Jelly d’Arányi - The recorded legacy and career of a virtuoso violinist in the roaring twenties
Jelly d'Aranyi in 1926 (The Strad 37: no.437, 1926 supplement. BL collections)
Guest blog by Edison Fellow Victoria Bernath, PhD, professional violist, composer, and researcher
Jelly d’Arányi (1893-1966) was a British-Hungarian violinist, celebrated as a leading artist in 1920s Britain. This was a decade in which British violin playing underwent profound development, bolstered by crucial technological advancements in the recording industry. With a recording legacy of 36 sides (78rpm) for British record label Aeolian-Vocalion (18 sides as a soloist, and 18 sides as a duettist with her sister, Adila Fachiri), and a further 14 sides with prestigious label U.S. Columbia, d’Arányi was a key contributor to the expressive developments of her time, and hailed as ‘one of the greatest living violinists…here and on the Continent’.1 However, her recordings and career during this decade (her most prolific period as a performer) have been largely overlooked by academia, presenting a fertile legacy to re-evaluate.2 This is the first critical evaluation which encompasses her musical life, published writings and recorded catalogue during the twenties, and seeks to restore Jelly d’Arányi to her rightful position amongst the greatest violinists of her day.
Early Years: musical foundations and first years in Britain
Born on 30 May 1893 in Budapest (Hungary), Jelly Eva Arányi de Hunyadvár was the youngest daughter of Budapest’s Chief of Police Taksony Hunyadvár Arányi (1858-1930), and homemaker Adrienne Nievarovich de Ligenza (1864-1923). Her father’s family belonged to nobility and her paternal grandaunt was married to violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), one of the 19th century’s most celebrated artists. However, the family fortune had long disappeared and d’Arányi grew up in a strict household with few amenities.3 Furnished with an entrance scholarship, d'Arányi began her formative music education at the Royal National Hungarian Academy of Music in 1901. She first studied preparatory violin lessons with Wilhelm Grünfeld (concert master of the Budapest Opera, 1855-1921) and then graduated to the advanced class of violinist Jenő Hubay (1858-1937), with whom she studied for 5 years.4 Hubay’s pedagogical method fused the principles of two prominent schools of violin playing – the stylistic refinement of the German school and the virtuosic brilliance of the Franco-Belgian school – equipping d’Arányi with both the tools of a thinking musician and the technical abilities of a virtuoso.5
Following her music studies, d’Arányi, her mother and two older sisters made their first visit to Britain in 1908. It was a hostile time for foreigners, hopeful asylum-seekers, and migrants, alike.6 Luckily, d’Arányi and her family had letters of introduction from a family friend, the musicologist and pianist Donald Tovey (1875-1940), and their cousin Gertrude Joachim Russell (1865-1942). This was further bolstered by their respected family connections to violinist Joachim, recently deceased but whose legacy was still very much alive and respected by the British concert-going public. In d’Arányi’s own words, ‘being Joachim’s great-nieces drew the attention of interested people and made our first success more easily won than in the case of equally gifted but less fortunately placed musicians’.7 Three initial concert engagements were scheduled in Haslemere for the end of February 1909.8 A very successful reception saw the von Arányis (as they were first known in Britain) extend their initial visit from one to four months, and they embarked on a hectic performance itinerary across the country, performing programmes which showcased their abilities as soloists, and as sister duettists. The d’Arányi sisters were loved by British society, a crucial endorsement in launching and sustaining an artist’s career (regardless of nationality). Appreciated for their talent and wit, the sisters were, ‘in love with everyone and everyone with them’.9
Solo works performed by Jelly d’Arányi in her first visit to Britain included selections from Joachim’s arrangements of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. Her great uncle’s arrangements had, by then, assumed canonical status in the recital repertoires of violinists, and these popular virtuosic recital pieces featured in many early 78rpm recordings, including those made by the first generation of recorded violinists (e.g., Joachim and Ysaÿe). At her debut in Haslemere, ‘Miss Jelly von Arányi’s interpretations…were remarkable for verve and emotional warmth, especially for such a youthful player’. She recorded selections from this set of Hungarian dances throughout her professional career,10 and the works became synonymous with her expressive style of performing, often erroneously associated with Romani performing traditions. Hungarian-born d’Arányi never studied Romani violin performance methods: however, for her entire performance career d’Arányi was frequently associated with prejudiced notions of Romani playing, due to her physical appearance and musical interpretations. She felt strongly about national stereotypes, and the resultant bias:
I remember having been offered much for playing nothing but Hungarian music through whole recitals […]. The point I want to make here is it does not follow that because a Spaniard, for example, plays Spanish music better than a Frenchman, he therefore plays Spanish music better than, say, Bach11
In the following excerpt from Hungarian Dance No.8, d’Arányi is not afraid to let heightened musical expression shine in her performance. D’Arányi’s fingerings are carefully chosen to enable her interpretation: she balances her choice of glissandi (inaudible slides used for technical facility) with portamenti (deliberate and audible slides for expressive or tonal effect). She further enhances her expressive interpretation (and the distinctive tempi changes of the dance’s verbunkos form) by exaggerating respective rhythmic values, a rubato technique achieved by rhythmic adjustment (as heard between 1’25”-1’38”). Through this moderate rhythmic distortion, the listener experiences the mercurial aspects of Hungarian Roma music.
