"She shall have music wherever she goes," says the old rhyme. This I certainly did have, which makes me look upon the first years we spent in England as my 'musical life'. Not that I was what is commonly called musical (the French have a better word, musicienne). I was not musicienne, though very fond of music as most people are--whether intelligent or uneducated--but I had no aptitude for it--to my real sorrow, for my want of musical enthusiasm grieved my father I know. But I could not help it. Enthusiasm comes naturally and from within, it cannot be commanded; and though it was real joy to sit in the twilight and listen to my dear father playing Schumann (his favourite composer) or Liszt, I must confess that concerts rather bored me--classical concerts especially.
My father tried very hard to develop what little talent I had, and to train my voice, but I had no talent (so-called) and a very poor ear for singing or the violin--which really is rather queer because I have always been an exceptionally good linguist, and before I reached my teens could already jabber in three languages without the slightest trace of a foreign accent--and this proves that the ear may be one of the factors, but not the only one, of linguistic ability.
But this is by the way.
I really have no definite idea as to why my parents decided to settle in London. They never intended to make a long stay, and they often talked with each other as to what they would do and how they would order their life when (not if) they finally returned to Hungary. But they never did settle down in Hungary again. They learned to love England--my father especially--just as I did. He died in London, and was buried in Brussels by the side of his little Madeleine whom he loved so dearly. But again I am anticipating.
At the time that my parents went to London, intending to remain there perhaps two or three years, I did not know one word of English. There had never been an English governess in our house, nor--what was very unusual in Hungary then--an English groom in the stables of Tarna-Örs or Tisza-Abád. My mother's father, Count Wass, had been a great friend of the Hungarian patriot, Louis Kossuth (who dreamed to be to Hungary what Garibaldi had been to Italy: her champion and her liberator from Austrian yoke.)
When Kossuth and his loyal army were crushed through the intervention of the Russian army on the Austrian side, Kossuth was obliged to flee the country, which he did on a British warship placed at his disposal by his English admirers. Count Wass went with him and together the two of them made their way to America where they were welcomed with open arms. This was in 1848. Louis Kossuth went round the States on a lecturing tour, while my grandfather went to California in search of gold. Whether he found it or not I know not; all I know is that he did not stay there long, nor did he die a millionaire. He learned to speak English fluently, and I suppose taught his wife and children to do the same if not fluently, at any rate intelligibly.
Anyway, here we were in London, come from the wilds of Hungary, from the banks of the Theisz to those of old Father Thames, strangers in a strange land, but soon possessed of that inestimable boon so quickly acquired by strangers in dear, hospitable England--kind and loving friends. Already in Brussels the foundation had been laid of one of those wonderful friendships of which--as in the case of the Abbé Liszt--my father's personality seemed to possess the secret. Old Mr. Critchett, the surgeon, known throughout the scientific world as the inventor of the operation for cataract was our first and most devoted English friend. He had a daughter Amy whom he idolized. She was married to a charming man of the name of Boursot, who was half French. She was a most accomplished amateur musician and this no doubt was the link that brought about the long, lasting friendship between her parents and mine, and I imagine that it was probably the influence of those dear friends that finally induced my parents to settle in England for a prolonged stay. Indeed it was in London that my father found full scope for the exercise and enjoyment of his beloved art. Here, there were no pin-pricks or spiteful criticisms to exacerbate the nerves of a sensitive artist. Dr. Critchett and his daughter had a great number of musical friends and soon the strangers from Hungary were made happy in the intimate musical circles of London.
I daresay that these circles were not so 'highbrow' as those of Munich or Vienna, and continental sarcasm was always levelled, then as now--at the obtuseness and Gothicism of the English public; nevertheless, every artist who had made a name for himself on the Continent of Europe did not feel that he had attained the height of his ambition until he had earned the approbation of the much maligned English public. Thus it was that in the '80's and the '90's all the greatest musicians of Europe were heard in London.
