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.

Instalment 13

Chapter 7

Brooklands and the Court Circular

Until the opening of the official London Season in April 1928 Eddie, George and Margaret spent some time settling in and exploring London. Eddie’s innate  sense  of  adventure  sent  him to less frequented galleries and pockets of arcane even dissolute interest. After piano recitals he was fond of walking off his nervous tension alone. Prone to ‘nerves’ he had a chemist in St James’s make up a concoction which was intended to diminish stage fright. He remained prey to debilitating self-consciousness throughout his concert career, although this never seemed to be evident in his extraordinarily charming and energetic disposition on the concert platform.

Although not interested in playing jazz piano, his love of parties meant he could not resist dropping in for late-night cocktails at fashionable smoky haunts in the West End such as the Embassy Club in Bond Street or the Kit-Kat Club in the Haymarket.

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The Embassy Club London 1927

Being young and strikingly handsome, he was often terribly bored by the society of the ancient dowagers and duchesses who guaranteed his livelihood. Certainly he was never short of young female admirers as dancing partners, but unfortunately the ‘young things’ had no interest in recitals of serious classical music and soon drifted off. He occasionally drove the Alvis down to Maidenhead at speed  for a riotous evening at Murray’s, a ‘rather spicy club’ owned by the dubious Jack May. Cocaine was available there but Eddie’s thin wallet could not cope with such expensive stimuli despite its attractions.

Murray’s Club, Maidenhead around 1928

The temperament of an artist often contains irreconcilable elements which energize his art. Eddie was no exception to this in his attraction to both the respectable life of the Old Guard lounging in their Mayfair salons and the ‘low life’ of Soho and bohemia. He became particularly fond of the coffee-stalls that were set up on street corners around Piccadilly Circus. On cold foggy evenings they provided hot coffee, tea, warm snacks and sizzling sausages.

Night Coffee Stall, Hyde Park London 1928

These places were often frequented by party-goers in need of fuel in the small hours as they drifted home the worse for wear – a man in silk topper and crumpled white tie, a girl in short dress with shingled hair smoking a cigarette, easing her feet from tight evening shoes, sundry late night workers and then Eddie.

The increasingly rare Hansom cabs he loved still plied the streets of London. Occasionally George and Margaret would leave him on his own in the fog and take a motor taxi home to Maida Vale. Eddie had a fertile romantic imagination and would dream of historical scenes where he would shine like a character in a Balzac novel after playing for the aristocracy in a sumptuous drawing room in Mayfair. The steaming horse clip-clopped along Park Lane, through the deserted streets of Marylebone, past the ghostly white Nash terraces fringing Regent’s Park, an occasional window golden lit, home to Randolph Terrace.

One of the last night Hansom cabs in Central London 1928

* * *

The Antipodean trio launched themselves into the 1928 London Season with a vengeance. In May, despite the atrocious weather with hail as well as rain, Margaret insisted on them going to the Chelsea Flower Show. Eddie, who had a particular love of flowers (he sent them regularly to all his dowagers and duchesses), was overwhelmed by the displays.

Queen Mary at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show | 100 years of the Royal Family  at the Chelsea Flower Show - Gardening
Queen Mary at the RHS Flower Show 1934

Also in May, but travelling on his own, he indulged his ‘secret vice’ and caught the newly electrified Southern Railway train from Waterloo to Brooklands to watch the Essex Motor Club Six-Hour Endurance Race which included factory teams from Alfa Romeo and Bentley.

Brooklands lady drivers
full screen preview image
Lord Curzon, Bugatti during the Essex MC 6 Hours Endurance Race at Brooklands on May 12, 1928 (Photo by LAT Images).

He found the cars becoming airborne over the rough concrete of the member’s banking an awe-inspiring sight. The Bentley driven by Tim Birkin, one of the glamorous and daring ‘Bentley Boys’, covered the greatest distance (considered an important parameter in those days, given the general unreliability of the machines).

Woolf Barnato, an entrant in a six hour endurance race organised by the Essex Motor Club, with his Bentley.
Tim Birkin and his 4½ litre Bentley during the Essex MC 6 Hours Endurance Race at Brooklands on May 12, 1928 (Photo by MacGregor/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

An extraordinary British Pathé newsreel of the Essex MC 6 Hours Endurance Race at Brooklands on May 12, 1928 :

In June they played and sang for Lady Jellicoe at a party at  their grand residence at 80, Portland Place. Florence Gwendoline Jellicoe (née Cayzer) was the wife of the Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in the Great War.*

Florence Gwendoline Jellicoe (née Cayzer) 1877-1964
80 Portland Place, London W1

Later in the month the boys donned morning suits and Margaret a fetching cloche hat and a dress with a short hem for Day One of Royal Ascot when the legendary Brown Jack won the Ascot Stakes.

