Read these conversations and contributions from Jo's friends

 Andrew Lancaster and Joanna discuss the Field “Nocturnes”  
31st December 2010

Joanna: But because the music is so special and because the pianos were so suitable for the music it was so easy to play them in the style that obviously Field intended.
Andrew: So much music that had been written for the early pianos didn’t really translate to the modern piano as well. You know you get a Queen Anne redbrick house, a little cottage and it suits it; and a huge space like Park House, Sussex and it suits it. But some of the music is designed to be a miniature and will only work on an early piano. I’m sure that’s why Mozart, Schubert and various composers translate to a modern piano quite well; they can be played on a big Steinway or a little piano.
Joanna: Although, I was talking to Andreas and he was saying how his whole idea of Mozart had been influenced by him playing – which he took to like a duck to water actually – on the Longman . . . [Peter Katin said very much the same thing].
Andrew: Really
Joanna: . . .and the touch and the kind of delicacy and the kind of sound, influences interpretation.
Andrew: So the limitations of the piano itself . . .
Joanna: Well it wasn’t a [limitation]; it was actually an added character.
Andrew: It makes you realise what they had to do; how they were constrained.
Joanna: . . . how you should not bash through things, and this always hurts me very much, when I see people playing earlier composers and even Chopin – which can be played on a bigger piano with success – but, you know, bashing in such a way that would have been completely uncharacteristic of the way people approached the piano in the past.
Andrew: Well. if you bash an early one it just makes it sound coarse, doesn’t it. It doesn’t improve it; it just makes it coarser.
Joanna: We did lots of other recordings including the Dussek with Derek Bell, dear Derek, who is now dead and was very famous with The Chieftains. He played the [Erard] harp [of the same period as the piano]; but the way the Stodart mingled with the harp in a way that Dussek must have auralised it like that. It wouldn’t have sounded at all like that with a modern piano.
Andrew: Well no, I don’t think you could get the balance the same; the pianist is automatically going to win.
Joanna: Also the timbre would not have melded in.
Andrew: No, at times it can be quite difficult to tell which is which in places.
Andrew: So how do you think the early pianos . . . did they change your perception of music; you said it changed Andreas’.
Joanna: Oh yes, the early pianos – not only just the pianos that I have; I have three in this room. I have played yours and had others that have come and gone. I have played a lot of them and they are all different.
Andrew: But has it changed the way, for example, that you play the Steinway?
Joanna: Yes
Andrew: Even later pieces of music – Liszt or Chopin . . .
Joanna: Maybe not so much Liszt, because I haven’t played any big Liszt for some time. Its a completely different thing. I can change from one to the other fairly easily, but it has changed my conception of things like Haydn and Mozart – the character that is brought out on the early pianos with the different parts of the piano speaking in different ways, like characters [in an opera].
Andrew: Yes, you can get very different voices.
Joanna: And you soon realise that its rather boring to sit down at a Steinway and just play the tune and keep the left hand rather quiet, so it doesn’t sort of interfere. On the square pianos you can actually have the different colours going more or less at the same dynamic if you want to, without interfering with each other.
Andrew: So you get a conversation.
Joanna: You get a conversation. There is so much more and if you do what the composer actually says, even the phrasing and little slurs and things; square pianos – your square pianos that you have done – are extremely sensitive to nuances of that sort.
Andrew: When you have learnt these little nuances, do they translate to what you play on the Steinway?
Joanna: Yes, but sometimes you really have to do it a little more self-consciously on the Steinway, because you actually have to do it, whereas the piano almost does it for you on the squares. I have found that I don’t really like certain pieces played any more on the Steinway. I use the Steinway – I love it – for quite a number of pieces, but when I get onto the squares, suddenly the whole thing comes to life again.
Andrew: Well, when you’re recording, certainly, for example that Schubert – the Hungarian melody – that completely comes to life.
Joanna: Well of course that, on a modern piano, is quite an exciting piece, but its not got that sort of twang to it that gives it that slightly oriental . . . its so easy. And when I did the Schöne Müllerin [with Richard Edgar-Wilson], which I’m very pleased to say some very good people, like Alexander Schmaltz – who is the pianist for Stephan Loges and a lot of other very famous singers – admired it and the sound I got from the Clementi. What happens there is, that it’s so much easier on that piano to make the hunting horn calls, the brook, the mill wheel and things. All have a completely different character of their own and you can play out quite loudly and passionately in the passionate bits, without drowning the singer. So you can actually put more into it; whereas you have to hold back on a big piano, otherwise the poor old singer . . .
