Richard Strauss

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"If my works are good and of any importance for the further development of our art, they will maintain their position in spite of all opposition on the part of critics, and in spite of all denigration of my artistic intentions."

Richard Strauss (June 11, 1864September 8, 1949) was a German (Bavarian) composer of classical music and conductor. His music has always been popular: both in the concert hall and on recordings. He is perhaps best known nowadays for his Operas, of which Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos are the most frequently performed. He was also a composer of symphonic works such as Thus Spake Zarathustra and A Hero's Life. He wrote many songs for solo voice with piano or orchestra, including Four Last Songs, Tomorrow! and Rest, my soul!. He was awarded Honorary Doctorates at the Universities of Heidelberg (1903) and Oxford (1913) and awarded the French Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur Croix de Chevalier (1907) and Officier (1913). He conducted throughout his adult life, and made many recordings of his own compositions from 1918 to 1947. His last public concert was on 19 October 1947 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he conducted the Philharmonia orchestra in a program of his works. His music has inspired many composers, including Béla Bartók, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten and also Hollywood composers such as Max Steiner and John Williams. His best known music is the opening to Thus Spake Zarathustra, which became one of best known pieces of film music when Stanley Kubrick used it in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey.



Recollections and Reflections

Conducting is a difficult business...It is better to conduct with the ear instead of the arm.

Most quotes come from from material gathered together in Richard Strauss, Recollections and Reflections, Willy Schuh (editor), Boosey and Hawkes, English Translation L. J. Lawrence, London, 1953. German original, 1949, Atlantis-Verlag, Zurich.

  • If my works are good and of any importance for the further development of our art, they will maintain their position in spite of all opposition on the part of critics, and in spite of all denigration of my artistic intentions. If they are worthtless, not even the most gratifying box office success or the most enthusiastic acclamation of augurs will keep them alive. Let the pulping press devour them...I shall not shed a tear over their grave.
    • On Criticism (page 21-2) (1908).
  • I am convinced that the decisive factor in dramatic effect will be a smaller orchestra, which does not drown out the human voice as does a large orchestra…The orchestra of the opera of the future is the chamber orchestra which, by painting in the background of the action on the stage with crystalline clearness, can alone realise precisely the intention of the composer with regard to the vocal parts. It is after all an important desideratum that the audience should not only hear the sounds but should also be able to follow the words closely.
    • On composing and conducting (page 39-40) (1929).
  • Producers of opera nowadays usually make the mistake of translating each particular orchestral phrase into terms of a movement on the stage. In this matter one should proceed with a maximum of caution and good taste. There is no objection to bringing life to into the production by changes of position and new nuances of acting during repetitive passages of music, especially in arias. Preludes of one or two bars frequently, and especially in Mozart, clearly express some gesture on stage. But each trill on the flute does not represent a wink on the prima donna, nor every delayed chord on the strings a step or gesture. Whole passages, especially in the finales, are pure concert music and are best left undisturbed by “play acting”.
