Vienna and Das süsse Mädel
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.
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.
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.‘
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.’
* * *
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.’
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.
* 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.
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!’]
*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.
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.*
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).