Bernard F. Page
Updated: Jun 20
In March 1913, The Tango Song was published in the Equinox Vol I, No 9 within a sketch by Aleister Crowley called, "The Tango." The music was written by Bernard F. Page and features the words of Aleister Crowley. (A recording of The Tango Song by artist, Marc Almond at Roundhouse, London, 1 November 2009, is available on Youtube).
The New Zealand National Library holds two further scores:
Your grave grey eyes ; for tenor and piano / music by Bernard Page ; words by Aleister Crowley, and
Cinnamon curls ; for tenor and piano / music by Bernard Page ; words by Aleister Crowley
Interestingly, on one of the scores held in this collection, Page has inscribed the words, `To my dear friend Jeanne, with every good wish from BFP 18 November 1914.' Jeanne Renshaw is the youngest sister of Katherine Mansfield. Leila Waddell discusses her acquaintance with Katherine Mansfield in London in her article, Two Anzacs Abroad and in a later interview goes on to say that they had been good friends.
Page had been engaged in the study of music since he was three years old. His first official appointment came at age 11 when he was appointed deputy-organist at the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Wandsworth. While still in that position, he was further appointed organist at His Majesty’s Prison, Wandsworth, where he held office until 1902. In that year he went to the Church of St. Mary Magdalen, Brockley, and in 1903 was appointed to St Anne’s, Vauxhall. From June 1910, until the date of his Wellington appointment, he was organist at the Carmelite church, Kensington - one of the most important Roman Catholic churches in London at the time and well-regarded for the quality of its music.
Page had given about 100 recitals in different parts of London.
In May 1913, at 27 years of age, Page bet 86 applicants to be appointed City Organist for the city of Wellington in New Zealand.
One paper reports that “While he had established for himself a most enviable reputation, both as a skilled organist and as a composer of some note, the Wellington appointment was considered rather a triumph for a player of Page’s years.” While another suggests, “It was for health reasons that an organist of such standing came to New Zealand.” Whichever the case, the Town Clerk dispatched the following cablegram to London to Page: - “Appointed. When can you conveniently come? It is desirable that you should come here at once.”
Accompanied by his wife and children, Page arrived by the Rotorua to take up his new duties on 21 August 1913. The papers described him as “a young Englishman, of rather striking appearance, with the distinctive speech of a man of culture and education.”
The very evening of his arrival a formal welcome was made by the Mayor of Wellington, Mr. J. P. Luke at the meeting of the City Council. During the brief ceremony, Page occupied a seat alongside his Worship. The Mayor extended a very hearty welcome to the family on behalf of the citizens of Wellington. He commented on Page’s great reputation both as regards character and ability and took the opportunity of publicly stating the appointment by the board and the council had been a unanimous one. In the course of a brief response, Page thanked the Mayor for his kindly welcome while also noting he was not a stranger to the country.
The Wellington Town Hall Concert Organ is one of the few original Edwardian pipe organs in the world and is known internationally for its sound quality and historical value. For the next 19 years, Page would enjoy a high profile career as its Organist. Over this period he also became conductor of the Wellington Municipal Orchestra, the Royal Choral Union and the Wellington Amateur Operatic Society and was also know to play piano when needed. He also eventually became involved with radio broadcasting.
A de rigueur form of entertainment, Page’s Sunday organ recitals were well advertised, and newspaper articles abounded with reviews and articles about this local icon.
Call to Arms
In June of 1918, the Auckland Star reports that Page had been called for Military Service. “With each succeeding ballot,” it complained, “prominent men in the public service and business life are called for their country’s service, but there has never been a list so interesting from this viewpoint as that of the first Class C ballot. It seems to have gathered in a very choice collection of administrative talent from the Wellington area. Incidentally, it will raise the question of essential public servants so acutely that the Government will be obliged to decide whether it will submit to the same inconvenience as the commercial world and do without some of its leading administrators.” - Auckland Star, Volume XLIX, Issue 145, 19 June 1918, Page 4
The Hawera & Normanby Star (Volume LXXVII, 18 July 1918, Page 4) later went on to report that Page had been rejected as ineligible for active service with no further detail provided.
Accident to City Organist
In November 1920, The Dominion (Volume 14, Issue 51, 24 November 1920, Page 8) reports:
“While boarding a city tramcar a few days ago Mr. Bernard F. Page (city organist) was following a lady, who suddenly stepped back, with the result that the back edge of her hat “sawed” across the ball of one of Mr. Page’s eyes. The injury was so painful that it was feared that the eye had been seriously injured. Mr. Page was taken to the Davis Street hospital, and has been there resting since Saturday last. Mr. Page’s many friends will be relieved to learn that this eyesight is not impaired, though his experience has been a very painful one. He may be about again by the end of the week.”
Rats Invade City Organ
“The latest problem to trouble the Wellington City Corporation is the invasion by rats of the city organ at the Town Hall, due, it is believed in some quarters, to the large quantities of foodstuffs which are left over after social functions in the hall. Frequently accumulations of refuse from such functions are left in the back yard for some little time after the event.