Ascot in the 1920s
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Brown Jack wins the Ascot Stakes 1928
Royal Ascot, 1928. Outfits to be seen in for the racing season, exhibited by Louonda. Getty Images
Royal Ascot 1928
Photograph, People, Vintage clothing, Snapshot, Standing, Fashion, Monochrome, Retro style, Black-and-white, Photography,

One of the highest points of the Season and Ascot Week was an invitation to play ‘An Hour of Music’ at a garden party in the late afternoon of 14 June at No. 5 Carlton Gardens Pall Mall in the presence of HRH Princess Beatrice.

HRH Princess Beatrice (1857-1944) cir. 1928 by
Arthur Stockdale Cope (1857-1840)
Invitation to the concert on Thursday June 14th 1928

The Princess had been the favourite daughter of Queen Victoria. After the death of Prince Albert, when Beatrice was only four, the Queen became claustrophobically possessive of her youngest daughter, even after she married the handsome and dashing Prince Henry of Battenberg.‡ Later she became the Queen’s personal secretary and spent some thirty years editing Victoria’s personal journals. Beatrice was an accomplished dancer, artist, photographer and actress. Passionate about music, she played the piano to an exceptional standard and was a perceptive and critical judge of pianists. She patronised many of Eddie’s recitals.

No.2 Carlton Gardens London SW.1  Mr. Alfred Bossom MP for Maidstone lived at No. 5, Carlton Gardens. On June 14th 1928 Cahill gave a recital there where among distinguished guests   No.5 has now been redeveloped into a block of luxury apartments.

The house in Carlton Gardens was ‘lent’ by Mrs Alfred C. Bossom who had only recently taken it over.§ Preceding the concert she gave a ‘garden tea’ at five o’clock for all ticket holders. However the increasingly frail Princess Beatrice was ill and was unable to attend. This greatly disappointed the flock of elderly female aristocracy who were becoming Eddie and George’s most loyal and enthusiastic patrons. Lady Stradbroke and Lady Helena Rous were also in attendance. The Princess herself was particularly downcast. As she was feeling much improved the following day, she summoned them to Kensington Palace to play a special impromptu concert.

*Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859–1935). His deploy- ment of the fleet at Jutland remains controversial. Churchill described Jellicoe later as ‘the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon’.

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Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859–1935)
Vanity Fair 26 December 1906

† HRH Princess Beatrice of Battenberg (1857–1944) was the fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

‡ Prince Henry of Battenberg (1858–96) yearned to escape the confinement and restrictions of the court for a life of military adventure. Much against the wishes of Queen Victoria, he campaigned in the Anglo–Ashanti War in West Africa and died of malaria in 1896 aboard the cruiser HMS Blonde stationed off the coast of Sierra Leone. Princess Beatrice was devastated by his death and as a widow once again became Queen Victoria’s ‘rock’ and emotional support.

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Prince Henry of Battenberg (1858–96) and Princess Beatrice (1857-1944) in 1885 (Carl Backofen – Royal Collection)

§ Yet another American hostess, Emily Bossom (née Bayne), was the daughter of the New York City banker Samuel Bayne. She married Alfred Bossom (1881–1965) in 1910. He was a highly successful English architect who made his fortune designing skyscrapers in Texas. He designed both temple-like and high-rise structures. Curiously he also invented a device to prevent people from suffocating if they accidentally got locked in a bank vault. He returned to England in 1926.

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Alfred Bossom (1881–1965)

Country house engagements seemed to flower profusely. Classical recitals in London concert halls were not generally well patronised at the time except for those by the decidedly famous, say the violinist of genius Fritz Kreisler. Conservative audiences preferred the ‘old composers’ Beethoven, Brahms or Schumann. This was evidenced by a cold reception given to Alfred Cortot in London performing modern compositions by Stravinsky and Ravel until enthusiasm erupted during the Chopin section of his programme. In early July Lady Pigott-Brown invited them to perform at Broome Hall in Surrey,* followed by a glorious ‘Saturday-to-Monday’ at Bawdsey Manor in Suffolk invited by the Hon. Lady Quilter.

