51 Princes Gate

Growing up in tenement Bayswater I came to music relatively late, at around the age of eleven. Spurred by the gift of an aged Welmar upright from one of father’s publishers, John Pattison, piano studies followed in my teens. My parents had discerning if eclectic tastes – father liked Black Sea tango and Italian aria, mother disliked English music and Johann Strauss. Chopin was a shared communion. My first-ever piano recital, 1960, celebrated the 150th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. Sunday afternoon, 21st February. A darkened, wood-burnished Royal Festival Hall, the wide stage empty but for a spot-lit black Steinway - domain of the lone artist, a scene ever to send shivers. Małcużyński, whose stage presence, with Arrau’s, was the most elegant I’ve ever seen, played the Funeral March Sonata.

Living in Pembridge Square, a walk across Kensington Gardens or occasionally a 52 bus ride from Notting Hill Gate, brought us to our three most local venues. The Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music … and the German (latterly Goethe) Institute, 51 Princes Gate. Backing onto communal greenery and plane trees, the Institute was a wonderful place, a haven of culture, good manners, and European co-operation. It had a library – some 12,000 books - run by a young librarian (Margit, I think) who’d keep me smilingly supplied with interesting journals and scores. Weber’s symphonies were an early pre-occupation those days. German and Austrian folk dances another, which I fancied arranging in a psedo-Lisztian way (I didn’t, finding them better suited to a quasi-Schubertian treatment). There was a long drawing room and grand piano, the marque of which I’ve forgotten (if I ever noted it). The building itself, dating from 1869/75, was imposing, designed originally as a 'very complete family mansion [with all the] necessary conveniences for a town residence required by a nobleman or gentleman'. Mirroring its South Kensington environment between Gardens and Museums, it reeked of Victoria-Albert history. ‘In the grimy deprivations of the 1960s city,’ pictures Richard Wentworth, ‘it was … obviously “different”, a rare moment which suggested mainland Europe, the street widths, the wedding cake stucco, a proposal of bourgeois confidence. I could not have written that fifty years ago amidst the flaking façades of the happy-go-lucky sixties, but I would have certainly known the number of blue plaques and the constant reminders that these were “intelligent” streets, a thoughtful cultivated promising place.’

The Director was one Baron von Hirsch, an aristocrat of the old school, pre-First World War one supposed, who, despite my youth, extended every courtesy and consideration. Under his watch the Institute ran a liberated, well groomed programme of free evening concerts, starting at eight o’clock and included in the Musical Times’s monthly listings. Culture, canapé and wine. Under his watch new words came my way - ‘aesthetic’. And challenges. One night he asked if I’d be so kind as to turn pages. My familiarity with notation being still rudimentary, I’d never done this before. But, in the first of the many snap decisions running through my life, I said yes, certainly, why not. A testing  call as it proved. Pepping’s Three BACH Fugues, Hermann Heiss’s Chaconne, a couple of Fortner encores. I was sixteen.

My parents warmed to these occasions. Father, a Balkan Ottoman trained in the German military system, attracted attention as an emigré writer. Mother, Wicklow-born Irish, drew interest as an editor and publisher. She especially, with her cool demeanour and long black cigarette holder, enjoyed mixing in society, not having had much opportunity to do so during the fifties, an impoverished decade. Not so confident in his spoken English, father generally was more reticent, happier observing, but he wore his pinstripes well – and his written words spoke for the heart within.

