Letters from Pianists: 1930—39
DOI link for Letters from Pianists: 1930—39
Letters from Pianists: 1930—39 book
Letters from Pianists: 1930—39
DOI link for Letters from Pianists: 1930—39
Letters from Pianists: 1930—39 book
The Tillett archive has a rich seam of letters written by eminent pianists in the 1930s, most of them already familiar agency names; again they are listed alphabetically beginning with Harold Bauer, the English-born pianist resident in America since 1900:
I am very glad that you can see your way to assuring me a minimum total sum of five hundred pounds free of commission for ten or twelve engagements during the month of October 1931 and on this understanding I shall be happy to place myself at your disposal in England for the period in question. While I think of it, please let me say that this is not to include any engagement in Ireland, for the sea trip is liable to upset me too much. Also with regard to the Mossel tour, will you kindly bear in mind (unless you wish me to give solo recitals) that it would be highly agreeable to me to be associated with some artist with whom I could play one or two sonatas, as for example Hubermann, Szigeti, Kindler or Suggia. Any arrangements you make regarding the fees for the BBC or other societies will be acceptable to me, and I would like to give one recital at Wigmore Hall if this fits in with your other plans, i.e. this recital, which may yield very small returns, should not be allowed to interfere with the sum total of the minimum guarantee of £500 nett which you are willing to assume.
May I correct you on one small detail? I did not assume, as you think, that the Mossel tour would be free of commission. On the contrary, my cable (of which I have not kept a copy) was intended to convey my understanding that the commission was deductible. Relying on memory, I believe I said something to this effect: 'presume your offer (i.e. Mossel tour) means 300 guineas less commission', and this was one reason why I could not accept it, for when we discussed the question of this tour last Spring, I still had the figures of my previous engagement in mind (I think it was 540 guineas for eleven concerts), and although you told me that there were no longer so many concerts, I formed the impression that the difference would be practically made up through increasing the fees.
Now how about the piano? The piano business is so universally bad that I feel it necessary to enquire whether or not our friend Berridge is in a position to assure me exactly the same service as before, that is the best of concert grands with a tuner to accompany me in every place. Will you kindly make this enquiry on my behalf? (4 December 1930)
I have your letter of January 12th and note that you have arranged for Mme Croiza [Claire Croiza, French mezzo-soprano 1882–1946] to be on the Mossel tour. She is a fine artist and if you think it would add to the interest of the concerts, I should be happy to play with her in one group to end the programme. It seems to me logical that two artists performing at the same concerts should show some reason for their association and there are so many splendid duets where the usual accompanist could be advantageously replaced by the piano soloist. For example the Frauenliebe by Schumann, the Bonne Chanson by Fauré or a group by Schubert or by Brahms. I enclose a recent programme showing how this works out. Please refer this matter to Mme Croiza. My sole stipulations are that (if she accepts) it must be the final number and a group or series of songs by one composer so as to give altogether the effect of a duet or ensemble number. (28 January 1931)
... In the event of your making an arrangement with Mr Michell for the Pianoforte Society, it must be understood that I should play on the Bosendorfer piano. I was extremely uncomfortable on a previous occasion with the Blüthner piano and do not care to renew this experience; besides I should consider it discourteous to Mr Berridge to use a different instrument. Will you kindly bear this in mind? (9 May 1931)
Your letters of Feb 26th and March 9th have only now come to my attention as my correspondence was not forwarded during the last three weeks of a long tour.
I am very glad to hear that Mme Croiza approves of my suggestion and shall be happy to play the piano part in the Fauré Bonne Chanson, for such numbers as she may select this joint performance to be the final piece on our programme.
166Regarding Mr Michell's offer to engage me for the Pianoforte Society on October 31st in place of my own recital previously fixed for that date, I think this would be a good plan, provided that I am not required to play the Blüthner piano, as I did once before. Consequently, if you consider this substitution advisable, I leave it to you to settle the amount of the fee with Mr Michell (shall I add, confidentially, conditions for its prompt payment?)
I am sorry to say that there has been a slight misunderstanding with regard to the question of my playing in Holland. Following a joint recital here, Miss Hess and I agreed that it would be pleasant if we could arrange for a couple of recitals in Amsterdam and the Hague at the time of her Dutch tour, when I might be able to join her for two or three days before my return to America.
She wrote asking you to try to have this arrangement made through Mr Koning, and I only now realise that she had mistakenly assumed that I desired Mr Koning to take charge of my personal business in Holland, which, however, was in no sense my intention for the double reason that Messrs Kiesgen and Ysayë are my official representatives for that country and that time will not allow of my accepting any other engagements in Holland next autumn. In other words, I might possibly go for the two concerts in question with Miss Hess (these being outside of strictly personal business) if the dates would fit in with a close connection for a sailing on the French Line, but not otherwise.
