listens to some of Eileen Joyce's concerto
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.
Copyright © Ates
Orga, December 3rd 1999
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