Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Mrs Hutchinson: Victorian soprano


HUTCHINSON, Mrs [Cecilia Mary] (née MONCK-MASON) (b Raajpootana, India 26 November 1851; d Wheathampstead, Herts 29 April 1925)


Cecilia Monck-Mason was born in India, where her father Captain George Henry Monck-Mason of Dargle, of the 74th Bengal, was active as a political agent. In 1850 (10 February), he married Sarah Louisa Cheyne, and they produced three daughters, before the Captain was killed by mutineers at Joudhpore (8 June 1857). 

Sarah and her family returned to Britain, and ultimately to Dublin, where the girls were brought up, (although Cecilia was said to have studied ’in France and Italy’), and where she had music lessons from Joseph Robinson. In 1875 (30 June) Cecilia married the widowed Captain William Lacy Hutchinson (b Ramsgate 1842) of the Royal Artillery, and in 1876 (14 May) gave birth to a son, Cuthbert Gordon Hutchinson (d 17 July 1905) who, in his turn, would become an army captain in Burma.


However, the Monck-Mason family wasn’t entirely made up of Indian army officers. Cecilia’s grandfather’s brother, Thomas Monck-Mason, had dissipated his fortune by taking on the management of the King’s Theatre, London’s Italian Opera House, in the 1830s.


I find no mention of Miss Monck-Mason or Mrs Hutchinson in the musical notices in the 1870s. Only in 1881, when she is nigh on 30, does her name first appear as of 'the Nobilities' Concerts, London' 

On 4 April Mrs Hutchinson, ‘a pupil of Alfred Blume’, takes part in a matinée at the home of Major Wallace Carpenter, one of London’s most persistent high-society musical ‘hostesses’, promoted by, and largely featuring, Carl Armbruster in the works of Wagner and Liszt. The vocalists were Herbert Thorndike, an habitué of the society concert, and Mrs Hutchinson. The lady gave Liszt’s ‘Du bist wie eine Blüme’ and Brahms’ Lullaby, ‘in a light, high and perfectly modulated soprano’, and joined the baritone in a duet from The Flying Dutchman. ‘If Mrs Hutchinson is an amateur, she is a remarkable one’, commented a reviewer.

 In a sense, she was indeed an amateur, if clearly of a professional standard, and for much of her career she appeared at society concerts, charitable concerts and bazaars, and at the semi-professional concerts of the musical aristocracy. But, also, in parallel, in many a thoroughly professional date.


On 21 May 1881 she sang at the Crystal Palace (‘With verdure clad’, ‘Die junge Nonne’) with Allan Foli, then at concerts of such as Victoria Bunsen and Helene Arnim, and on 11 January 1882 she appeared on the programme of the Boosey Ballad Concerts (‘My dearest heart’, ‘Come, rest on this bosom’, Ade’s ‘In Autumn’, ‘Many charming qualities ..’) and, the following week, in their Irish concert. In the same month she appeared in the Monday Pops, and fulfilled her first noticeable oratorio engagements in St Paul, Samson, Acis and Galatea and The May Queen at Liverpool or Lancaster.  ‘She has already earned for herself a reputation it takes others years to achieve’, commented the press.


She returned to the Crystal Palace, where she sang the Lobgesang and Redemption, shortly after its premiere at the Birmingham Festival; to St James’s Hall, where she sang Gretchen to the Faust of Santley in Schumann’s Faust (‘a fine and dramatic rendering’), and in another series of Boosey Ballad concerts (‘Orpheus with his lute’, ‘I attempt from love’s sickness to fly’).

She became the standard soprano for British performances of Redemption, and, in 1883-4 I, spot her singing it at Glasgow and Dundee with Hilda Wilson, Maas and Santley, at Bradford with Orridge, Lloyd and Santley, at the Crystal Palace with Fenna, Orridge, Lloyd and King, at Nottingham, at Glasgow again with D’Alton, Lloyd and Santley, at Liverpool with Damian, Winch and Thorndike, at the Crystal Palace again, and at the year’s Three Choirs Festival.

She returned regularly to the Crystal Palace (‘Or son sola’, Beatrice and Benedict) and also became a frequent soloist with the Bach Choir (cantatas, Parry’s Prometheus Unbound, Keil’s Star of Bethlehem); she sang in Cowen’s St Ursula at Prince’s Hall, and in the Richter Concerts, where she took part in the Rhinemaidens’ scena with Thekla Friedländer and Grace Damian.


In September 1884, she joined Albani and Anna Williams as the principal sopranos at the Worcester Festival, seconding Albani in Elijah and Redemption, and performing one act of Orfeo with Janet Patey, as well as giving Berlioz songs (‘Absence’, ‘Zaida’) in the concerts. ‘[She] took, during the Festival, a decided step to the front rank of concert singers’ wrote a reviewer.


In November 1884, she replaced Emma Nevada as the heroine of The Rose of Sharon at the Crystal Palace: like Redemption, Mackenzie’s cantata would become one of her most frequent repeats. And in the same month, she was featured in the first British Parsifal at the Albert Hall, at the head of the squad of flower maidens.

Throughout, she visited the provinces, giving ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’, ‘Dove sono’, Gounod’s ‘Comme la naissante aurore’, Maude Valerie White’s ‘In Memoriam’ songs, ‘Solveig’s Song’, ‘Orpheus and his lute’, ‘Sweet and Low’, ‘Waiting’ and her Berlioz songs (et al), in concert.


