XII DARMSTADT INTERNATIONAL CHOPIN PIANO COMPETITION

21.10.2022 – 31.10.2022

A reproduction of a fragment of a picture depicting Chopin painted by Ludomir Sleńdziński (1951?)
The Eighteenth Century Orangery, Darmstadt

XII Darmstadt International Chopin Piano Competition

Awards Ceremony and Prizewinners’ Concert

After nine days of competition for prizes totaling €30,000, the six main prize winners played a celebratory final concert. On the program: solo piano works by Chopin and improvisation

For detailed information about this concert which took place on
October 31st at the Orangerie, Darmstadt at 19.00

https://chopin-gesellschaft.de/events/event/xii-darmstadt-international-chopin-piano-competition-prizewinners-concert/

Running assessment of the Competition

Shigeru Kawai piano is used exclusively

Official Results of the Competition

A First Prize was not awarded

Second Prize ex aequo:
Mateusz Tomica (Poland) Vojtech Trubach (Czech Republic)
Vojtech Trubach (Czech Republic) and Mateusz Tomica
Third Prize: Andrey Zenin (Russia)
‘The Boys’ : Trubach, Zenin and Tomica about to do a Cossack Dance – great camaraderie among participants
Fourth Prize: Da Jin Kim (South Korea)

Fifth Prize: Fantee Jones (USA/Taiwan)

Sixth Prize: Zvjezdan Vojvodic (Croatia)

Prize for the Best Mazurkas: Mateusz Tomica (Poland)

Prize for the Best Improvisation: Andrey Zenin (Russia)
The Prize Winners
From Lt. Mateusz Tomica, Vojtech Trubac, Andrey Zenin, Da Jin Kim, Fantee Jones, Zvjezdan Vojvodic
From Lt. Martin Kasik, Kevin Kenner (announcing the Prize Winners), Alexander Kobrin
The Jury Chair Kevin Kenner announcing the Prize Winners. Alexander Kobrin on the right

I anticipated this result but felt the missing First Prize award was, with all the best intentions, an error of public relations rather than music. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire competition as I met on unexpectedly intense terms, some of the most outstanding professors, teachers and pianists of my generation.

I simply reflected that for the conventional music-lover, not awarding a First Prize to any candidate in this competition indicated that none of them were sufficiently outstanding to deserve a First Prize. This is not entirely true for me as interpretation has become increasingly standardized of late, but then I am neither a musicologist nor professor of music, simply a literary author and lecturer who studied the piano and harpsichord seriously. I must try and make the candidates ever so slightly less deadly serious about their competitive task. Life is to take joy from as well as to study hard.

I felt the inclusion of an improvisation stage was a rare and profitable musical excursion for young pianists into a world completely familiar to a composer-pianist such as Fryderyk Chopin and many other great composers before and after him.

Finals

WORKS FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Saturday, 29.10. and Sunday, 30.10.2022,  
18:00-21:00
Orangerie, Bessunger Str. 44

Works for Piano and Orchestra by Chopin
Piano Concerto in F minor, op. 21

The orchestral part was performed by the Polish string quartet
„Apollon Musagète Quartet“ and Sławomir Rozlach, double bass.

The following candidates advanced to the
Third and Final Concerto Stage

No.Name
16Jones, Fantee – USA/Taiwan
17Kim, Da Jin – South Korea
39Tomica, Mateusz – Poland
41Trubac, Vojtech – Czech Republic
42Vojvodic, Zvjezdan – Croatia
48Zenin, Andrey – Russia

As the modest competition reviewer, I feel I really must say a few personal words about how highly enjoyable this competition has turned out to be.

The pleasure and joy of making music in the name of Fryderyk Chopin by these highly talented candidates is tangible in their obvious camaraderie and intense group motivation. The members of the distinguished jury, all eminent professors, are a delight to know and work in perfect co-operation and friendliness – added to which their respect for the candidates is unbounded and their integrity beyond question. This is all quite apart from the social pleasure of staying and eating together leavened by a shared sense of exuberant humour and companionship. The organisation has been flawless under the guiding and tireless hand of Jill Rabenau, Executive Vice President and Competition Director of the Chopin-Gesellschaft in Darmstadt.

Michael Moran (Reviewer’s Notebook) and Jill Rabenau, Executive Vice President
Competition Director of the Chopin-Gesellschaft in Darmstadt.
From Lt. Jill Rabenau (Executive Vice-President), Stanisław Leszczyński (Artistic Director of the National Fryderk Chopin Institute), Agnieszka Kłopocka (Assistant to Stanisław Leszczyński) Kevin Kenner (Chair of the Jury)

The competition takes place in the magnificent surroundings of the eighteenth century Orangery, a small palace built in 1721 by Remy de la Fosse in a baroque garden as winter quarters for orange trees. At present it is late autumn in Darmstadt but we are immersed in an Indian summer of sun, warmth and in addition are working in a glorious venue. The fine XII International Chopin Piano Competition is organized by the Chopin-Gesellschaft in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland E.V. who are celebrating their 50th anniversary.

The Orangery, Darmstadt – Venue for the XII International Chopin Competition

A reminder of the Jury members 2022

Kevin Kenner (USA, Chair)

Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń (BUL/PL)

Dina Yoffe (LET)

Alexander Kobrin (USA)

Christopher Elton (GB)

Martin Kasik (CZ)

Sabine Simon (D)

Aleksandra Mikulska (PL / D) President of the Chopin-Gesellschaft

The Jury and the Audience at the Final Round III Concerto Section
From Lt. Alexander Kobrin, Christopher Elton, Aleksandra Mikulska, Martin Kasik, Dina Yoffe, Sabine Simon,Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń, Kevin Kenner

* * * * * * * * *

Reviews of Round III

The „Apollon Musagète Quartet“

Paweł Zalejski (violin)

Bartosz Zachłod (violin)

Piotr Skweres (Gennaro Gagliano
cello from 1741)

Słowomir Rozlach (double bass)

Piotr Szumieł (viola) 

One of the world’s finest string quartets, the Apollon Musagète Quartet was founded by four Polish artists in 2006, in Vienna

All the candidates decided to play the

Chopin F minor concerto Op.21 with the Quintet

The return of squads of Polish army from Wierzbno to Warsaw (1831)

Marcin Zaleski (1796-1877)

First of all, a few notes on the Chopin Concerto in F-minor Op.21

This concerto, the first Chopin wrote, follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillante of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles or Ries. Here in this early work, Chopin magically transforms the Classical into the Romantic style. The work itself was written 1829-30. As we all know by now,  this concerto was inspired by Chopin’s infatuation, or was it youthful love, for the soprano Konstancja Gładkowska..Strangely it was published a few years later with a dedication to Delfina Potocka.

The first performance of his first piano concerto took place for a group of friends in the Chopin family drawing room at the Krasiński Palace on March 3, 1830. Karol Kurpiński, the Polish composer and pedagogue, conducted a chamber ensemble. One must remember that contemporary full orchestral forces were rare in the performance of concertos in Warsaw in the early 19th century.

The outer movements revolve like two glittering, enchanted planets around the moonlit, sublime melody of the central Larghetto movement, a nocturnal love song inspired by the soprano Konstancja Gładowska, Chopin’s object of distant sensual fascination whom he would soon leave in Poland. The well-known conflict of duty to one’s career and love. Liszt regarded the movement as ‘absolute perfection‘. Zdzisław Jachimecki, a Polish historian of music, composer and professor at the Jagiellonian University regarded it as ‘one of the most beautiful pages of erotic poetry of the nineteenth century.’

Versions for the concerto for chamber ensemble, such as this evening arranged by Kevin Kenner, were easier to assemble, less expensive and far more common. Our music world is comparatively overwhelmed with riches in terms full orchestra availability and such a multiplicity of recordings.

Fantee Jones

Maestoso

I was immediately struck by the intimate, chamber music impact of this concerto played on reduced forces. The richness of sound of this ensemble.

The opening  Maestoso (quite a favourite stylistic indication in Chopin) was noble, even rhapsodic and considered with inner musical logic and coherence. Expressive and compositional details were placed as if under a magnifier and were never lost in the orchestral sound. In this movement there was a fine sense of youthful excitement and thoughtful keyboard exhibitionism, just as Hummel had laid the groundwork.

Jones seemed rather transformed tonight and I found more expressive than in her previous rounds. Quite passionate and committed without hectic tempi and dynamics. The solo violin counterpoint and devoted cello playing emerged as affecting, highly musical instrumental reductions of the orchestra. The fiorituras were perfect embellishments, seamlessly incorporated into the melodic lines. The L H counterpoint was inspiringly clear. A sense of youthful urgency pervaded the movement and Jones seemed emotionally transported by the music.

Larghetto

The opening on pure minimalist strings was intimately moving. The glorious melody rose over us like an aria or nocturne of love. Jones phrasing was sensitive and she created a seductive tone colour. There was much affecting cantabile and the fiorituras were graceful, elegant and grew as an organic part of the melody. I felt her playing of this movement rather a revelation. There were authentic feelings of yearning for an inaccessible love here, a sensitive sense of longing. Dynamic variations were moving and persuasive, particularly when the longing turns to the resentment of the unrequited lover but subsides again in nuances of pianissimo resignation to grim, rather sad reality. The pizzicato on the double bass was rather ominous and suggestive of hidden forces at work.In many ways you could say that the whole work revolves around this movement.

I always think of the sentiments contained in the 1820 poem by John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci when I hear this music with its passionate interjections

I met a lady in the meads,

       Full beautiful—a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

       And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,

       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;

She looked at me as she did love,

       And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,

       And nothing else saw all day long,

For sidelong would she bend, and sing

       A faery’s song.

That final forty-note fioritura of longing played molto con delicatezza always carries me away into Chopin’s dreamy Romantic poetical world. Jones phrasing was most poetic.

Allegro vivace

 

The Kujawiak

In this ebullient movement she brought the sensual expression of the style brillante to lifeThere was energy, virtuosity and drive in this Rondo  final movement, composed in the exuberant style of a kujawiak dance. She had already demonstrated this energy in previous rounds. There was an eruption of youthful style brillante which broke over us like the waves of the sea. It may even have been somewhat too up tempo. The col legno on the strings was most effective in expressiveness. The great Polish musicologist and pedagogue Mieczyław Tomaszewski writes of it:

A different kind of dance character – swashbuckling and truculent – is presented by the episodes, which are scored in a particularly interesting way. The first episode is bursting with energy. The second, played scherzando and rubato, brings a rustic aura. It is a cliché of merry-making in a country inn, or perhaps in front of a manor house, at a harvest festival, when the young Chopin danced till he dropped with the whole of the village. The striking of the strings with the stick of the bow, the pizzicato and the open fifths of the basses appear to show that Chopin preserved the atmosphere of those days in his memory.

How Chopin must have loved the bucolic nature of the Polish countryside and its music! The Chopin extension of the Hummel piano concerto was here fully realized. Melody and bravura figuration were wonderfully and authoritatively brought off with a balance of formal structure. At times, however, I did hope for more expressiveness as I feel her fine articulation needs to breathe more in her phrasing to create its full effect. This composition that lies between Mozart and the flowering of the style brillante was clearly created as were the gestures towards the concertos of Weber (following the splendid horn Cor de signal but tonight on the viola whose uniqueness always causes a smile). Fine technical delivery at the keyboard, tone and touch and a rather expressive conclusion of the dazzling coda concluded an excellent performance.

Da Jin Kim

Maestoso

I do encourage you to read of the genesis of the concerto in the previous review as I do not wish to repeat myself.

This rich and eloquent quintet began their reduced orchestral introduction with intense commitment. I have praised the actual refined and crystalline sound this pianist produced throughout the competition and it was similar here. This diminutive figure seemed to sculpt her phrases with rare musical insight. I found that her phrasing, rubato, tone, touch and use of silence resulted in a great poetic heightening effect. She was particularly sensitive to a musical phrase evolving with its own internal life. This is of significant importance in the creation of a true yet not superficial style brillante and bringing together the structure of this noble movement into a coherent whole. She does not rush but carefully builds the drama. The L.H. counterpoint was particularly attractive as she sings that melody at the keyboard. The only reservation I had was that the intensity of the communication of her ideas did not always wrap me with attention.

Larghetto

Her pianistic qualities and musical gifts were eminently suitable for this movement so imbued with the yearning of unfulfilled love. Delicate, graceful and intimate tone and touch in addition to an expanded time scale gave this movement rare qualities. There was a feeling of awaiting doom in the pizzicato  on the double bass. Again, however, I felt my attention slipping away slightly during the rather slow tempo she adopted.

Allegro vivace

In this movement, whose Rondo  has a very specific Polish element of dance, rhythm and drive, I felt an inability to project her involvement with these qualities. I felt that there was a bucolic and physical exuberance missing here in the rhythm although her tone and keyboard articulation remained brilliant. Not many pianists in the competition had a strong feeling for the Chopin period style, panache and élan of the Polish dance rhythms – mazurka, waltz and in this case, the kujawiak. May I just requote Tomaszewski on this movement:

A different kind of dance character – swashbuckling and truculent – is presented by the episodes, which are scored in a particularly interesting way. The first episode is bursting with energy. The second, played scherzando and rubato, brings a rustic aura. It is a cliché of merry-making in a country inn, or perhaps in front of a manor house, at a harvest festival, when the young Chopin danced till he dropped with the whole of the village. The striking of the strings with the stick of the bow, the pizzicato and the open fifths of the basses appear to show that Chopin preserved the atmosphere of those days in his memory.

This was a superbly refined performance of great aristocratic detachment which I appreciated greatly. However, I kept wondering about the absence of the bucolic and rather fun-filled nature of Chopin’ s youth – an actor, mimic, practical joker, satirist in print and sketches, writer of energetic style brillante compositions, playing dance music into the small hours, yearning for love….

Mateusz Tomica

I do encourage you to read of the genesis of the concerto in the previous review as I do not wish to repeat myself.

Maestoso

The opening was again in a noble and certainly Maestoso tempo with again a superb solo violin. I felt Tomica to be more ‘solid’, self-confident perhaps, in his phrasing and melodic line. I felt a degree of individuality I could not  identify in the other candidates. There were a few blemishes and solecisms but he also he developed a close rapport, both emotive and musical, with the quintet (perhaps because he is Polish and so are they). This was a particularly noticeable comparison with the other candidates this evening who were more ‘distant’ from the quartet. I felt his whole approach was more dramatic, idiomatically ‘Polish’ and felt what Chopin remarked that ‘….in otherwise excellent performances, the Polish element was missing.’ Not in this case. There seemed to be far more driving energy than in the other performances.

Larghetto

Here I felt he could have been far more lyrical and poetic in his expressive range – something this movement requires, being as it is the focus of the entire concerto. However, he did nicely cultivate the fiorituras into meaningful emotionally expressive and ornamental sentiments within the melodic line. Period sensibility was at times charmingly in evidence. The whole movement was balanced and well structured.

Allegro vivace

Tomica developed an energetic and rather refreshingly muscular dance rhythm in the kujawiak. Perhaps his tone did not sparkle as brightly as the style brillante requires but it was foot-tappingly lively in essence. I felt they all had a heartfelt and physical appreciation of this dance rhythm which is so irresistible under the right fingers in this movement. Excellent driving energy. The entire ensemble play so well together, integrated as they all are by temperament including the composer. The Apollon Musagète Quartet with Słowomir Rozlach (double bass) were in fine form.

Wojtech Trubac

For the interpretation of concerto, do read my historical and cultural notes above for Festee Jones.

Maestoso

After the always moving introduction by the Quintet, I felt Trubac entered at just the right noble, Maestoso  tempo that Chopin may have had in mind. I felt his piano tone on the Kawai  blended well with the rather mahogany sound of this ensemble. I felt he created well-judged dynamic variations as the emotion and passion heightened, following the quintet and communicating well with them. As I listened I could not help reflecting on the extraordinary skill of Chopin to offer the audience exactly what they wanted and still want musically.  A painting of the emotional landscape of a young man. I felt Trubec was familiar and in control of the piano part with the lyricism well balanced with bravura playing. He had a strong sense of structure and the style brillante left nothing to be desired.

Larghetto

I felt his approach to be sensitive, lyrical and poetic in feeling for this seductive melody. I found the simplicity of his playing of this movement most affecting, ‘simplicity’ being a quality Chopin admired above almost all others. Musically his fine legato  allowed the melodic line to move forward naturally, sketching an eloquent aesthetic arc. His tone and touch were never harsh or rough and I admired  his finely cultivated poignant and expressive arabesques when introducing the fiorituras. They were often caressed with love into ardent gestures. The counterpoint melody on the cello (a favourite instrument of Chopin) was so moving. The doubts that beset one when in love rose inexorably. The string tremolos of emotional agitation, above which the piano sings, were most affecting. This focal movement of the concerto was most satisfying for me.

Allegro vivace

This fiendishly difficult, long Rondo movement emerged with Trubac as a joyful kujawiak dance where the phrases blended seamlessly into one another. Again the col legno on the strings was touching with such reduced forces. The hunting cor de signal transferred from a solo horn to the viola was quite successful. I liked very much his style brillante and optimistic rhythms that pressed forward with an impetus all their own. The audience clearly admired this rhythmic drive. The Chopin aesthetic comes naturally to Trubac and I admired his expressive variation in dynamics.

Zvjezdan Vojvodic

Maestoso

Fine, astonishing, intense but naturally still youthful playing as one might expect from a lad of nineteen. I found his communication of inner detail and transparency ‘inside’ the piece remarkable as was his L.H. counterpoint. His execution of this complex movement tended to be uneven on occasion and small errors from nervousness and inexperience crept in, but this was an astonishing demonstration of musical and pianistic preciosity. Vojvodic is only slightly younger than Chopin’s age when he wrote the work. Here we have a remarkable developing talent who has already been rewarded with a place in the finalists line-up.

Larghetto

I found it surprising that such a young talent has such a poetic insight into this movement, but then again Chopin wrote it when he was much the same age. I noticed also that Vojvodic had an excellent and quite emotional connection with the chamber musicians. The eloquent fiorituras were touched with romantic yearning and the variation in dynamics and dynamic contrast built up a coherent picture of the romance and sentiments that Chopin intended to convey.

Allegro vivace

I was again astonished at this precocious talent and his command of the keyboard in this long challenging Rondo. He is certainly on the way to developing an individual voice, even if a few errors crept into this energetic, demanding movement. I felt he possessed a perceptive understanding of the musical gestures and phrases that imbue this Allegro vivace with its irresistible momentum. He seemed rather possessed by the music at times and already has a command of the style brillante with his digital facility and strength. As long as he can control and moderate the impatience of youth and work consistently,  allowing his talents to grow organically and unforced in time as in Nature, all will be well to outstanding!

Andrey Zenin

Maestoso

From the beginning of Round I I felt this pianist was possessed of an authority in his playing most of the others had not yet achieved. This became evident too in Round II in the Boléro and the Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31.

With this fine and passionately committed quartet he also made a significant musical impact in the concerto. Perhaps understandable nervousness caused his first entry to be slightly early but this was  soon forgotten as he began to present Chopin as a ‘grand maître’ of the instrument. His high virtuoso, noble and majestic style of presentation does suit this opening Maestoso movement well. He maintained a strong internal pulse throughout but I felt his expressiveness occasionally wanting in the grand flourishes of this passionate writing. He has great authority in his playing.

Larghetto

He was not tempted, as many pianists are, to sentimentalize the glorious love theme of this movement. His phrasing brought occasional gestures of sweet tenderness to the Larghetto. This made the eruption of the mood change all the more disturbing and appropriately violent, imbued as it is with that untranslatable Polish emotion of żal. The resonant double bass gave an under-carpet of potential doom to the sunny, untroubled lyricism of young love winging above the turmoil of ‘reality’ which I found quite unsettling.

The ensemble clearly felt a rather close connection with his phrasing and they worked together in quite a symbiotic relationship. The transparency of Chopin’s writing is so clear with the smaller ensemble (the brilliant cello ‘playing’ a number of the transcribed orchestral instruments). The polyphony and counterpoint evolve into a pianistic  Adagio mood that may well have moved Mozart.

Allegro vivace

This movement was played with great style and impressive virtuosity but for me missed some of the essential qualities of the style brillante. This style was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity,  precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls.  Although brilliantly played, these qualities were not present with Zenin in this Rondo for me. Naturally the movement can be played in this accomplished virtuoso and effective manner, if this is your view of Chopin. As I have said many times, everyone has their ‘own Chopin’ and will defend it to the death. I can think of no other composer than perhaps Bach that elicits such hotly defended views! There was powerful, authoritative, irresistible forward impetus here and a feeling of ‘pressing on’ but the expressive gestures were somewhat limited in scope. Overall, a triumphal and well formed interpretation of the concerto that was most impressive.

 

Jill Rubenau and Andrej Zenin

Round II

Reviews of Round II Candidates

Anton Drozd – Ukraine

a) Polonaise-Fantaisie A flat-major op. 61

Again I make no apology for repeating my introduction to this and other works as such background facts do not change although the interpretative approach by various pianists is always completely different. Once mentioned I shall not repeat the genesis of a work when it appears again in the competition.

The Polonaise-Fantaisie contains all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. This work, the first in the so-called ‘late style’ of the composer, was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He laboured over its composition. What emerged is one of his most complex of his works both pianistically and emotionally. Chopin produced many sketches for the Polonaise-Fantaisie and wrestled with the title. He had written: ‘I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’. This uncertainty indicates surely he was embarking on a journey of compositional exploration along untrodden paths. Even Bartok one hundred years later was shocked at its revolutionary nature. The work is an extraordinary mélange of genres and styles in a type of inspired improvisation that yet maintains a magical absolute musical coherence and logic. He completed it in August 1846.  

The opening tempo is marked maestoso (as with his two concerti)which indicates ‘with dignity and pride’. I was impressed with Drozd’s deliberate phrasing of the opening, the dreamlike, poetic fantasy of his opening phrases of considered expressive emotion contrasted with the passionate expression which immediately sets the atmosphere. I felt the piece was being searched for and discovered as a type of improvisation which I feel it needs. The invention fluctuates as if with the irregular circulation of the heart and the blood. Some passages were rather rushed in their urgency and the considered musical narrative was at times uneven.

However, I felt Drozd had touched many polyphonic and normally concealed expressive structures and was moved as ever by this remarkable music. His bravura playing suffered technical limitations and solecisms. There is much rich counterpoint and polyphony to be explored here (of which Chopin was one of the greatest masters since Bach). This work also conveys a strong sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. Yes, a complex work for a young man to master, written when Chopin was moving towards the cold embrace of death. 

b) Impromptu G sharp major op. 51

I feel this work carries an atmosphere of elegance, refinement and the grace of another age, possibly that of the Parisian salons Chopin inhabited – yet is not in the slightest degree superficial. Perhaps Drozd could have introduced more of a feeling of spontaneity and shifting moods (albeit of a restrained type) and even more invention ‘on the spot’ (the choice of title ‘Impromptu’ surely indicates such an aspect of interpretation).

André Gide, who was also a fine pianist as well as a writer, wrote affectingly of the impromptus in his  Notes on Chopin :

 ‘What is most exquisite and most individual in Chopin’s art, wherein it differs most wonderfully from all others, I see in just that non-interruption of the phrase; the insensible, the imperceptible gliding from one melodic proposition to another, which leaves or gives to a number of his compositions the fluid appearance of streams.’ 

I liked the whimsical feeling Drozd gave to the work and the improvisational atmosphere that overlaid his conception.

c) Rondo E flat major op. 16

The essential nature of the style brilliant of which the Rondo is representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists outside of those living in Poland. Perhaps I am hopelessly wrong. The style involves a bright light touch and glistening tone, varied shimmering colours, supreme clarity of articulation, in fact much like what was referred to in French as the renowned jeu perlé. There are also vital expressive elements of charm, grace, taste and elegance.

One must not forget that Chopin astonished Vienna by his pianism but perhaps even more by the elegance of his princely appearance. The limpid, untroubled and joyful nature of the early polonaises, mazurkas, rondos,  sets of variations  on  Polish  themes  and  piano  concertos were written in this virtuosic  style brillante fashionable  in Warsaw. This style was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity,  precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls. These works could only have been composed in a state of happiness and youthful ‘sweet sorrows’ living in his native land.

However this interpretation was not entirely the style brillante as I understand it. The many fiorituras were not always presented as decorative Venetian lace, the hand and touch rather too focused on bravura than cultured refinement, charm and affected elegance. Even though brilliantly performed, the work was somewhat stylistically inaccurate for me. In this work by Chopin the young man, I felt we needed more of the grace, elegance and refinement that lies within this style brillante piece that I feel has no deeper intention than to entertain the listener with beauty in the most civilized and sophisticated manner we can imagine.

d) Waltz C sharp minor op. 64/2

I found this familiar piece approached in a particularly attractive and unique manner at a slow tempo. It appeared veiled as if in a remembered dream in a ballroom that honoured it as a guest.

e) Polonaise G flat major op. posth.

‘Chopinek’ composed his first Polonaise at the age of seven. The nineteenth-century poet and critic Kazimierz Brodziński defined the dance:

The polonaise  breathes  and paints the whole national  character; the music of this dance, while admitting much art, combines something  martial with a sweetness marked  by the simplicity  of manners of an agricultural people . . . Our fathers danced it with a marvellous  ability  and  a gravity  full  of  nobleness;  the  dancer, making gliding steps with energy, but without skips, and caressing his moustache, varied his movements  by the position of his sabre, of his cap, and of his tucked-up coat sleeves, distinctive signs of a free man and a warlike citizen.

A clear distinction must be made between these early polonaises which were far more of a dance genre than an angry, militaristic atmosphere of resentment, vengefulness, regret and that untranslatable Polish term żal so applicable to much of Chopin’s later music. Drozd gave us a delightful energetic statement, but the impulsive, youthful nationalism of the work was slightly rushed at times.

Balazs Fazekas – Slovakia

a) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera Ludovic. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

His tone was rounded and clear and his touch light, stylish and refined. Excellent qualities for the Chopinesque style brillante in these Variations.

 

Ferdinand Hérold  (1791-1833)

b) Polonaise G sharp minor op. posth.

I found his approach to this piece rather charming with his bright tone and elegant touch. In this rarely performed work. the rhythm he maintained was infective and gave rise to the urge to dance.

c) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

I found his presentation of the work slightly rushed but perfectly acceptable in terms of a feeling of improvised spontaneity.

d) Fantaisie-Impromptu C sharp minor op.66

The romantic emotions inseparable from this familiar work were held back for some reason especially in the lyrical central cantabile  song.

e) Scherzo B minor op. 20

A strong and convincing declamatory opening. Frederick Niecks quotes Robert Schumann who wrote of the Chopin Scherzos (the Italian word scherzo meaning ‘joke’) ‘How is ‘gravity’ to clothe itself if ‘jest’ goes about in dark veils?’. I found this account fittingly mercurial with good L H counterpoint and transparent polyphony. The lyrical section was finely legato and had much affecting phrasing. There was an eruption of żal (an untranslatable concept used often in relation to Chopin – moments passionately lyrical, then introspective, then expressing that characteristic Polish bitterness, passion and emotionally-laden disturbance of the psyche – melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate)

Adam Gozdziewski – Poland

a) Sonata in C minor op. 4 (Movments I & II)

The decision of the organizers in favour of the first sonata in C minor forced them to exclude from the repertoire the two famous sonatas in B minor and B-flat minor due to time limitations. This decision was not taken lightly.

 

The Young Chopin

This work was written by Fryderyk Chopin in 1828. It was written during Chopin’s time as a student with Józef Elsner, to whom the sonata is dedicated. Despite having a low opus number, the sonata was not published until 1851 by Tobias Haslinger in Vienna, two years after Chopin’s death. This work is unaccountably for me considered to be a less sophisticated work. It is considered less musically advanced than the later sonatas, and is thus far less frequently performed and recorded.

The sonata has four movements of which we heard the first two. I very much enjoyed hearing these two movements. Chopin only ever wrote one Minuet. Gozdziewski made it formally quite acceptable and respectable to be a work in the repertoire.

Allegro maestoso

Menuetto

Larghetto

Finale: Presto

b) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

This work written in 1828 rests on the cusp of change. It shows Chopin beginning to introduce personal moods and emotions into his work and move away from conventional expressions in the shackles of previous forms and genres. This Polonaise seems to be one of the documents of an imminent breakthrough. It was composed in the virtuosic style brillante. Really it is a piece of chamber music for an intimate room. As Frederick Niecks noted, in Chopin’s music from that time ‘The bravura character is still prominent, but, instead of ruling supreme, it becomes in every successive work more and more subordinate to thought and emotion’. This work admirably reconciles the conventional with the original, the coquetry of the salons with the approaching Romantic watershed (Tomaszewski)

Gozdziewski gave an excellent account of the work even if lacking slightly in finesse and sense of period style.

c) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

A string sense of improvisation was obvious here but I still felt it was not quite spontaneous enough to contribute the feeling of ‘on the spot’ invention. These are not grand serious works but lighter salon or chamber pieces to uplift the spirits – and none the worse for that.

d) Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60. It was a fine performance but without great personal distinction and could have been a little more spontaneous as the moods fluctuate and take hold on this romantic excursion across the lagoon or bay.

Fantee Jones – USA/ Taiwan

a) Ballade A flat major op. 47

In the music of the A flat major Ballade, which unfolds a dizzying array of events, attempts have been made to discern and identify the separate motifs, characters and moods. Two possible sources of inspiration have been inferred. Interestingly, they can be reduced to a common, supremely Romantic, denominator. Schumann was captivated by the very ‘breath of poetry’ emanating from this Ballade. Niecks heard in it ‘a quiver of excitement’. ‘Insinuation and persuasion cannot be more irresistible,’ he wrote, ‘grace and affection more seductive’. In the opinion of Jan Kleczyński, it is the third (not the second) Ballade that is ‘evidently inspired by Adam Mickiewicz’s  Undine. That passionate theme is in the spirit of the song “Rusalka.” The ending vividly depicts the ultimate drowning, in some abyss, of the fated youth ‘in question’.

A different source is referred to by Zygmunt Noskowski: ‘Those close and contemporary to Chopin’, he wrote in 1902, ‘maintained that the Ballade in A flat major was supposed to represent Heine’s tale of the Lorelei – a supposition that may well be credited when one listens attentively to that wonderful rolling melody, full of charm, alluring and coquettish. Such was surely the song of the enchantress on the banks of the River Rhine’, ends Noskowski, ‘lying in wait for an unwary sailor – a sailor who, bewitched by the seductress’s song, perishes in the river’s treacherous waters’.

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. The work contains some of the most magical passages in Chopin, some of the greatest moments of passionate fervour culminating in other periods of shattering climatic tension. 

This was a fine performance of the Chopin Ballade in A flat major Op. 47 with ‘narrative’ musical force. In Round 1 her performance was quite satisfying apart from the Études. Pianistically here, there could have been more expression and dynamic variation.

b) Tarantelle A flat major op. 43

I hope I’ll not write anything worse in a hurry’ – Chopin’s rather unflattering assessment of the Tarantella. Shortly after arriving in Nohant, Chopin wrote to Julian Fontana with the manuscript of the Tarantella (to be copied): ‘Take a look at the Recueil of Rossini songs […] where the Tarantella (en la) appears. I don’t know if it was written in 6/8 or 12/8. Both versions are in use, but I’d prefer it to be like the Rossini’  

It did have some feeling of frenzy from the growing effects of the poisonous tarantula bite but for me it lacked the characteristic joyfulness and gaiety of the Italian dance, the rhythm and tempo seemed incorrect. I thought Jones could have given us a more convincing rhythmic account of the victim of a poisonous spider bite (by the Tarantula) and the growth of the insidious, destructive chemical circulating in the blood. Traditionally the victim became well and truly beside himself, increasingly and madly so by the triumphant conclusion. 

d) Polonaise E flat minor op. 26/2

I found the haunting, deeply expressive ominous  beginning followed by a burst of raw energy developed into an exciting but rather uneven pattern where the tensions and relaxations of passion vital to the work were not sufficiently cultivated. The Italian monographer Ippolito Valetta called the work a ‘revolt against destiny’. The mood swings throughout the work required a variety of colour and articulation. Strength emerged from depression and despair in this, the darkest of all Chopin polonaises. She could have made a great deal more of this remarkably dark work.

However, I am not Polish and always feel my Western cultural background insufficient in plumbing the true nature of Polish suffering. It is hard to comment seriously on the existential and historical significance of the Chopin polonaise as a distillation of Polish nineteenth century anguish. I can but try….The eminent Polish philologist Tadeusz Zieliński (1859-1944) ventured a thought-provoking assessment: ‘The Polonaise in E flat minor is one of the most beautiful – or perhaps the most beautiful – of Chopin’s polonaises’. Certainly it is one of the most emotionally moving.

c) Sonata C minor op. 4

Jones courageously decided to play the entire sonata which gave us a more balanced view of this rather unpopular work. She adopted a rather serious view of the piece where it may benefit from an approach that concentrates more on the period atmosphere. The opening  Allegro maestoso (in C minor) is cast in sonata form. I much liked the charm and pleasant simplicity of the Menuetto and Trio and the Larghetto which also possessed an uncomplicated attractiveness. The Presto was the most successful from the compositional point of view, The final movement is undoubtedly the most successful and Chopinesque movement of them all. Jones gave it fire, virtuosity, inventiveness and passion although I felt her approach rather unvaried dynamically as it hurtled forward.

Da Jin Kim – South Korea

a) Rondo E flat major op. 16

The first aspect of her playing that I noticed was the crystalline tone and refined touch. It seems to be a cultivated speciality of South Korean pianists. There is an alluring charm and elegance in her playing in the stye brillante. Her approach would have been even more impressive if she breathed the phrases more expansively and expressively. This would give the listener time to react emotionally, to decode what she is saying within the piece and convert the feeling into meaningful emotion. All too often the pianist is so familiar with a work through practice they forget the listener is not as familiar with the perhaps inner polyphonic detail and has to actually follow what is evolving musically. This is not always possible at rapid tempi. Kim showed great energy and exuberance with an excellent sense of structure.

b) Polonaise in G flat major op. posth

Here Kim attractively highlighted the melody. I felt a charming division into sections based on the style of the musical writing. She introduced a great deal of creative dynamic variation.

c) Ballade F minor op. 52

The narrative began well with the ‘balladeer’ opening the musical narrative. She produced many golden cantabile expressive sections and possessed an excellent sense of structure. I found this a most impressive recital that was not drowning me in dynamic sound. She has a far more accurate sense of period style that many in the competition. The inner workings of the work in terms of polyphony and harmonic transitional detail were often transparent. Again however, I simply wish that there was a little more discipline of tempo instead of being carried away by virtuosity and its physical excitements and satisfactions. A question of age? In Round 1 I wrote in my notes of similar feelings of sensitivity as above and my reservations concerning expression being sacrificed on the altar of virtuosity in the Études.

d) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

I found this wonderfully light in mood as she presented this blithe and untroubled work

Haeun Kim – South Korea

a) Ballade F major op. 38

Again there was this captivating, crystalline sound from the instrument. Kim opened the work with captivating childish innocence and adorable simplicity of melody. This was followed by explosive passions of the grim reality of war or love, the suffering, the feast of the tigers of experience followed a naive lack of knowledge of the world. I have always felt this work to be traversing the emotional landscape of a broken love affair. Technically in terms of articulation, tone and touch his performance was formidably impressive with occasional lapses of deeper expressiveness as dynamic exaggerations tended to rear their ugly heads. I felt the dynamic contrasts could have been moderated.

b) 3 Nouvelles Etudes Although played ‘perfectly’ I always feel such glorious melodies should be ‘dwelt upon’ or played with particular expression and attractiveness and as they are so full of guileless charm.

c) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

I dealt with the detailed genesis of this work in the Adam Gozdziewski review above if you are curious. The shadows of Polish nationalism hover over the work even suffusing its charming melody. Kim played the work with an ingratiating tone and seductive touch,attractive phrasing gleaned from her active imagination and more than a little style brillante. Kim presented us with a convincing polonaise. She pianist has an enviable natural fluency at the instrument.

d) Rondo E flat major op. 16

I can do no better than quote in full the fascinating historical note on this Rondo written by the great Polish musicologist  Mieczysław Tomaszewski.

” The Rondo in E flat major, Op. 16 was possibly composed during a beautiful summer spent at Côteau, and it was published in the autumn of 1833 with an unusually long dedication: ‘dedié à son élève Mademoiselle Caroline Hartmann par…’ (‘dedicated to his pupil Miss Caroline Hartmann by…’). This work is pure virtuosic display.

It scurries by in a single breath – allegro vivace, as befits a rondo. It wavers between risoluto and dolce, falling here and there into rubato, brillante and leggiero. In the opinion of Jachimecki, who is rather critical of this work, ‘the themes slide smoothly over the keyboard, without disturbing the varnish…’ The refrain brings a distant echo of a krakowiak – of the ballroom, rather than country tavern, variety.

The Rondo in E flat major – like the Variations on a theme from the opera Ludovic and the Grand Duo Concertant on themes from Robert le diable – bears testimony to a time that might be called a period of adaptation. The young pianist from Warsaw is trying to find his place in Paris – a city that has bewildered and partly also enslaved him. ‘For a while’, as he confessed to Elsner – he wanted to put aside ‘loftier artistic vistas’ and he wrote ‘I am forced to think about forging a path for myself as a pianist’. As a pianist composing music that was in vogue, like that being composed by all those around him, such as Kalkbrenner, Herz, Moscheles and Thalberg – music intended for the Parisian salons. This sparkling Rondo, which dazzles with its pianistic virtuosity, was composed in that Parisian bon goût.

Kim, befitting the work, played in a spectacular, sparkling fashion with an attractive rhythm. She did however slightly rush over the affecting harmonic transitions (a common fault among most candidates in this competition). I dearly wanted to be taken ‘inside’ the work. Her performance was full of attractive excitement and winning impulsiveness.

Ballade in G minor op. 23

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. 

‘I have received from Chopin a Ballade’, Schumann informed his friend Heinrich Dorn in the autumn of 1836. ‘It seems to me to be the work closest to his genius (though not the most brilliant). I told him that of everything he has created thus far it appeals to my heart the most. After a lengthy silence, Chopin replied with emphasis: “I am glad, because I too like it the best, it is my dearest work”.’

The great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski paints the background to this work best:

” It was during those two years that what was original, individual and distinctive in Chopin spoke through his music with great urgency and violence, expressing the composer’s inner world spontaneously and without constraint – a world of real experiences and traumas, sentimental memories and dreams, romantic notions and fancies. Life did not spare him such experiences and traumas in those years, be it in the sphere of patriotic or of intimate feelings. […] For everyone, the ballad was an epic work, in which what had been rejected in Classical high poetry now came to the fore: a world of extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious, fantastical and irrational events inspired by the popular imagination.

