PP Installment 1

Chapter 1

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

Contents


Preface ix
Prologue xiii

  1. Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket 1
  2. Of Maharajahs and Palaces 22
  3. ‘The East of the Ancient Navigators’ 40
  4. Bach and other fearful wildfowl 56
  5. A Collar of Diamonds 76
  6. ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’ 97
  7. Brooklands and the Court Circular 107
  8. Vienna and Das süsse Mädel 123
  9. Catastrophes 139
  10. High Society and Le Train Bleu 158
  11. Into the Jungle of Germany 170
  12. Lost in the Darkness of Change 194
  13. ‘Skeletons Copulating on a Tin Roof ’ 210
  14. Nostalgie Pour La Patrie 231
  15. Cheating the Dance of Death 251
  16. Brideshead Not Revisited 267
  17. Room 855, Le Grand Hôtel, Boulevard 287
    des Capucines, Paris
  18. Grand’Uff. Eddie Cahill contemplates 298
    the Ruin of Europe
  19. Ja, Baas – The Colonisation of the Mind 310
  20. Life in the Fairy Kingdom 331
  21. Et In Arcadia Ego 345
    Bibliography 359
    Acknowledgements 371
    Map of Contents 373
    Index 382
    About the Author

Preface

I shall never forget hearing the recordings of the pianist Edward Cahill for the first time during the millennium year. One Saturday evening spent at home alone in rainswept London I decided on an impulse to climb up into the attic and open the trunk of his effects I had inherited long ago. My mood that night was fearfully low as I was attempting to emerge from a blighted love affair. Depression about my future had also set in as I felt I had been studying the piano seriously for far too long without significant success. Seeking the warmth and reassurance of some connection with my family   I brushed away the cobwebs suffocating the trunk and began to rummage through the detritus of his life. At the bottom I found some old tape recordings and took them downstairs in anticipation. My old Revox open-reel machine spun into life.

I shall always treasure the feeling of exhilaration on first hearing the individuality of the piano sound he created in his interpretation of La Campanella by Liszt. He performed the work as a spectacular tour de force of virtuosity with the greatest refinement of touch, vitality of tone, bell-like timbre and that feathery velocity reminiscent of the late nineteenth century giants of the keyboard. As a musician myself I was astounded at the quality of the playing and determined there and then I must research and write about his life. I was to uncover a universe of fascinating historical recordings, period detail and a career of relentless glamour and success. After a long delayed beginning, the quest for this family portrait was to take me six years.

The fragmentary material piled into that old cabin trunk was a chaotic jigsaw puzzle. It contained unsorted personal letters, journals, manuscripts, music reviews, scrap books, music, concert posters, concert programmes, newspaper articles, official documents, period photographs, a small piece of 16 mm film as well as 78 rpm shellac and tape recordings. Some newspaper reviews glued into the  scrapbook  were  carelessly  trimmed  so  as to be undated, unidentifiable or sectionally damaged, letters contained only the month and not the year they were written with illegible signatures. Photographs often did not identify the exotic subjects. The treasure chest had been collecting dust in the attic of my London flat for over thirty years.

Fortunately in 1968 I had spent some six months with him as a young man and discussed in depth his career, music and the piano. Now I asked myself whether there was sufficient material to construct an engaging biography of a long forgotten Australian concert pianist born in 1885 who was also a member of an unknown family? I feared no-one attempted biographies of such forgotten figures owing to the piecemeal nature of the sources. However I was determined to assemble this remarkable life.

Tantalising references had always hovered in the family of a ‘legend’, of ‘a brilliant classical pianist who played for Queen Mary in London and the aristocracy of Europe during the glamorous 1920s.’ As ‘Uncle Eddie’ had left Australia permanently in 1934 the family could never fully comprehend the depth of his achievement. Few details were known, family records scarce, his name rarely mentioned. No chronology of Edward Cahill existed until I tentatively began work. Establishing this with accuracy soon became the major challenge of the enterprise. Informed supposition was an occasional unavoidable necessity as it proceeded. Any inadvertent blunders are entirely due to my own lack of vigilance.

As time passed I gradually began to see  ‘Uncle  Eddie’  not only as a rounded personality but also very much ‘a figure in the landscape’ of his day, similar to those diminutive personages that populate 17th century classical landscape paintings by Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin or Gaspard Dughet. I became increasingly consumed by the mysterious process of unravelling the poetry of his life as an artist and the society that nurtured him. I brought to light extraordinary coincidences and unsettling congruencies with my own life.