  • Conducting is, after all, a difficult business – one has to be seventy years of age to realise this fully!
  • The left hand has nothing to do with conducting. Its proper place is the waistcoat pocket from which it should only emerge to restrain or make some minor gesture for which in any case a scarcely perceptible glance should suffice.
  • It is better to conduct with the ear instead of with the arm: the rest follows automatically.
    • On conducting classical masterpieces. (p44-56).
  • Ten Golden Rules (for the album of a young conductor)
    1. Remember you are making music not to amuse yourself but to delight the audience.
    2. You should not perspire when conducting: only the audience should get warm.
    3. Conduct 'Salome' and 'Elektra' as if they were by Mendelssohn: fairy music.
    4. Never look encouragingly at the brass, except with a short glance to give an important cue.
    5. But never let the horns and woodwind out of your sight: if you can hear them at all they are still too strong.
    6. If you think that the brass is not blowing hard enough, tone it down another shade or two.
    7. It is not enough that you yourself can hear every word the soloist sings - you know it off by heart anyway: the audience must be able to follow without effort. If they do not understand the words they will go to sleep.
    8. Always accompany a singer in such a way that he can sing without effort.
    9. When you think you have reached the limits of prestissimo, go twice as fast. (1948 Today, I should like to ammend this as follows: Go twice as slowly - addressed to conductors of Mozart).
    10. If you follow these rules carefully you will, with your fine gifts and great accomplishments, always be the darling of your listeners.
    • page38. Originally published 1922.
    • Rule 4 is often misquoted as: Never look at the Trombones, you'll only encourage them.
  • When during my stay in Egypt I became familiar with the works of Nietzsche, whose polemic against christianity was particularly to my liking, the antipathy which I had always felt against a religion which relieves the faithful of responsibility for their actions (by means of confession) was confirmed and strengthened.
    • Recollections of my youth and years of apprenticeship, page 140. In November 1892, Strauss had set off for an eight month journey to Greece and Egypt for convalesence from a severe lung ailment.
  • Melody as revealed in the greatest works of our classics is one of the most noble gifts which an invisible deity has bestowed on mankind.
  • Mozart's melodies, Beethoven's symphonies, Schubert's songs, acts two and three of Tristan are symbols in which are revealed the most profound spiritual truths. They are not "invented", but are "given in their dreams"to those privileged to receive them. Whence they come no one knows, not even their creator, the unconscious mouthpiece of the demiurge.
  • The melodic idea which suddenly falls upon me out of the blue appears in the imagination immediately, unconsciously, uninfluenced by reason. It is the greatest gift of the divinity and cannot be compared with anything else.
    • On Inspiration in Music, pages 112-117 (originally written around 1903).
  • Of all god-gifted dispensers of joy, Johann Strauss is to me the most endearing. I willingly admit to having sometimes conducted the Perpetuum Mobile with far more pleasure than many a four movement symphony.
  • As for the Rosenkavalier could I have done those without a thought of the laughing genius of Vienna?
    • On Johann Strauss, page 77. Originally written in 1925.
  • In my opinion, Gustav Mahler's work is one of the most important and interesting products in the history of modern creative arts.
    • Gustav Mahler, page 78. Originally written for a volume dedicated to Mahler edited by Paul Stephan, Munich 1910.