Her 1885 featured performances of The Rose of Sharon at Glasgow, in the Hallé concerts (‘Nymphs and Shepherds’, ‘Absence’), at the Crystal Palace, performances of The Fall of Babylon at Cardiff, The Bride of Dunkerron and The Last Judgment at Birmingham, the Lobgesang (replacing Valleria) at Alexandra Palace, the Good Friday Stabat Mater at St James’s Hall, with Henry Leslie’s Choir, and was highlighted by an engagement for the Birmingham Festival, where she created the role of the Princess, alongside Trebelli, Lloyd and Frederick King, in Cowen’s The Sleeping Beauty. While Albani (Mors e vita, The Spectre’s Bride) and Anna Williams were given much of the other principal music, Mrs Hutchinson also took the soprano part in the Choral Symphony, premiered Anderton’s Yuletide, with Maas, King and Mills, took part in Elijah and The Messiah, and delivered her Berlioz songs.

This most eventful of years continued with a Creation (Liverpool), Elijah(Leeds), Henry J Edwards’s degree oratorio The Ascension at Oxford, Three Holy Children and the St George’s Te Deum (Wolverhampton), another Rose of Sharon at Glasgow, a London Sleeping Beauty at the Crystal Palace, another at Hull, a festive Messiah at Birmingham…

1886 simply continued this peak period of Mrs Hutchinson’s career. In February she gave Mors e vita with Wilson, Lloyd and Santley at the Sacred Harmonic Society and was well liked: ‘Mrs Hutchinson possesses a voice of considerable range whose best notes lie in the upper register; hence she is able to surmount the extreme difficulty of undertaking a part specially designed for Madame Albani’s most exceptional means … she gave an artistic and finished reading of the soprano part and delivered the most trying passages with spirit and effect’..

The season featured performances of The Rose of Sharon, The Spectre’s Bride, Lobgesang, Stabat Mater, Paradise and the Peri (Oxford Commemoration) and, come the festival season, she appeared at Wolverhampton, where she sang in Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and Dr Heap’s latest cantata, as Elaine in The Maid of Astolat, and at Leeds, where again the shared the soprano work with Albani and Anna Williams.

In December she sang in the Crystal Palace Weber’s centenary concert, giving ‘From Chindara’s Warbling Fount’, written in 1826 for Miss Stephens, and the Euryanthe finale with Sims Reeves, Antoinette Sterling and Barrington Foote. 


In the years following, she sang her original role in The Sleeping Beauty at the Albert Hall in Novello’s Oratorio Concerts, gave regular Elijahs, Cowen’s Ruth and, in concert -- Goring Thomas ‘Wind in the trees’, songs of Robert Fischof, Cowens’s ‘Is my lover on the sea’ -- and premiered J F H Read’s Harold at that gentleman’s Walthamstow Music Festival. She sang Marguerite in Berlioz’s Faust at Leicester, appeared (31 May 1888) at the Philharmonic Society, gave The Golden Legend at the Crystal Palace, Orfeo at Cambridge, regular Stabat Mater, Rose of Sharon, Elijah and Messiah performances, and took part in the 1890 Worcester Festival, once again with Albani and Anna Williams. Her share included Weber’s Harvest Cantata, ‘Ah perfido’ and a little of The Messiah. Her reviews were as good as ever, although it was noted she had developed something of a wobble.


In November 1890 she premiered another Heap cantata, The Fair Rosamund, at Wolverhampton, in December sang the Brahms’s Requiem at Bristol, and in 1891 her concerts included the Covent Garden proms, the Good Friday Stabat Mater, the Sims Reeves ‘Farewell’ concerts (‘Nymphs and Shepherds’) and repeated Crystal Palace dates (Loreley).

She made a return to the Boosey Ballad Concerts (Giordani’s ‘Let not by age’, Scott Gatty’s ,‘When Love was a Little Boy’) and the Bach Choir, and in 1893 teamed, one last time, with Albani and Williams, at the Worcester Festival, featuring a Giulio Cesar duet with Plunkett Greene, a number from I Pagliacci, ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ and supporting bits in the major oratorios..

 On 22 June 1894 Mrs Hutchinson gave her first own concert, at the home of Dr Semon. Mrs Semon was, of course, the former Auguste Redeker, the outstanding Lieder contralto of her day. The two ladies duetted, Plunkett Greene joined in, as did a Miss Jennings.  The experience as such was not repeated, but Mrs Hutchinson teamed with the pianist Mrs Maas to give a number of Queen’s Hall concerts during the 1890s.


From these years, Mrs Hutchinson ceased the busy travelling of former times. She took a teaching post at the West London Conservatorium of Music (alongside Mary Davies and W H Brereton), and was seen mostly in town – at Muirhead’s Concerts for Children (‘Hush, ye pretty warbling choir’, ‘My heart ever faithful’), Dr A C Mackenzie’s Lectures, the Dolmetsch concerts (‘a highlight of season was her performance of ‘Mad Bess’), the Bach Festival (‘B Minor Mass’), a number of concerts with pianist Henry Bird and with contralto Hope Glenn, and the occasional Monday or Saturday Pop, at one of which she introduced Liza Lehmann’s celebrated song cycle In a Persian Garden (12 March 1898) with Marian McKenzie, Ben Davies and Arthur Walenn.


She still sang, occasionally, into the twentieth century, but concentrated, latterly, largely on teaching, including a period at the Royal Manchester College of Music.


Colonel Hutchinson died 27 January 1920, at 21 West Cromwell Road, and Cecilia survived him by five years.


 Letter from CMH to Thorndike at

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