During this ‘resurrection’ I did not travel to all the destinations that comprised his itinerant lifestyle as his recitals spanned almost every continent and were often in prohibitively expensive exotic locations. Many countries have changed out of all recognition since his time as a result of war, partition or simple developmental change. Inevitably there are tantalizing gaps as in all biographies. However I travelled extensively even obsessively in his footsteps encountering a multitude of astonishing places in what became in the end an amazing journey of musical and spiritual discovery.

Prologue

In the year 1891 a curly-haired boy runs along the sunny banks of a river in the early morning chasing a butterfly with his net. Dragonflies with electric blue abdomens and clear wings hover above the muddy water. If he stays very still they will even settle on his trousers for a few seconds warming themselves in the sun. He is a very happy little boy. He has carefully prepared his beer and treacle mixture the night before and smears it on the slim trunks of his favourite eucalypts and nearby bushes. This nectar attracts the butterflies and he can easily capture them in one swift arc. He loves the kaleidoscopic colours of nature. Singing to himself, he puts them in his killing jar. He then carefully folds them into small paper envelopes.

Caper White butterflies drinking by a river in Queensland

Later, before they dry and stiffen, he carefully pushes fine pins through the thorax and spreads the wings and straps them flat with strips of special paper onto the setting board. Later, when they dry, he displays them in the cabinet his grandmother had bought for him. In spring he loves to watch the huge migrations of the black and white Caper Whites drinking at the river banks. The fast Tailed Emperor, wings folded like a painted Chinese fan, feeds on the over-ripe figs and flowering citrus trees in their garden. In his bedroom he has a glass case of smelly, hairy, wildly striped caterpillars. He loves to watch them until the silver or green chrysalis forms and hangs from its silken pad on the twigs. He sighs with impatience, waiting for its radiant future. The beautiful adult creature finally emerges, shimmering in its fresh markings to begin its life of spectacular display. These he lets fly free.

He is not your normal little boy by any means. He is actually a bit of a show-off, like his butterflies. He loves sounds too; all sorts of sounds fascinate him. They thrill him. He collects old bottles and tins, in fact anything that makes a sound when you hit it with a stick. On this shabby orchestra, sitting in the dust, he performs for other children in the neighbourhood and his brothers and sisters who gather around. The grown-ups roar with laughter to see a very small boy rushing madly about hitting bottles and tins. Lizards scatter under the rocks; rosellas and black cockatoos flee to the trees. Then someone teaches him how to improve his sounds. They show him how by filling the containers with different quantities of water he can produce different notes. His tin can and bottle symphonies improve. He cannot be stopped.

After these first ‘performances’ in the dirt and dust of colonial Australia he learns the piano against his father’s wishes from the wife of the milkman, goes from strength to strength musically  and travels from continent to continent, culture to culture until   he accomplishes his childish dream. He finally plays in recitals in London commanded by the Queen of England and later in the houses of all her aristocratic friends. The little boy’s name is Edward Cahill and this is his story.

Chapter I

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

On the east coast of Australia in the State of Queensland, or ‘Deep North’ as some Australians call it, lies picturesque Moreton Bay, some twenty kilometres north of Brisbane. Captain Cook named but did not explore it on 15 May 1770 during his first voyage. ‘This veritable Garden of Eden’, teeming with fish, crustacea of all kinds, exotic flowers and colourful birds, subsequently became a ghastly penal outstation. Europeans began to settle the area, but the geography of impenetrable forest and river made farming difficult. This provided a challenge for the predominantly German, Prussian, English and Irish immigrants. The promise of a salubrious climate, orderly government, regular laws, excellent education and religious freedom were irresistible to many fleeing over-population, famine and poverty in Europe.

In 1862 John Davy, his wife Mary and his brother-in-law Francis Gooding emigrated to Queensland and established a sugar plantation between the Albert and Logan Rivers which they named Beenleigh after their old farm in Devon, England. The farm had been suffering severe financial difficulties despite the generally increased prosperity of agriculture in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. In their new home they were soon growing sugar cane and manufacturing rum, a business which developed into the famous Beenleigh Rum Distillery. A small township subsequently evolved at the junction of five roads and flourished under the same name, Beenleigh.

