Revealing who Thomas Edward Bulch wasn’t? (Part 1)

Revealing who Thomas Edward Bulch wasn’t? (Part 1)

One of the fascinating things about researching a subject in significant depth is that you sometimes happen across something that may well not have been apparent previously. When this happens you need to make sure to a reasonable degree of comfort that you are correct, and then comes the uncomfortable job of challenging ‘common knowledge’ or ‘conventional thinking’ on the matter.

More often than not, you are not trying to disprove or undermine anything when you happen across such a discovery, it’s simply that you found out that something that was believed certain before, probably on the strength of the best information available at the time, may not be as it once seemed. I’d add that in uncovering new evidence it’s not always the case that the subject is diminished in any way, sometimes the new discovery make matters all the more incredible or mysterious.

We do know that Thomas Edward Bulch did, indeed, compose music under pseudonyms.

We have been given explanations for this, such as that he produced such a volume of work that he feared buyers would sicken of seeing his name. Though we do not know with any certainty if this is also a reason, there are also periods in his life where it may have suited him to write under pseudonyms for other reasons, such as during the First World War when we are told people suspected him of being of German ancestry. This misunderstanding possibly not helped by his music having been engraved, and printed, by the cutting edge print works that at that time were based in Leipzig, Germany. The music printing houses there were, in that era, producing some of the most impressive looking sheet music available, and were greatly respected for their attention to detail when rendering the hand scribed manuscript into printed form. It still cannot have been an ideal arrangement owing to the time it might take to mail the manuscript to Germany and to receive the printed works back to sell. I have to confess though that theory on a reason to use pseudonyms is a mere hypothesis on my own part and in many cases the dates of use of the names do not bear it out.

We also know, from what his grandson (our group’s Australian patron) Eric Tomkins tells us in his detailed family history research, that Thomas had a real love of clever wordplay. From this we have some explanations as to how and why he chose some of the pseudonyms he used; and this is further evidenced in some of the names of compositions that were quite personal to Thomas’s immediate family. The titles “Noralla” and “Myrine” for example, used under the pseudonym Henri Laski were composites created from parts of the names of people around him. For example “Myrine” uses parts of the names of Bulch’s daughters Adeline and Myrtle May.

We also know that Thomas Bulch was Henri Laski, not just because of this use of the family names, but because it is on occasion also clearly printed on the sheet music itself. In those cases, you may be forgiven for asking yourself “why bother, then, if you’re going to be overt about it?”

Without an explanation from the composer himself, that’s part of the mystery that remains; though part of the answer could conceivably be that Bulch seems to have given his pseudonyms their own musical personas. Henri Laski, for example seems far more predisposed to the romance of the waltz, for piano or violin, than to the militaristic marches and grand musical landscapes crafted by his master.

We also know that Thomas Bulch worked hard during his lifetime as an arranger and editor, for Allan’s, and also Palings, and at times for his own businesses. So it’s common to see his name close to the title of a work, alongside the name of another. Sometimes both names are his, which makes it difficult to ascertain with any certainty when he is editing the work of another, or of his own hand.

These days we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, literally, in the digital sense. Though when some of the long standing suppositions around Bulch’s various identities were first established that would certainly not have been the case. And in what I have discovered of late I have had to look at information relating to continents at opposite ends of the globe. Relatively easy now, but it’s not so long ago that it would have taken far more effort, should there even have been the will to challenge what was believed, and why would there be – it was all perfectly plausible.

Here, though, is what I have found out. Thomas Edward Bulch was not, as had been supposed, Carl Volti.

The name Carl Volti sounds so much like a name that a reputed wordsmith like Thomas Bulch would have chosen. It has the exotic air of foreignness rather like Henri Laski (which sounds both Polish and French), and of course the word ‘volti’ has a musical meaning – it is an instruction to turn the page (of music), often used with the term ‘subito’ meaning quickly.

I can’t even remember specifically how I first came across the revelation that Carl Volti was someone else – but it was entirely by accident. I had been searching in the British Newspaper Archives for references to Volti compositions having been performed in the British Isles and happened upon an article where the said Mr Volti had been conducting his orchestra in Scotland. Naturally this prompted something of a cartoon double-take, and my first thought was “Did Tom Bulch come back to England for a time?” Hunting around a little further I began to find more of the same, and the ‘penny dropped’.