01 Brahms Joachim Hungarian Dance No. 8 extract
Adila and Jelly d'Aranyi in 1912 (The Strad 23, no. 268 (1912) supplement. BL collections)
The Enemy Alien: Formative years in Britain
Immediately prior to the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, the von Arányis permanently relocated to England, a spur-of-the-moment decision.12 Britain declared war upon Germany on 4 August 1914, and this marked the beginning of a difficult period of discrimination for the von Arányis. Due to the political alliance of Germany with the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, Germanophobia affected not only the German community in Britain but any other perceived enemies of state, including Hungarian nationals.13 The livelihoods of many Hungarian and Austrian musicians living in Britain were affected, including the von Arányis. Labelled as enemy aliens, the von Arányis were required to report regularly to the police. 14 With few performance opportunities (due to work restrictions facing alien enemies), the family experienced severe financial difficulties. To make ends meet, Adila taught any willing pupil privately, and the family permanently Gallicised their surname to d’Arányi, in the hope of being associated with their mother’s partial French heritage. The family relied on the support of pacifist or sympathetic friends for living arrangements (e.g., Lady Ottoline Morrell) and the occasional drawing room concert for income. A turn of events saw both of d’Arányi’s older sisters marry in 191515 which provided the newly espoused a degree of stability. However, d’Arányi and her mother were still somewhat adrift: having no fixed address, they vacillated between accommodation with friends in Garsington and a rented flat in Beaufort Gardens, Chelsea.
Despite prejudice and poverty, d’Arányi continued to secure occasional chamber concert engagements and school recitals with sympathetic hosts. In November 1914, she formed a duo partnership with pianist Fanny Davies (1861-1934), and shortly thereafter a piano trio with Davies (piano) and Portuguese cellist, Guillermina Suggia (1885-1950). She also performed in rare, one-off, violin-piano recitals with family friends such as Donald Tovey or Frederick S. Kelly (whom she first met in 1909). One such example includes a concert given by Kelly at Wigmore Hall (then known as the Bechstein Hall) on 11 March 1914.16 Along with solo piano repertoire by Mendelssohn, the programme featured d’Arányi (violin) and Kelly (piano) performing Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.1 in G Major Op. 78.17 It was through her friendship with Kelly that d’Arányi received one of her first dedicated works: Kelly’s Sonata in G Major for violin and piano. She never forgot Kelly’s kindness during those lean years and recorded her own arrangement of an earlier Kelly composition, Jig, for Vocalion in 1924. These vital chamber music relationships helped d’Arányi make ends meet during the war and she began to build her profile as a notable solo talent, ready to take to Britain’s great concert halls.
The following sound clip is from d’Arányi’s 1924 recording of Kelly’s Jig. Originally the fifth movement from Kelly’s Serenade in E minor for chamber ensemble: d’Aranyi arranged the jig for violin and piano in 1914, with Kelly’s blessing.18 In this simple ‘ear tickler’19 we hear d’Arányi playing in a similarly uncomplicated manner. It is d’Arányi’s choice of bowing and bow stroke which truly evoke the dance’s jovial character: she edited the original legato writing for flute by removing slurred notes and playing short spiccato strokes on most separate quavers (0’09”-0’16”). The overall effect is a light-hearted and characterful dance movement.
Double Act: Rising soloist and sister duettist
D’Arányi’s career took off after the Great War with an explosion of high-profile, solo concerted work in London, throughout Britain and continental Europe. In 1919 she made her first recordings, three test pressings for the Gramophone Company (now thought to be lost), which included one of the Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dances (unnamed).20 For unknown reasons, her tests never materialised into a contract with Gramophone, and it wasn’t until d’Arányi signed with Vocalion in 1923 that she began recording in earnest. Subsequent to her recording tests, d’Arányi premiered many new works for the violin, including the first British performance of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello (in 1922, at Ravel’s request),21 Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat and two new sonatas written for her by family friend, Béla Bartók (in 1922 & 1923).22 As her ‘reputation among musical folk advance[ed] by leaps and bounds’,23 evidence from concert programmes and reviews (c.1919-1923) suggests that d’Arányi’s budding career featured mostly solo work, and only a few duet performances in partnership with her sister Fachiri (a stark contrast to their early years on the British concert circuit). With her first major recording on the horizon, it seemed as if nothing could diminish d’Arányi’s meteoric rise. Then tragedy struck on 10 June 1923: d’Arányi’s beloved mother died from cancer.