In the meanwhile, Kiesgen and Ysaÿe are very much upset to learn, not only that I have apparently thrown them over without notice, but that Mr Koning has been offering my services, right and left, for a considerably lower fee than what I had authorised them to suggest, moreover a lower fee than I have ever accepted in Holland. I therefore cabled you on the matter and I now repeat that I could only accept the two joint engagements (with Miss Hess) as originally suggested, in Amsterdam and the Hague, provided that these could be fixed on dates closely corresponding with a departure on the French Line enabling me to reach New York not later than November 10th or 11th.
I am aware that large fees are not to be expected in Holland, but may I say that I fail to understand on what grounds you should say (your letter of March 9th) that Mr Koning's offer is very fair and that you hope I shall accept it? I do not consider his offer fair at all. Dr de Koos paid me more (as Mr Koning should certainly know) and I left him because I found that he was appropriating to himself an excessive proportion of the fees he was actually receiving from the various Societies. (24 March 1931)
I have your letter of April 28th with reference to the Philharmonic Society. I am sorry to say that I could not accept an engagement for November 5th as I must sail for New York on the French boat leaving November 4th.
I do not recall whether or not I asked you if, in the event of your making an arrangement with Mr Michell for the Piano Society, it must be understood that I should play on the Bösendorfer piano. I was extremely uncomfortable on a previous occasion with the Blüthner piano and do not care to renew this experience, besides I should consider it discourteous to Mr Berridge to use a different instrument. Will you kindly bear this in mind?
I am indeed sorry about the misunderstanding in Holland. The extract you sent me from Miss Hess' letter is quite in accordance with what I wished you to know, except that it should, for perfect clarity, have read as follows in the second sentence: 'If he goes, he wants (and so do I) us to play together and he says he might as well be with Koning if you can fit in with his engagements in England', meaning that Koning might as well arrange such joint performances, for I did not for a moment believe that he could obtain a fee which would be acceptable to Miss Hess and myself.
I trust that you duly received the photos which I had sent to you in accordance with your request some time ago. (9 May 1931)
I have apparently mislaid the programme of the last recital I gave in London, Wigmore Hall in May or June 1929, and I need to refer to it so as to avoid repetitions when I play in October next.
This programme started, to the best of my recollection, with a Mozart Fantasia. I do not know if it is possible for you to help me in tracing it, but if you can, will you kindly cable me to the above address at my expense, giving the date of the concert and (in condensed form) the remaining numbers of this programme? I have typewritten copies of the programme of two recitals on June 6th and June 12th 1929 at Wigmore Hall, but it seems to me that they cannot be correct, or else that there was one more recital. These programmes are as follows:167June 6 Brahms Waltzes Schubert Sonata Cesar Franck Prelude, Choral and Fugue Mussourgsky Pictures at an Exhibition June 12 Bach Chromatic Fantasy Schumann Fantasiestücke Beethoven Sonata Op.111 Chopin Prelude and Nocturne Debussy Children's Corner
In the event that I am mistaken in my belief that there was another programme beginning with Mozart, please cable me as follows: 'Programme correct no other found', providing of course that you can get the information. (9 July 1931)
I have yours of July 3rd and am glad to know that you have booked me for an orchestral concert on October 28th. I should like to have this programme settled at once if possible, and I suggest either Beethoven Concerto in E flat or the Schumann Concerto.
I am aware that these works are constantly being played, but I have no novelties with orchestra, and as the concert comes early in the season, I hope that one or other of the above-mentioned works can be decided upon immediately, before they are announced by some other pianists. Kindly reply as soon as possible replying the other programme matter of which I wrote.
I note that you have booked me at a reduced fee in a girls' school at Bedford and I take this opportunity of saying that I am always glad to meet the budget of an educational institution, this being a practice I have consistently followed during my long career in this country. (11 July 1931)
I confirm my cable of yesterday in reply to your letter regarding Mr Mangeot's offer. He is a good friend of mine and a worthy artist and I wish to meet his views, but I must confess I do not understand why, under precisely the same conditions as when I played with his quartet before, he should want to reduce my fee. I leave the matter in your hands and whatever you decide will be satisfactory to me.
If this concert is arranged, I presume the programme will be of the same kind as before, i.e. with one piano solo between two concerted works and I suggest the following:
Quartet (with piano) in G minor Mozart
Prelude, Choral and Fugue (piano solo) Cesar Franck
Quintet (piano and strings) Brahms
I enclose programmes for London (Piano Society), Chelsea, Oxford and Bedford respectively. Of course I can feel assured that these programmes will not be confused with each other, as each place has been considered separately. I am assuming that Bedford, being a girls school, will desire a programme of lighter character. Oxford asked for a Beethoven Sonata, so, as my records show that I have already played five other Beethoven sonatas there, I am sending the Appassionata. This for your guidance in case any remark should be made regarding such a familiar work.
