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Remembering a

Most Remarkable Woman

 From a Conversation with Andreas Boyde & Joanna Leach

5th December 2010

Intuition & Academic Training

Andreas: What I realised when we started our first projects, and of course when I started playing several works which I either learned or were new to me, or even some works that I had performed for years; I noticed something quite amazing - your musical advice was extraordinary - I think it is something that you might call intuition or a certain form of instinct - inspiration. How would you describe it? How come your musical judgement was so amazing - it still is of course - and you would come up with ideas that are extremely striking?

Joanna: Well it’s lovely to hear you say that. I actually have never been a highly academically trained musician, because I didn't go to any academies or anything like that. I had one or two extremely marvellous teachers - I had Peter Katin and before him, I had a wonderful teacher called Henry Wynn Wernick in Cornwall, who taught me how to relax in such a way that I didn't get tendinitis and various things [touch] and he was very keen on my playing - actually he was a little bit in love with me I think - he actually picked up on this intuitive thing. I think it’s just part of my imaginative character; I always was a very imaginative child. It struck me as being quite normal that one should live in a slight fantasy world most of the time - and music seems to express that to me.

It isn't that I'm going through an actual scenario when I'm playing or listening to a piece, but I feel sometimes - and this is very important, but difficult to express - I feel that one has to take the essence of the emotion in the piece; its almost like a perfume. It isn't the actual situation itself that springs to mind, it’s the scent of it that brings back the emotion; the scent in the piece that is almost impossible to express in words. I have always felt that intuitively.

In my own playing I can't - people sometimes say 'how do you decide what to do here?' - well I'm not academically trained enough to work it all out and sometimes I think it’s a good thing, because it can sometimes get in the way, if you have got a strong intuitive imagination. It could be very helpful and there are large bits of my musical experience that could be enhanced by knowing more about it. I'm inclined to get very panicky and not know where I am in a piece if I get nervous.

Andreas: Well sometimes to be too academic can be 'in your way', right?

Joanna: Well I feel it is with some people. You are very well academically trained, but it doesn't get in the way of your intuition, I don't think. I think that most of the time you have a very strong intuitive thing which guides you more than possibly your very powerful brain and that is what I like about your playing, because it always means more than just the academic notes.

Andreas: Well sometimes I feel when you look at the score, the music jumps at you and you have immediately, for me, a very strong picture of how the music should sound and then sometimes its a long journey to end up where you started.

Joanna: Exactly, I feel that too. It’s the practising, the hard grind in between; you're aching to get back to your original moment of inspiration and if you feel that somehow you are connecting, possibly with the inspiration of the composer that made him write the piece in the first place, which is almost impossible to put down in the notes; you've got to somehow get through the notes to feel the emotion and the inspiration and it may not be the same inspiration as his - we are not conceited enough to think we are in touch with the composer - but it’s got to come from one's own heart and one's own conviction, otherwise it is not going to come across to the audience, or anybody who hears you. It’s got to mean something.

Andreas: Of course, I think it is very important to have a personal relationship and to say something very personal; not just to give a precise account of the score which, lets face it at the end of the day, is dots and lines and nothing else. It’s up to you and to me and every musician to turn it into music which is actually talking to people. Do you think there should be a story told? - a musical story of course.

Joanna: Occasionally yes and sometimes the composer himself has actually indicated it; like Schumann for instance, or even Beethoven and various other people. Sometimes it seems to be more pure music without really a story, but there is often a kind of scenario behind. In Scarlatti for instance, I feel very much that the processional [character] - he actually was, we know, influenced by the folk music, the dancing, the religious procession and the loud clashing noises of the drums and trumpets that accompanied these religious processions - we know that. And I find it is quite easy to discover this in his music. The dance is so important in lots of music. I have always been interested in dance and I used to love dancing and I never found it difficult to feel myself respond to the rhythm of the music and that is something that comes quite naturally and which I am pleased to say some people like in my playing. You also have a very good sense of phrasing and timing and things. Sometimes people nowadays play extremely fast and extremely brilliantly and I always feel that they are more concerned with playing the difficult bits of the music, rather than doing full justice to the composer's intensions emotionally. I know my own playing is quite old fashioned in some ways - of course I was brought up on old 78s of various great pianists of the past - I find that perhaps some of my rubato and things is probably based on what I heard as a child - I haven't copied it but it is part of my character now.

