TOWARD THE “GREEN” HARPSICHORD
Eugene Arnold Dolmetsch was an unlikely candidate to play the part of the prince to the harpsichord’s “Sleeping Beauty.” As an adult he was barely five feet tall, although portraits show him to have been darkly handsome. He was attracted to women and they to him: three marriages attest to that.
Both music and craftsmanship were in Dolmetsch’s family background; his father had been apprenticed to an organ builder and married into a music shopkeeper’s family. Arnold was born in Le Mans, France, in 1858. His early piano lessons proved to be a disaster. He preferred the violin, and it was with this instrument that his musical studies were advanced.1 He learned careful shop techniques from his grandfather, and piano repair and tuning became Arnold’s trade.
Arnold’s first marriage was to Marie Morel, a widow ten years his senior. The couple was forced to elope since Dolmetsch’s family refused to give the required permission for the union. A daughter, Helene, was born on 14 April 1878 in Nancy, and the couple was married in London on 28 May of that year. Shortly after their marriage Arnold and Marie made their first trip to the United States:
On landing, they travelled to the town of Louisville [Kentucky], doubtless attracted by its name, and established themselves in a boarding house. The cuisine was novel and they were frequently regaled with wild turkey and cranberry sauce, which they thought delicious. Madame Arnold Dolmetsch gave piano lessons and her young husband worked up a round of piano-tuning and regulation and found himself warmly welcomed in the outlying farms.2
The actual length of their stay is unknown, but this trip adds a surprising footnote to Dolmetsch’s biography and is necessary knowledge if one is to number his American sojourns accurately.
After returning to Europe the young family moved to Brussels, where Dolmetsch studied violin with Henri Vieuxtemps and later enrolled at the Brussels Conservatoire. Concerts of “ancient music” and exposure to some of the instruments in the Conservatoire collection aroused Dolmetsch’s interest in music of the past. The director of the Conservatoire at this time was François Gevaert, a scholar who had recently written a book on older music; he was interested in the problems of ornamentation and the proper instrumentation of that music.3
Dolmetsch completed his studies in Brussels in April 1883, having done excellently in all subjects. His next move was to London, where he planned to attend the newly established Royal College of Music. Here he completed five terms of study with such well-known figures as Sir George Grove, C. Hubert H. Parry, and Frederick Bridge. Through the good offices of Grove, Dolmetsch was added to the staff of Dulwich College as a part-time violin teacher. He published his first editions of violin music with Novello’s and haunted antiquarian bookstores and junk shops, where he began to find the old books and instruments that formed the basis of his own collection. By this time Dolmetsch had come to a decision as to his life’s goal: the authentic interpretation of the music of the past on appropriate instruments. Grove warned him of the difficulties ahead, but assured Dolmetsch that the service to music would be invaluable.4
With his wife and his daughter as partners, Dolmetsch formed a consort for the performance of early music. He found an old spinet in a junk shop, and wishing to replace the square piano that had been used as keyboard instrument for his group, Dolmetsch inquired at Broadwood’s about restoring the spinet. Here he met Alfred Hipkins, who did not have time to do the work for him, but suggested that Dolmetsch do it himself. This suggestion was the right one: his background of shop work and his experience at rebuilding a square piano in Brussels stood him in good stead. Dolmetsch resolved never again to ask another person to do restoration work for him. The work on the spinet took considerable time, but the result made him extremely happy. By the end of 1889 he had done further work on keyboard instruments, having restored a large Kirckman harpsichord, an Italian virginal, and a large clavichord.5
Lectures illustrated by musical examples; concerts that attracted a growing number of interested persons; professional musical contacts with Hipkins, the pianist and sometime harpsichordist John Fuller Maitland, and his former teachers Grove, Parry, and Bridge; and a fortuitous meeting with the young and supportive music critic George Bernard Shaw allowed Dolmetsch to pursue his chosen way. He became a well-known figure in the musical life of London. On the personal side, his increasing immersion in work led to his separation from Marie in 1893.