In 1863 the thirty-year-old farmer and blacksmith Johannes Dauth, his twenty-five-year-old wife Caroline and their three children emigrated to Australia from Stöckheim,  Brunswick, some three hundred kilometers north-east of Frankfurt-am-Main. Germans living west and east of the River Elbe had suffered from an increase in population too large for the resources of the land and were facing economic disintegration. These were the boom years for emigration to Australia. Only a few years before Queensland had been created a separate colony from New South Wales. The new colony required a labour force to populate its vast spaces.

The barque Susanne Godeffroy

After lengthy consideration the family sailed on 22 September 1863  on  the  maiden  voyage of the clipper Susanne Godeffroy. She put to sea from Hamburg and encountered a rough and stormy passage through the English Channel and particularly high seas around the Cape of Good Hope into the Roaring Forties. ‘Long ridges of water ran high and fast’ which damaged the masts.* Passengers often landed looking ‘like they had been in the grave for a week and dug up’ reported one migration official. The ship anchored in Moreton Bay over four months later. All the Dauth children survived and a baby was born to Johannes and Caroline whom they named Mary. This infant, so romantically ‘born at sea’, somehow managed to survive the long voyage and would ultimately become the mother of the brilliant Australian pianist Edward Cahill.

Upon arrival Johannes settled in the New Year first at Eagleby (also known as the ‘German Pocket’) but soon moved to nearby Beenleigh where he became one of the earliest settlers. He opened a blacksmith’s shop and built a residence in George Street. Germans were highly respected as hard workers and he became successful supporting his family in relative comfort.

By the mid 1870s Beenleigh was a thriving rural business centre, the main town of the Logan and Albert districts. Queensland had the largest number of German-born residents in the Australian colonies. A school opened in 1871 and one of the Dauth family was among its first pupils. The Beenleigh Hotel was soon established on the corner of George and Main Streets ‘a handsome new two storey building … which will favourably compete for accommodation  and situation with any hotel in the colony out of Brisbane’.

* I am indebted for most of the early history of Beenleigh to Anne McIntyre of the Logan River & District Family History Society Inc. who assisted me greatly in my research and also published They Chose Beenleigh: A Tribute to the Immigrant Landholders and Pioneers of the Beenleigh and Eagleby, Queensland, Australia prior to 1885 (Beenleigh 2009), Sailings, p. 47.

By 1885 the population of the town had risen to over four hundred. Although Queensland was not noted at this time for its cultural activities, the presence of the German community and their love and talent for music meant there was substantial support for the building of the School of Arts.*

Edward Cahill’s father was born in 1857 on the border of County Tipperary and Laois County (formerly Queen’s County) Ireland. The Great Famine of 1845–9 had devastated landlocked Queen’s County. Thousands died and many were forced to eat anything they could find. The magistrate Nicholas Cummins described his visit to the hovels of Skibbereen in West Cork:

In the first (hovel), six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth, their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees.

School of Arts, Beenleigh

Thousands of inhabitants looking for a better life fled the Great Famine and emigrated to America, Canada or Australia, the Cahill family among them.Edward Cahill Senior was resident in colonial Queensland by 1869. In March of 1881 he was reported to have captained the Tambourine Cricket Club against Upper Logan and knocked up a creditable score as an excellent ‘all rounder’. On the Prince of Wales’s Birthday the following year he played for Beenleigh as a wicket keeper and fielded and batted outstandingly. He was remembered in the town with much affection as a jovial Irishman with a rough sense of humour.

By the 1880s the economy of this vast colony had moved into positive cycle. However the colony of Queensland remained ‘a rather puzzling mixture of success and failure.’§

* The School of Arts Movement originated in Scotland and spread throughout the English-speaking world in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Times of Christmas Eve 1846 quoted in Thomas Keneally The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New (London 1998), pp. 129–31.

Between 1841 and 1861 Queen’s County lost almost half its population from 154,000 to 90,600.

§ Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland (Cambridge 2007), p. 111.

Many immigrants felt misled by the rosy expectations their agents had given them. Unskilled labour faced a bleak future, but those who commenced‘the fierce battle with nature to form things’* could save and prosper if their health stood up to the rigours of the climate.