Broome Hall, Coldharbour
Broome Hall, Coldharbour, Surrey
1973: British Hell-raising film actor Oliver Reed (1938-1999), dressed in country tweed, outside Broome Hall, his magnificent country mansion in Surrey. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Later that week they loaded up the Alvis with exotic provisions from Fortnum & Mason and drove to Henley for a rare brilliantly sunny day at the Royal Regatta. It was the first year of qualifying races. They had a picnic on the grass by the river. Houseboats were ablaze with scarlet geraniums and pink hydrangeas. On the lawns of the riverside clubs and houses girls in floral muslins reclined  in deck chairs.

‘The Trio’ were guests of one of the members of  the exclusive Leander Club situated on the right bank just below the Henley Bridge. Eddie was tremendously amused by the pink hippo, the club’s symbol.

*Lady Pigott-Browne (1886–1964, née Edith Ivy Piggott), eldest daughter and co-heir of Admiral William Harvey Pigott, married Captain Gordon Hargreaves Brown of the Cold- stream Guards who was reported missing at Ypres October 1914. Late Victorian Broome Hall was once owned by the roguish actor Oliver Reed. The film director Ken Russell set many scenes from D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love at Broome Hall.

† Leander Club is said to have been founded in 1818 and is the third oldest and most prestigious rowing club in the world.

The Henley Royal Regatta in the 1920s

This rowing acquaintance enabled them to gain access to the exclusive Stewards Enclosure with its Pimm’s, panamas, boaters and school blazers, deckchairs and brightly coloured Japanese parasols almost hiding the spectator boats. Matters on the river were far less controlled than today and in his journal Eddie speaks of jostling, cheering and jovial high-jinks, lounging lethargically, sitting or even standing at climatic moments in comfortably appointed punts. These floated in packed clumps beside the course while the rowers raced by in close proximity to the excited waterborne spectators. Above the carnival atmosphere drifted colourful flights of balloons. It was one of the most successful meetings for years.

Period cartoon of the Henley Royal Regatta
Cartoon reads:
Rowing Man. ‘Charming girl your cousin. Such Eton eyes; such Leander cheeks’

Towards the end of July Eddie was invited by the Lord Chamberlain to the Afternoon Party at Buckingham Palace and on this occasion ‘caught the eye of the Queen’ as she wandered among her more distinguished guests. She asked him how his musical career was progressing in London and tactfully encouraged him to ‘continue practising’.

Eddie never forgot this flattering recognition of his talent and developed an almost adolescent infatuation with her. Until Queen Mary died in 1953, on every birthday celebration in May, he would dispatch to the palace by private courier at fabulous expense, a bouquet of wild Swiss narcissi picked on the slopes of the Alps. His papers contain numerous letters of thanks from her Private Secretary for the flowers he sent. ‘Queen Mary loved music although she had little knowledge of its technical arts,’ he reminisced later.

In September Eddie was invited by the Viscount and rather forbidding Viscountess Elibank to a country house party at Black Barony Castle in Peeblesshire to once again meet HH Princess Helena Victoria and give a piano recital.* This magnificent castle, also known as Darn Hall, is near the village of Eddleston, seventeen miles south of Edinburgh.

Black Barony Castle

The steam locomotive Flying Scotsman on which they travelled had begun non-stop services from London to Edinburgh on 1 May. Eddie was excited about this trip as he had by now developed a deep love of steam trains. At the time it was the longest uninterrupted train journey in the world, lasting a little over eight hours.

Flying Scotsman Returns To East Coast Main Line – In & Around Online
The ‘Flying Scotsman’ en route to Edinburgh in 1928
As the Flying Scotsman officially reopens the Settle-Carlisle line, we look  back on its golden age
A beautifully set dining table in the ‘Flying Scotsman’ Restaurant Car c. 1930.
Lunch being served in the First-class Restaurant Car of the ‘Flying Scotsman’, 1928
The Flying Scotsman leaving King's Cross Station in London on its first  non-stop run to Edinburgh, 1928.
Christmas dinner on the ‘Flying Scotsman’, 1931

He was collected at Edinburgh Station and swished off to Black Barony in the Elibank Daimler, his luggage following in another car.

*Gideon Oliphant-Murray, 2nd Viscount Elibank (1877–1951) was a Scottish politician and member of the aristocracy. He had extensive experience of colonial administration including Papua New Guinea, the Transvaal and the Windward Islands.

The rather formidable Ermine Mary Katherine Murray (née Madocks), Viscountess Elibank
 (died 1955),
Wife of 2nd Viscount Elibank

† These were luxurious trains allowing one to travel in a style and comfort undreamed of today. The first-class compartment coach was sumptuous, as was the first-class restaurant, decorated in Louis XVI style with concealed lighting. All the food was freshly cooked on the train in a kitchen powered by electricity from accumulators. The carriage corridors had illuminated signs as in European Grand Hotel style indicating the Hairdressing Saloon, Ladies’ Retiring Room and Cocktail Bar decorated in a ravishingly modern green and silver colour scheme. The revolutionary design of the tender (the section behind the locomotive which carried the coal) had a corridor, which connected it to the adjoining carriage. This enabled a fresh crew to take over without stopping the locomotive, on this route an L.N.E.R. Class A3 Pacific.