A new house in West Dulwich afforded Dolmetsch something he had wanted for some time: a large music room for his subscription concerts. Among visitors to these concerts were two leading figures in the art world, Edward Burne-Jones and his friend William Morris. The result of this contact was the promise of a publication by Morris’s Kelmscott Press and the eventual suggestion from Morris that Dolmetsch build a new harpsichord for exhibition. He had already been commissioned to build a clavichord for Fuller Maitland, the first of four copies Dolmetsch made of the fine large clavichord in his own collection.6 It was completed by July 1894 and evoked these perceptive comments from Shaw:
He has actually turned out a little masterpiece, excellent as a musical instrument and pleasant to look at, which seems to me likely to begin such a revolution in domestic instruments as William Morris’s work made in domestic furniture and decoration, or Philip Webb’s in domestic architecture. I therefore estimate the birth of this little clavichord as, on a modern computation, about forty thousand times as important as the Handel Festival.7
The second copy of the clavichord was purchased by Sir George Grove for the students of the Royal College of Music, the third went to a museum in Italy, and the fourth remained in Dolmetsch’s possession.8
When the divorced wife of his younger brother Edgard joined the household, Dolmetsch gained a fine keyboard player as well as the woman who was to become his second wife. Although no marriage could occur until Arnold’s divorce from Marie became official, Elodie Dolmetsch already bore the family name, and most visitors to their home were unaware of the true marital status of the couple. For the artistic improvement of the consort, it certainly did not hurt that Elodie had prodigious dexterity at the keyboard. John Runciman gave the first appreciative review of her playing:
Mrs. Elodie Dolmetsch played some harpsichord pieces by Couperin with daintiness of colour, piquancy of rhythm, and quite remarkable freedom from the nervous scrambling that ruined the playing of some of Dolmetsch’s previous harpsichordists. The only fear we have now is that there may be a craze for these old instruments. Mr. Dolmetsch’s price for a clavichord is, we believe, only one quarter the price of a piano of equal quality, and now that his workshop is conveniently situated on the classic ground of Queen Square9 we are much afraid that every West-End dame with the smallest pretentions to culture will run thither to complete the furnishing of her drawing-room.10
In June 1896 Mabel Johnston wrote to Dolmetsch; although he did not plan to take on new pupils at this time he answered her letter. Mabel was “taken-on,” not only as a pupil in violin but also as an apprentice in instrument making. In the latter capacity she moved into the Dolmetsch household. Her first major assignment was to assist in finishing the harpsichord for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, scheduled for October. She was responsible for shaping the fronts of the keys, while the special decoration was entrusted to the artist Helen Coombe, then engaged to art critic Roger Fry. The instrument was never quite completed (the outside, painted in flat green paint when there was not enough time to complete the decoration, led to the instrument’s enduring identification as the “Green” Harpsichord.11
It was this harpsichord that Dolmetsch played for the performances of Don Giovanni at Covent Garden conducted by Mancinelli in July 1897, and of Purcell’s King Arthur in Birmingham, conducted by Hans Richter in October of the same year. At both events he was joined by Elodie playing a second harpsichord.12
An only slightly disguised description of Dolmetsch at this time survives in the novel Evelyn Innes, by George Moore, a subscriber to Dolmetsch’s concerts:
The thin winter day had died early, and at four o’clock it was dark night in the long room in which Mr. Innes gave his concerts of early music. An Elizabethan virginal had come to him to be repaired, and he had worked all the afternoon, and when, overtaken by the dusk, he had impatiently sought a candle end, lit it, and placed it so that its light fell upon the jacks. . . . Only one more remained to be adjusted. . . .
His face was in his eyes: they reflected the flame of faith and of mission; they were the eyes of one whom fate had thrown on an obscure wayside of dreams, the face of a dreamer and propagandist of old-time music and its instruments. He sat at the virginal, like one who loved its old design and sweet tone, in such strict keeping with the music he was playing—a piece by W. Byrd, “John come kiss me now”—and when it was finished, his fingers strayed into another, “Nancie,” by Thomas Morley. His hands moved over the keyboard softly, as if they loved it, and his thoughts, though deep in the gentle music, entertained casual admiration of the sixteenth-century organ, which had lately come into his possession, and which he could see at the end of the room on a slightly raised platform. Its beautiful shape, and the shape of the old instruments, vaguely perceived, lent an enchantment to the darkness. In the corner was a viola da gamba, and against the walls a harpsichord and a clavichord. . . .13
Perhaps more than a literary description of Dolmetsch at this time in his career may exist: Mabel mentions some wax cylinder recordings of Dolmetsch’s late nineteenth-century concerts made by music publisher Robert Cocks.14 Unfortunately none have been located.
Life continued to be active for Dolmetsch and his consort: concerts, many in his subscription series; several trips to Italy; new musical discoveries; wars with the press and with other musicians, less understanding of the styles of early music than he. Several instruments, including three Beethoven pianos, came from his workshop. His divorce from Marie having become final, he married Elodie in Zurich on 11 September 1899.