Andrew: . . . otherwise you would be drowning the soloist. But what I particularly like is in the accompaniment, it starts off as sort of innocent, inexperienced and by the end of it . . . the anguish, it’s so sad . . .
Joanna: devastated – and in fact he kills himself in the river.
Andrew: I don’t think he meant to do that; probably just slipped!
Joanna: I loved doing that [production] and we went to my dear friend Tessa’s fairly big country house to do the recording.
I must say that I have never ever played a piano that has been restored by anybody else with anything like the pleasure that I get when playing your pianos. I don’t think I could have recorded a lot of the music that I have done quite successfully – fairly subtle nuances and things, just would not have been possible on some of the other pianos.
Andrew: Which of the things you have recorded on the early pianos has been your favourite?
Joanna: Its very difficult. I love some of the Field – Mike’s very fond of the Field, he actually goes to sleep with it on, so he hardly ever hears the end ones . . .
Andrew: Hardly a recommendation . . .
Joanna: . . . very soothing you see. I loved the Field, but I loved doing the Haydn Variations and a lot of the other Haydn . . .
Andrew: Yes, that’s lovely.
Joanna: . . . because I think Haydn is becoming better known and much more appreciated. For a long time he was underrated. I think he is the most wonderful composer and when you play his music on the early piano you certainly hear a lot of things that you don’t usually hear on a modern piano. I find when I hear people crashing through Haydn sonatas at double break-neck speed, it is extremely disturbing to me.
Andrew: My favourite is the Scarlatti. I think you get the Spanish sound from the Stodart so beautifully.
Joanna: Well I’m glad you like that because I think that is one of the most successful recordings.
Andrew: When I was talking to Artur Pizzaro, he said he loved that recording; absolutely loved it! Which I think is a huge compliment.
Joanna: It is; I feel very honoured. I think, talking to Andreas, it is this question of dance. Dance has always been very important to me. I used to dance as a child as a child all the time and I used to love dancing as a young adult, but I couldn’t do it for many years because I didn’t get the opportunity. But I have always felt in the music, the dance.
Andrew: Don’t forget this morning, I saw this photo of you at school doing ballet. I think song comes into it a lot – you know some of those slow movements in Mozart; the arias.
Joanna: Definitely, I think it is important with Mozart and Schubert, to know their vocal works. And sometimes you can almost tell in a Haydn or Mozart sonata – you can almost feel the characters in an opera – the sort of jolly character, the flirty little maid, the sinister one and the pompous old men and heroines. They are all in the music [and the early pianos bring out these individual voices].
Andrew: Did you enjoy playing the spinet, or is really the piano your instrument?
Joanna: Well, I was very pleased when I had finished with the spinet and got back to the square pianos with dynamics. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed playing it, but I enjoyed the pieces I was playing. I find it difficult because there were no dynamic possibilities.
Andrew: Well, imagine people of that period who had been used to harpsichords and spinets and this new thing came along and they could do dynamics; so exciting for them. I’m sure it must have been frustrating for some of the older people who could not adapt.
Joanna: But Mozart went onto them . . .
Andrew: . . . and Clementi
Joanna: . . . and Haydn. I think its come out quite well considering I’m not a spinet player because it was well restored by Andy, though he had to be there all the time to [make final adjustments to sticking keys] keep on unsticking keys. I could not have done it without editing, because a lot of the trills and things just didn’t work [at that stage] all the time so you had to make sure that you did do them and they could be popped in when the spinet didn’t do it [during a play through].
Andrew: But you don’t have these problems at all with the squares.
Joanna: No, we don’t have the same problems with the squares.
Andrew: What about that piece you did – the Mendelssohn . . . When Time Flies. Was that exciting?
Joanna: Yes, it was very difficult; I find it nowadays very difficult to learn a completely new slightly difficult piece. It was quite a hard piece – Mendelssohn is hard, but I was determined to do it. Yes, when I’m actually recording; it isn’t that I am enjoying it very much. Its almost like going on a hefty trip . . .