The first thing to understand about Carl Volti is that it was not his real name, and that, rather like Thomas Bulch, n the Henri Laski case mentioned above, the real person behind Carl Volti does not seem to have been particularly bothered about the public knowing that fact, as we shall read. It seems to have been a ‘nom-de-plume’ and a ‘stage persona’ in equal measure.

Carl Volti was born Archibald Milligan in Glasgow on the 29th January 1848, which makes him a decade and a half older than Bulch. One source tells us that his father, and several uncles on his mother’s side, were fiddlers. One of them being George Hood who was at that time known as one of the best fiddlers in Scotland. We’re told that the young Archie was greatly influenced by his uncle’s visits to the Milligan house. His first instrument, reportedly, was the tin whistle. He and his friends started a whistle band, with Archibald being the leader and teacher. Having exhausted the possibilities of the tin whistle, Archibald’s father, James, had his old fiddle fixed up for the youngster, and upon it the first piece he learned was “The High Road To Linton”

Already we see similarities between Milligan and Bulch, in that both learned violin as youngsters and would come to compose for that instrument. Though revealed in a different context and execution it seems both were keen ‘whistlers’ too. Both also taught piano as this next evidence explains.

Volti/Milligan was a music teacher, and perhaps one with a curious sense of humour or mischief. In the Glasgow Evening Citizen of Friday 21 August 1868, both Archibald Milligan and Carl Volti are advertising their teaching services in the same column of the newspaper, the respective adverts being barely an inch apart. Milligan advertises as teaching piano, harmonium and violin at his address in Eglinton Street, While Volti requests that his prospective students enrol at 1 Renfield Street for violin and piano lessons. The addresses given aren’t too far apart, but interestingly they are on opposite sides of the River Clyde that cuts through the city.

This is possibly explained by an advert from the previous year, promoting one his (Volti’s) compositions. “The Citizen Galop. By Carl Volti. John B. Galbraith, 1 Renfield Street. This “sparkling galop” is increasing in popularity every day. Carl Volti, the talented composer, has written for the same publisher an excellent set of “lancers,” entitled the “Queen’s Lancers” which we believe, are second to none ever published. They are now in the press, and will he ready shortly. Maclure & Macdonald’s excellent portrait of the Queen will form the illustration of the title-page.” Presumably offering tuition both sides of the river would be better for business. Other promotional articles for the same piece proclaim Volti’s talent. “It is from the pen of Carl Volti, a young and rising composer, who thoroughly understands what is wanted in this class of music. The first part has great vivacity, and is well calculated to stir the feelings into that cheerfulness which ought always to be the aim of dance composers. The second part is finely subdued and modulated into a sweetly flowing strain, which cannot fail to , captivate all who come under its influence. It is easy to make any gallop pleasing if rendered by a good play; but the Citizen, even if under any moderate manipulation, will, we are sure, be not only welcomed.by all lovers of the, Terpsichorean art, but take a prominent place in the dancing parties of the coming season.”

As it happens, the publishing of “The Citizen Galop” was a milestone for both Archibald Milligan, and Carl Volti – and you could say 1867 was the year Carl Volti was born. An interview with Milligan in the Falkirk Herald of 17th November 1909 reveals a great deal about Volti’s origins, and confirms indisputably that Milligan was indeed Volti.

“Despite the wealth of melody that Scotland can call her own, there have been times (says writer in the “Weekly Welcome”) when it seemed as if our grand old airs were to be superseded by modern inventions, and allowed to be forgotten altogether. To-day there is little evidence of such a national calamity. We have again awakened the value of this heritage of song that our forefathers have bequeathed to us, and to no-one are we more indebted for reawakening the lore of Scottish music than Carl Volti.

His life-work has really been to foster a love for Scottish music, and his success can be well gauged by the popularity of his “Highland Wreaths” —a series of Scottish selections that is known to every amateur orchestra in the country, and which is called upon to provide items for the programme at every church social and Saturday evening concert from John o’ Groat’s to Galloway.

From his pen have come practically the only Scottish selections suitable for amateur bands, and it is often matter of comment amongst fiddlers that it should have been left to a foreigner perform such a valuable service to Scottish music.