Other sources

My wife, my child, my music, Nature and the sun; they are my happiness.
  • My wife, my child, my music, Nature and the sun; they are my happiness.
    • written on the sketches for his Domestic Symphony. Charles Youmans, Mahler and Strauss in Dialogue, Indiana University press (2016), found on page 60.
  • Anybody who wants to be a real musician must be able to set a menu to music.
  • I am not one to compose long melodies as did Mozart. I can’t get beyond short themes. But what I can do, is utilize such a theme, paraphrase it and extract everything that is in it, and I don’t think there’s anybody today who can match me in that.
  • Why don't people see what is new in my work, how in them, as is found only in Beethoven, the human being visibly plays a part in the work.
    • 19th June 1949, in Willi Schuh, Strauss the early years, 1982, Cambridge University Press, page xiii.
  • Thirty years ago I was regarded as a rebel, but to-day, as you see, I have lived to find myself a classic.
    • 1931. Quoted by William Leon Smyser in his article The Caliph of Vienna: Dr. Richard Strauss, Musician. Published in Music & Letters , Jan., 1931, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan., 1931), pp. 46-53. Published by: Oxford University Press
  • I hope, most revered Maestro, that these metronome markings, in my opinion wholly unneeded by you, are specific enough. Where they do not fit with your conception, I implore you urgently just to ignore them.
    • Letter to Hans Von Bulow, 15th January 1890, in Schuh and Trenner, Hans von Bulow and Richard Strauss: Correspondence, in English Boosey and Hawkes 1955. Von Bulow had asked for metronome markings from Strauss for Don Juan. [Italics Strauss]
  • It is clear to me that the German nation will achieve new creative energy only by liberating itself from Christianity
    • Diary entry, shortly after the death of Gustav Mahler (1911). Quoted in Oxford University Press, Grove music online: Strauss, Richard, §7: Instrumental works (written by Bryan Gilliam and Charles Youmans).
  • Very fine, but why do you put so many wrong notes in? Basically, it is all built on simple triads.
  • More like a sacrilege du printemps.
    • The first quote was made to Stravinsky after he had shown Strauss some of his works in Paris, 1914. The second quote an overheard joke of Strauss later reported to Stravinsky. Found in Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait. Thames and Hudson, London, 1898. (Translated from original 1984 German edition by Mary Whittard), page 142.
  • Declarations about war and politics are not fitting for an artist, who must give his attention to his creations and his works.
    • Quotation made in an article published in 1914. Strauss had refused to sign the Manifesto of German artists and intellectuals supporting the German role in the war. Other signatories included Strauss' friends and colleagues, such as Max Reinhardt, Richard Dehmel, Max Liebermann, Engelbert Humperdink and Felix Wiengartner. The original article quoting Strauss was by Richard Specht, and is quoted by Romain Rolland in his diary entry, found on page 160 of Richard Strauss and Romain Rolland, edited by Rollo Myers, Calder and boyars, London, 1989.
  • Man (in B major) asks: When? When? Nature, (in C Major) answers from the depths Never, never, never will the weather improve".
    • Whilst composing Also Sprach Zarthustra, Strauss made this joke about the Bavaria weather to his friend, the conductor Max von Schillings. Quoted in Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait, page 73.
  • Long live the politico-satrical-parodistic opera!
    • Letter to Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, 5 June 1916. They had been discussing the new first act of Ariadne auf Naxos. A Working Friendhip: The correspondence between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hoffmanstahl, Vienna House, New York (1961). Page 251.
  • It is difficult composing endings. Beethoven and Wagner could do it. Only great composers can do it. I can do it too.
  • Strauss told me about his new ballet, which he wrote in the summer. It’s called ‘Schlagobers’ (whipped cream) and he said, jokingly: ‘Oh yes, when one gets old one has ideas like that.’
    • In America with Richard Strauss. Elisabeth Schumann’s Travel Diary (14th October to 31st December 1921). Elisabeth Schumann was a soprano who worked with Strauss in the 1920s and 1930s. He dedicated his Brentano Lieder to her.
  • Please start from the Bruch violin concerto again!
    • Whilst rehearsing the Alpine Symphony, referring to the theme in which he quotes and extends the theme from the slow movement of the violin concerto by Max Bruch. The quote is reported in Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait. Thames and Hudson, London, 1989, page 40. The theme's major appearence is in C major just after rehearsal mark 80 ("At the summit"), played by horns in unison:
 \new Staff \relative c' {
  \clef bass \time 2/2 \key c \major \tempo "Allegro Maestoso."  \partial 4
  g' -\( e2.) g4(d2.) g4(c,2 g4 f8. g16 e4 g e' d8. c16 g'4)


  • I ask myself why I have actually survived once more and been called back to life.
    • In late fall of 1948, Willi Schuh visited Strauss after an operation at a Clinic in Lausanne. This was a comment made by Strauss. From It will be alright on the night: Richard Streauss through quotes and anecdotes. Ed Alexander Witeschnick, Neff Press, Vienna (1983), page 187.

