I knew Joy Roger Hammerschlag for at least 40 years and I was indebted to her for allowing me to share with others this uplifting talk she gave in May 1985.
Her life of music was an extraordinary and fascinating one, encompassing memories of Sir Hamilton Harty; playing for Barbirolli, Beecham and many others; a lengthy period in Washington's National Symphony Orchestra; her marriage to the composer Kurt Roger and, after his death, to Heinz Hammerschlag. Joy died on 21 March 2014. She was 96 (born 4 August 1917).
I have retained all the original material, including Joy's cues for musical items. The actual music is included here, but only as half minute MP3 sound clips, along with the product details, so that you can buy or download the discs.
A real bonus can be found in the Appendix. It's a recording made in 1970 of Fauré's Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor, Op.15, with Peter Gibbs, violin, Joy Roger, viola, John Bunting, cello, and Havelock Nelson, piano.
To break up the lengthy text, I have added the photos and my own section titles which are linked to the following headlines:
My Life of Music
for the Extra-Mural Department of Queen’s University Belfast, on 13 May 1985
However, my inhibitions arose in a rather paradoxical way. Far from having little to say, I felt that there was too much and that, were I alone to mention all the famous musicians I have had the privilege of meeting, it may seem like a shameless chronicle of egotism.
Nobody likes ‘name-dropping’, least of all myself. In my experience as a player, I quickly learnt that you are on trial every time you play, and people aren’t so much interested in what you’ve done in the past or whom you have met. I really feel less than worthy of the many wonderful experiences I have had in music.
I told Michael of these inhibitions, but he has a power of persuasion and he assured me most kindly of his personal interest, making it appear that if he alone were sitting in the hall this evening I would be letting him down by not speaking! So I may say I was ‘gently forced’ to take up, what I call, my ‘mental telescope’ to look back on my life.
I have tried to condense it as much as possible.
We three daughters (of whom I am the second) grew up in Fairford House, Hillsborough, which was the Harty home, and Sir Hamilton used to visit us whenever he returned to conduct in Belfast. My sister Dorothy Betsy, actually practised his Violin Concerto in the room in which it was written and later played it with the composer at the piano, on one of his visits.
LH pic: The Organist's House - Fairford House, Hillsborough, Co. Down.
My younger sister Norah, who couldn’t yet pronounce his name, referred to him as Sir Halibut Arty! We had been taught in childhood to sing his lovely Irish songs, with words by Moira O’Neill.
My earliest musical recollections are of my father practising the organ in Hillsborough Church, with Betsy and me perched on the bench on either side of him, our legs dangling over the pedals. The organ had to be blown by hand, which was quite a test of endurance! I recall that after one Sunday morning service, the then Governor of Northern Ireland, the Duke of Abercorn, appeared up the narrow staircase to the organ loft and asked my father if he could have a ‘go’ at blowing!
RH pic: Hamilton Harty, conductor, composer and pianist.
On one of Sir Hamilton Harty’s visits I had to play a little piece by Handel for him, and he advised me to stay with the viola. ‘It’s a beautiful instrument,’ he said, ‘and players are in demand.’
As the ‘middle’ daughter, it was right that I was given the ‘middle’ voice.
When my younger sister Norah was old enough, it was a cello which was placed in her hands, and eventually we were all sent to private teachers for lessons in Belfast – Betsy and me to Margaret Huxley, who played in the BBC Orchestra, and Norah to Carrodus Taylor and later to Claire Mathews.
This formed the nucleus of chamber music in our home and, as our father had an instinctive love of good music, we acquired a reverence for the great composers naturally, without distractions from pop music or television. In a sense, our parents had an easy time – we had nothing to rebel against!
We accepted the values and standards set by them, undisturbed in the non-commercial and gentle society in which we lived.
We were strictly forbidden to ride his bicycle, which was too high for us to mount. However, one day, when he returned from Belfast, he found me practising the violin arduously, with my back carefully turned towards him. The truth was revealed when I was obliged to sit down at the tea-table, with a grazed nose and chin and my front teeth broken!
Likewise, my sister Betsy never practised harder than the morning after my father had found her being kissed goodnight by a student of divinity.
The first thing one must somehow learn to control, is one’s nerves, and being exposed at an early age to such agonies at least makes one familiar with a disease which is going to plague one in varying degrees for the rest of one’s life – and there are no antibiotics against it.
That distinguished figure in British music, Antony Hopkins, related how he and a colleague, adjudicating in Belfast, had been deeply moved by the singing of a very young girl in the aria With verdure clad [from Haydn's The Creation].