I was compelled to answer your cable the other day (regarding a possible change in the date of the Piano Society) to the effect that October 3rd would be decidedly unsafe for me to accept, as I cannot possibly leave before September 26th steamer France. Please let me hear about Mme Croiza's programme for the tour, also what is required from me, so that I can arrange my part of the programme accordingly.
This is to confirm my cable suggesting Beethoven Concetto No.4 in G in place of the Emperor Concerto for the BBC concert – answering your letter of August 13th.
I regret my inability to give a larger choice of concertos at the present time, having a great deal of new material to prepare for next season's concerts in America. I must therefore confine myself to works already scheduled and, as you tell me that the Concerto should only last 30 minutes, the two Brahms concertos are out of the question, leaving me only the two Beethovens and Schumann ready for performance. I trust therefore that I may now consider the G major Beethoven definite.
I am glad the Chelsea Music Club is pleased with the programme, and I await Mr Mangeot's decision regarding the replacement of the Ernest Bloch quintet for the Brahms quintet.
168P.S. As my steamer (France) will be due not later than October 4th and you tell me that my first concert, so far arranged, will be on the 10th, I should be glad to know as soon as possible if you have any prospects for me between the 4th and 10th. If not, I shall probably arrange to go to Paris for a few days. (23 August 1931)
It has just occurred to me that as I am at present free from any contractual engagement for phonograph recording it might be possible for me to make some arrangement while in England with either His Master's Voice or Columbia. All my recording has heretofore been made with the Victor Company. Last year I had some negotiations with the Columbia people but for several reasons it was not possible at that time to settle the affair.
They might be willing to take this matter up again. Will you see if you can pave the way for negotiations with either of the two companies and, just as soon as I arrive in London, I shall be ready in that case to talk business. Any arrangement which you may be successful in bringing about would of course be subject to commission. (18 September 1931)
([Tillett's pencil annotations indicate the nature of his reply:] Phoned Columbia – cannot offer anything. Would like to do something but hands tied at the moment. Must live on their accumulated reserves at the moment. Cannot undertake new recording until they see the outcome of the political/commercial position. Have in mind for future project.)The French pianist Alfred Cortot, and his two colleagues Pablo Casals and Jacques Thibaud, who had formed their famous and popular piano trio back in 1905, were regulars with the agency for many years (Harold Bauer also played with Casals and Thibaud). This group of letters concludes with one written a week after war with Germany was declared in September 1939:
I have received word from my wife asking on your behalf for my programme for the recital in London on 16 February. Here's what I propose: 1) Prélude, Choral et Fugue by César Franck 2) 4 Ballades by Chopin 3) 1st book of Preludes by Debussy. Is that alright with you?
Regarding the Trio – 9 March – we thought the following programme: 1) Beethoven Op.70 E♭, or Schumann G minor 2) Ravel or Saint Saëns in F major 3) Mendelssohn C minor. Would you ask [Lionel] Powell what he prefers and let me know so that I can write to Thibaud et Casals? I have just played the Schumann concerto here [Berlin] at the Philharmonic under Furtwangler, and had a success which Berliners describe as colossal! That gives me pleasure as I have not played in Berlin since the war!
... Don't forget to reserve a room with a bath for me at the Park Lane Hotel for the evening of 15 February. (20 January 1930, translation from French)
With reference to your letters of 16 September I note that I shall play on 8 March in Torquay, the 9th of the same month in Bath, and on the 14th in Chelsea. Concerning my programme for Bedford [pencilled correction by John Tillett to Bradford], ... I am prepared to replace the Preludes, which you say I have already played there, with the four Ballades by Chopin.
... P.S. One of my oldest pupils from the Conservatoire, who is actually, in my opinion, the greatest French pianist, if not the most remarkable of all female pianists, Miss Yvonne LEFEBURE, is anxious to be heard in London during the course of next season. Would you be kind enough to let me know the cost of putting on a recital at the Wigmore Hall? I can assure you that this young artist will create an extraordinary sensation in England, not only with her technical ability but also her prodigious musicality. I commit myself actively to bearing the costs of presenting her and count on you, dear friend, to try to secure them at a minimum for her. (23 September 1932, translation from French)
I imagine that all our fine projects of concerts for October cannot be realised at present. Moreover it would be difficult for me to fulfill my contracts having been given an important post at the Ministry of Education. So let us postpone our musical activities until after our two countries, fighting the noblest of wars side by side, have secured victory! ... Long live England! Long live France! Those are the truest and proudest words of friendship I can send you. (10 September 1939, translation from French)169These final words of Cortot have a hollow ring. He was always a Germanophile, serving as a musical assistant at Bayreuth from 1898–1901, after which, in 1902, he conducted the first Paris performance of Wagner's Götterdämmerung and a month later Tristan und Isolde. He accepted the German occupation of France from 1940–44 quite readily, and for many years after the war, until his death at 85 in 1962, he was persona non grata in France and elsewhere, though his obituary in The Times took a more lenient view: 'When he last played in London a year or two after the last war he was received with acclamation in total disregard of some political aspersions.'