There were magnificent concerts in St. James's Hall (since demolished), the new Philharmonic Concerts under the direction of Dr. Wylde and Wilhelm Ganz, the orchestral concerts of Mme. Viard-Louis under the leadership of Mr. Weist-Hill, the Saturday concerts at the Crystal Palace conducted by Auguste Manns. Here, too, the Handel festivals, where the magnificent organ and perfectly trained chorus of three thousand singers soon became world-renowned.
Then there were the ballad concerts where singers such as Sims Reeves, Edward Lloyd, Antoinette Sterling, Signor Foli and others--second to none--were constantly heard; instrumental concerts, recitals of piano and violin when Norman Neruda, Sarasate, Joachim, in fact all the great artistes of Europe were heard. Paderewski, when still a young man and not yet world-famous, gave two recitals in St. James's Hall because one proved insufficient to accommodate his countless admirers. The enthusiasm with which he was greeted and applauded was an event to be remembered. When he had finished playing the audience rose as one mass and swarmed up the platform, men as well as women, in the hope of shaking him by the hand.
Edouard Grieg--such an enchanting personality--conducted his Peer Gynt suite in St. James's Hall. This was a remarkable occasion for those of us who were present, because the composer's parents, simple old Norwegians assisted at the performance. When they entered the hall they received such an ovation that the very roof shook under the terrific volume of sound. They looked so modest, so unsophisticated, just children of Nature. They sat in the seats to which they had been shown with respectful ceremonial, and there they remained with their old hands clasped together and their eyes fixed on their illustrious son. They could only see his back while he was conducting, but when presently he bowed repeatedly in response to the thunderous applause that came from all over the house, we all noticed that the dear old couple wiped their eyes--which were filled with tears of joy and of pride and that the son's acknowledgment of the great honour that was being done him was first and foremost directed towards them.
All this goes to prove that London was artistically at least on a level, as far as appreciation of genius was concerned, with great musical centres like Munich and Vienna. My father, of course, revelled in it all. This was an atmosphere in which he could breathe and live the life which he loved; the life of an artist who is understood and appreciated. Several of his works were performed at these notable orchestral institutions, and he was always honoured by the request from the Chefs d'orchestre that he should wield the batôn when his own compositions were played. These were invariably received with whole-hearted applause by the public and highly lauded by the Press, more especially the overture, ballet, and other extracts from his Hungarian opera The Renegade, which was subsequently produced at Her Majesty's Theatre under the Mapleson management.
Which brings me to the question of opera, and here I am bound to admit that the taste of the English public, or I should say its appreciation of this great expression of musical thought, was decidedly on a lower level than that of the public in the important capitals of Europe. Opera in London, in the final quarter of the last century, still meant almost exclusively Italian opera with a few French ones of established reputation thrown in; and after a time Lohengrin and Tannhauser, introduced through the influence of Hans Richter and the glamour of Bayreuth then at the apogee of its appeal to the musical and fashionable world. But opera in London was essentially a fashionable affair--like Ascot and Goodwood. Its season was of short duration. Leaders of fashion and bon ton led the way, and it was 'the thing' to display one's diamonds and Paris gowns in the stalls and boxes before 'going on' to some other equally fashionable function.
Lady de Grey, as she was then, an acknowledged Queen of Beauty, had hers on the grand tier facing the Royal box where the Prince and Princess of Wales often graced the performance with their presence. The Duchess of Montrose often 'looked in'; so did the beautiful Duchess of Manchester, and Lady Randolph Churchill, whose beautiful black hair was always so much admired and so exquisitely dressed. And among the less exalted personages was Mrs. Sam Lewis with her pretty sister, that charming composer, Hope Temple. Kind Mrs. Sam Lewis! The wife of the great lawyer whose kindness and generosity to musicians who had not yet reached fame and fortune was one of the most beautiful traits in her generous nature. As a matter of fact, fashionable Jewry of London was the main supporter of the opera; without it the season would have been even shorter than it was and certainly less profitable to the management.
