Letter to Joy Finzi from Sybil Eaton
My first recollection of Gerald was in 1915 (or 16?) when I used to meet him, always with his mother, in Minster Court, on his way to a composition lesson with Edward Bairstow. He looked very young! I saw very little of him at that time as the family lived outside York, but I heard a good deal as E.C.B. was keenly interested. In 1916 I moved to London with Editha Knocker (my intention of going to Auer in Petrograd being smashed by the war). Gerald turned up in London before long and honoured me by bringing his compositions to bow. (I am fearful as to how I did it in those days.)
I remember his frustration, when composing, by the ceaseless sounds of traffic instead of the peace of a ploughed field.
Sometime later he was on the committee of the Stroud (?) Music Club and engaged me to play, insisting that I play the newly written Moeran sonata which I did (never having heard of Moeran), and it was very good for me to be pulled out of the rut of Handel, Brahms and Kreisler pieces.
Then came his engagement which produced an immortal remark. Repeatedly I asked what she was like but he seemed to find her quite indescribable. Eventually he came out with - “Well she is not like Harriet Cohen!!”
I cannot remember the year when Gerald honoured me by writing a concerto for me. The first performance was with Malcolm Sargent at Queen's Hall. It had a particularly beautiful slow movement which was later published for clarinet. I remember how much Gerald appreciated Vaughan Williams' real sympathy with him when the orchestra scoffed at something new, having so often experienced the same thing.
Gerald used to come to me for rehearsals and to my surprise he varied his tempo for the opening bars. When I protested he said “My job is to compose the music, yours is to find the right tempo.” His view was confirmed by V.W. when, later I played his (shamefully neglected) Concerto Academico for violin and strings with the composer conducting. At the first rehearsal he stopped me because he wanted a quicker tempo for the first movement, but for the second rehearsal he stopped me again, saying that he liked my tempo better! Obviously I am wrong in my very strong feeling that there is only one right tempo for everything, but all my life I have had a sinking feeling at the question: “How fast should it go?”
One day when Nigel was 3 or 4 years old I was rehearsing with Gerald at Ashmansworth, when Nigel, having been fairly obstreperous, became still, obviously rapt in the music. I remarked on this to Gerald and he said 'Nigel get your fiddle out”. Nigel dived under the piano for his half-sized fiddle and proceeded to put it on the wrong shoulder and when this was put right he put his bow on the wrong side of the bridge! When all set, with Gerald at the piano, he proceeded to draw the whole bow on open strings with the ease and poise of a virtuoso. Joy took some photographs which she kindly sent to me and which I treasure to this day.
The recollection for which I am most grateful is being told by Gerald that I had played out of tune in the slow movement of his concerto. He was the most honest of friends... I wish more people had been as honest as Gerald.