Businessmen as concert promoters

APRIL 2017

Correspondence regarding concert arrangements of soprano Hanna Granfelt in 1920’s has been an interesting find from the bulk of Gösta Serlachius’ letters.

Gösta Serlachius is known for his active role in many branches. In the cultural life, his name is connected foremost with visual arts but sometimes his interests included also music. Helpfulness was not the only reason to support of the singing career of his personal acquaintance Hanna Granfelt but also business played a role. The aim was to promote the image of Finland as a country with a high-level cultural life in Britain, which was an important partner for Finnish exports. The Serlachius Museums’ archival collections comprising the archives of Gösta Serlachius include almost 80 pages of correspondence about the Granfelt’s concert in London.

Finnish soprano Hanna Granfelt (1884–1952) who had studied singing in Paris was at the peak of her career in the 1920’s. Admired even by Richard Strauss, the singer performed a great deal abroad and had an engagement at Berlin State Opera from 1915 to 1923. In summer 1923 Granfelt had met Serlachius’ British paper sales agent William C. Corke at Ruth and Gösta Serlachius’ residence. A friend of arts, Corke had suggested that Granfelt should concertize in London. During the next winter Corke and the Serlachiuses started actively to make arrangements aiming to organise two concerts at Wigmore Hall in April 1924. The contacts of the business men played a key part in marketing the concerts. Corke and Gösta Serlachius engaged their acquaintances to participating and selling tickets to the concert, which according to the local people was the only ways to draw audience. Practical arrangements in London were entrusted to artists’ agency Ibbs & Tillett.

If drawing the audience to concerts was difficult, so was the communication with the singer. In spring 1924, Hanna Granfelt worked in Germany and in Holland. In spite of many letters and telegrams send to her the final approval of the programme of the concert failed to appear. Changes had been made among other things due to the fact that the amount of the German songs was too high. Also the translations of the lyrics that were supposed to be printed on the programme leaflet were awaited impatiently. Gösta Serlachius and William C. Corke were also concerned about the volatile behaviour of the singer on account of some incident that had occurred previous summer.

Hanna Granfelt arrived in London on 25 March. Corke and his wife took care of artist’s accommodation arrangements and entertainment and offered her a possibility to rehearse in their home. Corke had also promised to help exploring the soprano’s possibilities to perform in India where it, according to the singer, would be possible to earn well.

Granfelt performed on 1 and 16 April 1924 at Wigmore Hall with an  accompanist that has remained unknown. A complete programme or even a sketch of such has not been preserved in the correspondence. A newspaper article in English mentions her singing an Aria of Bellini that she, according to the review, was able to make sound ”too a long and too a difficult vocal training”. The same critic – who in his review found fault also in the performance of many other singers – found fault in Granfelt’s technique and oversentimental expression but stated also that she had been at her best performing her Finnish repertoire.

Correspondence also reveals that during her first concert Granfelt had been suffering from flu. According to Corke, the second concert had been a success. The concerts had been making a financial loss of 35 pounds (little less than 2000 Euros in current currency) that Hanna Granfelt should have covered herself. Any sum of money nor contact, however, could not be achieved. Gösta Serlachius himself was immediately keen on suing the singer. William C. Corke was more understanding and stated that Miss Granfelt was a female singer rather than a businessman.  She should have had help and good advice already 15 years earlier. In his opinion, the soprano could no longer be able to reach any great achievements due to her age (40 years) and lack of sufficient self-discipline. Granfelt performed in concerts until early 1930’s, after which she occupied herself teaching singing.

Milla Sinivuori-Hakanen

Hanna Granfelt
Hanna Granfelt