Covent Garden was under the management of Ernest Gye, whose wife was that lovely singer, Madame Albani, whose exquisite 'Elsa' helped to make Lohengrin popular on its first presentation in London. As a matter of fact the trouble with that fashionable clique which patronized the opera was that it mistrusted its own taste. Give it an established success--success in Vienna, Munich, or Paris--it would take that opera to its heart and applaud it and patronize it with whole-hearted enthusiasm.
Even so that enthusiasm hung fire sometimes, as in the case of Gounod's Faust, which was received coolly by public and Press and played to half-empty houses in consequence until Messrs. Chappell--who had purchased the score at what was then a very large sum of money--pushed the opera to success by dint of clever publicity and advertising. Neither Lohengrin nor Tannhauser were what would be called to-day an outstanding success until after the fashionable throng had learned that the King of Bavaria was madly in love (in the strict sense of the words) with the works of Richard Wagner. It seemed then to shake itself out of its intellectual lethargy, went to Bayreuth, entertained Hans Richter at its parties, and went to his Wagner concerts in St. James's Hall; acclaimed 'The Ride of the Walkyries' as the greatest orchestral composition of their generation and demanded that the bridal march in Lohengrin be substituted in future to the Mendelssohn wedding march at fashionable weddings.
This mistrust of its own taste in the matter of art--I cannot call it anything else--was applied equally to the singers of the same period. The beau monde had not yet recovered from its exuberant admiration of Mario and Grisi who had come to England with an international reputation. Mario to them was just the god of music. No other singer could ever come, in their estimation, within measurable distance of his charm, of his divine voice, his superb acting, in fact, of his appeal to the ears and hearts of his admirers. As for Grisi, she was just everything that was perfect; and when Mario married Grisi and these two favourites were heard together in Rigoletto, Barbière, Traviata, or Sonnambula the ne plus ultra of musical exaltation was reached.
It is, of course, impossible for those of our generation to estimate the worth of those two artistes or of any executant of the past for that matter. Their arts dies with them. Immortality is the prerogative of the composer, the creator of the work interpreted by the artistes. The art of Mario and Grisi may have reached the height of perfection claimed for them by their own generation. It is not for us to say. Certain it is that several years of endeavour on the part of operatic managers went by and vast sums of money were sacrificed before the rapture of a public mourning for its idols was transferred to the great singers of the next generation. This was accomplished by easy stages via Jenny Lind, Patti, Christine Nilsson, and Albani, until the brothers de Reszke and Melba were presently carried by public favour up to the same pinnacles of fame and appreciation that had been the lot of Mario and Grisi.
This pinnacle, by the way, was never reached by such fine artistes as Sims Reeves and Edward Lloyd. They were contemporaries of the new favourites, but never quite reached the same height of popularity. For one thing they never sang in opera. The public only saw them on the concert platform or in their own drawing-rooms in tailored clothes and white gloves. They had not the glamour attached to rose-coloured or blue tights, padded trunk hose, and rapier at the side. Moreover, they were both English and it was the fashion to depreciate everything in art that was English. A form of insularity I suppose which was more rampant in our parents' days than it is now. Antoinette Stirling, the finest contralto that ever was, never attained the popularity enjoyed by Giulia Ravoli. Even to-day. . . . Ah, well! I had perhaps better not say what I think on that score.
So much for Covent Garden.
The second opera house, Her Majesty's (now His Majesty's), was under the management of Mr. Mapleson, whose genial personality and musical enthusiasm were greater than his managerial flair. He did not pander as his rival did in Covent Garden to the autocratic demands of a decorative audience. He himself was satiated with the Trovatores and Barbières and Lucias with the trills of eminent divas like Patti and Jenny Lind, and persuaded himself that the public was as sick of the old Italian operas as he was himself. He turned his attention to works which had won approbation in the musical centres of Europe, even if this approbation had not gone to the length of established successes. But in this laudable endeavour he was not altogether successful from a financial point of view.