He described her looks and the unspoilt purity of her voice and bearing, but when she returned to her seat within earshot of the adjudicator’s stand, she said to her relatives, ‘Jesus, I was sweatin’ like a pig!’
RH pic: Antony Hopkins.
The most telling observation on this subject was made by the great French pianist, Vlado Perlemuter, who said that a student of his boasted: ‘I am never nervous’.
‘Don’t worry’, answered Perlemuter, ‘it may still come!’
LH pic: Vlado Perlemuter c.1940.
BBC work, Belfast and Kurt Roger
My first taste of symphonic music came when I was engaged as an ‘extra’ player in the BBC augmented orchestra, for public concerts and broadcasts, under its conductor Walton O’Donnell, with such distinguished guest conductors as Sir Henry Wood and Sir Adrian Boult. For a very young player this really meant being ‘thrown in at the deep end’, grappling with the technical difficulties of such demanding works as Stravinsky’s Firebird suite.
RH pic: A 1934 cigarette card featuring Bertram Walton O'Donnell, from an Irish family, but born in Madras in 1887. One of three distinguished musician brothers, he was a composer and the founding conductor in 1927 of the Wireless Military Band, later the BBC Military Band. That same year (1927), he conducted his Op.31, Amráin na n'gaedeal, at the Proms in the Queen's Hall, London. He was appointed Music Director for the BBC in Northern Ireland in 1937, but died of pneumonia in 1939. Picture used courtesy of the singer Alison O'Donnell. Check out her website.
– Cue for Mozart Overture: The Magic Flute –
The start of the Overture's Allegro section is played here by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bruno Walter in a recording first issued in 1962. It's available on Sony Classical (Mozart Eine kleine Nachtmusik) or more recently on OMP Classics (Bruno Walter Gold).
Mozart Magic Flute.mp3
In my capacity as an ‘extra’ string player at the BBC, I was also lucky enough to play such interesting music as Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service in St Anne’s Cathedral, and to accompany the world famous tenor Gigli in the Ulster Hall.
I also sang in the Ulster Singers, which was formed by that fine musician John Vine, and I learnt some of the great choral music, including the heavenly chorales from Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions.
LH pic: John Vine, probably c.1949.
We were taken to hear all the famous artists who came to visit Belfast, including Kreisler, Heifetz, Backhaus, Solomon and Richard Tauber.
One of the most thrilling song recitals of all, in the Ulster Hall, was that of Paul Robeson, the incomparable bass. The depth of feeling in his singing of Negro Spirituals, stirred my young idealistic soul to its core, and when he finished his many encores by reciting William Blake’s The Little Black Boy, it made such a deep impression on me, of nobility, that I carried this ideal with me throughout life and my many years in the United States, where I so often came face to face with racial prejudice.
RH pic: Paul Robeson in London, 1925.
We were also taken to the Philharmonic oratorio performances which were enhanced by such fine soloists as the soprano Isobel Baillie, the bass Hooton Mitchell, and of course our own tenor, James Johnston, who later went to Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden.
LH pic: James Johnston.
My sister Betsy had married the young artist and poet Patric Stevenson, who was also a great music lover. It was he who introduced me to the music of Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler, long before these two Austrian composers were fully appreciated in Britain. Patric had a wonderful collection of records, including much of Elgar and Delius. Through him, I came to know Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) which, years later, I was to play in the Hallé, with Kathleen Ferrier singing the contralto solo and Barbirolli conducting.
The composer, Kurt Roger, was virtually on his way to America, with a visa in his possession, when we met. A week later the war broke out, and I was not to see him again for eight years, after which we were married. The Viola Sonata was finished in New York, and dedicated to me, as well as some beautiful songs.
Kurt Roger's Viola Sonata, Op.37, was recently issued on Naxos 8.573011, in a performance by Philip Dukes, viola, and Piers Lane, piano. This brief clip is from that CD, Track 7 - Andante molto espressivo, the slow movement.
NI war-time concerts and auditions for the Hallé
At that time, the Performers’ Club was born, initiated by Frank Capper, with Heinz a founder member, and it proved, as it still does in 1985, to be an invaluable platform for aspiring players and vocalists. In those early days we performed string quartets with Oskar Rudnitsky and Claire Mathews.
RH pic: Heinz Hammerschlag with young musicians at the City of Belfast School of Music where he was the part-time string quartet coach.
Pic from The Music Makers by Norman McNeilly, published 1976 by the Friends of the CBYO.
