Registered Charity Number 1153510                     Copyright © 2019 The Joanna Leach Foundation        Site by Peglets  


Remembering a

Most Remarkable Woman

 From a conversation between Eleanor Bailie & Joanna

18th January 2011

Budapest - Orient Express Trip

Eleanor: I remember we went out to dinner one night, I remember so well because it was bucketing with rain - we wanted to go and hear a Hungarian band. We had diner at this place . . .

Joanna: There was a very good cymbalon player there . . .

Eleanor: Fantastic!

Joanna: . . . fantastic, and I thought, 'Wow!' I knew all about cymbalons of course because of John [John Leach, Jo's second husband]. The second night we went to a theatre where they were putting on some, so called, ethnic Hungarian dancing, which was all quite cleverly choreographed - it was very exciting and there was a gypsy band there too, with a rather good cymbalon player. They did all these wonderful dances which they all do, that were meant to be peasant dances, but which have been slightly upgraded. But it was fun.

Eleanor: I wasn't then, and am still not at all, up on the cymbalon and you know so much about it. I have been to Budapest since and am absolutely stunned by the virtuosity of these people. But you really understand what it is all about.

Joanna: I know, [that comes from] living with John who of course plays the cymbalon. At one time he was the only person this side of the Iron Curtain who could read music and play the cymbalon. There were a few people who had come from Hungary who played in cafes and restaurants. They improvised on Hungarian tunes, but did not know how to read music. So whenever it was Hari Janos or Stravinsky's Renard, or a cymbalon was needed in the orchestra, John was called in.

What I did discover, was very enlightening: I realised - and we did in our concerts bring out this aspect - how cymbalon music affected Liszt's piano writing, particularly the Hungarian piano music. When I hear people playing, who have never heard a cymbalon, they play in a completely different way from what I think Liszt really meant; because he wanted to imitate the cymbalon. He actually puts al la cymbalon sometimes on his Liszt Rhapsodies. And with things like the rapid tremolos, a cymbalon will always start off slower and then increase the pace. Some pianists just do a tremolo fast, right from the beginning - exactly the same, the whole way through. This isn't expressive, like it’s meant to be. And things like the Romanian Dances too - because we had listened to a lot of Romanian folk music while out there - and later I remember going to Morley College in the [master] classes there, where people would sometimes play Bartok's Romanian Dances, People would do a big diminuendo and rallentando at the end of each fast piece; I was able to say - of course typical me, putting my hand up and chipping in - look sorry this is not how its meant to be! - In Romanian music they go belting up to the end absolutely fast, without any rallentando, and then stop suddenly - and that is the right way to do it".

Eleanor: I think this is often the case in folk music with classically trained musicians and pianists; they dare not quite do that because they fear it is not quite pianistic and grammatical and all that stuff.

The Importance of The Dance

Joanna: You and I went to a couple of classes run by people who were teaching piano teachers and musicians about Baroque and dancing minuets. We had to do it ourselves and we had to learn the sort of steps; it gave one a tremendous insight into the kind of tempi and as for a polonaise, you certainly knew that they couldn't possibly have run about doing those steps - they were striding.

Eleanor: Absolutely! And it was this thing of the one, two and a dip in the third beat, which people don't know about unless they have seen it.

Joanna: And therefore they don't play it like that. You have done lots of lovely talks and presentations - you did one here - of various musical concepts, and one of them was called Chopin & The Dance, and of course it isn't only Chopin and dance, but you pointed out that dance was so important in music right from the beginning . . .

Eleanor: . . .yes, and Bach and everybody.

Joanna: Chopin & The Dance I remember went down very well and you did some nice bits of playing to show what you meant in your talk. Of course a lot of people don't understand that . . .

Eleanor: No

Joanna: . . .that the dance - even if your not actually going to dance the mazurka to a Chopin mazurka - you have got to know how a mazurka is danced to know what inspired him.

Eleanor: Absolutely! But those two courses we went to, were absolutely hilarious, we were all lumbering round the room trying to do a minuets and gavottes and things - it must have been [so amusing] hilarious to watch.

Joanna: I loved it because I always loved dancing and it was a chance to actually dance a bit. No, I thought you and I did rather well. (laughter)

Eleanor: I dare say we did, but I mean . . .

