Tag Archives: Eileen Joyce



Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)



Eileen Joyce Studio, UWA

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Some time ago, during a TV interview, famed mezzo Cecilia Bartoli was asked whether she thought she had been touched by the finger of God. Modestly, she said she doubted it  –  but, tongue in cheek – she conceded that the Lord might possibly have waved ‘hullo’ from a distance.


After listening to Geoffrey Lancaster’s artistry in this series of Haydn  recitals, I’d like to think that God Almighty would not only have waved to him but invited him in for afternoon tea.


Perhaps once in a generation, sometimes even less frequently, there’s an opportunity to hear Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas. Perth concertgoers were offered this rare opportunity in July.


Geoffrey Lancaster is one of the very few fortepianists anywhere in the world to have taken on this immense challenge. And in these recitals, it was at once apparent that he has in abundance those crucial attributes essential to embark on so vast a musical enterprise: fearless, superbly educated fingers, an intellect of highest order, rare expressive insights – and the staying power of a primed athlete.


Not the least of the many delights of the sonatas (more than fifty) was Lancaster’s linking commentary deriving from a lifetime’s consideration of these wonderful but often neglected  keyboard gems. Lancaster’s knowledge of the circumstances surrounding each of these gems is encyclopaedic.


As well, in the style of Haydn’s day, the performance of each sonata was prefaced by a brief prelude by the performer: an extemporaneous flourish here, a little series of rapid arabesques there, some scales up and down the keyboard – and then the magic of Haydn interpreted by a keyboard master at the height of his powers.


Rapid passagework that called strings of perfectly matched pearls to mind – and the extraordinary richness of Lancaster’s ornamentation of the music – were two only of the many factors he employed to expound Haydn’s idiosyncratic musical argument in the most persuasive and satisfying ways.  


I noticed a few members of the audience closely following Lancaster’s performances in the printed score and scribbling comments in the margins, doubtless interpretative insights of a valuable sort to pass on to pupils.


It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this series. The chances of encountering these works here again soon as a cycle, are very, very small. In over fifty years of busy concertgoing, this has been the first opportunity I’ve had to listen to many of these extraordinary works in a single series.


Currently, Lancaster is recording the Haydn cycle of sonatas for the Tall Poppies label. 




David Tunley at 80


by Neville Cohn


He has turned 80 but he brings to his life in music an energy that would wear out many half his age. “I can’t imagine retirement in conventional terms. As long as my mind remains clear, I’m sure I’ll be using it in one way or another”, said this most amiable and industrious of dons.


Emeritus professor David Tunley, steeped in the musical tradition, is hard at work on his eighth book – on that most celebrated of all Australian pianists, Eileen Joyce. “It’s not so much a biography as a study of her artistic development since her childhood in Kalgoorlie,” explained Tunley who is collaborating on the book with colleagues Victoria Rogers and, for the first chapter, Jean Farrant “who has researched the musical life of that city in considerable depth.


“While researching Joyce’s early days in Kalgoorlie, I discovered that before little Eileen came to Loreto Convent in Perth, one of her piano teachers was a brilliant pianist Rosetta Spriggs. And while looking into this, I discovered to my surprise that Leah Horwitz,  a fellow student in my days at the Sydney Con, was the daughter of the very same Miss Spriggs who was later to marry, becoming Mrs Horwitz. A telephone call to Brisbane, earlier this year, got Leah and me talking together for the first time since student days of 60 years ago”.


One of Tunley’s most vivid recollections is of hearing Eileen Joyce perform when he was a music student at the Sydney Conservatorium.”Years later, I met her when she came to Perth for the National Eisteddfod and again when she received an Honorary Doctor of Music (for which I wrote the citation) from UWA”.


In the most positive, indeed indelible, ways, Tunley has made his mark on music in W.A.. The much loved York Winter Music Festival was his brainchild as was the Terrace Proms which on one Sunday in the year brought vibrant life and music to an otherwise drab weekend wind tunnel. Tunley also founded the University A Capella Choir which was later renamed University Collegium  Musicum.


Much of Tunley’s life has been devoted to the music of France. “I have a special love for baroque music, especially the French baroque”. His book on the French Cantata has been internationally hailed. Indeed, Tunley’s work in French music has been so distinguished that France has honoured him by appointing him a Chevalier in the Napoleonic Order of Palmes Academiques. Closer to home, the Order of Australia and the Australian Centenary Medal have also come his way.