I felt that I wasn’t temperamentally suited to join the Women’s Forces, but rather to use whatever musical ability I had to help preserve the importance of art during our nation’s darkest years, and so I decided to apply for a position in the Hallé Orchestra, Manchester. It is sad that some social benefits come about only because of the advent of war: conscription solving unemployment, and certainly the emancipation of women players, who had been barred from our symphony orchestras, were born through the pangs of war.
In 1940, John Barbirolli had been persuaded to return from New York (where he had succeeded Toscanini as conductor of the New York Philharmonic) to re-form the Hallé Orchestra. He accepted the challenge and in so doing appointed a young woman, Livia Gollancz, (daughter of the publisher), as Principal Horn; his first oboe and timpanist were also women.
Perhaps he would tell me I was wasting his time. What would his attitude be? I needn’t have been afraid. I was in the presence of a warm-hearted, deeply human, musician, who immediately put me at ease. When I mentioned that I had had very little orchestral experience, he exclaimed, ‘That doesn’t matter, I’ll give you the experience.’
Shortly after my return to Belfast I received a wire asking me to join the Orchestra on tour, in Brighton, and so I left my native Ulster at the beginning of 1944, never to return to live here for the next 20 years.
Working with Barbirolli
From the first moment, I was completely under the spell of this fascinating artist who set for me a standard by which to measure all who mount the rostrum. Perhaps Socrates had conductors in mind when he said: ‘Many are they who wave the wand, but the inspired are few’!
LH pic: John Barbirolli (also pic below right).
Rehearsals were long and intensive, but never ever dull – and whilst his fiery Latin temperament often boiled over and he would throw the score away in a tantrum, and call us ‘imbeciles’, he was basically a patient man with a great talent for training an orchestra. I never knew him to be insulting to an individual player.
I shall never forget his opening of the score of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and saying, ‘This is the greatest music ever written’. On another occasion, when rehearsing the waltzes of Johann Strauss, he remarked with delight, ‘This is aristocratic music’.
After Barbirolli’s death in 1970, Michael Kennedy, for his authorised biography of the conductor, invited personal reminiscences and was kind enough to publish mine, which also touched on the difficult war-time conditions under which the Hallé Orchestra worked.
Rehearsals in Manchester, except for those immediately preceding the concerts, took place in a derelict school building – St Peter’s School in Deansgate, which was literally a slum. The only
The grimness of those narrow mean streets of poverty-stricken houses, combined with the privation of war and the constant danger of air-raids, contrasted sharply with the magical sounds conjured up by Barbirolli’s baton, which transported one spiritually to another plane where physical comfort became unimportant. And if it wasn’t an air-attack, it could be a Manchester fog.
More than once I was obliged to ‘crawl’ home on foot, the two or more miles to Levenshulme, clutching my viola, without seeing more than an inch before my eyes, colliding against strangers all the way. And when the Orchestra returned from out-of-town concerts in the small hours of the morning, I was regularly dropped off at the nearest point to where I lived, which meant walking in the total black-out, with only a small dimly-lit torch, for half-a-mile, passing underneath a bridge. I always felt my heart thumping loudly when my footsteps echoed beneath the bridge. However, one seemed less aware then of civil crime, than now, in the so-called peace-time of 1985!
When I am asked by parents of musical children if I think life of an orchestral player is worthwhile, I can only say ‘Yes’ a hundred times! I know of no other profession with so much freedom, the possibility of choosing an orchestra, one’s city, or even changing one’s country, and not only is one involved with music of the great composers but one can find oneself constantly on the same public platform as the most eminent soloists of the day, an exalting experience in itself.
I never ceased to be thrilled, to be part of a performance with artists such as Kathleen Ferrier, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Myra Hess, Max Rostal, Clifford Curzon, Ginette Neveu, William Primrose, Denis Mathews, Solomon, Szigeti and many others who appeared regularly with the Hallé, and there were always the little personal touches. I remember writing home to my parents, ‘Yesterday I met our soloist, the great French violinist Thibaud, on the street on the way to the concert hall, and he carried my viola as well as his violin’. Just imagine!
I never ceased to be thrilled, to be part of a performance with artists such as Kathleen Ferrier, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Myra Hess, Max Rostal, Clifford Curzon, Ginette Neveu, William Primrose, Denis Mathews, Solomon, Szigeti and many others who appeared regularly with the Hallé, and there were always the little personal touches.