Quotes about Strauss

Gustav Mahler, You are really the only one of all my colleagues who takes any notice of my works., in a letter to Strauss in 1895
Arnold Schoenberg on Richard Strauss the composer, 1946
Gustav Mahler on Strauss as conductor, in a letter to his wife Alma Mahler
Benjamin Britten in 1943, "I want to pick the old man's brains for my opera", reading Der Rosenkavalier in preparation for his first opera Peter Grimes
Maurice Ravel on Strauss
  • I was never revolutionary. The only revolutionary in our time was Strauss!
    • Arnold Schoenberg (1923) in Style and Idea: Selected writings of Arnold Schoenberg, edited by Leonard Stein, University of California Press (Berkeley) 1984, page 137.
  • I believe that he (Strauss) will remain one of the characteristic and outstanding figures in musical history. Works like Salome, Elektra and Intermezzo, and others will not perish.
    • Arnold Schoenberg (1946) in A Scheonberg reader - Documents of a life, edited by Joseph Auner, Yale University Press 2003, page 316-17.
  • I would like to admit all Strauss operas to whichever purgatory punishes triumphant banality. Their musical substance is cheap and poor; it cannot interest a musician today.
  • I watched him at rehearsals and admired the way he conducted. Every corrective remark he made was exact: his ears and his musicianship were impregnable.
  • Richard Strauss? An old Oyster!
    • Igor Stravinsky (1959) in Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, New York, Double Day, 1959. Page 83-4. In the second quote Stravinsky recalling rehearsals he had attended for the premier of Strauss's ballet Josephs legende in Paris 1913. Third quote It will be all right on the night: Richard Strauss in quotes and anecdotes, ed. Alexader Witeschnik (1983), page 193.
  • Richard Strauss is a brilliant pig - I can find no other word for it. The whole thing is larded with illogical, unnecessary and hideous discord.
    • Alma Mahler (1901), after attending a performance of Strauss's orchestral piece, the symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben, in Alma Mahler-Werfel: Diaries 1898-1902. Edited by Antony Beaumont, Faber and Faber, London 1997. Page 367.
  • No other composer equals Strauss in his power of writing long stretches of music that interests us in and for itself, at the same time that every line and colour in it seems to express some new trait of the individual who is being sketched.
  • Salome again made an extraordinary impression on me. It is entirely a work of genius, very powerful and decidedly one of the most important things that our age has produced.
  • I labour on with countless rehearsals. He makes do with just a few, and it always sounds right.
    • Gustav Mahler. The first quote in a letter to Alma Mahler, quoted in Kurt Willhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait (1989), page 106. The second, comparing their conducting, quoted on page 105.
  • I simply must tell you of the thrilling impression the work (Salome) made on me when I read through it recently. Every note is spot on! Your vocation is to be dramatist. Through your music you have made me understand for the first time what Wilde's work is about
    • Letter of Gustav Mahler to Strauss, 11 October 1905. Gustav Mahler Richard Strauss - correspondence 1888-1911, edited by Herta Blaukopf (translated by Edmund Jephcott), Faber and Faber 1984.
  • You are really the only one of all my colleagues who takes any notice of my works.
    • Letter of Gustav Mahler to Strauss, 8 June 1895. Quoted in Kurt Willhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait (1989), page 105. Strauss had arranged for and conducted performances of the first two of Mahler's Symphonies. He went on to conduct all of the first five before Mahler's death in 1911.
  • Richard Strauss is at the same time a poet and a musician.
  • While conducting an orchestra he breaks into a frantic dance which follows the slightest details of his quivering music like clear water into which a stone has just fallen.
    • Romain Roland, French musicologist and author. First quote in an article on Richard Strauss, published on 15 June 1899 in the Revue de Paris. the article is translated and contained in Rollo Myers (editor), Richard Strauss and Romain Rolland, Calder and Boyars, London, 1968, quote Page 178. The second quote from an article written in 1905, “French music and German music”, also contained in the Myers volume, page 210.
  • He conducts with his whole body - arms, head and behind together. At moments he seems to dance on his knees; he crouches down; he makes tense and pulsating movements, like electric vibrations, with his hands. He gives explanations in very bad French, and sings out of tune passages that he wants played again; he cares nothing for ridicule; he always looks bored, sulky half asleep - but nevertheless lets nothing escape him.
  • His music stirs me to my very depths. To me the finale is a flood of strength and joy. One always wonders how that could have come out of this. There has been nothing like it in symphonic music since Beethoven.
    • Romain Rolland, describing the rehearsals for and French premier of the Sinfonia Domestica on March 25th 1905. Matthew Boyden, Richard Strauss, page 180.