In November 1884 Edward Cahill Senior and Mary Dauth married in Brisbane and took up residence permanently in Beenleigh. Despite the economic gloom, he took over as the ‘Licensed Victualler’ of the Beenleigh Hotel in April 1894, renting it for 30/- per week. For the previous five years he had been the licensee of the nearby Yatala Hotel about three kilometres from Beenleigh.

The Beenleigh Hotel following the extensive remodelling by Edward Cahill Snr. in 1910. The hotel was regrettably demolished in 1977 despite an extensive National Trust of Queensland Report in 1975 recommending its preservation.

His new hotel became the centre of the town’s social life and the haunt for regular meetings of the local cricket club, jockey club and rifle association. The booking office and staging post for the legendary Cobb & Co transport and Royal Mail coaches was situated in the hotel. ‘Incidents’ in the life of the town tended to happen there. One anecdote tells of a day when a young man working in the cane fields near Eagleby felt a prick on his ankle and realised he had been bitten by a snake, probably the dreaded Coastal Taipan. Despite the swift efforts of the local Dr Sutton he died under ‘the best medical supervision’ in a room at the Beenleigh Hotel.

Edward Cahill Junior was born almost exactly a year after their marriage on 10 November in the boom year of 1885. Mary Cahill bore a child every year for the next eight years. She was to survive this gruelling experience without serious illness and only one was to die as an infant. In time the Cahills built a house they called ‘Roscrea’, which became a landmark in Beenleigh. The residence was named after the town near the border of Laois County and County Tipperary where Edward Cahill Senior was born.

The area around Beenleigh is quite flat, dotted with shrubs and eucalypts such as Ironbark and Forest Red Gum. Despite being only twenty kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, the town is stiflingly hot in summer. The Albert River where Eddie hunted butterflies still takes its slow and picturesque course through the rather arid landscape. When I visited Beenleigh there was no evidence of the site of the distinctive Cahill family home. Undoubtedly Roscrea would have been characterized by broad verandas shaded by a large, graceful Dutch gable roof of shingles or corrugated iron. Sadly I could find no photograph of it during my extensive research. However a few of the buildings Eddie would have known as a child are preserved in what is known as Old Beenleigh Town, an historical village situated on the outskirts of the town’s modern suburban sprawl. I attempted to reconstruct this early Australian community in my mind’s eye but it was an almost impossible task. Born in 1885 Eddie would find modern Beenleigh unrecognizable.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 110.

Around £150 in 2020.

A Settler family in Beenleigh 1872
The ‘Carpenter’s Arms Public House Beenleigh District 1872
Main Street Beenleigh  Queensland ca. 1893  from the verandah of the  Beenleigh Hotel.
The town where Edward Cahill was born in 1885
Beenleigh in 1895
The handsome colonial Cahill family of Beenleigh

Top row from left:   James, Elizabeth, Mary, Caroline, Edward
Front row from left:  William, Edward Senior,  Margaret, Mary Cahill (née Dauth), Lilian

* * *

Eddie’s grandmother and mother were both particularly fond of music. As he grew older he spent hours experimenting with the sounds on his grandmother’s old piano, one of the few refined features of their colonial life. She wanted him to learn to play and spoke secretly to his mother about it. His father had no interest in butterflies or piano playing. ‘You women will spoil the boyo. The piano is for colleens! Your sisters can learn the piano if they want. He should learn to ride and shoot like a man!’

At the age of five, his mother decided he should begin lessons at his grandmother’s house with the milkman’s wife. She could play fluently and taught the boy to read music. A few times a week during her round she would tie up the horse, leave the milk cart outside and slip into his grandmother’s house to give Eddie a half hour ‘secret’ lesson. Our ‘jovial Irishman’ did comment rather unfavourably, however, when he saw his young son early one morning enthusiastically trotting down the dusty country road between the weatherboard houses dressed in a red velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, his hair carefully pomaded and curled. He threatened to beat him black and blue.  ‘My  mother  loves  him so much!’ his wife assured her husband when he expressed exasperation and returned to the bar to serve some thirsty sun- burned pastoralists. Eddie seemed to know, seemed to have always known, what he wanted to do with his life. That was, of all unlikely things in this region of pitiless heat, pioneers and heartless bush, to be a musician and above all to play the piano. Eddie adored these lessons with the intensity of a vocation.