I remember writing home to my parents, ‘Yesterday I met our soloist, the great French violinist Thibaud, on the street on the way to the concert hall, and he carried my viola as well as his violin’. Just imagine!
The leader of the orchestra, Laurance Turner, asked me to join his string quartet while his violist, Sidney Errington, was serving in the Forces. This was a wonderful opportunity for chamber-music concerts, in and around Manchester, and for the BBC, and I was specially privileged to broadcast Arnold Bax’s oboe quintet with Barbirolli’s wife, Evelyn Rothwell, playing the oboe. For one of
Barbirolli’s special affinity to the music of Elgar and Vaughan Williams is well known, and I would like to play the fourth movement of Vaughan Williams’ Eighth Symphony in D minor which was dedicated to Barbirolli, the composer having written on the score,‘To glorious John’, something of which Barbirolli was naturally enormously proud.
Barbirolli's recording of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.8 with the Hallé Orchestra was first issued in 1958. Most recently it has been re-released on Naxos Classical Archives, 9.80006. This is the start of the fourth movement, Toccata colle campanelle.
In Ghent, where the Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux played the Mendelssohn Concerto to the sound of ‘buzz’ bombs overhead, there was an amusing incident: our superb Irish clarinettist, Pat Ryan, was arrested on the street, on his way to a rehearsal, suspected of being an enemy parachutist. He had a hard time convincing the police that he was an innocent musician who was already late for the rehearsal, and he was detained for several hours.
These concerts were of course very emotional experiences, and our encores always included The Londonderry Air and other folk tunes from the British Isles for the ‘boys’. At the final concert in Brussels, on Christmas Day, the great pianist Solomon played the Tchaikovsky B flat Concerto to a tumultuous crowd, ending with the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
More Barbirolli memories
On one occasion, during a rehearsal of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, he was annoyed by a male member of the choir who kept his hands in his pockets. At last he said: ‘The gentleman with his hands in his pockets, I think he should remove them out of respect for God, and for Bach, and come to that, for the Conductor’.
‘Crikey’, said a player in the orchestra, ‘he’s got them in the right order.’
Imagine then a situation in Bradford, where my friend Posy and I, engrossed in conversation in the ladies’ room several floors above the concert platform, failed to hear our manager’s signal to return to our seats after the interval. When he ran upstairs to shout us down, we were appalled to find Barbirolli actually standing at the stage door, awaiting our pleasure, before he could return to the podium! I wanted the floor to swallow me up, but as we passed him I sneaked a guilty glance at his face, and saw that his eyes had a merry twinkle, and he muttered ‘Trust the Irish’! Our punishment was complete when the audience, who had observed two vacant seats in the middle of the Orchestra, and who had also suffered the delay, broke into applause as we bashfully went to our chairs. This was a performance I was careful never to repeat!
Picture our travel-weary colleagues, uncertain of where to eat between rehearsal and concert, now, having nowhere to sleep. Fortunately, Barbirolli and some principal players were re-instated, but others had to walk the streets in search of alternative accommodation. I felt that we Irish had suffered a definite set-back in popularity.
Being a gifted cellist himself, Barbirolli naturally placed this venerated master on a pedestal and one sensed his deep emotion, combining reverence with awe, and even nervous tension in anticipation, as he rehearsed us in preparation for Casals’ arrival.
When Casals appeared on the podium one was struck by the simple, modest demeanour of the little man. He and Barbirolli embraced. Casals played like a God, and of course Barbirolli was an accompanist of the most refined sensitivity who delighted the Latin-blooded Casals in every way. After the rapturous reception of that first concert, the great cellist played as an encore the Sarabande from the Suite No.5 of Bach. It was a model of beauty, eloquence and nobility.
RH pic: Pablo Casals (1876-1973).
Worth recording too, I think, is my recollection of a performance of Richard Strauss’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme suite, in Sheffield. Sensing a lack of enthusiasm in the applause which followed, Barbirolli made a speech. He told the audience they obviously had no idea of the preparation that went into a performance of this rarely-heard masterpiece, and he proposed to play the whole work again from beginning to end. This uncalled-for encore was greeted with tumultuous applause! I remember how he muttered, as he walked off, ‘That’ll teach ’em’.
In the home of Viennese friends I met the famous first cellist of the Vienna Philharmonic, Professor Friedrich Buxbaum [LH pic], who had played under Gustav Mahler and in the celebrated Rosé string quartet. He and his wife were refugees from Hitler, and were then in the grip of old age. I knew that the Rosé Quartet had performed the two celli quintet of Kurt Roger (with an extra cello) in Vienna, in 1936 with much success. Buxbaum was famous not only for his playing, but for his caustic wit, and many of his professional jokes have become ‘classics’, such as the one about a member of the public, asking of a certain guest conductor, ‘What is he conducting to-night?’