  • When all is said and done, he was a giant - even if his feet were made of clay.
  • He is one of those musicians about whom it is difficult to write impartially or objectively, as his music is likely to arouse antipathy or admiration according to the temperamental outlook of the individual critic.
    • Rollo H Myers in his Obituary of Richard Strauss, published in The Musical Times, Vol. 90, No. 1280 (Oct., 1949), pp. 347-351
  • I can assure you, that the sun shines in Richard Strauss's music. It is impossible to resist the overwhelming power of this man!
  • He definiteley thinks in colored images. Ein Heldenleben is a book of images, cinematography even.
  • Richard Strauss has neither a foolish wild curly mane, nor the movements of a madman. He is tall and in his free, resolute attitude he looks like one of those great explorers who, with a smile on their faces, cross the territory of savage peoples. Doesn't one need something of this attitude in order to be able to shake the well-mannered public?
    • Claude Debussy, First two quotes from Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait, page 86. Third quote from It will be all right on the night: Richard Strauss in quotes and anecdotes, ed.(1983) Alexander Witeschnik (1983), page 191.
  • Except for Strauss, there are none but second class composers in Germany.
  • Salome and Pelléas et Mélisande are the most striking works in European music for the last fifteen years.
    • Maurice Ravel. First Quote in Kurt Wihlem, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait, page 86. Second quote from A Ravel Reader: Correspondence, Articles, Interviews, Arbie Orenstein (editor), Dover Publications Inc, page 232. Strauss and Ravel met several times when Strauss was in Paris to conduct. This quote dates from 1907. The feeling was mutual: Strauss was a great admirer of Ravel.
  • I was aroused as by a flash of lightning by the first Budapest performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra. It contained the seeds for a new life. I started composing again.
    • Béla Bartók, 1902. Quoted in Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait, page 73.
  • He asked about Vienna and the Opera, listened with great interest, grumbled about the Italian dress rehearsals. He thought opera in German-speaking countries should be performed in German.
  • Even if he has many hard sides to him and often appears cold, in the seven weeks of our tour I have come to recognise him as one of the noblest of men. Every hour spent with him is gain, even when he is silent.
  • Strauss played some from memory. He’s not a good by-heart player, and something extraordinary happened with ‘All mein Gedanken’. Already after the third bar he couldn’t remember the accompaniment anymore and composed an entirely new song. I leapt along with him, the words fitted perfectly, no one in the audience suspected a thing, and when we had made it to the end I turned my eyes to the right to see what his reaction was. All I saw was him grinning from ear to ear—it was really difficult for me to find the calm and seriousness needed for the next song, ‘Freundliche Vision’. After the group we couldn’t stop laughing in the artists’ room, and I asked him to write down the new ‘All mein Gedanken’ straightaway afterwards, but he replied ‘Oh, I’ve already completely forgotten it.’ What a pity! I liked it much more than the original.
  • I want to pick the old man's brains for my opera.
  • The Symphonia Domestica was amusing and annoying by turns; but with some lovely bits.
    • Benjamin Britten. The first quote is from March 1943. He had requested the score of Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier whilst writing his first opera Peter Grimes. The second is from 1935, when he was a student and had attended a concert conducted by Richard Strauss. Paul Kildea, Benjamin Britten - a life in the twentieth century, Allen Lane, 2013. Page223.
  • Strauss, the new conductor, seemed a hopeless failure; he kept the band as smooth, and also inane, as a linen collar; and his tempi, except for the occasional gallop in the wrong place, were for the most part insufferably slow. We all sat wishing we had not come, and that Strauss had never been born.
    • George Bernard Shaw, reviewing the 1894 Bayreuth Festival at which Strauss appeared for the first time on 22 July, conducting Wagner's opera Tannhauser. Quoted in Great Wagner Conductors: a listener's companion, Jonathan Brown, Canberra: Parrot Press 2012. Page 523. Shaw went on to become a friend and admirer of Strauss: they met a few times later on in London and elsewhere. In 1947 Shaw sent Strauss a signed copy of one of his lartest books, to which Strauss replied with a thank you letter. When he heard of Strauss's death, Shaw sat and played the piano reduction of Ariadne auf Naxos.
  • I have enjoyed most particularly reading the correspondence between Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. The genuine friendship, competitiveness and support that thread through their communications are life lessons for us all.
  • When it comes to the music of Richard Strauss, the bowing makes the fiddler grouse.