He put up Boito's Mefistofele with Christine Nilsson in the double rôle of Marguerite and Helen of Troy: also Rossini's last Italian opera, Semiramide, with the same illustrious diva as the Babylonian queen. He mounted Beethoven's Fidelio, which had never been heard in its entirety in England before or (I believe) since, and Wagner's early work, Rienza, in England before with 'new scenery, dress, and appointments'. The public went to the premières, listened politely, applauded languidly, but failed to attend further performances of these works until it was satisfied that they had attained European fame.
A propos of this it is rather amusing to turn over one's files for cuttings from old newspapers. I have a cutting from the Daily Telegraph, which graphically illustrates what I have said. Speaking of Mr. Mapleson's announcement for his forthcoming opera season, the great daily said:
Last year Mr. Mapleson announced the names of three operas and bound himself to produce two of them. This year he definitely promises one only, but as Rossini's Semiramide is quite familiar the obligation will not excite a great amount of enthusiasm even though it implies Madame Christine Nilsson's assumption of the title-rôle for the first time. Mefistofele, we are told, will be 'a comparative novelty', and the remark is quite true. The prospectus then goes on to say: 'also a new grand opera in three acts entitled Il Rinnegato, music by Baron Félix Orczy.' Obscurity envelopes the precise significance here of the word 'also'. It follows the assertion that Mefistofele will be 'a comparative novelty', but this remark cannot apply to Il Rinnegato, which has never been heard among us. The prospect of the Baron's opera is therefore a vague one and we must wait for the course of events to define it, cheered by the thought that as Il Rinnegato was announced last year with no 'cast', and is now reannounced in connection with the name of Madame Gerster, one step forward has been taken. Looking at the prospectus generally, from the absence of novelty, both as regards operas and artistes, is very striking. From the repertoire of the house, however, it is easy to select old works that make new ones superfluous. Here are a few of them: Il Barbière, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Faust, Fidelio, Il Flauto Magica, Lohengrin, Oberon, and Aida.
Not very encouraging for the manager striving to give the public something new that will please it, and do not the final sentences of this summary bear out the truth of what I have endeavoured to say about the taste of the fashionable public? 'From the repertoire of the house, however it is easy to select old works that make new ones superfluous!"
Anyway, Mr. Mapleson was true to his prospectus and duly produced my father's Hungarian opera Il Rinnegato, dedicated to H. M. the Queen of the Belgians, herself a Hungarian princess. Everything Hungarian happened to be the rage in London just then, principally gipsy music, of which more anon, and the audience received the work with loud applause. It even deigned to fill the house at two more performances. But it brought no money to the box office and Mapleson had, in any event, decided to give up management for good. He was, and remained--even after this failure--a genuine friend of my father's and in his Memoirs published a year or two later, he spoke most warmly of him and with unstinted admiration of the originality and splendid orchestrations of Il Rinnegato.
His son, Henry, was the husband of that beautiful woman and charming singer, Marie Roze. It had been her great wish to sing in Il Rinnegato, but the soprano part was too high and too florid for her lovely soft mezzo-soprano voice. It was finally sung by Emma Juch, a young American singer with a high flexible soprano like that of Marie Van Zandt. That veteran of choreographic art, Kati Lanner, directed the ballet, as she had done for several seasons at Her Majesty's. She was a dear old lady and put her very heart and soul into the production, not only because she was Hungarian but also because she had worked at one time under my father's directorate in the National Opera of Budapest. She knew better than anyone how a Hungarian csàrdàs should be danced. The première danseuse was Madame Malvina Cavalazzi, the wife of Charles Mapleson, the manager's second son.
