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A Much Maligned Cellist: The True Story of Felix Salmond and the Elgar Cello Concerto (Part 4) — by Tully Potter

A Much Maligned Cellist: The True Story of Felix Salmond and the Elgar Cello Concerto (Part 4) — by Tully Potter

Blog photos courtesy of the Tully Potter Collection.

 

This blog is a continuation of a multi-part series. Revisit it from the beginning in Part 1, Part& Part 3.

The original article first appeared in the Elgar Society Journal. 

 

THE EMIGRATION

Early in 1922 the Salmonds left England for New York with their two children: Lillian had borrowed money to help pay for their passage and their living expenses while Felix established himself. On 29 March he made a successful recital début at the Aeolian Hall with Frank Bibb at the piano; but it soon became apparent that he would not earn much more as a soloist than he had in England, and that he would have to take a teaching post in order to make ends meet. He taught first at the Mannes School; when the Institute of Music Art (which became the Juilliard School) opened in 1924, he was made head of the cello department and professor of chamber music; and in 1925-42 he also headed the cello faculty at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

Salmond would gladly have given the American première of the Elgar Concerto, but he was pre-empted by the Belgian cellist Jean Gerardy, who performed it in Carnegie Hall, New York, on 21 November 1922, with the visiting Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. Five days later Salmond made his American orchestral début with the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch, playing Kol Nidrei and Don Quixote. On 14 December he wrote to Elgar from his home in East 76th Street:

My dear Sir Edward. We both send you our kindest greetings & wishes for your happiness this Xmas & in 1923. Altho’ I have been too busy with work to write you a long letter I think of you very often & miss you more than you can think. I heard the 1st performance of “our” concerto but “entre nous” I am very glad you didn’t!! I intend to play it here next season & try & give it to the public as you want it! My success continues & I know you will be very glad for us both.

Yours,

Felix

I’ll write soon

It is clear that at this stage, Elgar missed Salmond’s presence on the British musical scene. Some time in late March or early April 1923 he wrote to the cellist indicating that he still associated him very much with the Cello Concerto. All we have is Salmond’s reply of 5 April:

Your lovely letter has given me the greatest pleasure. It arrived this morning & I hasten to send you some news of myself & our doings I this country, which you will be glad to hear, has shown me truly wonderful kindness – It is a joy to me to see you again & talk over all the lovely times we have had together. I think of them very often, of your wonderful stories & of our games of plate pool. What fun they were – “Eke the red”!!!

You can’t think how very proud I am to have your friendship & to know that you, above all others, consider me the best interpreter of your Concerto! You will find that I have made much progress when you hear me play it again next year! You God-daughter is growing lovelier & more fascinating every day & you would be proud of her! We are all well & I want you to know that my dear wife & I are very happy together. We have made many lovely friends here & people are incredibly good to us – Much love to you. Do write to me again. I love to hear from you – Your ever affectionate Felix.

While Felix Salmond was settling himself in New York, in London Beatrice Harrison was establishing her status as Elgar’s favoured interpreter of his Cello Concerto. On 3 July 1923 she played it again at Queen’s Hall with Elgar conducting, in a programme which also included the first London performance of the Delius Concerto, directed by Eugène Goossens III; and that September she and the composer performed it at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester.

 