A nonmusical business transaction brought upheaval to the Dolmetsch family in 1901. Having sublet one of his residences to an Italian who turned the place into a brothel, Dolmetsch was brought to court as an accomplice. Found guilty and fined heavily, Dolmetsch was forced to file for bankruptcy. Through these actions he lost his instrument collection and library.15 All unpleasantness, however, was soon to be left behind, as the Dolmetsch consort embarked on an adventure: a trip to the “new world.” On 27 December 1902, Arnold, Elodie, and Mabel Johnston sailed for the United States to begin a two-month concert tour.
DOLMETSCH IN AMERICA
The first American concert by the Dolmetsch ensemble was given at 3:30 on Tuesday, 6 January 1903 in New York’s Daly Theatre; it was the first concert in impresario Sam Franko’s series Concerts of Old Music. The program included Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in D Major for harpsichord, flute, and violin with string accompaniment (Elodie as soloist, assisted by “Mr. Charles Kurth and Mr. Dolmetsch”); Johann Christian Bach’s Symphony in G minor; as well as works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Antonio Sacchini.16 Not surprisingly the theatre was packed, for the debut had created much interest among the public. W. J. Henderson, the influential critic of the New York Sun, had devoted two full columns to the forthcoming event in the Sunday edition of the paper; and critic Richard Aldrich wrote,
The harpsichord sounded at first, to ears attuned to the resonance of the modern pianoforte, like a far-away tinkling. But it soon took its place in the right perspective and compelled admiration and liking for beauty and qualities of tone all its own. Mrs. Dolmetsch played on an old English instrument by Kirckman, a maker famous in his day. . . .17
Other critical reaction was mixed, many critics disliking the period costumes of the performers as well as the archaic sounds of the old instruments. It must have been a strange occurrence for most of the audience, as well as for the critics; all the works on the program were listed as “heard for the first time in America.”
During their American tour the ensemble gave fourteen concerts throughout the state of New York and one at Steinert Hall in Boston.18 The program for Dolmetsch’s first Boston concert bore this notation:
Messrs. M. Steinert & Sons Co. have arranged with Mr. W. N. Lawrence for the appearance, at Steinert Hall, on the evening of January 28,  of Mr. ARNOLD DOLMETSCH, famous throughout Europe for his rendering of old music on archaic instruments. Mr. Dolmetsch makes his American debut this season and his coming has long been looked forward to. Mr. Dolmetsch is a unique personality in the musical world, having devoted his life to restoring to their pristine condition old-time instruments. His knowledge of musical antiquities is unsurpassed, and his collection of archaic instruments is rich in interest. Of Mr. Dolmetsch’s standing as an artist the praise of the foremost critics of Europe is sufficient testimony.
An unsigned review reported on one of the New York concerts:
Mr. Dolmetsch and his concert of old music are a big success. One can pick flaws in his deductions and his theories ad libitum, but he, nevertheless, manages to interest us. The tiny tinkle of the instruments he has brought over with him made one rub his eyes in astonishment. The Prelude and Fugue of Bach, played by Mr. Dolmetsch on the clavichord—the instrument for which Bach wrote his well-known Preludes and Fugues—was listened to with great attention and, perforce, in an almost breathless fashion. It was marvelous how the small sounds penetrated to the farthest corner of the theatre. . . .
The most interesting number to musicians was the Bach Prelude and Fugue on the clavichord. After a careful hearing most of us, I think, came to the conclusion, that although Bach is good on the clavichord, he is decidedly better on one of our modern grands. Mr. Dolmetsch, of course, would consider this rank heresy, and in a certain sense, no doubt the music Bach wrote for the clavichord should be played on the clavichord, but there are those of us who having known it only on the pianoforte, find Mr. Dolmetsch’s reading faint, musty and even dry.19
Perhaps the most intriguing appearance of this series was a private soiree at the home of a newly married granddaughter of society doyenne Mrs. Jacob Astor:
For the occasion, the entrance hall and corridor were profusely decorated with masses of long-stemmed crimson roses which, according to Dolmetsch’s agent [W. N. Lawrence], cost a dollar apiece. The musicians duly settled in the corner appointed to them and commenced their programme with a couple of ensemble pieces. Then, as Elodie began to play the opening notes of a Scarlatti sonata, the sound was completely swallowed up by a burst of melody from a Hungarian string quartet installed in the opposite corner. The rest of the evening’s entertainment resulted in a series of strange musical contrasts, with considerable misunderstanding as to whom should play and for how long: a procedure unaided by the fact that it was conducted almost entirely in Hungarian.20
One might think that this was a scene created by Richard Strauss’s librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal as an extension of the musical mixups in Ariadne auf Naxos!21
The Dolmetsches sailed for England on 7 February 1903 aboard the Mauretania (but having caught on in America, they were not to be absent for long). On 24 February, his forty-fifth birthday, Dolmetsch received a copy of Couperin’s L’art de toucher le clavecin, the gift of Mabel Johnston. This volume was to prove most valuable as a tool for his researches into the interpretation of early music. He also received Mabel Johnston as his third wife, another acquisition that was to prove relatively imperishable (she outlived him) and invaluable. Mabel and Arnold were married on 23 September 1904, four days after Arnold and Elodie were divorced (in Zurich). As property settlement, Elodie received the Kirckman harpsichord. Her departure from the Dolmetsch circle left a vacancy for a harpsichordist. It was filled by a young woman named Kathleen Salmon, who had never played the harpsichord before, but who learned very quickly under Dolmetsch’s teaching.