In the face of adversity, d’Arányi’s relationship with her eldest sister Fachiri proved to be a lifeline, both professionally and personally. Following her mother’s death, d’Arányi ceased performing in public. Three months later, d’Arányi resumed some professional commitments in September 1923, which included her first release for Vocalion: two sides (12-inch, 78rpm records) containing Paganini’s Caprice No.24 and the Minuet from Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major K. 334, as accompanied by Ethel Hobday (piano). However, it wasn’t until 17 October 1923 that d’Arányi resumed performing in public. She and her sister mutually chose to appear together as duettists for a Proms concert performing Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043. From this point onwards, the frequency of their duet performances together increased, and in 1926 d’Arányi officially moved in with her sister, Fachiri, and her husband, lawyer and amateur cellist, Alexandre Fachiri. The sisters’ closeness was no surprise to the British public: the sisters’ first steps into the upper echelons of British concert life had been as sister duettists, both in live concert and in the press.24 Their close bond, domestic rehearsing space, and living arrangements were captured in a photo essay by The Sketch in 1926.25 Their subsequent concert appearances as duettists were hugely popular, and critically acclaimed: ‘no two violinists in the world could be more perfect when playing together’;27 they ‘accomplis[h] the art of playing duets with complete sympathy and understanding;’28 their ensemble ‘seems to us to be one of the most perfect things in contemporary music’.29 Their calling card became Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043, and together these ‘Valkyries of the violin’26 recorded extensively as duettists for Vocalion, releasing 18 sides (78rpm) of violin duet repertoire, between 1923-1926. Their dedication as a duet ensemble, and recorded output for Vocalion, was a rarity not matched by any other pairing of violinists in 1920s London.
Violin duets, particularly featuring two female performers, were not commonly performed in concert when the d’Arányi sisters made their debut in 1909, nor in the 1920s when they recorded as duettists for Vocalion. In Britain ‘there [had] never been a large number of violinists who devoted themselves to playing duets for two violins in public’30 although we do have evidence of female violin duettists in Britain prior to the d’Arányi sisters.31 Violin duets were primarily used as teaching aids for the instruction of violin technique. As such, there was limited repertoire available: however, the d’Arányi sisters were not dissuaded. Initially, they performed a limited set of works from the Baroque and Classical periods, including Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043, an arrangement of Bach’s Concerto for Two Harpsichords BWV 1060R, and Spohr’s Duo for Two Violins in D Major Op. 67. As their popularity grew, the d'Arányi sisters began to programme less well-known examples from the repertoire (incl. the British premiere of Darius Milhaud’s Sonata for Two Violins and Piano Op. 15). Furthermore, they inspired new violin duets from British composers including Arthur Somervell’s 2 Conversations about Bach, Norman Fraser’s Chilean dance, Cueca for Two Violins and Piano, and Gustav Holst’s Concerto for Two Violins Op. 49. Their dedication to the genre was unsurpassable in the 1920s, and their efforts popularised violin duets (most notably Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043) into the mainstream repertoire of other well-respected soloists, including their contemporaries David Oistrakh and Jascha Heifetz, and rising stars Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, and Erica Morini, who all made violin duet recordings in subsequent years.
In this recorded excerpt, a lesser-known example from the sisters’ recorded duet catalogue,32 we hear d’Arányi and Fachiri performing together as a cohesive unit. Rhythmically, their opening note (the anacrusis) is not quite together: however, they subsequently play almost as one. Their intonation is perfectly in tune (especially noted in the unison passages: e.g., 0’00”-0’11”), and their use of articulation is almost uniform (e.g., 0’11”-0’20”).