A great deal of leather and animal skin is used in connection with the stops over the air holes in the organ. These flaps, which move upward under air pressure and fall immediately the pressure is eased, are made out of very special picked leather, which is not doubt rather toothsome to the rodents. The city organist, Mr. Bernard F. Page, states that a good deal of damage has already been done, and if it is allowed to continue it will interfere with the functioning of some of the stops.
The custodian set a couple of traps among the pipes, and on Sunday evening, when the organist was playing Mendelsohn’s ‘Spring Song’ the frightened squeals of a trapped rat could be distinctly heard.”
- The New Zealand Herald (Volume LXI, Issue 18822, 24 September 1924, Page 10)
Victoria University College Annual Extravaganza
Later in 1924, the Victoria University College in Wellington hosted its Annual Extravaganza. Within its spoof play lays this refrain:
Oh, oh, oh! I'm Bernard Page,
Amongst the ladies I'm all the rage; On Sundays when I play, I cannot understand why people stay away The ladies love my carriage erect. Because I am a man of intellect. Oh, oh, oh! On any stage. You'll never find a thriller like Bernard Page.
New Zealand’s Musical Taste
“Mr. Bernard Page, Wellington City Organist, refutes the suggestion that Galli Curci's New Zealand tour should be abandoned because the Dominion lacks musical appreciation. New Zealand's musical taste, he says, is well ahead of Australia's. He added that that was not only his opinion but that of Moisewitch, Bratza Spionkovosky, and Hackett. He heard those artists say that they would not think of playing the same stuff in New Zealand as in Australia. They regard the New Zealanders as being much more musically educated.” · Western Argus Tuesday 17 March 1925 p 4
Too Cold to Play
An Organist Departs, Recital Ends Abruptly
“Saying that the air was too cold for him to continue playing, Mr. Bernard F. page brought an organ recital in Wellington last Friday to an abrupt conclusion. The recital was to have lasted from 12.30 to 1.30pm, but before one o’clock, after only part of the programme had been carried out, Mr. Page descended from the console and announced that the recital would not be continued, as it was too cold.
He then left the platform.
An electric radiator had been placed in the console enclosure, but as Mr. Page has been suffering from a severe cold he apparently found this insufficient. After the organist had departed the temperature in the enclosure was taken. The receipts, which were voluntary, amounted to 7s 7d, including one donation of 2s 6d.” - New Zealand Herald, Volume LXIX, Issue 21262, 16 August 1932, Page 10
Speaking in a general way of the problem of compiling programmes, week after week, to “give the public what they want,” the city organist, Mr. Bernard F. Page, remarked to a “Post” reporter that the experiences of organists in other cities were very much the same as he had experienced in Wellington.
“In Auckland mixed recitals were tried, organ music, items from the municipal choir, vocal solos, and municipal bank music,” said Mr. Page, “but with what result? The public are for the time being satisfied, but their interest wanes, as it does in most things in time, and today they have no city organist, but have retained local organists for such functions as the City Council requires such services.
“Dr. Bradshaw, of Christchurch, some years ago even went so far as to combine his recitals with film progammes, and result was again much the same. On one occasion that I heard a recital by him I was surprised to find that a number of those attending, instead of listening to the musical section of the programme, walked outside to smoke their cigarettes. I told him then that it was an impossible mixture. Christchurch today also has no city organist, although they have recently built a new organ in the Civic Hall at Christchurch.
“Ernest Truman, Sydney’s city organist, and one of Australia’s finest musicians, has ‘given the public what they want’ for years. He has played from the lighter Italian operas; he has given Gilbert and Sullivan programmes; he has done, in fact, everything that any man could do to meet the varying tastes from the most noble works to the lightest, but the result is the same. He is experiencing the same trouble that has been experienced here, in Auckland, and in Christchurch.”
Mr Page said he believed that to a considerable degree the blame for the lack of appreciation of good music was to be placed on broadcasting, for for some years now the musical taste of many thousands of listeners had been undermined by the broadcasting of so many recordings of cheap and nasty dance music. He believed, however, that a reaction would follow, and that the listeners would demand less of that type of broadcast entertainment and the improvement of programmes by the inclusion of more music of a higher standard. - Evening Post, Volume CXIV, Issue 114, 10 November 1932, Page 13
When Page eventually resigned his post in November 1932, he was tendered a complimentary farewell concert at which he appeared with the Wellington Symphony Orchestra. He departed for London on 23 December 1932 by the Rangitane, only to return to New Zealand a decade later.
“Since leaving Wellington 10 years ago, after being city organist there for 20 years, Mr. Bernard F. Page, who has arrived in Auckland from England, has had many experiences. He has toured Britain, Belgium and Holland, been bombed out of two flats in the blitz, seen the organ of the French Catholic Church in London, where he was organist and choirmaster, wrecked by the Nazis’ wrath, and lost his life’s collection of music and books.
And now Mr. Page wants to settle down in Auckland and continue his professional work. He felt that there was nothing left for him in England – nothing more than marking time until the war was over – and he likes New Zealand, his “adopted country,” and knows it well. He has a son here in the air force.