Andrew: Yomping!
Joanna: . . . actually sort of concentrating on . . . and feeling very much that it’s very hard to get just what you want, because in my head, the music is sounding in my head exactly as it comes to me. It’s not that I decide that’s the best way to do it; the music is just there and I feel sometimes [that I’m] not really strong enough to be able to do what I need to get [express] that. So I’m inclined to go on and on until I can get near it. I don’t enjoy hearing it usually when I have just done it. After a few months when I have distanced myself from the recording session and everything, and then hear it; I think, actually that worked out quite well. Better than I thought at the time. I had awful problems with that bit, but it does sound as though it was quite easy. It’s been put together nicely and it’s fine; it’s what I wanted, what I was striving for.
Andrew: I think it is so lovely that they [the pianos] have ended up in a room of the period. What date is this house?
Joanna: [the House dated is 1790s] Well, I think this room was done in about 1830 – very early Victorian – 1837 possible. [this room in the West Wing was converted to a ballroom] It was actually done before the Theatre conversion across the way.
Andrew: But very much the period of the pianos.
Joanna: Before that it was just a barn here, but the actual main house is 1790.
Andrew: Very glamorous barn. They would have had one of these pianos in the house absolutely surely.
Joanna: Oh yes, and this room here was the ballroom. They would have had a little band of musicians; they would have had a piano on the upper end, probably where our bedroom is. That end didn’t have any windows in it.
Andrew: Do you remember in Emma, when they wanted to have a ball and they can’t decide how many ‘couple’ can stand up. There would be room for plenty of ‘couple’ in this room.
Joanna: Its so nice because it is a long room – of course with the bedroom added as well even longer – so they would have been able to do those dances where they are all paired up in the middle.
Originally they had little shelves for you to put your wine glass down and your fan.
But what is also lovely about the squares is their domestic size and loudness means that in a [large] room where people were holding a conversation at one end, or playing cards or something; they could be played without disturbing the whole atmosphere; they could be played very intimately with the young lady playing would have her best young man turning pages for her, very close and she would be playing very intimately to him. There would be a few people gathered round who wanted to hear.
Andrew: Or playing quite loudly and whispering under the music so others couldn’t hear.
Joanna: Whereas if you are playing a rather large Steinway grand – even if you are playing something soft, it’s very difficult for people to chat – not that I like people chatting all the time . . .
Andrew: Do you find it puts you off?
Joanna: It does if I have been asked to play. But if I’m just trying out something, or play something to one person and talking about it . . . .

Bernard d’Ascoli & Joanna

Bernard’s Chopin CDs

Joanna: We did some wonderful Chopin discs, in fact the entire Nocturnes, the Schertzi and Impromptus. I hope we got the results that you wanted. 
Bernard: I certainly got more than I expected. No, it was wonderful; it was always understood from within, because [as an editor] you just know the music more than anybody else – and Chopin in particular. It was something – we just didn’t have to say – you understood what I preferred; why I preferred [it] and you understood why it was important to [edit] do it before the change of pedal or just after, and it was great. 
Joanna: It was wonderful working with you Bernard. 
Bernard: Well it was for me too. And yes, we managed three CDs altogether. But hearing your latest Chopin I understand why we got on so well with that particular repertoire. In fact you play a nocturne on your CD. . . 
Joanna: The D flat Nocturne. 
Bernard: . . . and I really found – what’s wonderful is the way it flows so naturally. I had the real feeling that you were – this is something one says, but it was really true – as if you were improvising it; as if your were creating it in front of us. 
Joanna: Oh Bernard, what a lovely thing to say. 
Bernard: It’s true; it’s really what I felt. It didn’t feel calculated; it was really spontaneous. 
Joanna: The thing is that I found that I was getting back a bit more to the type of playing, perhaps more refined because I had been doing more technical work in between; getting back to how I actually felt the music on my own terms. 
Bernard: Yes. 
Joanna: Before perhaps being told this and that in master classes – and sometimes learning a lot from the master class – but my interpretation, I felt I was able to get back to my own feelings about it because I always say I don’t decide – I do have to work jolly hard at my sort of vision of the piece . . . 
Bernard: You must do because of the quality of the texture . . . 