Despite his cognomen, however, the gentleman in question is Glasgow boy born and bred, and has spent the last fifty years of his life teaching music within a few minutes walk from the Jamaica Bridge.

My, real name is Milligan,” remarked Carl Yolti in the course a crack I had with him the other day in connection with his work on behalf of Scottish music, but I was forced to change it to get the public interested my musical publications. It is rather amusing how I came call myself Volti. The first composition published, “The Undine Polka”, bore my own name, “A. Milligan”, but it was not a success. A music seller in the city suggested that the commonplace name of the composer was responsible for that, and advised me to publish under a nom-de-plume.

I thought the idea a good one, and started to manufacture a name on the spot. Noticing a copy Carl Czerny s 101 exercises for the piano standing on a desk, I asked him what he thought of Carl for a start. ‘Capital!’ he said. ‘But what next?’ ‘I don’t know; let’s try the musical dictionary.’ I picked up a copy that was lying on the counter, and went over the half of it without finding anything to please me. Impatiently turning to the last page the word ‘Volti’ caught my eye. ‘What you think of Volti?’ I cried. ‘Just the very thing. Carl Volti will be a splendid name.’

It was decided to use it for next composition, ‘The, Citizen Galop,’ and whether the name did it or not, this piece turned out a big success, and could be found in almost every house that had a piano.

“What led you think of the ‘Highland Wreath’ series?” I had an orchestra of my pupils, but I bad great difficulty in getting suitable selections for them, especially Scottish selections. There was not such a thing on the market. I arranged two selections. The first is now No. 3 of the “Highland Wreath” series, and includes “Auld Robin Gray” (my favourite Scottish air), “Charlie is my Darling”, etc., and the second is now No. 2 of the same series, which also includes another favourite air of mine, “O’ a’ the Airts”. To save pupils copying the manuscript, I endeavoured to have them printed. They were first of all refused by a Glasgow firm, and afterwards a London publisher undertook to publish two of them.

Ere many months elapsed I had a request for another nine numbers, to make a dozen in the series, and this was gradually added to till it now comprises forty-eight numbers. Of course, l am an ardent admirer of Scottish music, and have always made a point of fostering a similar love amongst pupils by teaching them, along with their other work, those grand old Scottish airs, our reels and strathspeys.

I have had pupils, though, who looked down upon such music. I met one recently. who told could not listen to “The Blue Bells of Scotland”, and I told him the “Blue Bells” would be blooming long after the grass was growing green over him.

“Music teaching has changed considerably since you had your first pupil, Mr Volti?” is now almost fifty years since I began teaching. There were few professors of the violin about then. The bulk of the fiddlers never thought of taking lessons, but were quite content to peg away themselves, and a great many of them could not read music. The tunes they learned by hearing them played by some other fiddler. As for ladies playing the fiddle it was quite out the question altogether.

Although Carl Volti is best known bv his orchestral arrangements of Scottish music, he has also done much to enrich its poetry, and only the other day he published a selection his poems, prefaced by some of his racy reminiscences as a fiddler. As a poet he has been honoured by the post of bard of the Carlton Burns Club, and as a water-colour painter is well known in Glasgow art circles, his pictures having decorated the walls of the premier West of Scotland exhibitions.”

Under the persona of Volti, Milligan seems to have been quite active on the musical performance circuit as a number of newspaper articles attest.

Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette – 25th Nov 1879 – At a concert in the Freeland School, Bridge-of-Weir, “The instrumental pieces were performed by Carl Volti, of Glasgow, and a select party of his advanced violin pupils, consisting of several violinists and one violincello.”

In 1881 Carl and his wife Sarah and children James, Sarah, Jessie and Archibald junior, are shown in the Scottish census as living at 77 South Portland Street in the Gorbals district of Glasgow, with his registered profession being that of ‘Teacher of Music’. He was also believed to have been at some time a hansom cab driver, possibly when teaching was less prosperous.

There has been something of a further show-business dimension to Carl Volti. In 1908 an article in the Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette of 24 Feb tells of “An excellent programme, arranged by the Animated Picture and Concert Company, was submitted at the Town Hall Concert on Saturday evening. The artistes were Carl Volti, Magician; Miss Crawford, soprano…..”