Among the distinguished and aristocratic house guests were Viscount Younger of Leckie,* the somewhat reactionary and puritanical Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks popularly known as ‘Jix’, the American property magnate known as the Duke of Del Monte, and Major-General and Mrs J.B. Seely.

File:Duke of Del Monte.jpg
The characterful Samuel F.B. Morse, also known as the Duke of Del Monte (1885-1969)

Country establishments were not what they had been before  the  Great War but the atmosphere was far from stuffy. Guests still dressed for dinner and served themselves breakfast from the dining or breakfast room buffet. HH Princess Helena Victoria, although close to sixty, was a lively, ebullient and adventurous personality.

‘Jix’ was a deeply conservative personality, a Conservative party politician who stood out against the radical social changes that were taking place in the 1920s, particularly among the Bright Young Things. An almost forgotten figure, his period as an authoritarian Home Secretary was seldom without controversy, often of an amusing kind. However he dealt constructively with the profound implications of the General Strike and the imagined fears of Bolshevik conspiracies. He emerged as the bête noire of the intelligentsia and became the butt of many of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical barbs.

Queen Mary with British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks as King George V opens the Great West Road. 30th May 1925.
Queen Mary with British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks as King George V opens the Great West Road. 30th May 1925.
(Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Caricature by Powys Evans before 1926 of Conservative politician Sir William Joynson Hicks , 1st Viscount Brentford PC, PC , DL. Home Secretary from...
Caricature by Powys Evans (Quiz) before 1926 of Conservative politician Sir William Joynson Hicks (1865 – 1932), 1st Viscount Brentford PC, PC (NI), DL. Home Secretary from 1924 – 1929, he ran something of a crusade against the lax social mores of the twenties.
British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks sitting at his desk in his office 14th July 1928.
British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks sitting at his desk in his office 14th July 1928.
(Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

‘Jix’ suppressed the courageous lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. A Mr James Douglas wrote in the Sunday Express in outrage: ‘I would rather give a healthy boy or girl a phial of prussic acid than this book.’ He notoriously banned D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A close friend, David Lowe the famous cartoonist, mercilessly lampooned him week in and week out and then sent him the original cartoons as Christmas presents, getting in exchange a box of cigars signed ‘from your admiring victim’.

*George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie (1851–1929) chairman of the great Scottish brewing business Younger.

NPG x37250; George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie… | Flickr
George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie (1851–1929) NPG

† The formidable William Joynson-Hicks, 1st Viscount Brentford (1865–1932) was Home Secretary from 1924–29.

‡ Major-General J.B. Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone (1868–1947) was a Conservative, later Liberal MP and a member of a family of politicians, industrialists and significant landowners.

‘Jix’ was particularly taken with Eddie’s rendering of the Amilcare Zanella arrangement of Liszt’s La Campanella (The Little Bell). He loved the section of extended and rapidly accelerating trills at the centre of the piece. This was an ‘Eddie showpiece’ which he brought off in the spectacular manner of the great late nineteenth century virtuosi. At this period many pianists, including Eddie, possessed a unique and exquisite beauty of tone with absolute delicacy and evenness of touch which scarcely any pianist today achieves with the same consistency. Above all, they possessed great sensibility, poetry and charm. He named the section of extended trills in La Campanella ‘The Jix Thrill’ to the great amusement of the Home Secretary. Whenever Sir William subsequently attended one of Eddie’s recitals he requested this piece to be on the programme.

La Campanella recorded by Edward Cahill in Cape Town in 1955:

https://app.box.com/shared/tpz30xcoeh

While at Black Barony Castle an amusing incident occurred when ‘Jix’ asked Eddie to demonstrate how loudly a piano could be played. ‘Although the house was massive I demonstrated it was not soundproof’ Eddie recalled. HH Princess Helena Victoria left the Drawing Room in haste at this suggestion and said she would knock on the floor of her bedroom with her slipper when she felt the sound had become insupportable. Eddie set to work with a vengeance on the Liszt Marche Hongroise and not many minutes had elapsed before the princess hammered on the floor of her room. ‘At breakfast she complimented me on the completeness of the disturbance.’