03 Bach Concerto for two keyboards 3rd movement extract
The Sketch, July 1928, page 162. BL collections
The greatest woman violinist: Promoting new music
Jelly d’Arányi’s rise to fame as a soloist after the Great War is a testament to the strength and sensitivity of her musical personality, and her dedication to promoting new music. Prior research only serves to account for nine new works written for d’Arányi (two of which were co-dedicated to other artists). This includes Bartok’s Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2, Ravel’s Tzigane, and Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Accademico, each written and dedicated to d’Arányi, in response to her expressive and virtuosic musicianship. From my own research, I concluded that during a sixteen-year period (1915-1931), twenty-four new compositions were dedicated to, and premiered by, d’Aranyi.33 The diversity of repertoire written for d’Arányi reflects a general trend in her performed repertory, which was greatly varied (a relatively uncommon feature for solo violinists in the 1920s, who typically performed a limited set of concertos and virtuosic ‘ear-ticklers’, as d’Arányi called the latter).34 She not only performed the established ‘classics’, but firmly championed new music which tested the limits of violin-playing, both in terms of extended techniques and interpretive musicianship.35 As a testament to her ability and standing amongst the male-dominated field of violin virtuosi, d’Arányi was the only female violinist included in a 1928 article published by the authoritative voice on string playing in Britain, The Strad, debating and defining the greatest celebrity violinists of the day: ‘Who are these Violinists?’.36 The author describes d’Arányi’s playing as follows:
A golden volubility of tone, considerable fire, and an eloquence almost didactic; a genius at making clear the structure of the music she is playing, at least as she (a very high authority) conceives it to be. Much of the grave, clear breadth of [Joachim] mixed with moments of pure Paganinistry. A great musician occasionally great self-effacement. Insolent or cavalierly ease of movement in the bow arm. Finest Brahms player (a personal view), finest player of Ravel. A bridge between [Sauret] and [Elman].37
Barring one exception, d’Arányi’s recorded catalogue reflects none of the contemporary works she premiered, championed, or inspired during the same period (i.e., 1919-1929). In live performance, her recital repertoire included an astonishing scope of music: ground-breaking world premières, concerti from Bach through Tchaikovsky and Szymanowski to Ethel Smythe, solo Paganini caprices, virtuosic character pieces, classical sonatas, and salon pieces by contemporary British composers. By contrast, her solo recorded catalogue offers a restrictive spectrum including only one concerto38 and a selection of shorter character pieces (often arranged) for violin and piano. These popular works were guaranteed to sell: the financial ramifications of making records meant violinists had to record works that appealed to a broad audience base. According to the autobiographical accounts of her contemporary and fellow Hungarian violinist, Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973), he suggests that prior to the 1930s record companies were loath to the financial risk of recording new works by unknown composers (a financial risk), and had to be convinced to issue challenging, contemporary repertoire.39 As such, the recorded catalogue of d’Arányi reflects only a small fraction of her performance practices and performed repertoire.
The following musical excerpt is the only recorded example we have of d’Aranyi performing an entire concerto (albeit there are no cadenzas) and it is a wonderful example of her expressive playing with ensemble. In this clip, we hear d’Arányi’s use of tempo adjustment (i.e., tempo rubato) to heighten expression. Her opening line (starting at 1’20”) begins brightly in tempo. However, she rhythmically elongates an ornament, the accent fallend (or, descending appoggiatura) at 1’20” which begins a rallentando carried through to the end of the phrase at 01’28”. The overall effect is not gratuitous, or heavy, but rather that of a musician carried away by expression, sympathetically mirrored by the orchestra. After demonstrating such elasticity with time, a degree of compensation in tempo is needed: d’Arányi, with the orchestra, begins the subsequent phrase back in tempo.
04 Mozart Violin Concerto in G major 1st movement extract
Bela Bartok and Jelly d'Aranyi in 1922 Illustrated London News, April 1, 1922: 478
Violin playing: In her own words
Following the First World War, a new ideal of beauty emerged in violin playing.40 Violinists trained during the 19th century faced a decision: to develop alongside new trends or remain connected to the past. New trends included a faster oscillating vibrato, a continuous vibrato (versus its application as a selective, emotive device for long notes), changing attitudes to tempo modification, and an increasingly chaste approach to musical expression (i.e., the application of fewer expressive devices, such as portamenti). Although never verbally expressed, d’Arányi’s recordings illustrate her decision to bridge the gap between tradition and innovation. She did, however, write two articles (a privilege not readily extended to female violinists), which both directly, and indirectly, reveal her opinions on the contemporary state of violin-playing in the 1920s, and early 1930s.41
D’Arányi described herself an artist-executant not afraid to take risks: it was her duty to become the unselfish medium of expression on behalf of the composer. As previously evidenced, she relished performing new music as well as standard repertoire, and she sensitively approached each work as its own entity. D’Arányi believed that a great artist showed their talent by demonstrating ‘a technique sufficient to master the difficulties of the moderns …[and] subtlety and precision demanded by the classics’.42 If she was able to perform in such a capacity, she did not take umbrage with new trends in performance. For example, she remembered her beloved great-uncle telling her ‘Never too much vibrato! That’s circus music’.43 However, d’Arányi was not afraid to experiment with newer notions of vibrato usage (e.g., continuous vibrato, as heard most clearly in the final excerpt of this study, Vitali’s Chaconne). By contrast, she believed ‘there is altogether too much importance given both to smoothness and volume of tone as such…no amount of gesticulating and shouting will make simple truths more convincing’.44 In her opinion, the burgeoning trend towards tame playing was predominantly found in the bow arm:
It’s safety first in violin playing today, especially in bowing. In the Brahms and the Schubert Trios for instance, there are passages of repeated notes which Joachim and the older violinists like Hubay and Ysaÿe took as a ‘flying staccato’ – the notes detached but in a single movement of the bow. Today, even the celebrated violinists take them spiccato. Easier, but much less thrilling. The older way was perilous and for that is avoided. Nobody dares throw their bow about. They play on the string for the fine safe clarity.45
D’Arányi did not favour ‘safe’ playing and blindly following the tastes of others: ‘I have heard a certain type of person say with rather offensive conceit that they believe in the opinion and taste of the Great Majority…were we to see the pictures on their walls, read their books, hear the kind of music they habitually favour we could not accept their verdict as decisive as to the merits of an executant’.46 For d’Arányi, ‘force, tenderness, masterly power; colour, in fact’,47 were the enviable qualities of a violinist, qualities she always aimed for, as an artist-executant. Despite efforts to evolve, by the 1940s tastes changed faster than d’Aranyi: coupled with increasing health complications, it ultimately came to the cost of her career.