‘I don’t know’, replied Buxbaum, ‘but we’re playing Beethoven’s Fifth’!
The enthusiasm of this old man for chamber music was most impressive. He himself suggested playing string quartets with me and two young Hallé Orchestra colleagues. I shall never forget how he arrived in a snow-storm, in a taxi, with his cello on one of these occasions. We played together until he left for London, where he later died. I cherish the letters he wrote to me from there which are a testament to his life-long dedication to music.
I decided to confide in him, because, after all, he had always enjoyed the role of father-figure to his players, showing how he cared what happened to them, and he was very well aware of the strain the Orchestra was subjected to. So instead of merely handing in my notice, which would have been unbearable to me, I was able to receive his blessing and understanding.
Amongst my collection of musical ‘treasures’ is the handle of Beecham’s baton which snapped during the excitement of the Brahms Symphony No.2, in the Leeds Town Hall. It fell at my feet! And I also have an equally valued broken baton of Barbirolli, from a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Neither batons were, I hasten to add, smashed over my head!
My Manchester days were, however, coming to an end.
Kurt Roger and life in the USA
Kurt Roger had studied in Vienna under Karl Weigl, Guido Adler and Arnold Schoenberg, and had obtained his doctorate of music from the Vienna University in 1918. He was head of theory and composition at the Vienna Conservatoire from 1923 to 1938 when he had to flee his native country. He had been the editor of a music magazine in Vienna and had taken a public stand against the Nazi’s destruction of the Mendelssohn monument in Leipzig.
LH pic: Kurt Roger (1895-1966). See also a biography and list of some recordings here.
‘What’s a quandary?’ asked the girl.
‘A predicament’, he answered.
‘What’s a predicament?’ she asked.
‘Well, a dilemma’, said he.
‘What’s a dilemma?’ she asked.
‘Don’t tell me you don’t know what a dilemma is. Have you never heard of' The Doctor’s Dilemma by Bernard Shaw?’
‘Who’s Bernard Shaw?’ she asked.
‘Well! You were in a tight spot!’
‘Gee, why didn’t you say that in the first place?’
It was in New York City that I heard all 77 Haydn string quartets, played in chronological order, although not on one night! Memories of Carnegie Hall bring to mind the old doorman, when the film of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables was being shown in the small Carnegie Hall on a Sunday afternoon, at the same time as the Philharmonic Concert in the large hall. As the public entered, he was calling out: ‘Philharmonic Concert on your right, the less Miserables to your left, upstairs’!
I was happy to be asked to join a women’s string quartet in New York. The leader, Marianne Kneisel was the daughter of the famous violinist Franz Kneisel, who had gone to the States from Germany as a young man, becoming a great teacher and producing some of America’s leading soloists. With his string quartet he had given the first performance of Dvořák’s Quartet in F, Op. 96 (The American) in Boston, on January 1st, 1894. They also gave the first performance of Dvořák’s Quintet in E flat for two violas in Carnegie Hall on January 12th, 1894. Franz Kneisel had, of course, known Dvořák personally and I felt that, when playing his music with Marianne, we couldn’t be very far away from an authentic style.
Amongst Franz Kneisel’s most distinguished students were the brother and sister, Joseph and Lillian Fuchs, violin and viola, and I had the good fortune of attending the chamber music classes of Lillian Fuchs which were held weekly in the home of Mrs Leventritt, well-known patroness of the arts in New York City.
Lillian Fuchs has not played in Europe so her name is not as well known here as it should be. She is one of the finest instrumentalists in the world.
I would like to play here a movement from her marvellous recordings of the six solo suites of Bach, the Bourées I and II from the Suite No.3 in C Major.
Doremi is a Canadian company, specialising in restoring the recorded legacies of great classical musicians. The 2 CD set (pictured above) from Doremi, DHR-7801/02, is a very welcome reissue of Decca recordings from the 1950s. This clip is of the opening of the Bourées from the Third Suite.
Our love of Europe and family, plus the excessive heat of American cities in the summer, resulted in many trips across the ocean, which also had musical significance. I have been lucky enough to hear Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Bayreuth four times (under Clemens Krauss, Josef Keilbert, Karl Böhm and Knappertsbusch), as well as Parsifal, Meistersinger and Lohengrin. On these pilgrimages to that wonderful Wagner shrine in Bavaria, we had the privilege of meeting his two grandsons, who ran the festival, Wieland and Wolfgang. We had met their sister Friedlind who lived in New York. They all looked remarkably like their grandfather!