“I’m afraid I spend much more time at the keyboard of my computer than on that of the piano”, said Tunley. “As for writing, I take advantage of what time is left from what seems to be an endlessly busy life, for I am also involved in voluntary work and, of course, time with the family is more important than ever”.





One of Tunley’s dearest wishes is that UWA School of Music and the music department at the W.A.Academy of Performing Arts “pool their wonderful resources to create a single institution that could meet the varied needs of the many gifted students we have in W.A.”


Another of Tunley’s hopes is for greater government support  “to underpin the extraordinarily fine achievements in recent years by our orchestra, opera and ballet companies.


“These and other artistic resources are the very life-blood of our cultural community. Yet the WASO still lacks a home – and the opera and ballet companies need more room. It may be difficult to convince hardheads that it is not money that makes a city great – there are plenty of rich but soul-less cities around the world to confirm this.” Tunley points out that a much stronger underpinning of our cultural life is needed by governments and philanthropists to transform our boom state into Australia’s cultural centre.


At an 80th birthday tribute concert for the Royal Schools Music Club at Callaway Auditorium, a small army of musicians gave performances of works from Tunley’s pen as well as a bracket of French vocal delights from the 18th and 19th century, music typical of the material that Tunley has researched and written extensively about with a distinction that has earned him international plaudits.

Eileen Joyce 1908 – 1991




A Centenary Tribute


by Neville Cohn



Her dirt poor parents in Boulder were so short of money, that her clothes were made from old flour sacks – and her  shoes were hand-me-downs two sizes too big for her. It’s almost certain that these slights and embarrassments made the little girl long to be famous and rich. And that is what happened to Eileen Joyce – or little Ellie as she was known in Boulder where her parents settled not long after Ellie was born in Tasmania in 1908.


One hundred years on, there will be many a commemorative recital in her honour around the world. So, too, in Perth which loomed large in Joyce’s affections, so much so that towards the end of her life, she donated significant monies for the building of the Eileen Joyce Studio on UWA campus in memory of her parents.


During the 1940s and into the 1950s, Eileen Joyce was arguably the second most famous of living Australians, second only to Don Bradman – and she earned buckets of money in the process.


She was glamorous, she was feted wherever she went – and the clothes she wore were almost as a big a talking point as her performances. Eileen Joyce would say that, in her mind, certain colours suited certain composers: lilac for Liszt, yellow for Schumann, blue for Grieg, red for Tchaikowsky and so on. And she would frequently give recitals in which she would wear a different concert gown for each work on the program, a habit that would surely have been sweet compensation after her poverty-stricken youth. And these were not gowns made by some anonymous suburban dressmaker. On the contrary, they sported the labels of some of the priciest couturiers in the world, such as Worth and Norman Hartnell, the Queens’ dress designer.


For years, she was very frequently written about in women’s magazines which informed their avid readers that even Joyce’s hairstyles were dictated by the music she played: hair piled high for Beethoven, drawn back tight for Mozart and let down for Debussy!


Some critics blasted her for these “tasteless distractions”, “prostitution of her art” and “cheap tricks”. Eileen laughed all the way to the bank.


As a child, Ellie liked to play the harmonica but when an aunt moved in with the family, she brought an item of furniture that would change Ellie’s life forever – a battered old upright piano to which the little girl took like the proverbial duck to water.


Ellie was taught the piano at the convent school she attended in Boulder. Enter one Charles Schilsky who would by now be totally forgotten if not for being the first senior musician to spot Ellie’s extraordinary potential and do something about it. Schilsky had come to Boulder as an examiner for Trinity College of Music, London.


After hearing young Ellie, he approached the local priest and told him the little girl had a giant talent and needed top tuition. The Catholic church came to Ellie’s musical rescue. Monies were raised in improbable ways. Hats were passed around in Boulder taverns – and more than a few of the winnings from games of two-up found their way to the growing fund. Ellie went to Perth as a boarder at Loreto Convent where Sister John gave Ellie the music guidance she needed.


Enter Charles Schilsky yet again. Invited back to Perth to adjudicate at an eisteddfod, he immediately recognised that Ellie was moving forward by leaps and bounds, put in a good word or two and before long young Eileen was on her way to Europe for lessons in Leipzig, Germany from Robert Teichmuller. Here, too, she flourished, absorbing her teacher’s wise counsel like blotting paper. Then she went to England. Sir Henry Wood, founder of the famous London Proms, conducted her debut concerto performance; it was a huge success. Eileen Joyce was on her way to justifying Percy Grainger’s comment that “she was the most transcendentally gifted pianist I have ever encountered.”