In this recording, gone are the various forms of expressive sliding and tempo manipulations: this is d’Arányi performing with an awareness of contemporary attitudes to expression. From the still, quiet atmosphere of the Sarabande’s ‘Largo’ to the vivacious ‘Presto’ of the Tambourin, d’Arányi demonstrates consummate attention to musical detail and character. At the beginning of the clip (the closing phrase of the Sarabande), d’Arányi is judicious in her use of expressive devices: she employs minimal vibrato and delivers a clear, articulated trill (1’48”-1’51”) to convey notions of an earlier musical style. Analysis reveals that it is a distortion in the recording equipment which affects the quality of her final note. Her transition into the Tambourin (a lively duple-meter Provençal dance) is instantaneous: she lets the music speak for itself, and the wonderful variability of her bowing arm is on full display, with special mention going to her flying staccato technique (1’58”-2’00”).
05 Leclair-Sarasate Sonata Op. 9 No. 3 extract of Sarabande & Tambourin
Swansong: Health complications and professional decline
Despite a prolific set of performances, premieres, and recordings through the 1920s, from 1935 onwards (the year she naturalised as a British citizen) d’Arányi was less often seen on the elite concert circuit or heard on the BBC’s airwaves. This continued until a virtual disappearance by 1944. A private letter from literary reviewer and drama critic, Sir Desmond MacCarthy, to poet, Robert C. Trevelyan, offers a crucial glimpse of the situation:
There is a movement to do something for Jelly d’Arányi, who is never employed, supposedly due to a quarrel with [pianist and duo partner] Myra Hess…[my] plan is to persuade Sir Henry Wood or someone who organises concerts to use her talents48
Unknown to d’Arányi, a group of her friends and supporters (including Sir Ralph Vaughan Williams and Lady Violet Bonham Carter) rallied together in a letter writing campaign to get to the bottom of an important issue: why was Jelly no longer performing in the upper echelons of musical Britain, and why was she no longer broadcasting with the BBC? Writing individually to the celebrated conductor, Sir Henry J. Wood (1869-1944), friends asked for Wood’s help in securing performance work for d’Arányi. Vaughan Williams asked if d’Arányi could have a Promenade Concert appearance (which would reinstate her as a leading, solo artist), and another co-authored letter asked if the great artist, neglected for unknown reasons, may be given any opportunity to perform with Wood himself (Wood was a family friend of the d’Arányis). Lady Bonham Carter decided to get straight to the heart of the matter and wrote directly to the Music Director of the BBC, Sir Adrian Boult, to clarify the reason for d’Arányi’s musical disappearance. Although the rumour of a quarrel between d’Arányi and her duo partner Hess was true, it is unlikely to have derailed her career to the point of complete isolation. My research indicates the cause behind d’Arányi’s lack of employment was more nuanced. Three dates signalled the early end to Jelly d’Arányi’s illustrious career as a professional violinist: 14 January 1934; 11 July 1941; and 16 July 1941. The first signalled a decline in physical ability, the latter two pertain to changes in taste and expulsion from the BBC.
In the winter of 1934, a 41-year-old d’Arányi was thrown from a vehicle during a road accident in Amsterdam. Caught broadside by an unexpected and erratic car, d’Arányi was ejected from her seat and thrown head-first into the road.49 She arrived home to England with a black eye and severe bruising to her forehead,50 but the catastrophic accident received little press coverage in Britain.51 The event was shrouded in secrecy, and there is no medical evidence to suggest how badly d’Arányi was injured. However, given the physical description of her external injuries, it is likely that d’Arányi also suffered from mild trauma, too (possible side effects range from dizziness, sensory problems, and headaches to sensitivity to light and sound).52 Although d’Arányi resumed her performance commitments by the end of that same week,53 sporadic mentions of poor intonation began to appear in subsequent concert reviews. Coupled with the onset of arthritis a year earlier, it was clear d’Arányi’s health and hearing would never be the same. Despite occasional reports of uncertain intonation, d’Arányi continued to perform and she recorded a wonderful Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major Op.87 with Gaspard Cassadó (cello) and Myra Hess (piano) in October 1935, for Columbia Records.