NEW WORLD, OLD PROBLEMS

When Salmond finally had the chance to play a concerto in Carnegie Hall on 28 and 29 February 1924, with the New York Philharmonic under Willem Mengelberg, either the orchestra or the conductor insisted on the Dvořák, which was better for the box office than the Elgar. And after a little flurry of gigs with the two major New York orchestras up to March 1925—he was particularly in demand for Don Quixote and Brahms’s Double Concerto, in which his regular partner was Paweł Kochański—he was engaged only once by the merged New York Philharmonic-Symphony, for a 1939 performance of Enescu’s Symphonie concertante with the composer conducting. His sole bookings with the Boston Symphony were two performances of Bloch’s Schelomo under Sergei Koussevitzky in 1929; with the Los Angeles Philharmonic he played the Dvořák twice under Walter Henry Rothwell in 1925, and a pairing of the Lalo and Schelomo twice under Georg Schnéevoigt in 1928; in Philadelphia he had just three performances of Brahms’s Double Concerto in 1932, with Léa Luboshutz and Stokowski; and it was a similar story with the other American orchestras. The emergence of Feuermann and Piatigorsky in the 1930s, and the enduring lure of Casals, all but froze him out of the limited number of cello concerto opportunities. Recital and chamber music dates were easier to come by—in January 1925 he toured the U.S. playing piano quartets in 12 centres with Harold Bauer, Bronisław Huberman and Tertis—but did not bring him much money or éclat.

In 1927 he made his first return visit to Europe with his family, giving concerts at Baden-Baden in Germany and spending some time in England: On Elgar’s seventieth birthday, 2 June, he despatched a telegram from London:

Send you affectionate Birthday greetings & heartiest congratulations
Felix Salmond

On 3 June he gave a Wigmore Hall recital, with the Dutch composer Richard Hageman at the piano. And later that month, the Elgar chamber music quintet met for the last time, with Tertis in place of Jeremy, for a performance of all three works organised by Frank Schuster at The Hut (although Schuster had now given up The Hut, he borrowed it back for this occasion). Alas, while Felix and Lillian were staying at the Hampstead home of Sir Herbert and Lady Samuelson, the simmering tensions in their marriage came to a head. The resulting separation hearing is interesting for the light it casts on Salmond’s American earnings: $10,000 a year from Juilliard, $12,000 from Curtis, $1,000 in 1926-27 and $1,500 in 1927-28 from his recording contract with American Columbia. He said he had never earned more than $25,000 a year (The New York Times, 11 February 1928). He subsequently obtained a divorce in Reno, Nevada, which bizarrely led to his having two wives under New York law, although his marriage to Helen Child Curtis was recognised. He and Helen, who were very happy together, went on to have a son and a daughter.

In March and June 1928 Beatrice Harrison set down a complete recording of the Elgar Concerto for HMV at Kingsway Hall, London, with the composer conducting the New Symphony Orchestra. This performance—recently refurbished in ‘accidental stereo’—shows how assured Harrison now is with the work; and unlike his indulgent direction of the Violin Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin four years later, Elgar’s conducting is fully alert and insightful. In November, a second Cello Concerto recording was made for Columbia by the great W.H. Squire in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, with the Hallé Orchestra under Sir Hamilton Harty. It proved to be even better than the Harrison, in some ways. For two such successful recordings of a recent work to be made within months was a miracle; but even so, it would have been good to hear the original soloist’s thoughts on the work. The intense rivalry between HMV and Columbia would have precluded Salmond’s being engaged for the London sessions; and to have had him as soloist in Manchester would have robbed us of Squire’s noble interpretation. So we must be content with the riches we have…

 

ELGAR IN AMERICA

At last Salmond was able to perform the Elgar in New York, at Mecca Auditorium on 16 March 1930 for the Friends of Music, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under Artur Bodanzky. A brief notice contained a hint that the work left some of the audience—and perhaps the reviewer—a little puzzled:

Whatever the auditors’ reaction to the modern ’cello concerto of Elgar, which has at least the merit that it helps performers on the violoncello to eke out their scanty repertory, there can be no division of opinion regarding the musicianship and artistic sincerity of Mr Salmond’s playing (The New York Times, 17 March 1930).

That year Salmond made his Berlin début, toured Holland and spent much of the summer in Britain. On 19 July he broadcast the Lalo Concerto, with Frank Bridge conducting the embryo ‘BBC Orchestra’; on 13 September he gave the first British performance of Bloch’s Schelomo at the Proms; and on 1 October he had a recital at the Wigmore Hall. On 19 September he wrote to Elgar from his London hotel:

I am so delighted to have your most kind letter & to know that you are in town – Won’t you come & dine with me & meet my charming Wife? It would be a real joy to see you & have a long talk overt the wonderful times we had together! How would Sunday or Monday night suit you? Not dress, as we shall go to a quiet restaurant, sans ceremonie!