He was enrolled at the state primary school and was popular with his classmates. The teachers in the small school felt he was above average intelligence for his age. He seemed to be able to instantly communicate his friendliness, good temper and general happiness with life to everyone. Even at this early stage he was a particularly charming child. By the age of eight, the piano playing was coming along well and the lessons became far less of a secret, in fact the whole thing was rather out in the open. He was making extraordinary progress, far beyond what might be considered normal for a child of his age and far beyond the skill of Mrs Bale the milkman’s wife. ‘Lost in the music!’ she said one day. ‘Naturally gifted!’ she exclaimed on another.

Occasionally, now that he was old enough to keep quiet and cease fidgeting, his mother would take him to a concert at the School of Arts. There was an unusual degree of sophisticated cultural life in this small, isolated town, a place which surprisingly nurtured his dreams. His father was becoming increasingly irritable as the boy reached puberty. He had hoped ‘the boyo’ would eventually ‘grow out of it’ and come into the hotel business. ‘Music is no career for a man son! Musicians are unhappy, hopeless fellows. If you keep this up you’ll end up in the gutter. Wake up to yourself!’

The boy did not seem to care. Every time he sat on the piano stool he could imagine huge crowds of people listening to him in great halls, idolising his performance. He had particularly small hands but wonderful  dexterity  and  an  engaging  natural  way  of playing. He also seemed to have what was known as ‘perfect pitch’, a mixed blessing in some respects, and could improvise his own tunes on any melody that was given to him by members of an audience. In a diary reminiscence written for a radio broadcast made in Sydney as he approached middle age he underlined ‘I was a very happy little boy’. But in reality he contemplated with horror the idea of working in his father’s hotel among the rough drovers, cane cutters, cattlemen and rum drinkers.

One of the worst decades in Australian history opened as he began at the  rural  primary  school  in  Beenleigh.  From  1891–96 a severe economic depression crippled the country and was immediately followed by one of the longest-lasting droughts in the colony’s history lasting from 1898–1905.* Unemployment reached catastrophic levels. White settlers clashed with Aboriginals and Melanesian ‘Kanakas’ who were deemed to be a ‘doomed race of Heathens’.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 124

Local papers brayed ‘no white woman is safe’. By the close of the century the lives of many immigrants and hundreds  of thousands of native people had been sacrificed in a genocidal mayhem that had lasted for years.*

* Grimly detailed throughout Evans, A History of Queensland.

* * *

As the eldest son, Eddie was expected to take up a trade after leaving school at fifteen. It is hard to imagine an environment less conducive to becoming a classical concert pianist than the Queensland of the early 1900s for such a cultured, aesthetic young man. The family decided that an excellent beginning for someone of Eddie’s sensitive temperament would be as a draper’s assistant in his father’s drapery business a few doors down from the Beenleigh Hotel.

Travelling Drapers – ‘Downes’ – Beenleigh

Wanting to please rather than follow the summons of his heart, he agreed to take up this dull trade. Each morning he swept the floor of the shop and sprinkled it with fresh damp sawdust, raised the blinds on the front window and adjusted the headless manikins freshly dressed by an eccentric window-dresser. In the evening he lit the oil lamps, which turned the shop into a glowing cavern with pockets of mysterious darkness. He learned to cultivate the charm of the professional salesman. He exuded a natural appeal which impressed the appreciative English colonial ladies who were keen to keep up appearances and deck themselves out in copies of the latest London or Paris fashions. For physical relaxation he played lawn tennis at the weekend, a choice over Rugby Union football, tennis being a sport which was considered askance by the men of Beenleigh. Yet he managed early each day to fit in an hour or more piano practice at his grandmother’s house and even more on Sundays.

He was already twenty-five when, by now a fully fledged draper, he decided he could not stand working in the shop a minute longer, even as the manager. He was chronically tired of measuring out lengths of cloth for elderly women with endless discussions of price. He could hardly wait until the doors closed for the day and he could rush to the joys of the piano and practise like a demon. He had given what might be considered his first piano recital in the School of Arts in 1907. But as he lay in bed at night listening to the raucous shouts from the verandah of the hotel, the drunken carousing in the streets, he planned to run away to Brisbane, embark on a ship bound for Europe, burn the shop down, anything to escape the drudgery that stretched endlessly before him. He wanted adventure, glamour and fame, the adulation of the glittering crowd as a performing musician. He was unashamedly convinced of his talent.

