The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"Worthy of all praise"

The Times

The Purcell Operatic Society


ornate theatre frontage of Coronet cinema


An Enduring Friendship

Craig and Shaw had kept up the friendship they formed when they had first met in Southwold. When Craig began publishing The Page, Shaw provided a song, ‘The Palanquin Bearers’ and an article on Purcell under the pseudonym of ‘William Challinger'.


1899: The Purcell Operatic Society is founded by Shaw

In 1899 Shaw had founded the Purcell Operatic Society to promote Purcell, a classical English composer who was unheard of at the time.

Martin's studies at the Royal College of Music had focused on the Continental music of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms; he hoped to change that emphasis by promoting Purcell, and so introduce the notion of 'englishness' and respect for English culture .

This was at the start of a movement in English music which is now known as The English Revival.


The Masque of Love

In Edward Gordon Craig's memoires, 'Index to the Story of My Days' he noted:

1901 MARCH 26: At the Coronet Theatre, Notting Hill, London, Martin Shaw and E.G.C. produced for the first time Purcell's Masque from 'Dioclesian,' and repeated the 'Dido and Æneas ' of last year. We called it 'The Masque of Love'.

Shaw had asked Edward Gordon Craig to become metteur en scene and co-director for his productions. Shaw arranged the venue and music, conducting the orchestra and choir, whilst Craig organised the stage and costume designs. Craig also designed and made the programmes.

Gordon Craig described in his memoires that “The Masque represented a dream of the triumph of Love and the joy of Life.”


print on cream paper with rough edge to one side showing that it was hand-printed


Press Reviews:

THE TIMES said it was 'worthy of all praise'

THE SATURDAY REVIEW - that 'had Mr Craig offered to Paris what he kept for London, he would have been the maker of a venture generally discussed and admired.'

Both Walter Crane and WB Yeats wrote praising the production.


Craig's Designs

Craig stated in the programme of their first production, Dido and Aeneas, that 'In designing the scenery and costumes of “Dido and Æneas” the Stage Director has taken particular care to be entirely incorrect in all matters of detail.”

Certainly Craig's designs were ahead of their time, and Martin Shaw, in asking Craig to be stage designer, had given an opportunity to an astonishing and visionary talent.



Craigs designs for the chorus of the Purcell Operatic Society; group of young women in long robes with white strips of fabric flowing from their arms

Even today, Craig's designs for the theatre have not dated, they were 20 years ahead of his time. He is increasingly recognized as the first Modernist. Both he and Shaw hated Victorian fussiness and sentimentality.


Craig leaves for Europe

As so often with new and visionary work, the Purcell Operatic Society productions were not a financial success, and the venture was relatively short lived. In 1904 Craig left the country, disillusioned with his reception by the British public, never to live in Britain again.


The Purcell Operatic Society leaves a Cultural Legacy

However, The Purcell Operatic Society remains a historic landmark for culture and design, as Craig’s designs and productions went on to be highly influential on the Continent. His concepts of simplicity and clean lines were taken on by the Bauhaus movement, which in turn went on to influence European, British and American design from the 1930s onwards. This cultural legacy continues today, influencing the designers of the Apple Mac.


Muscial Legacy of the Purcell Operatic Society

Musically the Purcell Operatic Society introduced Purcell to the British public for the first time. He has continued to be a celebrated English composer ever since.


Further Reading


A Strange Eventful History - Michael Holryod - Chatto and Windus 2008
Gordon Craig –The Story of his Life - Edward Craig - Victor Gollanz 1968
Index to the Story of My Days - Edward Gordon Craig - Hulton Press 1957
Up to Now - Martin Shaw - Oxford University Press 1929


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