Delighted that the Thursday lunchtime concerts at St John’s Smith Square London SW1P 3HA have started again after the August break.
And what a fabulous concert to open with: the Fidelio Trio playing Fauré‘s (1845-1924) Piano Trio in D Minor op 120 – which I feel rather lukewarm about – and Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) Verklärte Nachte Op 4 which was fantastic.
Composed in 1899, the Schoenberg was written as a sextet and arranged beautifully as a trio by Eduard Steuermann in 1932.
This was the first time I’d heard Verklärte Nachte in full. I’d previously only heard excerpts in lectures on Schoenberg and the 2nd Viennese School. I hadn’t realised how many lyrical passages he had written as well as his signature discords.
All three musicians – Darragh Morgan (violin), Adi Tal (cello) and Mary Dulles (piano) were great but i especially liked the cello. Adi Tal’s playing made me almost wish i hadn’t given up playing the cello when i left school.
Listen to my account of learning to play the cello from my memoir Woman in a White Coat Chapter 7 Music Studies Pages 96-98
Memoir Extract – Learning to play the Cello
An ex-student, who’d gone on to play second violin in the London Symphony Orchestra, gave our school a cello. I put my name down to have free lessons, but I wasn’t very hopeful because I was already having piano lessons. I wasn’t altogether pleased when my form mistress stopped me at the end of the week and told me I had been chosen to learn the cello. We always had loads of homework and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit in practising the cello as well as the piano.
Steve, the cello teacher, was a young man who played in a quartet just beginning to get well-known. He wore thick pebble glasses and had a bushy black beard that often contained traces of his breakfast. I took to him immediately. He had a dry sense of humour and played fabulously.
The school allowed me to take the cello home to practice. My walk through Spitalfields market lugging the heavy black case brought roars of laughter from the market porters. Their remarks varied from ‘Give us a tune then, miss,’ ‘Can you put it under your chin?’ ‘I’ll carry it for you for a kiss, Miss’ to ‘Can you put that big thing between your legs?’ These and their variations followed me all the way to school.
I never got to play well, but enjoyed playing in a quartet with Sarah, Anne and Jo. Our practice room was next to the sixth form common room and the seniors would come out with their hands over their ears complaining about the noise. We played with great enthusiasm but not much musicianship and we were rarely quite in tune with each other.
Sarah had a little pitch pipe to give us an A but Jo, the viola player, had little sense of pitch. Sometimes even we couldn’t stand the sound she was making and had to tell her to shut up. Mostly it was bearable and in the spring Steve decided we were good enough to play in our Prize Day concert.
I’d played the piano on prize day every year since the third form. That year, I’d chosen the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and had got it up to concert standard with time to spare.
Every time we attempted the beginner’s piece our quartet would be playing, either we weren’t quite in tune or one or other of us would come in a couple of beats too late and we’d all start giggling. Once we started laughing anything would set us off again. Steve was practically tearing out his hair and he threatened to cancel our performance.
We’d have been only too pleased not to have to play but we knew the programmes had been printed so there was no way our headmistress would let us back out.
My piano solo went well and it wasn’t until I sat down with my cello facing the audience that I realised just how short my school skirt was. I tightened the supporting spike of my cello as quickly as I could, pulled down my skirt as far as it would go and drew my cello towards me.
Sarah gave us an A and for once Jo’s viola was spot on. We had only played the opening bars when the audience broke into roars of laughter, with loud whistles from the boys from our companion boys’ school who were sitting in the back row.
I pulled at my skirt, thinking perhaps it had ridden up and my navy school knickers were showing, but it wasn’t that. Jo mouthed
‘It’s that song.’
When we’d practised, it was always very slowly and we hadn’t realised that the opening phrase was the same as ‘Give me five minutes more,’ the love song recorded by Frank Sinatra. You could hear it played constantly on the radio and only the week before a filthy version had been passed round the school.
I don’t how the four of us got though the piece, but we just about did. We dared not look each other or we would have started to giggle and then we’d have been unable to stop. When we finished the piece, we managed to get up and bow. The other three scooted off the stage but, encumbered by a cello almost as tall as me, I had to get myself off amid continued laughter and whistles.
Afterwards Phyllis asked me
‘How come you didn’t recognise that the tune you were playing was the first few bars of that song?’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘They say that when you listen to the masters practising they practise each part so slowly it’s almost impossible to tell what piece they’re playing. We certainly rehearsed very slowly so we just didn’t twig.’