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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

Souls Naked Souls Aureoled




Part 1

Symons and Shaw


'lioness of the piano'*

Venezuelan pupil of
Gottschalk and Anton Rubinstein
wife of d'Albert
teacher of MacDowell and Egon Petri



'a very dignified musician'**

English pupil of Reinecke and Clara Schumann
apostle of Brahms
teacher of Kathleen Dale





Miss Fanny Davies is the Mrs Hemans of the pianoforte. Mrs Hemans [Felicia Dorothea Hemans, 1793-1835], it may be necessary to explain, was a famous poetess of the early part of last century. She was the most ladylike [sic] poet we have ever had, and her reputation was at one time so large in England and America that an American professor 'hardly feared to assert,' in print, that there was 'not a family of the midling class,' in his own country, 'in which some of the poems had not been read.' Women thought she represented their sex in a form of art which had been largely occupied by men. At last, they said, we have a feminine corrective to the too notorious male Byron; here are 'poems of the affections' as they ought to be written, tamed to the drawing-room; and there is no doubt that Mrs Hemans will be immortal.

Only, things have turned out otherwise. Few now read even Casabianca [...] and, since Mrs Browning came, Mrs Hemans has been almost extinct. But the type persists. A woman can be great in several of the arts, though apparently not in all; for there has never been a great woman composer nor a great woman painter. But what women have the faculty for, above all other executive faculties, is to produce an imitation of the real thing so much prettier than the thing itself that the majority of their fellow-creatures will infinitely prefer it. [...]

Now look in all directions at our Mrs Hemans who are content to be feminine, that dreadful compromise between nature and nullity which produces the lady-like. The lady, though most likely useless for art, is one of the divine growths of the earth. But the lady and the lady-like are two wholly different things. Mrs Hemans was lady-like, and came to decorate a long gallery with waxworks that try to blush like life, and have tears modelled elegantly on their faces. Her sisters are all around us, writing novels, painting pictures, playing on instruments. They imagine that they are producing art, as men produce art, without sacrificing more than part of themselves, with a skill partly exterior.

Miss Fanny Davies is the Mrs Hemans of the pianoforte. What one observed at her concert at the Steinway Hall was that she has learnt to play the instrument as clever and attentive schoolgirls play it; she has acquired a thoroughly lady-like accomplishment. But she is not content with this; she wishes to put sentiment, expression, into the music. She leans over it caressingly, as if she were tying little coloured ribbons, faint pink and faint blue, to a doll's dress. The music indeed is as lifeless as a wax doll; Brahms is drained of his brains and Schumann robbed of his soul. The big sounds of Brahms go out in smudges, the pedals drowning them in an effort to be loud and large. The little shy sounds of Schumann are constantly forgetting that they are shy or child-like and strutting out boastfully in an ineffective dash or prance. Nowhere is there a sense of the music as it was meant by the composer, nowhere a new interpretation by an executant who gives a personal reading, which may or may not be the composer's but is at least alive. Here, so far as there is any art, is a dead art, an art of agrément, perhaps, to the moderate-minded, but meaningless to those who go to music for more than the notes. And there is not even, to make up for this inanition, a convincing technique. The sonorities of the piano have not been mastered; not a single clear passage in octaves, not a good round fortissimo, was heard throughout the whole of the Brahms variations [unidentified]. That music, not his best, gives many opportunities to a fine executant. But here the edge was taken off the staccato, the merry movements jingled, the broad movements were clouded over, and altogether Brahms was hardly to be known as Brahms. The choice of Schumann's Waldscenen was a charming one, and one, in a sense, disinterested, for a child could play them, and no player for applause would have chosen them. But with every desire to give them their real value, Miss Davies could not get inside them; she could only follow them and repeat them, as one repeats a pleasant task. The flowers faded away and the perfume went out of them; the lonely pool had lost its shudder; and as for the prophet-bird, one had only to remember Pachmann [1848-1933]. No one could play those trills after Pachmann; but Miss Davies did not even stop to give reverence to the little human song which comes in the midst of the bird-notes. There, in the playing of those few bars, an interpreter of Schumann may well come to judgement.***

And now think for a moment what a woman can make of the keyboard. Though Mme Schumann [1819-96] is dead, we have still one great woman pianist among us: Mme Carreño. She is not flawless in her technique, she can hurry and even stumble, she can almost destroy the form of the music which she is playing by the violence of the feeling with which she fills it. But what passion she can evoke out of passionate music, how her heart and senses, Spanish [sic] and a woman's, seem to cry and palpitate out of the ardent and resonant sounds! She puts herself into all the music that she plays, and thus may exasperate the lover of a particular rendering of a particular composition. But if she puts her own life, at least she puts life, and an abounding life, into the music that waits, most of all, for that.