In Romantic poetry, the ballad became a ‘programmatic’ genre. It was here that the real met the surreal. Mickiewicz gave his own definition: ‘The ballad is a tale spun from the incidents of everyday (that is, real) life or from chivalrous stories, animated by the strangeness of the Romantic world, sung in a melancholy tone, in a serious style, simple and natural in its expressions’. And there is no doubt that in creating the first of his piano ballades, Chopin allowed himself to be inspired by just such a vision of this highly Romantic genre. What he produced was an epic work telling of something that once occurred, ‘animated by strangeness’, suffused with a ‘melancholy tone’, couched in a serious style, expressed in a natural way, and so closer to an instrumental song than to an elaborate aria. “

Kim gave the work a fine narrative opening, however I did not feel it evolved episodically in musically felt scenes. It engaged me pianistically but only on a high virtuosic level, very satisfying in its way but not realizing the full poetic and associative potential of the work.

Uram Kim – South Korea

c) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera Ludovic. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

Kim gave the Variations an ostentatious, theatrical opening. However, I found his pianism, although communicative and brilliant, rather heavy at times. Some of these variations are not intended to be so pedantic and loud. He has natural and illuminating musical phrasing which gave us a highly entertaining style brillante work of Chopin the young man.

b) Boléro op. 19

I enjoyed this fine performance of one of my favourite Chopin compositions immensely. Kim had an excellent feel for this dance although the opening was rather savage! He gave the work a fine improvised feel with excellent sprung rhythm. His tone and touch suited the work perfectly. He brought out the ‘jazz’ element of this piece, toning down the virtuoso display.

The boléro was originally a lively Spanish dance in triple metre originating in the 18th century and popular in the 19th. It bears a resemblance to the polonaise which is perhaps why Chopin wrote one.

 

A Boléro dancer from the time of Chopin

d) Polonaise G sharp minor op. posth.

Overall Kim played more sensitively than in Round 1 but the beginning was again too impulsive. This style brillante early work benefitted from the particular pianistic skills this Korean brings to the instrument. For reasons explained elsewhere I am not partial to the ‘fioritura streaks’. In the recent Julian Barnes novel The Man in the Red Coat, Count Robert de Montesquiou has a pet tortoise that expires after being painted gold and studded with jewels, and its carapace becomes “its metallic and gemmate tomb.” I sometimes feel an analogous case in pianism where glittering playing precludes exploration of any deeper content of a piano composition.

e) Scherzo E major op. 54

This image of the glittering turtle shell also took hold of me in the Scherzo. The internal irrationality and neurotic dislocation evident within this piece rather escaped Kim as he seemed more attracted to the surface virtuosity of the phrases rather than the complex living interior of the piece that the surface was concealing. The dynamic contrast seemed too extreme for me. The polyphony was obscured and much inner detail as the work became simply and only pianistic and so the living interior expired. Chopin seduces one inside his work but one must become sensitive to his gestures.

Leonhard Krahforst – Poland

a) 3 Nouvelles Etudes

He applied a fine legato and skilful pedalling to produce a highly expressive account of these charming pieces. The blithe good humour and happiness with the affecting melodies was much in evidence.

b) Ballade A flat major op. 47

I gave the genesis of this work in the Fantee Jones review above if you are further interested.

Krahorst gave this an unusual and low key narrative without hysteria which I much enjoyed. I was drawn into his narrative as one is with any outstandingly skilful teller of tales to which he added many varied dynamics. There was fine attention to tensions and relaxations within the work. His arcs of emotional disturbance were disciplined and controlled.

c) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

Again the genesis of this work is within the Adam Gozdziewski review above.

Krahforst gave a civilized and graceful yet strong performance of this work. The ornamentation was controlled and attractive in scale. His tone and touch were highly cultivated. He highlighted such a simple, poignant melody which I found most affecting. Overall this was a performance with great finesse with nothing overwrought, always the irresistible temptation to exaggerate that young pianists face with Chopin.

d) Variations sur “Là ci darem la mano” B flat major op. 2

 

‘Là ci darem la mano’ Walter Richard Sickert (1860–1942) 
(National Trust, Fenton House)

Then the youthful Chopin Variations in B-flat major on ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Don Giovanni. Chopin was seventeen when he composed this style brillante virtuoso work for piano and orchestra. The influence of Hummel is clear (Chopin greatly admired his playing as did the rest of Europe! His joyful, untroubled music is still undeservedly neglected. Audiences were said to stand on their chairs to see how Hummel accomplished his trills. Now that does not happen today!) The piano was an evolving instrument and each new development created great excitement among composers of the day. Chopin as a youth haunted the Polish piano factory of Fryderyk Buchholtzof in the role of what we might term an ‘early adopter’.

Chopin composed the ‘Là ci darem’ Variations in 1827. As a student of the Main School of Music, he had received from Elsner another compositional task: to write a set of variations for piano with orchestral accompaniment. As his theme, he chose the famous duet between Zerlina and Don Giovanni from the first act of Mozart’s opera Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni. In this opera overwhelming power and faultless seduction meet maidenly naivety and barely controlled fascination. (Tomaszewski)

In his famous first review of Chopin’s variations on Mozart’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’, Schumann gives us a striking description:

“Eusebius quietly opened the door the other day. You know the ironic smile on his pale face, with which he invites attention. I was sitting at the piano with Florestan. As you know, he is one of those rare musical personalities who seem to anticipate everything that is new, extraordinary, and meant for the future. But today he was in for a surprise. Eusebius showed us a piece of music and exclaimed: ‘Hats off, gentlemen, a genius! Eusebius laid a piece of music on the piano rack. […] Chopin – I have never heard the name – who can he be? […] every measure betrays his genius!’”

Chopin’s ‘Là ci darem’ variations are classical in form with an introduction, theme, five variations and finale. They are a marvellous example of the style brillante and clearly influenced by Hummel and Moscheles. 

It is well-known Chopin was obsessed with opera all his life, a fascination that began early. Liu applied phrasing that was uncannily as if the aria was being sung with vocal intonation and alluring and charming cantabile. Clara Wieck loved this work and performed it often making it popular in Germany. Her notorious father, who had forbidden her marriage to Robert Schumann, wrote perceptively and rather ironically of this work: ‘In his Variations, Chopin brought out all the wildness and impertinence of the Don’s life and deeds, filled with danger and amorous adventures. And he did so in the most bold and brilliant way’. 

Krahforst began with a thoughtful introduction. I feel this pianist has deep musicality, true musical fluent speech as the piece moved forward. He was slightly lacking in projected energy at times and the work began to sound drawn out despite the glittering style brillante execution. I felt also each variation could have been delineated more clearly from the next. I felt, although he began well, he slowly lost my attention as the piece progressed over such a long duration and the progression of the structure remained somewhat unclear.

Yuna Nakagawa – Japan

a) Polonaise C Minor op. 40/2 (1838-39)

The polonaise is believed to have been composed in the dark atmosphere of the Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa. It would be difficult to find an alternative to the definition advanced by the writer, historian and musicologist Ferdynand Hoesick who wrote of the ‘gloomy mood’ that emanates from this music, of its melancholy and ‘tragic loftiness’.

Dedicated to Julian Fontana, Chopin wrote:  ‘You have an answer to your honest and genuine letter in the second Polonaise. It’s not my fault that I’m like that poisonous mushroom […] I know I’ve been of no use to anyone – but then I’ve been of precious little use to myself’.

Nakagawa rather rushed this great polonaise and did not successfully build a structure. The Trio, a tragic and sublime, nostalgic sung cantilena rather fell apartCruel and brutal destiny hovers over it and reality erupts once again to destroy the dream.

b) Rondo E flat major op. 16

The genesis of this work is above in the review of Haeun Kim.

I felt Nakagawa’s approach unfortunately lacked grace, panache and élan which I feel this ultimate stye brillante work requires. I was looking for her to caress the melody and play repeated phrases in not exactly the same manner. I felt she could have lifted it out of the virtuoso exercise domain.

c) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

It contained the shadows of joyful gestures but overall was pleasant and played rather as a blithe and attractive work.

d) Nocturne F sharp minor op. 48/2 (1841)

There were some truly lovely, beautiful  poetic moments in this performance, but the profound sense of loss was not always apparent. This sublime unbroken song seems endless. That endless melody is what characterizes Chopin above all during the 1840s, in his last, reflective, post-Romantic phase. This is the source of Wagner’s unendliche Melodie.

e) Scherzo C sharp-minor op. 39

This scherzo opens in a ‘Gothic’, almost grotesque manner to become a fine and noble account approaching immense grandeur. Dedicated to his muscular pupil Adolf Gutman, this was last work the composer sketched during the Majorca sojourn and in the fraught atmosphere of the monastery at Valldemossa. The religiosity of the chorale was deeply affecting with its jeu perlé cascades of notes, diamonds falling on crystal. The sotto voce transition to the minor is deeply affecting and existentially tragic in the face of the abyss of death. Chopin was ill at the time which interrupted and perhaps affected the writing. ‘…questions or cries are hurled into an empty, hollow space – presto con fuoco.’ (Tomaszewski).

I felt Nakagawa failed to come to full terms with this demanding work. She was tempted into many solecisms. However, the deeply affecting transition to the minor key was accomplished superbly.

Eugene Nam – Australia

a) Ballade G minor op. 23

Again, the genesis of this work is above in the review of Haeun Kim

I felt Nam conceived an excellent ‘balladeer’ opening as the musical ‘story’ began to unfold. His tone is richly attractive and touch refined. The LH counterpoint was both moving and instructive and indicated that he was telling a ‘story’ in music, naturally not as programme music but as the destiny of feelings through a life. Excellent articulation and keyboard command. His phrasing and rubato were near perfect for this work, as were his rhapsodic dynamic variations. He utilized silence well as a powerful expressive device. Overall the rendition was dramatic yet poetically searching with a strong sense of musical structure.

b) Impromptu F sharp major op. 36

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them: 

The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism. 

The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.

This was a charming interpretation but after the thoughtful beginning without a great deal of carefree rejuvenated joy or sense of improvisation.

c) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

For the genesis and significance of this work refer to the Adam Gozdziewski review above.

Nam was full of self-confidence in this work, especially in the expressiveness. One felt a genuine oscillation between personal feelings and the rather ‘classical’ polonaise genre that came before him. I felt, as mentioned before, that the embedded fiorituras should be caressed and developed depending on the context and not simply ‘tossed off’ as cosmetic excretions.

d) Variations sur „Là ci darem la mano“ B flat major op. 2

 

Don Giovanni and Zerlina

For the genesis of this work and interesting details, the review dedicated to Leonhard Krahforst above will assist.I felt the opening by Nam was rather too intense for a set of Variations on a Mozart aria. One should never forget the reverence that Chopin held for Mozart, so I am sure these youthful variations would have attempted to reflect the tasteful character of Chopin’s master. The first statement of the aria was pleasant and lively indicating the naturally gifted musicality of Nam the pianist. His L.H. is a particularly strong and balancing it in counterpoint with the R.H. together with revealing the polyphony within the composition, gave us a satisfactory performance. I found it impressive if lacking a little in period style and atmosphere.

Akhiro Sano – Japan

a) Polonaise B flat minor op. posth

There was nobility in this account but I felt the dynamics not sufficiently varied to be deeply expressive emotionally.

b) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

For a few words on the Chopin Impromptu as a genre look at the notes on Eugene Nam above. Chopin composed the Impromptu in 1837 and published it the following year, dedicating it to one of his pupils, Lady Caroline de Lobau. As Ferdynand Hoesick sees it, the A flat major Impromptu ‘has the brightness of sunlight playing in a fountain’s spray’. In Arthur Hedley’s opinion, it has ‘all the air of a carefree improvisation’, though ‘closer inspection of the first section reveals a skilful hand at work.’ The Impromptu was met with an amusing anonymous review in a periodical issued by a rival publisher – La France musicale. ‘The best thing one can say about this work is that Chopin composed very beautiful mazurkas […] at the end of the fifth page, Mr. Chopin is still seeking an idea… he ends at the bottom of the 9th page, [having failed to find one] by slapping down a dozen chords. Voilà l’Impromptu’.

This was an interpretation without a great deal of internal organic life. A feeling of joyful spontaneity Allegro assai, quasi Presto and improvisation was not as clear as I would have appreciated in this difficult Chopin genre. The more reflective central section, a piano song, was rather moving.

c) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera ‘Ludovic‘. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

Although this interpretatively difficult work was played with commitment and charm, I felt Sano could have brought a little more panache and élan to his performance.

d) Nocturne F sharp minor op. 48/2

This sublime unbroken Chopin song seems attractively endless. Such a melody is what characterizes Chopin above all during the 1840s, in his last, reflective, post-Romantic phase. This is the source of Wagner’s unendliche Melodie (unending melody).

There were some poetic moments in this performance, but the profound sense of loss depicted in music was not always apparent. We were rather drifting softly through the night.

e) Fantaisie F minor op. 49

The difficulties in bringing together the fragmented nature of the next work, the Fantasy in F Minor Op. 49, are well known. Carl Czerny wrote perceptively in his introduction to the art of improvisation on the piano ‘If a well-written composition can be compared with a noble architectural edifice in which symmetry must predominate, then a fantasy well done is akin to a beautiful English garden, seemingly irregular, but full of surprising variety, and executed rationally, meaningfully, and according to plan.’

At the time Chopin wrote this work improvisation in public domain was declining. Sano brought together all these disparate elements into an enviable unity of expressive intention with well judged expressive rubato. With many of Chopin’s apparently ‘discontinuous’ works (say the Polonaise-Fantaisie) there is in fact an underlying and complexly wrought tonal structure that holds these wonderful dreams of his tightly together as rational wholes.

An expressive performance certainly but seemed to lack a little the feeling of improvised fantasy playing like globes of mercury in the composer’s mind, sometimes merging and sometimes autonomous but never controllable. This being said the account was fluent and authoritative. The devotionals and reflective chorale was most affectingly played followed by a passionate spontaneous eruption of emotion like a volcano of pent up energy released.

As I listened to this great revolutionary statement, fierce anger, nostalgia for past joys and plea for freedom, I could not help reflecting how the artistic expression of the powerful spirit of resistance in much of Chopin is so desperately needed today – not in the restricted nationalistic Polish spirit he envisioned but with the powerful arm of his universality of soul, confronted as we are by yet another incomprehensible onslaught of evil and barbarism. We need Chopin, his heart and spiritual force in 2022 possibly more than ever before.

Seungyeop Sim – South Korea

a) Rondeau à la Mazur F major op. 5 (1825-1826)

 

Mazurka de Chopin (1911) Edward Okuń (1872-1945)

This piece was written when Chopin was 16. He dedicated it to the Countess Alexandrine de Moriolles, the daughter of the Comte de Moriolles, who was the tutor to the adopted son of the Grand Duke Constantine, Governor of Warsaw. This rather unpleasant individual, the Grand Duke, often requested Chopin to play for him at the Belvedere Palace. Unable to sleep, on winter nights he would ostentatiously send a sleigh drawn by four-horses harnessed abreast in the Russian style to collect the young pianist from his home. Schumann first heard the Rondo à la mazur in 1836, and he called it ‘lovely, enthusiastic and full of grace. He who does not yet know Chopin had best begin the acquaintance with this piece’. Here, ‘folk’ elements (the ‘Lydian fourth’ in the melody, the stylisation of a country ensemble) are accompanied and augmented with highly bravura virtuoso sections.

There is charm, style, élan and panache in this work which should be brought to the fore with a light touch to create le climat de Chopin as Chopin’s pupil Marcelina Czartoryska referred to the atmosphere surrounding his works. Here in Chopin we have as a young, carefree, Polish adolescent with character and personality plus, wit, humour, theatrics – a young man striving to please with his massively precocious talent.

A period feel is vital for this elegant and exuberant piece. Despite the keyboard discipline and style brillante execution required, I feel it is helpful to ask the question ‘How did Fryderyk Chopin actually live?’. The first question is, can one imagine a world in 2022 without electricity ? Almost everything we take for granted would be absent and the choices of ‘entertainment’ vastly limited. Sim possesses that luminous Korean piano sound that appears inimitable. With some sense of style gave a very good performance.

b) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

I wrote about the genesis of this work in my notes on Adam Gozdziewski above. Sim has the expressive nature of the polonaise genre ‘at his fingertips’. Many period emotions were present but emotionally he became rather exaggerated in his presentation of the work.

c) Fantaisie F minor op. 49

My remarks below on the performance by Akhiro Sano of this work may be useful to read.  The long introduction is difficult to manage meaningfully and his forte verges on the harsh. The Chorale was very beautiful as he presented it, this introspective pause from considerations of war and defiance. The technical difficulties facing the pianists are not insignificant. The conclusion was affectingly meditative

d) Impromptu F sharp major op. 36

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them: 

The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism. 

The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.

This was another genre I felt not completely mastered by the candidates. This was a pleasant and considered, thoughtful interpretation but without a great deal of later expressed carefree and rejuvenated joy or sense of improvisation.

Mateusz Tomica – Poland

I was most impressed with much of his Round 1 performance (his fine set of the Mazurkas Op.24 and the Études) and expected some excellent playing from this young tyro in Round 2. I was not disappointed!

a) Polonaise D minor op. 71/1

Chopin wrote his Three Polonaises, Op. 71, probably as early as 1820, though they remained unpublished until six years after his death. In 1855 the works were released although Chopin had asked for his manuscripts to be burned after his death. i was unable to be present at this opening performance of his programme.

b) Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60

The work is a charming gondolier’s folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love, a true song of love. It is a grand, expansive work from the late period of Chopin, written in the years 1845–1846 and published in 1846. Chopin refers in this work to the convention of the barcarola – a song of the Venetian gondoliers which inspired many outstanding composers of the nineteenth century, including Mendelssohn, Liszt and Fauré. Yet surely his barcarolle is incomparable…

As with the Berceuse, Op. 57, the work may be considered ‘music of the evening and the night’ (Tomaszewski). However, it is a far longer work and of immense difficulty. The work is not a contemplative nocturne although there are similarities – it explores many passions of the day and the night. The penumbra of eroticism, Venice and the nature of Italian passions present  in the ornamentation is strongly present in this masterpiece with its universal emotions.

Tomica handled the aesthetic fluctuations of mood well and created a charming water colour of the rather contemplative yet fraught emotions of love on the lagoon. This was a good performance but not a particularly individual vision.

c) Rondo C minor op. 1

This work was written by fifteen-year-old ‘Frycek’ and published in 1825. The rondos indicate familiarity with the rondos of the Viennese Classics by Haydn, Mozart Beethoven and lesser luminaries.  The dazzling and fashionable style brillante was somewhat of an obsession with the young pianist Fryderyk. However, later in life the scherzos, ballades and études avoided the genre of the free-standing rondo. They are now considered as youthful or virtuosic pieces indicating the ‘classical’ aura of his training in composition. This is not to say they should be glided over without due attention. They are more recently being given more serious attention.

Young Chopin also observed features of the style brillant in rondos by the gloriously blithe Hummel and also Weber. This gave him the model for shaping the pianistic luster of his own works. This Op.1 Rondo is already marked by a graceful, elegant and brilliant writing and can be highly entertaining if performed with the correct feel for context and period.

Tomica brought an alluring, sparkling tone and refined touch to the work in sound. Stylistically it was perfectly correct, taken at a moderate tempo and not hysterically exaggerated. Charming, elegant and stylish. All I would say is that it could have had a trifle more internal energy and drive. Overall an excellent performance reminding us of the budding greatness of the young Chopin.

d) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

A lively performance taken at the possibly correctly joyful ‘up tempo’ but without a feeling of improvisation, which is rather essential to this work. It was certainly spontaneous, lively and a joyful celebration of life. A most enjoyable performance.

e) Ballade G minor op. 23

I strongly suggest you read the genesis notes above for this work contained in my remarks for Haeun Kim. Tomica began as a true ‘balladeer’ narrating a story but in musical emotions. A few solecisms crept in unfortunately in this rather conventional interpretation. However many of the graphic episodes Chopin wrote were presented in a dramatic and exciting fashion. I felt he needed to cultivate more expression coming from the internal details. Many aspects were rushed which disrupted the narrative  flow which in turn led to experiencing sensations rather than deep emotional reflections and soulful , spiritual contacts.

Vojtech Trubac – Czech Republic

a) Ballade G minor op. 23

I strongly suggest you read the genesis notes above for this work contained in my remarks for Haeun Kim.

The work opened well with a narrative ‘balladic’ feeling that a musical drama would unfold. The approach the work was dramatic and theatrical, which was arresting and remarkably powerful. At times however, I felt Trubac approached the work as a virtuoso exercise than a charting of spiritual and physical destiny. An entirely valid approach in highly impressive pianism.

b) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera Ludovic. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

I felt Trubac could have brought some cultural context to bear and a clearer sense of period atmosphere and the sensibility of the day rather than 2022. Certainly the playing was in the  style brillante.

c) Polonaise C minor op. 40/2

The general atmosphere of this work is elegiac, even tragic in expression. Arthur Rubinstein remarked that the Polonaise in A major is the symbol of Polish glory, whilst the Polonaise in C minor is the symbol of Polish tragedy. The work features an even rhythm of quaver chords in the right hand and a mournful melody played in octaves by the left, with occasional lines played by the right hand. It is interspersed with a more serene theme, before switching to the trio section in A flat major, which incorporates typical polonaise rhythms.

This was presented as rather a virtuosic piece of theatre with nobility in the main these. The Trio was charming and alluring but perhaps could have been slight more aesthetic in mood (but this is just me!). i felt the expression of this tragic destiny rather unsubtle and expressd without resswrvation. Very much a żal imbued performance.

d) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

This work bubbled along like a mountain stream at an elevated tempo. the theme was articulated detaché instead of legato, but i still felt and excess of pedal. There was a strong element of spiritual resignation at the conclusion.

 e) Scherzo B minor op. 20

This work affects me as being formidably disturbed emotionally, even if it is his first scherzo. Trubac gave a strong and convincing declamatory opening. Here he was much the powerful virtuoso pianist driven by a vision. Soft expression was kept to a minimum except when used as a heartbreaking contrast of emotion. Frederick Niecks quotes Robert Schumann who wrote of the Chopin Scherzos (the Italian word scherzo meaning ‘joke’) ‘How is ‘gravity’ to clothe itself if ‘jest’ goes about in dark veils?’. 

I really must quote the great Polish Chopin musicologist Miczysław Tomaszewski verbatim as his description of this work simply cannot be bettered by any modest commentary I might make.

When did Chopin write his first Scherzo? When did it occur, this ‘fulminating’ at the piano, this documenting of an eruption of emotion stronger than anything he had ever expressed? When did he conceive of a work that seems to anticipate that formula for a well-constructed drama, attributed to Tolstoy: start fortissimo, then just carry on crescendo to the end? Did Chopin write these bars around the turn of 1831 in Vienna, in an atmosphere of acute solitude, when he confessed to one of his Warsaw friends: ‘if I could, I would move all the tones that my blind, furious, unfettered feelings would incite’? Or a couple of years later, in Paris, when in white gloves and brillant mood, ‘pulled from all sides’, as he related to another of his friends, he entered the foremost society, since thence, as he wrote, ‘apparently issues good taste; at once you possess great talent if […] the Princess de Vaudemont was protecting you’?

In Chopin’s letters from that time spent in Vienna, certain motifs recur obsessively: ‘I curse the moment I left… In the salon I pretend to be calm, but on returning home I fulminate at the piano… I return, play, cry, laugh, go to bed, put out the light and dream always of you… Everything I’ve seen thus far abroad seems to me […] unbearable and only makes me long for home, for those blissful moments which I couldn’t appreciate… It seems like a dream, a stupor, that I’m with you – and what I hear is just a dream’.

The peculiarity of Chopin’s scherzos lies in the fact that between the music of that framework (and so the scherzo itself) and the music of the interior (the traditional trio) there is a contrast that is so fundamental that it resembles the collision of two worlds. The inner world brings anxiety and menace, whilst the outer world offers us refuge. It transports us to a realm of recollection and dreams.

The music is becalmed in expectation, and we are engulfed in the unrepeatable and unforgettable aura of a Christmas carol – like a voice from another world. The lullaby carol ‘Lulajże Jezuniu’ [Hush little Jesus] is summoned forth, by the strength of recollection, from deep silence and sung with the utmost simplicity, in a luminous B major, accompanied by a discreet ostinato, which reinforces the peace and calm of a Christmas Eve night.

I found this account fittingly and viscerally mercurial with good L H counterpoint and transparent polyphony. Trubac plays with great authority and security with a powerful, full rounded tone and secure touch. A communicative pianist. The lyrical Trio central section was gloriously and finely legato and had much affecting phrasing. There was an eruption of incandescent żal throughout which graphically moved our emotional responses ( żal is an untranslatable concept used often in relation to Chopin – moments passionately lyrical, then introspective, then expressing that characteristic Polish bitterness, passion and emotionally-laden disturbance of the psyche – melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate).

Zvjezdan Vojvodic – Croatia

a) Polonaise G sharp minor op. posth.

I often mention in my performance notes the limited feel by many pianists for the period. This polonaise was composed by Chopin around 1824 when he was taking private lessons with Elsner. The work, was dedicated to one of the two Du Pont ladies – the mother or the daughter, Ludwika. Witnesses recall that Chopin often played with her four-handed.

Vojvodic allowed winning sentiment to appear here. Sentimental feeling, born out of the Enlightenment and depicted in novels such as The Sorrows of Young Werther by Göethe, were still lively, with their emphasis on tenderness with hints of melancholy. They coincide with the development on the cusp of diminished classicism and the blooming of romanticism. New possibilities and delightful temptations arose before the young Chopin, and he did not fail to succumb. He was attracted  by the fashions introduced by that generation of pianist-composers which invaded the concert halls and salons of Europe in the early nineteenth century.

The style brillant had two different aspects: the one that could be admired above all on the concert platform, in concert works full of sparkle and élan, and the one that addressed a small, private circle of listeners in a salon or drawing-room. In that second variety, grazioso prevails over brillante, rococo-style grace over dazzle. And it is this second variety that the G sharp minor Polonaise represents. Among this work’s ‘stage directions’ – the specifications of character and expression that Chopin wrote in the music – the terms ‘with grace’ or ‘gently and with grace’ appear time and again. Chopin has the very first theme of the polonaise played dolce con grazia. The second theme is defined with the word grazioso. (Tomaszewski)

Vojvodic, with judicious pedalling, refined touch, rhythm and sensitive employment of dynamics in his tone production gave us a satisfying performance. 

b) 3 Nouvelles Etudes

Again Vojvodic with great sensitivity and refinement of phrasing, lingered over these affecting melodies which offer a balm and consolation to the troubled hearts of those beset by sentimental doubts and fears. He offered a gentle, tender approach which was more than appropriate.

c) Rondo C minor op. 1

Do read the notes above on this work written for Mateusz Tomica. He played with fine attention to artistic detail and consummate articulation. It was not quite what I had imagined for the much discussed style brillant but it came very close. The melodies were cultivated with carefully graded dynamics with expressive variation. He created a meticulously evolved soundscape which became a meaningful piece in many dimensions both structurally and emotionally. He adopted a different sound for the cantabile sections which used more pedal and a controlling legato  than the former style brillant passages. I admired this performance a great deal.

d) Ballade F major op. 38

Chopin was working on this Ballade in Majorca. In January 1839, after his Pleyel pianino had arrived from Paris, he wrote to Fontana ‘You’ll soon receive the Preludes and the Ballade’. And a few days after, when sending the manuscript of the Preludes: ‘In a couple of weeks, you’ll receive the Ballade, Polonaises and Scherzo.’ So the conception took place in the atmosphere of a haunted monastery, threatened by untamed nature. Here was conceived the idea of contrasting a gentle and melodic siciliana with a demonic presto con fuoco – the music of those ‘impassioned episodes’, as Schumann referred to them. The Leipzig encounter with Chopin Schumann experienced in 1840 is instructive. ‘A new Chopin Ballade has appeared’, he noted  in his diary. ‘It is dedicated to me and gives me greater joy than if I’d received an order from some ruler’. He remembered a conversation with Chopin: ‘At that time he also mentioned that certain poems of Mickiewicz had suggested his ballade to him.’ So the narrative balladic tradition did underlie this conception but naturally not in any programmatic way. 

Vojvodic opened with captivating childish innocence and adorable simplicity of melody. This was followed by explosive passion of the grim reality of war and suffering, the feast of the tigers of experience followed this lack of knowledge of the world. he was rather unrelenting but that is how passion operates in the emotional landscape of ours. The uncontrollability of passion was clearly communicated.

The Vojvodic Ballade in F-major Op.38 depicted to perfection the innocence of childhood before the operatic portrait of life’s spiritual journey began. The eruption of grim reality always arrived with an effective accumulation of anguish and anger. And so the passions of a broken life continued to erupt. There were moments of reflectiveness but the passion he brought to the work broke many rational barriers. The emotion often does this in real life, if it is authentic passion rather than simply a strong feeling. By definition, authentic passion cannot be controlled. Vojvodic’s yearning tone contrasted with the wild explosions of experience. Death at the conclusion. A brilliant performance I would wish to hear again as I would many other works performed by this pianist.

e) Ballade F minor op. 52 (1842)

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. 

The brilliant Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski describes the musical landscape of this work far more graphically than I ever could. The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness […] Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear […] at the climactic point in the balladic narration, it is impossible to find the right words. This explosion of passion and emotion, expressed through swaying passages and chords steeped in harmonic content, is unparalleled. Here, Chopin seems to surpass even himself. This is expression of  ultimate power, without a hint of emphasis or pathos […] For anyone who listens intently to this music, it becomes clear that there is no question of any anecdote, be it original or borrowed from literature. The music of this Ballade imitates nothing, illustrates nothing. It expresses a world that is experienced and represents a world that is possible, ideal and imagined.

He began with the simplicity of childhood once again but in scale, a far greater life opera opened. I found a deeply expressive narrative in this performance of one of the greatest masterpieces of Western keyboard literature. The history of a human destiny came into being like a tree coming into leaf in spring and passing through the seasons. His rubato concealed volcanic eruptions of emotion and turbulence beneath. They came to the surface in the manner of fraught soundscapes, a narrative of life unable to be depicted except though music. As often with young pianists  felt a need for the control of the extremes of emotion in dynamics, especially tempting on a modern instrument capable of any dynamic exaggeration.

Oscar Wong – Australia

 

Oscar Wong receiving constructive musical advice from jury member Martin Kasik

a) Polonaise C minor op. 40/2

In this work a noble soul stirs. Wong gave a strong sense of the tragic in his interpretation, a tragic destiny. He elucidated a great deal of internal polyphony and the cantabile transition was beautifully controlled into a true bel canto. He gave the work an extraordinary precipitate conclusion as if the tragedy was meant to continue through life followed by a pregnant, imaginative silence.

b) Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60

The work is a charming gondolier’s folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love, a true song of love. It is a grand, expansive work from the late period of Chopin, written in the years 1845–1846 and published in 1846. Chopin refers in this work to the convention of the barcarola – a song of the Venetian gondoliers which inspired many outstanding composers of the nineteenth century, including Mendelssohn, Liszt and Fauré. Yet surely his barcarolle is incomparable…

As with the Berceuse, Op. 57, the work may be considered ‘music of the evening and the night’ (Tomaszewski). However, it is a far longer work and of immense difficulty. The work is not a contemplative nocturne although there are similarities – it explores many passions of the day and the night. The penumbra of eroticism, Venice and the nature of Italian passions present  in the ornamentation is strongly present in this masterpiece with its universal emotions.

The work began well by setting the mood in watercolours with a gentle L.H. accompaniment. I found his approach expressive with much dynamic variation which carried forward an imaginative picture on the lagoon. He plays this as a far less dynamically disturbed emotional piece. But then Chopin on one occasion was reputed to have played the work convincingly with all the dynamic markings reversed. Wong performed an individual interpretation of this celebrated work in his return to the romance of the beginning.

c) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

I was struck that there are many levels to his playing with quite a polyphonic approach to his performance of Chopin. Perhaps this can be justified by Chopin’s adoration of Bach. The conclusion seemed a little rushed and overall possibly slightly mannered in approach but certainly he has an individual voice in his view of Chopin.

d) Variations sur “Là ci darem la mano” B major op. 2

Wong played a highly expressive introduction to this work with much variety of expression. He seemed to know the opera well and was attempting to extract its essence in terms of drama, humour, devilry, romance and sentiment. I felt he adopted some rather unjustified contrasts of dynamic but the style brillante was in the ascendant.

His was a highly original view of this work. Each variation had a distinct individuality and a few were rather amusing at times. Clearly he has considered each variation as a separate musical entity, having its own character and life which he has filtered through his own imagination. I responded well to the somewhat controversial individuality of his perception of Chopin and his distinct energetic rhythms.

Andrej Zenin – Russia

 

Jill Rabenau in conversation with Andrej Zenin

a) Boléro

The boléro was originally a lively Spanish dance in triple metre originating in the 18th century and popular in the 19th. It bears a resemblance to the polonaise which is perhaps why Chopin wrote one.

I felt Zenin in his rhythm could have been lighter, even more dance-like and less ‘serious’ in this work, which yet in essence was still a finely performed piece. I felt it did not demand the sort of pianistic intensity he brought to the work. Chopin was an enthusiastic dance pianist, often playing late into the Warsaw nights and through to early morning light.

 

A Boléro dancer from the time of Chopin

b) Polonaise in E flat minor Op.26 No.2

Zenin had a deep understanding of the tormenting anguish that inspired this piece and the żal that transfigures it. This was an emotionally and musically convincing and commanding performance of one of the deepest and tormented of Chopin’s cries from the depths.

c) Rondo in C minor Op.1

Zenin fell tantalizingly just short of the sparkling élan and panache I seek in these early impressive style brillante works. However, he presented this challenging piece in a high virtuosic style that would be overlooked by those less critical of the finer points of this cosmetic past manner of piano artistry.

d) Mazurka in A minor ‘à Emile Gaillard‘ op. posth.

This unusual Mazurka was written in 1840. Zenin created a dialogue whence the melody appears in alternation in the bottom and top registers, and in the left and right hands. The middle section appears almost bizarre in the parallel A major before fading into a nostalgic dreamworld. Zenin gave us a fine performance of this strangely obsessive work.

e) Scherzo in B-flat minor Op.31

The opening repeated triplet group gives a perfect indication of the pianist’s conception of this popular work.

This apparently so simple phrase could never be played to Chopin’s satisfaction. ‘It must be a question.’ taught Chopin; and it was never played questioningly enough, never soft enough, never round enough (tombé), as he said, never sufficiently weighted (important). ‘It must be the house of the dead,’ he once said […in his lessons] I saw Chopin dwell at length on this bar and at each of its reappearances. ‘That’s the key to the whole piece,’ he would say. Yet the triplet group is generally snatched or swallowed.  Chopin was just as exacting over the simple quaver accompaniment of the cantilena, as well as the cantilena itself.’ (Russian writer Wilhelm von Lenz 1809-1883).

Did Zenin provide us with a dread existentialist question out of which the entire piece flowers dramatically in answer? He rather gave us a dramatic, theatrical account, rhapsodic and piantically virtuosic. The passion and lyrical cantabile sections of the work often carried him out of this prosaic world into a type of romantic musical cauldron which was possessed of its own logic. Often the density and tempo made it difficult for the listener to unravel the musical sense and internal life and structure. There was a brilliantly dynamic and dramatic narrative present and communicated here which was possessed of immense excitement and display. However, I see the work rather differently.

I felt that Zenin failed to understand the existential significance of the key triplet figure which gives such gravity and the atmosphere of darker philosophical intent to the entire work that develops. I felt we did not quite receive a sufficiently threatening and ominous vision of this much maligned and often performed  work, known informally and possibly pejoratively as the ‘governess scherzo’ (every musically accomplished governess of aristocratic children played it).

Mieczysław Tomaszewski writes of this scherzo: ‘The new style, all Chopin’s own, which might be called a specifically Chopinian dynamic romanticism, not only revealed itself, but established itself. It manifested itself à la Janus, with two faces: the deep-felt lyricism of the Nocturnes Op.27 and the concentrated drama of the Scherzo in B flat minor.’

Arthur Hedley thought about the work’s ecstatic lyricism, before concluding in a way even more appropriate today in the age of recording: ‘Excessive performance may have dimmed the brightness of this work, but should not blind us to its merits as thrilling and convincing music.’

Ailun Zheng – China

a) Polonaise in B flat minor op. posth

The description of the genesis of this Polonaise given by the great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski is fascinating and cannot be bettered. I quote it in full without apology:

The Polonaise in B flat minor, known as ‘Les Adieux’, was composed spontaneously, at a moment in time that can be pinpointed exactly. Towards the end of July 1826, Karol Kurpiński staged at the National Theatre in Warsaw the new (following the recent Barber of Seville) opera by Rossini – The Thieving Magpie (La gazza ladra). Chopin saw the production in the company of his friend Wilhelm Kolberg, after which he incorporated into the new Polonaise that he was working on at that time, as a trio, a paraphrase of one of the melodies from the new opera. The tune in question is Gianetto’s cavatina beginning with the words ‘Vieni, vieni fra queste braccia’ [Come, come into my arms].

In the Chopin, of course, the cavatina melody is rendered in a distinctly polonaise rhythm. The vocal fioriture are transposed into piano ornamentation, although not yet the piano bel canto that would arise somewhat later, inspired by the operas of Bellini.

The paraphrased quotation from Rossini was given a special function in the Polonaise in B flat minor – as a gesture of farewell. Chopin was leaving the Lyceum, and in the autumn he would begin his studies at the Main School of Music. Besides that, just a few days later, he would embark on a journey to Duszniki, where he would spend the summer with his mother and two sisters ‘at the waters’. Within this Polonaise, the music of the trio sounds a little incongruous, as it brings a different style to the work. The B flat minor Polonaise was written at a time when Chopin had reached, and for a while would be borne upon, the tidal wave of the sentimental current – the current of ‘tender’ music, which at times could descend into affectation. In the salons of Warsaw, the cult of ‘sweet sorrow’ was rife.

This most ‘tender’, almost affected, of Chopin’s Polonaises is immediately characterised by the composer at the head of the work with the word dolente (doleful). He shed the grace and sparkle with which he illumined the Polonaise in G sharp minor. The emotional colouring of this Polonaise is darker. By leading the minor-mode melody in thirds, Chopin lent it tunefulness and a fullness of sound. Such a melody is meant not to wheedle and amuse, but to move.

Zheng could have made far more of the emotional ‘tender’ content of this polonaise and its hints of ‘sweet sorrow’. I found her account rather empty emotionally. Reading Tomaszewski on this work is a true indication of how it should be approached in performance. Again the vital importance of knowledge of context in the interpretation of the piece in that it is scarcely demanding technically!

b) Rondo in E-flat major Op. 16

 

A concert given by Fryderyk Chopin in the salon of Duke Antoni Radziwiłł in 1829 by Henryk Siemiradzki.