I played your Concerto in New York last March & it had a fine reception from the public – Bodanzky & the orchestra were splendid & I enjoyed the occasion enormously! How I wish you could come & hear me on Oct. 1st, especially in the wonderful D major Beethoven Sonata, so rarely played!! I know you would think my playing had grown since you last heard me!

With warmest greetings & much looking forward to seeing you soon.

Always affectionately yours

Felix

P.S. We shall come & hear your second Symphony on Oct: 2nd & hope to see you afterwards for a moment!

Assuming they managed a brief conversation on 2 October, after Elgar had conducted his Second Symphony at an all-British Promenade Concert in Queen’s Hall, it was probably the last time the two men met. On 23 February 1934, Sir Edward died at his home Marl Bank, in Worcester. He had been solaced on his deathbed by the HMV recordings of his Piano Quintet and String Quartet, made at his request by Harriet Cohen and the Stratton Quartet. On 20 May Salmond wrote from New York to Carice Elgar Blake:

You would have heard from me long ago, but I have only just succeeded in obtaining your address – I send you my deep & sincere sympathy in your great sorrow –

Your dear Father was a wonderful friend to me & I shall always treasure the memories of the many happy hours we spent together. Percy Scholes heard me play the ‘cello concerto in New York in March 1930 & I hope he told your Father his impressions of the performance as he said he would –

I am proud to have had the privilege & the honour of knowing so great a man & personality as your Father was –

With kindest regards & again warm sympathy,

Believe me, very sincerely yours

Felix Salmond

The cellist continued his U.S. career, traversing the country and occasionally penetrating into Canada. In June 1937, on his final pre-war visit to Britain, he broadcast for the BBC and gave a Wigmore Hall recital, including the first British performance of Samuel Barber’s Sonata, in which the composer partnered him at the piano. He also found time to attend Lionel Tertis’s retirement party, on the 13th at Pagani’s restaurant, favourite pre-war haunt of London musicians. Back in America, he formed the Trio of New York with the Russian violinist Daniel Karpilowsky and the German pianist Carl Friedberg, an exact contemporary of his mother and, like her, a pupil of James Kwast and Clara Schumann. March 1938 saw him reunited with an old friend when he gave the local premières of the Boccherini-Grützmacher B flat Concerto and Bloch’s Schelomo in Cincinnati, with the local Symphony under their chief conductor Eugène Goossens III. In 1942, the year he gave up his Curtis teaching post in protest at not being consulted over the appointment of Emanuel Feuermann, Salmond’s mother died in London. At Juilliard on 29 March 1947 he played all five Beethoven Sonatas in one evening with a fellow faculty member, Leonid Hambro, to mark the silver jubilee of his American début, and in 1948 the duo recorded them. On his last trip to England, in June 1947, he repeated his Beethoven marathon with Franz Osborn at the Wigmore Hall, and broadcast for the new Third Programme. Salmond made his last appearance with orchestra on 15 November 1947, performing Schelomo in a Bloch festival at Juilliard, and he died in New York on 19 February 1952, having taught almost to the end.