As a violinist, Volti was highly thought of, it seems. The Ayr Advertiser in March 1888 tells us “Orchestral Concert.—The celebrated violinist and composer, Carl Volti, accompanied by his Orchestra, numbering nearly twenty performers, paid their first to Kilbirnie on Monday evening, and gave one of their grand rehearsals of well-selected music in the Good Templars’ Hall. The large building was not as well filled as should have been notwithstanding the numerous entertainments that have recently taken place, but the mere mention Carl Volti might have been sufficient to have overcrowded the hall in any circumstance. The number present contained most of the leading magnates of the town, who showed their appreciation the various pieces by very hearty applause.”

The 1909/10 Post Office Directory for Glasgow lists the following under ‘TEACHERS (music)’ – “Volti, A Maurice, 20 Abbotsford PlaceVolti, Carl, 20 Abbotsford Place.” implying that someone else, possibly a family member, possibly not had also adopted the ‘Volti’ family name. The 1901 census shows that this Abbotsford Place address was the family home in the early 1900s and that by 1909 ‘Volti’s’ son, Archibald junior, would have been about 29, so quite possibly a candidate to be ‘A. Maurice Volti’; and that his occupation is that of ‘Violin Teacher’ practically confirms the fact. Volti, the father, is also listed around this time as a “Composer of Music”.

In 1909 Carl Volti wrote a book called “Reminiscences and Verses” (a copy of which is, at the time of writing this, available on Amazon from a seller in the United States for $161). A newspaper article from the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald in October that year read “Carl Volti has many friends in Ayreshire. All lovers of popular music are familiar with his compositions, if not with himself, and his reminiscences are certain to be welcomed in many quarters. The book contains a number of references to the author’s experiences in Ayreshire.” The article goes on to reveal a couple of humorous anecdotes from the book, and that Volti held the post of ‘bard’ of the Mother Lodge, Kilwinning. From this we know that he was a Freemason, as the Mother Lodge of Scotland is an ancient Lodge of Freemasons that dates back to the building of Kilwinning Abbey around the year 1140, the ruins of which still stand to the rear of the Lodge to this day.

Volti’s compositions were quite extensively published, particularly by the Glasgow based publisher James S Kerr. Though his pieces were available individually they also often featured in books featuring multiple tunes, of which Kerr published at least nine; “Kerr’s Collection of Merry Melodies for the Piano”, “Kerr’s First/Second/Third/Fourth Collections of Merry Melodies”, “Kerr’s Caledonian Collection”, “Kerr’s Collection of Reels and Strathspeys”, “Kerr’s Violin Instructor and Irish Folk-Song Album”, “Kerr’s Thistle Collection”, “Kerr’s Modern Dance Album”. More than 35 pieces by Volti are included in the first of those volumes.

Above – Glasgow towards the end of ‘the original’ Carl Volti’s days

According to the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 25 April 1932 ‘Carl Volti’ was still conducting, at that occasion the di Barry Orchestra at a concert at the Pooles Palace Cinema; an event so successful that ‘hundreds’ were turned away. Most of the mentions of Volti, as a conductor, in the press of the day have him before an orchestra rather than a brass band. Then according to the Dundee Courier of 22 Dec 1938, when he would have been around 90 years old, he is reportedly conducting at the Empress Ballroom in Dundee. The article states “…and thereafter the company danced to entertaining music by ‘Carl Volti’ and his London band, which will be the resident band at the ballroom. they proved to be a top notch combination”. That would have been some achievement for a man with nine decades behind him, would it not?

Now, all of this is quite intriguing, and as with all things ‘Volti’ all may not quite be as it seems. I say this as there has also been the following announcement in The Glasgow Herald of Tuesday January 7th 1919. Death notice:- “MILLIGAN.- At 20, Abbotsford Place, on 5th. inst., Archibald Milligan (Carl Volti), beloved husband of Sarah Sommerville.- Friends desirous will please meet cortège on Thursday, 2.40 p.m. at Southern Necropolis (South Wellington Street).”

This understanding is confirmed by the probate records from 1919 which communicate the following: “MILLIGAN, Archibald, (Carl Volti), 20 Abbotsford Place, Glasgow. Died 5th January 1919 at Glasgow, testate. Confirmation granted at Glasgow, 12th March, to Sarah Juliet Sommerville or Milligan, 20 Abbotsford Place, aforesaid, his widow, Executrix nominated in will or deed, dated 24th March 1893 and recorded in Court Books of Commissariot of Lanark 6 March 1919. Value of estate £1479, 16s 9d.”