I found her articulation and diamond tone utterly convincing for the jeu perlé and style brillante of this Rondo. However, where was the elegance, charm, grace and bon goût of Warsaw salon life in 1833 ? I wish more young pianists would take time to breathe their musical phrases – it is a form of delightful speech after all. In these seductive, youthful works of Chopin, one must develop a period feel which has such a profound effect on performance and is not simply a cosmetic addition or ‘over-painting’. As Marcelina Czartoryska, one of Chopin’s favorite pupils once observed, ‘One must develop le climat de Chopin.’

c) Impromptu in A-flat major Op.29

This artist has such beautiful hands and fluid fingers – an aesthetic pleasure just to watch them. This was a charming interpretation but again her ability to express and communicate to the listener the emotion she undoubtedly feels within her heart needs attention.

d) Barcarolle in F-sharp major Op. 60

The work is a charming gondolier’s folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love, a true song of love. It is a grand, expansive work from the late period of Chopin, written in the years 1845–1846 and published in 1846. Chopin refers in this work to the convention of the barcarola – a song of the Venetian gondoliers which inspired many outstanding composers of the nineteenth century, including Mendelssohn, Liszt and Fauré. Yet surely his barcarolle is incomparable…

As with the Berceuse, Op. 57, the work may be considered ‘music of the evening and the night’ (Tomaszewski). However, it is a far longer work and of immense difficulty. The work is not a contemplative nocturne although there are similarities – it explores many passions of the day and the night. The penumbra of eroticism, Venice and the nature of Italian passions present  in the ornamentation is strongly present in this masterpiece with its universal emotions.

 

Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) Mueo Correr, Venice

Zheng began the work most expressively observing all the eloquent dynamic markings and phrasal gestures. She showed a firm grasp of the complex structure of the piece and built an attractive shifting emotional landscape moving between ardent affection, fear,,anger and resignation.

e) Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat major Op.61

Again I make no apology for repeating my introduction to this and other works as such background facts do not change although the interpretative approach by various pianists is always completely different.

The Polonaise-Fantaisie contains all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. This work, the first in the so-called ‘late style’ of the composer, was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He laboured over its composition. What emerged is one of his most complex of his works both pianistically and emotionally. Chopin produced many sketches for the Polonaise-Fantaisie and wrestled with the title. He had written: ‘I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’.

This uncertainty indicates surely he was embarking on a journey of compositional exploration along untrodden paths. Even Bartok one hundred years later was shocked at its revolutionary nature. The work is an extraordinary mélange of genres and styles in a type of inspired improvisation that yet maintains a magical absolute musical coherence and logic. He completed it in August 1846.  

The opening tempo is marked maestoso (as with his two concerti)which indicates ‘with dignity and pride’. I felt Zheng had not quite grasped the structure of this mighty piano work. The piece should give a feeling of being searched for and discovered as a type of improvisation. The invention fluctuates as if with the irregular circulation of the heart and the blood. She did not really embrace the emotive gestures and power of silences in her phrasing sufficiently meaningfully. One must possess a true empathy for these imagined conflicts and deprivations. The considered musical narrative was at times uneven.

The music in such a work must come from ‘within’ rather than overlaid ‘on top’ as it were. There are so many emotional implications that must be indicated with subtlety and finesse. Towards the conclusion we move haltingly and with suffering from despair to final resignation. the periods of introspection are intense but short.

There is much rich counterpoint and polyphony to be explored here (of which Chopin was one of the greatest masters since Bach). This work also conveys a strong sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. Yes, a complex work for a young woman to master, written when Chopin was moving towards the cold embrace of death. 

Xinhan Zhu – China

a) Impromptu in A-flat major Op.29

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them: The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism. The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.I felt she chose an excellent tempo (so important with the impromptus of Chopin) with a feeling of improvised spontaneity.The work flowed like a joyful mountain stream.

b) Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 No. 2

 

The Carthusian Monastery at Valldemossa

This polonaise is believed to have been composed in the dark atmosphere of the Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa. It would be difficult to find an alternative to the definition advanced by the writer, historian and musicologist Ferdynand Hoesick who wrote of the ‘gloomy mood’ that emanates from this music, of its melancholy and ‘tragic loftiness’.

Dedicated to Julian Fontana, Chopin wrote: ‘You have an answer to your honest and genuine letter in the second Polonaise. It’s not my fault that I’m like that poisonous mushroom […] I know I’ve been of no use to anyone – but then I’ve been of precious little use to myself’.

This is one of my favorite polonaises. It was performed with Polish idiomatic gestures but I felt the lyricism of the cantabile section could have been performed with more yearning and nostalgia as a contrast to the remainder of the work.

c) Rondo in E-flat major Op. 16

In her approach I heard that crystalline, light touch one yearns for in the style brillante. Glistening tone and brilliant articulation.The melody Chopin conjures for us is so affecting. I felt the affectation and theatrical gestures could have been even more pronounced and ‘artificial’. This early music of Chopin’s exuberant youth is predominantly for entertainment and display on the part of the composer-pianist.

d) Mazurka in C-sharp minor Op.50 No.3

The third Mazurka of the Op.50 set in C sharp minor, is truly a masterpiece. At the turn of the 1840s, Chopin’s interest in polyphony and texture was aroused by a book published in Paris in 1837: a handbook on counterpoint by Cherubini. Chopin introduced polyphony into his mazurkas from then on.The dances of the oberek and kujawiak are both here laid among the most remarkably adventurous harmonic transitions. Georg Sand wrote to Eugene Delacroix: ‘Chopin has composed two adorable mazurkas that are worth more than forty novels and express more than all the literature of the century’.

I felt Zhu had not yet penetrated the kernel of the Polish mazurka as filtered by Chopin. These are pieces are recalled in a mood of nostalgia and not prone to emphatic sforzandos scattered about randomly.

f) Ballade in F-minor Op.52

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. The work contains some of the most magical passages in Chopin, some of the greatest moments of passionate fervour culminating in other periods of shattering climatic tension. 

The brilliant Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski describes the musical landscape of this work far more graphically than I ever could. The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness […] Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear […] at the climactic point in the balladic narration, it is impossible to find the right words. This explosion of passion and emotion, expressed through swaying passages and chords steeped in harmonic content, is unparalleled. Here, Chopin seems to surpass even himself. This is expression of  ultimate power, without a hint of emphasis or pathos […] For anyone who listens intently to this music, it becomes clear that there is no question of any anecdote, be it original or borrowed from literature. The music of this Ballade imitates nothing, illustrates nothing. It expresses a world that is experienced and represents a world that is possible, ideal and imagined.

Zhu understood the narrative nature of this masterpiece well and gave an excellent performance. I felt, however, there could have been a great deal more narrative emotional drama and variety of spiritual mood invested in her phrasing and structure of the work, this opera of the drama of life.

Iva Zurbo – Albania

a) Impromptu in G-flat major Op.51

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them

The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism.

The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.

I felt this interpretation could have been lighter and ‘lifted’ by more precise articulation into more joyful and carefree regions. The balance of L.H. and R.H. polyphony left much to be desired. Zurbo was rather ‘studied’ in this work without a feeling of spontaneous improvisation which is vital to carry the Chopin Impromptu as a distinct genre.

b) Polonaise in E-flat minor Op.26 No2

The haunting, deeply expressive ominous  theme of the beginning is followed by a burst of raw energy. The Italian monographer Ippolito Valetta called the work a ‘revolt against destiny’. The mood swings throughout the work require a variety of colour and articulation. Strength emerges from depression and despair in this, the darkest of all Chopin polonaises and aches to be expressed. Zurbo presented a rather ‘pianistic’ version of this deep tragedy without plumbing any deeper dimensions of emotion and anguish. She could have made a great deal more of this remarkably dark, inturned work.

I am not Polish and always feel my Western cultural background insufficient in plumbing the true nature of Polish suffering. It is hard to comment seriously on the existential and historical significance of the Chopin polonaise as a distillation of Polish nineteenth century anguish. The eminent Polish philologist Tadeusz Zieliński (1859-1944) ventured a thought-provoking assessment: ‘The Polonaise in E flat minor is one of the most beautiful – or perhaps the most beautiful – of Chopin’s polonaises’. Certainly it is one of the most emotionally moving and the one I respond to most profoundly.

c) Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53

 

The Husaria or Polish Winged Cavalry by Jerzy Kossak

This renowned ‘heroic’ polonaise was composed at Nohant in 1842 and resembles a narrative ballade in its depiction of heroism and resistance. Every pianist, renowned or modestly endowed, approaches the powerful romanticism and rebellion of this work through a different personal filter formed by their personal experience of life and their personal character.

The opening bars, heralding the entrance of the polonaise, possesses nobility, passion and a confidence of musical gesture, as well as dignity and forcefulness. The theme of the polonaise and its incessant repetition, possesses great strength and aspires upwards to the valiant heights of military victory. Chopin indicates it is to be played forte and maestoso. The strength and panache of the Polish cavalry comes from the famous repetitive octaves of the bass, while the characteristic stubborn Polish persistence is generated by the insistent repetition of the opening theme.The sostenuto is only scarcely emotionally calming which is its normal function.

Arthur Hedley called this polonaise ‘a work whose praises it is unnecessary to recite’. Jachimecki considered it ‘the most perfect work in the history of the genre’. Hugo Leichtentritt expressed his admiration in the following words: ‘everything that the polonaise contains in terms of sparkle, distinction, strength and enthusiasm was expressed in this masterpiece in the most exhilarating way possible’.

I felt Zurbo was unfortunately lured into a landscape of unrelieved dynamic inflation which was impressive but spiritually lacking. The emotional complexity and heroic mood swings of the piece were often hidden under a cloud of gunpowder smoke and exploding shells. Convincing however in a rather monochromatic manner by its unrelieved expression of military force.

d) Rondo in C minor Op.1

This work was written by fifteen-year-old ‘Frycek’ and published in 1825. The rondos indicate familiarity with the rondos of the Viennese Classics by Haydn, Mozart Beethoven and lesser luminaries.  The dazzling and fashionable style brillante was somewhat of an obsession with the young pianist Fryderyk. However, later in life the scherzos, ballades and études avoided the genre of the free-standing rondo. They are now considered as youthful or virtuosic pieces indicating the ‘classical’ aura of his training in composition. This is not to say they should be glided over without due attention. They are more recently being given more serious attention.

Young Chopin also observed features of the style brillant in rondos by the gloriously blithe Hummel and also Weber. This gave him the model for shaping the pianistic luster of his own works. This Op.1 Rondo is already marked by a graceful, elegant and brilliant writing and can be highly entertaining if performed with the correct feel for context and period.

The tempo Zurbo chose was rather too deliberate for this superb musical confection. The actual style brillante as I conceive of it was rather absent. She did not seem to have much idea of the sound quality and texture required for this genre of early, youthful Chopin. This style championed by Hummel (whose compositional style had a deep influence on that of early Chopin) was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity,  precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls. These works could only have been composed in a state of happiness and youthful ‘sweet sorrows’ living in his native land.

However, with Zurbo, there were some extremely beautiful reflective lyrical moments that were not overplayed with excessive pedal and retained their elegance, refinement, good taste and purity.

e) Ballade in G minor Op.23

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. 

‘I have received from Chopin a Ballade’, Schumann informed his friend Heinrich Dorn in the autumn of 1836. ‘It seems to me to be the work closest to his genius (though not the most brilliant). I told him that of everything he has created thus far it appeals to my heart the most. After a lengthy silence, Chopin replied with emphasis: “I am glad, because I too like it the best, it is my dearest work”.’

The great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski paints the background to this work best:

” It was during those two years that what was original, individual and distinctive in Chopin spoke through his music with great urgency and violence, expressing the composer’s inner world spontaneously and without constraint – a world of real experiences and traumas, sentimental memories and dreams, romantic notions and fancies. Life did not spare him such experiences and traumas in those years, be it in the sphere of patriotic or of intimate feelings. […] For everyone, the ballad was an epic work, in which what had been rejected in Classical high poetry now came to the fore: a world of extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious, fantastical and irrational events inspired by the popular imagination.

In Romantic poetry, the ballad became a ‘programmatic’ genre. It was here that the real met the surreal. Mickiewicz gave his own definition: ‘The ballad is a tale spun from the incidents of everyday (that is, real) life or from chivalrous stories, animated by the strangeness of the Romantic world, sung in a melancholy tone, in a serious style, simple and natural in its expressions’. And there is no doubt that in creating the first of his piano ballades, Chopin allowed himself to be inspired by just such a vision of this highly Romantic genre. What he produced was an epic work telling of something that once occurred, ‘animated by strangeness’, suffused with a ‘melancholy tone’, couched in a serious style, expressed in a natural way, and so closer to an instrumental song than to an elaborate aria. “

Zurbo interpreted this magnificent work with broad, impressive, virtuosic ‘pianistic’ gestures but which did not take hold of me as a dramatic musical narrative. There was little dynamic variation of a meaningful type and I, perhaps unjustly, found her approach somewhat mannered.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Round 1 – Some general thoughts

Day 4

25th October 2022

Four candidates remained to be heard this morning in Round 1, followed by lunch, then the six candidates who chose to demonstrate their skills in improvisation. Those who pass into Round 2 will be announced around 17.00 followed by advice to those who were excluded if they request it.

A few thoughts occurred to me during the candidates this morning. I feel the mazurkas are too often played as if they were existing in present time, describing the present reality of a dance. However, one must remember in many cases they are recalled dances, memories of past joys with a significant weight of melancholic nostalgia. These reminiscences of dance and associated experience are all viewed through the obscuring veils of past time, a musical À la recherche du temps perdu. They cannot be considered in an over-passionate recall or even visceral recreation of experience. Life is simply not like this as the gauze of memory descends.The mazurkas were published as sets and Chopin himself may have had some organisational musical mystique, a musical or philosophical connection in grouping them together in their compositional arrangement in collections.I found it fascinating that the competition designers saw fit to insist of sets of mazurkas being played rather than isolated pieces.

The fiorituras, especially in the nocturnes, carry with them deep emotional potential which should be explored through variation of tempo, dynamic and articulation. Not simply thrown aside as a trivial ornement appliqué which is denied their essential function to augment the melodic line. 

I was most interested in the far from standard suggestion of this competition that the pianists experiment with an improvisation based on one or two given themes. On this occasion one was a Polish Folk Song and the other the famous  Zerlina aria from Don Giovanni entitled Batti, Batti o bel Masetto. It is not a mandatory requirement nor does it add to or detract from the scoring of each round.

Stream W. A. Mozart - Batti Batti (Arie der Zerlina aus "Don Giovanni") by  Magdalena | Listen online for free on SoundCloud

There were six candidates who selected an improvisation round. I do admire the courage of these improvisers. One may recall that during the 19th century most pianist composers were all admired improvisers (Chopin, Liszt, Schumann…). They performed largely their own music in recitals with perhaps an occasional piece they respected by another composer. The creative art of improvisation, regarded as normal and even mandatory in previous centuries began to fade as the nineteenth century progressed and pianists began to perform entire programmes of music not of their own composition. More modern pianists such as Dinu Lipatti retained the vestiges of this practice by improvising briefly in the key of a piece just before embarking on the performance of it. One of the greatest compliments that can be paid to a pianist today is to say that it sounds as if he is improvising or recreating the work before us.

The winner of the improvisation prize was Andrej Zenin from Russia. After a spectacular chordal beginning, he transposed an improvisation on the Zerlina aria into the Polish folk song and return in almost symphonic texture. Highly effective, entertaining and authoritative considering the limited preparation time they are allotted to prepare their thoughts.

I was not in the least surprised that Mateusz Tomica from Poland was awarded the prize for the finest mazurkas by the jury. I wrote in my notes at the time ‘The best set of mazurkas so far. Highly expressive and idiomatic. Some of the best I have heard anywhere.’

Day 3

Monday October 24th 2022

In some ways today was Poland and the Czech Republic’s musical opportunity among the contestants and also a day for some excellent idiomatic mazurkas at last. In one case I was quite emotionally moved by a group of mazurkas, the first time I have been really touched in this competition. I certainly felt as if I was wandering nostalgically along a river bank among the willows in Chopin’s beloved Mazovia, remembering nostalgically happier days or rumbustuously taking part in a village festivity. All these pleasant activities I have engaged in.

Some of today’s contestants with their significant musical gifts will definitely move into the second round. However with some competitors I did keep asking myself what does this interpretation actually mean? Does the pianist have something meaningful to say about this piece? Too often one receives no answer to the question. While listening to many renditions ‘Does this young pianist know in any detail the true historical significance, cultural context and style of Chopin’s waltzes, nocturnes, mazurkas and Études as artistic genres of spiritual and musical significance?’ How important is this to know?

 

At the Arthur Rubinstein Festival, Łodz, October 2019

The ‘call to the floor’ for the waltz or polonaise by the piano, as if in a ballroom, is not well understood. Hardly anyone playing Chopin waltzes in the competition has any idea of ballroom dancing in the nineteenth century. Chopin in his youth was mad about dancing, a fine dancer and also an excellent dance pianist playing into the small hours, hence his need for ‘rehab’ at Bad Reinerz – now Dusznki Zdrój. Certainly Chopin waltzes are not meant to be danced but the sublimated idiom remains. Chopin waltzes nearly always open, except say the Valse triste, with an energetic and declamatory fanfare or ‘call to the floor’ for the dancers as was customary. A slight pause and then the scandalous Waltz begins.

Please, that is not to say waltzes were not extremely well played, even brilliantly performed, just that it was often stylistically inaccurate with an absence of waltz rhythm. They often lacked grace and finesse.

Occasionally in some Études I felt as if the accelerator had pushed to the floor on a Lamborghini Aventador with the caption ‘Never Lift’! Velocity without taste or expression. Occasionally they were brilliant and convincing but any expressive intention could suffer because of simple technical limitations. They are extraordinarily complex pieces that demand a technique actually in advance of what appears to be required.

Although the intention may be  ‘expressive’, nocturnes sometimes could have been more cohesive as they had been harmonically over-analyzed or became rather overloaded with emotional sentiment hindering proper forward movement and development. Ornamentation, so common in nocturnes in the form of fiorituras should be considered in detail and integrated into the melodic line. They should not sound like someone ringing the bell at the door. Should they begin slowly and accelerate towards the end? Should they be dwelt upon and emerge and considered as jazz-like agréments. Some nocturnes I heard however were particularly emotionally moving, a rare enough occurrence where the extra-musical dimension and associations of these works can be rather superficially approached without imagination.

I repeat without apology. James Huneker, the renowned American music critic, writer and pianist, author of a book devoted to Chopin, wrote of the Nocturne genre:

‘Something of Chopin’s delicate, tender warmth and spiritual voice is lost in larger spaces. In a small auditorium, and from the fingers of a sympathetic pianist, the nocturnes should be heard, that their intimate, night side may be revealed. […] They are essentially for the twilight, for solitary enclosures, where their still, mysterious tones […] become eloquent and disclose the poetry and pain of their creator.’

One question I like to ask myself is ‘Would I like to hear this pianist again and in a different repertoire?’ The answer is always instructive and revealing. At least for three pianists today I would answer in the affirmative. I felt at least two would reach the final. They were able to project strong individual personality traits with various degrees of charisma. In a couple of cases, tone and touch had clearly been worked on intensively which is not always the case. This despite Chopin’s own teaching method, as I have said before, which emphasized the development of a beautiful tone and touch above much else in piano playing. Given patience, a good ear and proper guidance a beautiful tone and refined touch will slowly, even painfully, emerge as a butterfly from the chrysalis. This is a surprisingly neglected area of pianism in 2022 keeping in mind the history of piano playing and the priorities of fine pianists of the past.

Tomorrow the decision on who passes to the Second Round will be made.  Also the contestants who opted to do an improvisation segment will be given this opportunity to display their talents for this art. I think this is a fascinating addition to this competition, although it is not considered as significant in the overall score for a contestant or considered in any way when judging their performance overall.  It does not contribute to the competition result. At 1.00 pm they will each be given a popular theme or tune from Chopin’s day, perhaps from an opera or something similar, and have a couple of hours to prepare the improvisation.  This is an historical art of much importance that should certainly be encouraged today.

Day 2 

Sunday October 23rd 2022

My comments below from Day 1 apply to the second set of 11 contestants today with a few further general observations.

Of course in such a competition there are many positive things to say as well as negative. Clearly some of the contestants are very musical and hopefully will develop strongly under correct guidance. My main observation is the extraordinary command of the instrument in pianists that are so young. They possess an astonishing sense of musical structure and amazing digital command over the keyboard. There are some aspects to consider however if they are to progress to a successful concert career.

Taking as assumed an established a competent ‘technique’, some fail to show organic playing from the heart but rather have absorbed their interpretative gestures (perhaps from excessive listening to recordings) rather than coming to personal conclusions about the music. The pianist must impart musical meaning and have something to say. Many candidates played ‘on top of’ the work rather than ‘moving within it’. However among the contestants there are always beautiful personally considered and imagined moments. Yet none of the candidates today penetrated the Viennese or Parisian nature of the Chopin waltz. Learn to dance! Again I keep asking myself, where is the poetry, gracefulness, elegance, le bon goût and refinement so vital to Chopin interpretation?

Often a solid grasp of the style and genre that is required for a piece is absent or not understood. Again, the mazurka can be easily misunderstood in terms of its intimacy, rhythm and dynamics. This becomes even clearer if the intimacy of these works is experienced on an instrument of the period of Chopin. The significance of silence being as important as sound is often overlooked. I was both excited and moved by the authoritative performance of one contestant and admired the beautiful tone and command of style and sheer tonal beauty of another.

A couple of the contestants seemed to me unprepared for such a demanding challenge as a piano competition. This was especially clear in the chosen Chopin Études. I have always felt that they should contain a significant element of expression in addition to the high degree of accurate virtuosity demanded in order to master them. Much heartfelt expression implicit in the ‘submerged’ melodic polyphony and writing of Chopin was sacrificed on the altar of spectacular but obscurantist virtuosity. Many candidates were hammering and mining ‘down in the quarry’ interpretatively speaking. Phrases must breathe. Chopin admired Liszt’s playing of his Études but one must wonder how Liszt actually played them. Was it as dynamically as forceful as we might imagine, possibly erroneously, of the ‘titan of the piano’ Franz Liszt? As a renowned Hungarian professor once remarked to me ‘Liszt is desperately in need of rehabilitation.’

Dynamics were often forced or operated at unjustified extremes with a resulting loss of finesse. The modern instrument makes almost exaggerated contrasts of dynamics and velocity possible which would simply not be achievable or even desirable on a period instrument such as a Pleyel or Erard with a minimal or no iron frame.  This is quite apart from the comparatively undeveloped action of earlier instruments which limits various aspects of sound production. One cannot assume that Chopin would have adored the possibility of these massive dynamic contrasts that so tempt young pianists in 2022. He was temperamentally against ‘noise’ of any type and his own playing was often described as gentle and soft yet penetrating and deeply moving. He remarked that one should ‘never bash’ the instrument. This is not to say performances should or even could be limited to such period instruments, but the pianist could learn by experiment on them to even out disturbing and excessive dynamic contrasts. This was especially clear today in the Nocturnes, Études and occasionally the mazurkas.

Musical imagination may sometimes be wanting in performance. The individual  personality and character of the pianist needs to be present, an individual ‘voice’ cultivated but perhaps one cannot expect this in the very young. Spontaneous expression can be often absent in a few cases and in its place an uninspiring ‘learned template’ of rhetorical interpretative gesture is adopted. 

The Nocturnes surely must be imagined as a musical poetic reflection and internal emotional agitation that takes place at night when the imaginative mind operates in relative silence and isolation at a different and sometimes fantastical level of consciousness. Chopin lived in a world without electricity. Just imagine this for a moment … The Nocturnes should retain a sense of improvisation in the internal exploration and discovery of sensibility. I repeat a quote from my above review of the jury concert. James Huneker, the renowned American music critic, writer and pianist, author of a book devoted to Chopin, wrote of the Nocturne genre:

‘Something of Chopin’s delicate, tender warmth and spiritual voice is lost in larger spaces. In a small auditorium, and from the fingers of a sympathetic pianist, the nocturnes should be heard, that their intimate, night side may be revealed. […] They are essentially for the twilight, for solitary enclosures, where their still, mysterious tones […] become eloquent and disclose the poetry and pain of their creator.’

However without making invidious or unfair comparisons, the candidates could listen constructively to the unique historic and personal sound and voice of say a Josef Hofman, Ignaz Friedman, Sviatoslav Richter or Arthur Rubinstein. Finding your own voice, identity and style is becoming more and more necessary and difficult as we are flooded with standardization in all walks of life. I also felt at times scarcely any projection and authentic contact with the audience. It was as if the recital were taking place behind a pane of clear glass. Of course this could come from sheer nervousness and apprehension of being in a competition.

Could there not be more awareness of poetry, grace, charm and refinement for this ‘Ariel of the piano’ in 2022? We need not all be victims of our time. In the past the heart and its human reasons dominated musical motivation and appreciation, above structure and Urtext for many great pianists. One only has to listen to the music classes of Nadia Boulanger that emphasize feeling above all. However, as a critic, one must always remember that the experience of playing in competition for the first time is vital for younger pianists who wish to build a career.

 

The Jury at work in the Orangerie, Darmstadt

Day 1

Saturday October 22nd 2022

I do not intend to review each of the 11 contestants today that took part in the first stage eliminations but rather give a general impression of the talents so fearlessly on display. It would be a huge workload that would prevent me from listening to all of them and deprive me of sleep entirely. I will begin individual reviews in Round II.

As usual the first day of Round I was rather mixed with a few outstanding talents showing great musical promise, beautiful tone, refined touch and one recital whose technical command moved me more than the others. I would however make some general observations that apply to a few of the contestants.

As you might expect, many of the younger pianists have not yet found a distinct identity, an individual ‘voice’ and I felt could have shown more spontaneity and an organic feeling for the musical structure as a whole. However, I simply find their command and authority at the keyboard at such a young age simply miraculous. It is all too possible to become blase about what all these years of practice and study ‘from the age of four’ have actually achieved. I tried and know the grueling work involved! All are ‘gifted’ to my mind.

There does seem to be in some cases a neglect of the imperative to produce a beautiful tone and seductive touch. Pedaling requires attention in many cases. As we know Chopin referred to beautiful tone production as paramount in his teaching and the use of the pedal as ‘a study for life’ or similar significant remark referring to his music. So many over-pedal his music on the modern instrument. I prefer to be seduced into submission as a listener rather than beaten into submission as some of these young tyros seem to believe. Chosen tempos and excessive dynamic contrasts can be sometimes be astray. Where is the poetry, le bon goût and refinement of Chopin I keep asking myself?

Overall I venture to say there is not a deep understanding of the Polish mazurka as it is in the compositional hands of Chopin. They are generally rather intimate pieces of nostalgic, yearning emotional music or rumbustious memories of past joys. All this is quite apart from the rhythmic solecism that may turn it into a waltz. In fact the grace, elegance and style of the waltz itself, of which one waltz is compulsory, seems little understood. I feel young pianists should take dancing lessons in the waltz and mazurka! This is not met merely a cosmetic decision but a need to feel the rhythm within your body so you can transfer it to the keyboard.

Many young pianists could breathe more musically, listen to themselves more closely, think more deeply about phrase lengths, characteristic rhythm and rubato. One must not forget in 2022 and the age of electronic technology that it remains a real challenge for the young to understand what the composer’s best pupil Princess Marcelina Czartoryska described as le climat de Chopin. This lack could be alleviated from more background reading in literature and art with professorial guidance to contextualize the music they are performing historically, culturally and artistically.

Inaugural Concert

As usual members of the Jury give the opening recital, surely a unique feature of this competition!

A small group of pieces were performed by each member of the distinguished competition Jury. Being of a nervous disposition myself, I felt it was absolutely remarkable that without exception they summoned up the courage to perform before their peers. It will be an absolutely unique experience 

 

After the Jury Concert ….

Review of the Jury Concert

KATARZYNA POPOWA-ZYDROŃ 

Fryderyk Chopin  (1810-1849)

From Préludes op. 28 Nos. 1 – 12

It would of course have been impossible for Chopin to have ever considered performing this complete radical cycle in his own musical and cultural environment (not least because of the brevity of many of the pieces). It is unlikely ever to have even occurred to him to do this, the way programmes were designed piecemeal at the time. In some of his programmes and others of the period, a few preludes are scattered randomly  through them like diamond dust. Each piece contains within it entire worlds and destinies of the human spirit and deserves individual attention rather than being a brick in a monumental edifice.

It is now well established by structuralists and Bach scholars as a complete and symmetrical work, a masterpiece of integrated yet unrelated ‘fragments’ (in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century sense of that aesthetic term). Each prelude can of course stand on its own as a perfect miniature landscape of emotional feeling and tonal climate. But ‘Why Preludes? Preludes to what?’ André Gide asked rather gratuitously. One possible explanation is that the idea of ‘preluding’ as an improvisational activity in the same key for a short time before a large keyboard work was to be performed was well established in Chopin’s day but has been abandoned in modern times.

The Preludes surely extend the prescient Chopin remark ‘I indicate, it’s up to the listener to complete the picture’.  

She opened this much anticipated group of Preludes with the expressive and lyrical, not over-agitated,  C major. The A minor  Lento  was a dark and haunting account with dark clouds overshadowing the bleak and tragic melody, the harmonic transitions leading us towards the Styx. The contrast with the G-major Vivace was all the more joyful, reminiscent of a rushing mountain stream with much dynamic variation and refinement in touch and tone.

She expressed a deep melancholic yearning in the fourth in E minor marked Largo by Chopin and played on the organ at his funeral in Paris. She made the piano sing before the emotional disturbance and rich, balanced chords. The exuberant Molto allegro of the fifth in D major again lifted the spirits as we moved into the beautiful cantabile L.H. song of the Lento assai of the sixth in B minor.

We were given a flicker of alluring perfumed memory in the refined Polish dance with number seven. The highly virtuosic Molto agitato prelude number eightin F sharp minor was full of existential disturbance which evoked the fraught emotions and disease suffered on Mallorca. The ninth, a Largo in E major, was a serious meditation with much polyphony revealed. The dynamic rose in strength but never became harsh. The Molto allegro tenth in C sharp minor always puts me in mind of swallows in diving flight through the azure of early morning light.

The eleventh Vivace reminded Alfred Cortot of the desire of young girls. No comment! The final one in her selected group, number twelve in G sharp minor marked Presto, is a technical  challenge. I found it communicated an agitated and distracted mind, a true representation of fractured consciousness with the expressive silences Popowa- Zydroń gave to it.

CHRISTOPHER ELTON 

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Variations in F minor

Elton gave a charming and innocent presentation of the beautiful opening theme at a moderate tempo. He has a fine tone and refined touch (almost as if on an instrument of the period) which gave rise to such graceful fioraturas. His phrasing and polyphony in the L.H against the R.H. as separate voices ‘in conversation’ was perfect.The variations are actually a double set, one in F minor and the other in F major. Each variation was given a distinct character and identity. The entire performance was most affecting emotionally, the pianissimos expressively moving with a fine conclusion. These rare qualities are rarely encountered in many inferior performances.

Fryderyk Chopin  (1810-1849)

Mazurka in A minor Op. 59 No. 1

His Chopin mazurka emerged as a song, singing phrases with a superb return of the melody. I could not help marvelling at Chopin’s adventurous harmonic transitions which must have sounded revolutionary, if not inaccessible, in the day.

DINA YOFFE 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

From “Colorful Leaves” op. 99

    1. A major Nicht schnell mit Innigkeit (Not fast with intimacy)

Surely another yearning musical love note intended for Clara. Yoffe played this with deep sensitivity.

2. E minor.  Sehr rasch (Very quickly)

A feeling of a more negative mood, even rage, born of frustration at difficult circumstances

3. E major.  Frisch (Fresh)

Yoffe communicated a fine burst of fresh, revivifying energy and great exuberance. Most affecting.

From “Album Leaves”:

1. F sharp minor. Ziemlich langsam (Relatively slow) 

Yoffe created with superb tone and touch a reflective and nostalgic mood of great subtlety. Pianissimo in a remarkable dynamic arc evolved, full of intense emotional yearning

2. B minor. Schnell (Quickly)

Again, Yoffe created these articulate, expressive arcs of music and sound with magnificent virtuosity.

Fryderyk Chopin 

Mazurka “à Emile Gaillard” without opus number

Yoffe’s performance elucidated and presented perceptively the wonderful L.H. counterpoint that answers the R.H. melody within the work. She possesses a deep understanding of mazurka rhythm, highlighting many glorious layers of polyphony. The implied improvisatory quality of the piece, such a fundamental quality of growth in the composition of Chopin’s mazurkas, was clear as the work fades into the ether at the conclusion.

As an encore, she appropriately and poignantly played a work entitled The Messenger (originally for synthesizer, piano and string orchestra (1996–1997) by the Ukrainian composer, Valentin Silvestrov.

This was a deeply moving, symbolic work that brings us a message, so important a means of communication today, through the ether from another time and place. Yoffe played it with complete simplicity augmented by her refined tone and touch. There were many beautiful harmonic transitions and nostalgic reminiscences evoked by Nature in transformation, also many memories of past musical styles were evoked. This was a profoundly affecting piece, much of the emotion coming from the superb reflective pianissimos Yoffe was able to conjure for us and our own reflections on this inconceivable tragedy of our time.

 

Velentin Silvestrov

SABINE SIMON 

Fryderyk Chopin 

“Wiosna” in G minor, Op. 74 No. 2

A fine performance of perhaps the best known of Chopin’s songs, played with a beautiful internal swaying rhythm.

Presto con leggierezza in A flat major (Prélude without opus number) Excellent rendition if slightly unkempt occasionally, which may have simply been my tired ‘little grey cells’ after travelling!

“Allegro de Concert” A major op. 46

The work is immensely difficult technically for pianists. Rather dense musical writing, complex style brillante and execution, large left-hand chord jumps, trills, scales of thirds, and difficult octaves. For this reason it is considered one of Chopin’s most difficult pieces. It is rarely performed and this is one of the first times I have heard it played live apart from once in a past International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Despite the triumphalism of much of the writing, Simon executed the work brilliantly and the beautiful cantabile sections with great introspection and nostalgia. This was a fine virtuosic and energetic performance that gratefully lifted our spirits out of the general air of despond that prevails over the planet just at present.

The piece has received relatively few performances or recordings, and it is not generally well-known among music lovers, even of Chopin. The composer himself seems to have been very proud of it. He told Aleksander Hoffmann: “This will be the first piece I will play in my first concert when I return home to a free Warsaw.”  

Intermission

MARTIN KASIK 

Leoš Janáček   (1854-1928)

 

Leoš Janáček

“Po zarostlém chodníčku” (On an Overgrown Path)

This piano cycle On an Overgrown Path, composed around 1900, had a particularly complicated genesis. The seven pieces were originally written for harmonium.The title for the work, On an Overgrown Path, had been decided by 1901, but the titles of the individual movements changed a great deal. For example, No. 2, began as ‘A Declaration of Love,’ then changed to ‘A Love Song’ and finally became the mysterious imagist title of ‘A Blown-Away Leaf’.

Janáček described the work as having two strands of ‘distant reminiscences’ of his childhood and reflection on the death of his 20-year-old daughter Olga in 1903. Janáček’s change in the work from childhood memories to the tragedies of the parent’s loss of a child make this ‘a unique statement of the human condition.’ (Maureen Buja)

    1. “Naše večery” (Our Evenings)

Kasik gave the fluctuating imagist, literary, poetic moods and dynamic emotional contrasts of this intense feeling of loss, intense yet lyrical expression.

2.“Lístek odvanutý” (A Blown-Away Leaf)

I could not help imagining the profound sadness of the loss of child at the tender age of 21, expressed metaphorically as the image of a leaf detached from the mother tree being carelessly carried by Nature on the winds of chance. Stronger gusts of wind on occasion carried the leaf more turbulent in graphic and turbulent musical impressionist imagery of the loss of a loved being.

 

Olga Janáčková (1882-1903)

Fryderyk Chopin 

Ballade in G minor op. 23

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. 

‘I have received from Chopin a Ballade’, Schumann informed his friend Heinrich Dorn in the autumn of 1836. ‘It seems to me to be the work closest to his genius (though not the most brilliant). I told him that of everything he has created thus far it appeals to my heart the most. After a lengthy silence, Chopin replied with emphasis: “I am glad, because I too like it the best, it is my dearest work”.’

The great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski paints the background to this work best: It was during those two years that what was original, individual and distinctive in Chopin spoke through his music with great urgency and violence, expressing the composer’s inner world spontaneously and without constraint – a world of real experiences and traumas, sentimental memories and dreams, romantic notions and fancies. Life did not spare him such experiences and traumas in those years, be it in the sphere of patriotic or of intimate feelings. […] For everyone, the ballad was an epic work, in which what had been rejected in Classical high poetry now came to the fore: a world of extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious, fantastical and irrational events inspired by the popular imagination.

In Romantic poetry, the ballad became a ‘programmatic’ genre. It was here that the real met the surreal. Mickiewicz gave his own definition: ‘The ballad is a tale spun from the incidents of everyday (that is, real) life or from chivalrous stories, animated by the strangeness of the Romantic world, sung in a melancholy tone, in a serious style, simple and natural in its expressions’. And there is no doubt that in creating the first of his piano ballades, Chopin allowed himself to be inspired by just such a vision of this highly Romantic genre. What he produced was an epic work telling of something that once occurred, ‘animated by strangeness’, suffused with a ‘melancholy tone’, couched in a serious style, expressed in a natural way, and so closer to an instrumental song than to an elaborate aria.

Kasik gave us an impressive, virtuosic and rhapsodic account of this great work. It had the feeling of a poem in music from the outset – dramatic, dynamic and yet poetic. He gave the work tremendous passionate forward drive in a commanding, almost theatrical and exciting performance. Certainly, nineteenth century Poles would have ‘read’ this unleashing by Chopin of revolutionary musical expression in a visceral manner, this unfolding of the emotional history of a tormented soul.

ALEKSANDRA MIKULSKA

Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurka in B flat minor Op. 24 No. 4

Here we were given a beautifully lyrical and poetic approach with a fine dance rhythm. The Nostalgic fading into oblivion at the conclusion was both effective and affecting

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

Variations in B flat minor op. 3

I would like to quote the pianist Ariel Lanyi who described this set of variations in the most succinct way I know.

To me, this work’s uniqueness lies in the effect of mirage that it creates. In Szymanowski’s variations, we drift from tradition to deviation, from past to future, from earnestness to irony, and from sorrow to triumph in an equally wonderful mirage, which organically builds its own form and shape.

Mikulska in this rarely performed work produced some eloquent, varied, dynamic and poetic Romantic variations that were subtle yet most affecting in expression.

ALEXANDER KOBRIN

Fryderyk Chopin

Berceuse in D flat major op. 57

One of the finest performances of this beguiling work I have ever heard in live concert. Kobrin showed extreme delicacy, innocence and refinement with his glorious tone and a velvet touch. These feather-like qualities, patterned like lace yet solidly grounded in an unvaried accompaniment to the cultivated rubato , were all perfectly appropriate for this lullaby. The dynamic never rose beyond piano or pianissimo.

Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60

A perfect opening that painted the prevailing mood in a watercolor wash on the lagoon. It was a romantic dream voyage from the outset, as if sailing into a late Turner watercolour of Venice. He followed all the correct dynamic marking in the score which so few pianists do. Here we were gifted a perfect rubato, phrasing and convincing dynamic variations depending on the emotional agitation of the lovers. There was a careful retention of the complex structure of this long and difficult work. A deeply satisfying performance of a Chopin work that often defeats even the most talented.

 

Venice from the Lagoon 1840 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

KEVIN KENNER 

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in F minor Op. 55 No. 1

The first dozen bars of the Nocturne in F minor were written into the album of Elizabeth Sheremetev. The opening theme is melancholic and elegiac which Kenner ‘sang’ so affectingly on the piano. This atmosphere of poetic nostalgia soon gave way to a depiction of the dark night of the soul. Kenner proceeded into the darker regions of internal exploration of the deeper heart in a dramatic and theatrical fashion. These agitated passages lead the narrative back into the melancholy aura from which they emerged. I agree completely with James Huneker, the renowned American music critic, writer and pianist, author of a book devoted to Chopin, who wrote of the Nocturne genre:

‘Something of Chopin’s delicate, tender warmth and spiritual voice is lost in larger spaces. In a small auditorium, and from the fingers of a sympathetic pianist, the nocturnes should be heard, that their intimate, night side may be revealed. […] They are essentially for the twilight, for solitary enclosures, where their still, mysterious tones […] become eloquent and disclose the poetry and pain of their creator.’

 

Karol Szymanowski painted by his close friend Witkacy

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

Etude in B flat minor, Op. 4, No. 3

I must admit to adoring this rarely performed Szymanowski work, unaccustomed for me. His early works show the influence of the late Romantic German school as well as the early works of Scriabin. The magnificent melody explores one’s internal psyche. Kenner presented this magnificent work as such a statement of triumph over adversity. A desperately moving melody, a life, a romance.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)

Nocturne in B flat major, Op. 16, No. 4

I am rendered speechless and near tears every time I hear this affecting work. It was an inspiration of Kenner to couple this with the Szymanowski and I could barely control my emotions.

Kevin Kenner : Born in California, winner of the XII. International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1990, the Terence Judd Award in London and the bronze medal at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition in the same year. In London he was a professor at the Royal College of Music for many years. Since 2015 Professor at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Concerts worldwide as a soloist and chamber musician. A longtime chamber music partner is the great Korean violinist Kyung-Wha Chung. 2021 deputy jury president of the XVII. International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron : Originally from Bulgaria, long-time professor of piano at the music academies in Bydgoszcz and Gdansk, from 2000 to 2007 taught Rafal Blechacz, winner of the 2005 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She is a much sought-after teacher and juror, in 2015 and 2021 she was the jury president of the Warsaw International Chopin Competition. Nowadays she appears less often as a soloist, much more often as a chamber musician.

Dina Yoffe , born in Riga, Latvia, has won multiple prizes, including second prize behind Krystian Zimerman at the IX. International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1975. Concerts worldwide as a soloist and with orchestras, leads master classes worldwide and is a much sought-after juror. Former professor at the conservatories in Tel Aviv, Hamburg and Aichi, Japan. Currently professor at Katarina Gurska Centro Superior Madrid and at euroArts Academy.

Alexander Kobrin , born in Moscow, studied at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, first prize winner in important international competitions such as Van Cliburn , Busoni, Hamamatsu and Glasgow. At the XIV International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2000 he received 3rd prize. Concerts worldwide as a soloist and with orchestras. Currently professor at the renowned Eastman School of Music in New York.

Christopher Elton , born in Edinburgh, studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he managed to graduate with honors in both piano and cello. Multiple winner of national and international piano competitions. He was a long-time Professor and Head of the Keyboard Department at the Royal Academy of Music and Professor Emeritus at the University of London.

Martin Kasik , born in Moravia in the Czech Republic. Multiple first prize winners at international piano competitions. In particular, the 1st prize in New York at the Young Concert Artists Competition catapulted him into an international concert career. He gives concerts worldwide as a soloist, with orchestras and as a chamber musician. Martin Kasik has been president of the Chopin Festival in Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) since 2008 and lecturer in piano at the Prague Conservatory since 2009. He also teaches at the Music Academy in Prague.

Sabine Simon studied at the Hanns Eisler Music Academy in Berlin, at Indiana University, Bloomington (USA) and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Early winner of national and international competitions. Her concert activities have taken her throughout Europe, North and South America and Japan. Since 2005 lecturer at the Academy of Music in Darmstadt. She regularly teaches piano and chamber music courses and is a jury member at national and international piano competitions. In addition to classical music, she is also interested in new music.

Aleksandra Mikulska , born and raised in Warsaw and President of the Chopin Society in the Federal Republic of Germany in Darmstadt since 2014. Studied in Karlsruhe, then in Imola in Italy (Lazar Berman, Michel Dalberto) and finally in Hanover with Arie Vardi. Winner of international piano competitions and active concert activities in European countries. Aleksandra Mikulska has been a professor of piano at the Carl Maria von Weber Hochschule für Musik in Dresden since 2021.

The Competition is in 3 rounds 

Works exclusively by Fryderyk Chopin:

Works for piano solo

Works for piano and orchestra (Concertos in E minor op. 11 and F minor op. 21, Krakowiak in F major op. 14, Fantasy on Polish Airs in A major op. 13)

Improvisation on a given theme (optional)

PRIZES

€ 30.000 altogether, plus concert engagements

COMPETITION REPERTOIRE 2022

Concerning the competition repertoire:

The guiding principle when compiling the repertoire was to place an emphasis on early and less frequently performed works by Chopin, which are exemplary for the “style brilliant“, e.g. rondos and some early polonaises in the 2nd Round, without entirely foregoing works from the different genres and creative periods of the master.

The decision to eliminate the two famous sonatas in B flat minor and B minor this time was not taken lightly and was mainly the result of time constraints and the desire to give priority to less frequently performed works. The choice of improvisation at the end of the 1st Round should be an incentive for candidates to discover the art of improvisation, which is largely neglected nowadays, especially since Chopin was a great master in this field.

For the first time in the final round, a string quintet will take over the orchestral part. This results both from practical considerations and from the desire to present these works in an instrumentation that Chopin himself thoroughly advocated and practised. We hope the choice of other works for piano and orchestra in addition to the two famous concertos in E minor and F minor, might give rise to a varied final round.

To be performed from memory in any chosen order, except for the études and mazurkas, which should be performed as a set.

Any reliable edition of Chopin’s works is permitted, although we strongly recommend the National Edition (edited by Jan Ekier).

CANDIDATES

There were 45 candidates from an encouragingly and interestingly wide range of countries

Birth are dates before the names

*12.12.94 2 BENSON Léo Frankreich

*30.07.00 3 BYKH Yaroslav Ukraine

*19.12.93 5 DROZD Anton Ukraine

*21.04.95 6 FAZEKAS Balazs Slowakei

*21.02.01 8 GOZDZIEWSKI Adam Polen

*05.12.96 9 HAFTMAN Artur Polen

*18.06.94 10 HENKE Adrian Deutschland

*11.04.00 11 HUAI Jiaxuan China

*01.10.98 12 IBIC Vid Slowenien

*06.02.02 13 IGAWA Hana Japan

*13.03.93 14 JÄSCHKE Marie Deutschland

*27.07.93 16 JONES Fantee USA/Taiwan

*19.11.93 17 KIM Da Jin Korea

*13.01.95 18 KIM Haeun Korea

*21.11.93 19 KIM Jooyoung Korea

*18.03.97 20 KIM Nasung Korea

*07.03.92 21 KIM Uram Korea

*16.05.97 22 KIMURA Momoko Japan

*14.01.99 23 KRAHFORST Leonhard Polen

*20.11.01 24 KRUCZEK Wojciech Polen

*09.03.95 25 LAI Yiting China

*09.06.97 27 LU I-Shan Taiwan

*21.10.96 28 MENG Fan Yi China

*10.07.98 29 NAKAGAWA Yuna Japan

*10.07.99 30 NAKAMURA Fuyuko Japan

*29.01.93 31 NAM Eugene Australien

*17.10.97 33 SANO Akihiro Japan

*07.05.95 34 SIM Seungyeop Korea

*08.08.95 35 SOIC Barbara Kroatien

*16.07.94 36 SUMNIKOVA Marie Tschechien

*26.08.06 43 38 SUZUKI Naho Japan

*18.01.93 39 TOMICA Mateusz Polen

*14.04.97 40 TRAN LE BAO Quyen Vietnam

*05.08.94 41 TRUBAC Vojtech Tschechien

*05.01.97 42 VOJVODIC Zvjezdan Kroatien

*11.04.03 43 WANG Jie China

*25.01.01 44 WONG Oscar Australien

*04.06.98 45 WU Zijun China

*21.11.95 46 YERMALAYEVA Yuliya Weißrussland

*28.09.92 47 ZAJAC Tomasz Polen

*22.02.94 48 ZENIN Andrey Russland

*18.01.95 49 ZHAO Ziji Zoe China

*13.09.99 50 ZHENG Ailun China

*02.01.99 51 ZHU Xintian China

*07.07.98 52 ZURBO Iva Albanien

* * * * * * * * * * *

 First Round (approx. 25 minutes)

 Two études, one from each group (a, b) indicated below:

a) C major op. 10/1 b) A flat major op. 10/10
  C sharp minor op. 10/4   E flat major op. 10/11
  G flat major op. 10/5   F major op. 25/3
  F major op. 10/8   E minor op. 25/5
  C minor op. 10/12   G sharp minor op. 25/6
  A minor op. 25/11   D flat major op. 25/8
  C minor op. 25/12   B minor op. 25/10

 One complete opus of mazurkas (free choice)

 One of the following waltzes:

E-flat major op. 18

A flat major op. 34/1

A flat major op. 42

C sharp minor op. 64/2

A flat major op. 64/3

G flat major op. 70/1 (posth.)

E minor Op. posth.

One of the following nocturnes:

B major op. 9/3

F sharp major op. 15/2

C sharp minor op. 27/1

D flat major op. 27/2

C minor op. 48/1

E flat major op. 55/2

B major op. 62/1

E major op. 62/2

 Optional: Candidates in the first round may, in addition to the above, choose to improvise for a maximum of 5 minutes on a theme which will be given to them shortly before, on the same day. The improvisation is voluntary and no marks will be deducted for a poor attempt. It will be timed separately. A prize of € 500 will be awarded for the best improvisation.

 Second Round (35 – 40 minutes. Play may be interrupted if the time limit is exceeded.)

 One of the following pieces:

Ballad in G minor op. 23

Ballad in F major op. 38

Ballade in A flat major op. 47

Ballade in F minor op. 52

Allegro de Concert in A major op. 46

Fantasy in F minor op. 49

Barcarolle in F sharp major op. 60

Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major op. 61

Scherzo in B minor op. 20

Scherzo B flat minor op. 31

Scherzo in C sharp minor op. 39

Scherzo in E major op. 54

One of the following pieces:

Impromptu in A flat major op. 29

Impromptu in F sharp major op. 36

Impromptu in G flat major op. 51

Bolero op. 19

Tarantella in A flat major op. 43

3 Nouvelles Etudes (F minor, A flat major and D flat major)

One of the following pieces:

Rondo in C minor op. 1

Rondeau a la Mazur in F major op. 5

Rondo in E flat major op. 16

Rondo in C major op. 73

Variations on “Là ci darem la mano“ in B flat major op. 2

Variations brillantes in B flat major op. 12

Movements 1 and  2 of the  Sonata in C minor op. 4 (Exposition in the 1st movement not to be repeated)

Movements  3 and 4 of the Sonata in C minor op. 4

One of the following polonaises:

It’s flat minor up. 26/2

C minor op. 40/2

D minor Op. 71/1

B flat major op. 71/2

F minor op. 71/3

G sharp minor (posth.)

B flat minor (posth.)

G flat major (posth.)

If necessary, one or more pieces by Chopin of the candidate’s own choice, to ensure a total playing time of 35 – 40 minutes. No works played in the first Round may be repeated in the second Round.

 Final Round

 Concerto for piano and orchestra in F minor op. 21

OR

Krakowiak (Grand Rondeau de concert)  in F major op. 14 with orchestra plus any one movement of the concerto for piano and orchestra in E minor op. 11

OR

Fantasy on Polish Airs in A major op. 13 with orchestra plus any one movement of the concerto for piano and orchestra in E minor op. 11

 About the repertoire

The guiding principle in the compilation of the repertoire was to include examples of works from different genres and periods of Chopin’s life, while placing strong emphasis on Chopin’s early works, such as the rondos and some early polonaises in the second round and op. 13 and 14 in the final round, these youthful and charming works being fine examples of the style brillante so undeservedly neglected on today’s concert platforms. Our decision in favour of the first sonata in C minor forced us to exclude from the repertoire the two famous sonatas in B minor and B-flat minor due to time limitations. This decision was not taken lightly.

The opportunity for improvisation in the first round should be seen as an incentive for young pianists to explore and develop this nowadays widely neglected art, of which Chopin was such a great master.

 SCHEDULE 2022

 OPENING CONCERT

Friday, 21. October,  2022, 20:00 h

Orangery, Bessunger Str. 44

COMPETITION IN 3 ROUNDS, open to the public

Saturday 22.10. to Sunday 30.10.2022

Orangery, Bessunger Str. 44

PRIZEWINNERS’ CONCERT AND AWARDS CEREMONY

Monday, 31.10.2022,  19:00 h

Orangery, Bessunger Str. 44

Works for piano solo

 Jury

The jury for the 2022 competition will consist of:

Kevin Kenner (USA, Chair), Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń (BUL/PL), Dina Yoffe (LET), Alexander Kobrin (USA), Christopher Elton (GB), Martin Kasik (CZ) , Sabine Simon (D), Aleksandra Mikulska (PL / D).

Instalment 22

Chapter 12

Lost in the Darkness of Change

Eddie returned to London submerged in melancholy thoughts. His labile temperament, inability to sleep and uncontrollable surges of jealously seemed to indicate he was once again approaching the edge of a nervous breakdown. Having lost George, he now seemed to be about to lose Sabine. The exhausting train journey from Berlin had given him far too much time to ruminate on the seductive power of the booted and muscular Fascist male. It seemed an impossible concept. His feelings towards Sabine and German culture had been distorted on the tour. ‘When I hear the word “culture” … I release the safety on my Browning!’*

Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Silver Jubilee festivities 1935
(RCIN 2304721)

England was the scene of much public rejoicing in 1935, King George V’s Silver Jubilee year. He had seen them through the greatest conflagration in history, the Great War. Eddie with his passionate attachment to Queen Mary was disappointed that he had missed the spectacular State Drive of their Majesties for the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral in May. ‘Other anxieties may be in store,’ the King warned, scarcely realizing the prescience of this observation.

Service of Thanksgiving George V Silver Jubilee St. Paul’s Cathedral 6 May, 1935 (RCIN 2000396)

* Declared by Friedrich Thiemann, a character in the play Schlageter by Hanns Johst devoted to Nazi ideology through the martyr Albert Schlageter (1894–1923). He was a German saboteur executed by the French in 1923, a hero martyr of the Nazis and mentioned in Mein Kampf.

Albert Schlageter (1894–1923).

This famous line is often misattributed, sometimes to Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels and sometimes to Heinrich Himmler. Jean-Luc Godard in his 1963 film Le Mépris has a producer say to Fritz Lang: ‘Whenever I hear the word culture, I bring out my chequebook.’

Eddie again rented the flat at 7a Manchester Street, intent on taking up the social threads of his concert life. His finances were in their usual parlous state, not assisted by the sombre economic blizzard. Being an opportunist and something of a social snob, he had no intention of allowing himself to be forced into the financial extremity of trying his luck in the north of England. He did not want to slip into the disinherited world of ‘impotence and despair’, the world of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier.

In Mayfair, the ladies seemed to regard him as some sort of ‘pet’ and cared for him with the extravagance and emotional attachment elderly women expend on their Siamese cats or King Charles Spaniels. He did not object to this treatment, but often felt smothered and financially beholden to them. He had frequently performed for the Dowager Viscountess Harcourt and her friends at Nuneham Court, her country house in Oxfordshire. She had arranged his first valuable recital before Queen Mary in 1926 and the initial prized mention in the Court Circular. His fine playing had not been forgotten and his undoubted charisma maintained its power.

The generous fees enabled him to survive in some degree of comfort but not to save. He attended parties given by the Duchess of Devonshire at St James’s Palace in honour of the Duchess of York and another given by the Marchioness of Londonderry at glamorous Londonderry house, the very heart of Society and a fulcrum of power. Eddie also renewed his acquaintance with the Dowager Lady Swaythling for whom he had first played at Kensington Court in 1926.

Gladys Helen Rachel (née Goldsmid), Lady Swaythling by Bassano Photograph,4 May 1923 (NPG)

The Dowager was becoming a close friend and staunch patron. On 8 May she was hostess at a large dinner party given in honour of the Prime Minister of Australia Mr A.J. Lyons and Mrs Lyons. She planned that he give his ‘Jubilee Concert’ there on the evening of June 30. Eddie’s loyal patron of long-standing HH Princess Marie Louise signified her intention to attend and invited him to luncheon. The ex-King and Queen of Siam (Thailand), Field Marshall Lord Allenby * and Lady Allenby and that conspicuous exile, Milo Petrović-Njegoš, Prince Milo of Montenegro, would also attend the concert. Supper would be provided for the aristocratic audience after the recital which was soon subscribed at one guinea each for the marginally less distinguished of the sixty guests.

* Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby (1861–1936), commander of T.E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. One of the greatest British generals.

Prince Milo of Montenegro was a quite extraordinary character who had been educated at the élite Corps des Pages Military Academy in St Petersburg. His cousins Miliza and Anastasia had been invited by Czar Alexander III to be educated at the Smolny Institute, a school for the female nobility in the same city. Both sisters were socially influential at the Russian imperial court. They dabbled in the occult and fatally introduced Rasputin to the imperial  family. 

Prince Milo of Montenegro (1889–1978)

Prince Milo had spoken often to Czar Nicholas II and knew the younger members of the ill-fated family well, spending holidays with them in the Crimea. The tortuous history of his oft-betrayed country meant much of his life was spent wandering in exile. While in Shanghai staying at the Hotel Astor  in 1924 he had a diverting dinner with a flirtatious but painfully thin US naval pilot officer’s wife named Wallis Spencer soon to become the infamous Wallis Simpson.*

Letter of acceptance to the concert to Edward Cahill from Prince Milo of Montenegro

*The full romantic story of the gallant Prince Milo of Montenegro (1889–1978) written by his daughter is contained in My Father, the Prince, Milena Petrovic-Njegoš Thompson (Xlibris, Bloomington, 2000).

In an amusing divertissement, on July 3 Eddie gave a ‘Viennese’ charity recital of Strauss waltzes in the ballroom of Lady Dance’s home in Regent’s Park for HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. In ‘beergarden’ style all the guests at midnight sat ‘informally’ on the floor to eat supper, save the characterful Princess who stood regally by the piano admiring his musicianship. Eddie gave her a huge bunch of Tiger Lilies.

Reference bottom paragraph left hand side
From Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954), Sunday 28 July 1935, page 29

***

Princess Marie Louise had been interested in Eddie’s career ever since she had first heard him and George perform in Mayfair in 1927. She had been greatly saddened by news of George’s death and endeavoured to bolster Eddie’s spirits whenever she could. Apart from her passion for music, she was a keen tennis follower, rarely missed a day’s play during Wimbledon and often presented the prizes. Eddie shared her interest in tennis, having played a great deal at club level as a young man in Australia.

In perfect weather she attended the exciting Men’s Singles Final of this championship on 5 July 1935 between the great English player Fred Perry and the German aristocrat Baron Gottfried von Cramm.* Eddie’s close friendship with the great Australian tennis player Sir Norman Brookes # and his own interest in the game often led him to attend prestigious matches.

† The legendary Fred Perry (1909–95) was a championship-winning English tennis and table tennis player who won 10 Majors including eight Grand Slams and two Pro Slams. Perry won three consecutive Wimbledon Championships between 1934 and 1936 and was World No. 1 for four consecutive years.

Gottfried von Cramm in action against Fred Perry, during the men’s final at Wimbledon, 5 July 1935.

Gottfried von Cramm was admired for his remarkably handsome ‘Aryan’ looks, his charm and refinement as well as for his fine sense of sportsmanship. ‘Like a comet a new star fell from the tennis heavens,’ wrote one French newspaper. ‘If he plays tennis as well as he looks,’ remarked a female member of his tennis club, ‘he’ll be world champion’. It was reported that he practised ‘like a professor of mathematics for five hours a day’. The legendary Australian coach Harry Hopman observed: ‘Gottfried was the most fluent and best-looking stroke maker I have seen in my fifty years of international tennis.’ His first serve was good but his second serve was even better, ‘a loathsome thing’.

Gottfried von Cramm Time Cover September 13, 1937
Gottfried von Cramm

However, von Cramm was homosexual and had befriended a Jewish transvestite actor Manasse Herbst at the notorious Eldorado nightclub in Berlin. This meant initially at the very least the possibility of a Nazi jail sentence, more likely execution. He led a perilous existence. Von Cramm was defeated by Perry in the Wimbledon final 6–2, 6–4, 6–4, which actually put his entire life and career in jeopardy.

Fred Perry and Gottfried von Cramm Wimbledon 1935

The British correspondent Alistair Cooke commented: ‘Every year that von Cramm steps onto the Centre Court at Wimbledon a few hundred young women sit straighter and forget about their escorts.’

GOTTFRIED von CRAMM (1909-1976). German tennis player. Photographed 1931.

*Gottfried von Cramm (1909–76) was a German amateur tennis champion and twice French open champion (1934, 1936).

Sir Norman Brookes invited Princess Marie Louise and Eddie to a small dinner party he and his wife had arranged in Eaton Square after the championship. Several of the leading tennis players of the day had been invited to meet her. Walter Pate, the US Davis Cup captain, the British player Reginald Bessemer-Clark, Gottfried  von Cramm and the man who would be his next opponent in an immortal Davis Cup match in 1937, the ‘ugly’ young American tennis virtuoso Donald Budge. Eddie had promised to play the piano informally after dinner and received unusually intense approbation from both sportsmen and royalty.

# Sir Norman Brookes (1877–1968) was an Australian tennis champion, World No. 1 in 1907 and President of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia. Brookes was the first non-Briton to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon. He won the men’s singles twice, in 1907 and 1914. He was a major figure in establishing the Australian Open, which he won in 1911.

Sir Norman Brookes (1877–1968)

* * *

Eddie did not hesitate to accept the invitation from the Lord Chamberlain to attend the Jubilee Afternoon Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on Thursday 25 July 1935 from 4 to 6.30 pm Morning Dress (Weather permitting). He would be able to renew many useful acquaintances. The weather turned out to be gloriously sunny with a huge Empire crowd of some ten thousand ambling about the tents and marquees, listening to the military bands, drinking tea and nibbling tiny cucumber sandwiches laid out on tables decorated with vibrant pink carnations.

At exactly 4 pm King George V and Queen Mary emerged from a side entrance to the palace. She was dressed in beige lace and carried a pink parasol while other ladies wore long dresses with elbow-length gloves also carrying parasols. The King together with the other men were dressed in dove grey morning suits and grey top hats.

They mingled with the many high Indian officials and their wives who added vibrantly coloured silks to the splendour of the occasion. Many were presented to Their Majesties under the Durbar canopy. As Eddie circulated in the gardens, Queen Mary again briefly engaged him in conversation  with  her  usual  succinct  phrases of encouragement: ‘Keep up the practice!’ After attending this socially inclusive gesture on the part of royalty, Eddie with the greatest relief felt he was now back ‘in the swim’ of London Society and his worries drifted away like a summer cloud.

In August he holidayed at Townhill Park House, the Dowager Lady Swaythling’s country house in Hampshire. Eddie wrote of her ‘enormous enthusiasm’ for Australia and Australians.

Lady Swaythling in the gardens of Townhill Park designed by Gertrude Jekyll

* * *

The excitement of speed had always acted like a drug on this eccentric pianist. Fast driving ‘at the limit’ created a wonderful elevation of the spirit. It distracted him completely from his customary destructive ‘neurotic introspection and dwelling’. Eddie found he was missing the pleasure of driving the Alvis. Bowling along through English country lanes at speed in summer, wind in his hair, deep breathing the scents of nature, sometimes hearing the birdsong, gave him a similar exhilaration to playing La Campanella a tempo at the very limits of his piano technique.

The August Bank Holiday race meeting at Brooklands promised a duel between two impossibly glamorous lady drivers: the beautiful and diminutive Kay Petre in her V12 Delage and Gwenda Stewart in the Derby-Miller. Kay won the race with a lap of 134.25 mph and both were given the coveted 130mph badge held by very few Brooklands drivers, male or female.

Kay Petre in the V12 Delage (Brooklands Museum)
Kay Petre in the V12 Delage (Brooklands Museum)

Since his concert tour of Siam (Thailand) in 1920 and his recital at the Royal Palace, Eddie had taken a close interest in that country and its royal family. At this time the famous Siamese driver Prince Bira* was driving at Brooklands for White Mouse Racing, supervised by his cousin Prince Chula.

Logo – White Mouse Racing
Prince Bira driving his ERA “Romulus’
Lt. to Rt. Prince Bira, Prince Chula and Praya Bhirom Bhakdi at Prince Bira’s car show at Chakrabongse Villa, Bangkok 1938

In the Siam Trophy race Prince Bira came second in an ERA. Eddie wrote in detail to his cinder-track motorbike-obsessed sister Bessie in Australia about these intoxicating speed events at Brooklands. He described the British Racing Drivers’ Club meeting when the legendary John Cobb and Tim Rose-Richards raced the formidable Napier-Railton. Cobb went on to win despite being hit in the face with a lump of concrete as the Members’ Banking began to break up.‡ Many of Eddie’s wealthy young aristocratic friends in the Paddock (‘The Right Crowd and No Crowding’) enthusiastically shared with him what was considered a ‘noisy and brutal passion’ by the dowagers and duchesses. They felt he should ‘stick to the refinement of Mozart’. But he knew these interests to be not incompatible.

*Prince Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubandh (1914–85) was known as Prince Bira of Siam (Thailand) or by his nom de course B. Bira. He was a well known Formula One and Grand Prix motor racing driver competing for the Maserati, Gordini and Connaught teams among others. Two days before Christmas 1985, the impoverished Prince Bira was found dead from a heart attack in an empty railway carriage at Baron’s Court Underground Station in London, an abject end to a glamorous life.

† Prince Chula Chakrabongse of Siam (1908–63) was also a member of the Siamese (Thai) Royal Family. When Prince Chula’s  cousin Prince Bira went to England in 1927   to complete his education at Eton, Chula was supervising a car racing team called White Mouse Racing. Prince Bira decided to drive for him in 1935. Bira’s partnership with Prince Chula ended in late 1948.

‡ The Members’ Banking at Brooklands was one of two built-up sections of track designed to accommodate cars racing at high speed. The other was called the Byfleet Banking.

The Members’ Banking was a dangerous, rough and tremendously exciting portion of the circuit where many dramas occurred. Cars became airborne or flew off the top of the banking, the drivers usually killed and their cars wrecked. Sections of the banking have been restored for nostalgic and rather safer forays into the past history of motor racing.

John Cobb airborne in the 24 litre Napier-Railton on ‘bump’ the Members’ Banking at Brooklands 1935

https://archive.org/details/death-drives-through

Watch this astonishing 1935 b/w production, filmed entirely at Brooklands when in operation (free). The movie not only indicates how motor sport has changed dramatically under vast commercial pressures but also how the love story and sense of moral standards and values of relationships between people have substantially altered post-war.

Brooklands in the 1920s – women and children waiting for husbands and fathers to finish racing

* * *

Severe gales in September and serious flooding throughout the country in November meant his patrons were more preoccupied with erecting defenses and repairing destruction at their country houses than holding classical concerts. As Christmas approached and the trains began to run again Eddie decided to head for Rome where he gave a number of recitals returning to England via the relative warmth of the Italian and French Rivieras. He hoped to renew the patronage of his many acquaintances wintering at Menton. Earning a living as a society concert pianist was a fickle affair depending on the vagaries of fashion, the changeable weather and the cultivation of whimsical society women.

The year 1936 opened with unprecedented political upheavals. It would be one of the most significant and turbulent years of the decade. At home in November 1935 the National Government had been elected under the Conservative Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote of Baldwin ‘His talent for making mistakes and being inconsistent without diminishing the esteem in which he is held, is unique.’*

Europe was transfixed by the looming crisis in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), which had erupted into full-blown war when Italy invaded the country in October 1935. The word ‘peace’ and pleas for peace tumbled desperately from the lips of most European statesman. No one wanted another war and most politicians were prepared to sacrifice almost anything to avoid it. Muggeridge wrote ‘Rats, when they find a carcass, take watchful bites at its extremities; then prudently withdraw to see whether any ill consequences follow before attacking the main portions.’

Mussolini’s ‘triumph of Fascism’ in Abyssinia – guns, tanks and planes against spears and antiquated firearms – had exposed the impotence of the League of Nations. The Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie, or more ironically, ‘the Lion of Judah’, sought refuge in Bath.

* Malcolm Muggeridge, The Thirties 1930–1940 in Great Britain (London 1940), p. 208.

† Ibid., p. 163.

Adolf Hitler too was to follow the example  set  by  the  rat.  The paralysis of the League gave him the confidence to exploit unopposed aggression. He began to treat the terms of the Versailles Treaty in a cavalier fashion. The Führer and his fantastic aspirations were initially regarded as the antics of a clown, then observed with incredulity followed by that grim fascination the insane inspire loping about their asylum, finally raw fear.  Trivially  amusing, an English publican advertised his brew as having ‘put the hit in Hitler’. Churchill remained a lone voice in the wilderness calling for rearmament and warning against the expansion of the German Luftwaffe.

The first signs of that dark year are revealed in Eddie’s correspondence. A letter from Sabine gave an enthusiastic account of a spectacular ball she had attended in Berlin early in January  to celebrate the forty-third birthday of the Minister for Air, Hermann Göring. She had been accompanied by the same young Nazi officer she had befriended in Obersaltzberg during the recital at Villa Bechstein. She told Eddie that many said it was the most spectacular celebration since the days of the Kaiser: ‘There were such wonderful jewels! The Nazis certainly throw a good party! Reinhard loves music and I danced a lot. But don’t worry, we are only good friends.’ she assured him. He did not believe it for a moment.

Concerning parties Eddie Cahill was at heart as much of a bon viveur as Arthur Rubinstein. His battered address book was jammed to bursting with aristocratic names, addresses and phone numbers. Famous London restaurants of the day are also listed alongside his detailed views on food and price. He was also a connoisseur  of wine. He patronised the renowned Berry Bros. of St James’s and became a good friend of the director Francis Berry, ‘a gentleman in every sense of that word.’

Very much his own man, Francis Berry thought it an excellent idea to begin the day’s work at 4 pm much to the dismay of his staff. He was famous for his hospitality and generosity. On one occasion after dinner at his Wimbledon home, following a performance of some Mendelssohn Caprices and Songs Without Words, Eddie was presented with a valuable drypoint of the wine merchant by the famous artist Muirhead Bone #. Berry is depicted standing in the shop in St James’s before a burbling gas fire, the walls hung with cartoons by ‘Spy’.*

Francis Berry by Muirhead Bone

# Biographical material on Francis Lawrence Berry (1876–1936) from Berry Bros & Rudd house journal Number Three, Autumn 1976, pp. 19–24.

*Muirhead Bone (1876–1953) was born in Glasgow, and trained originally as an architect. He began making prints in 1898, without any formal training. Although his first known print was a lithograph, he is better known for his etchings and drypoints, usually produced in relatively small editions. He was appointed the first Official War Artist, serving with the Allied Forces on the Western Front in the First World War, and served again as a war artist in the Second World War. He was knighted in 1937.

I

Instalment 21

Chapter 11

Into the Jungle of Germany

The Palace of Sanssouci, Potsdam

Eddie and Sabine’s own concert was given not in Berlin but in the exquisite palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam. They spent the spring afternoon like many lovers wandering in the sun through the monumental park laid out by Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. The ensemble is an unsurpassed marriage of landscape and architecture created by this cultured, rather private figure of the Enlightenment.

In the Park of Sanssouci

Hitler idolized Frederick and even hung a portrait of the benevolent monarch above his desk. Characteristic of the man, Frederick is now buried beside his hounds in the gardens just outside the palace in a simple grave plot without decoration. Admirers place potatoes rather than flowers upon it to indicate his lack of pretension.

The modest grave of Frederick the Great (with potatoes)

The architecturally modest yet sumptuously decorated palace interior delighted them especially the Rococo Music Room where they (and formerly J.S. Bach) performed.

The Music Room at Sanssouci today

Eddie felt a singular sympathy with Frederick the Great. The king had been treated cruelly by his father, the obsessively militaristic Frederick William I. His son wanted to study music and learn to play the transverse flute. Dr Charles Burney, the urbane yet critical English music historian, had a high opinion of his playing when he heard him in Berlin in 1772. He wrote ‘his embouchure was clear and even, his finger brilliant, and his taste pure and simple’. The paternal accusations directed at Frederick of betraying ‘effeminate, dissolute and unmasculine preoccupations’ had a painfully familiar ring for Eddie. Of course his father did not beat him in public with a cane or force him to watch the beheading by sword of his best friend as did Frederick’s psychotic militarist father Frederick William.

Frederick II (1712–86) or Frederick the Great was King of Prussia from 1740 until 1786. Apart from military victories he was a great patron of the Arts and the Enlightenment in Prussia.

This recital was also Eddie’s first encounter with the harpsichord, albeit a heavily constructed modern Pleyel instrument with numerous pedals. He fell in love with it. In this concert with Sabine he performed a Bach Sonata for violin and harpsichord as well as various sonatas for flute and harpsichord by Frederick the Great himself and his teacher Joachim Quantz. Performing in this enchanting fairytale palace with its intimations of eighteenth century high European civilisation was an intensely romantic moment for both Sabine and Eddie.

* * *

They visited the C. Bechstein showroom Haus am Zoo in a fashionable part of Berlin. The 1930s were a particularly bad time for C. Bechstein sales. Many potential buyers disappeared in the ruthless expulsion and murder of wealthy Jewish citizens by the Nazis. Having a Bechstein pianoforte in the home of any educated Jewish bourgeois was a sign of both affluence and taste. With such low production figures the company were anxious to sell Eddie an instrument and made him most welcome.

The “Bechstein-Haus am Zoo” in Berlin was one of the first company headquarters.

The director, Edwin Bechstein, had died in Berchtesgaden in September 1934.

Helene Bechstein with Hitler at Edwin Bechstein’s funeral 1934

On the occasion of Eddie’s visit in the spring of 1935 his widow Helene Bechstein was by chance visiting the showroom and heard him trying out various instruments.  She was particularly impressed with his performance of Bach and Beethoven. She learnt with enthusiasm of their forthcoming concert tour through Southern Germany with his partner, the beautiful blonde Austrian violinist who happened to be standing nearby. She persuaded them to give an extra recital at the Villa Bechstein in Obersalzberg, a mountain resort just above the farming town  of Berchtesgaden. This concert would follow their performance in Munich. Eddie accepted with some reluctance but he was curious to see Hitler’s secondary residence and the Nazi ruling echelon at close quarters. Sabine thought the idea quite brilliant and seemed flushed with excitement at the possibility of performing before ‘those splendid young Nazi officers’.

The repertoire for their German tour included Beethoven’s Kreutzer and Spring Sonatas. The concerts in Nuremberg and Weimar had been a great success. At the spa of Baden-Baden they performed in a private villa once owned by the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev.

Villa Turgenev Baden-Baden

In 1865 Dostoevsky, an inveterate punter, dictated the amusing yet tragic story The Gambler here to his 19-year-old amanuensis Anna Grigoryevna whom he eventually married.

With what avidity do I look at the gaming table on which are scattered louis d’or, friedrichs d’or and thalers, at the little piles of gold as they fall from the croupier’s shovel in heaps of burning fire …*

Eddie and Sabine risked a little at the tables one evening, more for romantic excitement than in the hope of winning riches. They strolled in a lovers’ reverie along the picturesque Lichtentaler Allee beside the diminutive River Oos, admiring the thousands of glorious tulips and flowering magnolias. On a longer excursion to the resort of Lichtental, they passed the Brahms house where the composer had rented rooms to be close to his unrequited love, Clara Schumann. He had spent summers here from 1865 to 1874 where he completed large parts of the Deutsches Requiem and the First Symphony, the draft of the Second Symphony as well as many chamber works.

The Brahms House in Baden Baden visited on my recent research trip for a book I am engaged upon. It is the only original dwelling that survives associated with the composer. During her concert tours Clara Schumann discovered this beautiful resort and her presence drew him to this rented two-room accommodation in Lichtental. He frequented the house later than the date of composition of the D minor Concerto (completed 1859). He lived here during the summer months from 1865-1874 and in this house completed large parts of the Deutsches Requiem and the First Symphony, the draft of the Second Symphony as well as  many chamber works. Composers and students may stay here to absorb the atmosphere and vibrations, work and study during the summer months.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

When they tired of walking, the lovers bathed naked (separately due to Nazi prudishness) in the many pools of the grandiose Renaissance style thermal baths known as Friedrichsbad. In his journal Eddie wrote that bathing naked in such opulent surroundings was one the most sensual experiences he had ever had, ‘an unaccustomed feeling of being one of Nature’s children.’

In Munich they gave a recital in the Schönheitengalerie (Gallery of Beauties)situated then in the Festsaalbau der Münchner Residenz, the monumental seat of the Wittelsbachs.

The Schönheitengalerie, Festsaalbau der Münchner Residenz,

They played surrounded by the unique collection of paintings of the most beautiful women of the epoch assembled by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Eddie was particularly attracted by the portrait of Maria Dolores Elisa Gilbert, ‘the most scandalous woman in the world’, better known as Lola Montez. ‘A feverish illness of the senses would take possession of some men at the very sight of her.’

(Henry Channon, The Ludwigs of Bavaria (London 1952), p. 46. This delightful book is almost unknown, eclipsed by the great Diaries. In 1955 the film director of genius Max Ophüls made one of the masterpieces of the cinema based on the life of Lola Montez simply entitled Lola Montez.)

She had been Liszt’s lover and they lived together in Dresden during a short and violent affair. She ended up impoverished, tragically acting out the story of her own life in a circus.

Lola Montez (1821-1861) from The Schönheitengalerie

* Dostoevsky, The Gambler, Chapter 17, trans. Ronald Meyer (London 2010). There is a large bronze statue of Dostoevsky in one of the Baden-Baden parks commemorating his stay and the story.

