Among the papers of the distinguished conductor Sir George Thomas Smart, held by the British Library in the George Smart collection, are numerous concert programmes covered in his handwritten annotations. Reflecting his punctilious approach, these document in great detail aspects including timings, planned encores, and changes to programme and personnel. This article explores in detail Smart’s programmes from Manchester’s Grand Musical Festival of 1836, triangulating his comments against newspaper reviews and related sources in an attempt to uncover what actually happened at an early nineteenth-century music festival, both on stage and behind the scenes. Insights are gained into audience behaviour, concert management and the growing influence of the press. Questions are raised as to the limitations of printed concert programmes, how such limitations may be mitigated, and the tremendous untapped potential the George Smart collection still contains.
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