A live broadcast performance on 3 July 1941 acted as a further catalyst in calling time on d’Arányi’s performance career. The event was a live, transmitted orchestral concert from BBC’s Broadcasting House in Bristol. It featured d’Arányi playing Beethoven’s Romance and Ravel’s Tzigane, with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was a particularly difficult period for the BBC Symphony. At the outbreak of the war in 1939, 34% of the orchestra left for military service, and the ensemble was evacuated from London to Bristol (to minimise disruption to their broadcasting commitments). However, the bombing of Britain began in earnest in June 1940 and Bristol was one of the prime targets. The orchestra relocated again for safety around 1 August 1941 (to Bedford), which situates d’Arányi’s concert on 3 July as one of the final wartime broadcasts from the BBC SO in Bristol. D’Aranyi, herself, was mourning the death of a life-long mentor54 but agreed to the performance opportunity. Live radio broadcasts were not reviewed, and consequently the dearth of press coverage does not offer any insight regarding the quality of performance. However, a small collection of listening reports and internal circulating memoranda from the BBC do. Written by six members of the BBC’s Music Department, including Sir Reginald Thatcher (Deputy Director of Music) and pianist Clifton Helliwell, these internal memos culminated in a private and confidential memo authored by Thatcher and subsequently sent to Sir Adrian Boult (Director of Music) on 11 July 1941. Initial feedback in the listening reports was varied, and the most negative and damning accounts came from Thatcher and Herbert Murrill. Disregarding the breadth of opinion expressed, Thatcher adopted a wholly negative tone in his letter to Boult. The document stipulates that, due to the clutch of adverse reports regarding d’Arányi’s performance, she clearly no longer met broadcasting standards and should not be engaged for any future important broadcasts (i.e., solo concerted work), and she was not likely to be fit for secondary work (including chamber performances and feature programmes). With this letter, Thatcher downgraded Jelly d’Arányi from concert soloist to ‘has-been’. It would be d’Arányi’s penultimate broadcast as a soloist. 55
Boult took responsibility for informing d’Arányi of the decision by committee, which he did in a letter dated 16 July 1941. As evidenced in the collection of memos, Boult did not wholly agree with Thatcher: he did not believe d’Arányi was washed up and unfit to broadcast. He believed she was still capable of good performances (a view supported by Helliwell). This is reflected in his letter to d’Arányi. He writes in an apologetic tone and mentions that while the Tzigane was given a wonderful interpretation, the Beethoven Romance fell short of her usual standards in three ways: out-of-tune double-stopping in a difficult passage, scoops and slides between notes (i.e., portamento), and liberty taken with time (i.e., rubato). While poor intonation is a commonly agreed ‘flaw’, the other two perceived shortcomings concern taste. To use expressive devices like portamento and rubato is at the discretion of the performing artist. Clearly, aesthetic change at the BBC no longer tolerated methods of expression from the 19th or early 20th century, and it was reason enough to expel an artist from the BBC’s books. Jelly d’Arányi never discussed the BBC’s cancellation of her as an artist, nor its seismic effect on her career at large. Apart from one additional BBC Latin America broadcast on 26 July 1944, Jelly d’Aranyi never again graced the airwaves, or the major concert halls of Britain.
Having listened to more than fifteen different recordings (c.1920s-2020s) of Tomaso Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor, Jelly d’Arányi’s interpretation stands the test of time as one of the most musical and sensitive versions I have had the pleasure to listen to. Contrary to prior research, Jelly d’Arányi did not play with a ‘slightly nagging, wide, and slow vibrato’,56 and this excerpt effortlessly dispels myths of a cumbersome vibrato and lack of sensitivity. A beautiful, shimmering vibrato paired with a near-seamless legato bow stroke perfectly complements the violin’s cantilena line. Further sensitivity is illustrated through melodic rubato (just enough to bring to the listener’s mind a singing approach to violin playing), and wonderful, graded dynamic contrasts. The latter are not as evident in the opening minute of playing, but transpire throughout the recording.
06 Vitali-Charlier Chaconne extract
Jelly d'Aranyi (The Sketch, June 7, 1933: 411
The transformation of Jelly d’Arányi from young, immigrant ingénue of great talent to one of Britain’s most recognisable solo violinists in the 1920s was meteoric and remarkable: she transformed from enemy alien in 1914, to a nationally renowned soloist with her first Vocalion record in 1923. Hers was a brave and distinctive musical voice in Britain’s musical landscape: not only did she promote contemporary music, she performed at the most prestigious concert halls and concert series in Britain with other leading music luminaries, and she also devoted herself on an annual basis to giving charity concerts on behalf of the British peoples (often taking no fee at all). By 1930, she was one of the most recorded female instrumentalists for the Vocalion record label. Together with her recordings for U.S. Columbia, this great artist leaves behind a testimony of her sensitive musicianship and virtuosity. Her playing clearly illustrates hallmarks of both her initial training in Hungary (at the academy and following the advice of her great uncle Joachim) and the influences of her formative years in Britain, revealing a style of performance that reflected an awareness of contemporary aesthetics. Jelly d’Arányi’s recorded legacy from the 1920s not only shares with us her musical talents, but greatly enhances our understanding of an important chapter in the history of British violin performance.