As city organist in Wellington from 1913 to 1932, Mr. Page played an important part in the musical life of the Dominion, adjudicating in competitions and teaching all over the country. He came originally from London, and in 1932 he returned to Britain. Since then, in addition to touring, he has given 10 recitals with the famous violinist, Bratza.
About five years ago he was appointed as organist and choirmaster to the Church of Notre Dame de France. The beautiful organ at this church, which was erected in the 1860’s by the famous Monsieur Cavallie-Col, who brought a band of workmen from France for the purpose, was wrecked by bombs in October, 1940, in one of the heaviest London raids.
A sad feature of the bombing was the fact that the church had been rebuilt only two years before, at a cost of £2000. Mr Page had presided at the reopening, when the French Ambassador, M. Corbin, was present.
Prior to losing his church, Mr. Page had been bombed, first out of one flat, then out of another. His musical library, which included many valuable manuscripts and was considered one of the best private collections in England, was lost entirely.
Met Star Reports
Mr. Page’s contact with the Auckland Star on his return came about in an unexpected way. While in London he met two former Star reporters. Sub-Lieutenant A. G. Thompson, who is in the Fleet Air Arm, and Pilot-Officer F. Colwyn Jones, D.F.C (who had not then won his medal). When they heard he was coming to New Zealand, they made him promise to look up the chief reporter of the Star. “And so here I am,” he smiled.
Of music in Britain at present, Mr. Page had little comment to make. It was true, he said, that there had been a great revival of interest among the people, and the lunch hour concerts at the National Gallery, organized by Dame Myra Hess, drew crowds every day. But in the main, there was no new trend in music. Orchestras were sadly depleted, the majority of musicians were either in the forces or in industry.
On the journey out here, Mr. Page played at Durban and Melbourne, and he found audiences most enthusiastic, particularly in Melbourne.”
Auckland’s Lunch-Hour Concerts
Already getting into the swim of things in this city, musically speaking, Mr. Page yesterday went to one of the lunch-hour concerts in the Tower, Chancery Chambers. These concerts, which take place every Friday, are a new feature in Auckland, and are arranged by local musicians for all who care to come.
Mr. Page was warm in his praise of yesterday’s concert, conducted by Owen Jensen and performed by the Auckland String Players. “It is something that should be encouraged,” he said. “I hope the orchestra will grow and become one of the permanent musical institutions of the city.
“It came as a great relief after a long time at sea to hear Handel, Bach and Mozart so admirably played. Especially fine was the Rondo for solo violin with string orchestral accompaniment, so ably arranged by Thomas Matthews, the noted violinist and leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who recently visited New Zealand, and is now in Melbourne.
“To my added pleasure, I met several of my old pupils at the concert yesterday,” said Mr. Page. He added that the welcome he had received n Auckland on his return had given him much pleasure.
- Auckland Star, Volume LXXIII, Issue 294, 12 December 1942, Page 6
Accident to City Organist. Dominion, Volume 14, Issue 51, 24 November 1920, Page 8
Auckland City Council. Organ recital by Bernard F Page on Sunday 7th May 1944. Town Hall Auckland. Programme.
Called to Arms. Auckland Star, Volume XLIX, Issue 145, 19 June 1918, Page 4
Evening Post, Volume CXIV, Issue 122, 19 November 1932, Page 12
Farewell to Mr Page. Evening Post, 19 November 1932
Musical Taste. Evening Post, Volume CXIV, Issue 114, 10 November 1932, Page 13
New City Organist. Dominion, Volume 6, Issue 1835, 22 August 1913, Page 7
Organist Back. Auckland Star, Volume LXXIII, Issue 294, 12 December 1942, Page 6
Personal Items. Evening Post, Volume CXIV, Issue 150, 22 December 1932, Page 13
Personal Items. Evening Post, Volume CXXXIV, Issue 138, 8 December 1942, Page 3
Personal Items. Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume LXXVII, 18 July 1918, Page 4
Personal. Auckland Star, Volume LXIII, Issue 266, 9 November 1932, Page 3
Personal. Manawatu Times, Volume LXV, Issue 1934, 31 May 1913, Page 4
Radio Programmes. Evening Post, Volume CXIV, Issue 30, 4 August 1932, Page 21
Rats Invade City Organ. New Zealand Herald, Volume LXI, Issue 18822, 24 September 1924, Page 10
Real Musical Treat - Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XLVIII, 5 January 1915, Page 6
Too Cold to Play. New Zealand Herald, Volume LXIX, Issue 21262, 16 August 1932, Page 10
Victoria University College. Annual Extravaganza: Pep. 1924.
Wellington Town Hall (Wellington, N.Z.), Page, Bernard Francis, 1885?-1955, Wellington City, Images
Wellington's New Organist. Evening Post, Volume LXXXVI, Issue 46, 22 August 1913, Page 11
Western Argus, Tuesday 17 March 1925
www. aucklandorgan.org.nz, 11 October 2014
www.organforum.com, 11 October 2014
www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/music, 11 October 2014
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