† This extraordinary collection of portraits of outstandingly beautiful women of the day was assembled by Ludwig I without consideration of birth or background. Portraits of Archduchesses, Alexandra the King’s daughter, Lady Spencer and Lady Jane Ellenborough (better known as the notorious Jane Digby) were hung beside those of a beautiful butcher’s or cobbler’s daughter.

‡ The powerful Wittelsbach family was the ruling dynasty of Bavaria from 1180 to 1918 and of the Electorate of the Palatinate from 1214 until 1805 providing many German Kings and Holy Roman Emperors.

* * *

Unknown to Eddie but perhaps not to Sabine, Helene Bechstein had been an admirer and patron of Adolf Hitler from as early as 1921. She is quoted as saying ‘I wish he were my son’ and had found  his youthful shyness and naïveté rather affecting. Through her infatuation, Hitler gained access to the highest society of wealthy German industrialists. She may even have bought him a luxury red Mercedes-Benz motor car. Helene also gave him a dinner suit and patent leather shoes so he might appear well in society.

An early photograph of a Mercedes Benz motor car and Hitler (provenance unproven but the car may be associated with Helena Bechstein)

Eddie was intrigued to learn from Helene that Hitler had a favourite pianist. As she described him, he was clearly not an artist of the calibre of the immortals, but had studied with Bernhard Stavenhagen, Liszt’s last pupil. He was the eccentric and visually arresting Ernst ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl, who was a member of a family of upper-class Bavarians who were fine art publishers. His mother had American roots, his wife was American and he himself was a graduate of Harvard.

Unity Mitford and ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl (1887-1975)
Unity Mitford and Putzi Hanfstaengl at the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Day Rally

Hanfstaengl’s first impression of Hitler was not overwhelming. He later wrote: ‘Hitler looked like a suburban hairdresser on his day off’. The young Adolf Hitler was a frequent visitor to the family home and it was through the Hanfstaengls that Hitler had first met Helene Bechstein. ‘Putzi’ helped him escape in his car after the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 and later the family supported him through the difficult Weimar years.

† Ernst Hanfstaengl, Unheard Witness (Philadelphia 1957), p. 22.

At the piano ‘Putzi’ was mainly admired for his loudness and stamina, useful attributes when performing endless accounts of Liszt’s Wagner transcriptions. Hitler was put into a state of high excitement by Putzi’s first performance of the overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. ‘“You must play for me often,” he said. “There is nothing like that to get me into tune before I have to face the public.” […] Hitler would literally yell with delight as Putzi played “with Lisztian fioritura and fine romantic verve.”‘*

He also adored the Overture and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, demanding it be played hundreds of times. However Putzi’s playing did not impress the feisty Martha Dodd, daughter of the straight-laced and frugal American ambassador of the day, William E. Dodd. ‘He always left the piano crumpled and exhausted, not to mention himself and his listeners. The rooms of the embassy reverberated with sound for days afterward.’

‘Putzi’ playing for Hitler (date unknown)

Putzi became Hitler’s foreign press secretary, but finally became disenchanted with a regime ‘run by that Gangster clique’ and fled to the United States to escape ‘the last mad throw of the political desperado’. He described his own life as a ‘melancholic revue’ and summed up his career later: ‘It is a terrible thing when you think you got on a bandwagon and it turns out to be a dustcart’.§

* Quoted in Peter Conradi, Hitler’s Piano Player: The Rise and Fall of Ernst Hanfstaengl, Confidant of Hitler, Ally of FDR (London 2005), p. 50. A fascinating and highly entertaining biography of a largely forgotten figure of the Third Reich, packed with striking and diverting Hitlerian anecdotes of the bizarre psychological variety.

† Quoted in ibid., p. 131.

‡ Quoted in ibid., p. 276.

§ Quoted in ibid., p. 325.

A degree of elation had taken possession of Eddie and Sabine as the train pulled into the small station at Berchtesgaden in late May 1935. They almost felt a sense of privilege. The town was flooded with Nazi soldiers and officers as they booked into the Berchtesgadener Hof. Later that afternoon they were driven in a huge black Mercedes between fields dotted with spring flowers up to the mountain retreat of Obersalzberg and the Villa Bechstein. Eddie thought the snow-capped Untersberg massif of the Berchtesgaden Alps thrust in spectacularly Wagnerian fashion into the sky, a vista wrought by Nature to stimulate Hitler’s grandiose imaginings.

Villa Bechstein (Walden archive)
Villa Bechstein (Walden archive)

Helene and her husband had completed the villa in 1927. In the early thirties it was used as a guesthouse by high-ranking Nazi officials such as Martin Bormann and Joseph Goebbels until acquired from the Bechsteins by the Party. The nearby Haus Wachenfeld was a picturesque and quiet Bavarian guest house in which Hitler used to rent rooms. He eventually purchased it outright from the enormous royalties earned from Mein Kampf. Gazing admirers of all ages passed by on tours. At the time of Eddie’s visit the area was still an idyllic rural retreat for successful Bavarian families. These local families were to be summarily ejected, some murdered, farms hundreds of years old forcibly purchased. The superb landscape was finally commandeered by Reichsleiter Martin Bormann for the establishment of Hitler’s headquarters known as the Berghof.

Hitler and the highest-ranking Nazis were absent from the resort at the time of the concert but a few members of the German aristocracy were holidaying in the region and had been invited  to the evening by Helene. The elegant social life of the élites and nobility had been hardly affected by Nazism. ‘Essentially the old aristocracy felt at ease under a regime that respected it, preserved its dignity, and drew it into an ideological adventure whose bases it shared.’* Many German aristocrats loathed the ‘lack of breeding’ of the new government though they wisely kept this opinion to themselves.

* Fabrice d’Almeida, High Society in the Third Reich (Cambridge 2008) p. 235.

The audience in the villa’s music room were a potpourri of glamorous women in evening gowns leaning on the arms of men afflicted with ram-rod posture and attired in Der klassische Smoking. They were clearly some variety of ‘the aristocratic class’. They sat together with a scattering of young Nazi officers in black SS Mess Dress jackets with the Totenkopf (Death’s head) pin, black bow tie and red Swastika armband. Eddie reflected later that he felt ‘most uncomfortable and foreign among these horrifyingly handsome uniformed types’. Helene Bechstein played the perfect hostess organizing the serving of the champagne, large diamonds glittering on her fingers. Concerts of classical music were always considered special occasions for ‘the more cultured Nazis’, almost mystical events.

Eddie noticed a curious light shining in Sabine’s eyes as he sat at the mahogany C. Bechstein grand, something he recalled never having seen before. She turned to the predominantly military audience, lifted her violin and bow, glanced towards Eddie and the gloriously lyrical opening theme of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata emerged like a flower. This performance was a great success and the listeners were particularly appreciative. There followed a break with further drinks and surprisingly civilized conversation. Eddie was restricted to English with a smattering of German, while Sabine carried on animated and surprisingly flirtatious conversations with various unattached Nazi officers.

She was clearly flushed and elated when they resumed the concert and confidently launched into the highly virtuosic and powerfully sensual  violin  opening  of  the  first  movement  of  the Kreutzer Sonata. This piece had always been a source of the deepest erotic emotions between them, a merging of like musical minds that had by now developed into a passionate personal relationship. However on this particular night Eddie felt an invisible barrier had been erected between them like a pane of frosted glass. His heart filled with premonitions and anxiety. ‘There seemed to be an emotional disconnect between us during this Kreutzer,’ he reflected later.

Encores were enthusiastically demanded and Eddie played as a solo the Alfred Grünfeld arrangement of the Johann Strauss Soirée de Vienne based on a waltz from Der Fledermaus and in addition his arrangement of the ultra charmant and fashionable Diner-Waltz from his operetta Der Lebermann (The Man About Town).

These were hugely popular and Sabine joined him in their final flourish of encores: a Sarasate arrangement for violin and piano of a Chopin waltz followed by the splendidly virtuosic Henryk Wieniawski Scherzo-tarantelle. They concluded with the Caprice viennois by the great Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler which almost reduced the Nazis to tears. The Austrian encores gave both the audience and Sabine enormous pleasure. Eddie reflected later there was clearly no recognition of Kreisler having had a Jewish father.

The successful concert concluded with a light supper. Natürlich, blonde blue-eyed Sabine shone before the officers. Her youthful elegant figure sheathed in her favourite close-fitting black chiffon gown enhanced by a single jewel was particularly appreciated. Eddie wrote how self-conscious he felt of his small stature in this company. Sabine was elated to be in the mountains. ‘I so love the wild mountains! Eddie, you love silent films. Have you ever seen Der heilige Berg, The Holy Mountain, starring Leni Riefenstahl?’ Eddie had to confess he knew nothing of it. ‘Oh! She plays the dancer Diotima who falls in love. Her lover is a tough mountain climber played by Luis Trenker, the handsome German  actor. Face like a sculpture and so athletic!’* As an Austrian she felt that mountain climbing expressed everything that was heroic, mystical and an expression of physical superiority.

Back at the hotel Sabine appeared rather detached as they emerged from the big black Mercedes. She seemed curiously uninvolved in their lovemaking that night under a cheap reproduction of the Führer draped in swastikas that had been nailed above the bed head. For the first time he detected something decadent about Sabine, a curious feeling of appropriateness when he envisioned her as the mistress of a Nazi officer. ‘Is anything wrong?’ Eddie asked but received no answer apart from a tossed off remark: ‘I am so pleased you are at least half German, Eddie!’

Portrait of Hitler in the Bechstein household in Johanstrasse 6 Berlin by Ernst Heilemann in Berlin in 1928

Years before, Nellie Melba had sung for Leo Tolstoy and had recommended that Eddie read the novella The Kreutzer Sonata before studying the Beethoven work. In this story Tolstoy had observed: ‘Under the influence of music, it seems that I feel what I do not really feel, that I understand what I do not understand, that I do what I cannot do.’ Unpleasant thoughts and apprehensions coursed through Eddie’s mind and kept him awake much of that night. He had begun to feel his age and her comparative youth.

*Leni Riefenstahl (1902–2003) was a German film director, producer, screenwriter,  editor, photographer, actress and dancer widely known for directing Triumph of the Will, a Nazi propaganda film.

Der heilige Berg: Ein Heldenlied aus ragender Höhenwelt (The Holy Mountain. An Heroic Song from a Towering World of Heights) was directed by Dr Arnold Fanck (1889–1974).This silent film with orchestral accompaniment was released in December 1926. Now overlooked, it belongs to the German Expressionist genre of the Bergfilme (mountain films). The visual power and atmosphere of the film is striking. The indestructible Riefenstahl was still scuba-diving at the age of ninety.

They travelled back to Vienna and for a period in June continued to perform together. Eddie resumed his studies with Frau Gombrich. These lessons were more intense than the first series. In helping Eddie to discover and explore his own  individuality  as a pianist, she introduced him to an illuminating poem written by Theodor Leschetizky that enshrined his principles (referring to him as ‘Lesche’) *

No life without art No art without life

One does not win people’s hearts Only with runs of scales and thirds But rather with a noble singing style Clear and powerful, gentle and soft

Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915)

According to Paderewski, Leschetizky’s pupils ‘all had a singing tone. That was very, very important’. Hans von Bülow pedantically stated: ‘Anyone who cannot sing – with a lovely or unlovely voice – should not play the piano.’

This obsession with the production of a beautiful tone, a ‘noble, singing melody’, preoccupied Eddie as  a direct result of the lessons with Leonie Gombrich. She was a refugee, an exceptional pianist before injury intervened, an even more remarkable teacher and formerly assistant to the great Viennese teacher Leschetitsky. She lived in Oxford.

As well as an incomparable technical and interpretative endowment, Professor Gombrich brought with her the aura of Vienna in the first decades of the twentieth century, at the pinnacle of European culture. She had studied with Bruckner as well as Leschetitsky (student of Beethoven’s student Czerny, teacher of Schnabel, Paderewski and their like), played with Schoenberg, heard Johann Strauss and turned pages for Brahms! Frequent visitors to the Gombrich home in Vienna included Mahler, Webern, Berg, Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin. She was a born teacher, following Leschetitsky’s principle of framing the individuality of each student within full understanding of the work, absolute soundness of technique and, above all, beauty of tone.

Leonie Gombrich (1873-1968)

His exquisite tone was often commented upon, combined with his fine cantabile, a true Fingerfertigkeit (finger dexterity) of velvet fullness, whilst retaining delicacy, velocity and evenness of touch. She compelled Eddie to project the meaning of music through poetry and sensibility. She trained him in the subtle use of the displacement of rhythm, arpeggiation and achronicity.

The base tone and the melody note need not always be taken together with rhythmic precision. […] the melody rings out more clearly and sounds softer.

This affecting manner of playing was common in a subtle form among the greatest pianists before the Second World War  such   as Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Leopold Godowsky, Josef Hofmann, Vladimir Horowitz, Moritz Rosenthal, Vladimir de Pachmann  and occasionally by Eddie himself. It has now been completely abandoned. The effect Eddie created was as if ‘the audience did not know what was happening, but they knew they felt something, and were experiencing something great and profound.’ (Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music at the British Library, on great pianists of the past).

*Theodor Leschetizky (1830–1915).

† Quoted in Kenneth Hamilton, After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance (Oxford 2008), pp. 139–40.

‡ Malwine Brée, The Leschetizky Method: A Guide to Fine and Correct Piano Playing (Original, Mainz 1902; this edition New York 1997), pp. 55–6.

* * *

Something sacred seemed to have broken between the lovers at Obersaltzberg. Did Sabine love him in the way he loved her? It seems unlikely. Eddie’s innocent and exclusive first love rather late in life appears to have shattered beneath Hitler’s huge portrait that hung on the wall of the Bechstein villa. After returning briefly to Berlin for a concert, Sabine became increasingly involved with the Nazis, their ‘handsome masculinity’, the rising might and self- confidence of Germany. Eddie was not in the slightest sympathetic to their regime after having witnessed at first hand their brutality and militarism in Nuremberg. His fear of a future war was confirmed even more strongly when on Sabine’s recommendation he went to see Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl. He liked the intimate scenes of medieval Nuremberg at dawn, the half-timbered houses, brooding castle, canals and wood fires. The rest he found ‘indigestible propaganda that frightens me.’

The generally positive attitude of the Austrian population to the rise of the Nazis and a possible future Anschluss with Germany worried him. Eddie had never considered Sabine as anything other than Austrian and so quite different to the Germans.

His Germanness [of Austrians], loyal and faithful as he feels to- wards it, has, through the mixture of many bloods in his veins and though historical experiences, become less single-minded, less harsh, more conciliatory, more cosmopolitan, more European.

He warned Sabine that her distant Semitic background would eventually be revealed ‘such is the thoroughness of the Teutonic mind’. She laughed gaily and told him not to be ‘such a fearful old woman’.

† Anton Wildgans quoted in George Clare, Last Waltz in Vienna: The Destruction of a Family 1842–1942 (London 1981), p. 134.

Throughout this German concert tour Eddie had remained in contact with his English patrons. Mrs Denny had written to him  of the possibility of arranging more concerts in London and was impatient for his return from ‘the heart of the enemy’. She favoured the idea of him giving a ‘Jubilee Concert’*. At all events he had reached the end of his tether with the hyperactive military enthusiasm lying like an ominous cloud over German society. Towards the end of June Sabine decided to stay in Berlin, which only served to confirm his suspicions and deepen the corrosive jealousy that had been aroused in Obersaltzberg. There were tears at the station, promised letters and telephone calls, but both recognised subconsciously that the bloom of their love, if that is what it was, had been somehow blighted, perhaps forever.

Instalment 20

Chapter 11

Into the Jungle of Germany

Cannes – Rome Riviera Express

The growing might of a rejuvenated Germany was clear from the train as Eddie approached the city. The line passed through forests, cut past lakes, numerous smallholdings and passed through the heavily industrialised outskirts of the capital before steaming into the imposing Lehrter Bahnhof adjacent to a bend in the River Spree. The weather in early March 1935 was still cruelly variable, bleak winds cut across the city with occasional flurries of snow.

Eddie had wanted to visit Germany for a number of reasons. His mother’s side of the family were all German. He was curious about the source of his musical gifts as well as unravelling aspects of  his ‘difficult’ personality, the obsessive attention to detail, intense concentration and almost insane perfectionism.

He also wanted to replace the Grotrian-Steinweg piano destroyed in the Roscrea fire. Berlin was an important centre of piano manufacture at the time. He intended to visit the C. Bechstein factory. Before the war their grand pianos were considered to be the sine qua non of instruments by many great pianists. Wilhelm Backhaus, Wilhelm Kempff, Dinu Lipatti, Artur Schnabel and the composers Scriabin and Liszt all owned and admired these instruments. Sabine enthused constantly of things German and Austrian and spoke glowingly of the changes Hitler had wrought. She insisted Eddie must come and see ‘The transformation of the country!’ He agreed. Intellectual curiosity and love of travel were two of his most positive character traits.

Sabine was not the only enthusiast for Nazism that he had encountered in his life. Eddie was not particularly interested in politics, preoccupied as he always was with practising for concert engagements. However his Mayfair audiences were mainly conservative and some held extreme right-wing views. Most of  the aristocracy he had met in the 1920s had by the middle of the following decade, under financial and social pressure, developed quite a different outlook on their lives.

Democracy was called into question as an acceptable form of government by those whose education and lineage had given them a sense of entitlement. The middle and working classes were also losing faith in traditional values as the Empire seemed to be coming increasingly under duress. Unemployment was a rising threat. But the overriding fear was of creeping Bolshevism, not the Nazis. Some believed more in the dangers posed by a Judaeo-Masonic world conspiracy and practised what might be conveniently termed ‘parlour anti-Semitism.’

Three of the Mitford sisters at Lord Stanley of Aldernay’s wedding.
From left to right, ‘the traitors’ Unity Mitford and Diana Mitford with the renowned writer Nancy Mitford in 1932 
(Almaty Images)
Nancy Mitford (1904-1973)

‘Uncle Matthew’ in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate (a caricature of her father David, Lord Redesdale) thought ‘abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends!’ or he may have used his favourite term ‘sewers’ for undesirables, remarking ‘wogs begin at Calais’. In real life Lord Redesdale was temperamentally ‘one of Nature’s Fascists’. The family visited Germany, where ‘They were lent a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz and shown all the gaudy trappings of the new regime and they returned full of praise for what they had seen.’*

The Mitford Family – David, Lord Redesdale far right
HONS AND DAUGHTERS
Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy, and Pamela Mitford at Swinbrook House, in Oxfordshire, England, 1935
(Photograph from Bridgeman Images; Digital colorization by Lee Ruelle)

Redesdale, who defended Hitler as ‘a right-thinking man of irreproachable sincerity and honesty’, was a member of the Anglo–German Fellowship, the Right Club and the notorious pro-Nazi organisation known as The Link founded by Admiral Sir Barry Domvile.

Admiral Sir Barry Domvile (1878-1971)

By June 1939 it had a membership of 4,300 pro-German advocates of various social classes including Gallipoli veterans and the Duke of Westminster. Domvile, a former Director of Naval Intelligence, on a visit to Germany in 1935 praised the freedom of motorists on the autobahns and found Heinrich Himmler ‘a charming personality who wears glasses and in appearance might be a benevolent professor’. Various small ‘patriotic societies’ of an almost ‘Boy’s Own’ variety existed during the thirties such as the English Array, the English Mistery and the Imperial Fascist League.

English Mistery flag
A female member of the Imperial Fascist League

*Jessica Mitford, Hons and Rebels (London 1960), p. 63.

† Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933–1939 (London 1980), p. 308.

There was also surprising sympathy for Italian Fascism and respect for Mussolini’s social achievements. More theatrical than threatening were Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, whose increasingly thuggish and militaristic appearance was derided by observers. ‘They look like Nazi jackboots’ was one comment which attracted the rejoinder ‘More like King Zog’s Imperial  Dismounted  Hussars’.

Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists
Oswald Mosley (1896-1960)

Mosley  himself  was  known   as ‘the Rudolph Valentino of Fascism’. Hitler was considered a clown by some but envied as a statesman by others. They believed he had revolutionised living conditions for the average German and was attempting to restore a deserved degree of national pride after the Great War and the disproportionate punishments of Versailles. Many at this time thought Britain should be allied with Hitler and Mussolini against Stalin. Diana Mitford would marry the British fascist leader.

Nancy Astor, the first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons

‘There is no doubt that, from an early date, the European dictatorships had an aura of glamour for certain members of London’s high society. Two of London’s great hostesses, Lady Cunard and Mrs Ronnie Greville, were bowled over by Nazism …’ Nancy Astor and the Cliveden set were influential in this regard although they were never seriously engaged in the ‘spiritual’ metaphysics of Nazi ideology and were pro-appeasement.

The scandalous Lady ‘Emerald’ Nancy Cunard (1896-1965)
Nancy Astor (1879-1964)
Mrs Ronnie Greville (1863-1942) as a young woman

The hostess Mrs Ronnie Greville attended the 1934 Nazi Parteitag in Nuremberg and returned full of such enthusiasm that her report became the talk of London. Socialites found visiting Germany as a tourist destination ‘frightfully exciting’; the Nazis added a dramaturgic and dangerous spice to the Baedeker tour. More serious admirers considered Germany and Britain shared a great deal of ‘common sense’.

The Totenehrung (honoring of the dead) at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally.

The Third Reich was energised from top to bottom by people who wanted to whistle a recognizable tune after a concert, who liked to be able to tell at a distance whether a painting was hung the right way up or not, and who longed for the architecture of pointed roofs, vernacular ruralism, and the Doric order.

*Quoted in Mary S. Lovell, The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family (London 2001), p. 195.

† Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right, pp. 168–9.

‡ Gerwin Strobl, The Germanic Isle, quoted in Robin Saikia (ed.) The Red Book: The Membership List of the Right Club – 1939 (London 2010), p. 19.

Over elegant dinners hostesses, dowagers and eccentrics electrified their listeners with ebullient accounts of their travels. Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon writes in July 1936: ‘George Gage lunched, and was enthralling about his visit to Germany last year when he was received by Ribbentrop, Hitler, and escorted everywhere by Storm Troopers. Honor [his wife, Lady Guinness] and I can now hardly wait to go.’*

‘Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (1897-1958) in Belgrave Square 1943

Harold Nicolson wrote angrily in his Diary on 10 April 1939 ‘The harm which these silly selfish hostesses give is immense. They convey to foreign envoys that policy is decided in their own drawing-rooms […] the whole thing is a mere flatulence of the spirit.’ Mrs Ronnie Greville, the illegitimate spawn of a Scottish distiller, was described by him as ‘a great fat slug filled with venom’. 

Sir Harold Nicholson and his wife Vita Sackville-West at home Sissinghurst, Kent

Unity and Diana Mitford spent much time in Munich together and attended the Nuremberg Rallies. Hitler took great pleasure as he said ‘in the light-hearted company of these typical young Englishwomen of today’.

The Mitford sisters Unity (left) and Diana happy among their SS ‘friends’

* * *

How did the  rather  insignificant  society  pianist  Eddie  Cahill  fit into this incestuous hothouse? Quite unwittingly, Eddie had entertained many of these figures who would later became thorns in the side of reasonable men as war inexorably approached. Hastings Russell, the Marquess of Tavistock, 12th Duke of Bedford, was an eccentric and lonely creature in private life but liked classical music and often invited Eddie to give recitals at Woburn Abbey. His much put upon son John (known as ‘Ian’), the 13th Duke, was to befriend Eddie in South Africa long after the war. ‘My father had no political judgement whatsoever,’ he wrote.

An unsavoury character, Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, had attended one of Eddie’s recitals on his second London concert tour in November 1928 at the home of Lady Stradbroke in Belgrave Square. This Eton and Sandhurst-educated Scot, valiant soldier and Member of Parliament, became increasingly inflammatory and rabidly anti-Semitic as war drew nearer. He founded the infamous Right Club in May 1939. The names of members were entered in a Bramah-locked leather-bound ledger known as ‘The Red Book’ and included Lord Galloway, Lord Redesdale, the Duke of Wellington, William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw)  and  the  spy Anna Wolkoff.§

July 1937: Conservative politician Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay and his wife attend a cricket match between Eton and Harrow at Lord’s cricket ground in London. Ramsay was a former pupil of Eton. (Photo by W. G. Phillips/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Ramsay believed that the coming war was entirely ‘the work of Jewish intrigue centred in New York’. He wrote anti-Semitic verses with such derisory titles as ‘Land of Dope and Jewry’. Churchill interned him under the notorious Defence Regulation 18b at the outbreak of war. The sultry and provocative Princess Mary Brenda de Chimay (née Hamilton)  was also a member of the Right Club and had attended many of Eddie’s Mayfair ‘At Homes’ and knew him well (The Red Book p. 105)

The sultry Princess Mary Brenda de Chimay (née Hamilton) 1897-1985

Much had changed in England since the innocent days of those early recitals in the fun-filled 1920s.

*Robert Rhodes James (ed.), ‘Chips’: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon (London 1967), 8 July p. 69.

† Quoted in George Ward Price, I Know These Dictators (London 1937), p. 37.

‡ John, Duke of Bedford, A Silver-Plated Spoon (London 1959), p. 155.

§ Saikia (ed.). The Red Book, members of the Right Club are listed pp. 97–132.

* * *

The Prince of Wales was the patron of the British Legion. Eddie was to play often for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in their Parisian exile. The naive Prince made a highly controversial speech at the British Legion conference in June 1935 which gave a propaganda coup to the Nazis. In it he praised the idea of a British Legion visit to Germany and observed

I feel that there could be no more suitable body or organisation of men to stretch forth the hand of friendship to the Germans than we ex-Servicemen who fought them in the Great War and have now forgotten all about it.

Members of the Legion often visited Germany and on one occasion were treated to a ‘quiet family supper with Herr Himmler’. They found him ‘an unassuming man anxious to do the best for his country. Some felt respectful of their ‘very gallant enemy’, especially the Great War ace pilots of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Imperial Air Service) such as Hermann  Göring.  They felt an emotional need of ‘justice for Germany’.

Royal British Legion six man team visit Dachau in 1935 where they were taken on a guided tour of the Dachau concentration camp while Jews were already incarcerated and tortured met with Hitler, Göring and Rudolf Hess had a quiet family supper with Himmler, They took part in Nazi parades with Heil Hitler salutes

This sympathy for Germany before the Second World War often came from the enthusiastic forays to the country by English tourists keen to explore the rich museums and art galleries of Dresden and Berlin. Mountaineering and hiking in the Bavarian Alps or the Black Forest were highly popular outdoor activities with the English upper classes. There was a desperate and compelling desire to avoid another war.

Bavarian Alps in the 1930s
  • † Quoted in Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right, p. 130.

An artist and apolitical creature, Eddie was often privy to heated, even seditious, conversations and arguments across the dinner tables of great houses following his recitals. The social order was changing and as an artist he was rarely consigned to the kitchens and tradesman’s entrance. After dinner in the mansions he frequented in Mayfair, hushed but forceful masculine conversation often dealt with inflammable material concerning the policy of appeasement of the Nazis over fine cognac and cigars.

Eddie was a musician, often a respected dinner guest, even a close friend of many of his hosts. But essentially he performed for them like any other ‘artist of the evening’ and was to all intents considered blind, deaf and invisible. Such extreme points of view as he overheard caused him some disquiet but never sufficient to compel him to report these radical opinions. When on one occasion over the port he revealed his maternal Teutonic roots he was enthusiastically encouraged by his hosts to travel to Germany ‘to see for yourself’. Eddie felt a strong pro-German change of attitude taking place in Britain in 1935. Certainly his curiosity about the country had been greatly aroused.

* * *

Sabine was anxiously waiting to meet him on the platform in Berlin. They both felt rather awkward after so many years apart and both being attractive had naturally had brief affairs.

They caught a taxi to the imposing Hotel Adlon on the majestic boulevard Unter den Linden opposite the Brandenburg Gate, the hotel where Charlie Chaplin, Louise Brookes (Eddie’s favourite actress) and Marlene Dietrich had once stayed. Most of the afternoon and evening was spent exchanging news and attempting to plan for an increasingly uncertain social future. Playing music together thawed their initial emotional stiffness and intimate relations were soon resumed.

Hotel Adlon Berlin in the 1930s
Adlon Bar 1930

They danced many nights away in some of Berlin’s most opulent hotels and visited bohemian nightclubs which offered entertainment for the daring. The School for Physical Culture in Grunewald displayed almost naked young people performing athletic exercises in the spirit of ancient Greece,  the  perfect  Aryan body of Nazi ideology on display. ‘Nudity, light, fresh air, sunshine, worship of living, bodily perfection, sensuousness without either false shame or prudishness.’*

LENI RIEFENSTAHL – Hoop Dance, 1936 Olympics
LENI RIEFENSTAHL – Skipping Exercise Demonstration
LENI RIEFENSTAHL – Grace

Berlin at this time appeared full of energy, charm and friendliness, as if Hitler had rekindled the German spirit. Its citizens felt the country had been reborn and their pride renewed after the impotent years of the Weimar Republic. Nazism would protect them against the creeping wrath of Communism. There was much anticipation of the Olympic Games to come in 1936 and the country rejoiced in a rejuvenated national spirit, a moral strength and a feeling of growing excitement in the new and promising future. A British diplomat wrote: ‘In the Tiergarten the little lamps flicker among the little trees and the grass is starred with the fireflies of a thousand cigarettes’.

In stark contrast to London, Eddie noticed with disgust the ubiquitous militaristic spirit that pervaded the capital with groups of marching, goose-stepping soldiers of the freshly named Wehrmacht accompanied by brass bands. Laughing and singing groups of young boys of the Hitler-Jugend (HJ) played in controlled tasks in the Tiergarten among the elegant horse riders. Hitler had declared 1935 to be Ein Jahr der körperlichen Ertüchtigung or ‘A Year of Physical Fitness’. Physical strength was to be considered more important in the new Germany than educational excellence.

Boys of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) in attendance at the Nuremberg Rally in 1935

Brutal Brown Shirts were everywhere. Nazi swastikas and banners in red and black hung from public buildings that Eddie thought looked like ‘washing hanging out on the line’. Cafés were packed with fashionable diners while expensive cars jockeyed with bright yellow trams and horse-drawn carriages carrying tourists.

Romanisches Café in Berlin – a favourite Bohemian haunt for artists
Partial inside view of Café Wien at Kurfurstendamm in Berlin, Germany early 1930s

Eddie began to feel deep disillusionment with the way the traditional German culture was disintegrating. Discrimination against Jews (albeit low key owing to the increasing international publicity for the imminent Olympic Games) bothered him greatly. He witnessed summary  brutal  beatings  in  the  streets  and  saw a number of Jewish businesses daubed with Stars of David and crude slogans.

The most ill-situated seats in the Tiergarten were designated for Jews and painted yellow. An unremitting and steadily increasing process of persecution was underway.

*Berlin in Lights: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1918–1937), trans. & ed. Charles Kessler (London 1971), p. 395.

† Quoted in Erik Larson, In the Garden of the Beasts (New York 2011), p. 50.

This potential threat did not seem to worry Sabine, who felt her own Jewish origins were remote enough and her blonde Aryan appearance attractive enough to make her invulnerable. Perhaps surprisingly, along with many of her countrymen, she felt more pride in being Austrian than in her distant Jewish heritage. Her family considered themselves perfectly assimilated and even looked down upon orthodox Jews with their ‘long curls and grubby kaftans’. She knew nothing of the tough anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws then in the planning, which sought to racially define a Jew and which would condemn her entire family to an uncertain future of ‘resettlement’ if their origins were revealed.* Like many Austrians, she secretly hoped Germany and Austria would eventually be united in an Anschluss ‘once more after the Second Reich, Bismarck and the Prussians’.

Nuremberg Race Laws

* * *

The English classical music world of 1935 seemed not unduly worried by the racial discrimination taking place within the great German musical institutions  and  orchestras.  Musical  life  was  in a ferment in Germany at the time of Eddie’s visit. Orchestral appointments were becoming inextricably linked to the Nazi party’s political control and ‘cultural philosophy’. Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Artur Schnabel and Arnold Schoenberg had already been driven out of the country and the tactically apolitical Richard Strauss would soon be dismissed as Reichsmusikkammer President for supporting his librettist, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig.

Richard Strauss painted in 1918 by Max Liebermann
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)

*On 14 November 1935 the Nazis issued the following detailed definition of a Jew:

‘Anyone with three Jewish grandparents; someone with two Jewish grandparents who belonged to the Jewish community on 15 September 1935, or joined thereafter; was married to a Jew or Jewess on 15 September 1935, or married one thereafter; was the offspring of a marriage or extramarital liaison with a Jew on or after 15 September 1935’. Those who were not classified as Jews but who had some Jewish blood were categorized as Mischlinge (hybrids) and were divided into two groups: Mischlinge of the first degree – those with two Jewish grandparents; Mischlinge of the second degree – those with one Jewish grandpar- ent. During the second world war first-degree Mischlinge were incarcerated in concentra- tion camps and ultimately deported to death camps. Sabine was a First-degree Mischling. (Jewish Virtual Library.)

Eddie and Sabine both greatly looked forward to hearing the charismatic Wilhelm Furtwängler conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. On his American tour Eddie had witnessed the partisan rivalry that had erupted in New York between the high seriousness of the German conductor and the white-heat intensity and almost painful precision of the Italian Arturo Toscanini. They had never forgotten the first time they heard Furtwängler together when he conducted Tristan und Isolde at the Vienna Opera in 1929. Both adored the hypnotic passion and the weight of ‘flowing’ legato orchestral sound this conductor was able to produce.

However, in early December 1934, not long before their arrival in Berlin, the charismatic conductor had been fearlessly championing Paul Hindemith in the press.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Furtwängler considered this musician the greatest modern German composer, but his music was deemed by the Nazis to be ‘degenerate’ and the composer himself an ‘atonal noisemaker’. One of the main reasons behind the Nazi proscription however ‘was Hitler’s prudish response on seeing the ‘naked’ Laura in the bathtub scene of Hindemith’s opera Neues vom Tage.’*

Bathroom scene from the Paul Hindemith opera ‘Neues vom Tage

Furtwängler had been cunningly inveigled into ‘resigning’ from both the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Staatsoper for championing music ‘unsuited for the movement’s task of cultural reconstruction’. He had always considered the world of politics and musical culture entirely separate, a distinction he upheld to the bitter end against all Nazi protestations. It was a belief that would cause him endless grief. His passport had been withdrawn. Hitler intended to break him ‘once and for all’ but declarations of loyalty poured in. International condemnation and domestic uproar followed with a wholesale return of season tickets, much to Goebbels’ financial discomfort. A potentially profitable and prestigious English tour by the orchestra was cancelled. A series of guest conductors took over Furtwängler’s planned concerts but they attracted little public support.

*Fred K. Prieberg, Trial of Strength: Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Third Reich (London 1991), n. 62, pp. 349–50.

† Ibid., p. 140.

On 11 March 1935 Eddie and Sabine, deeply disappointed, attended the last occasion on which the Berlin Philharmonic’s programme contained Jewish music. The virtuoso violinist Georg Kulenkampff performed Mendelssohn’s violin concerto under Max Fiedler.* The concert was reviewed in Der Angriff but the concerto and Kulenkampff’s sublime performance were simply omitted from the critical account, his heart-rending portamenti unremarked.

Germany’s plans for war seemed incontrovertible to Eddie when a few days later he witnessed a full ‘air-raid rehearsal’ in Berlin. Göring had been planning this ‘realistic experience’ for six weeks. Junkers three-engined monoplane bombers and Messerschmitt fighters flew over the city in arrow formation at treetop level, lights in houses and vehicles were dimmed, fire engines roared through the deserted streets, gas mains and incendiary bombs were seen to ‘explode’, house windows were masked and the police checked all instructions and the issue of gas masks.

Early in April, less violently but with similar operatic melodrama, Eddie and Sabine, standing hand in hand, were among the wildly excited crowd who witnessed the spectacular state wedding of Hermann Göring to the actress Emmy Sonneman. Looking at the infatuated crowd Eddie felt that National Socialism had infected the German people with a dangerous variety of delirium that would inevitably lead to catastrophe. Faced with a wedding one wonders what was coursing through their minds concerning the future of their own romance.

It was a sunny day. As the bridal couple drove in a massive open Mercedes limousine through the lines of some thirty-three thousand paramilitaries and Nazi storm troopers towards the cathedral, a squadron of the latest German warplanes (forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles) thundered overhead.

Wedding Breakfast with Adolf Hitler, Emmy Sonneman and Hermann Göring

*Georg Kulenkampff (1898–1948) was one of the finest 20th century concert violinists and one of the best-known German virtuosi of the 1930s and 1940s. His recording career coincided with the Nazi period. This, together with his early death, means this brilliant violinist is now virtually forgotten apart from the violin competition dedicated to him. Max Fiedler (1859–1939) was a German conductor and composer and a noted interpreter of Brahms.

† Emmy Sonneman (1893–1973) was a German actress who after marriage to Hermann Göring served as hostess for Hitler on many state occasions earning the title ‘First Lady of the Reich’.

The British ambassador, the acerbic Sir Eric Phipps, commented in a dispatch to the Foreign Office:

A visitor to Berlin might well have thought that the monarchy had been restored and that he had stumbled upon the preparations for a royal wedding … [in the cathedral] the German ladies wore evening dresses and diamonds, the men wore uniform or dress clothes with decorations […] two boys of the Hitler Jugend held her train.*

After the wedding Göring spent an hour alone beside his late wife Karin’s grave at his monumental and ostentatious home, Karinhall.

*Quoted in a full account of the wedding described in Leonard Mosley, The Reich Marshal (London 1974), pp. 246–8.

* * *

At the end of April 1935 Furtwängler was offered a guest engagement  conducting  the  Berlin  Philharmonic for  two Winterhilfe (Winter Assistance) concerts for the poor, prompted by pressure from the unhappy public and the Party’s concern for their international reputation. His first concert was instantly sold out, ovations erupted in the street as the lanky conductor was forced to scuttle through a side door of the Philharmonie. Cars arriving were jammed solid. People without money even attempted to pay for tickets with pieces of Meissen porcelain or black-market cigarettes.

Thunderous applause, clearly an expression of dissent, made it difficult for Furtwängler to begin. He turned directly to the orchestra without the obligatory Nazi salute. At the end of the concert the applause lasted an hour and he was recalled to the stage seventeen times. However by agreeing to conduct this concert he was generally judged by his many critics abroad to have ‘knuckled under after all’.

Yet his fervent belief was to preserve the true spirit of German music which he felt was under threat. Believing passionately in the separation of culture and politics, throughout the war he was to tread the finest of cultural lines and the most skilful of moral compromises with Hitler and the Nazi leadership.

Eddie and Sabine had their wish finally fulfilled on 3 May at the second Winterhilfe concert when they heard Furtwängler conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in Beethoven’s Egmont, the Symphony No. 5 and the Pastoral Symphony. Much to Furtwängler’s annoyance (in a rage he had ripped the wooden covering off the radiator in his dressing room), Hitler, Göring and Goebbels attended this concert. On their entering the hall the audience stood to give the Nazi salute.