In the space of four months between March and June 1961 we went to eleven recitals at the Institute. With their emphasis on the German and Viennese classics, on German-grounded pianism, they determined my tastes far more than I could have imagined at the time. Had we focussed rather on the Institut français down the road, how different might my future have been. I was introduced to landmark masterworks, some familiar from Third Programme broadcasts. I’d go home and try out a page or two, learn whole sections. Brahms’s Handel Variations, Schumann’s Carnaval, Schubert, Beethoven Opus 26. If I didn’t have the music, my mother would buy a copy. Else I’d go down Holland Park Avenue to my favourite bookshop next to the tube station, a musty paradise. No accident that three years later Beethoven’s Opus 7 Sonata was central to my diploma recital. Crucible hours. These concerts were enlightened celebrations of ‘live’ chemistry – and for my parents an unobtrusive way to guide my development and standards. Frictions and factions didn’t come into the equation. From reading the Record Guide, a Christmas present from my mother in 1960, I’d sporadically look up an artist. Mostly though I was ignorant, a blank canvas before me. Irrespective of where or what they’d come from, biographical agendas and allegiances set aside, all would meet at the service of music and art, bound in common voice to the lines and spaces of the stave, the verticals of barline and harmony, the curves and caesuras of phrase and cadence. Opening the door the Deutsches Kulturinstitut gave me the freedom to fly with the music, to let it take me on journeys of fancy and poetry through time and dream – victoriously, sadly, lovingly – releasing emotions like no other. Occasionally I go back. 50 Princes Gate these days, interconnecting with Steins Berlin, the Bavarian restaurant, at 51 - a haunt of other tales.


I)   3 March 1961 Friedrich Wührer, Munich*

Beethoven: Sonata in D minor Op 31 No 2

Schubert: Sonata in C minor Op posth [D958]

Brahms:  ♫ Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel Op 24

* Seeking out Wührer – a sixty-year-old Austro-German modernist who’d studied with Franz Schmidt and Ferdinand Löwe - my parents wondered what advice he would give an aspiring pianist. ‘Become a good sight-reader,’ he replied. I did, quickly. Forty years on, in Istanbul, I chanced to meet with Ergican Saydam who, following the Second World War, had studied with him at the Hochschule für Musik Munich – gentle reminiscences hosted alla turca by his wife Ayla and daughter Ezgi.

II)   20 March 1961 Friedrich Schery, Heidelberg*

Beethoven: Sonata in E♭ Op 31 No 3 

Chopin: Nocturne in C minor Op 48 No 1; Berceuse Op 57; Ballade No 4 in F minor Op 52 

Liszt: Waldesrauschen; Petrarch Sonnet 104; Mephisto Waltz 

Encores - Chopin Study Op 25 No 1; Waltz in C# minor Op 64 No 2

* ‘Pupil of Sauer,’ I noted on the typed programme sheet. Of a recital he gave at Cranleigh School, 28 May 1938, including Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata and Schumann’s Carnaval, The Cranleighan reported: ‘Herr Schery is the principal teacher at the Hochschule für Musik, Mannheim. It would be as invidious as unnecessary to make here any other comment on his performance than that it seemed to us excellent in every respect. We are very grateful to Herr Schery for making the journey from Germany especially for our benefit, and hope we shall have the pleasure of hearing him again.’ Ernst Jünger, Wehrmacht captain, Paris 10 July 1943: ‘Went back to the little streets around Boulevard Poissonnière in the afternoon, where I delved into the dust of the past. In the pleasant bookshop of Poursin on Rue Montmartre, it was a joy to peruse books. There I purchased a series on the abeille quite advantageously. The first volume had a dedication in an old man’s handwriting from the entomologist Régimbart. In the evening had a discussion with Schery, the Viennese musician, about rhythm and melody, representation and coloration, consonants and vowels’.

III)   27 March 1961 Margaret Knittel [Furtwängler-Knittel], Munich

Schumann: Fantasie in C [Op 17] 

Mozart: Duport Variations [K573]

Beethoven: ‘Sonate pathétique’ in C minor Op 13

Encores – two, unidentified

IV)    6 April 1961 Alfons & Aloys Kontarsky duo recital

Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Schumann Op 23

Debussy: Petite Suite

Schubert: Divertissement à la Hongroise Op 54 [D818]

Encore – Dvořák: Slavonic Dance No 2

V)   18 April 1961 Hans Lehmann, Düsseldorf

Handel: Chaconne in G 

Mozart: Fantasie in C minor K396

Schumann: Sonata in G minor Op 22 [five-movement version, incorporating discarded original finale]

Chopin: Scherzo No 3; Op 39; Nocturne in D♭Op 27 No 2; Impromptu in F# Op 36; Polonaise in A♭ Op 53

Encore – Schumann: Traumerei Op 15 No 7

VI)   28 April 1961 Harold Clarke flute, London; Hans Vogt piano, Mannheim*

Bach: Sonata in E♭ [flute, attributed]

Sonata in D minor [keyboard, ?BWV964].