HH Princess Helena Victoria and her younger sister HH Princess Marie Louise had become enthusiastic patrons of Eddie and George. During his entire stay he gave a recital every evening at the Princess’s request. On another occasion the house party were motoring to Edinburgh to pay a round of social visits. Princess Helena Victoria wanted to know who was going in the various cars and turned to Eddie. ‘We cannot afford to let you get cold,’ she said. ‘You must come in the car with me.’ He rode with her in the big Rolls-Royce with the foot-warmers.

Curious and eccentric happenings were the order of the day at Black Barony.* The Viscountess Elibank warned Eddie one evening to beware of the spirits that haunted the castle in the dead of night. She suspected quite rightly he had an interest in the paranormal. She told him in sepulchral tones that in one of the rooms a figure regularly appeared as if sitting in a rocking chair staring at the fireplace. He fades slowly into the ether accompanied by the smell of cigar smoke and brandy. ‘I tried and tried but saw nothing!’ Eddie lamented the next morning at breakfast. ‘I was hoping for at least a cognac and an Havana!’

* * *

*In 1940, the castle by then a hotel, became the headquarters of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade of the Polish Army, under General Stanisław Maczek (1892–1994) and subsequently used as the Polish military staff training college until the end of World War II.

Perhaps his most glamorous and spectacular concert audience of 1928 was in London. The audience were made up almost entirely of the severe ‘old aristocracy’ and his ever loyal Princesses. In early November they assembled to hear Eddie and George at Lady Stradbroke’s elegant house at No. 26 Belgrave Square.

26, Belgrave Square, home of Lady Stradbroke – concert on November 8, 1928

There was little mention of the actual music in the press but a great deal as ever on the fashions. The formidable Lady Joynson-Hicks (‘G’ in the photograph above) wearing red and gold brocade and a diamond tiara was present with her devoted husband ‘Jix’. Mrs  Wilfrid Ashley*  wore  ‘a  lovely  robe de style of bright green tulle embroidered with gold’ and carried ‘the most enormous green ostrich feather fan.’ Other interesting people at this concert were the composer of songs who loved George’s voice, Mme Guy D’Hardelot, the famous Australian singer Ada Crossley and the notorious Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay and his wife.

*Her husband Wilfrid William Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple (1867–1939) was a Conservative politician and Minister of Transport 1924–29.

† The contralto Ada Crossley (1874–1929) was an Australian farmer’s daughter born in Tarraville, Victoria. Rather like Eddie, she showed prodigious talent at country shows and studied first in Melbourne. She left Australia for Europe to further her studies and was outstandingly successful, having given a number of command performances before Queen Victoria.

Head and shoulders sepia photo of Ada Crossley.
The Australian contralto Ada Crossley (1874–1929)

‡ Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay (1894–1955) was a British Army officer who later took up politics and became a Scottish Unionist Member of Parliament. In the late 1930s he also became a rabid anti-Semite, holding the customary vitriolic and imaginative world conspiracy theories concerning the Jews. As the thirties evolved, he appeared to develop some sympathy with the growth of Nazism in Germany and Hitlerite policies. In 1940 he had dealings with a suspected spy at the United States Embassy, which led to his intern- ment under Defence Regulation 18b.

The notorious Capt. Archibald Maule Ramsay (1894-1955) and Hon. Mrs. Ismay Ramsay at the Eton-Harrow Cricket match at Lords Cricket Ground in July 1937.

Eddie played several of his own compositions at the special request of the two Princesses. Sadly none of these compositions survive. He considered them minor works for the piano, simply salon miniatures that he did not value unduly and played as encores. Reviews of the day  reveal such unassuming titles such  as Élégie, Autumn Leaves and The Music Box.

The Evening Standard critic was much given to hyperbole in his review of the concert. The sentiments expressed belong to an age of sensibility, even enthusiastic innocence, which had been maintained in certain circles even after the wholesale slaughter of the Great War. This atmosphere would never be recaptured after the even deeper disillusioning horrors of World War II.

He wrote:

The golden dome lamp’s rays shone on gleaming brasses,  quaint old tapestries, and bowls of autumn leaves, then lingered on the delicate, sensitive fingers of Mr Cahill seated at the Bechstein Concert Grand piano as he drew from the ivories all the secrets of interpretation. His technique is wonderful; but his power of interpreting either the old or the modern composer is glorious. Mr Brooke sang with ease and fluency through all his numbers – his voice has improved since I last heard it to a marked degree, always it has a sweet quality but now there is added power, and his enunciation is almost perfect. Of the two artists one can only say: What memories! What repertoire! What talents! What joy they give!

* * *