Her big break came in London. She’d decided to make a piano recording privately which she intended to use as a sort of musical calling card when looking for concert opportunities. But when she returned to the studio to pay for the recording she had made days earlier, she was told, to her pleasant surprise, that her playing was so impressive that, not only did she not have to pay for the recording, she was instead offered a contract to make further recordings on the Parlophone label – and that was the beginning of a career during which many of her records became best sellers, making a fortune for both the recording company and Eileen.


This was also about the time that Eileen, a compulsive liar for most of her life, began manufacturing fanciful fictions about her life and career – and these fabrications became increasingly complicated until, later in life, she had difficulty herself in remembering what was true and what was not. Early on, she claimed to have been born in 1912 – but then, many movie actresses also hid their year of birth.


In 1937, Eileen married stockbroker Douglas Barratt by whom she fell pregnant. It was not a happy union – and their son John was born sixteen hours after Britain declared war on Germany. Not long after, Douglas was killed on active service.


Later, Joyce met  Christopher Mann – and although presenting themselves as a married couple, there are still doubts whether they were legally married or not: another one of Joyce’s lies?


Whatever the state of their union, Mann proved a brilliant agent; his connections and shrewd business acumen transformed Eileen into a superstar and earned them a fortune. Her son, though, was to have a traumatic youth and adolescence at Eileen’s and Christopher’s hands. He was packed off to boarding school at the earliest possible moment. And Mann’s attitude towards the little boy would make David Copperfield’s stepfather seem a paragon of enlightenment and compassion by comparison.


For the rest of his life, Mann treated John appallingly, at best treating him like some barely tolerated house guest and insisting on the most detailed accounting, literally to the very penny, of the parsimonious allowance he so grudgingly gave the child who was more often than not dumped like some unwanted parcel at boarding school. To her eternal discredit, Eileen never intervened, passively allowing Mann to wreck John’s childhood and adolescence. This indifference to her only child became ever more obvious towards the end of life when Eileen lavished far more affection on her dogs than her only child.


When she died, she left money for guide dogs for the blind. Would that she had been equally caring about her son John to whom she left nothing – nothing! – so that, to acquire some dearly loved childhood artefacts, he had to engage an agent to purchase these at an auction sale of his mother’s possessions. But Joyce did leave money to John’s young son, to be held in trust until he turned 25 years old. John did not attend his mother’s funeral.


Mean and neglectful she may have been towards her son but in other ways Joyce was generous with her time and abilities. She rarely turned down an appeal to play to raise funds for this or that charity. And in wartime England she worked unceasingly, as did, say, Yehudi Menuhin, to play for the troops in hospitals and munitions factories up and down the land. This, too, brought record crowds to her performances whether as recitalist or concerto soloist.


Joyce’s success on the concert platform or the recording studio was based on a very shrewd self assessment. A superb technical facility allowed her to play, with ease, any work she attempted at the piano. But she lacked interpretative depth – and she knew it. So she avoided music like the late sonatas of Beethoven, for instance, with which she could not identify compellingly. Hers was essentially a superficial gift – and she  exploited it brilliantly. It won over a huge international audience.


Much later in life, she developed an interest in the harpsichord and this at a time when

baroque performance practice was almost unknown – and she is rightly credited with doing valuable pioneering work drawing attention to often neglected early music.


In old age, Joyce very much wanted to honour the memory of her parents and she did so, on the advice of the late Sir Frank Callaway, founding professor of  UWA’s School of Music, by donating significant monies to the university to purpose-build a small auditorium on campus. And it is widely agreed that the Eileen Joyce Studio is one of the most beautiful appointed and situated venues of its kind in the world. It houses a collection of historic pianos as well as water colour paintings of Joyce as concerto soloist at London’s Royal Festival Hall. There is also a fine Augustus John portrait of Joyce when young. There’s also an oil paining of her in doctoral robes (she was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by UWA).