Amongst my husband’s earliest recollections, which I always enjoyed listening to, was his seeing Richard Wagner’s widow Cosima, a very old lady, sitting at a window in Villa Wahnfried, Bayreuth. He also had childhood memories of holidays spent in Carinthia in Austria, with his parents, who watched Gustav Mahler diving into the lake for a daily swim.
We came to Salzburg many times to enjoy the festival and my husband was also invited to lecture at the Mozarteum on American music; on one occasion specifically on Vanessa, the new opera of Samuel Barber. I wish that every musician could experience the romance of Mozart’s birth-town, even once in a lifetime!
Above pic: Joy Roger
Kurt Roger's music and conductors from Buffalo to Washington
The Orchestra played in the beautiful, very modern, Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. One of the first works I played with William Steinberg was Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, and I soon realised what a fine conductor he was – a totally compelling and dynamic personality.
However, this was to be a short-lived pleasure. We performed a concert version of The Flying Dutchman and as William Steinberg said, in the words of the Dutchman, ‘The seven long years have ended’, applied also to himself. He had been in Buffalo for seven years and this was his last season.
As Buffalo was a whole day’s journey from New York City, and I couldn’t envisage living there, his leaving made mine easier.
We also travelled to Rochester, New York, to hear Erich Leinsdorf perform the Concerto with the Rochester Philharmonic. After a performance in Montreal, my husband was still under the spell of having heard his music, when our Canadian host, at a private reception, asked him: ‘Scotch?’ (meaning ‘What can I get you to drink?’). My husband answered, ‘No, I am Austrian, I am from Vienna.’
We had fallen in love with Washington on our first visit, with its spacious avenues and cherry trees, so the temptation was great! A good omen at my audition prompted my acceptance: the American conductor pointed out that they had scheduled my husband’s Trumpet Concerto for performance that season!
I think it would be appropriate now to play at least the slow movement of this work, which I have referred to several times, especially as it is the National Symphony Orchestra’s performance in which I played, but I must beg your indulgence as it is an old tape and the quality is poor. It is Op.27, a very early work.
– Cue for Kurt Roger Slow movt., Concerto Grosso No.1 for Trumpet, Timpani and Strings –
This is a brief clip of the "quiet, veiled mood" of the opening of the slow movement, Adagio, molto sostenuto ed espressivo, of Kurt Roger's Concerto Grosso No.1 in a recent recording, Trumpet Renaissance, on Chandos CHAN 10562. The soloist is Philippe Shartz, trumpet (muted at the start of this movement); Jac van Steen conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
The National Symphony Orchestra had 95 players, and the conductor, Howard Mitchell, had been the first cellist under its founder, the German, Hans Kindler.
The life of an orchestral player, as I have already said, can hold limitless excitement. Here I was, poised to play all four Brahms’ symphonies with one of the world’s most venerated masters on the rostrum, Bruno Walter! Indeed in such moments I often felt that I should pinch myself, to be certain that it wasn’t a dream.
Still handsome at 77, with intense eyes and soft speech, his presence was one of great dignity, and the nobility of his musical intentions found immediate response in the Orchestra. Only a year earlier I had heard him at the piano, accompanying Kathleen Ferrier in her last lieder recital at the Edinburgh Festival, a deeply moving experience as she died too young of cancer.
LH pic: Bruno Walter.
Unlike Bruno Walter, he was known not only for his sharp ears, but for his sharp tongue and acrid temper. So we were on guard. His visit coincided with the bicentenary of Mozart’s birth and I had the privilege of playing in a chamber orchestra concert which he conducted in the Library of Congress. The programme included Mozart’s Concerto for flute, harp and orchestra.
He was at that time married to the beautiful Gloria Vanderbilt, and he was justly very proud of their young children, as he was an old man. In the middle of one of our rehearsals he stopped the Orchestra and told us he had taken his little child by the hand to watch the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York City, on Fifth Avenue.
As the band major marched by, throwing the mace above his head, the child had asked, ‘Daddy, why does he throw that thing up in the air?’
‘Well,’ said Stokowski, ‘that’s what conductors do.’
A few days later he found the child sitting in front of the television watching Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. He asked, ‘Daddy, why doesn’t he throw that thing up in the air?’
