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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga


'Once you stop playing, you're forgotten'

Ates Orga

listens to some of Eileen Joyce's concerto recordings
in a timely reissue from Dutton Laboratories


Tasmanian-born of Irish/Spanish parents, 'radiant' in concert, 'worried, washed out, and without expression' in rehearsal, shadowed by tension at the five o'clock hour before going on, an artist whose novelized, silver-screened rags-to-riches life story sparked popular imagination, whose emotionally colour-coded changes of dress (blue for Beethoven, green for Chopin) were as celebrated as Liberace's candelabrums or Semprini's catchphrases, Eileen Joyce (1912-91) was the beautiful, auburn-haired, pencil-browed sweetheart of wartime Britain. Through her recordings (for Parlophone, Columbia and Decca), she brought the classics to hundreds. Through Jack Hylton's morale-boosting Blitz Tours, to thousands. Through her films, to millions - most famously David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945), her C minor Rachmaninov coursing unforgettably through the shadows and smoke of Noël Coward's screenplay. She was neither the first nor last concert pianist to appear on celluloid or to do soundtracks (witness Nyiregyhazi, Arrau, Paderewski, Iturbi, Bolet). But the fact that she did, a 'common' touch colonial showman in England at a time of rife intellectual and social snobbery, was to eventually work against her. Likewise (in the jobbing-People's Entertainer-third class versus thinking-Establishment Elitist-first class stakes) her Prom status at the expense of RPS supremacy (enjoyed by Moiseiwitsch, Solomon, Curzon and Myra Hess). Eric Blom's snide description of a player of 'mechanical accuracy [without] strong musical feeling' whose popularisation of a handful of war-horse concertos (out of a reputed repertory of seventy) had 'ceased to add interest to musical life,' and who in endearing/(selling) herself to 'indiscriminate concert-going crowds' had 'lost the attention of discerning musicians,' typically reflected early 50s prejudice. On a downward curve, haunted by 'an odd life' she claimed she didn't like, she continued to play, but gave her last recital, in Scotland, in 1962.

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Copyright © Ates Orga, December 3rd 1999


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