    • From the Anonymous German "Bei der Musik von Richard Strauss, findet man die Strichart raus". Quoted in Kurt Wilhem, page 40. A more literal translation is "In the music of Richard Strauss, one finds out how to bow it".
  • Work, as he practised it, was quite a remarkable procedure with Strauss. Nothing of the daemonic, nothing of the artist’s mad exaltation, nothing of those depressions and desperations we know from accounts of Beethoven and Wagner. Strauss works to the point and composes like Johann Sebastian Bach, like all those sublime craftsmen of their art, quietly and systematically. At nine in the morning he sits down to resume his work just where he left off the day before, always writing the first sketch of his composition in pencil, the piano score in ink, and continues thus without pause until twelve or one o’clock. In the afternoon he plays Skat, a German card game, transfers two or three pages to the final score and possibly conducts an opera in the evening. He does not know what nervousness is, by day and night his artistic mind is equally alert and lucid. When his valet knocks on the door to bring his evening clothes, he gets up from his work, dresses, rides to the theatre and conducts with the same assurance and calm with which he plays Skat in the afternoon, and the next morning inspiration again falls into its proper place.
  • I have met a great many artists in my life but never one who knew how to maintain such abstract and unerring objectivity towards himself. Thus Strauss frankly admitted to me in the first hour of our meeting that he well knew, that at seventy the composer’s musical inspiration no longer possesses its pristine power. He could hardly succeed in composing works like Till Eulenspiegel or Death and Transfiguration because just pure music requires an extreme measure of creative freshness. But the World could still inspire him!
    • Portrait of Richard Strauss by Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), extract from “The world of Yesterday”, his posthumously published memoires.
  • German Music is unthinkable without Richard Strauss.
    • Wilhelm Furtwängler (Die Deutsche Musik ist ohne Ricard Strauss nicht denkbar). It will be all right on the night: Richard Strauss in quotes and anecdotes, ed.Alexander Witeschnik (1983), page 191.
  • Wagner's music is the most modern and the ultimate. Nobody is beyond that. Strauss's "Progress" is drivel.
  • I can assure you sincerely: since Wagner we have not had such a great master as Strauss.
    • Béla Bartok (Alexander Witeschnik (1983), page 194).
  • The greatest impression he made on me: whatever he said or did, happened – with greatest ease. One never had the impression of being in front of a person who was aware of his own significance or who acted upon it. There was never any trace of vanity, as with many when faced with the fate of considering oneself above average.
  • Here is another small indication of how Strauss saw himself primarily as a practising musician rather than as a big composer of his time – which he was. In the years leading up to the Second World War, when it was still not the fashion for famous people to give out their private telephone numbers, I would read for the first time in a Garmisch Telephone Book: Dr. Strauss, Richard, Kapellmeister, and not as one would suspect “Composer”.
    • Hans Hotter (1909-2003), German Baritone who worked with Strauss in his later years, source memoirs.
  • He would write out the full score from the short score with everything, even new counterpoints in ink in the final draft;...he never crossed anything out. If he made a mistake he would take out a pen-knife, carefully erase it, smooth the spot with his nail and write the note over the spot. But there were very few corrections to be done, for he rarely made a mistake. Even with transposing instruments, where it is easy to go wrong. He would write just as the likes of us write a letter.
  • Once, he was sitting at his desk, with me behind him. He was working on the score of Daphne and discussing a Mozart interpretation with me. Upon which I said "But Herr Doktor, you can't talk to me about other things whilst you are working". He replied: "Don't worry, carry on my dear Böhm, I am able to think of the two things at once".
    • Karl Böhm, recalling a visit he had made to Strauss's home in 1936. Quote contained in Richard Strauss by Matthew Boyden (1999), page 326.
  • There was no more hard-working musician in Germany. Mahler was one of many to marvel at his energy, expressing open astonishment at Strauss's ability to produce such a wide-ranging body of music while, simultaneously, sustaining an opera house, an orchestra, conducting guest tours and a family.
    • Matthew Boyden, Richard Strauss by Matthew Boyden (1999), page 181. The comment relates to Strauss's work schedule in 1905.

Quotes from Newspapers

  • “What do I think of Jazz? Jazz is royal concert in the palace of King Attila! The original negro melodies from which it is derived are sublime, but Jazz —" said Dr.Strauss shrugging his shoulders.
    • Sheffield Independent (UK) - Saturday 14 January 1922, reporting an interview given after a concert Strauss conducted at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.
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