* * *

In 1909 Queensland celebrated its 50th year as a separate entity with a Jubilee Exhibition at the annual Brisbane Agricultural Show in the Botanic Gardens and the official opening of the University of Queensland. Eddie decided to enter the piano competition which was part of the celebrations. The event was judged by a Professor Ives. Eddie was proclaimed the ‘Piano Champion Solo’ for his performance of a Schumann Novelette and he was awarded a gold medal in addition to some prize money.

The Piano Champion Solo Gold Medal awarded to Edward Cahill, Brisbane Jubilee Exhibition 1909

This victory was followed by some serious tuition with a mysterious Miss Hilda Roberts, a Brisbane pianist who introduced him to the acclaimed method pioneered by Tobias Matthay in London.* These lessons gave him the self-confidence to seek new endeavours and challenges in music.

NPG x41788; Tobias Matthay - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery
Tobias Matthay (1858-1945) NPG

The early silent cinema had always fascinated Eddie as a teenager. He used to avidly attend the screenings of short documentaries and comedies at the School of Arts in Beenleigh and also played for Beenleigh Pictures, the firm who screened silent pictures  there. Often too he played for the dance that followed. In the early newsreel of the spring meeting of the Melbourne Cup filmed by the Frenchman Marius Sestier, he was captivated by the glamorous crowds of women in ornate Edwardian lace dresses.Eddie had his first taste of the bewitching theatre of royalty and upper-class life, the endless procession of elegant carriages, superb horses and court uniforms, cocked hats fluttering with ostrich feathers in the 1901 documentary The Inauguration of Australia.

*Tobias Matthay (1858–1945) was an outstanding English pianist, teacher, and composer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music under the composer and pianist Sir William Sterndale Bennett and taught there from 1876 to 1925 as Professor of Advanced Piano.The English virtuosi Myra Hess, Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, Harriet Cohen and Irene Scharrer were but a few of his outstanding pupils. He founded a piano school in 1905 and published several books on technique.

The Frenchman Marius Sestier (1861–1928), came to Australia from India in 1896 and made some of the first Australian films and screened them at the Salon Lumière in Sydney.

At thirty-five minutes it was one of the longest films of the time made anywhere in the world. On one cloth-buying trip to Brisbane in 1907 he saw ‘Australia’s Greatest Drama’, The Story of the Kelly Gang, at the Centennial Hall, the world’s first full-length feature film advertised as being ‘over a mile in length’ and ‘over an hour in duration’.* The piano accompaniment included a ‘Lecturer’ who explained the story and characters using a pointer. Voices behind the screen added dialogue. A kookaburra had been trained to laugh when a limelight lamp shone on it.

* The Story of the Kelly Gang was photographed for J. & N. Tait by the talented Millard Johnson and William Gibson and first shown in Melbourne on Boxing Day 1906.

An Australian Outback Travelling Picture Show 1910
Outback Silent Picture Projection Equipment 1910

He slowly became aware of a possible avenue of escape from the drapery. One day a horse-drawn travelling picture show arrived in Beenleigh. A number of these forgotten touring companies wandered the vast outback of Australia offering silent cinema entertainment. Isolated towns lacking in electricity and the phonograph meant these shows were tremendously popular. They often mixed vaudeville acts with short films projected by limelight. Music was a vital ingredient although during the projection there was a good deal of mechanical noise. Devastating explosions were always likely. ‘Going to the pictures’ was an adventure in the early years of the Australian silent cinema, for both the audience and the projectionist.

He considered the job of ‘picture pianist’ something he could easily accomplish and auditioned for the Irish manager of a travelling show called Flaniken’s Films that  had  just  lost  its  accompanist. At the audition he improvised with great élan and spirit for The Eureka Stockade. The company presented silent stars such as Charlie Chaplin, ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Mabel Normand as well as the rough and tumble of the Keystone Cops to entertainment-starved outback audiences. Eddie would also provide the music for the dance that followed the show.To the shock and dismay of the entire Cahill family, Eddie excitedly accepted the offer of this poorly paid, uncomfortable job with Flaniken’s Films travelling the outback as an accompanist.

He was beside himself with delight. The itinerary would take in much of central Queensland and northern New South Wales. This was to be his first professional musical engagement and the beginning of an enduring love affair with the stage and travel. His father was bitterly disappointed having purchased the Beenleigh Hotel in 1909 and radically remodelled the exterior. He had hoped Eddie would take over when he retired.