Now this, to the people who admire Miss Fanny Davies, is the forbidden thing. I can imagine them thinking Mme Carreño positively vulgar. Why, they will say, here is a soul really almost naked, and we would have souls elegantly aureoled. They do not see that music is not a thing which can be made intelligible by a cold imitation of its sounds, but that it must be created over again by every player. They do not see that a player must first of all be a person of genius, and then must know how to be shamlessly sincere. They do not realize that external talent, care, or capability is useless and meaningless when it is not warmed and illuminated by something which can never be taught. To the academic mind such playing as that of Miss Davies seems estimable, admirable even, and students are sent to hear it, as if anything worth learning could be learned from lifeless things.

- Arthur Symons, 'Piano Playing as an "Accomplishment"'published 'for the first time' in the Travellers' Library edition of Plays, Acting and Music: A Book of Theory (London 1928). Of the 23 music essays printed, 21, 'Piano Playing' included, pertain to the period 1892-1907 (Author's Note, September 1928).




* quoted by an anonymous Ampico copywriter (New York 1925)

** Mathilde Verne, Chords of Remembrance (London 1936)

*** Vladimir de Pachmann twice recorded Vogel als Prophet acoustically for the Victor company, Camden New Jersey: (1) November 7th 1911: US double 6082; UK double D 265; (2) September 23rd 1924: US double 1110


Continued next week








(a) Published Columbia Recordings


Only three sets of electric 78s were ever released - two for English Columbia, one for American Columbia. Devoted to Schumann, these date from the end of Fanny Davies's life - by which time, sinking deeper into poverty, she was on a civil list pension and suffering from poor health.

Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor. Royal Philharmonic Society Orchestra under Ernest Ansermet. Studio ? June 15th/16th 1928
        8 sides, English Columbia 9616-19

Schumann Kinderscenen. Portman Rooms, February 2nd 1929 (an earlier recording in the same venue, October 22nd 1928, having been rejected)
        4 sides, English Columbia L2321-22

Schumann Davidsbündlertänze [omitting movements 3, 7, 15, 16]. 'Large studio' [?], December 10th 1930 (earlier attempts at the Portman Rooms, June 21st/22nd/28th 1929 [the third day including No 7], and Central Hall, Westminster, January 16th 1930, having been rejected)
        6 sides, American Columbia 67797-99D



Modern LP transfer
Pupils of Clara Schumann Pearl CLA 1000
(mono release 1986)

Modern CD transfer
Fanny Davies plays Schumann Pearl GEMM CD9291
(mono release 1988)


(b) Unpublished Columbia Recordings


Schumann Fantasiestücke Nos 1-5 Portman Rooms, June 20th/21st 1929
        Matrices WAX 5032-33, 5061-62 [20 takes, with Aufschwung and In der Nacht
        requiring five and six each respectively]

Schumann Fantasiestücke Nos 6-7 [No 8 apparently not recorded]
        Portman Rooms, July 15th1929
        Matrix WAX 5128 [4 takes;]

Schumann Romance in F sharp Op 28 No 1 Portman Rooms, June 28th 1929
        Matrix WAX 5083 [4 takes]

Schumann Scherzo-Canon in B minor for pedal-piano Op 58 No 5
        Portman Rooms, July 15th1929
        Matrix WAX 5127 [3 takes]

[see Patrick Saul & Chris Ellis, 'Fanny Davies recordings: Discs', Recorded Sound Nos 70-71, BIRS April-July 1978, which issue also contains a memoir and appreciation of Davies by Lady Dorothy Mayer, with photographs and facsimile programmes]




Bach Partita No 1 in B flat - Prelude
        Welte Mignon 1779
Intermezzo Op 116 No 4
        Welte Mignon 1775
Intermezzo Op 119 No 2
        Welte Mignon 1774
Carillon, Prelude (Cuckoo)
        Welte Mignon 1777
Arietta (Toccata in C minor)
        Welte Mignon 1785
Prelude in E minor Op 35 No 1 [without Fugue]
        Welte Mignon 1782
Song without Words Op 85 No 1
        Welte Mignon 1783
Sonata in E flat K 282 [first movement; Minuets I & II]
        Welte Mignon 1780-81
Étude-Canon in A flat for pedal-piano Op 58 No 4
        Welte Mignon 1776
Kinderscenen [Nos 1-6; 7-13]
        Welte Mignon 1772-73
Toccata in A flat Op 18 No 4
        Welte Mignon 1787
Pastorale in C
        Welte Mignon 1786

This © Davies Rollography follows the 1927 Welte Catalogue - for which, according to Gerald Stonehill (Recorded Sound detailed above, 'Fanny Davies recordings: Piano rolls'), 'recording dates have not been traced.' Readers are invited to contribute information, additional listings and recording/release dates wherever possible, contacting Ates Orga at


Rollography & Notes: © 3 March 2000 Ates Orga, Suffolk, UK


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