The next American tour, embarked upon in November 1904, was to have far-reaching effects for the harpsichord revival on the west side of the Atlantic. Arnold, Mabel, and Kathleen Salmon arrived in New York City just in time for their first concert at the Manhattan Theatre on 9 November. After a second concert in New York, they traveled to Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton, and Boston; to Providence; south to Baltimore; then inland to Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, and Chicago. Originally planned for seven weeks, the tour kept expanding because of successful concerts and added engagements. With requests for concerts coming from music clubs in many cities, Dolmetsch decided to make the United States his home. From the Virginia Hotel in Chicago, Dolmetsch wrote to poet W. B. Yeats, “I shall return to America [after a short trip to England] for an indefinite period alas! They are willing to support me here, whilst in England they let me starve. . . .”22
Dolmetsch returned to England with Kathleen Salmon, He was faced with putting all his affairs in order, finishing several instruments, and packing all his family’s goods, musical and otherwise. But, on 1 July 1905 he sailed from England aboard the Minnehaha with a daughter, Cecile (born in the spring of 1904), her nurse, and forty-one cases of personal effects, weighing 3,500 pounds.23 Mabel gave birth to a second daughter, Nathalie, shortly after Arnold’s return.
Concerts and providing music for several plays kept the Dolmetsch music productions active. Then, in the winter of 1905, Dolmetsch signed a contract with Chickering and Sons of Boston, the well-known piano manufacturers. He was engaged to establish a department of early keyboard instruments, viols, and lutes. “These farseeing and generous people offered me a good salary, a choice corner in their factory, the pick of their eighteen hundred workmen, every facility and freedom to carry out my ideas. Needless to say, I gladly accepted and made some eighty instruments there under ideal conditions. . . .”24
The importance to the American harpsichord revival of his work at Chickering’s would be difficult to overestimate. Not only did Dolmetsch produce some of his most beautifully crafted instruments there, but also the dissemination of these instruments provided the necessary vehicles for the introduction of early music in various American cities. During the years he worked for Chickering’s, Dolmetsch and his workmen made thirty-three clavichords, thirteen two-manual harpsichords, and a few virginals and spinets. Among the purchasers of these keyboard instruments were Arthur Whiting; E. B. Dane of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; Henry Gideon of New York City, who “gave many concerts and lectures using his harpsichord”; Frank Taft of Montclair, New Jersey; E. F. Searles of Methuen, Massachusetts; O. G. Sonneck of the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C., who purchased a clavichord; John Wanamaker of Philadelphia; E. P. Warren of Liverpool, England; composer Ferruccio Busoni of Berlin; and Smith, Wellesley, and Vassar colleges.25 Another purchaser of a harpsichord (in 1908) was the collector Belle Skinner; she also purchased a 1784 Hoffman clavichord from Dolmetsch at the same time.26
BOSTON AND WASHINGTON: SHOP AND SOCIETY
The flavor of Dolmetsch’s work in the factory was well captured by Jo-Shipley Watson in a vignette published in 1912:
Arnold Dolmetsch at Work on the New Old
We were walking through the show rooms of a huge modern piano factory. “Now let me show you something which I’m sure, you have never seen before,” said our guide, as he threw open the doors leading into an adjoining work room.
A man with soiled hands and rolled-up sleeves was bending over a fragile instrument that was poised as lightly as a butterfly; he was patiently clipping the pins that held the tiny wires.
As we entered he looked up interestedly, and shaking aside his long brown hair, tinged with grey, said, “Oh, I’m glad to meet you. You are interested in harpsichords and clavichords? Yes, we are working here on one. You have never heard the clavichord? Well, I’m here, the clavichord is here, you are here, so why not hear it now?”
He drew up a chair and placed it before a vermilion lined clavichord; then he pushed his sleeves still higher and said, “Now I’ll play; but first let me shut out some of this terrible American noise.”