What’s notable there is that his musical pseudonym is ‘officially’ recorded for the record. It seems to have been that much a part of his life and identity. He seems to have been ‘Carl Volti’ for most of his life.

Though the creator of ‘Carl Volti’, fiddler, teacher, composer, conductor, poet, magician, raconteur, freemason and family man, passed away over a decade before the above mentioned concert performances (and also a few years after the death of Thomas Bulch at the other side of the world) it seems that someone has decided that it was not yet quite time for the ‘character’ of ‘Carl Volti’ to leave this world. Was it his son, Archibald junior? It’s hard to tell. I’ve not been able to find further records for Archibald Milligan junior after the 1901 census.

So, I imagine you asking, how on earth did this particular case of mistaken identity come about.

I have my own theories, and will share them with you.

In the catalogue for the National Library of Australia’s ‘Trove’ site, I have found an item entitled “Kerr’s collection of latest dance music. Book VIII”. As with most of Carl Volti’s music this collection was published by James S Kerr of Glasgow – in this case in 1920 (the year after Volti’s death). You just need to have a quick glance through the contents of this 67 page book, which reads like a ‘who’s who’ of names associated with the Thomas Edward Bulch story.

1. “My Polly”: waltz on Rose Smith’s popular song /​ composed by Henry Laski ; arranged by Alfred C. Wood
2. “Adelina”: schottische /​ composed by Godfrey Parker ; arranged by Alfred C. Wood
3. “Ever True”: waltz /​ composed by D. Miller Wilson ; arranged by Alfred C. Wood
4. “The Village Festival”: march /​ Carl Volti
5. “The Cap and Bells”: polka /​ Rose Smith ; arr. by A.C. Wood
6. “Clarice”: mazurka /​ composed by Godfrey Parker ; arranged by Alfred C. Wood
7. “Myrine”: valse /​ Henri Laski ; arr. by Alfred C. Wood
8. “Tit Bits”: quadrille /​ C. d’Esteve ; arr. by Alfred C. Wood
9. “Les Militaires”: valse /​ composed by Rose Smith ; arranged by Alfred C. Wood
10. “Barn Dance”: /​ by Carl Volti
11. “The Blue Bell Polka”: /​ arranged by Alfred C. Wood ; composed by F. Stanley
12. “Dreams of The Past”: valse /​ arranged by Carl Volti ; composed by Charles Le Thiere
13. “The Melbourne”: march /​ Carl Volti
14. “The Australian Lily”: valse /​ arranged by Carl Volti ; composed by Leonard Gautier
15. “The Cyclist’s Polka”: /​ arranged by Alfred C. Wood ; composed by D.M. Wilson
16. “Nina”: valse /​ Alberto Zelman
18. “Thelma”: waltz /​ composed by Franz Garna ; arranged by Alfred C. Wood
19. “Flight from Pompeii”: galop /​ E. de Beaupuis
20. “Orynthia”: gavotte /​ Carl Volti
21. “Minuet (à l’antique)”: /​ E. de Beaupuis
22. “Assembly”: grand march /​ Carl Volti
23. “The Postman’s Parade”: quick march /​ T. E. Bulch
24. “Les Fleurs d’Australie”: valse /​ arranged by Tom Howard ; composed by Henri Laski
25. “Irresistible”: gavotte /​ E. de Beaupuis
26. “Verona”: valse /​ Alexander Law
27. “Sweet Dreams”: valse /​ composed by Rose Smith
28. “Happy Thoughts”: schottische /​ T. E. Bulch
29. “Jolly Hop”: polka /​ Jules Renardi.

Looking at this list you can see that Volti is the dominant featured composer, but items 23 and 28 are definitely Thomas Edward Bulch, and items 1 and 24 are Bulch in his persona of Henri Laski, then items 2 and 6 are also Bulch as Godfrey Parker. It’s a swirl of names. This is a book of violin compositions. We know Volti was most celebrated for his violin teaching and playing, but then Tom Bulch was also an excellent violin and piano player.

