The Organ

Christopher Fifield: Ibbs and Tillett : the Rise and Fall of a Musical Empire

Christopher Fifield: Ibbs and Tillett : the Rise and Fall of a Musical Empire
ISBN 1-84014-290-1

This book details the 90 year history of, in its day, the greatest concert agency in Britain. It charts the fluctuating fortunes of a specific agency business in the context of a society and music industry that was changing drastically at the time. This book also provides an in-depth look at some of the artists employed by the Ibbs and Tillett agency, including the likes of Sergei Rachmaninov, Kathleen Ferrier and Myra Hess, most often through letters that were written by or to those very people.

Fifield has given the reader a book that can be used in a variety of ways. Its focus on artists’ letters allows us to see different and possibly unknown sides to famous artists, and as such the material is invaluable to those seeking a comprehensive picture of some of the century’s greatest musicians. At the same time, the facts and figures of the agency are very well researched, and the wealth of detail published allows us to trace the growth and eventual decline of the agency very clearly. More broadly, its chronological structure is very useful; this book really does look at concert agency both specifically and in terms of how it was affected by the social turbulence of the 20th century.

At 650 pages, including nearly 300 pages of appendices, this book cannot be seen as a light read. However, it is well demarcated and signposted, and its size should not put off people interested in understanding how professional musicians in the 20th century survived and lived. The impact of two world wars, the rise of the BBC, the growth of personal management as an ideal, the rise of prices and costs and other issues are all given a lot of time and space. Readers will come away with the feeling that they appreciate both how concert agencies of the old school were run, and how much such agencies were under pressure to change by the later decades of the century if they wished to survive.

Fifield objectively and interestingly weaves together some of the drier musical facts with the human and social context in which they occurred to form a book that is to be recommended either in its entirety or as a frame of reference for specific artists or decades.