After pulling down all the windows and closing all the doors he tried again. “Now we shall try, but you will not get the best effect; it is far too noisy here. Yes—the clavichord must be played in a quiet place. It has the most delicate tone in the world, dainty, tremulous tones, dripping melodies. Have you heard Bach on the clavichord?”
He then played Bach’s first Prelude in the Well-Tempered Clavichord [sic], then without stopping he played the second Prelude and Fugue. It was Bach as I had never heard it before; not the tremendous, thunderous Bach of modern pianism, but a musical, wistful, appealing Bach. It sounded like a really usable, home-like kind of everyday Bach.
“Yes, this is the most beautiful instrument in the whole world. It will stand anything; it will wear. The harpsichord? Ah, that is another thing; it will not stand everything. I would not advise it for a damp climate.
“But the clavichord any tuner can fix, or you can fix and tune it yourself if you have a good ear; it is quite simple. Then again it is so easy, so very easy and the most delightful and helpful instrument to play. It improves your technic as nothing else can. It gives the most delicate pianissimo effects; no matter how hard you have worked these out on the piano you will not obtain the result you do on the clavichord. Ah, you get a most delicate touch, Madame.
“We are not making these for profit. No, it is simply to create an interest that we make them. These cases, they are all mine, my own design, my idea. I make them to please myself, and not the trade.
“These you see are in cream and gold; now this one I have made black and gold, a very striking design. I have several in cream and vermilion, and one in old English. Each one, you will notice, bears an inscription, and the keys are all made by hand.”
There they stood, poised like the wings of gay butterflies on the floor of this huge, busy piano factory.27
Dolmetsch, the performer, continued to entrance new audiences with his music. For four seasons Chickering and Sons sponsored a series of three Dolmetsch Concerts at Chickering Hall in Boston. The first program, on Wednesday, 27 February 1907, consisted of English music from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for a chest of six viols, lute, virginals, violins, and treble and bass voices. For the second program, on 13 March, French music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries held the stage, with a consort of viols, viola d’amore, viola da gamba, harpsichord, lute, and voice. The third program, on 27 March, devoted to music by Johann Sebastian Bach, included a harpsichord concerto and a cantata. During this series a new performer’s name appeared on the programs: Charles Adams at the harpsichord.28
In 1908 Dolmetsch became the first musician to play an “ancient” musical instrument in the White House. Through the advance work of Mabel’s brother, the explorer Sir Harry Johnston, who was invited to visit President Theodore Roosevelt because of their mutual interest in big-game hunting, Arnold received this letter, addressed to him at the Cosmos Club, Washington, D. C., dated 14 December:
My dear Mr. Dolmetsch,
Indeed, it would give Mrs. Roosevelt and myself great pleasure if you could come to the White House on Wednesday at 2:30 and let us hear the clavichord. It is most kind of you to make the offer. I heard much of you through Mr. Harry Johnston and of course entirely independently know much about your work in introducing the harpsichord and clavichord at least to the American world of music.
The President and his party entered the room exactly at 2:30.
The President introduced Mr. Dolmetsch to Mrs. Roosevelt and other members of the party and then viewed the clavichord and listened to the playing of several of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues and one little selection by Galuppi.
“I never saw such close attention in my life,” said Mr. Dolmetsch, “as was paid by those in that room Wednesday afternoon to my playing. I have played to many distinguished people and members of royalty abroad, but I never met a man who so impressed me as did the President. As a gentleman he is quite the equal of any member of the royalty or other dignitary of European countries and he is far more clever than many of them. He is really a most superior man and it was the greatest pleasure to me to play for him.”29
The clavichord used for this unique demonstration was the one purchased by O. G. Sonneck, Music Chief of the Library of Congress. Dolmetsch made good use of his time in the nation’s capital; he played continuo harpsichord for the Washington Choral Society’s production of Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, doubtless another first for the history of music in Washington.
AT HOME IN CAMBRIDGE
The Dolmetsch family had lived quite happily in Boston at 16 Arlington Street, which was close to easy public transport to the Chickering factory in Cambridge. With the birth of a longed-for son, Rudolph, in November 1906, Dolmetsch must have turned his thoughts again to larger quarters for the expanding family. In the autumn of 1907 he sketched a design for a house with the requisite large music room.
