On Thursday afternoon, 28th May 1942, at 1 Suir View Newtown Waterford, an informal meeting took place at which a proposal to form a music club in Waterford was discussed. The four people present were : Miss Elizabeth Downey, Mrs Ida Starkie-O'Reilly, Mr William F Watt and Mr T F H Bayly.
Miss Downey was a well-established teacher of singing and voice production in Waterford. Her success as a teacher was reflected in the many awards won by her pupils, and by the fact that in 1966 she moved to Dublin to take up a post at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Sadly, she met her death shortly afterwards in a tragic traffic accident. Mrs O'Reilly had been senior professor of 'cello at the Academy, prior to her husband's transfer to Waterford a few years before as Garda Superintendant. Ida O'Reilly was one of Ireland's leading cellists and a member of the talented Starkie family, her brother Walter and sister Enid being renowned in academic circles.
William F Watt, as well as being a highly successful Waterford businessman, also possessed a very beautiful tenor voice and was one of Ireland's best known singers. He was an enthusiastic musical philanthropist whose drive and energy was largely instrumental in the foundation and continued success of the Club. Maurice Bayly, a banker and music lover, shared the joint office of Honorary Secretary and Treasurer with Miss Downey until his transfer to Tralee in 1943.
A minute from this meeting reads: "It was decided unanimously that there is a need in Waterford for some form of musical entity in order to further the interests of Chamber Music etc., to encourage local talent, and to invite well-known professionals from other centres to contribute items."
A number of people representative of musical circles and interests in Waterford and district were therefore invited to attend a meeting held at the Imperial Hotel on Friday 5th June 1942, to discuss the formation of the Club. About forty were present at this inaugural meeting and after the usual formalities and lengthy discussion, it was agreed that 'Waterford Music Club' should be formed. It was proposed that the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs, Mr P J Little, should be asked to accept the honorary office of President. The wisdom of this proposition soon became evident. Willie Watt was elected Chairman, a position he was to retain for over thirty years, until his death in 1973. After the election of officers, committee, and more general debate, the Club was on it's way, and six committee meetings later, the first concert took place on 17th September 1942 in the City Hall. However, before the first concert could be performed, much work had to be done. It was decided to purchase a Bluthner Grand Piano which had been offered by Pigott & Co. Ltd at the reduced cost of 220 pounds.
The artistes for the opening concert were Ireland's leading pianist Charles Lynch, with Maura O'Connor-Tyrrell, mezzo-soprano, Beatrice Penrose, violin, Hermann Gebler, viola, and Kitty O'Callaghan, accompanist.
The subcription for members was one guinea for the season, which also entitled members to bring along a friend on payment of 3/6d per concert. Season tickets for children under 16 years were 10/6d. Eight concerts took place in the first season, of which six were broadcast live by Radio Eireann, through the good offices of our President, Mr P J Little.'
[Extracts from Eric H de Courcy's history of Waterford Music Club-The First Fifty Years: 1942-1992'].
From such beginnings the Club flourished. In addition to local artistes such as Willie Watt, Eric de Courcy, Ida Starkie-O'Reilly, Elizabeth Downey, Maura O'Connor, Hermann Gebler, Fintan O'Carroll, Chriss Henchy, Violet Twomey, Fergus Dillon, Bridget Doolan, Josephine, Patrick and Kevin Kavanagh, Des Manahan, Bridie Franklin, Maria Drury and Alleyn Harris, to name but a few, the following international artistes are among the hundreds who performed for our Waterford audiences-many on more than one occasion:
Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner, Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten, Julian Bream, Janet Baker, Leon Goossens, Peter Katin, Zoltan Kocsis, Deszo Ranki, Julian Lloyd-Webber, Tamas Vasary, Dmitri Alexeev, his daughter Anya Alexeyev, Torlief Thedeen, Ivan Zenaty, Ernst Kovacic, Florian Kitt, Michael Collins, Noriko Ogawa, Phillipe Cassard, Enrico Pace, Richard Watkins, John Lill, Max Levinson, Evgeny Mursky, Israel and Moscow Piano Trios, String Quartets and Quintets: Benthein, Prague, Takacs, Prazak, Panocha, Vogler, Skampa, Kodaly, Budapest Wind Ensemble, Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra Munich, Berlin Philharmonic Octet, Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, Budapest.
Among the many fine Irish artistes were: Charles Lynch, John O'Conor, Hugh Tinney, Philip Martin, Miceal O'Rourke, Finghin Collins, Veronica McSwiney, Barry Douglas, Robin Tritschler, Emmanuel Lawlor, Gerard Gillen, Frank Patterson, John Beckett, Eric Sweeney, Therese Timoney, Catherine Leonard, Anne Woodworth, Bridget Knowles, Mary Gallagher, Austin Gaffney, Geraldine O'Grady, Liam Devally, Hugh Maguire, Bernadette Greevy, R T E Vanbrugh Quartet, National Chamber Choir, Irish Chamber Orchestra.
Some notable milestones in our history:
- D Class American Steinway Grand Piano of 1904, reconditioned in Steinway's of London and purchased in 1951 at a cost of 1100 pounds. A donation of 300 pounds by a generous but anonymous member encouraged us in this venture. The debt on the piano was cleared by 1957.
- To celebrate the twenty-first Season of the Club in 1962, Mr W F Watt, our chairman since foundation, was presented with a gold medallion, which is today featured on our programmes and has been worn by successive holders of the office. In 1968 William F Watt was honoured for his great contribution to the City by being made a Freeman of Waterford. The medallion was designed by Mr Horst Kneisel, Jeweller and Goldsmith.
- In 1981 our home at the Municipal Theatre was closed abruptly by the authorities on foot of a ministerial order, following the Stardust fire tragedy-in the middle of our season. Newtown School kindly provided a venue for us in the new Bishop Foy Hall, where we were made very welcome.
- In February 1988, Waterford Music Club had the honour of giving the inaugural concert at the Garter Lane Arts Centre, with a performance by the Israel Piano Trio. This intimate theatre was our venue in the period 1988 to 1993.
- Following the splendid refurbishment of the old Municipal Theatre, we were invited by City Manager Mr Michael Doody, to return to our old home. On Friday 15th October 1993, our 52nd Season commenced at The Large Room, where a large audience and invited guests heard the Prazak Quartet perform works by Suk, Dvorak and Schubert. The occasion was celebrated with a wine and cheese reception.
- In 1996, following intensive lobbying, a brand-new C Class Hamburg Steinway was purchased. Waterford Corporation, under the managership of Mr Michael Doody and Mr Terry O'Sullivan, always had an enlightened view towards the provision of funding for music and the arts. With The Arts Council agreeing to equal funding with Waterford Corporation, and our generous members contributing the balance, our new piano, costing 50000 pounds, was first heard at a concert on 7th February 1996, given by the D'Arcy Cleary Collins Trio from Dublin. This splendid instrument, together with our unrivalled venue of The Large Room, now makes Waterford Music the cynosure of performing musicians, both Irish and international, and of course our loyal Waterford audiences.
- Over the years we have had a policy of giving a platform to young emerging Irish musical talent-for example the debut recitals of graduates from W I T Music Department in recent years.
- We acknowledge the voluntary help of our friends at Waterford Crystal, Mr Patrick Kelly, Mr Thomas Carey and Mr John McCarthy, who had the onerous task of moving the piano at each of the relocations over the years.
- We are especially indebted to our friends in music, John and Doreen Ruddock of Limerick Music Association, who have provided us with many wonderful artistes over the years, especially from Hungary and the Czech Republic.
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