RH pic: Leopold Stokowski.
Beecham and Barbirolli in the USA
I acquired a private tape recording of this, which 20 years later I gave to the BBC for its archives.
It was deemed ‘the music broadcast of the year’ by the BBC.
At our Sunday afternoon concert series in the Lisner Auditorium, the excessive heating system incurred Beecham’s wrath and he sensed that the audience, which consisted largely of elderly women in fur coats, was already asleep.
Suddenly he stopped the orchestra and roared back-stage: ‘Turn that heat off! What do you think this is? HELL?’ ‘I’ll take my trousers off.’ ‘We had hoped to waken them up with our music, but they’re stifled, stupefied.’
And before beginning the last piece on the programme that afternoon (Richard Strauss’s Salome’s Dance), he lifted his baton and said to us, ‘Give it hell, let’s get home to our tea and crumpets.’
This may not seem the most artistic approach to a masterpiece, but to play for Beecham was an electrifying experience. When he lifted the stick, something happened. He had spark and life and genius and, above all, he was UNIQUE!
LH pic: Sir Thomas Beecham.
Psychology is so important for a conductor. Beecham said that a conductor had to act all the time in the belief that his was the first word and the last word on any piece of music. I remember the time he learnt his lesson. At the end of the concert there was the usual tremendous applause and he was taking his bow when someone in the audience shouted out, “Get the orchestra on its feet – it did all the work!”
He actually came twice to Washington, his second visit being in 1960 when he was 81, and when he signed my birthday book he said: ‘If you think that I enjoy being reminded of my birthday …!’ This was his last visit to the USA.
LH pic: (L to R) Lady Barbirolli (Evelyn Rothwell), Sir John Barbirolli and Joy Roger, photographed in Washington D.C.
The handwritten inscription along the top reads: "To dear Kurt and Joy. In affectionate remembrance of our reunion. John and Evelyn, Dec.1958."
In 1958 Barbirolli arrived as a guest conductor of the Orchestra and I felt an almost personal pride in the reception he got from my American colleagues. ‘How’, they asked me, ‘could you have left Manchester when you had an artist like that on the rostrum?’
And it was lovely to see Evelyn Rothwell, whose oboe playing was so well known and admired from recordings, surrounded by our woodwind players seeking advice.
One of the most cherished memories will always be the Barbirolli’s visit to our home when, placing my Italian viola between his knees, he played, cello fashion, the wonderful viola theme on the A string from the first act of Tristan and Isolde.
His physical health had failed noticeably and he was living almost entirely on his nervous energy.
When I embraced him after the concert, I felt that I wouldn’t see him again. I think if I had had no other musical experience in my life, I would still feel enriched by having worked for him so closely in those years.
On tour, soloists, Presidents and Stravinsky
We were in the middle of the last, deeply emotional movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, with our conductor pulling at our heart strings and extracting the last ‘drop of blood’ so to speak, when suddenly in an anguished pause, following
At the end of another concert, when the applause called for an encore, he dashed back on the rostrum and called out to us: ‘Tchaikovsky Waltz’, forgetting that we had two Tchaikovsky waltzes on our music stands. The result was that half of the orchestra played The Sleeping Beauty and the other half Swan Lake. A pity Beecham had to miss that too!
Glenn Gould [LH pic], the Canadian pianist and great Bach specialist, was a highly eccentric genius. Whenever he appeared he brought with him not only his piano, but his own chair and rug to place his feet on, and a bottle of spa water to drink. He ‘limbered up’ his arms in all the tutti places of a concerto, even at a concert, and emitted extraordinary sounds whilst playing, which drove recording technicians to distraction. Known for his characteristically fast tempi in Bach, as a member of the audience I once witnessed a most unusual scene in Carnegie Hall when he played with the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein conducting. Before Gould came out to perform the First Brahms Concerto, Bernstein appeared on the platform and addressed the audience. ‘I just wish to tell you that I completely dissociate myself from the performance you are about to hear’.
Actually, I played at the Inauguration Concerts of three presidents in Washington, and I cherish a copy of the programme from that of John F. Kennedy at which Mischa Elman was the soloist.
For his 80th birthday, Igor Stravinsky came to record his operas, Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) and Oedipus Rex, with the Washington Opera Society. It is a recognised fact that the physical and psychological side of conducting seems to prolong life. Most of the famous conductors I have mentioned were in their ‘youthful’ seventies, and some continued into their nineties. Stravinsky’s disciple, Robert Craft, arrived in advance of the great master to rehearse and prepare us. Craft rehearsed meticulously, but it was interesting that, when Stravinsky did take over, not everything was conducted as Craft had predicted (e.g. what had been beaten in 8 might now be in 4).