The site chosen was a back lot adjoining the house of Cambridge poet James Russell Lowell, whose heirs still lived on the property.30 The architect was a young French Canadian named Luquer, who incorporated several special features in the design:
The front door is purposely unostentatious: a brass plate gives the name; the letter-box awaits your pleasure, should you wish to leave a note; if you wish to go further, you ring a bell. Then you are ushered into a vestibule, after which, perhaps, you may go up three steps into the hall, and so to the music room. For the owner is a musician, and his house is built first for his own pleasure, then for the pleasure of those who listen to his music. The room, 15 × 30 feet, has walls stained a soft green, and long French casement windows on three sides. A clavichord and harpsichord stand in opposite corners, and on the wall hang fine old viols, lutes, and theorbas [sic]. Conventional figures of these instruments are seen on the balustrade of the staircase, with the signs of the bass and treble clef beneath, and a “pause” appropriately placed on the landing. 31
This staircase was especially designed by Dolmetsch to have a landing every four steps: thus, in case of an accident a child would fall no further than this short distance. Moreover, all the downstairs rooms could be opened up to make one large space, just right for the Dolmetsch concerts.
For its time the Dolmetsch house, twelve rooms on three floors, must have been the ultimate in luxury. Mabel’s brother Alex wrote in December 1907, “The automatic, instantaneous water-warmer, however, sounds too good to be true in this imperfect world. If patented widely in America it should certainly stimulate emigration to that country!”32 The address in Cambridge, originally 11 Elmwood Avenue, later became 192 Brattle Street. When the house was sold, its next owner, Simon Marks, placed a codicil in the deed forbidding any change to the special staircase. The house still stands, presumably with this feature intact.
Dolmetsch was quick to make use of his fine facility: in 1909 he began giving concerts in the new house. “These concerts brought together some of the most intelligent music lovers, and one was sure to come in contact with persons of rare learning and culture and knowledge of the best in the arts. At the intermission of each concert the dining-room doors were opened and a buffet supper was served; then more music in the music room.”33 Evidently these concerts were a success, for shortly after the first series took place, Dolmetsch published another announcement:
Mr. Arnold Dolmetsch announces a Second Series of Three Concerts of Intimate Music, to be given in his Music Room on Tuesday Evenings, April 13, 27, and May 11, 1909.
As in the First Series, the Programmes will consist of Vocal and Instrumental Music of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, performed upon the instruments for which it was written: the Lute, various kinds of Viols, Harpsichord, Clavichord, and other instruments.
The music will begin at 8.30 punctually. It is expected that no one will come late or leave early, as there should be no disturbance during the evening. The music will not last more than one hour and twenty minutes, which, with an allowance of twenty minutes for refreshments and conversation, will bring the close of the evening to ten minutes after ten.
The price of single tickets is $4, with the privilege of subscribing to the Series for $10.
The number of tickets is limited to thirty.34
BUSONI AND THE HARPSICHORD
One of a fairly large group of distinguished visitors to the Dolmetsch house in Cambridge was the pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), with whom the Dolmetsch family had been acquainted in London. As Mabel Dolmetsch recalled,
When he came to visit us in Cambridge . . . he seemed to relax and to enjoy our company and surroundings. At tea, after admiring my set of old Somerset china cups, he looked round with a sigh and said, “Everything is beautiful here.” He reminded me of how I had once played to him on an enormous instrument (the violone); and then turned with interest tinged with humour, as though examining some outmoded object, toward Arnold’s latest achievement, the fourth “Beethoven Piano.” He had, to my thinking, become somewhat tactless; for later on, while Arnold was demonstrating the clavichord, he thought it very funny to strike some notes on the piano! What he really did appreciate was the latest harpsichord . . . and when he expressed his fervent admiration of this fine instrument, the open-handed firm of Chickering made him a present of it. 35
That Busoni’s interest in the harpsichord was more than polite afternoon talk is evident from this letter to his wife:
BOSTON, 12 APRIL, 1910
. . . I have just come back from a motor drive from Cambridge where I and Mr. Byrn [from Chickering’s] visited DOLMETSCH. He looks like a little faun, with a handsome head, and lives in the past. He builds pianos, Clavecins and Clavichords. The Clavecin (the English harpsichord) is magnificent. I made capital out of it at once and first, of all, brought the instrument into [my opera] the Brautwahl (when Albertine accompanies herself on it) and, secondly, begged for one to be sent to Berlin. They are beautiful outside too. . . . 36
Mabel Dolmetsch continued,
[Beyond making a present of the instrument to Busoni, Chickering’s] sent Arnold to join [Busoni] in New York for a week, in order to initiate him into its intricacies. There Arnold was lodged in a splendid suite at the Waldorf Astoria, which suite was furnished with rich carpets, a china-closet, multiple electric lights (including some which shone in the wardrobe, when its door was opened) and immense vases of flowers. Here he and Busoni met daily, and no doubt, did at least as much talking as playing.37
Dolmetsch reported Busoni’s progress to his wife:
30 APRIL 1910, HOTEL ASTOR, NEW YORK
Busoni had a good lesson yesterday and another one this morning. He is very intelligent and very enthusiastic. . . . He asked me, “Are you happy with your pupil?” I said that he needs to have more lessons. He replied “No one has ever given me lessons. I have learnt everything myself.” I replied “One is not able to teach anything to anybody.” He said, “This is true, but what about the pupils? One needs the pupils.”38
Busoni’s opera Die Brautwahl (The Choice of Bride) occupied the composer between 1908 and 1910. The libretto was based on a story by the German Romantic poet E. T. A. Hoffmann (of Tales of Hoffmann fame). The completed work was first produced in Hamburg on 12 April 1912. The harpsichord was heard onstage at the beginning of the second act. One wonders how effective Busoni’s week with Dolmetsch had been, for the writing is pianistic in the extreme.