 

A GREAT TEACHER

Felix Salmond was greatly admired by his contemporaries. Eugène Goossens III, himself a violinist, wrote that he ‘can put greater depths of meaning into a Brahms ’cello sonata than any living player’ (Goossens, p 153); and even virtuosity-conscious Americans admired his tone. Inevitably Salmond’s transatlantic reputation rests on his pedagogy. Although not a teacher for beginners, he was just the man to give a final polish to the talents who came his way. Although some loved his chamber music classes, the violist Peter Kamnitzer told me that Salmond’s idea of coaching a chamber group was to sit there saying: ‘Shake it, boy, shake it!’ He could be arrogant, difficult and demanding, especially in the early days, but his successes speak for themselves: Leonard Rose, Channing Robbins, Alan Shulman, Victor Gottlieb, Orlando Cole, Elsa Hilger, Stephen De’ak, Eleanor Aller, Bernard Greenhouse, Daniel Saidenberg, Samuel Mayes, Frank Miller, Anthony Sophos, Richard Kapuscinski, Edgar Lustgarten and Tibor de Machula. He laid great stress on beauty of sound and on students listening closely to their own playing, and would shout ‘Sing!’ at them. He taught the Elgar Concerto if asked, but no one in his lifetime could have known what an essential part of the repertoire it would become.

He programmed Bach’s Suites and pieces by Eccles, Sammartini, Veracini and Vivaldi, as well as the Sonatas by Barber, Beethoven, Brahms, Bridge, Dohnányi, Enescu, Franck, Grieg, Huré, Rachmaninov and Guy-Ropartz. He was a prime mover in persuading American cellists to play sonatas in their recitals. Besides the works mentioned above, his repertoire with orchestra took in Bridge’s Oration, Barber’s Concerto and Boëllmann’s Symphonic Variations. In an interview focused on his teaching, when asked about repertoire, he recommended inter alia Bridge’s Sonata and ‘Elgar’s splendid ’Cello Concerto’ (Martens).

Salmond first recorded acoustically for Vocalion in 1920-22: Cui Cradle Song, Rachmaninov Andante (very soulfully played), Popper Gavotte No. 2 and Harlequin, Glazunov Sérénade espagnole, Schumann Träumerei, Bridge and Pierné Serenades, Saint-Saëns The Swan, and Offenbach Barcarolle. In 1926-29 he recorded electrically for American Columbia with the pianist Simeon Rumschisky: Bach Arioso, Debussy Menuet and En bateau, Pianelli Villanelle, Chopin Largo, Fauré Berceuse, Bizet Adagietto, The Londonderry Air, Bridge Mélodie and Grieg To Spring, plus remakes of the Saint-Saëns, Pierné, Glazunov and Popper Gavotte. The major duo recordings are Grieg’s Sonata, Bruch’s Kol Nidrei (cut to fit on two sides) and Beethoven’s A major Sonata and ‘Bei Männern’ Variations. Schubert’s B flat Trio, with Myra Hess and Jelly d’Arányi, is inevitably trumped by the Cortot-Thibaud-Casals version: Salmond’s phrasing in the Andante is less generous than Casals’s. Recent additions to his discography are fragments of two Brahms Trios with Friedberg and Karpilowsky—worth having just for Salmond’s solo in the B Major’s Adagio – and three terrific Beethoven Sonatas, Opp. 5/1, 102/1 and 102/2, from the cycle recorded at Juilliard in 1948 with Leonid Hambro. For a long time, Salmond was poorly represented in the record catalogues, but there is enough available now, on the Pristine Audio, Arbiter and Opus Kura labels, to support my view that he was a great cellist. And in 2017 Arbiter will issue more discoveries: the Debussy Sonata, a complete 1940 recital of the Beethoven Sonatas, the ‘Ghost’ Trio with Friedberg and Karpilowsky and most of Bach’s D minor solo Suite.

 

 


Works Cited

Goossens III, Eugène. Overture and Beginners. Methuen & Co. Ltd: London, 1951.
Martens, Frederick H. String Mastery. Frederick A. Stokes Company: New York, 1923.

 


TULLY POTTER was born in Edinburgh in 1942 but spent his formative years in South Africa. He is interested in performance practice as revealed in historic recordings and has written for many international musical journals, notably The Strad. For 11 years he edited the quarterly magazine Classic Record Collector. His two-volume biography of Adolf Busch was published in 2010 and he is preparing a book on the great quartet ensembles.

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