The conductor avoided giving this so-called ‘German greeting’ by turning immediately to the orchestra. At the end, Hitler approached the podium to shake Furtwängler’s hand and give him a bunch of roses. A notorious photograph of the conductor bowing to the audience, which included the grim-faced Nazi leadership, flashed around the world and indelibly stained his reputation.* The Nazis were not blind to the power of cultural propaganda and in the future would attempt to use him for this purpose and exploit his possibly naive underestimation of their political intentions.

The infamous concert where Hitler listens to the Berlin Philharmonic, directed by Wilhelm Furtwängler

Eddie always said this all-Beethoven concert was one of the greatest musical experiences of his life. He felt the incidental music to the play Egmont by Goethe captured to perfection the power, drama and heroism of the sixteenth-century Dutch nobleman, Lamoral d’Egmont. Furtwängler’s approach to the 5th Symphony seemed to contain an uncanny, even fierce, anger against the Nazi regime and the Pastoral Symphony seemed full of that extraordinary love of nature possessed by the composer.

Furtwängler is considered a demi-God among conductors by classical musicians. Musically, Eddie felt his conducting was a lesson in complete emotional commitment. With the awkward, almost disjointed, movements of his entire body he appeared unlike any other conductor he had ever seen, the ‘puppet on a string’ effect, as one English orchestral violinist commented later. The beat of his baton seemed impossible to follow, but Eddie noted afterwards that this fluidity of what appeared to be improvised rhythm preserved an extraordinary precision. Furtwängler utilised tempi and attack that made him seem possessed by the spirit of the composer, especially Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner. It was as if there was a telepathic communication between conductor, music and orchestra.

Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) conducting expressively
Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1932
(Alfred Eisenstaedt – Mutual art)

*Shirakawa, The Devil’s Music Master, pp. 195–6 for a full account of this notorious concert and at: http://www.furtwangler.net/inmemoriam/data/conce_en.htm

Also Cahill’s reminiscence in conversation with the author in Monaco 1968.

This concert was Eddie’s only glimpse of the Nazi high command. He did not at all like what he saw of the Führer. ‘Not one distinguished feature in his entire body, frozen in such a severe expression. And that frightful hair and moustache!’ he told me in Monaco.

Many among the English aristocracy such as Nancy Astor and the so-called ‘Cliveden set’ appeared fascinated by the cosmetic attractions of the Nazi uniform. The infatuated Unity Mitford waited patiently daily for Hitler’s arrival at the Osteria Bavaria in Munich.

Adolf Hitler in the restaurant Osteria Bavaria in Munich, from Eva Braun’s albums October 1932 (National Archives at College Par)

When ‘the greatest man of all time’ finally noticed and spoke to her on 9 February 1935, she described the day as ‘the most wonderful and beautiful of my life’.* Later she was to plead with him to come to an agreement with her country. Shortly after the declaration of war, she attempted to shoot herself in Munich’s Englischer Garten with the pearl-handled pistol given to her by the Führer.

Not all visitors to Germany were impressed with the Nazis, particularly the Duff Coopers. In complete contrast, Eddie’s patron Diana Cooper, perhaps with the benefit of editorial hindsight, vividly and with deliciously ill-concealed venom describes the German Chancellor in unflattering terms at the 1933 Nuremberg Parteitag:

Nuremberg Rally 1933 (Getty image)
Adolf Hitler at the 1933 Nuremberg Rally (Getty image)

At Nuremberg the beautiful town had an extra million Nazis in possession. The organisation impressed us. […] It was not long before thunderous acclamation announced the Chancellor’s advent, but it was a very long time before we heard his guttural, discordant, scrannel-speech. He passed, alone and slowly, two feet away from me […] I found him unusually repellent and should have done so, I am quite sure, had he been a harmless little man. He was in a khaki uniform with a leather belt buckled tightly over a quite protuberant paunch, and his figure general- ly was unknit and flabby. His dank complexion had a fungoid quality, and the famous hypnotic eyes that met mine seemed glazed and without life – dead colourless eyes. The silly mèche of hair I was prepared for. The smallness of his occiput was unexpected. His physique on the whole was ignoble. Slowly he took up his position on the platform alone, while we listened to forty delightful minutes of Wagner [Duff and Diana left fifteen minutes after the oration began ‘We crept out, not unnoticed. Trouble came’].

*Quoted in Lovell, The Mitford Girls, pp. 181–3.

† Cooper, The Light of Common Day, pp. 147–8.

In Germany itself in 1935 only a few perceptive intellectuals such as the writers Thomas Mann and Hermann Broch had misgivings and fears for the future. The Nazis manipulated the irrational through their fertile amalgam of music, mystical dreams, theatrical demonstrations of power, the occult and Norse mythology. Seductive ideas of poetic truth

were fatally woven into the fabric of political truth.

The perceptive, courageous and charismatic Claus von Stauffenberg, soon to recognise the madness of this demagogue and attempt his assassination, thought Hitler ‘capable of inspiring the mass of the people to devotion and self-sacrifice, even though to their own disadvantage’.*

Nina and Claus von Stauffenberg (Bundesarchiv Bild)

*Joachim Kramarz, Stauffenberg: The Life and Death of an Officer trans. Richard Barry (London 1967), p. 44.

Instalment 19

Chapter 10

High Society and Le Train Bleu

Eddie spent Christmas 1934 with the large house party at Horwood House in Buckinghamshire as a ‘performing guest’ of Maude and Frederick Denny.

Horwood House

It appeared to him as if nothing had changed for him socially and professionally as he began to take up the threads of his life and altered career. Time to renew old friendships. His fears of performing in London alone without the moral support of George were set at rest.

A remarkably detailed in Country Life article on Horwood House with superb period photographs creates the forever lost atmosphere of England is dated 10 November 1923 :

https://app.box.com/s/uj64jedla1rd6jbo4j4g73ehrmnbkk1f

The greatest musical shock the Dennys provided for Eddie were the astounding new recordings of Liszt by the virtuoso Russian pianist Simon Barere.* Early in the New Year of 1935, Eddie drove the sixty miles to London for the Musicians’ Fund Dinner given in honour of Maude’s brother, the English art song composer Roger Quilter. Eddie started the Alvis that had been in storage without difficulty, negotiating the narrow, snowy English lanes at speed, wildly sliding the car just for the amusement of it.

Before her marriage to the poet Robert Nichols, the Dennys’ daughter Norah had been taught music by a musical friend of   the Quilters, the Australian composer and virtuoso pianist Percy Grainger. Eddie loved the originality, the relative lack of intellectual complication of much of Grainger’s piano music. He admired his eccentric athleticism, his entertaining personality and his complete eschewal of atonalism in his compositions. They both wore their Australian heritage as a badge of pride.

* * *

The original Iwo Jima monument sculpture by Felix Weiss de Weldon
Felix Weiss (1907-2003) and the sculpted head of John F. Kennedy
King George V by Felix Weiss 1935
Felix Weiss sculpting the head of Edward Cahill
‘The Royal Head
Felix Weiss bust of Edward Cahill 1935
Author Personal Collection

At the recital for King George of Greece, Eddie had made the acquaintance of the largely forgotten sculptor Felix Weiss de Weldon, who was considered in his day ‘the Michelangelo of American sculpture’. He was commissioned by governments, presidents, royalty, artists and  religious  leaders,  but  would  only sculpt figures he considered outstanding in their fields. He asked Eddie to sit for him. The fragile plaster head survived the bombing of Central London during the Second World War stored in a hatbox. Eddie had put it under the bed of ‘a certain lady’. Her house was severely damaged, almost completely destroyed, but the head survived. Eddie always subsequently referred to it as ‘The Royal Head’.

Simon Barere

*Simon Barere (1896–1951) was born in Odessa. His legendary and stupendous bravura is now unaccountably neglected. In a similar way to Edward Cahill he began his astounding virtuoso career playing for the silent cinema in order to support his family.

He first studied at the Odessa Imperial Musical Academy with Benno Moiseiwitsch as a fellow student and then with Annette Essipova (one of the most brilliant pupils of Leschetizky) and Felix Blumenfeld (who taught Neuhaus and Horowitz). On 2 April 1951, Barere suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during a performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall. Eugene Ormandy was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Barere collapsed and died shortly afterwards in the artist’s green room. His ‘supercharged virtuosity’ is once again being recognized through historic recordings.

Horowitz was reputed to be envious of Barere. Violinist Berl Senofsky was seated near Horowitz while Barere performed Liszt’s Reminiscences de Don Juan at Carnegie Hall.  “As Barere launched into his trademark supersonic chromatic scales in thirds,” Senofsky remembers hearing, Horowitz stood up and silently mouthed: ‘I cannot stand this any more’, and left in the middle of the piece.”

† Percy Grainger (1882–1961) was a highly original Australian composer, arranger and concert pianist. Known to Eddie who championed his work, he shared rather similar aristocratic audiences for concerts in London but somewhat earlier than Cahill. A fine interpreter of Chopin.

‡ The Austrian sculptor Felix Weiss de Weldon (1907–2003) created more than 1,200 public monuments including busts of Elvis Presley, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Simon Bolivar. He is the only artist in the world with a masterpiece on all seven continents, including one of Richard Byrd at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.

* * *

Following the death of George and the house fire, Eddie practised the Roman Catholic religion more fervently than ever. As an altar boy, the aesthetic theatre of the Tridentine Mass had appealed to him perhaps above the spiritual content. He had always dreamed of visiting Rome. Before sailing to England he made strenuous efforts to realize his fantasy of meeting Pope Pius XI. During his work in musical education in Brisbane he had befriended the legendary Irishman Sir James Duhig, Archbishop of Queensland.*

Archbishop Duhig with Mrs Power and Mrs Scott Fletcher, June 1929
Letter from Archbishop Duhig to Edward Cahill,5 October 1934

Before sailing for England the Archbishop had written Eddie two letters of introduction to influential priests in Rome and the Vatican. An audience and brief recital were arranged for 24 February 1935.

* Sir James Duhig (1871–1965) was Archbishop of Queensland for almost sixty years – the longest-serving bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. Known as ‘Duhig the Builder’, in fifty years he added over 400 major buildings to the Brisbane cityscape – religious, educational and charitable institutions, as well as hospitals. (T.P. Boland, Australian Dictionary of Biography.)

28 South Street, Mayfair. Home of Lady Gwynedd Quilter

Before this ‘pilgrimage’ he had spent much of January practising in the deserted London residence in South Street, Mayfair of Lady Gwynedd Quilter, the wife of Roger Quilter’s eldest brother Eley. She wrote to him: ‘Use the flat to your heart’s content if you would not mind the furniture being covered up.’

Travelling to Rome by train from London was an adventure in 1935. From the reports by his friends who raced cars at Brooklands, Eddie knew of the famous Blue Train Races and was particularly excited at the prospect of this journey.

He took his reserved seat in the Pullman car of the boat train from Victoria Station to Dover. Not being a particularly good sailor, he had organised a private cabin on the boat for the Channel crossing to Calais. He had booked a sleeping compartment as far as Menton in the exclusively first class, chic and luxurious Le Train Bleu (the steel ‘Grand Luxe’ carriages of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits were painted cream and dark blue). Passengers on ‘the millionaires’ train’ had the advantage of avoiding French customs delays at Calais before the 750 mile onward journey to Paris, Nice and the Côte d’Azur.

The train set off from the Gare du Nord for Nice in the early evening. Shortly after departure from the Gare de Lyon a great ringing of bells announced that dinner had been served. The long hours until bedtime were eased by a meal in the sumptuous haute cuisine restaurant followed by a leisurely coffee, cognac and a cigar in the mahogany-panelled salon bar.

Piano Salon Bar on Le Train Bleu (Simanaitis Says)
Dining Car – Le Train Bleu (Simanaitis Says)

During dinner he had made the acquaintance of a mysterious young Russian, the ‘Countess Maria Z ’ who was much taken with his playing of Chopin Nocturnes on the upright Bechstein that stood in one corner of the lounge. A romantic intimacy became quickly established between them. This was often the case with women when the handsome concert pianist played Chopin.

On returning to his compartment he noticed the attendant had already turned down his bed. Soon after retiring there was a gentle knock on the door and to his surprise the Countess appeared dressed in a spectacular creation by Schiaparelli, her throat adorned with Cartier jewellery and carrying a Pekinese. He spent an unexpectedly erotic night with her as the train haltingly made its way south.*

After a fitful sleep of broken rhythms he awoke the next morning to the dazzling sunshine of the Côte d’Azur. Palm trees and a riot of yellow mimosa lined the shore of the glittering Mediterranean as he poured coffee from the chased silver pot and broke open the feather-light croissants.

The Countess had silently quit his compartment during the night and he never saw her again. Eddie felt something almost deliciously sinful in this encounter as he journeyed towards the Vatican and his audience with the Pope. At Ventimiglia he changed trains to board the majestic Rome Express which travelled along the picturesque Ligurian coast across Tuscany to Florence and finally down to Rome.

*Eddie often did not note or even remember the names of his ‘acquaintances of the night’, a phrase he used when describing such brief encounters to the author during intimate conversations later in Monaco in 1968.

† The Blue Train inspired many writers and artists. In 1924, it inspired Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes to create a ballet entitled Le Train Bleu.

The train is featured in the Agatha Christies novel The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928). The Blue Train Races were a series of record-breaking attempts between cars and trains in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It saw a number of motorists and their own or sponsored automobiles race against ‘le train bleu’. The Blue Train Bentleys (two Speed Six Bentleys) owned by the dashing ‘Bentley Boy’ Woolf Barnato took part in these races.

* * *

Eddie wrote an account of the Papal audience on 25 February 1935 published in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The description by ‘Mr Cahill, who has played before almost every crowned head of Europe’ was breathily introduced as being ‘as exciting as any film story or a novel of the sixteenth century.’

Pope Pius XI (1857-1939)

‘The Glory That Is Rome!’

by Edward Cahill

All this glory seems to be concentrated in that one vast and palatial dwelling – the Vatican. The special suite where the Pope holds audience is a dream of splendour. One enormous salon leading into another. The public reception salon, the Throne Room, and the more exclusive and smaller Thronetta where the private audiences are usually held and where I was privileged to have a personal conversation with His Holiness.

Thronetta at the Vatican

Massive bronze doors, decorated with beautifully wrought panelling lead from one room to the other, and the rich claret-coloured carpet tones with the purples and wine-shades of the tapestries which cover the walls, and the brocade covering the massive gold furniture. Pomp and ceremony are everywhere.

The young noblemen who form the special Papal Guard are sumptuously attired in papal blue and gold with dazzling brass helmets and long swords. It is a special honour to be appointed to the Throne Room guard, and the highest born of the young Roman nobles vie for the honour.

While I waited in the Throne Room I saw the guard being changed, and a very impressive sight it was. All the ladies present who were awaiting the ordinary public audiences wore the customary veils and high-necked dresses. I wore full evening dress, tails and a white tie, which is the correct attire, although it was only one o’clock in the afternoon. I was received by Father P. Murray, Superintendent General of the Redemptorists, who  a couple of years ago came out to Australia and was the guest of Archbishop Duhig of Brisbane. Archbishop Duhig had written to them. That was how I was able to have the honour of un’udienza speciale.

I must confess to feeling more excited here than I have ever felt when faced with my greatest concert audiences. The Pope is a majestic figure although, apart from the enormous emerald ring on His Holiness’ first finger, he was dressed in great simplicity. The Pope talked with me in German, as he doesn’t speak any English. He showed me the gold watch which he always wears, and told me it was presented to him by His Grace the Arch- bishop Duhig, of Brisbane and the pupils of All Hallows Con- vent. He pointed out that it was made of Australian gold. He sent his blessing and good wishes through me to all Australian musicians.

After the udienza speciale Eddie lunched with Father Murray at the Redentoristi and afterwards in the concert hall gave a piano recital to over 100 priests, one of them an Australian. He continues:

I was still feeling the reaction of this rich, emotional experience as I descended the noble marble staircase and made my way out to the piazza. Suddenly I heard my name called, and turned to find a young friend from the Scandinavian Embassy. I felt, and probably looked, somewhat unusual, bareheaded and in formal evening clothes on the clear winter afternoon. Besides I was in a hurry to get to the opera.

Glancing at the clock I realized how little time there was, and calling good-bye to my friend I started to dash down the street. Suddenly I felt a grip on my shoulder. I was under arrest. Mus- solini was to pass that way in a few minutes. There had been a warning that a dangerous character was around and I was a suspect.

‘Where are your papers?’

‘Why are you glancing at the Vatican clock so furtively?’

‘Who are you?’

I searched for my papers. Of course, I had left them at the hotel when I changed into my dress clothes for the audience. I was taken to the police-station, and kept there for some hours until my identity was proved. Of course, I missed the opera.

Even so, my adventures were not over. My train, the Rome Express, was the ill-fated train which just missed a terrible avalanche. All the passengers had to get out and drive through the Alps by car to connect with another train.*

Eddie remained in Rome for a week or so, attending the opera and sightseeing. Early in March 1935 Sabine had agreed to meet him in Berlin to begin their short concert tour of Germany.

The inveterate traveller made his way back to Cannes once more on the Rome Express and then joined the luxury Riviera Express to Berlin. After the loss of George he was greatly looking forward to performing once again with a sympathetic and talented musical partner, quite apart from the fact she had once been a distant inamorata. The Russian Countess was already a distant memory.

*Australian Women’s Weekly, Saturday 30 March 1935.

Instalment 19

Chapter 10

High Society and Le Train Bleu

Eddie spent Christmas 1934 with the large house party at Horwood House in Buckinghamshire as a ‘performing guest’ of Maude and Frederick Denny.

Horwood House

It appeared to him as if nothing had changed for him socially and professionally as he began to take up the threads of his life and altered career. Time to renew old friendships. His fears of performing in London alone without the moral support of George were set at rest.

A remarkably detailed in Country Life article on Horwood House with superb period photographs creates the forever lost atmosphere of England is dated 10 November 1923 :

https://app.box.com/s/uj64jedla1rd6jbo4j4g73ehrmnbkk1f

The greatest musical shock the Dennys provided for Eddie were the astounding new recordings of Liszt by the virtuoso Russian pianist Simon Barere.* Early in the New Year of 1935, Eddie drove the sixty miles to London for the Musicians’ Fund Dinner given in honour of Maude’s brother, the English art song composer Roger Quilter. Eddie started the Alvis that had been in storage without difficulty, negotiating the narrow, snowy English lanes at speed, wildly sliding the car just for the amusement of it.

Before her marriage to the poet Robert Nichols, the Dennys’ daughter Norah had been taught music by a musical friend of   the Quilters, the Australian composer and virtuoso pianist Percy Grainger. Eddie loved the originality, the relative lack of intellectual complication of much of Grainger’s piano music. He admired his eccentric athleticism, his entertaining personality and his complete eschewal of atonalism in his compositions. They both wore their Australian heritage as a badge of pride.

* * *

The original Iwo Jima monument sculpture by Felix Weiss de Weldon
Felix Weiss (1907-2003) and the sculpted head of John F. Kennedy
King George V by Felix Weiss 1935
Felix Weiss sculpting the head of Edward Cahill
‘The Royal Head
Felix Weiss bust of Edward Cahill 1935
Author Personal Collection

At the recital for King George of Greece, Eddie had made the acquaintance of the largely forgotten sculptor Felix Weiss de Weldon, who was considered in his day ‘the Michelangelo of American sculpture’. He was commissioned by governments, presidents, royalty, artists and  religious  leaders,  but  would  only sculpt figures he considered outstanding in their fields. He asked Eddie to sit for him. The fragile plaster head survived the bombing of Central London during the Second World War stored in a hatbox. Eddie had put it under the bed of ‘a certain lady’. Her house was severely damaged, almost completely destroyed, but the head survived. Eddie always subsequently referred to it as ‘The Royal Head’.

Simon Barere

*Simon Barere (1896–1951) was born in Odessa. His legendary and stupendous bravura is now unaccountably neglected. In a similar way to Edward Cahill he began his astounding virtuoso career playing for the silent cinema in order to support his family.

He first studied at the Odessa Imperial Musical Academy with Benno Moiseiwitsch as a fellow student and then with Annette Essipova (one of the most brilliant pupils of Leschetizky) and Felix Blumenfeld (who taught Neuhaus and Horowitz). On 2 April 1951, Barere suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during a performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall. Eugene Ormandy was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Barere collapsed and died shortly afterwards in the artist’s green room. His ‘supercharged virtuosity’ is once again being recognized through historic recordings.

Horowitz was reputed to be envious of Barere. Violinist Berl Senofsky was seated near Horowitz while Barere performed Liszt’s Reminiscences de Don Juan at Carnegie Hall.  “As Barere launched into his trademark supersonic chromatic scales in thirds,” Senofsky remembers hearing, Horowitz stood up and silently mouthed: ‘I cannot stand this any more’, and left in the middle of the piece.”

† Percy Grainger (1882–1961) was a highly original Australian composer, arranger and concert pianist. Known to Eddie who championed his work, he shared rather similar aristocratic audiences for concerts in London but somewhat earlier than Cahill. A fine interpreter of Chopin.

‡ The Austrian sculptor Felix Weiss de Weldon (1907–2003) created more than 1,200 public monuments including busts of Elvis Presley, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Simon Bolivar. He is the only artist in the world with a masterpiece on all seven continents, including one of Richard Byrd at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.

* * *

Following the death of George and the house fire, Eddie practised the Roman Catholic religion more fervently than ever. As an altar boy, the aesthetic theatre of the Tridentine Mass had appealed to him perhaps above the spiritual content. He had always dreamed of visiting Rome. Before sailing to England he made strenuous efforts to realize his fantasy of meeting Pope Pius XI. During his work in musical education in Brisbane he had befriended the legendary Irishman Sir James Duhig, Archbishop of Queensland.*

Archbishop Duhig with Mrs Power and Mrs Scott Fletcher, June 1929
Letter from Archbishop Duhig to Edward Cahill,5 October 1934

Before sailing for England the Archbishop had written Eddie two letters of introduction to influential priests in Rome and the Vatican. An audience and brief recital were arranged for 24 February 1935.

* Sir James Duhig (1871–1965) was Archbishop of Queensland for almost sixty years – the longest-serving bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. Known as ‘Duhig the Builder’, in fifty years he added over 400 major buildings to the Brisbane cityscape – religious, educational and charitable institutions, as well as hospitals. (T.P. Boland, Australian Dictionary of Biography.)

28 South Street, Mayfair. Home of Lady Gwynedd Quilter

Before this ‘pilgrimage’ he had spent much of January practising in the deserted London residence in South Street, Mayfair of Lady Gwynedd Quilter, the wife of Roger Quilter’s eldest brother Eley. She wrote to him: ‘Use the flat to your heart’s content if you would not mind the furniture being covered up.’

Travelling to Rome by train from London was an adventure in 1935. From the reports by his friends who raced cars at Brooklands, Eddie knew of the famous Blue Train Races and was particularly excited at the prospect of this journey.

He took his reserved seat in the Pullman car of the boat train from Victoria Station to Dover. Not being a particularly good sailor, he had organised a private cabin on the boat for the Channel crossing to Calais. He had booked a sleeping compartment as far as Menton in the exclusively first class, chic and luxurious Le Train Bleu (the steel ‘Grand Luxe’ carriages of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits were painted cream and dark blue). Passengers on ‘the millionaires’ train’ had the advantage of avoiding French customs delays at Calais before the 750 mile onward journey to Paris, Nice and the Côte d’Azur.

The train set off from the Gare du Nord for Nice in the early evening. Shortly after departure from the Gare de Lyon a great ringing of bells announced that dinner had been served. The long hours until bedtime were eased by a meal in the sumptuous haute cuisine restaurant followed by a leisurely coffee, cognac and a cigar in the mahogany-panelled salon bar.

During dinner he had made the acquaintance of a mysterious young Russian, the ‘Countess Maria Z ’ who was much taken with his playing of Chopin Nocturnes on the upright Bechstein that stood in one corner of the lounge. A romantic intimacy became quickly established between them. This was often the case with women when the handsome concert pianist played Chopin.

On returning to his compartment he noticed the attendant had already turned down his bed. Soon after retiring there was a gentle knock on the door and to his surprise the Countess appeared dressed in a spectacular creation by Schiaparelli, her throat adorned with Cartier jewellery and carrying a Pekinese. He spent an unexpectedly erotic night with her as the train haltingly made its way south.*

After a fitful sleep of broken rhythms he awoke the next morning to the dazzling sunshine of the Côte d’Azur. Palm trees and a riot of yellow mimosa lined the shore of the glittering Mediterranean as he poured coffee from the chased silver pot and broke open the feather-light croissants.

The Countess had silently quit his compartment during the night and he never saw her again. Eddie felt something almost deliciously sinful in this encounter as he journeyed towards the Vatican and his audience with the Pope. At Ventimiglia he changed trains to board the majestic Rome Express which travelled along the picturesque Ligurian coast across Tuscany to Florence and finally down to Rome.

*Eddie often did not note or even remember the names of his ‘acquaintances of the night’, a phrase he used when describing such brief encounters to the author during intimate conversations later in Monaco in 1968.

† The Blue Train inspired many writers and artists. In 1924, it inspired Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes to create a ballet entitled Le Train Bleu.

The train is featured in the Agatha Christies novel The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928). The Blue Train Races were a series of record-breaking attempts between cars and trains in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It saw a number of motorists and their own or sponsored automobiles race against ‘le train bleu’. The Blue Train Bentleys (two Speed Six Bentleys) owned by the dashing ‘Bentley Boy’ Woolf Barnato took part in these races.

* * *

Eddie wrote an account of the Papal audience on 25 February 1935 published in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The description by ‘Mr Cahill, who has played before almost every crowned head of Europe’ was breathily introduced as being ‘as exciting as any film story or a novel of the sixteenth century.’

Pope Pius XI (1857-1939)

‘The Glory That Is Rome!’

by Edward Cahill

All this glory seems to be concentrated in that one vast and palatial dwelling – the Vatican. The special suite where the Pope holds audience is a dream of splendour. One enormous salon leading into another. The public reception salon, the Throne Room, and the more exclusive and smaller Thronetta where the private audiences are usually held and where I was privileged to have a personal conversation with His Holiness.

Thronetta at the Vatican

Massive bronze doors, decorated with beautifully wrought panelling lead from one room to the other, and the rich claret-coloured carpet tones with the purples and wine-shades of the tapestries which cover the walls, and the brocade covering the massive gold furniture. Pomp and ceremony are everywhere.

The young noblemen who form the special Papal Guard are sumptuously attired in papal blue and gold with dazzling brass helmets and long swords. It is a special honour to be appointed to the Throne Room guard, and the highest born of the young Roman nobles vie for the honour.

While I waited in the Throne Room I saw the guard being changed, and a very impressive sight it was. All the ladies present who were awaiting the ordinary public audiences wore the customary veils and high-necked dresses. I wore full evening dress, tails and a white tie, which is the correct attire, although it was only one o’clock in the afternoon. I was received by Father P. Murray, Superintendent General of the Redemptorists, who  a couple of years ago came out to Australia and was the guest of Archbishop Duhig of Brisbane. Archbishop Duhig had written to them. That was how I was able to have the honour of un’udienza speciale.

I must confess to feeling more excited here than I have ever felt when faced with my greatest concert audiences. The Pope is a majestic figure although, apart from the enormous emerald ring on His Holiness’ first finger, he was dressed in great simplicity. The Pope talked with me in German, as he doesn’t speak any English. He showed me the gold watch which he always wears, and told me it was presented to him by His Grace the Arch- bishop Duhig, of Brisbane and the pupils of All Hallows Con- vent. He pointed out that it was made of Australian gold. He sent his blessing and good wishes through me to all Australian musicians.

After the udienza speciale Eddie lunched with Father Murray at the Redentoristi and afterwards in the concert hall gave a piano recital to over 100 priests, one of them an Australian. He continues:

I was still feeling the reaction of this rich, emotional experience as I descended the noble marble staircase and made my way out to the piazza. Suddenly I heard my name called, and turned to find a young friend from the Scandinavian Embassy. I felt, and probably looked, somewhat unusual, bareheaded and in formal evening clothes on the clear winter afternoon. Besides I was in a hurry to get to the opera.

Glancing at the clock I realized how little time there was, and calling good-bye to my friend I started to dash down the street. Suddenly I felt a grip on my shoulder. I was under arrest. Mus- solini was to pass that way in a few minutes. There had been a warning that a dangerous character was around and I was a suspect.

‘Where are your papers?’

‘Why are you glancing at the Vatican clock so furtively?’

‘Who are you?’

I searched for my papers. Of course, I had left them at the hotel when I changed into my dress clothes for the audience. I was taken to the police-station, and kept there for some hours until my identity was proved. Of course, I missed the opera.

Even so, my adventures were not over. My train, the Rome Express, was the ill-fated train which just missed a terrible avalanche. All the passengers had to get out and drive through the Alps by car to connect with another train.*

Eddie remained in Rome for a week or so, attending the opera and sightseeing. Early in March 1935 Sabine had agreed to meet him in Berlin to begin their short concert tour of Germany.

The inveterate traveller made his way back to Cannes once more on the Rome Express and then joined the luxury Riviera Express to Berlin. After the loss of George he was greatly looking forward to performing once again with a sympathetic and talented musical partner, quite apart from the fact she had once been a distant inamorata. The Russian Countess was already a distant memory.

*Australian Women’s Weekly, Saturday 30 March 1935.

Instalment 18

Chapter 10

High Society and Le Train Bleu

Towards the end of 1934 Eddie Cahill, an inveterate traveller for some 20 years, decided to leave Australia on another tour of England. He agreed to give a series of concerts at the invitation of the ever loyal Mrs Denny in Buckinghamshire. However on this occasion he would be performing as a soloist and judged entirely on his own merits. With his limited funds he was forced to taking passage to England on the cargo liner SS Stuart Star.

SS Stuart Star

In October he boarded as the first and only passenger on the newly inaugurated Blue Star Line Brisbane to Southampton route. On the day he sailed his sister Bessie, an outstanding mezzo soprano, laid on a farewell tea at the cottage in the grounds of the Belle Vue Hotel in Brisbane. He played some Chopin and appropriately the melancholic Adieu for piano attributed to Beethoven. Eddie would never see Australia again.

On the long voyage he gave a number of concerts on an old upright piano which were much appreciated by the crew. Being alone gave him the opportunity to work up additions to his repertoire for his new programmes for London and the concerts Sabine had arranged in Germany. He practised Liszt’s virtuosic Hungarian Fantasy for two pianos, a challenge for a pianist with such small hands. He was also able to learn the piano part of the sonatas he would perform with Sabine – Beethoven’s magnificent Kreutzer and Spring sonatas for violin and piano as well as Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in E major, BMV 1016 for violin and harpsichord.

* * *

In the warm Queensland sun, Eddie had not considered the living conditions and social problems of the England he was approaching in the 1930s. He thought conditions for classical musicians could not be worse than in Australia. Eddie possessed an established reputation and promises of lucrative engagements in London that only lay in hibernation. He was brimming with optimism.

The inclement winter climate and unhealthy air of the British Isles checked this mood. Fog in the English Channel, among the worst in living memory, delayed the boat from docking for fifty-eight hours. While waiting on board a friendly radiogram arrived from Mrs Denny at Horwood: ‘Welcome home. All waiting for your arrival.’ which lifted his spirits. Grey light and smog lay oppressively over London as he chugged past the grim urban brick dwellings on the steam train from Southampton. Millions of smoking chimneys rather than white Pacific beaches filled the narrow window of the carriage.

Bill Brandt. A drunken man in top hat and tails clings to a lamp-post in the fog
London 1934

The economy of England had been at least as affected by the Wall Street debacle as that of Australia. An  economic  blizzard was howling through the land. ‘Times, we all thought, had never been worse or England closer to the abyss.’* The style of life, social status and political power of many in the milieu of peers Eddie had frequented in the 1920s had continued its inexorable decline during his absence. The profound upheavals resulting from the deaths in the Great War of perhaps two generations of a single family continued unabated. Crippling rises in taxes and punitive death duties, the depression of agricultural revenues and the lure of overseas investments in the United States or the South American railways meant that the secure predictability of Edwardian upper-class life was slowly leaching away.

Numerous historic seats  were  sold  or  demolished  during  the interwar years. All the great estates in the entire county of Middlesex, except for a number of parks, were subsumed under brick and concrete. Broad acres were broken up and sold off piecemeal for sterile modern housing developments. Some great houses were simply abandoned and fell into irreversible disrepair.

* Diana Cooper, The Light of Common Day (London 1959), p. 102.

† John Martin Robinson, Felling the Ancient Oaks: How England Lost its Great Country Estates (London 2011), p. 31.

Lady Diana Cooper (nee Manners) 1892-1986
Lady Diana Cooper the Viscountess of Norwich on the election trail with her husband Duff Cooper 1918
The Duff-Coopers 1938

In 1933 Duff Cooper writes in his diary of a party he attended at the later notorious Londonderry House with the ‘most beautiful woman in England’, his wife Diana. The tone is rather revealing of upper-class attitudes and the savage differences remaining within society:

It was an exceptionally delightful party. Young and old admirably mixed. […] It is of course true that nowhere else in the world nowadays, and not often in England, are there parties where statesmen, ambassadors and debutantes meet. We didn’t get home till past three. […] We went to Breccles for the weekend.

Just before luncheon the butler blew his brains out, which was rather distressing.*

However the decline of the powerful and privileged in society was all but invisible to the majority. The elite seemed to float effortlessly above strife, always mindful of keeping up appearances. Fun and games were still pursued with a vengeance by some members of the upper classes during the thirties:

Treasure-hunts were dangerous and scandalous, but there was no sport to touch them … A clue might lead to a darkened city court, there to find a lady in distress, with a dead duellist at her feet, who would hand the next clue through her tears. This might lead to a plague-spot where a smallpoxed ghost would whisper a conundrum that took you to a mare’s nest in Kensington Gardens, and thence to a Chinese puzzle in Whitechapel. Quick thought, luck and unscrupulous driving might bring you first to the coveted prize.

Lady Diana Cooper (Viscountess Norwich 1892-1986) Paris, 26 May 1948 

There is no finer description of the favoured circles Eddie moved within than the entries from the diaries of Harold Nicolson. He was a diplomat, politician, author and famous diarist also the husband of the writer Vita Sackville-West. In the 1930s they moved to magnificent Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.

Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon in 1934 lived in some splendour at 5 Belgrave Square in a house next door to the notorious Prince George, Duke of Kent. Monsieur Boudin of Jansen came to us this morning with his final drawings and estimates for our dining-room which is to imitate and, I hope, rival the Amalienburg.  It will shimmer in blue and silver, and have an ochre and silver gallery leading to it.  It will shock and stagger London.  And it will cost over [GBP] 6,000. Honor came into the paneled room and smiling sweetly asked ‘How much?’ Channon recorded on Monday 29th July 1935. 

King Edward VIII came to dinner with Mrs. Simpson on Thursday 11th June, 1936. Channon wrote an extraordinary account of a dinner with King Edward VIII “…he was in ecstasies over it […] it was the very peak, the summit I suppose.”

Harold Nicolson describes Channon’s house:

All Regency upstairs with very carefully draped curtains and Madame Récamier sofas and wall paintings. Then the dining-room is entered through an orange lobby and discloses itself suddenly as a copy of the blue room at the Amalienburg near Munich – baroque and rococo and what-ho and oh-no-no and all that. Very fine indeed. (Harold Nicolson (1886–1968), Diaries and Letters 1930–39 (London 1966), p. 244.)

The Dining Room at 5 Belgrave Square, London.
Photo from JANSEN by James Archer Abbott.
The Dining Room at 5 Belgrave Square, London.
Photo from JANSEN by James Archer Abbott.

The Amalienburg, one of the most beautiful small buildings in the world, is a high point of the exuberant Bavarian Rococo and a wonder of Bavaria. It was designed in 1734 by the ugly and diminutive Walloon Francois Cuvilles but who possessed an inner life of the greatest beauty. This maison de plaisance is his masterpiece. It is the first of four charming and highly artistic pavilions in the Nymphenburg Palace Park. The Electress Amalia (wife of the Elector Karl Albert) would shoot from the platform on the roof which is surrounded by a gilded grille (this can be seen in the photograph). One can imagine a scene here as being worthy of a painting or tapestry: a miniature palace, the Electress surrounded by ladies of the court, driven game and leaping stags. The facade is of great elegance.

Detail of the highly ornate blue and silver interior of the octagonal Hall of Mirrors in the Amalienburg – surely the apotheosis of the eighteenth century rococo. Against the pale blue-grey walls a riot of silver cupids, cornucopias, musical instruments, quivers of arrows, nets and fish, hunting-horns – a tumultuous adoration of the chase. Across the flat domed ceiling fly pigeons, duck and snipe as if frozen against the azure sky. It is small wonder that the Viscountess Harcourt wished to imitate this room in Mayfair but with less bucolic Bavarian fantasy and dreams. Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, the great diarist, also imitated the Amalienburg in his house in Belgravia.

* John Julius Norwich (ed.), The Duff Cooper Diaries 1915–1951 (London 2005), pp. 222, 225

† Cooper, The Light of Common Day, pp. 112–3.

‡ Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (1897–1958) was an American-born wealthy Conservative politician, author and famous diarist.

Some inheritors of great wealth persisted in fecklessly gambling entire fortunes away in extravagant and mindless pleasures, sinking vast sums into the world of horses or falling victim to their own financial incompetence. Eddie’s royal patrons were scarcely affected by anything during the decade.

Lower down the social scale, the middle classes during this decade experienced a significant expansion in suburban housing. This satisfied the English desire for a self-contained house with a small garden where one might pleasantly occupy snatched hours of leisure. The intractable problem of long-term unemployment among the working class in the industrial North remained. An average of twenty-two per cent of men were ‘on the tramp’ (searching for work) during the decade.

… groups of idle sullen-looking young men stood at the street corners … Everything had the look of a Sunday that had lasted many years … a disused, slovenly, everlasting Sunday.

Unemployed and homeless people sleeping rough on London’s Embankment
Mary Evans Picture Library

Eddie took up residence at 7a Manchester Street, Westminster.‡ Scarcely venturing outside Mayfair and Belgravia and attending the fashionable dinners hosted by his well-insulated patrons, he would have been only vaguely aware of ‘actual hunger – hunger gnawing at the stomach, hunger making one dizzy and weak, hunger destroying one’s body and destroying one’s mind.§

Thy mother is crying Thy dad’s on the dole:

Two shillings a week is the price of a soul

A Carol, C. Day Lewis

† The poet Edwin Muir quoted in Juliet Gardiner, The Thirties: An Intimate History (Lon- don 2010), p. 34.

‡ Destroyed by bombing during the Blitz.

§ Fenner Brockway, Hungry England (1932) quoted in ibid., p. 61.

