contrabass trombone with double slide, Boosey & Co., London, 1885
The extra length of this instrument is accommodated in its double wrapped slide. The design was introduced at the 1861 Crystal Palace brass band contest. This example was built for the Inventions and Music exhibition of 1885 and was displayed at the Royal Military Exhibition in 1890.
At its zenith, the Boosey & Hawkes factory, Sonorous Works in Edgware, employed 700 people and produced 1,000 instruments each week. In 2001, the London factory was closed down, and over the next four years many staff, including those who had been connected with the firm for several generations, lost their livelihoods. Earlier this year a French company, Buffet-Crampon, purchased the remnants of the British firm signalling the end of 150 years of Boosey instrument-making history.
The Horniman Museum pays tribute to this great British institution with the opening of Sound Designs: The Story of Boosey & Hawkes on Friday, 17 November 2006. The exhibition illustrates the important contribution Boosey & Hawkes and their employees made to the shaping of playing styles, the development of the brass band tradition and the sound of British orchestras.
Flugelhorn, D.J. Blaikley, Boosey & Co., London, 1891
With experimental compensating valve system developed by Boosey & Co. acoustician and works manager David James Blaikley, the founder of the Boosey & Hawkes instrument Museum. The 1905 production book record for this instrument contains the first written reference to the Boosey & Hawkes Museum.
The Horniman Museum was able to acquire the prestigious Boosey & Hawkes collection of historic instruments and archives chronicling over 150 years of instrument making with generous grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £221,500 and £10,800 from the National Art Collection Fund (Art Fund). With over 8,000 objects, the Horniman Museum’s instrument collection is now the largest in the UK and has been recognized as being of national and international importance.
The Boosey & Hawkes instrument collection was started by David James Blaikley, a pioneer of brass instrument design, who joined the company in 1869 and founded its museum. When Blaikley retired from Boosey & Hawkes in 1930 the collection had grown to over 300 items and was an essential resource for the in-house design team.
Slide trumpet, Harper’s improved model, Köhler & Son, London, 1871
Although the valve was patented in 1817, the slide trumpet remained popular in Britain throughout much of the 19th century largely because it was the instrument used and promoted by the father and son trumpet virtuosos Thomas Harper senior and junior. The Harpers worked with makers such as Köhler to improve the design of the slide trumpet. This instrument belonged to Thomas Harper Junior.
After three years of research, the Horniman Museum will reveal Sound Designs: The Story of Boosey & Hawkes, which includes an eye-catching glass flute dating back to 1816, a silver trumpet belonging to Queen Victoria’s head trumpeter, Thomas Harper, Jr., and early designs of instruments which were at the foundation of the British brass band tradition. But many instrument designs in the collection will be unfamiliar to visitors to the museum: before World War II, orchestras from different countries had their own distinct sound, and often their own unique instrument designs. But as orchestras and conductors began to tour internationally a homogenous sound started to emerge. As a consequence the unique British sound and some instrument designs were lost.
For Dr. Bradley Strauchen, the Horniman Museum’s Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments, meeting with the former Boosey & Hawkes staff has been a crucial element for the exhibition’s research.
“When I started work on this project it was about the great Boosey & Hawkes legacy and ensuring it was recorded for future generations. But as my research developed the exhibition has become a tribute to the many hundreds of people who contributed so many years to this British company. The help the instrument makers have given me has been invaluable. The Horniman Museum exhibition does not make up for the fact they have lost their livelihoods, but it does help to illustrate the important contribution they have made to such a significant element of British culture.”
The demise of large-scale instrument production in London and the UK is a sad loss to the music industry, but Dr. Strauchen believes that smaller firms, some established by former Boosey & Hawkes staff, will protect this British tradition. “Boosey & Hawkes became such a powerful force in the music industry by systematically acquiring smaller instrument making firms in the 19th and 20th centuries. We’re now seeing the industry come full circle with smaller firms establishing themselves, such as London Musical Instruments and Smith-Watkins. These companies will ensure that the great British instrument making tradition is preserved for the future.”
Press release from the Horniman Museum