There were one or two incidents--one of which might have ended in tragedy--which occurred during the rehearsals and production of Il Rinnegato. The principal rôle in the opera was the baritone, and was sung by a fine Italian singer, Signor Galassi. My father conducted his opera in person. There was also a part for tenor voice and this was entrusted to Signor Ravelli. From the first this otherwise accomplished singer objected strongly to certain passages in the score when the baritone was more prominent on the stage than he was. Such an unheard-of thing, argued Signor Ravelli. The tenor must--absolutely must, he declared--always hold the stage and the baritone take second place whatever the dramatic situation might be. It had always been so ever since Italy had given the lead in opera to the whole of Europe.
When in the last act the tenor named Elemér is actually killed by the baritone Barnabas on the steps of the metropolitan church of Budapest, Signor Ravelli flatly refused to die on those steps which were at the back of the stage and insisted on a marble seat being placed in a prominent position close to the footlights where he could be seen by everyone in the audience to expire gracefully and comfortably. Even then he greatly objected that the composer had omitted to give him a special aria to sing with his dying breath, as in Trovatore and all other really great operas.
However, the marble seat being conceded, there was further trouble, further vandalism with regard to the rights and privileges of a tenor in grand opera. This was a question of boots. Yes, boots! Hungarian national costume, gorgeous and picturesque as it was, demanded amount other articles of attire . . . boots. Now, argued Signor Ravelli, in grand opera no tenor had ever been known to wear other than slashed square-toed satin shoes. In vain was it pointed out to him that in this last act Elemér was returning from the battle-field against the Turks and that slashed satin shoes would be a hopeless anachronism seeing that he was supposed to have been riding, let alone the fact that those same shoes never formed a part of Hungarian national costume. Signor Ravelli remained obdurate. It was beneath the dignity of a tenor to appear in boots. This sounds incredible I know, but it is true nevertheless.
I remember the controversy about the boots to this day: and in connection with it I am tempted to recall Hans von Bülow, the great German chef d'orchestre, second to none, not even to Richter, who said on one occasion when in exasperation after a difference of opinion with a Wagnerian tenor, Schott: "Bah! a tenor is not a man; a tenor is a disease!"
And thus did Elemér the Hungarian hero die at the hand of Barnabas the Renegade, on a marble seat in the centre of the stage, wearing rose-coloured slashed shoes such as were befitting the majesty of an Italian tenor. I must admit, however, that I doubt if more than a dozen among the audience noticed the anachronism in costume or scenic effect.
The other incident--which unlike the question of marble seats and satin shoes might have ended in a terrible tragedy--occurred during the second performance of Il Rinnegato. There was a snow scene in the third act, snow being represented by cotton wool rather lavishly scattered over trees and protruding masonry. How it all happened I know not. My mother and I with a couple of friends were in a grand-tier box facing the stage--Mr. Mapleson was with us and Dr. Hueffer the musical critic of The Times--when suddenly there was a blaze: a piece of cotton wool had caught fire. One of the performers had to come out of a house with a lighted candle in her hand. There was a sudden draught and the nearest bit of cotton wool blazed up. Almost immediately afterwards one heard from some part of the house the ominous word 'Fire', and the word was repeated, first here and there, first in the gallery, then in the lower tiers; 'Fire . . . Fire . . .' and one heard the tramping of feet accompanying that awful, terrifying word. . . .
I cannot imagine anything more appalling than those words which first spoken in a whisper grew in a few seconds into a dull cry.
Panic! That most terrible of all catastrophes was threatening; though it was not yet there, it threatened. But in an instant a couple of scene-shifters had run out and trampled under foot the blazing bit of cotton wool even before the greater portion of the audience had realized the terrible danger that was ahead. My mother and I kept our eyes fixed on my father who stood in the midst of the orchestra, with batôn raised, entirely unmoved. I don't remember what my feelings were with regard to any possible cataclysm. I only thought of my father and that since he was so motionless and calm nothing serious could happen. And nothing did. The audience soon realized that all danger was past. A few I think had made their way out of the house down the stone steps which led from the gallery into the street, but in the stalls and boxes and in the third tier balcony men stood up and clapped their hands to reassure the rest of the audience that all was well.
