Music in Hart’s China

The Sir Robert Hart Collection MS 15 includes many music programmes and handbills for public recitals and private soirées with friends and colleagues. The programmes and handbills are scattered throughout the collections and are found as inserts slipped into his diaries, enclosed with letters or in bundles in the many series of correspondence. We know from Hart’s correspondence with Campbell[1] that he ordered music and instruments very regularly. In late November 1872, Letter 46, he declares to Campbell “I’m not a great musician, and I’m not music mad, but I do want a mellow instrument, and therefore an old one.” and again in Letter 53, April 1873 he reiterates this statement “I’m not music mad, but with all my troubles, I am glad I have such a resource as a liking for the violin!” Hart clearly had a very keen and focused interest in music and instruments and was quite particular about his requirements. In his diaries he comments regularly on local Chinese music heard as he went about his business as well as on western musical events he attended with friends and colleagues.

Pre-1900 programmes  survive in this collections because they were safely tucked into his diaries which were rescued from his home during the destruction of the Boxer Uprising in the summer of 1900. See below for a selection of pre-1900 programmes.

Hart’s own music programmes used for his soirées, garden parties and his birthday celebrations in February each year give us insight to his musical interests, talented friends and colleagues, and musical interests over time. The collection here is not comprehensive, but it represents what has survived and is preserved in the Sir Robert Hart Collection MS 15 at Queen’s University Belfast. There may be programmes languishing in collections elsewhere and we’d like to learn more about them.

Garden party hosted by Sir Robert Hart. MS 15/6/9/18

Garden party hosted by Sir Robert Hart. MS 15/6/5/69

This digital collection includes a general collection of all programmes and handbills available at Queen’s. A separate collection comprising music programmes for private events hosted by Hart is also available. 

Sir Robert Hart Brass Band. MS 15/6/9/2a
Private party hosted by Sir Robert Hart. MS 15/6/9/12

Hart was very supportive of the musical interests of the Misses Von Mollendorff and their mother Rosalie. He was supportive in a very practical way providing financial assistance to Dora Von Mollendorff (1886-1959) who went on to have a very successful musical career as a violinist in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. According to her curriculum vitae (in her own hand located in Staatsarchiv Freiburg) Dora gave her first concert in Shanghai in 1897, she studied with Melchior Vela. During World War One she founded the Mollendorff-Quartett in Berlin. She married the artist William Straube in 1918. We know she was teaching in Stuttgart in 1952, but would welcome any further detail on this talented musician and her sisters, Emma and Margaret. Programmes from concerts given by the Misses Von Mollendorff are also included in the Hart Music Collection (see below).

We will continue to add to this collection if more music programmes and handbills come to light. A detailed listing for the collection noting the Conductor where known and the music performed is available on request  from Special Collections & Archives.  A listing describing the format, colour and size of the programmes and handbills for those unable to access the digital collection can also be provided. Preparation of this listing originated with an MA History assignment to calendar a select range of music programmes from the Hart Collection MS 15 by John Fox and has since been expanded by Special Collections & Archives staff to include all music programmes and handbills retrieved in the Hart Collection to date.

This blog post was written by Deirdre Wildy, Head of Special Collections & Archives at Queen’s University Belfast.

[1] The IG in Peking : letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-1907, edited by John King Fairbank, Katherine Frost Bruner, Elizabeth MacLeod Matheson; with an introduction by L.K. Little; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975