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Can an Englishman Read Music…?

London has long been known for its music venues – the Albert Hall, the Barbican, and, of course, 76 Harley Street.

In the early 19th Century, the leading personality in musical circles was a chap by the name of Thomas Alsagar – a man of many talents (he was also co-owner of The Times and edited their muisical pages), he championed musical talent across the capital from his home at Queen’s Square where he established the ‘Queen’s Square Select Society’ in 1830.

This exclusive group led to the formation fo the Beethoven Quartett Society – and in the music room at 76 Harley Street they preformed the world’s first ever performance of a complete cycle of Beethoven’s quartets.

The first occurence of this rather mammoth undertaking took place between 21st April and 16th June 1845 (performed in batches of 3 quartets per day), and garnered some considerable success. The event became an annual occasion for the next six years.

The Ivory Beethoven Ticket, 1845

Great Britain, London, Harley Street, The Quartett Society – Ticket or Pass made of Ivory, dated 1845.


Audiences were limited to just 250, who got to see an orchestra filled with some of the finest musicians of the day – Camillo Sivori, Prosper Sainton, Henry Hill and Scipion Rousselot to name just a few.

Such a performance would have taken considerable effort and was no doubt a challenge for the performers – but it seems it was quite a challenge for the audience as well. In 1847 Hector Berlioz attended a cycle and noted in his ‘Letter from London’ sent to a French friend:

‘Here you see Englishmen following the composer’s flights of imagination with their eyes in miniature scores printed for the occasion which means that quite a few of them are able to read a score (more or less). But I would be wary of these fans’ knowledge because glancing over one listener’s shoulder I saw his eyes fixed on page 4 while the performers were on page 6…’

The token, pictured above, is a great chance to own a part of musical history – you might even try to say you were there, although it might be a good idea to brush up on your musical reading first….

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