I would like to thank the following people, without whom this publication would not have been possible: Jonathan Summers and the British Library for the opportunity of being an Edison Research Fellow, and for their support and expertise throughout the fellowship programme; Raymond Glaspole for providing copies of some rare discs not held by the British Library; Robin Bernath, Hannah French, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Tully Potter, and Nikos Zarb for their expertise, words of wisdom and encouragement; Peter Mallinson, Chris O’Shea and Travis Winstanley for their invaluable proof-reading, and support.
1 Frank Thistleton, “Jelly d’Aranyi,” The Strad 17, no.437 (September 1926): 270.
2 There is no stand-alone, comprehensive biography of Jelly d’Arányi. Author and journalist Joseph Macleod wrote an invaluable group biography of Jelly d’Arányi and her sisters, The Sisters d’Arányi (1969), which is replete with wonderful anecdotes (some of which were shared by d’Arányi in interview with Macleod). However, the book is not without shortcomings. For example, d’Aranyi’s performance practice is not discussed in any great depth nor are her recordings. Many important details concerning her artistic development and decline are also missing, while the narrative of the book tends to veer frequently towards purple prose. Where my research has been informed by Macleod’s work, it is acknowledged with a footnote. Otherwise, it is my own original research.
3 Joseph Macleod, “Childhood in Budapest.” In The Sisters d’Aranyi, 13-25. Boston: Crescendo Publishing Company, 1969.
4 Jelly d’Aranyi’s music education in greater detail: in 1901, after learning the violin for six weeks with her older sister Adila, d’Aranyi was given an entrance scholarship to the Budapest Academy of Music (since renamed the Franz Liszt Academy of Music), aged only 8 years ol She began preparatory violin lessons with Wilhelm Grünfeld (concert master of the Budapest Opera), and then graduated to the advanced class of Jenő Hubay for 5 years, from 1902-1907.
5 How Hubay’s pedagogical style translates into the repertoire studied by his students was succinctly observed by one of d’Aranyi’s classmates, the violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973). Szigeti studied with Hubay for two years (1903-1905), and an autobiographical account gives us a detailed view into Hubay’s teaching curriculum, which increasingly favoured developing virtuosic prowess. Joseph Szigeti, Szigeti on the Violin (New York: Dover Publications, 1979), 4.
6 A vocal, anti-alien backlash towards recent waves of migrants from Eastern Europe resulted in Parliament passing the Aliens Act in 1905, which limited the number of eligible immigrants to Britain, as described in Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (London: Little Brown, 2004), 194-200.
7 Joseph Macleod, The Sisters d’Aranyi (Boston: Crescendo Publishing Co., 1969), 85.
8 Ibid., 60.
9 Ibid., 65.
10 These include: a test pressing for the Gramophone Company in 1919 (the dance is not named/numbered); Hungarian Dance No.5 for Vocalion in 1925; Hungarian Dance No.8 for U.S. Columbia in 1928.
11 Jelly d’Arányi, “Some Thoughts on Violin Playing,” Farrago 1, no. 2 (1930): 109.
12 Jelly had injured her ankle badly during a trip to London (n.) and was convalescing with her mother and sisters at the sea-side town of Knokke-Zout, Belgium. The clouds of war, however, were roiling. The Arányis had hoped to travel home to Hungary to be with their father, but there were no trains running from Frankfurt onwards and the Arányis decided instead to make for the safety of England (as recounted in Macleod, The Sisters d’Arányi, 89-90). According to my research, d’Arányi’s final pre-war performance happened on 31 January 1914 ([n.a.] “Mrs Alexander Maitland’s Concert.” The Scotsman. February 02, 1914: 9). D’Arányi reappears in the press in November 1914.
13 Restrictive government measures and vitriolic press coverage culminated in a hostile and thoroughly Germanophobic environment for German families. Germanophobia took many different guises during WWI. Firstly, the Aliens Restriction Act (passed on 5 August 1914), along with the Trading with the Enemy Act (18 September 1914), meant that all German-owned business were confiscated, and by the end of the month non-naturalised German men of military age were rounded up and interne In London alone, more than 1,500 German businesses were vandalised, and numerous anti-German riots took place across the country. Even the performance of music by German composers faced censorship: concert series (including Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts) adapted concert programmes to prominently feature music composed by citizens of the Allied powers.
14 Macleod, The Sisters d’Aranyi, 91-94.
15 Adila d’Arányi married American-born barrister, Alexandre Fachiri (1887-1939), and Hortense d’Arányi (1887-1953) married British economist, Sir Ralph Hawtrey (1879-1975).
16 Due to the amended Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act (1916) and anti-German sentiment at large, Bechstein Hall was forced to cease trading and closed its doors in June 1916. The hall reopened in 1917 under the new name, Wigmore Hall.
