Janacekís Ďfairy taleí visit to


Of all the composers and musicians who visited Sir Henry Wood at his home in Chorleywood perhaps the greatest was Leos Janacek.

The composer of The Cunning Little Vixen was invited to Apple Tree Farm in Dog Kennel Lane on Sunday, May 2, 1926 during his only visit to England.

Janacek was delighted by the house and was particularly taken with the rural views from the first-floor windows. “Living there is a fairy tale,” he later wrote in his notebook.

The 71-year-old Czech composer also liked his host. “Nice man …at first reserved, then it grew better between us.”

But the timing of Janacek’s London visit – from April 29 to May 8 – could hardly have been worse, for it coincided with the start of the General Strike, which Janacek believed had been provoked by “Russian Bolsheviks and Germans”.

The strike did not prevent him sightseeing. He took in London Zoo and that other great bear pit, the House of Commons. However, the crisis had major consequences for the only concert of his music that was staged during his stay (Wigmore Hall: May 6).

As there was no public transport, concertgoers had to walk to the hall. The musicians did too. Leon Goossens, then the oboist of the London Wind Quintet, was obliged to hike for three hours.

The consolation for Goossens was that Janacek was impressed by his playing. Fanny Davies, the veteran pianist who had been lined up to perform at the concert, was less fortunate.

Janacek, who wasn’t always generous to lesser mortals, called her “an old scarecrow – beneath all criticism”. And the piece she had been rehearsing, the Concertino for piano and sextet, was abruptly dropped from the programme.

Two years later, the music world mourned when Janacek died of pneumonia – but it’s unlikely that poor old Fanny Davies shed many tears.

Foreman, L. and Foreman S. (2005) London: A Musical Gazetteer, Yale University Press.
Intimate Letters: Leos Janacek to Kamila Stosslova (2005) Edited and translated by John Tyrrell, London: Faber & Faber.
Tyrrell, J. (2007) Leos Janacek: Years of a Life, Vol. 2. (1914-1928) Tsar of the Forests. London: Faber & Faber.

Contribution by - David Budge

to start

Sir Andrew Davisís journey from

Watford Palace to Buckingham Palace

Since this ‘By the By’ series began, we have brought you several tales that fall into the ‘truth really can be much stranger than fiction’ category.

Here is another to add to that list. Sir Andrew Davis, one of Britain’s most distinguished conductors, made his professional debut playing “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside” in Watford Palace Theatre.

The theatre’s regular pianist had jaundice so young Davis, then a pupil at Watford Boys’ Grammar School, was asked to stand in for him for six weeks.

Ten years later, aged 26, the by-then-graduate of King’s College, Cambridge, was invited to act as a stand-in again. But this time his challenge was rather more taxing - to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra, at the Festival Hall, in Janáček’s famously difficult Glagolitic Mass.

He rose to the challenge brilliantly and a stellar career was under way.

The first Briton to conduct all top five American orchestras, Sir Andrew became associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 1970. Later he was appointed music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Then in 1989 he took over as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

During his 11 years with the BSO he conducted many Last Nights of the Proms and became famous for his witty speeches, two of which parodied the Major-General’s patter song in The Pirates of Penzance.

However, there was nothing pre-ordained about his rise to fame. Sir Andrew was born in a Nissen hut (it was 1944) in the grounds of Ashridge House near Berkhamsted. His father was a printer’s compositor and his mother was a ‘parlour pianist’. His first years were spent in Chesham before the family moved to a house backing on to Cassiobury Park.

Although he has worked abroad for many years -- he is currently principal conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago and chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – Sir Andrew has maintained some connection with the local area. Improbably, he found time to open the Croxley Green Parish Council craft fair in 1998.

The following year he was knighted and four years later he was invited to conduct a Proms concert marking the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.

Sir Andrew appears to have a healthy taste for self-deprecation, however, and admits that his closest encounter with the Queen was at a lunch for 12 people in Buckingham Palace. “I sat with Prince Edward in order to plan the programme for the anniversary concert,” he later recalled. “We knew lunch was over when the corgis arrived.”

Sir Andrew Davis will be conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
in a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Bliss’s cantata, The Beatitudes, at the Barbican on May 12.

for further details...

Contribution by - David Budge

to start

The strange link between

Delius and Fanny Cradock

Frederick Delius will forever be associated with Grez-sur-Loing, the sleepy riverside village south of Paris that inspired some of his finest music.

It was Grez that was the setting for Song of Summer, Ken Russellís 1968 film about the by then blind and paralysed composerís unique partnership with his amanuensis, Eric Fenby.

But did you know that Delius, improbable though it may seem, had earlier found himself composing by the slightly less idyllic banks of the Gade in Watford?

When the German artillery rumbled too close to Grez in September 1914, Delius and his wife, Jelka, buried their silver and 1,000 bottles of wine (yes, 1,000) and sought a safer sanctuary.

By November they were in London, enjoying the hospitality of Deliusís long-time champion, Thomas Beecham. And it was Beecham who arranged the coupleís lease of Grove Mill House (now known as The Dower House) in Grove Mill Lane between December 1914 and July 1915.

Although the Deliuses were less than complimentary about Watford after returning to France, something about the Grove Mill Lane area, then a noted beauty spot, must have stimulated the composerís imagination.

Deliusís health was already failing but he is said to have worked consistently during his time in The Dower House (later the home of the TV cook, Fanny Cradock). The Bradford-born composer produced not only three of the Four Old English Lyrics while staying there but his Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra.

The latter must be the most significant piece of music ever composed in the Watford area but, sadly, there is no plaque on The Dower House commemorating Deliusís stay. Perhaps one day that oversight will be addressed.

Principal Source:

Foreman, Lewis. Watford sur Gade: Delius in Watford during the First World War, The Delius Society Journal, Autumn 2001, No. 130.

Contribution by - David Budge

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