Late last year, I wrote a post about the composer and musician Julia Chatterton, who created and performed music for a one-off matinee event at the London Hippodrome in June 1930 to celebrate Flinders Petrie's 50 years in archaeology.
One of the other women credited with contributing to the music for the "Egyptian Matinee" was Kathleen Schlesinger. At the time, I didn't know much about her, but the event programme noted that she provided a number of replica instruments used at the Hippodrome that afternoon from her own collection.
Schlesinger is known in musical theory circles for her work on recreating ancient music, using instruments and tools that she had specially made based on ancient source materials. Nine years after the Hippodrome performance, she published a book, The Greek Aulos, describing her findings.
For decades Schlesinger also held a pioneering research fellowship at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Archaeology. This department was the earliest British-based training institution for archaeologists – being founded decades before the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London (now part of UCL). It instituted a Fellowship in the Archaeology of Music in 1914.
Kathleen Schlesinger was the first Fellow – in fact, Kate Bowen's investigation of the Institute of Archaeology's Annual Reports reveals that the Fellowship was designed for her, and her scholarship promoted by John Garstang, then Professor of the Methods and Practice of Archaeology at the Institute. The Fellowship enabled her to continue her research on the ancient history of musical instruments, in which she was already well-established.
By this stage, Schlesinger was also an experienced lecturer, working as an Extension lecturer for the University of London. She is to be added to the ranks of women I've written about in Archaeologists in Print who organised and delivered lectures and courses at the British Museum, incorporating collections on display into their curricula. Schlesinger also created and delivered a set of lectures on the history of musical instruments in the galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In addition, she was featured as a lecturer at the 1914 Children's Welfare Exhibition at Kensington Olympia, discussing musical instruments to accompany a special display at the event.
While she is now known for her work on ancient Greek music and instruments, she had a wide-ranging field of investigation, and her museum lectures sought to appeal to audiences interested in Biblical history (and by extension the archaeology of the Levant, Egypt/Sudan and Mesopotamia) as well. For these lectures she created models of instruments.
Kate Bowen's detailed research on Schlesinger and her musical collaborator Elsie Hamilton also highlights Schlesinger's role in innovative performances combining music and archaeology before her contributions to Julia Chatterton's 1930 Hippodrome programme. These include, intriguingly, the music for a drama called "Sensa" (the result of a collaboration between two other women, Maud Hoffman and Mabel Collins) which was set in ancient Egypt, and performed in theatres in London in 1914 and 1919.*
In the 1930s, an American musician came to visit an elderly Kathleen Schlesinger in her home in Highgate. He was Harry Partch, and his memory of tea with Schlesinger makes for fascinating reading. She told him about using a British Museum vase as model for her replica kithara, which was made to her specifications by a handy gas-meter man during the First World War out of wood from a crate that had once contained oranges.
Today, researchers continue to work on replicating ancient music. Armand D'Angour's article published in The Conversation this summer promised that the mystery of ancient Greek music had now been solved. There is also a large-scale European Music Archaeology Project and there are YouTube videos of Stefan Hagel's performances on a replica kithara.
But it's important to remember this sort of research has a long history – and to ensure that the early pioneering music archaeology, performance and lectures of Kathleen Schlesinger are not forgotten.
Bowen, K. 2012. Living Between Worlds Ancient and Modern: the Musical Collaboration of Kathleen Schlesinger and Elsie Hamilton. Journal of the Royal Musical Association 137 (2): 197-242.
Collins, M. 1913. The Story of Sensa: an interpretation of The Idyll of the White Lotus. New York, NY: J. W. Lowell.
D'Angour, A. 2018. Ancient Greek Music: now we finally know what it sounded like. The Conversation 31 July.
Hindson, C. 2017. Beautiful Pagans: When a Best Selling Author and a West End Actress Made a Spiritualist Performance. In Guy, J. (Ed).The Edinburgh Companion to Fin-de-Siècle Literature, Culture and the Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Lee, B. 2006. Kathleen Schlesinger and Elsie Hamilton: Pioneers of Just Intonation.
Partch, H. (ed. McGeary, T.) 2000. Bitter Music: Collected Journals, Essays, Introductions, and Librettos.Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
*The idea for Collins's book Idyll of the White Lotus (on which "Sensa" was based) came to her after seeing Cleopatra's Needle being placed on Embankment in 1878. Collins was very interested in the occult, and spotting the Needle triggered visions of ancient Egyptian priests. Her interpretation of their presence - and through this the inspiration for Idyll and "Sensa" - drew on British Museum Curator Wallis Budge's book Egyptian Magic. For more on Collins, Hoffman, and the creation and performances of "Sensa", see Catherine Hindson's chapter referenced above.