Saturday, February 21, 2009
Occasionally my research for program notes will lead me to a good story – which sometimes is relevant to the notes and hand and sometimes isn’t! In this case, Ravel’s Tzigane led me to its dedicatee, the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi.
Jelly d’Aranyi (1895-1966) was a grand-niece of Joseph Joachim and a pupil of both Hubay and Bartok, and was one of the many Hungarian artists who settled in London in the 1920s. By all accounts, Jelly was an exciting player, with wonderful technique and no small amount of gypsy flair. Early in her career she formed a sort of artistic partnership with Bartok, performing memorable sonata recitals, one of which led to her meeting with Ravel. She was a dedicatee of Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Academico and, with her sister Adila Fachiri, Holst’s Double Concerto for two violins. Jelly maintained a career as an active soloist and chamber musician, performing in a piano trio and as a duo partner with Myra Hess.
Jelly d’Aranyi was also instrumental in the resurgence of Robert Schumann’s presumably lost Violin Concerto, and here’s where the story gets really interesting. The concerto was written in 1853 for Schumann’s friend (and Jelly’s great-uncle, remember) Joachim. This was Schumann’s Dusseldorf period, and evidence of the composer’s impending madness was mounting; less than a year later he would attempt suicide. Joachim thought the work morbid and never performed it, eventually depositing it in the Berlin State Library with instructions that it should not be performed until 100 years after Schumann’s death, or 1956.
In 1933 however, Jelly claimed to have been visited during a séance by Robert Schumann himself, who asked her to find his concerto (of which she claimed no prior knowledge) and give its first performance. Allegedly Joachim also appeared to her, pointing her to the Berlin State Library, but it seems just as likely that she was able to locate it through professional and personal contacts. I’m not sure what happened at this point, but it was four years before a copy of manuscript left the library, going first to Yehudi Menuhin. He wanted to give the first performance in San Francisco, but was blocked by both Jelly and the German Nazi government, who held the copyright. They wanted it to be performed first in Germany by a German; George Kulenkampff gave the world premiere in Berlin on November 26th 1937. Menuhin performed it at Carnegie Hall with a piano reduction on December 6th and then with the St. Louis Symphony on December 23rd. Jelly did manage to give the London premiere with the BBC Symphony, although her performance was apparently not a universally acclaimed success; the critic Robert Elkin remarked, “of this dismal fiasco, the less said the better.”