Mr. Mapleson in his Memoirs gives a spirited account of the whole incident. In it he declares that it was my father's coolness in face of the danger which was chiefly instrumental in averting the panic. It kept the members of the orchestra in their place, their hands on their instruments ready to follow on. As a matter of fact quite a large section of the audience never knew that anything so awful and so threatening had occurred. But it seems strange that already twice in my life I had been on the threshold of a gigantic cataclysm caused by fire, first at Tisza-Abád, and then in Her Majesty's Theatre, London.
There is one element in music which I think cannot be denied, and it is this: music is the most absorbing of all the arts. It absorbs the mind of the artist, whether creator or executant, to the exclusion of every other consideration outside his own immediate necessities or desires. It is essentially a selfish art more so than any other--with perhaps the exception of the dramatic--simply because it depends for the success of its presentation on the outside public. And the public being capricious and influenced by the fashion of the moment will only acclaim one artiste or composer to the detriment of others. Hence a musician, artiste, or composer, must look to himself to attain pre-eminence, and can only do so by thrusting his own merits forward constantly into the public eye. He must first and foremost think of his own worth, his own success or failure. To help another to attain the pinnacle of fame to which he aspires might lead to neglect of his own worth. Hence what for want of a better term I will call the selfishness of the musician.
The same also applies to dramatic art, of which more anon. I was only thinking of music for the moment. In my close association with musicians--the great as well as the lesser--I have only come across two exceptions to this generalization; but these two exceptions are as brilliant as the stars. I am thinking, firstly, of Franz Liszt, who spent years of his life and used every influence he possessed to further the success of every musician whom he thought worthy. It was entirely due to his indefatigable exertions, his indomitable courage and belief in the greatness of Richard Wagner that the latter's works, after repeated failures and disappointments, came at last to be appreciated at their true value.
Secondly, here in England we had that universal favourite and delightful personality Sir Arthur Sullivan. His kindness and consideration to young and old musicians was beyond what mere words can express, and there are many to this day who owe what success and fortune they attained to the help he so generously tendered them.
Liszt's two visits to this country were a great joy to us. He stayed, I believe, on both occasions with his friend Walter Bache, a fine accomplished musician and charming personality. But the dear old man spent many a long day with us in our house in Wimpole Street and in the afternoon, tired as he must often have been with social and artistic duties, he would sit at the piano and let his lovely slender fingers bring forth heaven-born melodies from the keys. Besides our three selves there would only be two, or perhaps three, devotees privileged to listen to him on those occasions. He would play Schumann, Schubert, and his own compositions.
I say it again--I am not in any sense of the word musical, that Liszt's playing of Schumann's Kinderscenen remains for me unforgettable. He never played any of his bravura compositions but always simple things which left one dreaming and with tears in one's eyes. When he had finished he would turn to us all who sat enthralled around him and say in his exquisitely modulated voice: "Now you must hear my beloved pupil (meaning my father) play one of his own compositions. He makes the piano sing." He was always very sweet to me, a rather dull and stupid schoolgirl, and called me ma poésie, saying that young girls were the poetry of life; and when he had lunch or dinner with us and I was privileged to take him down to the dining-room, he said, resting his beautiful hand on my arm: "Vous-êtes mon soutien spirituellement et physiquement." (You are my physical and mental support.)
What a lot there is in a hand as an indication of artistic or otherwise temperament. In contrast to Liszt's slender hands with the long, pointed fingers and almond-shaped nails, I recall the hand of Anton Rubinstein. A great admirer of his had a cast of it in plaster. How different it was. He was undoubtedly a very great artist and powerful personality, with a reverberating voice and dominating presence. He was gruff in his speech and contemptuous of fine manners and elegant diction. He certainly did not make the piano sing--not to my humble taste anyhow, but he certainly made it vibrate and with those powerful spatulate fingers of his he could evoke from the piano sounds as sonorous as a full orchestra. His execution was of course superb, and with the exception of List the Incomparable he was certainly the finest pianist of his generation. His appeal to the great public was more universal even than that of Paderewski. He never came to our house but he played at the house of a friend at whose musical 'at homes' I was allowed once or twice to attend under the ægis of my father.