17 Frederick Kelly and Thérèse Radic, Race Against Time: The Diaries of F.S. Kelly (Australia: National Library Australia, 2004), 28.
18 Ibid, 328.
19 Jelly d’Arányi, “Some Thoughts on Violin Playing”, 108-9.
20 Jelly d’Arányi (1919), 1. Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music Discography 1500 to 1950, accessed 6 June 2022. https://charm.kcl.ac.uk/discography/search/search_advanced?operatorSel_0=and
21 Musicus, “World of Music,’ The Daily Telegraph, July 01, 1922: 4.
22 Written for d’Arányi in 1921 and 1922 (respectively), Bartok’s two violin sonatas were premiered in London in 1922 and 1923 as noted in: Malcom Gillies. “A Conversation with Bartok: 1929,” Musical Times 128, no. 1736 (October 1987): 557.
23 As noted in a concert review following a successful recital at Wigmore Hall: [n.a.] “A d’Arányi Triumph,” The Pall Mall Gazette April 28, 1923: 5.
24 Henderson, “Adila and Jelly von Arányi,” The Strad 23, no.268 (August 1912): 139-140.
25 [n.a.] “Famous Sister Violinists at Home: Studies of Mme. Fachiri and Mlle. Jelly d'Aranyi” The Sketch. July 28, 1926: 20-21.
26 [n.a.] “Valkyries of the Violin.” The Irish Times. November 08, 1926: 232.
28 Ibid., 140.
29 [n.a.] “Music in Rochdale: Chamber Concert Society.’ Rochdale Observer. November 24, 1926: 5.
30 Henderson, “Adila and Jelly von Arányi”, 139.
31 Sisters Teresa (1827-1904) and Maria Milanollo (1832-1848) toured Europe and England as a duet act in the 1840s; sisters Isabel and Eldrede Watts supplemented a thriving teaching practice with an intensive burst of public performances exclusively as duettists (c.1902-6) with prestigious concert appearances including the Bechstein Hall in 1903 and the Promenade concerts in 1906 (as described in Henderson, “Adila and Jelly von Arányi,” 139-140).
32 Vocalion Record Catalogue, [n.a.] (London: Vocalion Gramophone Co., November 1925). Records catalogue accessed 01 May 2022, https://archive.org/details/vocalionrecords1925/mode/2up.
33 My research concludes: a) she is to be credited with premiering an additional six new works in concert (from concerti to short character pieces); b) four dedicated works were only recently acquired by the British Library, in manuscript form. A complete list of titles will be shortly released via publication.
34 “Some Thoughts on Violin Playing,” 108.
35 Selected works include Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat, Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 1 and Tzigane, as well as Bartok’s two violin sonatas.
36 H. P. Morgan-Browne, “Who are these Violinists?” The Strad 39, no.462 (October 1928): 324.
37 Ibid., 324.
38 Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3 in G Major K.216, our fourth audio example in this blog post.
39 Szigeti’s relationship with gramophone companies as outlined in: Boris Schwartz, Great Masters of the Violin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983), 387; Joseph Szigeti, Szigeti on the Violin (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1979), 18-20.
40 Parsons, “Stylistic change in violin performance 1900-1960” (2015), 68.
41 Jelly d’Arányi, “Some Thoughts on Violin Playing,” 107-11; Jelly d’Arányi, “The Violin Sonatas,” Music & Letters 8, no.2 (April 1927): 191-197.
42 “Some Thoughts on Violin Playing,” 110.
43 Macleod, Sisters d’Arányi, 48.
44 “Some Thoughts on Violin Playing,” 108.
45 Macleod, Sisters d’Arányi, 278.
46 “Some Thoughts on Violin Playing,” 109-110.
47 Ibid., 107.
48 Desmond McCarthy, letter to Robert C. Trevelyan, March 15, 1944.
49 [n.a.]. “Violinist in Car Smash,” Daily Telegraph, January 17, 1934: 11.
51 Apart from limited press coverage, there is no further mention elsewhere, not even in Macleod, Sisters d’Aranyi, (1969).
52 As discussed in conversation with a private GP (with the author).
54 At the time of the broadcast, d’Arányi was still mourning the loss of two close friends, and champions of her playing: Alexander Fachiri on 27 March 1939 (her sister’s husband), and Sir Donald Tovey on 10 July 1940 (her former guarantor, mentor and first duo partner in Britain).
55 D’Aranyi’s final broadcast as a soloist took place on 26 July 1944, with Sir Henry J. Wood conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Together, they performed Bach’s Violin Concerto No.1 in A- BWV 1041. Less than a month later, her dear friend Sir Wood died on 19 August 1944.
56 David Milsom, “Jelly d’Arányi (Jelly Eva Arányi de Hunyadvár) Violin,” liner notes for Jelly d’Arányi, A-Z of String Players, Jelly d’Arányi et al., Naxos 8.558081-84, 2014, CD, 107.