Item 12 is very interesting in that the name Charles Le Thierre has also been stated by sources in my research to be an occasional pseudonym of Thomas Bulch – in which case does this mean Volti (Milligan) arranged some of Bulch’s work (in Part 2 of this series of posts I will reveal more about that. Also, just who was Alfred C Wood, and how do Rose Smith, Henri Laski (Bulch) and he tie together. (I’ll look at that too in Part 2)

When I shared my earliest findings on the fact that Volti and Bulch were not ‘one and the same’ with Tom Bulch’s grandson (and our group’s Australian patron) Eric Tomkins he had a theory that some of the composer names supposed to be Bulch’s were actually violinists or pianists, and not in their own right associated with the brass band movement or producing works for brass band (to which I agree I have not found anything of such nature) and that perhaps the T E Bulch connection was that he arranged the pieces by these composers for brass band. We know of course that Bulch was talented and diligent editor and arranger and was employed by music publishers in Australia in that capacity. It’s possible even that in arranging pieces for brass and applying the additional scope for polyphony that this brings a composer like Bulch might have been able to introduce touches that were personal to his own style making some of the pieces feel more reminiscent of his own work as well as that of the original composer.

Looking down the list of compositions we have noted previously under the assumption of being Bulch as Volti we see “Humours of Donnybrook”, “Militaire”, “The Fair Maid of Perth” (which on first glance could have equally been a piece with Australian, or Scots, origin), “Prince Charlie” – all evidenced as performed by brass bands across Australia. It seems the most plausible conclusion that Bulch played a part in bringing these pieces to life for brass band. Were Volti/Milligan himself to have achieved this it might have been expected to have found more brass band references to these pieces across the British Isles and specifically Scotland, and I have found little in this respect so far. Important to note, however, that there is plenty of evidence to make clear that Volti did have the skill to arrange for orchestra. There are published pieces he arranged.

Whatever the case, Thomas Edward Bulch was not, as had been supposed, Carl Volti. But, as I set out by saying, I don’t feel that this revelation diminishes Bulch in any way. If anything perhaps we are closer to understanding one more thing about the life of Thomas Bulch. When Eric write back to me he had said: “One thing which puzzles me is that the dates on the newspaper are the period Thomas was living in Shildon. I feel he would have known about the name of Volti as a composer so why would he use it himself”.

Perhaps Eric is right, and perhaps Thomas had seen, and possibly played the music of Carl Volti either on the piano or violin at home in Shildon as a boy or young man. After all Volti’s first published works, from 1867, would have been available when Tom Bulch was 6 or 7 years old. We don’t know that, but if it were to prove true, how great that by 1920 Bulch’s own works and those of his genuine pseudonyms were considered good enough to have featured in compiled albums of compositions, and published by the same publisher even though Tom Bulch found himself at the opposite end of the world to Volti?

Eric wrote to me after I initially published this article and added the following which warrants inclusion here: “My research into my grandfathers life was influenced by the conversations I had with my father and my aunts. One conversation with my father was about Thomas Jr. meeting my father after a band practice for a composition his father was asked to see what he could do to make it work. This story was checked once I had a computer to see if was true and I included it in the family history. The interesting bit that puzzled me was the comment that Thomas Jr. made, if my father quoted it correctly, was “He is always doing this and gets no recognition for it”. Taking the quote as correct is it a reference to his father being the ghost arranger for others music. No name of arranger appears on Carl Volti’s music and from your research brass band composition does not fit his musical talent.”

One more note on Carl Volti; many of his compositions had a distinctly Scots flavour to the title, but among them is ‘Craigielea Polka’. Those that have been keenly following the story so far, and know something of Thomas Bulch will know that Bulch (under the pen name of Godfrey Parker) created Criagielee the march – the very march that would be used as the music for “Waltzing Matilda”. Here’s a thought then; given that the identities of Bulch and Volti/Milligan have been so confused, understandably through their having been published by the same publisher, is it perhaps possible that Thomas Edward Bulch heard the tune through ‘Volti’s’ polka and adapted it? I don’t think we’ll ever know – but if that were to be the case then perhaps in one small way Bulch and Volti still have more common ground than I had started to believe?

Published by Dave Reynolds

Dave was born in 1968 and is a Senior Business Analyst for a UK telecommunications company. He is also a design graduate, amateur historian and multi-instrumentalist.

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