His Australian relations and friends accused him of becoming an arrant snob and social climber in London. However in such  a brutal economic climate one can scarcely criticize him for the career he valiantly set out to carve for himself among the English upper classes through his contacts, talent and charm. In the arena of fashion and privilege, Eddie Cahill was merely a society pianist (albeit a brilliant one) forced to earn a living entertaining the haut ton who were passing through, as Lady Swaythling put it, ‘the most wearisome economic times’.

* * *

Eleven years had passed since Eddie as a raw colonial witnessed his first royal wedding in 1923. By coincidence he had arrived back in England just in time to witness the marriage of the controversial, privately scandalous figure of  Prince  George,  Duke  of  Kent,  the fourth son of George V and Mary of Teck.* He was to marry Marina, the beautiful daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark and Elena Vladimirovna, Grand Duchess of Russia (a granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II). It was to be the last marriage between the son of a British sovereign and a member of a foreign royal house.

The 29th of November 1934 dawned romantically foggy. Eddie felt that the misty haloes surrounding the gas mantles along the route created the atmosphere of an hallucinatory dream. He saw the opulent state carriages with postilions in royal livery wearing tricorn hats, black Rolls-Royce Phantoms, Daimler  limousines  and the mounted regiments of the Life Guards moving like disembodied ghosts. London was in festival mood, with Bond Street decorated in waxed paper flowers and the Greek and British flags.

How the Royals were adored by the public in those days! A world that has disappeared forever…

Here is a spectacular 7 minute British Movietone News souvenir of the wedding with commentary.

http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/Wedding-of-the-Duke-of-Kent-Prince-George-To-Princess-Marina/5c896375c9c540fdb14634da0bc0ae94

I feel I must quote Nancy Mitford once more:

‘It’s rather sad,’ she said one day, ‘to belong, as we do, to a lost generation. I’m sure in history the two wars will count as one war and that we shall be squashed out of it altogether, and people will forget we ever existed. We might just as well never have lived at all. I do think it’s a shame.

Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love (London 1945)

This was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on the wireless. Previously the Westminster Abbey Dean and Chapter had refused this technology fearing that disrespectful people ‘might hear the service, perhaps some of them even sitting in public houses, with their hats on.’

Two days before the marriage there had been a ball at Buckingham Palace. Among some eight hundred guests were a Mr and Mrs Ernest Simpson, friends of the Prince of Wales. The Prince introduced Mrs Simpson to his parents. ‘It was the briefest of encounters. A perfunctory greeting, an exchange of meaningless pleasantries and we moved away,’ she wrote later (Quoted in Barrow, Gossip: A History of High Society from 1920 to 1970, p. 73)

* Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902–42) was a strong advocate of the policy of appeasement and was immensely popular with the public. He died in the mysterious crash of a Short Sunderland flying boat in Scotland in August 1942. He was a colourful and sexually scandalous member of the royal family.

Prince George and Princess Marina in their superbly sportif 1936 Rolls-Royce Phantom III

Marina was a favourite royal with Eddie and he closely followed her activities for much of his future life. After the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the ‘dazzling pair’ drove back to Buckingham Palace to appear on the balcony before the multitudes who were waving white handkerchiefs. Eddie noted the scene was ‘like foam on a wind-tossed sea’. A Greek Orthodox ceremony took place immediately after this balcony appearance. They set off for their long honeymoon from Paddington Station in the midst of huge cheering crowds.

Eddie was requested to play at the farewell party given for the handsome, exiled King George II of Greece, who was leaving for Paris shortly after the royal wedding. The King had been living at Brown’s Hotel in London and would be restored to the Greek throne in November 1935. Diana Cooper wrote of him:

His life, they say, is a very sad one. He has not one man he can trust or take advice from, and not one personal friend. He’s made himself more or less of a dictator, he says, though disapproving of dictators …§

King George II of Greece (1890-1947) by Cecil
Edward Cahill gave a recital at his farewell party shortly after Princess Marina and Prince George, Duke of Kent, set off on their honeymoon

Eddie felt the familiar elation ‘bordering on vertigo’, the damp palms, that particular inspiration that electrified his nerves when playing once again for a royal audience.

† Description of the wedding taken from Edward’s notebook and Alison Weir, Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood and Tracy Borman, The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings 1066–2011 (London 2011), pp. 110–15.

‡ King George II of Greece (1890–1947) reigned from 1922 to 1924 and from 1935 to 1947.

§ Diana Cooper, The Light of Common Day, p. 182.

Instalment 17

Instalment 17

Chapter 9

Catastrophes

During the first concert Eddie had just finished playing La Campanella. The usual tumultuous applause was dying away when George came onto the stage to sing his second group of songs. He began with Schubert and Brahms. Then he suffered a moment  that all singers fear like death itself, a lapse of memory for the words. He whispered news of this sudden vocal horror vacui to Eddie, who immediately prompted him in an undertone from the piano. Strangely the music did not elude him. Eddie whispered the poetry of the Handel Arcadian love aria ‘Where’er You Walk’ from Semele as he played.

A musical nightmare unfolded for the performers. Often  it  was only the beginning of a song that needed to be prompted. Outwardly the artists appeared simply to  be  chatting  before each new number and managed to complete the concert without anyone noticing anything awry. In fact, the Brisbane Standard noted that George ‘won the hearts of his audience completely in a programme that left nothing to be desired. Not only does he use his fine voice with artistic effect, but he infuses into each song the feeling of the people from whom it came.’ The Negro spirituals were sung with such ardent devotion that Lady Goodwin was seen wiping away tears.

Eddie was extremely perturbed by this turn of events. Being a highly strung personality, he was thought by many to be simply overwrought when he cancelled a concert in Canberra and hurriedly packed a suitcase. Margaret, George and Eddie caught  a train to Melbourne where an emergency appointment with a medical specialist had been made for George. The diagnosis was not encouraging as a dark shadows on a cranial X-ray indicated the possibility that George may have a brain tumour. Whether this was benign or not would need to be investigated by an operation carried out by a neurosurgeon.*

George was immediately admitted to Mount St Evin’s Private Hospital where his condition deteriorated by the hour. Emergency medical intervention was to no avail and he slipped away on 2 September 1930 at the age of 44 in the presence of Eddie, Margaret, his mother and brother. Eddie sent a telegram to many of their friends: ‘My best pal has passed away. Broken hearted.’ They had been performing and travelling the world together for sixteen years. In Act II Scene III of Handel’s opera Semele, Jupiter sings a love aria to Semele celebrating Arcadian delights. Eddie found this final Handelian setting that George had sung agonizingly elegiac in the face of his death

Where e’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade;

Trees where you sit, shall crowd into a shade

Where’er you tread, the blushing flowers shall rise

And all things flourish where’er you turn your eyes.

Hugo Hymas and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra
conducted by John Eliot Gardiner

Letters, cables and wreaths poured in from all over the world.

* In the 1930s such operations were performed mainly with hand drills and surgical chisels with little accurate targeting of tumours and much physical movement of the patient. George consulted the famous Australian physician Sir Richard Stawell (1864–1935), a specialist in nervous diseases and a lifelong lover of music.

Sir Richard Stawell (1864–1935)

He was operated on by a Dr A. Newton at Mount St Evin’s Hospital, Melbourne.

Brain Tumour Operation 1931 Harvey Cushing (1869-1939)
Brain Tumour Operation 1931 Harvey Cushing (1869-1939)

If you have the stomach for it, here is a period video from the Wellcome Library of a pre-frontal brain tumour removal operation from 1933 (age -restricted viewing). Thank goodness we live in 2022.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG5sJmu9vkg

Lennons Hotel, George Street, Brisbane cir. 1930

Eddie, desolated by George’s unexpected death, was advised by his doctors not to give concerts in the immediate future. Characteristically he ignored their advice. He decided to give the first memorial recital informally in the ballroom at Lennons Hotel in Brisbane at the end of October. Sir John Goodwin and Lady Goodwin attended carrying mauve delphiniums tied with a dark ribbon.

Eddie was not without sentiment. A single bowl of crimson roses decorated the stage where George would have stood to sing. He included reflective works bathed in melancholy as well as his customary glittering rendition of La Campanella by Liszt and the Józef Wieniawski Valse de Concert. His inner turmoil may be gleaned from his choice of the most nostalgic of Chopin nocturnes, preludes and mazurkas, the Adieu to the piano attributed by some scholars to Beethoven and a recent work of his own entitled Elegie.

The Australian poet Mabel Forrest* read from her George Brooke memorial poem:

But somewhere in the hallways of the blue, Somewhere amid the stars, your song remains And in the hush of summer silver nights

And in the gentle murmurs of the rain

The wind in the tree tops and the breath of dawn In all fine, eloquent and lovely things

We shall hear you once more … remembering

A festive dance concluded the evening, which had developed in the manner of an Irish musical wake.

* * *

* Mabel Forrest (1872–1935), writer, was born near Yandilla, Darling Downs, Queensland. She was unkindly considered ‘the most industrious versifier in the Commonwealth’ and had a mixed reputation. Publishing in the Australasian, the Bulletin, Smith’s Weekly, the Triad and the Lone Hand, she signed herself ‘M. Forrest’, ‘Reca’ or ‘M. Burkinshaw’.

Mabel Forrest (1872–1935)

Eddie’s personality had more than once teetered on the edge of a nervous breakdown and the pressure of this loss pushed him over the edge once again despite his attempt to continue performing as normal.

A second blow came when he needed an operation for acute appendicitis. In the period of sulphonamides before modern antibiotics, recovery from such major surgery was slow,  risky  and painful. He filled the abyss of grief and physical discomfort by beginning to write a book chronicling his artistic career with George and their exotic experiences together. Tragically, the manuscript is lost.

Not long after this his great mentor Dame Nellie Melba succumbed to paratyphoid in February 1931, possibly caught whilst travelling home to Australia from Munich. Despite his own physical pain, Eddie travelled to Melbourne for the funeral and filed past her coffin in Scots’ Church. He could scarcely face the burial of a musician he considered had ‘the most perfect voice of our time’ and who had been so generous towards him.

On the first day of the beautiful spring of 1931, the first anniversary of George Brooke’s death, the Australian Wattle League arranged that the famous bass-baritone Peter Dawson plant a Golden Wattle in George’s memory at Wattle Park at Burwood, his birthplace in Melbourne. In an emotional speech, Dawson drew attention to George’s ability to weave himself into the hearts of his listeners, his charm, and the fine natural voice of ‘a man who was indeed a singer of the people’. He felt it a great tragedy that George was struck down at forty-four, so early for a musician that would have soon become a household name in Australia.

Wattle Park, Burwood, Victoria

He could think of no Australian musical artists whose star had risen so quickly as Brooke and Cahill. There were few dry eyes when Eddie spoke of the loss of his ‘comrade’ of sixteen years. Two months later a memorial plaque was attached to the tree accompanied by moving recitations of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Requiem and Conrad Aiken’s Music I Heard With You

Inevitably Eddie and George’s close relationship in this ‘masculinist society’ became the subject of malicious gossip. Over the years performing together Eddie and George had become close ‘pals’, mutually dependent on the unique emotional intimacy brought about by such a close musical collaboration. One cruel newspaper article packed with innuendo and prejudice, printed on pink paper wrote:

Ever since the death of his erstwhile friend, George Brooke, Eddie has been more or less at a loose end. Seldom amongst men is such an attachment as existed between these two known and these days Eddie finds himself a lonely man. Rumour has it that he has been offered an interest with a leading firm of dress designers in the South, mainly on account of his social qualifications.*

Eddie never married, giving rise to much speculation by the simple minded. Perhaps he was entre deux lits or perhaps even a repressed homosexual. A stance impossible to determine and largely irrelevant to his musicianship. There  is  no  reference to his ‘sexual orientation’ in his letters or private papers which is hardly surprising since homosexuality at the time was considered a serious criminal offence. In time the label ‘confirmed bachelor’ settled about his shoulders.

Concerts were a way of recuperating from life’s reversals for Eddie. His first official public appearance after a fitful recuperation was on 14 November 1931. He gave a well-received account of the Weber Konzertstück in F minor with the Greater Brisbane Orchestra under the German conductor Albert Kaeser in aid of the Returned & Services League. The Overture to Tannhäuser and the 1812 Overture were also performed that evening.

* * *

* From Edward Cahill’s scrapbook – undated and unattributed.

A thread of smoke insinuated itself under the door of the drawing room and wound itself around the leg of the ivory and gold piano and over the cedar bookcase. Soon the valuable tapestry of the Duke Marlborough on horseback at the Battle of Blenheim that was hanging on the wall dissolved in a haze as if engulfed by smoke from distant cannon. A cat fled into the garden through the flap in the kitchen. The Queenslander colonial house of Roscrea, an old Beenleigh landmark belonging to the Cahill family, had caught fire.

On Sunday night 4 December 1932 Eddie and his sister had decided make a social visit to their old friend Mrs Murray on the Tambourine Road, Beenleigh. Shortly after eight o’clock they were told that the family home was ablaze. In alarm they leapt into the Willys Knight Roadster and Eddie drove like a man possessed. They arrived to witness a raging fire engulfing the house and consuming all their possessions. With no fire-fighting appliances in the town, he and the residents of Beenleigh had to stand by helplessly watching the conflagration. A few pathetic buckets of water were thrown at the blaze, but the wooden house quickly burned to the ground.

Eddie lost everything. All his personal correspondence, a significant amount of cash, tributes and gifts of a diamond pin, diamond cuff links and a diamond studded cigarette case. Rare gifts given him by Indian Maharajahs, the King of Siam and British royalty. He lost two pianos, one being his beloved Grotrian-Steinweg valued at £850*. A particularly significant loss among his recordings and music was a first edition of Percy Grainger’s Country Gardens marked with fingering and phrasing by the composer for one of his pupils. Eddie spent hours searching the ashes for the treasured solid gold double Albert watch chain and fob given to him by HH Princess Marie Louise. He also lost paintings, French tapestries, all his clothing including his silk top hats and formal dress for concerts and receptions purchased at ruinous expense at the court tailors Ede & Ravenscroft in London.

* £95,000 in 2015.

More tragically, his beloved mother at the age of 68 had died on 24 July only a few months previously. He had been emotionally overwhelmed by this death. She and his grandmother were the only members of the family who seemed to instinctively understand his sensitive, musical nature. Grief had become a constant companion. And now every beloved object associated with his dearest souls and spiritual companions had been consumed by the flames. Eddie remained inconsolable and scarcely sane for months.

With remarkable resilience, he somehow managed to rise above these calamities. No doubt driven by the overwhelming need to stay together psychologically and earn some money after such extensive losses, by April 1933 he had resumed recitals. A newspaper report read: ‘Instead of the lovely world-famous piano which was burnt in the fire at Beenleigh, Edward Cahill is to play on a piano which had been practically placed in the junk room at Paling’s music store.’

As a solace for grief and a distraction from these tribulations, Eddie allowed another side of his character to flourish. The role of a social butterfly had been hidden away through years of self- discipline. Now he gave this aspect of his personality free reign and threw himself with almost hysterical abandon into prestigious social events in Brisbane and Sydney.

He played at the Farmer’s Business Girls’ Lunch, accompanied the variety artist ‘Burlington Bertie’ Ella Shields and gave illustrated talks describing his career among the royals in London on an afternoon radio programme entitled ‘Women’s Budget’ Session. Most strangely, he was engaged for a season at the Regent Theatre in Brisbane to give solo classical recitals on the same bill as ‘B’ cinema features such as the sensational Royal Air Force epic The Lost Squadron. During this  season  he also returned to his old stamping ground, the silent cinema, and brilliantly accompanied a re-run of the classic 1919 Australian silent, The Sentimental Bloke.

Eddie also actively and rather desperately ‘networked’ among the many glamorous women attending ‘mannequin parades’ as they were termed in the 1930s. It was reported that at a fashion parade of ‘exquisite pyjama ensembles’ Eddie turned to one of the few men present and was heard to remark ‘One time the girls seemed to take off things to go to bed, but now they put on four-piece suits – they wear more to bed than they wear anywhere else!’

He attended luncheon parties given by the Lady Mayoress of Sydney and ‘shared honours’ at the Arts Club in the city with Princess Wiki, the Maori singer and granddaughter of a Rotoruan chief. On one memorable evening he borrowed a lavishly decorated flat in a fashionable suburb of Sydney known as Potts Point and threw a party ‘where there was quite an Australian De Brett [sic] sound about many of the names.’ One wonders what may have been passing through his mind concerning his own career when accompanied by Ella Shields he attended a piano recital by the great Ukrainian Benno Moiseiwitsch at His Majesty’s Theatre early in July 1932 and was moved by his interpretation of the Chopin Barcarolle.

* * *

Eddie had now become a divided man. The social butterfly vied with the serious musician. He profoundly wished to be treated as far more than a society pianist. At 48 he felt age creeping on and being born in Beenleigh was hardly the most advantageous of beginnings for an international concert career. However as a confirmed bon viveur, his love of pleasure, good food and wine, beautiful women and fashion temporarily gained the upper hand after these harrowing reversals.

Yet for a period in 1933 he did turn to his serious side and embarked on a taxing  series  of  educational  lectures  on  music  at almost one hundred Brisbane schools. He had heard a vague rumour that there was to be a policy to establish mouth organ bands and believed that something more serious should be attempted to cultivate young minds with the best in classical music. He felt all children were singers, potential performers or at the very least might make discriminating concert-goers. He found them eager to learn and at every school complete silence reigned as he talked and played. In this educational effort he was assisted by the great bass- baritone Peter Dawson.

Requesting no fee or expenses for his lectures, Eddie explained the instruments of the orchestra, the nature of melody, the development of the sonata, concerto and symphony in very simple terms. He wittily introduced the instruments as ‘the scrapers, the bangers and the blowers’, which greatly appealed to their untutored minds. He introduced them to witty and rumbustious Percy Grainger. He commented in an interview:

Unless children have some preliminary information about the instruments they are going to hear, they cannot keep up a continued interest in concerts. The first and second times, curiosity will sustain them; but, after that, only a minority will want to go again. Also, in Brisbane the second half of the programme was provided by an orchestra of children; and this roused the interest of the juvenile audience to fever heat. [Sydney Morning Herald, 30 September 1933]

Portrait of Peter Dawson, vocalist, with Eddie Cahill on piano, at the Valley State School, Brisbane, 18 May 1933

These preliminary talks were given to some 18,000 children at 50 schools. Although he never gave piano lessons, he advocated introducing children to music gradually so that pieces they first heard would be readily appreciated. Then with the establishment of school orchestras and bands they could in time learn to play much of what was already familiar. The whole project was strongly supported by the Queensland Director of Education.

Edward Cahill speaking from the balcony of the Leichardt Street School Brisbane to an attentive young audience April 1933

His philosophy of musical education for the young was summed up in a leaflet advertising the first of an outstandingly successful series of children’s concerts that followed the school ‘lectures’ in the Brisbane City Hall. He noticed with delight that the body of the auditorium was filled predominantly with youngsters. Eddie chose his programme carefully to appeal to a younger audience and explained each piece. He performed with the Greater Brisbane Orchestra Liszt’s extrovert and spirited Hungarian Fantasy. The orchestra also performed the Overture to Egmont by Beethoven and Haydn’s Surprise Symphony.

 A section of the large and appreciative audience that attended Edward Cahill’s Brisbane City Hall Youth Concerts         
 

Eddie in addition played a selection of piano pieces by the Australian pianist and composer Percy Grainger including the ever popular Mollie on the Shore and Country Gardens. He had recently begun to champion this lively and infectiously charming music. Eddie had mirrored Grainger’s pianistic career in London in many ways, sharing the other’s charm, graciousness and sense of fun.

Percy Grainger (1882-1961)

After the first City Hall concert he attended a reception given in honour of Philip Hargrave, the eleven-year-old child prodigy of the piano. Professors thought Hargrave possessed of great musical genius but this brief comet gave up his concert career to become a doctor after only a few brilliant teenage years.

Edward Cahill and the eleven-year old-piano child prodigy Philip Hargrave comparing hands at a reception at the Town Hall, Brisbane, 1933
 

* * *

All too soon the pendulum of teaching swung away once more from uplifting education to partying. Throughout the remainder of 1933 and much of 1934 Eddie again took up his addiction to the superficial fashionable round and gave recitals at social rather than serious musical venues: the Society of Women Writers luncheon; cocktails in the Lord Mayor’s room; concerts in the elegant department store of David Jones in Sydney; places where the hats and gowns, ladies ‘wrapped in ermine’ or ‘rose-red velvet’ attracted more column inches than the musical impression he made. He found this musical superficiality depressing compared to his truncated European career but was forced to earn some sort of living from music.

Eddie at some time in the 1930s became acquainted in Sydney with the notorious aesthete William Lygon, 7th Earl of Beauchamp. One can only speculate on its possible significance after discovering a signed photograph of the earl among his papers. This youngest ever Governor of New South Wales had been appointed in 1899 and created a memorable and colourful ‘Antipodean Camelot’ for two years. His sister Lady Mary had accompanied him to Australia Felix for a few months. She was an excellent pianist and a patron of the English composer Edward Elgar, who actually took up boomerang throwing as a pastime with her lady friends.

An inscribed photograph of William Lygon, 7th Earl of Beauchamp found among Edward Cahill’s papers

On his two-month visit to Australia in 1930, Beauchamp, apart from praising the liberal attitudes of Australian society, failed to conceal he was sharing rather intense sexual pleasures with his valet. He was openly accused of homosexuality by his vengeful brother- in-law Bend’Or, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, and exiled from England. In future William would wander those cities tolerant of homosexuality including ‘the clefts in the rocks of Sydney’s Botany Bay’. Bend’Or wrote to Beauchamp in a letter ‘Dear Bugger-in-Law, You got what you deserved. Yours, Westminster.’* Beauchamp was intelligent, sensitive and particularly fond of music. He had been heartbroken at losing his much loved brother, also named Eddie, to a sniper in the Boer War in South Africa, which may go some way to explaining their mysterious acquaintance.

* Quoted in the highly entertaining volume by Jane Mulvagh, Madresfield: The Real Brideshead (London 2008), pp. 286–96. The 7th Earl of Beauchamp (1872–1938) was married to the sensual Lettice Grosvenor, sister of Bend’Or. He had an outstandingly distinguished career in public service. The historic and distinguished Lygon family and their country seat Madresfield were the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Lord Marchmain was modelled on the 7th Earl of Beauchamp. The 2nd Duke of Westminster was named ‘Bend’Or’ because of his possession of a shock of chestnut hair.

Despite loving Queensland and having attracted undreamed of success, Eddie felt increasingly impoverished as a musician. Unemployment was high and conditions grim. The limitations of colonial musical life after his experiences in India, Asia and Europe were painfully clear. Besides practical survival, he felt an inner compulsion to continue his pianistic development and above all widen his repertoire. He had remained in much the same rut for far too long.

Eddie felt desperately alone and isolated. Both his parents had died by now and many of his family had been claimed by illness. His sister Lillian had married a fanatical Norwegian military officer with a ‘superb soap-waxed moustache’, who had fought with distinction in the Boer War and the Great War. He reminisced on battles constantly, played war games and obsessed over his Australian specialist stamp collection. Another sister, Bessie, a fine operatic soprano, had married the latest owner of Cahill’s Hotel in Beenleigh, Ted Moran.

Lilian (Edward Cahill’s sister) and her husband Major Theodore Svensen

The family home Roscrea had burnt to the ground. His musical partner George had been cut down by a brain tumour. The silver voice of his mentor Dame Nellie Melba had been stilled in 1931. It had been a horrible four years. No, there was not a great deal to hold him in Australia.

Like many Australians of the time Eddie felt correctly that he had begun his serious musical studies rather too late in life. Many of the glamorous hostesses in London who had regarded Eddie  as their ‘pet pianist’ were continually pressing him to return to England.

He had resumed his correspondence with the woman he came closest to loving, the Austrian violinist Sabine Adler. She was pressing him to meet her again in Europe. After four years apart their letters had become understandably fitful. Eddie had engaged in some passing romantic affairs in Australia (and possibly Sabine had also been tempted in Austria), but this relationship remained important for both of them. Sabine was attempting to arrange some concerts in Austria and Germany where they could play Bach, Brahms and Beethoven together. He had always suspected that this glamorous creature would by now have become embroiled with a young dashing Austrian cavalry officer or in his more pessimistic moods, a Nazi Gauleiter. But as far as he could tell from her ardent letters, she seemed to have remained unattached and anxious to meet him again.

Instalment 16

Chapter 9

Catastrophes

During the long homeward voyage Eddie gave two recitals on board the Chitral for the benefit of the Seaman’s Mission. Always  a man of the theatre, as well as Beethoven sonatas, he performed on the banjo with the ship’s cook who played the guitar. Eddie was travelling in far more luxurious conditions than ever before,  a reflection of the financial success of the English leg of the second tour. Just before the vessel reached Colombo, Princess Esterházy of Austria (whose family had been patrons of Beethoven and Haydn) presented him with a handsome lizard-skin cigarette case as a token of the passengers’ appreciation.

Reporters from the Telegraph, the Courier-Mail and the Brisbane Courier breathlessly besieged him when the ship docked at Fremantle on 31 December 1929. He had been abroad for almost three years giving concerts throughout Europe and America.

Victoria Quay, Fremantle in the 1930s
(Fremantle History Centre Image LH002382)

Edward Cahill, of the bright and breezy manner and the mop of musicianly curls, is receiving a great welcome in Queensland, after his tour abroad. Cahill’s is a dynamic personality. He is utterly unlike the popular conception of a pianist as dreamy, temperamental, introspective. The man is vital, alert, greedy for life, reaching upward to sensations and translating it into music. Short, stocky, well set up, his speech is jerky as the ideas overtake one another too quickly for smooth running, he gives a vivid impression of packed enthusiasm.

He was questioned on the quayside about the state of music in Europe. These observations form an invaluable first-hand description of his ideas on music and the musical tastes of the 1920s and are quoted in full.

‘What is the attitude to modern classical compositions would you say?’

I went to every concert in Vienna while I was there, and I stayed there and in Germany for nine months. Music is flourishing there as it was before the war. Vienna is the art centre of the world and London is the Mecca. Well, in Vienna, concerts where Brahms, Beethoven, Bach or Schumann were being played were always packed to overflowing. Paderewski said to me once on this subject ‘The craze for modern music will pass in the same way as the feminine fashion for hobble skirts died a natural death some years ago.’ Most modern music, far from beautiful, seems to me to express only a sullen, dyspeptic hatred of things as they are. Art should console us for our human plight not rub our noses in the horror of suffering and war – it is bad enough having to experience these things!

‘Could you say something about British musical taste?’

In London, German opera packs the theatre. At a Wagner night at the Queen’s Hall you can hardly get the people in. And De- lius! The Delius Festival was a sensation. Delius is an invalid, but he managed to be present. Beecham was conducting. No one has ever had such a reception as Delius, except the conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Furtwängler*, when he visited London.

‘And what is actually raising the standard of musical taste? Is it rising?’

Wireless broadcasting! It has done wonders for both music and musicians. Young musicians who would never have been heard of if they had had to rely on concerts, with all their risks, and disappointments and cost, have been popularised over the wire- less until they are known everywhere. Curiously enough some great names have been dimmed by broadcasting. Such people as Chaliapine and Tetrazzini, whose extraordinary personalities have helped them when face to face with their audiences, have failed as broadcasters. Their personalities are hidden, and they have been forced to reliance only on their voices.

‘And the finest pianists?’

Very much a question of personal taste. Take the mighty Johann Sebastian. The vital core of Bach is the unbroken flow of the spiritual design. The greatest Bach player today and certainly one of the most beautiful of pianists, a woman of tremendous sexual charisma, is Harriet Cohen known to her friends as ‘Tania’.

Harriet Cohen (1895-1967) by Joan Craven, cream-toned bromide print on cream card and black and white tint mount, circa 1930-1935
Harriet Cohen (1895-1967) by Emil Otto (‘E.O.’) HoppÈ, vintage bromide print,
24 July 1920

* Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886–1954), a German composer and one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century.

Incidentally she was a pupil of Tobias Matthay as I was. She called him ‘Uncle Tobs’. Pavlova thought she should have been a ballerina. Myra Hess however is by far the greatest woman pianist. Vladimir de Pachmann is surely the greatest player of Chopin together with the relatively unknown Leff Pouishnoff. And the sublime Moriz Rosenthal … But for me the greatest living pianist is Vladimir Horowitz. I heard him in Paris and he had a reception that was amazing. I have never witnessed anything like it! Pandemonium!

Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) in 1930

‘And now to Australia …’

Australia has not had the opportunity of becoming as familiar  as people in Europe with great music. It is the reason we explain to the audience the significance of the pieces we are going to perform.

‘What with your experience are the possibilities abroad for young Australian talent?’

The extent of the competition is scarcely realized. Plenty of money, a heart of iron and above all, personality are the essential qualities for success.

‘Are you pleased to be back in Australia?’

After three years abroad I am thrilled to be back in my own country. I miss the sunshine and the friendliness of Australians.  I return with the conviction still deeply rooted in me that there is no place in the world like Australia.

From his youth working as a pianist in the silent cinema Eddie had a broad and particular knowledge of the movies and was asked about his opinion of the new talking pictures.

The ‘talkies’ have caused remarkable changes in the concert world! Initially the new warm comfortable theatres drew thou- sands. Far nicer than most concert halls – usually such cold and barren places. However, more recently the ‘talkies’ are driving people back to the concert halls and legitimate theatres. Talking pictures have come to stay – only for a time in my opinion.

* * *

In March ‘an infinitely more cultured’ Eddie and George would begin their Australian tour in Brisbane’s new City Hall.

Eddie performed throughout this tour on his newly commissioned Grotrian-Steinweg concert instrument. Eddie told a reporter: 

‘This particular instrument is the most wonderful piano I have ever played. Such a responsive touch, it can be both delicate and luminous yet can also express the rich tones of an old cello as well as thunder when required.’

Eddie always visited his mother in Beenleigh as soon as possible on returning to Australia and sent her a telegram from Fremantle. He was soon welcoming family, friends and the press on the Beenleigh railway platform. With great pride he showed his mother the hand-wrought gold fob given him by HH Princess Helena Victoria and HH Princess Marie Louise.

City Road, Beenleigh 1930

Eddie and George gave a concert in the School of Arts in Beenleigh in mid-March. The happy-faced ‘Beenleigh Boy’ played a Bechstein Concert Grand and dazzled the audience with his newly acquired Viennese waltz transcriptions. George, equally impressive, had taken lessons in the interpretation of Negro spirituals while on the American tour from Lawrence Brown. Clearly Schubert sung in German was appreciated by many of the Beenleigh settlers who had originally emigrated from Prussia in the nineteenth century:

Saturday proved to music lovers a veritable ‘oasis in the desert’ and of whose waters one could have remained to drink for interminable hours, enthralled by the exquisite artistry and wonderful touch and brilliant technique of Mr Cahill in his versatile pianoforte program, and captivated with the beauteous charm of Mr Brooke’s voice and his delightful personality in his various vocal items which included negro melodies and spirituals, Irish Ballads, an inspiring French chanson and two delightful German folk songs, sung with the Plattdeutsch of a native … Recall after recall was made …*

Beenleigh School of Arts 1930

Eddie spent a great deal of time walking, thinking and relaxing in the beautiful setting of rural Beenleigh. One of his favourite philosophical ‘dream walks’ was beside the banks of the slow flowing Albert River among the mournful eucalypts, racketing cicadas and luminous dragonflies. In the dappled glades where he had captured butterflies as a child he ruminated on his glittering career to date: ‘So few of my dreams, my castles in the air have come crashing down! So lucky …’

The Upper Albert River, Beenleigh cir. 1930

     * From Edward Cahill’s scrapbook – undated and unattributed.

The day before the tour began, they gave an afternoon ‘At Home’ recital at Government House Brisbane, known as Fernberg, for the Queensland Governor Sir John Goodwin, Lady Goodwin and their guests.*

Fernberg in 1930

During this concert George developed a severe headache and needed to return to the hotel with Margaret to rest which put rather a dampener on proceedings. Eddie carried the afternoon alone but the frequency of these complaints was causing him to become increasingly concerned about his friend.

* * *

Australia experienced an economic recession in the late 1920s which was to develop into the Depression of the dismal 1930s. The whole country suffered from the Great Depression perhaps more than many others in the Western world. Eddie had built his career in the period of wealth and excess during the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and had lived life to the full in Europe’s most glamorous cities. All that was soon to change. Audiences wanted entertainment and distraction, not profundity.

A number of incidents before the tour reminded Eddie and George that provincialism had not altogether been banished from the Queensland of 1930. They had planned a concert of sacred music on the evening of Good Friday in Ipswich Town Hall. All the permissions, programmes, tickets, billing and  advertising  had been printed and arranged with the town clerk.

At the last moment there was an extraordinary reversion to pre-Monteverdian musical practice in the Venetian Republic. Instrumental music of any type was suddenly considered sacrilegious if performed in the church. The Rev. Patrick Birch ‘entered an emphatic protest on the ground that an instrumental concert would offend the religious susceptibilities of many of the citizens of Ipswich.’ Eddie and George settled out of court damages with the council of £25 having claimed £100.

* Sir John Goodwin (1871–1960) was a distinguished soldier, medical practitioner and Governor of Queensland from 1927–32. Goodwin was mentioned in dispatches three times during the Great War whilst serving in France. He was honorary surgeon to King George V.

† Around £1,200 in 2022 values.

The concert on 26 April 1930 in the recently opened new City Hall in Brisbane was their first appearance in Australia since 1927. Eddie and George were the first artists to perform there since its official opening. The second incident concerned Eddie’s temerity to use a German piano for his recitals – his beloved Grotrian-Steinweg. A vociferous correspondence erupted in the columns of the Queensland Daily Mail. A certain Mr Holliday, State Secretary of The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League (RSSIL), in a particularly mean-spirited letter observed of Eddie and George that:

… they could hardly be said to be rendering good service, either to Australia, from whence they receive their money or to the Empire, in deliberately advertising a piano of foreign manufacture.

The new City Hall, Brisbane 1930

In his reply Eddie pointed out with unaccustomed acerbity that the instrument had been ordered and presented to him in England by a German company for his Australian tour, something an Australian firm would be unlikely to do with one of their instruments. He pointed out that almost all the finest pianists in Europe used German instruments

I have no intention of playing an upright piano in the City Hall or elsewhere […] Was Mr Holliday upset because Paderewski brought a Steinway piano here with him?

Another correspondent signing himself ‘Scales’ warned Eddie in rather threatening tones that Mr Holliday:

… has the backing of men who fought for Australia and the Em- pire. We stand four-square for Empire preference, and it is our aim to inculcate that spirit in the minds of all good Australians.

He concluded that Eddie and George were shirking their responsibilities and were unpatriotic. As a parting broadside he fired off ‘Furthermore, Paderewski is not even Australian.’

Although hardly timid in temperament, before the concert Eddie sought police protection as a result of these threats. A letter, purporting to have been written by a group of incensed Anzacs, threatened to kidnap him if he attempted to play the German instrument. ‘A large policeman’ was posted on duty outside the City Hall before the crowds arrived. To Eddie’s great relief no violence erupted. The concert was again attended by Sir John and Lady Goodwin as well as the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, William Alfred Jolly and his wife.

Patriotic artists or not, the hall was packed to its capacity of 2,500 seats. Anticipation was so great there were an insufficient number of printed programmes before half the audience had even taken their places. The concert was also one of the first to be broadcast by the radio station 4QG: ‘The listeners will discover the balm that so appeased the Viennese.’ The remarkable variety of George’s songs was rewarded with tremendous enthusiasm.*

Eddie played his pieces in two groups. He began with a couple of sharply contrasted preludes by the forgotten Russian composer Alexander Borowsky†, one entitled The March of the Convict Women to Siberia and another inspired by the traditional Volga Boatman’s Song (a favourite of King George V). This was followed by the Brahms Rhapsody in E-flat major Op. 119 No. 4, a charming minuet by Mozart, the serene yet sensual, even humorous, early Beethoven Sonata in G major Op. 14 No. 2, rounded off with the glittering Grünfeld transcription Soirée de Vienne Concert Paraphrase on Johann Strauss waltzes from Die Fledermaus Op. 56.

His second collection was entirely devoted to Chopin – waltzes, mazurkas, studies and impromptus, all performed with unique understanding which utilized his refined, delicate yet brilliant technique and uncanny insight. The critics judged Eddie to have presented ‘brilliant passage work’ and ‘crystalline purity in Mozart’ together with, in the Chopin group, ‘beautiful shading and nuancing … glorious resonance … sureness of touch, perfect legato, brilliant staccato and music that came from within. A poetic piano and its poetic pianist.’

* Rare details survive of George Brooke’s extraordinarily eclectic choices and unique programming: Burleigh’s arrangements of the Negro spiritual Hard Trials; the lively Didn’t It Rain and I Got a Robe; the song made famous by Paul Robeson Go Down Moses also the Negro convict songs Water Boy (Robinson) and the mournful Christian lament Were You There? (Thomas). The English group comprised To Daisies (Quilter); The Second Minuet (Besley); The Cloths of Heaven (Dunhill); Chinese Flower (Bowers) the words being a translation of a Chinese poem written by Su Tung-po in 1061; the jolly Waita Poi (Hill); To The Children (Rachmaninoff); Ay-Ay-Ay a Spanish ditty by Frevie and Au Paps (Holmes). The German group included Wir Wandelten (Brahms); Botschaft (Brahms); In Meiner Hei- mat (Trunk); Wohin? (Schubert); Zueignung (Strauss); Mein (Gurshman); an old German folk song Spinner Liedchen given as an encore and the Negro song Fat Little Fella With His Mammie’s Eyes. Many of these songs are now completely forgotten and never performed in public concert.

† Alexander Borowsky (1889–1968) was an esteemed Russian-American pianist, a pupil of Annette Essipova, the most brilliant pupil and afterwards wife of the Polish pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky. Eddie probably encountered these works whilst studying in Vienna with Leonie Gombrich, Leschetizky’s former pupil.

* * *

Eddie and George now embarked upon an extensive and uncomfortable tour of Queensland by road and train. In addition there were the difficult logistics of transporting the Grotrian-Steinweg concert grand piano around the state. These thirty-eight concerts were clearly an idealistic effort to bring classical piano music and German Lieder to Queensland audiences in remote agricultural districts deprived of regular concerts. Eddie always seemed possessed of a ‘musical mission’ and had the education of the audience as well as their entertainment foremost in mind.

Maryborough School of Arts 1930

The Maryborough Chronicle commented ‘Intensive study in the great musical centres of the Continent has widened his vision of instrumental playing’. In one introduction Eddie gave an intriguing account of the musical ‘programme’ behind Rachmaninoff’s famous Prelude in C sharp minor:

Rachmaninoff told me this story himself during one of his visits to London. In a bizarre episode I remembered it when under the anesthetic during a serious operation I was having on my left hand in Paris some time ago. I apparently told the surgeon the story behind the C sharp minor Prelude whilst asleep!

