Last month’s ‘By the By’ column pointed out that Arnold Bax was one of several leading composers who dined at the Rickmansworth home of the music publisher Hubert Foss.
Bax was, however, familiar with Rickmansworth long before Foss and his wife moved there in 1929. Eleven years earlier, Bax had sought refuge in the Victoria Hotel – later known as Long Island Exchange – after leaving his wife and two children because of his affair with the pianist Harriet Cohen.
Bax, who had been living in Beaconsfield, initially booked into the Crown in Amersham, where he had earlier shared some passionate afternoons with Harriet, who was his muse as well as his lover (18 of his compositions are dedicated to her).
However, Bax soon moved on to Rickmansworth and checked into the Victoria, which was demolished about a year ago to make way for a new housing development. His letters to his brother and Harriet, who was dubbed the ‘beloved piano witch’ by no less a person than Albert Einstein, confirm that he stayed at the hotel for several weeks in the March and April of 1918.
It cannot be proved that Bax wrote any music while staying in Rickmansworth but the musicologist Lewis Foreman has speculated that a cello and piano piece entitled Folk-Tale, completed on April 3, may have been written in the Victoria, along with at least part of his String Quartet No. 1 in G, which was premiered in June 1918.
The latter suggestion is particularly intriguing as it is this quartet that the Magginis will be playing at their latest concert for Three Rivers Music Society in Rickmansworth Baptist Church on Friday, March 31.
While they are performing this work it will be hard not to think of Bax sitting in his lonely hotel room in the final year of the First World War.
Could he have guessed that his music, which for many years was under-appreciated, would still be played in the town almost a century later? Again, one can only speculate, but it seems unlikely.
London: A Musical Gazetteer, by Lewis and Susan Foreman, Yale University Press, paperback, £18.99
Music and Men: The Life and Loves of Harriet Cohen, by Helen Fry, paperback, £12.99.
Contribution by - David Budge