Now I would like you to hear a little of his opera The Nightingale from that recording in which I played.
This clip comes from Stravinsky's recording with the Orchestra of the Opera Society of Washington D.C. made at the very end of December 1960. It's from Act 1 of The Nightingale and the complete opera buffa is included in the 22 CD set Works of Igor Stravinsky on Sony BMG 88697103112.
Return to Belfast
Our dream was to live in Salzburg, where I could be within reach of my family in Ireland. This plan was altered in I964 by an invitation from Professor Philip Cranmer, Professor of Music at Queen’s University, to my husband to take the place of composer Raymond Warren as a guest lecturer in the Music Department for a year. We decided to spend the winter in Belfast and the summer in Austria.
It seems that as a player my roots, which had been transplanted for so many years, immediately thrived again in the soil which had nurtured my up-bringing.
This was due in large measure to the kindness of Dr Havelock Nelson, who involved me in so much rewarding music-making and with him I took part in the first annual music festival of Queen’s University.
LH pic: A 1965 newspaper cutting (probably from the Belfast Telegraph) recording a performance at the Performers' Club which Joy gave with Philip Cranmer of Kurt Roger's Viola Sonata.
In May 1966 we left Belfast, hoping to spend a long summer in Austria but my husband was in failing health. There was a special intensity in response to the music we heard in Vienna that spring, and at the conclusion of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in the Opera House (which he always referred to as the ‘Temple of his Youth’) I could scarcely coax him away.
Returning to Ulster, alone, I was again most generously supported by Havelock Nelson, Dr Boucher, Frank Capper, Philip Cranmer and many others, and when a viola vacancy occurred in the BBC orchestra I was encouraged to join. I was able to visit the USA and Austria to attend memorial concerts to Kurt Roger. Amongst the many local tributes to him, there was a splendid performance of his Piano Sonata by William Young.
RH pic: Dr Havelock Nelson.
During those years I enjoyed a great deal of chamber-music playing, in concerts, broadcasts and television, thanks to those people I have already mentioned, including David Byers, and to Alan Tongue who contributed to my opportunities within the BBC. It was a great honour to take part in a trio programme on television with James Galway and Havelock Nelson. I have had the pleasure of performing piano quartets with Michael Nuttall at the University and of joining many other colleagues in ensembles, including our illustrious Derek Bell, and as these musical relationships are enduring, I hope that my life of music has not entered its coda!
In 1969, Heinz Hammerschlag’s Viennese-born artist wife, Alice Berger, tragically died. They had been dear friends of ours. This shared sense of loss, combined with our mutual love of music, brought us together again, and led to our marriage in 1974.
In many ways it seems to me that my life too has formed a circle: a circle enhanced throughout by music in all its facets. For this I am deeply grateful.
LH pic: Untitled painting (oil on canvas on board) by Alice Berger-Hammerschlag from the Ulster Museum's collection (National Museums Northern Ireland). See more paintings here.
This brief clip is from Rafael Kubelik's classic 1976 recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon, most recently (2002) included in a Trio boxed set, DG 469 366-2.
Noon Day Witch.mp3
The following note is a transcript of an additional document, also written by Joy. It's dated 1998.
A World Orchestra with Rudolf Barshai
The soloists were from Slovakia, Lithuania, Russia and Italy. I could never have envisaged such an exciting musical event so late in my career: to meet and perform with leading players from the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic of London, Vienna and San Francisco Symphony orchestras, radio orchestras of France and Moscow, Israel Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam. Along with my violinist friend from America, I was to represent the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington where I had played for many years, but I was also to represent Ireland, having been the leader of the violas in the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra.
We spent three days of intensive rehearsing, followed by receptions, before performing in the vast amphitheatre for 20,000 people in Berlin’s magnificent Waldbühne, to commemorate the Nazi capitulation in 1945.
The Conductor, Rudolf Barshai addressed the orchestra in five languages, but Verdi’s music spoke to us in one!
This script © Joy Roger Hammerschlag, 2013
Appendix: Joy in performance, 1970
The music is the 1879 Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor, Op.15, by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924).
Please click on the thumbnail to see the Radio Times billing. The PDF below it features some fascinating information about violinist and RAF fighter pilot Peter Gibbs, including his confrontation with Herbert von Karajan and the Great Mull Air Mystery.