Instalment 16

Chapter 9


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, 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.*

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