The composer related to me how he imagined a man gripped by a seizure who later ‘died’ in hospital. He had been incarcerated in his coffin but was not truly dead, merely in a coma. He half heard his own funeral mass muffled through the wood but thought he was dreaming. Then suddenly he was fully awake and frantic, the music depicting him beating fruitlessly on the lid in the suffocating darkness. The heavy clods of earth pound on the coffin until he finally succumbs to oblivion and falls victim to the claws of death.

My surgeon found it impossible to continue the operation after this and left it up to his wife to close the wound. She was the assistant surgeon on this occasion.*

Well-received concerts were given in Bundaberg

Bundaberg in 1930

Rockhampton

Rockhampton, Fitzroy River Regatta in 1930

Mackay, Townsville, Cairns and as far north as far-flung Atherton. Unsurprisingly this final concert was not well attended but the pleasure the performers gave to ‘the happy few’ of Atherton in the Shire Hall that evening was highlighted in the hyperbole of the local newspaper:

When listening to the exquisite music of our two Australian artists, Mr Cahill and Mr Brooke, our minds seemed to be steeped in the sweetest of sounds; it was as if the notes took wings, encircling us in an ever-increasing circle of fairy forms; other times we watched aghast the struggles of life and death […] the world to me became a glorious garden as each note sounded, each flower unfolded, the morning sun awakened and bathed the earth with golden splendour, every petal and leaf rejoiced and trembled in the breeze […] brooks rippled and danced in the sunlight, larks trilled and sang […] the whole world danced in a fantasy of delight as Mr Cahill played.

Atherton in 1930

* This ‘interpretation’ gains astonishing credence in Rachmaninoff’s own recording of the work.

* * *

It was already July when they returned to Brisbane to prepare for a number of important engagements at the City Hall. They were  to present a ‘more popular programme’ even including some  ‘Red Indian Songs’. Eddie had the mahogany case of the Grotrian-Steinweg painted in an ‘elegant ivory and gold’, high fashion in the 1930s. However George’s health had noticeably declined after the demanding tour of Queensland and unbeknown to the first night audience he had had to rise from his sick bed to take part.

During the first concert Eddie had just finished playing La Campanella. The usual tumultuous applause was dying away when George came onto the stage to sing his second group of songs. He began with Schubert and Brahms. Then he suffered a moment  that all singers fear like death itself, a lapse of memory for the words. He whispered news of this sudden vocal horror vacui to Eddie, who immediately prompted him in an undertone from the piano. Strangely the music did not elude him. Eddie whispered the poetry of the Handel Arcadian love aria ‘Where’er You Walk’ from Semele as he played.

A musical nightmare unfolded for the performers. Often  it  was only the beginning of a song that needed to be prompted. Outwardly the artists appeared simply to  be  chatting  before each new number and managed to complete the concert without anyone noticing anything awry. In fact, the Brisbane Standard noted that George ‘won the hearts of his audience completely in a programme that left nothing to be desired. Not only does he use his fine voice with artistic effect, but he infuses into each song the feeling of the people from whom it came.’ The Negro spirituals were sung with such ardent devotion that Lady Goodwin was seen wiping away tears.

Eddie was extremely perturbed by this turn of events. Being a highly strung personality, he was thought by many to be simply overwrought when he cancelled a concert in Canberra and hurriedly packed a suitcase. Margaret, George and Eddie caught  a train to Melbourne where an emergency appointment with a medical specialist had been made for George. The diagnosis was not encouraging as a dark shadows on a cranial X-ray indicated the possibility that George may have a brain tumour. Whether this was benign or not would need to be investigated by an operation carried out by a neurosurgeon.*

Instalment 15

Chapter 8

Vienna and Das süsse Mädel

Leonie Gombrich (1874-1969) Eddie’s teacher in Vienna

More seriously, Eddie had begun lessons with Professor Leonie Gombrich (née Hoch or Frau Gombrich as she was known in Vienna), the mother of the great art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich. She was both an inspiring teacher and a person of the widest culture. Reduced to straightened circumstances during the Great War, she had a large number of applications from Americans prepared to pay high prices for her lessons. It was an honour in itself to be accepted by her as a pupil. As well as being endowed with incomparable technical power and interpretative musical insight, Frau Gombrich possessed the intellectual aura of Vienna in the first decades of the twentieth century, a city that inhabited the pinnacle of European culture. Most of the outstanding artists, writers and musicians in Vienna were Jewish or of Jewish extraction.

Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915)

Leonie Gombrich had studied with the composer Anton Bruckner as well as being a pupil and later an assistant to the Pole Theodor Leschetizky, arguably the greatest piano pedagogue of the age. He in turn had been a pupil of Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny and had been the teacher of Artur Schnabel, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Alexander Brailowsky, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Katharine Goodson, Elly Ney, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Mark Hambourg, Isabelle Vengerova and other great representatives of the late-nineteenth-century pianistic tradition.

† Elizabeth Powell was an eminent teacher, pianist and pupil of Leonie Gombrich at Oxford and assisted my research, writing of Leonie: ‘She gave of herself tirelessly with patience, humour, love and generosity as well as her limitless knowledge.’ Leonie Gombrich taught such outstanding pianists as Rudolf Serkin, Martin Isepp, Elizabeth Powell – and Edward Cahill. She made Australia her base.

http://www.elizabethpowell.com/artlife.php

Leonie Gombrich had played with Schoenberg, heard Johann Strauss conduct and turned the pages for Brahms. Frequent visitors to the Gombrich home in Vienna included Mahler, Webern, Berg, Adolf Busch, Sigmund Freud and Rudolf Serkin. She was a born teacher, following Leschetizky’s principle of framing the individuality of each pupil within a full understanding of the work and absolute soundness of technique. She demonstrated an infinite number of possible dynamics and articulations in the production of a single note on the piano. She often reminded Eddie of Chopin’s remark concerning the use of the pedal ‘The correct employment of it remains a study for life.’

Eddie was a mature man of forty-four when Leonie Gombrich accepted him for lessons. She was impressed by his technical mastery of the piano and observed that his rather small hands did not hinder him greatly. Gombrich was particularly struck by his breadth of life experience, worldliness, elegant and distinguished appearance, history of royal command performances and the aristocratic milieu in which he was musically active in London and Paris. That she accepted him as a pupil at all with such a ‘secular’ rather than academic musical background is a testament to his outstanding natural musical gifts and possibly his Irish- Australian charm.

The concept of teaching by the so-called ‘Leschetizky Method’, a fashionable but  misguided  portmanteau  idea  grafted  onto  the pedagogue by the cognoscenti, was not approved of by Frau Gombrich although she had clearly been deeply  influenced by her mentor. Following the ideas of ‘The Master’ she was against standardized interpretations and believed in developing a rich and beautiful cantabile tone, seamless legato and the cultivation of a refined touch through relaxation (which she likened to taking a handkerchief off the keys). ‘Your soul is expressed in your touch.’ She emphasized the employment of a light wrist that allowed enormously varied degrees of staccato execution. Leschetizky’s own advice for playing chords was to ‘aim every finger’ accurately and perpendicularly over the notes before playing them so as to avoid even a slight blurring of the sound. Frau Gombrich told Eddie his favourite question after a pupil had played technically brilliantly but no more than that was ‘But where is the music?’

Frau Gombrich combined naturalness, simplicity and warmth and had a great love of Mozart’s piano sonatas and concerti, unusual for the time. Eddie was much admired for his Mozart interpretations and the delicate,  incandescent  tone  he  brought  to this composer. She also concentrated on Chopin, as she was deeply impressed by Eddie’s instinctive understanding of what the composer’s best pupil Princess Marcelina Czartoryska described as le climat de Chopin. She told him that he Eddie and the great Russian eccentric Vladimir de Pachmann were among the finest Chopin interpreters she had ever heard. She also considered his interpretation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata one the finest she had encountered. In addition to serious works, he learnt many of the charming virtuoso arrangements of Viennese waltzes by the Austrian pianist and composer Alfred Grünfeld.* George furthered his studies in Lieder interpretation at this time with ‘a notable Austrian teacher’.

In 1930 Vladimir Horowitz commented to the Austrian press ‘… Vienna, the city said to be the most difficult for a pianist to conquer. The notoriously severe Viennese critics praised in effusive terms both Eddie and George for the few recitals they gave in the city:

‘Young priests from the Temple of the Muses, who have been projected onto the earth to bring comfort unto the hearts of tens of thousands.

View of the Vienna Staatsoper at Night – Hans Ruzicka-Lautenschlaeger (Austrian, 1862–1933)

Of Eddie, who was acclaimed as playing Strauss waltz transcriptions like an authentic Viennese:

His music brings with it a message of hope and joy that will tend to develop expanding ideas in those privileged to hear it. One leaves the presence of this artist and the music hall in which he plays, but one never entirely leaves the presence of his haunting music, for its essence seems to cling permanently for increased happiness and optimism. If I wanted to do a good turn for anybody I would recommend them to listen to Edward Cahill’s music making, and that as often as possible.

*Alfred Grünfeld (1852–1924) was born in Prague and settled in Vienna in 1873. He was appointed pianist to the German Emperor Wilhelm I and from 1897 was a Professor at the Vienna Conservatoire. He was the first renowned pianist to make recordings. His arrangements are today normally tossed off as purely virtuoso display pieces but his own recordings exude an irresistible Viennese charm and refinement. Eddie played in particular the Grünfeld arrangement of the Strauss Soirée de Vienne Op. 56, based on a waltz from Die Fledermaus and the Diner-Waltz from the opera Der Lebermann (The Man About Town).

† I have unfortunately been unable to discover his name despite intensive research.

‡ Glenn Plaskin, Horowitz: A Biography (London 1983), p. 136.

George was deemed by the Viennese press to be ‘the greatest singer of German Lieder for the 1929 season. The greatest Lieder singer in three decades.’ This was indeed a magnificent tribute to an Australian singer from Austrian critics, a country abounding in some of the greatest Lieder singers.*

Eddie had played many  types  of  piano  while  on  this  tour  of Europe and became enamoured of what was to become his favourite instrument, the Grotrian-Steinweg, no longer famous on concert stages today. At some time in 1929 he travelled from Vienna to the factory in Braunschweig in Germany and ordered a concert instrument to be made and shipped to Australia for his next concert tour in 1930. This connoisseur’s instrument was also the favourite of Clara Schumann, Walter Gieseking and Wilhelm Kempff. Eddie wrote of it later: ‘I think it is a wonderful instrument for achieving fine, light singing tones. It is powerful in the bass but lends itself to a haunting, poetical even ethereal delicacy. It suits my light touch.’

A restored GROTRIAN-STEINWEG 275 grand piano 1929 similar to one Edward Cahill ordered

* * *

On the return of ‘the quartet’ to London, Eddie and George gave  a number of notable concerts. He described Seaford House, the home of Lord Howard de Walden (Baron Seaford) at 37 Belgrave Square, as ‘a  house  crammed from top storey to basement with artistic treasures where the best musicians perform.’

Seaford House, 37 Belgrave Square, home of Lord Howard de Walden (Baron Seaford)
This monumental mansion, standing at the east corner of Belgrave Square, was designed by Philip Hardwick for the 3rd Earl of Sefton in 1842-45
(Stephen Richards)

They appeared with the largely forgotten but distinguished English stage and screen actor and author George Arliss. This was a benefit concert for the ‘distressed actors of London’, the music room of the house ‘lent’ by Lord Howard de Walden. Arliss loved the Roger Quilter songs and was enchanted by the transcriptions of Viennese waltzes that Eddie had mastered and were now included in his repertoire. Eddie had a particular respect for this actor as he had successfully made the transition from the silent cinema to the ‘talkies’ at the rather advanced age  of 61. He played many great historical figures such as Voltaire, Cardinal Richelieu and Wellington. ‘We never met a finer nor more intellectual man than Arliss,’ Eddie observed.

George Arliss (1868-1946)

* Vienna reviews are taken from unattributed, undated press cuttings in Edward Cahill’s scrap book.

Eddie’s final solo recital of note before returning to Australia for the 1930 concert season was in late November again at the palatial home of Sir Archibald and Lady Weigall at 39 Hill Street, Mayfair. George and Margaret had been forced to return to Australia a couple of weeks earlier as George had received the news his mother was seriously ill. Before this recital a farewell luncheon was given in Eddie’s honour at Rutland Gate by Mrs F.A. König, whose husband was later to play such a large part in his career. All the Princesses had assembled for this spectacular farewell recital: HH Princess Marie Louise, HH Princess Helena Victoria and HRH Princess Beatrice.

There appeared at this concert a new and fascinating addition to the bevy of acolytes. An alluring woman, Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky was a writer, painter, composer and lover of the arts from Lower Bavaria.* She was the great-granddaughter of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and in 1904 had married Karl Max, Prince Lichnowsky, who was descended from the German family who had been Mozart and Beethoven’s most fervent patrons until the inevitable rifts between artist and patron tore them apart. Her husband Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky had been German Ambassador to the Court of St James at the outbreak of the Great War and was the only German diplomat to strenuously object to the German support of an Austro-Serbian confrontation. His final wire on 29 July to the German Foreign Office stated simply: ‘If war breaks out it will be the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen.’ He was ignored at the moment of truth but greatly honoured on his departure from Britain.

Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky (1879-1958) and her husband Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky (1820-1928)
Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky (1879-1958)
‘If one has to be a girl, unfortunately, then it’s better to be at least that in perfection’ Christiane muses (in ‘Childhood’, 1934) in church.
This forgotten, brilliant writer, compser and illustrator is a representative of the present concern of dissatisfaction with one’s born gender.
An Expressionist portrait of Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky by Oskar Kokoschka 1916
Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky and Karl Kraus (1874-1936)
Karl Max, Prince Lichnowsky seen in Hyde Park after British declaration of war on Germany on 4 August 1914

The rediscovery of Mechtilde Lichnowsky also seems worthwhile. On the one hand, she was a representative of the old, feudal era, but at the same time felt she was a representative of the modern age. She was in no way inferior to her aristocratic husband, who was considered an “aristocratic socialite” and had already fallen out of favor in the German Empire due to a lack of patriotism. The ambassador’s wife, successful writer and feuilleton journalist spent the 1930s in exile in France. When she visits Germany in 1939, the Gestapo forbids the beautiful troublemaker from leaving the country, who then withdraws to the family estate, but without giving up writing. After the war, when Mechtilde Lichnowsky had long been living in London and was becoming increasingly lonely. “Words About Words” appeared, a book of language criticism, but remains forgotten. (Ansgar Warner in: Fräuleinwunder Book review. In: taz of May 5th, 2008.)

In a long, somewhat bizarre letter to Eddie dated 28 November 1929 following this farewell recital, Mechtilde wrote:

I want to tell you that you have given me a great pleasure yesterday (and I am not easily won!). It was real Music. Take for instance the Schumann, which is known like the Pater Noster: Now you can take the risk of playing it because you can make it sing; others very often let it go like a racing horse. I will tell you one thing which perhaps has not occurred to you:

The musician’s soul, as we said before you went, is a very particular kind of soul. You agreed, because you know. Now comes my point: The musician, as I see him must have a sense a keen and very special sense of humour. I have written the little book I’m going to send you, to show what a musician’s soul is, should he ever, as my poor hero, be imprisoned within the narrow frame of a tuner. He has a brother who is an opera singer. The World of course thinks he is the musician.

I hope you will have pleasure in reading it, and like the in- stance of the tuner’s dream of the Moonshine [sic] Sonata (a walk through endless little rooms, in which tiny chessboards are standing on three legs & with his finger he presses down one corner & the little chessboard moves back to its place – you can see the thing done [small drawing of three-legged ‘chessboard’ with hand and finger emerging from a sleeve about to press down on it] & in the dream the sounds came [Underlining in the original. Treble Clef drawn on a stave with correct key signature and three opening notes of the Moonlight Sonata].

Good luck to you. You can do anything!

[She then mysteriously includes the address of her bank in Berlin as her only correspondence address and the words ‘written in a hurry!’]

Page 1 of the letter from Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky to Edward Cahill dated 28 November 1929
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4

*Mechtilde Lichnowsky (1879–1958) was a close friend of many in the German literary and artistic establishment. Among her close friends were Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Theodor W. Adorno and Oscar Kokoschka. In particular she was a familiar of the famous, even notorious, Viennese writer Karl Kraus with whom she had a long correspondence. She had no sympathy with Hitler and the Nazis, considered them barbarians and in 1939 was placed under house arrest. Her books were burned as she was considered a traitor and forced to report to the Gestapo regularly. After the war she was expelled from Czechoslovakia by the Czech Government and all her properties were confiscated. With tragic irony she and her family were considered Nazi collaborators. Her 18 books are unjustly neglected today.

A forgotten example of colonial exotica and a fervent new admirer of music was also present at this recital, the Princess Pauline Melikoff known colloquially as ‘the Tassie Princess’. Her colonial story is almost as extraordinary as Eddie’s. Born Pauline Curran in Tasmania in 1893 for a time she lived at Eaglehawk Neck, an historically notorious geographical feature of the Van Diemen’s Land convict era, once guarded by savage tethered dogs.

Princess Pauline Melikoff known colloquially as ‘the Tassie Princess’.

In May 1924 Pauline was travelling with her mother, preparing to be presented at Court. During this ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe she met Prince Maximilian Melikoff, the second son of Prince Peter Melikoff and Princess Melikoff (née Baroness D’Osten-Sacken). The lovers became engaged a mere three months after they met, he while working as a chauffeur. They married in Hobart in 1926.*

Princess Pauline Melikoff and Prince Maximilian Melikoff (1884-1950) in 1934

Two days after this glittering concert, Eddie parked the Alvis in the stables in the safekeeping of Mrs Denny at Harwood. Sabine with his encouragement had decided to return to Austria and take up further advanced studies of the violin in Vienna while he was away. He kissed her perhaps more romantically, certainly more passionately, than he had kissed any woman before and promised he would be back the following year. For perhaps the first time in his life he felt painfully and romantically torn from a close emotional attachment. All too soon Eddie embarked on the P & O liner SS Chitral at Southampton bound for Fremantle. They had all planned to return to England in late 1930 for another season after an Australian series of concert engagements.

*Prince Melikoff, who was born in Russia in 1884, had served with distinction with the 13th Hussars Russian Imperial Calvary from 1914 to 1917. A White Russian, he fought against the Bolsheviks from 1918 to 1921 finally to leave the military and join his émigré parents in Nice. Almost destitute after having lost their Russian estates, Maximilian spent the next three years finding work in Europe. Prince Melikoff died in 1950 and the Princess in 1988. Her vast estate was left to benefit Greenpeace, the Tasmanian Government wildlife protection services and Homes for the Aged (Department of Premier and Cabinet, Tasmania).

The P&O Liner SS Chitral

Instalment 14

Chapter 8

Vienna and Das süsse Mädel

The trio spent the Christmas of 1928 and the New Year  of 1929 in Paris as a welcome break from dancing attendance on elderly princesses, dowagers and duchesses. The trio were much younger than their patrons, whose conversation was often suffocatingly dull. Eddie was not married and was a dashing, exuberant personality, a man of the theatre, who still responded to life with youthful energy and panache. He always appeared much younger than his years. Paris suited his temperament. There was however a far more serious reason behind the trip.

Eddie had developed a small but worrying nodule on the palm of his left hand, which he had ignored. In time his ring finger seemed to be losing flexibility and he had difficulty straitening it fully. He was alarmed that this condition might worsen and affect his playing. He had consulted a hand surgeon in Harley Street in London and was diagnosed with a mild form of Dupuytren’s contracture.* This rare affliction originated in Northern Europe with the Vikings and was genetically inherited among people of Northern European stock. He had been recommended to a surgeon in Paris, who devised a minor corrective operation and exercises. Although he was not suffering from a severe form of the disease, Eddie remained apprehensive. The operation was a success with his hand immobilised for only a couple of weeks.

Dupuytren's Contracture - MD West One

*On 5 December 1831, Baron Guillaume Dupuytren (1777–1835) delivered a lecture on permanent retractions of the flexed fingers, which was published under the title Leçon sur la rétraction permanente des doigts. He was acknowledged as the greatest French surgeon of the 19th century, developed surgery to correct this complaint as well as many others and was created a baron by Louis XVIII. Contemporaries thought him ‘the greatest of surgeons, the meanest of men’. Anesthesia was two bottles of wine drunk by the patient before the first incision. He held this post until his death and is mentioned in the fiction of Balzac and Flaubert.

Dupuytren, Guillaume (1777–1835) | SpringerLink
Guillaume Dupuytren (1777–1835)

Always searching for professional improvement through further high level lessons which they found difficult to arrange in Paris, Eddie and George decided to travel to Vienna. This would give him time to recuperate. Margaret, being a nurse but from distant Melbourne, hoped to spend some time exploring the advanced medical and nursing aspects of Austrian hospitals.

Eddie wrote of their arrival in economically fraught Vienna:

How can I describe our eventful journey by train to Vienna from Paris? We left Paris on a beautiful day in January 1929, and when we arrived at Munich we encountered a terrific snow storm, perhaps one of the worst for a hundred years. On the following morning we arrived at Vienna at seven o’clock, only to find the city buried in snow, and within a week we were practically isolated. Trains were snow-bound, no coal coming in, and then the government issued very drastic orders as to the amount of coal and water that could be used. Hot baths were quite out of the question, in fact people were threatened with imprisonment if this rule was not adhered to. Only the chestnut vendors roasted their delicious fare over glowing coals.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is eddie-1.jpg
Edward Cahill in Vienna

We were fortunate for we were living in the Dianabad Hotel which is one of the most famous in the world for its baths. Here they had enough coal for at least a year, so we got at least central heating. The Dianabad Hotel has the largest and best baths in the world. It is also called a Kuranstalt for treating the cripples and the sick. It has many apartments for the cures with Mud baths, Hot Air treatments, Radium Stations, Inhalation Rooms, Electrographical Examinations of the Heart, Massage and Cosmetics. So one need never go unwashed in Vienna.

Hotel Dianabad Vienna around 1917 – Demolished 1965

[…] I must confess that my first impression of Vienna was not very favourable, as one could not get any idea of what the wonderful buildings or gardens were like. I had quite made up my mind to return to Paris at once, but Brooke was determined to stay, and I can assure you that after a few weeks I felt that I could never leave Vienna. How can I attempt to describe this wonderful and beautiful city? […] Vienna is a city of romance, and one breathes in music from its very air. Lilac time makes one think they are living in fairyland. Vienna for amusements easily rivals Paris. Opera and concerts surpass Paris. It is regarded as the musical centre of the world […] the musical season to the visitor appears to be of much more importance to discuss than that of politics. The Staatsoper is really a national institution. The performers are paid by the state and after a number of years are pensioned for life. The audiences are most discriminating.

At the time Eddie and George  visited  Austria,  the  country was still reeling from financial crisis to financial crisis after the dismemberment of the Hapsburg Empire following the Paris Conference ten years earlier.

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) – Mahler Foundation
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)

The Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig referred to a country which ‘showed faintly on the map of Europe as the vague, grey and inert shadow of the former Imperial monarchy […] a mutilated trunk that bled from every vein.’* Crippling reparations and war damage only extended any period of recovery and fuelled an enduring positive feeling towards an Anschluss with Germany. Zweig watched the departure of the Emperor Karl and his wife the Empress Zita in 1919 from the train station of Feldkirch on the Austrian border:

The last Emperor of Austria, hero of the Hapsburg dynasty which had ruled for seven hundred years, was forsaking his realm! […] I had seen the old emperor […] on the staircase at Schönbrunn, surrounded by his family and brilliantly uniformed generals, receiving the homage of eighty thousand Viennese schoolchildren, massed on the broad green plain, singing, their thin voices united in touching chorus, Haydn’s Gott erhalte. I had seen him at the Court Ball, at the Théâtre Paré performances in glittering array, and again at Ischl, riding to the hunt in a green Tyrolean hat; I had seen him marching devoutly, with bowed head, in the Corpus Christi procession to the cathedral of St Stephen […]

‘The Kaiser!’ From earliest childhood we had learned to pronounce these words reverently for they embodied all of power and wealth and symbolized Austria’s imperishability. And now I saw his heir, the last emperor, banished from the country. From century to century the glorious line of Hapsburg had passed the Imperial globe and crown from hand to hand, and this was the minute of its end […] The officials followed it [the departing train] with a respectful gaze, after which, with that air of embarrassment which is observable at funerals, they returned to their respective stations.’

*Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday: An Autobiography by Stefan Zweig (New York 1943), p. 281.

† Ibid., pp. 283–4.

Soon after their arrival Eddie and George were enthusiastically welcomed into Viennese Society by the Gräfin (Countess) Coudenhove at a reception at her famous and magnificently decorated salon in her townhouse at 3 Bäckerstrasse in the First District near St Stephen’s Cathedral.

COUNT AND COUNTESS COUDENHOVE-KALERGI by Trude Fleischmann on artnet
Count and Countess Coudenhove-Kalergi in 1928 (Trude Fleishmann)

Here, Franz I, Prince of Lichtenstein, Princess Oettingen, Princess Sophie von Metternich and a multitude of military officers in full dress uniform danced with bejewelled partners to Viennese waltzes under shimmering chandeliers. Champagne seemed to flow endlessly. The famous Moravian soprano Maria Jeritza, who was also a guest on this occasion, dragooned Eddie into accompanying her in arias from Mozart operas.

Maria Jeritza (1887-1982) as Salome

The two Australians could not but be dazzled by this final flourish of the European aristocracy.

Category:Bäckerstraße 3, Vienna - Wikimedia Commons
Bäckerstraße 3 today
vladimir pervuninsky - Google Search | Romantic art, Victorian art, Art

Like so many musicians before them, they soon began their pilgrimage to the residences of  the  great  composers who  lived or were born in Vienna. Their visit to the Schubert house was a particular joy. They befriended the vicar of the church where Schubert had played and he arranged many remarkable meetings for them with outstanding musicians.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Liechtental Church
Schubert’s childhood church. He was organist here for ten years and where two of his masses were premiered.

Most unusually, they were entertained in a private recital by the Wiener Männergesang-Verein (Vienna Male Choral Society), an institution in the capital that had been established for some ninety years. ‘To me this night was one of the greatest of my many wonderful nights on the other side of the world,’ Eddie later wrote. They were taken to their museum and club where they saw a great many letters and musical manuscripts by Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and other composers. He read a letter written by the young Brahms in which he described ‘trying out’ one of his symphonies in the suburbs as he did not feel it was good enough to perform in Vienna itself. A particular thrill was seeing the original manuscript of the Blue Danube Waltz of Johann Strauss II.

Wiener Männergesang-Verein

An excellent dinner and toasts followed their tour of the museum. The President disconcerted Eddie by speaking of the Great War and what a bitter fight it had been against the Australian troops. This was the first night they had entertained any Australians since that terrible conflict. ‘I wondered what he was going to say next!’ Eddie wrote. The President however spoke not of hatred but of co-operation, drawing attention to the glowing reception of the Deutsche Staatsoper playing at that time in Covent Garden. He spoke of how royalty had honoured the company on each visit to London and how it was now their turn to welcome their talented Australian visitors. The lyric soprano Dame Nellie Melba and the magnificent Wagnerian dramatic soprano Florence Austral* had done much to persuade Europe of the glories of the Australian voice. Eddie was forced to make a speech in German (he had learned a little of the language from his mother). The members of the society cheered lustily and rapped on the tables. This was followed by a concert. ‘The night will live in my memory forever,’ he wrote.

* * *

In February 1929 Eddie made the acquaintance of Sabine Adler, a beautiful blonde Viennese soubrette with ice-blue eyes, who was a concert violinist in an orchestra in the provincial monastery town of Melk. He had been inexpressibly moved by the poetic lyricism of her performance in the Brahms violin concerto. Her father was a physician and her mother a pianist and they lived in a beautiful villa in the Wachau Valley near the small picturesque town of Dürnstein with its little ruined castle. From the terrace of the house high above a vineyard cascading down a gentle slope to the Danube, one had a distant view of the burnished cupolas of the great baroque monastery.

Zamek Dürnstein w Austrii – Niezwykłe historie oraz ciekawostki
The castle at Dürnstein

Elegantly and expensively dressed in the Italian style, Sabine possessed all the playful, apparently innocent, teasing sexual charm and grace one imagines of the ‘typical Viennese’. Despite her serious, intellectual interest in music, she resembled in some ways the type of girl the author Arthur Schnitzler referred to as das süsse Mädel or what one might translate as ‘the sweet girl’. She was almost fifteen years younger than Eddie so being in her company he likened to a glass of the finest champagne as they dizzily waltzed in the Hofburg Imperial Palace on Carnival Monday at one of Vienna’s many masked balls.

Throughout his life Eddie appeared younger than his years. She begged him to study the great Schumann piece Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival Jests in Vienna), which he played with the greatest élan. Titles in Austria were a social necessity and Sabine soon saw to it that Eddie was referred to as ‘Herr Professor Cahill’. Eddie, Sabine, George and Margaret now assembled in Vienna as ‘a quartet’ rather than ‘a trio’ and wandered the city together.

Florence Austral | National Museum of Australia
Florence Austral (1892-1968) in 1926
Stream Florence Austral - There Is A Green Hill (1926) by NFSA | Listen  online for free on SoundCloud
Florence Austral

*Florence Austral (née Florence Mary Wilson, 1892–1968) changed her name as a patriotic gesture. She made her Covent Garden debut on 16 May 1922 as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre. In 1923, Austral appeared with Dame Nellie Melba who called her ‘one of the wonder voices of the world’, praising the purity of her tone and the gleaming power of her high notes. She became principal singer with the Berlin State Opera in 1930, but shortly afterwards showed the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis, which appeared while she was actually on stage. The inexorable march of this illness forced her retirement in 1940. Joan Sutherland was inspired by her to become an opera singer. She is unaccountably another forgotten Australian artist of the highest calibre. The sole CD of her astounding flexibility and range of voice in Wagner, Weber, Rossini and Mozart is on Austro Mechana Historic Recordings No: 89547.

So many of the greatest composers the world has seen were born or spent time in Vienna, the lilac city, in spring perfumed by white and mauve blossom. The waltzes of the Strauss family seemed to everywhere. Under the lilac he was captivated by the popular evening dinner of roast pork, new wine and folk music in the Heurigen. As summer approached, many charming Mozart concerts and performances of his smaller operas took place in the open air of the Imperial Palace gardens. George felt if this idea were to be adopted in Australia, the venues might turn out to be even more beautiful than Vienna. ‘Wishful thinking!’ Eddie remarked.

At night Eddie took long romantic walks with Sabine in the Prater. They passionately embraced in a deserted cabin of the Wiener Riesenrad (Ferris wheel) as it slowly revolved high above the city. During languid summer picnics they lay in the sun-dappled Vienna Woods, drank fine wine and feasted on excellent bread, cheese, sausage, cake and ripe apricots from the Wachau. 

Vienna Woods: Travel Guide – outdooractive.com | Outdooractive

A visit to the village of Heiligenstadt near Vienna caused them to reflect on the testament Beethoven wrote there in the summer of 1802 while attempting to come to terms with the horrors of his encroaching deafness. In 1808 in these peaceful, occasionally bucolic surroundings, he was inspired to write Eddie’s favourite symphonic work, the Pastoral Symphony and the Ghost Trio.

If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. […] But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or some- one standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair.*

*Beethoven, Heiligenstadt Testament, 1802, trans. John V. Gilbert.

Numerous cosy cafés such as the Schubert, a favourite with musicians, warmed them with the unique Viennese coffee heavy with whipped cream accompanied by a delicious torte, particularly at the then glamorous Hotel Sacher. The famous confectioner Demel tempted them with miniature chocolate cakes in gold wrappers, strawberry ices in individual silver bowls, entire trays of cream and spun sugar, baroque sandwiches intricately decorated with salmon paste or foie gras. A customer could sit all day in a Viennese coffeehouse over a single cup of coffee or hot chocolate and not be disturbed by an impatient waiter, discuss philosophy at leisure with friends, play chess, write articles, keep up to date on the latest publications and world political events in the magazines and newspapers in many languages, even arrange to receive mail.

The Demel
The Demel

Their ‘intellectual emotions’ as opposed to their more physical desires were satisfied in the hours spent wandering the endless galleries of the Kunsthistorische Museum, marvelling at the paintings. In addition to music, Eddie had wide interests in literature, painting and architecture. He believed that a pianist needed a broad knowledge of the cultural context in which works were created in order to perform them with appropriate style and true conviction.

By day Sabine introduced him to the seductive ultra-sophisticated eroticism of Gustav Klimt’s ‘Golden Phase’ of the Wiener Sezessionsstil movement and the frank sexual fierceness pent up in Egon Schiele’s passionately tortured figures. At night she revealed a rather low side of modernist Vienna he had never dreamed existed where any sexual fantasy or theatrical wish could be satisfied. The fashionable Viennese theatre, operetta, performing arts and popular press of the time moulded people’s exploratory ideas concerning sex, as did the nineteenth century melodramas and silent film. There was a surprisingly straightforward attitude in Vienna between the wars to experiencing pleasure with one’s body.

Whatever her actual presence in Vienna, the New Woman, with her androgynous style, single status, discretionary income, and liberated sexuality was thought to be on the rise […] Vienna enjoyed a leading position within the world of medical sexology.*

He briefly noted that Vienna was the city where his cultural education ‘became airborne’.

This introduction to the world of ultra-sophisticated post-war Viennese decadence was rather a cultural shock for Eddie. After all he was still an unsophisticated Australian country boy at heart. Sabine quickly set about broadening his character. In an access of nostalgia they conjured up the fin de siècle Vienna so eloquently expressed in the piano transcriptions of the Strauss waltzes he was studying. His understanding of the waltz was strengthened  in performances by the incomparable Erich Kleiber and Clemens Krauss who conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in rhythmically idiomatic renditions of waltzes by Johann Strauss II and Joseph Lanner. They saw the finest  performances  of  Die  Fledermaus  ever staged and wandered streets that even Mozart would have recognized. The architecture of Vienna seemed miraculously suspended in time. Eddie was oddly gratified that he had heard not one note of jazz while in Vienna, yet he was known to entertainingly improvise on popular tunes when ‘under the influence’.

*Britta McEwen, Sexual Knowledge: Feeling, Fact, and Social Reform in Vienna, 1900–1934 (New York 2012), p. 93.

† Erich Kleiber (1890–1956) was an Austrian conductor, father of the great conductor Carlos Kleiber and respected for his interpretations of the ‘standard repertoire’ but also championed new works. Disgusted by Fascism in 1939 he moved to Buenos Aires and the Teatro Colón. He never held a permanent post in Europe again.

Eric Kleiber conducts Johann Strauss II: Künstlerleben, walzer op. 316 -  YouTube
Erich Kleiber conducting Johann Strauss II Künstlerleben, walzer op. 316
Eric Kleiber conducting the Blue Danube, Berlin 1932

Clemens Krauss (1893– 1954) was also an eminent Austrian conductor and opera impresario closely associated with the music of Richard Strauss. He was born into a wealthy banking family and was the first cousin of the vivacious Baroness Mary Vetsera who died in a possible mutual suicide pact with Crown Prince Rudolf at Mayerling. Krauss’s relationship with the Nazis remains questionable as he took over many conducting positions that former incumbents such as Wilhelm Furtwängler had abandoned in face of this threat. He was ‘rehabilitated’ after it was discovered he had saved many Jews from certain death in Vienna during World War II.

Credit: Getty Images/FPG
Clemens Krauss (1893-1954)
Clemens Krauss - Wikipedia
Clemens Krauss (1893-1954)

In the Musikverein they heard the great violinist Fritz Kreisler, the Polish pianist and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski and many of the finest instrumentalists of the day.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski - Biography | Artist | Culture.pl
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)

The spellbinding tone  and refined touch of Paderewski’s playing in the 1920s captivated Eddie. He greatly admired the Pole’s control of the melodic line as if it was being sung. Eddie had a passion for opera as did Chopin himself when he visited Vienna in 1829. In his teaching Chopin recommended a study of the art of the finest Italian bel canto song to develop a beautiful legato cantabile at the keyboard. Many in Paris considered the Polish composer ‘le Bellini du piano’. Eddie understood this composer’s directive better than many pianists having adored Melba’s voice and accompanied George for so many years.

At the conclusion of various Viennese concerts Eddie was amazed to see people rush from their seats in the stalls to the front of the stage to applaud and cheer the artist. This inconvenienced people sitting in the front row, but they seemed to enjoy the display of enthusiasm. At first Eddie thought the stampede meant the concert hall was on fire. One indication of the ostentatious musical culture of Vienna was indicated by members of the audience carefully following the music with the score which could be bought at the door together with the programme.

One evening they heard Richard Strauss conduct the Vienna Opera Orchestra in a production of Der Rosenkavalier and on another occasion a voluptuous staging of Salome at the imposing Wiener Staatsoper. Over-eager old men, packed as tightly as sardines in the Stehplatz (standing room) listened and watched  the erotic drama intently. Eddie and George were also privileged to see a new Richard Strauss opera, the magnificent and lavish production of Die ägyptische Helena (The Egyptian Helen), again conducted by the composer with Maria Jeritza in the title role he had created for her.* Eddie renewed his acquaintance backstage and she embraced him effusively, saying she would never forget his tasteful accompaniment to her Mozart arias.

Maria Jeritza
Maria Jeritza in the premiere of Die ägyptische Helena (The Egyptian Helen) by Richard Strauss
Oberon's Grove: The Last Song of Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss and Maria Jeritza – ‘The Moravian Thunderbolt’ – at the premiere of
Die ägyptische Helena

George commented later in a press interview:

She was of very fine presence, in magnificent voice and moved regally in the Trojan scenes […] The Vienna Opera is the finest combination of its sort in the world but it has among its personnel only five great artists: the rest are mediocre.

Maria Jeritza (1887-1982)

*The soprano Maria Jeritza (1887–1982) was born Marie Jedličková in Brno, Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) and was long associated with the Vienna State Opera (1912–35). Her sensational rise to fame and spectacular beauty and personality earned her the nickname ‘The Moravian Thunderbolt’.

A personal romantic and musical frontier seemed to be crossed on the night of 6 November 1929 when Sabine and Eddie heard Wilhelm Furtwängler conduct Tristan und Isolde at the Vienna Staatsoper.* The irresistible harmonies of Wagner’s sensual music brought their hearts together.

Furtwangler: Tristan und Isolde Prelude (1/2) - YouTube
Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) conducting Tristan und Isolde

The serious cultural atmosphere, gaiety, general Gemütlichkeit or charming conviviality of life in the capital meant they fell deeply in love with the city and each other. Wien,Wien nur du allein! (‘Vienna, Vienna, you alone forever.’)

* * *

*Sam H. Shirakawa, The Devil’s Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwängler (Oxford 1992), p. 104 Gunnar Graarud as Tristan, Emil Schipper as Kurwenal, Hélène Wildbrünn as Isolde and Rosette Anday as Brangäne.