I specially remember one of these occasions being at the moment that we entered the music room Rubinstein was standing by the piano, talking to a group of his admirers, and I heard his deep gruff voice saying in German: "Ich bin ein Jude" (I am a Jew). He proclaimed it in a note almost of triumph and I, an unsophisticated Hungarian, remembering that over in Hungary to proclaim oneself a Jew would be equal to admitting that one belonged to an altogether inferior race, wondered how any great artist could so far humiliate himself as to make such an admission.
Since then what a number of Jews I have known and admired for their intellect, their artistic perceptions, their high moral character and really Christian charity!
Very charming and fascinating was Charles Gounod, who came to London after his Faust and Romeo and Juliet had at long last become real and popular successes. Clever, energetic Mrs. Weldon had a great deal to do with pushing the success home, ably seconded of course by Messrs. Chappel, the publishers of the music. I remember his being asked on one occasion when he sat at the piano and allowed his fingers to wander idly over the keys (he was never a brilliant pianist): "Oh! Monsieur Gounod," cooed a fair admirer, "do tell me how your composing is going on? What do you think of those lovely melodies which Madame Nilsson sings so divinely?"
It was one of those naïve questions which are apt to be so irritating to artists who are often at a loss to answer in a way that would not sound either imbecile or pedantic. But Charles Gounod, being one hundred per cent a Frenchman, was never at a loss for a pretty speech. He just turned his fine eyes on the charmer and said: "God, Madame, sends me down some of his angels and they whisper sweet melodies in my ear." And this sounded neither pedantic nor imbecile. It sounded so true. When one thought of the exquisite melodies in Faust or Romeo and Juliet, one felt in very truth that his inspiration came from the angels above.
I also recall another interesting and original personality--Peter Benoit, the great Flemish composer who came to London (as they all did) to conduct his Rubens Cantata and his Charlotte Corday at two grand concerts given in his honour in the Albert Hall. He certainly was an original. He stayed with us in Wimpole Street and I am sure my kind, hospitable parents must have been thankful in their hearts when his visit came to an end. He was by birth a simple Flemish peasant and everyone honoured him for that, but even in his own native Belgium he must have been a very trying friend and guest. He was director of the great Academy of Music and the Fine Arts in Antwerp and at times, to the consternation of pupils and fellow professors, he would just disappear--go off into the open country..
No one ever knew where he went to, but he would stay away days and sometimes weeks, living no one knew how, apparently quite oblivious of his duties at the Academy. It was supposed that his parents lived somewhere in the hinterland and that he went to visit them whenever the spirit of filial love moved him. And presently he would return and take up his duties--his lectures on Fine Art and Æstheticism were, I believe, delightfully interesting--just as if he had never been absent from his post.
As to his stay with us in Wimpole Street, all I recollect about it is that he only ate one meal a day--at five o'clock in the afternoon--a terrific meal which must have tried our domestic staff very sorely. I know it tried me, as I am sure my dear mother must have been greatly troubled to concoct the right menu and in sufficient quantity for our guest.
The morning and early part of the afternoon were devoted to rehearsals in the Albert Hall, and during the interval--after the copious dinner and bedtime which was quite early--Benoit liked to sit on the sofa in the drawing-room with eyes closed, listening to his own compositions played to him by Mme Boursot. He made me sit beside him and put his arm round my shoulders and murmured repeatedly: "J'aime tant qu'on me joue ma musique" (I love to listen to my own music), and I do believe that he loved his own compositions more than those of any other master, and that to listen to them was the great joy of his life.