Joanna: What amazed me was that there were lots of people who were quite well known musicians who were absolutely unable . . .

Eleanor: . . . hopeless!

Joanna: . . . to move to the music at all!

Eleanor: Absolutely hopeless! Again even though they were very competent and everything, they didn't really seem to see the physical connection.

Joanna: No. And of course their idea - some of the younger ones - of dancing, was this kind of bobbing up and down like a two year old does. It does seem to me that some of the dancing - when you go to a night club, or whatever, not that I go - when you see it, it’s the sort of thing that little babies do when they hear music; bobbing up and down. It doesn't seem to me that it’s got any further than that. Whereas we were doing quadrilles, polonaises and we had to learn some of the simpler steps of a mazurka.

Eleanor: Yes, absolutely. But I think it’s a shame that the physical aspect of music is not emphasised more. This is one of the wonderful things you do when you're playing Schubert dances, because you really make them dance-like; but most people don't, they make them far too refined.

Joanna: Well I know what it's like to have to dance to Sylvester and his absolutely perfect rhythm; it's so difficult to dance to. You need to have a certain type of rubato that helps you with your steps.

Eleanor: Absolutely!

Joanna: Andrew [Lancaster] told me that Artur Pizaro loved my Scarlatti and absolutely loved the disc, which gave me tremendous pleasure to hear. He said I had exactly the right Iberian feel and the dance feel. I felt very pleased about that because I love those pieces and I can't play them any other way; they just seem like that to me. I think it helps having been interested in dancing.

Eleanor: I'm sure it does.

Joanna: I was probably never very good at it, but I knew what it felt like.

Eleanor: And it is physical; it is the physical sense of the rhythm . . .

Joanna: . . .You don't need to move around when you are playing the piano to express that, but you feel it inside you . . .

Eleanor: Absolutely . . .

Joanna: You understand that so well, but a lot of people don't understand that.

Eleanor: No, no they don't.

Joanna: And I think that probably one of the reasons why you are such a good teacher, because you introduce this sort of element into your . . .

Eleanor: Well, I certainly did because I used to dance when I was giving lessons (laughter)

Joanna: I did too actually . . . I got up at Morley once and showed them how to do a polonaise . . . and a mazurka . . .

Eleanor: Oh, well done you! They all sat there with their mouths open . . .

Joanna: I was thinking what a fool I was making of myself. (laughter) But I think it made quite an impression; Lizzy [Hunt] has never forgotten it any way.

Eleanor: But I do have to say - I want to say so much - I have always said that you are such a fantastic natural musician; that I have always felt, well . . . slightly in awe! No, I do, because you have this incredible instinct and natural rhythm and sense of rubato, texture, intense emotion - every single thing you have - and it seems so natural. And that is what is so marvellous. And you encompass so many fields; I mean you play early music, you play Liszt and Chopin and you have a vast span.

Joanna: Oh, thank you, Eleanor . . .well, it means so much to me because I admire your sense of taste and your knowledge. A lot of people say, 'Oh isn't it lovely when you play' or something; I'm very pleased if I please people, but they probably think that of lots of people, who I don't think actually play terribly well. And so one is always sort of wondering whether one's one of those people or not. There was a time in my life when I didn't really meet other musicians; I was rather under John's shadow all the time helping him and I was very much in the background. And therefore I just couldn't really tell whether I was any good, or whether I was just one of these people - like some of the pupils I have taught - who thought they were much better than they were. It is very difficult to know unless other people tell you; people who you respect and trust and are going to tell the truth and not just butter you up – that’s very important - there are people who flatter people all the time and it doesn't mean anything really. All I can say is that I am very glad if I have the effect of giving anybody any pleasure at all with my playing, because I enjoy playing. It isn't a question of wanting to play to people; I just enjoy playing the music. If it does work out that people find there is more in it than they might hear - something different - something a bit more special, then that is fantastic; that's really the whole raison d'etre.

Eleanor: It is, this is the whole point: you give this impression that you are doing it because you love it. An awful lot of players don't. You know, you feel they are digging away at it, striving and everything, and you just feel as if you are right in it and you are actually enjoying what you are doing and I am sure this is what people pick up from your playing.

Eleanor Bailie & Joanna