A more successful use of the harpsichord, and the only other appearance of that instrument in the catalog of Busoni’s compositions, was the Sonatina ad usum infantis pro clavicimbalo composita, completed in 1915. The third of Busoni’s six sonatinas, this work “for the use of children” was the only one to be designated for harpsichord. The score39 bears the inscription “ad usum infantis Madeline M.* Americanae,” the only time the composer concealed the name of a dedicatee for one of his works. Among Busoni’s papers found in Berlin after his death was a photograph dated New York, 1918, with the name “Madeline Manheim” pencilled on the back. This young lady, apparently about eighteen years of age at the time of the photo, has been identified as a friend of Busoni’s elder son, Benvenuto, and may be the mysterious lady of the Sonatina.40 The five short movements of the work are musically attractive, particularly the third, Vivace alla Marcia, which is reminiscent of Prokofiev in its sarcasm; and the fifth, Polonaise: un poco cerimonioso, obviously a favorite creation of its composer, who used it again as an important musical idea in his comic opera Arlecchino.41
THE END OF A BEGINNING
In addition to the concerts at home in Cambridge, the continuing series of Chickering concerts kept Dolmetsch active in the Boston area. There was touring, too, as Mabel Dolmetsch’s memoirs attest:
The years 1909 and 1910 were for us thickly strewn with concerts, including two Bach festivals in Montclair, New Jersey. . . .
It was enjoyable during this period to improve our acquaintance with the pleasant city of Philadelphia, where we gave a series of concerts in a hall attached to Messrs. Wanamaker’s stores. . . . Here we were joined by an attractive singer, named Mrs. Sheridan, who had a voice of unusual quality. . . .
[On] one such occasion . . . the New York branch of Wanamaker’s store engaged us to give a grand concert in order to herald the opening of an extension of their already large premises. Our group this time consisted of Arnold, Mrs. Sheridan . . ., Charles Adams and myself; and the concert was held in the Wanamaker firm’s capacious hall, possessing most flattering acoustical properties. Despite the fact that it was filled almost to suffocation, the music, which seemed to take on a dreamlike, ethereal charm, quite captivated the audience.42
From the end of 1910, however, unpleasantness began to encroach on this idyllic existence in America. Chickering’s fell victim to the economic depression widespread in the land, and, to avoid further financial drain, the firm joined a consortium of five piano manufacturers. Instead of the luxury of fine workmanship and artistic (but unprofitable) endeavor, the emphasis of the new partnership was on increasing sales and decreasing the time required for the production of instruments—hardly an atmosphere conducive to the work of Arnold Dolmetsch.
Although Chickering’s offered Dolmetsch alternative employment in the manufacture of pianos, Dolmetsch decided that it would be better, at the conclusion of his original contract, to return to Europe. To that end he embarked on a scouting trip to see what might be available there. Although he was now fifty-two, he turned to his search with enthusiasm. In the autumn of 1910 he journeyed first to England and then to France, where his contacts with all three of the leading Paris piano manufacturers—Érard, Pleyel, and Gaveau—gave him a choice of positions. He eventually chose employment with Gaveau, where he was, once again, to have his own department devoted to the manufacture of early stringed instruments and keyboards.
Back in America, Dolmetsch prepared for his last U.S. season of early music performances: his 1911 announcement, dated 2 January, read,
The Annual Series of Concerts of Intimate Music which I usually give early in the season had to be postponed on account of my journeys in Europe and the west of this country. I intend to give them during next February.