Vogt: Flute Sonata (1958, manuscript)

Poulenc: Flute Sonata

* Taken prisoner on the Russian front in 1945, Vogt didn’t return to Germany until 1949. From 1951 he taught composition at the Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik Heidelberg-Mannheim.

VII)   18 May 1961 Peter Hollfelder, Munich*

Schumann: Sonata in G minor Op 22 [four-movement final version]

Schubert: Impromptu in A♭ Op 90 [D899] No 4

Reger: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Telemann Op 134

* A former student in Munich of Wührer among others.

VIII)   24 May 1961 Georg Koller, Heidelberg*

Beethoven: Sonata in A♭ Op 110

Pepping: Three Fugues on BACH

Heiss: Chaconne

Encores – Fortner, two unidentified [?Elegies]

* First page-turning venture ...

IX)   1 June 1961 Marta Eitler violin, Ivor Keys piano*

Handel: Violin Sonata in F Op 1 No 12 

Schubert: Fantasia in C D934

Beethoven: Piano Sonata in E Op 109†

Brahms: Rhapsody in G minor Op 79 No 2.†

† replacing the originally intended second half (Bartók: First Rhapsody; Falla-Kochanski: Suite populaire Espagnole).

* Second page-turning ... Following the war, the Hungarian-born violinist Marta Eitler, in late 1939 a student of Schneiderhan in Vienna (then leader of the Philharmoniker), settled in London, sought after as a teacher and session player and active in the recording studio from 1952 onwards. I knew of her through sundry BBC broadcasts (Viola Tunnard used to accompany). Ivor Keys held the chair of music at the University of Nottingham. Brilliant mind, generous spirit. 

X)   9 June 1961 John Harrison cello, Géraldine Mason piano, London

Schumann: Märchenbilder Op 113

Hindemith: Sonata Op 11 No 4

Brahms: Sonata in E♭ Op 120 No 2

Encores – Beethoven: four Country Dances

XI   [20 June 1961] Elly Ney*

Beethoven:   Sonata in A♭ Op 26

Schumann: Symphonic Variations Op 13; Kinderszenen Op 15 

Chopin: Nocturne in G Op 37 No 2; Fantasia in F minor Op 49

Encores – Chopin: Study Op 25 No 1; Ballade No 3 in A♭ Op 47

* No-holds barred, time to linger, from a stately white-haired seventy-eight year old in twilight who’d been a student of Leschetizky (briefly) and Emil von Sauer. I knew nothing about her (my 1955 Record Guide, old black faithful, of no help) – other than, evidently, she was a link with a bygone European age, born when Bismarck and Victoria, Nicholas and Abdul Hamid, watched over empires. Fighting wars, losing battles, oppressing lands, silencing men.

Elly Ney’s midsummer recital was our last at the Institute. On September 18th, a mottled cloud-and-sunshine Monday, Welmar loaded (a new one by then), we moved from West London to rural East Sussex. Years later, years ago, Muriel Draper’s Music at Midnight came into my hands. One of those accidental finds – Hall’s Tunbridge Wells ... Thomas Thorp Guildford … Cecil Court ... Hay-on-Wye? Can’t recall. May 1915, 19A Edith Grove, Chelsea: ‘One last party … flowers … [Schubert’s String Quintet] imperishable music … Arthur [Rubinstein, back from Russia] played the Chopin [Funeral March] Sonata … And then it was morning of the day I was to leave ...The fire was burning. One candle was not yet out. The [Bechstein] was open … Smoke was curling up into the roof … I left it so, and so it is … I drew a circle around the life I left there ... The golden era was at an end.’

29 November 2022