It’s that time of year again, and it falls to me to uncover some of the anniversaries the music world will be celebrating in 2016.
So many to chose from: here in Cambridge we have Sir Arthur Bliss at 150, Sterndale Bennett at 200; other composers include that indefatigable inventor of glees, John Wall Callcott at 250, Samuel Wesley also 250, Cipriano di Rore, a youthful 500, and, both 100: Henri Dutilleux and Milton Babbitt. From the stellar cast of performers what about our beloved Yehudi Menuhin at 100, Rodolphe Kreutzer (of Kreutzer sonata fame) at 300 and that most virtuoso of virtuosi, the pianist Ferruccio Busoni at 150. We lost Fritz Wunderlich, one of the most wonderful tenor voices ever to grace the stage, in 1966 and two hundred years earlier Haydn arrived at Esterhazy (the rest, as they say, is history). The Women’s Institute will, I trust, be celebrating the centenary of the publication of Parry’s “Jerusalem” and I am relishing the 150th anniversary of Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine“. I defy anyone not to be moved by this delightful choral work:
Or, if you prefer, you could take a trip down memory lane and celebrate 50 years of Wouldn’t it be nice (Beach Boys), Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles), Scarborough Fair (Simon and Garfunkel), I feel free (Cream), Born Free (Matt Monroe) and Alfie (Cilla Black). I put my hand up immediately: I remember every one, and more besides.
However, I’m not going to look at any of those in this post but instead, I’m going to concentrate on one extraordinary violinist, the 50th anniversary of whose death we mark this year: the Hungarian Jelly D’Aranyi. Why, I hear you ask? Well, partly because in the dim and distant past I played the instrument (although, sadly, I was never going to be another D’Aranyi, I was at least able to hold the fiddle under my chin with some degree of confidence) but mostly because she was such a remarkable performer. She had all the ingredients: breathtaking technique, beguiling tone, a fiery temperament, but above all, of course, deep-rooted musicianship. Perhaps being the great-niece of Joachim gave her something of an immediate advantage and lessons with Jenő Hubay, himself a pupil of Joachim, can only have had an equally positive effect. Composers fell over themselves to write works for her: Bartok, Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Ethel Smyth. She and the celebrated pianist Myra Hess forged a 20-year recital partnership giving concerts on both sides of the Atlantic, and she and her equally talented sister Adila Fachiri were much in demand for their performances of the Bach double Violin Concerto. The most bizarre episode in her life, however, must surely be her “rediscovery” of the manuscript of the Schumann violin concerto via sessions in 1933 at the Ouija board in contact, via the moving glass, with the composer and others.
Browsing through concert reviews in The Times it is clear that she had the admiration and respect of every reviewer, not simply for her extraordinary ability on the instrument, but, most importantly, for her musicianship. In a review of the Promenade concert of Wednesday October 15th 1924 (attended by the King and Queen) which included a performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto by D’Aranyi, the reviewer is transported: “Musically the concert was remarkable for Miss Jelly D’Aranyi’s playing of two movements of the violin concerto. In the slow movement she spun out her long, tender phrases with perfect poise and exquisite tone, so that one could only feel…that a musician like Beethoven when so interpreted, can move the soul to things for which there are no words.” And of Tzigane, that breathtaking, technically ultra-impossible showstopper of a piece which Ravel composed for Jelly, The Times music critic (probably Arthur Henry Fox Strangways), who like all his British contemporaries seemed not to have any time for Ravel’s music, nonetheless found himself obliged to admit after the premiere at the Aeolian Hall on 28 April 1924 as part of an all-Ravel programme that “Miss Jelly D’Aranyi played the work, which is full of great techncial difficulties, with such amazing assurance that one could hardly believe that she had only two days in which to learn it.” [in fact she had three and a half – but still an astonishing achivement!]. Sadly, there’s no recording it’s possible to include, but, instead, here is a mind-blowing alternative performed [imho] by the best violinist around today:
Jelly’s remarkable performance history is preserved in the collection of concert programmes and newspaper cuttings held at the British Library in the Jelly D’Aranyi collection. It is striking to note just how many private houses she gave concerts in as well as the range of concert and recital halls one might expect.
The best (indeed the only) in-depth study of Jelly and Adila is Joseph MacLeod’s The Sisters d’Aranyi. London, George Allen and Unwin, 1969 [M358.c.95.30], and Jessica Duchen regularly posts about Jelly on her blog JDCMB (hats off to you Jessica!).
I hope you have enjoyed this little selection – do let us know of your own favourites, and, meanwhile, good wishes from us here at MusicB3 to you all for 2016.