The music will consist of Vocal and Instrumental Compositions of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries performed upon the instruments for which they were written: Lute, Viol, Harpsichord, Clavichord, etc.
I have been fortunate enough to acquire recently a number of precious old music books from which several pieces will be played.
A very beautiful new Harpsichord will be introduced. Beside the three sets of strings of 4-foot and 8-foot tone of my former instruments, it has another set of strings of 16-foot tone which, extending downwards to the lowest note of the keyboard, reaches the F of 24-foot pitch. The depth, grandeur, and variety of colour of its tone are wonderful.
Harpsichords of this kind were occasionally made in the 18th century. J. S. Bach had one which he prized highly.43
One further picture of Dolmetsch at home in Cambridge has survived in the writings of William Lyman Johnson:
Mr. and Mrs. Dolmetsch were particular about the manner in which their food was prepared. All roasts were cooked on the turning spit. When the weather was warm enough, luncheon and dinner were served on the veranda which faced the lovely garden. Sometimes in summer I arrived there in time to do weeding, also to collect the bleached romain, escarolle, endive. Then came a delightful dinner with equally delightful talk relative to music and the allied arts.
Then to the music room. With all cares of the day done at the Chickering factory, Mr. Dolmetsch rested in a large easy chair for a short time, and then made his way to either the clavichord or the harpsichord and did his practicing, not by playing scales but by playing the works of the masters. There was the true artist, and in a few minutes he evidently forgot I was present. From whichever instrument he chose to play there came forth great compositions masterfully performed.
In that quiet end of the music room, shut in from the noises outside by the garden wall and at the hour of tender eventide, there was a quietness which allowed the floating tones of the clavichord to be heard in all their loveliness. At a certain period in his practicing, when the spirit moved him to play Bach, he lovingly made the gentle clavichord caress the thirds and the sixths in the Andante espressivo of the Preludio XII in F minor [WTC, II]. He made much of using just the right speed of vibrato on those thirds and sixths and they gave out a haunting loveliness of sound. 44
Dolmetsch’s final project in the United States was a series of twelve lectures for Harvard University, given in the old Fogg Museum. The topic, “Early Music and Its Instruments,” covered music at the court of Henry VIII, Elizabethan music, the works of Purcell, the music of J. S. Bach, and the music of Franz Joseph Haydn—familiar topics to Dolmetsch followers through the years. According to Mabel Dolmetsch,
Our broken consorts now, for the first time, included the recorder. . . . It was played by [Dolmetsch’s] first recorder pupil, namely, the Harvard Professor Peabody, a distinguished anthropologist who was, besides, a skilled amateur flautist in his moments of recreation.
. . . The whole series of lectures was a brilliant success, the hall on each occasion being crowded to the limit. The musical illustrations were performed by ourselves, assisted by Charles Adams, Professor Peabody, and our usual company of string players and singers, augmented by certain talented young Harvard students with their clear fresh voices. Having the whole twelve lectures to provide with adequate musical illustrations, Arnold adroitly rang the changes among the members of this galaxy of performers, using all to the best advantage.
I look upon this final outburst as the very pinnacle of his pioneer work in America. It originated in the minds of two of his particular friends, James Muirhead (a partner in Baedeker’s European Guide Books), and his enterprising wife, Helen. This gracious lady was a lavish entertainer of all the European visiting professors; consequently, her suggestion of the lecture course was enthusiastically accepted by the Harvard authorities. Our last concert in America took place at the house of Professor Peabody and holds a special place in my recollection on account of [our daughter] Cecile, (then celebrating her seventh birthday), having taken part as treble viol player in Morley fantasies and seventeenth-century English consort pieces. An auditor confided to me that a lump had risen in his throat as he watched that innocent child playing her part with such calm assurance.45
William Lyman Johnson wrote, “When Mr. Dolmetsch returned to Europe, the making of the old instruments, also the playing of viols and most of the enthusiasm he had created, declined, so that from about 1912 to 1931 there was no professional interest from any source in Boston.”46
From France Dolmetsch himself wrote on 29 June 1911 to Simon Marks, the Cambridge man who had bought the Dolmetsch home:
We miss our old house very much. However, we are quite happy here, we find that it is quite possible to do without electric light, bathrooms, and ice cream, or even plain ice. We get over it some other way!
From the artistic point of view, the surroundings are incomparably more congenial here than in America. I am one among a number of people who work on lines similar with mine, whilst in America I was alone, preaching in the desert!47
But the seeds had been planted; there were to be, for early music, arid years and arid spaces in this huge land, but the Dolmetsch legacy would be put to use. Early music’s voice may have become less eloquent following 1911, but it was not completely stilled.