Old fashioned Pianists

Andreas: It is interesting talking about old fashioned pianists: even if you take someone like Horowitz, who I guess was a very modern pianist in his day; there are a number of pianists nowadays who play his transcriptions - Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies, or even Stars & Stripes - you know all these highly virtuosic encores. There is a tendency that Horowitz takes his time, is very witty in his performances, is very poignant and more contemporary pianists seem to straighten up everything, so that sometimes I feel that we have a tendency nowadays to be far more straight - that is perhaps the best word . . .

Joanna: . . . perhaps flashy. Not everybody: I do admire some modern pianists very much indeed. I find it very irritating to hear people taking things fast, too fast in my opinion, and not letting the music breath naturally; particularly in something like Haydn which is so sort of expressive and very nice to play on the early pianos, because of the different tone qualities you get throughout the keyboard. But I've heard people playing Haydn at double break speed and it doesn't seem to do anything to me at all. I don't know whether it does to other people. What I find about your playing, and I feel very strongly myself, and we both have in common, is that we never play anything frightfully fast just for effect. If it’s fast, it’s fast because the music demands it and never in any other circumstances - not because it’s clever and brilliant to play it faster. And you never do that - and I don't think I can [now] anyway! (laughs) It’s been a great support to me - because music has obviously been a tremendous thing in my life and I haven't always had the support from people I have been with - and in the latter part of my life, since I first had the cancer - the last years that I have lived, nearly 27 years since my first experience of a major cancer thing - I have actually achieved quite a lot musically and it’s been partly because I have been in contact with really very good musical people and also people who have appreciated me in a very lovely way because I wasn't and am still not sure really - you know – it’s good. I need the approbation of someone I trust and respect.

Andreas: I think we all need that.

Joanna: We probably do all need it, but it’s more obvious in your case (laughing) that you're all right. I feel I need it and can never be complacent - of course one shouldn't be anyway - never complacent about one's abilities.

Haydn & Expressions of Grief

Andreas: You mentioned Haydn earlier and I very often listen to your F minor Variations and I have also heard it in concert with you playing it. Do you have a special relationship; is there a personal story behind it?

Joanna: Yes, I think it is a wonderful work. I heard Ruth Dyson playing it once and she gave a little talk and pointed out the fact that Haydn composed this work at a certain period of his life, and towards the end of the composition of this piece he heard that his dear friend whom he loved very much - oh gosh can't remember her name - the wife of the doctor of Prince Esterházy and with whom he had a marvellous relationship - non sexual - she was in a different class from him - she died and I think towards the end of this piece suddenly you get the grief and tearing out of hair in a terrible kind of feeling of loss which comes out very strongly and I do identify with that. When I recorded it I wasn't particularly aware of any emotions, I was more concerned with getting the music as I heard it and felt it. After David died, I played it again - it had been edited and was out on CD - and I couldn't believe how deeply it expressed what I was [then] feeling. And I thought to myself that Haydn knew just what it was like to look into the abyss of deep inconsolable grief. Really that piece at the end is more close to my feelings - that and the Janacek Sonata which I also have recorded - when I first heard my own recording of that - fished it out sometime a little bit after Dave died - I just wept and wept; it seemed to express what I felt.

The Dante Sonata

Andreas: Well it still has the effect on many listeners. I played the Dante Sonata a lot as a young student and for me that was the stormy . . . the hell - well also the heaven - for me it was a very stormy and virtuosic piece. And then I heard your recording that opened a completely new world; obviously a work that is close to your heart.

Joanna: Yes, well, my Grandmother who was a fantastic pianist and studied with Lechtitski in Vienna - she was born in the 1860s and obviously I didn't actually meet her except when I was a baby, but apparently I play very like her - she was probably much better than me because she didn't have to bring up her family without assistance; she could practise when she liked. She was also similar to me; not very good at sight reading, a very intuitive pianist and very much admired by a lot of people including Lechtitski himself - she wasn't allowed to play in public - and she played the Liszt Sonata and several others - St. Francis walking on the waves - and quite a lot of Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs and very difficult - lots of Beethoven. But one thing she found she couldn't play - or emotionally found she couldn't play - was the Dante Sonata. She always would have liked to have done it, but she never did it. In some ways I thought - there are one or two bits in it that I thought I had never heard anyone play this as I think it should be played and I want to record it. I did learn it and I did record it and I thought I had done it for her and if she is around somewhere, she will be pleased about it.

Andreas: Jo, that’s wonderful.