AN UNNECESSARY ENDEAVOUR
by Anton Wills-Eve
a strangely unusual struggle
AN UNNECESSARY ENDEAVOUR
There are few things more annoying in this world than knowing you know something but being completely incapable of recalling details, names, faces and quotes surrounding a key event in your life. Mine is somewhat esoteric in it’s subject matter but nonetheless infuriating for that. I have no recollection at all of my first encounter with K482.
If you’re wondering, it is not an animal in Star Wars or a similar space oddity, far from it. It is the catalogue number of Mozart’s 22nd piano concerto in Eflat major – no he didn’t write twenty two concerti in the same key, it’s just that this one was in Eflat major – and I know I was 14 when I first saw it played at a concert, – Oh no! You won’t believe this. A twelve year old kid has just rung my door bell and tried to sell me a hair brush while pleading he had been made redundant in a steelworks more than 150 miles away. Teach me to live in a posh area! – where was I?
Yes, I cannot construct any mental images of my introduction to a performance of K482. What annoys me most is that the concerto is one of my favourite pieces of music, the whole world knows the final movement – well everyone who saw Amadeus does, that’s HOW they remember it – and I have studied and played it many, many times now. I think it was my grandmother who took me to the concert, she loved good music and would have pinched my father’s press tickets. Ah, a clue. Yes!! Dad had tickets for every BBC Promenade concert at the Albert Hall every year from 1948 to 1960 so it must have been there. I think. So let me concentrate. I had heard it on the radio of course, and messed about with the solo piano score, but never seen it at a concert. Now it was almost certainly 1956 and I think school had not long broken up for the summer or I would have taken a friend.
You can’t hear it but I’m playing the concerto through my headphones while I write this. But it isn’t helping much. Ah, that’s one reason why. The pianist has just played the final cadenza, the one which Benjamin Britten wrote for Sviatislav Richter in 1966 when I was nearly twenty four! So it wasn’t that version. Hang on though, another clue. That cadenza. Many people play Britten’s version nowadays, and before that Paul Badura-Skoda’s cadenza, (1958?) was very popular, it was not that either. I wish I could make my memory hear. It doesn’t have any trouble with hearing 1956 radio comedy shows so why can’t it pick up that concerto? I’ve been to literally hundreds of proms over the years so picturing the auditorium doesn’t help. Wait, but it does.
– Oh blow! I’m doing the meal tonight as my wife’s ill and I haven’t prepared the Bolognese sauce yet. They’ll have to wait. No, they can’t there’s footie on the tele.- Where was I? Yes another clue. I do remember that the soloist and the conductor were not dressed the same. Yes, of course. He was in evening dress and tails, they always were in those days, so the pianist must have been wearing a dress. It was a woman. Mozart so often is, especially this concerto. Now what women were around then? Hess, Lympany, Bachauer, Nikolyeva, Fuchsova, – Strewth! Of course. I’ve got a dreadful mind but that must be right. I made a joke about the pianist’s name when we got home and dad was not amused. So Lisa Fuchsova played the first ever K482 I ever saw? Really? She could have done, but if she did she always played the cadenzas by Hummel, never Mozart’s own cadenzas in either the first or third movements. And I can vaguely hear that particular passage in the final movement because the first time I ever SAW anyone play that Mozart concerto they definitely added bits by someone else. Hummel’s were the only popular alternatives in those days. So who was conducting?
It should be easy now. Sir Malcolm Sergeant was the only conductor I saw at the proms before 1958 and he always directed the BBC symphony Orchestra. So the immaculate show off would have been in charge! – hang on. I have to do this Bolognese for my gourmet trio, quartet if you include me. It’s a new original recipe I’m trying by adding some Thai grains in with the green peppers when sauteeing them before adding them to the sauce. Mmmm….yes, lovely! Well they all seemed to like it. My son says it is just the thing before a match but Italy were playing last night so why didn’t I do it then? Can’t remember.
– Talking of remembering let’s get back to K482. I’ve got the soloist, the Orchestra, the venue, the conductor and even whose cadenzas were played. That’s not bad. But what else was on the programme? Yes, got it. It was the first time I ever heard Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. It was dreadful, but then I never have liked his music. Hooray, I can retire satisfied to the lounge just in time to catch the Portugal game. My son’s just asked me what I’d been blogging about as I sat down. So I told him my struggle with my memory. Three minutes later he said,
“Dad, that was probably Tuesday July the 31st at the Albert Hall in a prom concert. It was being played by Lisa Fuchsova and Sergeant was conducting the BBC SO. Did you stay for that awful Strauss?” I gaped at him as he turned his i-pad towards me. It was on the BBC Proms archive site which has every concert listed, with full details, since the first in 1895. I could cheerfully have hit him.