To mark the centenary, Piers Lane who stood in for Joyce years earlier when her hands were not up to the job, will give a recital of works close to Joyce’s heart at the Octagon on Sunday March 16th at 5pm: the program includes the 24 Preludes, opus 28 by Chopin and Grainger’s arrangement of the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.   Perhaps the recital organisers will arrange to have the paintings and drawings of Eileen Joyce displayed in the Octagon foyer on the day of the recital.


Neville Cohn

overview of 2008 music in Perth




by Neville Cohn




Perth, in world terms, may be a small city remote from the main highways of the international concert circuit but it certainly punches above its weight insofar as the range and vitality of its music life is concerned.


Many a much larger city would have been proud to host the equivalent of Perth’s tribute to the music of Olivier Messiaen, the centenary of whose birth in 1908 has been celebrated worldwide. Early in the year, Michael Kieran Harvey devoted three recitals over two days to the master’s complete Catalogue of the Birds based on the composer’s vast understanding of birdsong – with linking commentary by conservationist Martin Copley. Later in the year, we heard a first rate account of Messiaen’s youthful Les Offrandes oubliees  played by an on-form West Australian Symphony Orchestra. As well, Simone Young presided over an unforgettably magnificent interpretation of L’Ascension.


It was good year for pianists, especially Yefim  Bronfman, that prince of the piano, in turn magisterial and scintillating in Rachmaninv’s Concerto No3 in D minor – and Piers Lane marked the centenary of the birth of famed Oz pianist Eileen Joyce with a program of music that often featured in Joyce’s recitals. Sydney International Piano Competition winner Konstantin Shamray did a lap of honour around the country. His Perth recital was memorable for a profoundly meaningful account of Liszt’s  arrangement of the Liebestod  from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.


Victor Sangiorgio brought refined musicianship and impeccable fingerwork to sonatas by Cimarosa  as did Angela Hewitt to Bach’s massive 48 Preludes and Fugues over two recitals.


Joseph Nolan brought impressive virtuosity to two organ programs at St George’s Cathedral.


Dimitri Ashkenazy (son of the more famous Vladimir) was a matchless soloist with the WASO in Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto. Brahms’ Double Concerto was given a thrillingly passionate reading by the ACO with soloists Richard Tognetti (violin) and Tino-Veikko Valve (cello). Youthful soloists – Rebecca White (violin), Rachel Silver (cello) and Zen Zeng  (piano) – were impressive in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Kossov. James Ehness’  artistry on the violin was wasted on Bernstein’s rubbishy Serenade. Natalie Clein’s account of Elgar’s Cello Concerto set the loftiest of standards by which all other performances of this concerto should now be judged.


Easily the most satisfying accounts of  symphonies in 2008 were Alex Briger’s direction of Tchaikowsky’s Fifth, taking the WASO through a reading that brought one face to face with the composer. Another work by the Russian master – the Manfred Symphony – was tailor-made for Vladimir Verbitsky who seemed positively to revel in its massive sonic onslaughts. And in Sibelius’ Symphony no 1, Paul Daniel sounded in his element; it augurs well for his tenure as principal conductor of the WASO. Tadaaki Otaka’s direction of the overture to Wagner’s Tannhauser and the Venusberg Music, on the other hand, was a disappointment, one of the WASO’s few dull patches this year.


Graeme Murphy’s production of Verdi’s Aida was lavishly mounted at His Majesty’s Theatre. I cannot recall a more visually spectacular offering at this venue in 25 years – although the stage was simply not big enough to comfortably accommodate the vast cast. Aivale Cole was memorable in the eponymous role – and hardly less impressive earlier in the year as Helmwige in a concert version of Act I II of  Wagner’s  The Valkyries. Here, among others, Lisa Gasteen as Brunnhilde and Fiona Campbell as Grimgerde  cumulatively generated the decibel levels necessary to blast a way through a huge orchestra at the Concert Hall. In The Magic Flute, Aldo di Toro was splendidly cast as Prince Tamino – it was one of the year’s best opera portrayals. At the other end of the size scale was the WAAPA production of Robert Ward’s The Crucible. This Australian premier season revealed a work almost entirely devoid of catchy melody, a challenging opus which brought out the best in a cast of student singers who, with very few exceptions, succeeded in articulating the opera’s often intricate vocal lines.