The evening programme could be a five-reel feature with two or three shorter comedies or ‘scenics’ as they were known. A singer travelling with them performed songs by the renowned Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder or popular numbers such as Meet Me To-night in Dreamland or I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now accompanied by lantern slides. As he toured with silent pictures Eddie learned how to ‘work’ an audience, to strongly communicate intense emotion with music. The type of vaudeville act that might accompany the films is breathlessly described in an advertisement in the Barrier Miner of 8 January 1912, published in the rough and isolated outback mining town of Broken Hill in far west of New South Wales where ‘Mr Eddie Cahill (A.R.A.M. Gold Medallist) and pianologist will preside at the instrument’.

‘Ching Sung Loo, the Chinese magician, is one of the star per- formers with his pretty lady assistant. His stage setting is said to be a blaze of Oriental grandeur. He does not speak during the performance, but glides about the stage stealthily and mysteriously. It is claimed that he makes steaming coffee from apparently nowhere, which is freely distributed to the audience; that he raises a lady into mid air utterly defying the laws of gravitation and places her on the points of three swords; that he raises a large bowl of water with living fishes in it from nowhere; that he shoots an arrow through a lady’s body, changes wine into water; and that the climax is reached when he eats paper and cotton wool, and the next moment clouds of smoke and streams of sparks issue from his mouth. Then he allows a rifle to be fired point blank at him, and he catches the bullet, which has been previously marked for identification purposes by one of the audience.’

In time, books of  musical  suggestions  were  published  such as the Edison Kinetogram to assist pianists and orchestras in their accompaniments.* Eddie learned to project his feelings directly through the piano in a variety of musical styles. Sinister and uncanny mood music for the night, agitato running passages for high tension dramas, seductive touches for the warmth of love, the disturbing chords of jealousy, heavy masses heralding impending doom, the grandeur of heroic combat or the tumult of battle. Eddie was talented at this task, had excellent technique, was a good sight-reader and knew a great deal of music by heart. It was a hard school but an invaluable apprenticeship. He felt that exploring the beauty of the Queensland countryside was ample compensation for the meagre pay.

A still from the silent movie The Story of the Ned Kelly Gang

It was not long before Eddie found himself in a more permanent position conducting an orchestra of eight at the King’s Pictures and the historic Princess Theatre in Brisbane. A lone pianist can watch the screen and improvise whereas an orchestra cannot accomplish this as an ensemble. One of the earliest scores composed especially for a silent film was by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns for L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise in 1908. Eddie was required to compile music from the classical scores of one composer or order selections from a number of composers to suit the emotional hue of the film. This technique reached its apotheosis in 1925 with the legendary score written by Edmund Meisel for The Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein. The director wrote ‘The audience must be lashed into a fury and shaken violently by the volume of the sound…this sound can’t be strong enough and should be turned to the limit of the audience’s physical and mental capacity.’

On a less dramatic scale, Eddie believed that the music should not simply be background but become part of the fabric of the film itself. Such an idea was most unusual at the time and sadly his work in this area has not survived. One of his favourite silent features was The Cheat (1915) an early silent directed by Cecil B. DeMille starring Fannie Ward and the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa. Famous for its dramatic low-key lighting, it explored the taboo of an extra- marital intrigue through erotic Orientalism, female masochism and forcible seduction. In one harrowing scene the flesh of the female character is branded like a prize heifer by the seducer in a gesture of possession. This would no doubt have required a significant leap of musical invention for the young pianist, inexperienced in such passions as were most of the audience.

* A beacon in the dearth of well-researched academic studies of the history of music in the silent film era is the excellent and informative Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies 1895–1924 by Martin Miller Marks (New York 1997). Quoted p. 72.

A charming film of life on the road in an Australian travelling picture show in the early 1900s is The Picture Show Man (1977) directed by John Power and starring Rod Taylor, John Meillon, Judy Morris, John Ewart, Patrick Cargill and Harold Hopkins.

Edmund Meisel (1894–1930) is a neglected Austrian composer who was a pioneer and a truly avant-garde artist in his approach to silent film music.

Eddie’s work in the silent cinema was the beginning of his artistic career. However, whilst inhabiting the world of celluloid dreams, roaming the outback and playing in darkened cinemas, the world situation ….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s