Margaret Pride’s Collegium Symphonic Chorus was stunningly impressive in Rachmaninov’s Vespers, sung in Russian for an audience that thronged St Joseph’s Church, Subiaco. The Giovanni Consort’s program at St Paul’s Chapel, Mirrabooka was one of the year’s most finely considered offerings, enhanced by an exquisite contribution by harpist Marshall McGuire. Tony Maydwell’s Summa Musica choir provided fascinating insights into sacred music resurrected after centuries lying on dusty library shelves in Bolivia. And the Soweto Gospel Singers from South Africa brought us earthy, powerfully atavistic song and dance at His Majesty’s Theatre,.


Of a deal of chamber music, Pekka Kuusisto (violin) and  Simon Crawford-Philips (piano) presented a program that ranged from the zany to the profound. It was far and away the most novel and satisfying chamber offering in 2008. The Jerusalem Quartet, too, weighed in with a profoundly insightful account of Smetana’s Quartet No 1 – and Nick Parnell (vibraphone) and Leigh Harrold (piano) brought new life to classical favourites. Arnold Bax’s very rarely heard Quintet for string quartet and harp was given a charm-laden reading by the Australian Quartet and harpist Marshall McGuire.


Monday morning recitals in January look set to become a valued feature of the city’s musical life. One of the best of these featured Jonathan Paget and Stewart Smith in an arrangement for guitar and harpsichord of Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un Gentilhombre. Paget’s CD – Midsummer’s Night – is one of the most promising debut recordings I’ve heard in some time.) Craig Lake is that rarity: a virtuoso of the theorbo, a guitar-like instrument with a very long neck. His account of  Kapsberger’s Toccata was one of the year’s delights.


Cathie Travers, who is as versatile as she is gifted, was both composer and performer in The Healing Garden, gentle, meditative musings which were a response in sound to living on some hectares of tranquil bushland. One of the worst offerings of the year was Arvo Part’s hideously ugly re-working for piano trio of a movement from one of Mozart’s early piano sonatas; this was a grotesque and repellent piece. James Ledger’s Inscriptions, also for the same medium, brimmed  with imaginative, attractive ideas.


Coughing, nose blowing and throat clearing blighted many a concert in 2008 with WASO concerts a major exception where outbursts of coughing have been blessedly fewer than at other events. This might well have been due to cough lozenges available free to anyone who calls at the WASO desk in the Concert Hall foyer. But there have also been the maddening irritations of compulsive keyring jinglers, lolly-wrapper cracklers and noisy program-page turners. Mercifully, there were no snorers this year.


Christ Church Grammar School Chapel

reviewed by Neville Cohn


If the Eileen Joyce Studio on the University of WA campus is one of the country’s most pleasingly appointed intimate recital rooms, the Chapel of Christ Church Grammar School, Claremont is its equivalent on a larger scale. Certainly, listening to music while looking out over a boat-dotted Freshwater Bay as dusk fell, was a most agreeable experience.

And the gentle pleasure of a Sunday twilight was significantly enhanced by the performance of Leonardo – Cathie Travers (accordion), Paul Tanner (percussion) and Phil Everall (bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet).

Much of the repertoire on offer was music which, to one extent or another, evoked moods of yearning and nostalgia. Certainly, this would apply to Richard Galliano’s New York Tango in which a pulsing bass clarinet combined with the richly sonorous tones of the accordion, a sound mix further enhanced by some very sensitive playing on the vibraphone.

The same composer’s Fou Rire occupies a very different mood world, its lively, up-tempo measures in the best sense buoyant.

Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel, on the other hand, is music pared to the bone; it hasn’t a superfluous note. As ever, its subdued mood which powerfully suggests a sense of loneliness and worldweariness, made magical, hushed listening. So, too, did the same composer’s Grand Tango in which nuanced subtleties and a moody blues quality combined to most satisfying effect.

Paul Tanner’s mysteriously titled Back in 1516 is a jazz-inflected piece I’ve not encountered before, holding the attention throughout with its abrupt rhythmic gear changes, gentle burpings from the contrabass clarinet to an overlay of vibraphone arabesques. There was also music for unaccompanied bass clarinet – Iain Grandage’s curiously named ffDuck, much of it couched in abrupt, jagged utterances laced with what sounded like little screams. A little of this went a long way.

In Galliano’s French Touch, Cathie Travers provided a pleasant antidote to what had gone before, a virtuosic solo for accordion that sounded veritably drenched in Parisian café atmosphere. Tanner’s marimba solo – one of Gordon Stout’s Mexican Dances – was another charm-filled interlude that was musical to the core.

This concert raised funds for Anglicare.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2006