Joanna: I do have to because I’m not . . . I’m very aware of the fact that I have to work jolly hard to get anywhere, but I do find that the music seems to come to me – and it may not be necessarily everybody’s idea of it at all – but it comes to me, and I can’t do it any other way. I just interpret what seems to come to me. And so therefore, perhaps that’s what makes it sound natural because I’m not actually trying to do it. 
Bernard: Yes. 
Joanna: I do feel very pleased indeed, that being at the moment rather vulnerable, being ill and perhaps not having much time left; it is the greatest comfort to me and encouragement to me to feel that someone with your fantastic critical ability and your own wonderful playing of Chopin actually likes my playing . . . 
Bernard: I do. 
Joanna: . . . that is just a wonderful, wonderful thing. 
Bernard: I do, I do; its not being polite or anything. It’s absolutely true. I do because it feels exactly what you describe, that it couldn’t be any other way. And it appears to us like that. I absolutely understand what you mean. I feel a bit the same about Chopin: I work hard at it, but I don’t hesitate about which tempo to take; I take the tempo I feel it should be at. It’s not the same for all composers. There are composers where I need to think hard and look three times – oh he put andante, he put con moto, so I should be careful. With Chopin, I hardly need to look at the tempo. When I check the tempo it’s a confirmation of what I felt. 
Joanna: Do you think that is because Chopin himself played in that way, very much on the spur of the moment perhaps . . . 
Bernard: One hopes so but . . . 
Joanna: . . . when he was playing to his friends; I know he struggled to write it down, but his actual playing from what I gather from various writings, he had this natural touch, he had hands – you see you have tremendously wonderful hands – I’m lucky that I’ve got these hands that open up. 
Bernard: Yes. 
Joanna: And Chopin was described as having hands that looked small but opened up like as snake. 
Bernard: Yesss. 
Joanna: And I think that I’m lucky to have that ability to play some of these widely spaced things. 
Bernard: Yeah, in a supple way. You’re A flat major Study sounds wonderful; so effortless . . . 
Joanna: Oh Bernard, thank you. 
Bernard: . . . and yet without holes in the texture; its pianistically achieved as well. I know you can benefit from editing and so on, we all do; but if you had edited it, every single note it wouldn’t sound that spontaneous! 
Joanna: I did work jolly hard at it . . . 
Bernard: You must have. 
Joanna: . . . there were many times when I swore and cursed because I had fallen down and made some awful mistake, but I love it. And you must hear the Debussy I have done, which Mike loves. Its just three little pieces . . . 
Bernard: La Fille aux cheveux de lin 
Joanna: Yes, and Clair de Lune and the First Arabesque. They are all things that friends of mine – like my doctor – love. I didn’t do it to impress people with my wonderful kind of Fur d’Artifice . . . 
Bernard: ‘Faurian’ Debussy . . . 
Joanna: It’s sort of . . . 
Bernard: Gentle and subtle . . . 
Joanna: . . . and I did play Fur d’Artifice at one point – not recently – I don’t think I could do that now; I don’t have the energy. But I loved making the disc; it was hard work and I was swearing like mad, wasn’t I Mike? . . .Chuckles off . . .

Story-Telling in Music 
Joanna: I just love the F minor Ballade; I know you play it very beautifully, because I heard the disc that you did a long time ago with somebody else. I just love that and I always feel its a ballade; it actually is a story, although one doesn’t know what the story is . . . 
Bernard: No, but there is a narration . . . 
Joanna: Its got to sound as if you are actually telling this story and I do hear it often played without that kind of feeling; beautifully played, but it’s music and not poetry. 
Bernard: The sense of narration has been very often lost – I mean someone like Alfred Cortot had a wonderful way to tell the story with the music. It is true that it’s a quality that has got a little bit lost over the years. I think it is coming back and if you take some conductors like Nikolhaus Harnoncourt for example, he brings back the story-telling with music. I have seen a rehearsal where he explains to the orchestra things that a school music master would explain, almost naive in a sense which inspires the players and we have moved away from that purely academic intellectual cold fish approach. Its coming back and you can see in Harnoncourt how alive me makes his interpretations. 
Joanna: There are so many people who can play practically everything; there are so many wonderful pianists who can rattle off the most difficult works. One listens sometimes and one thinks that its terribly, terrible clever and gawd how did he manage to play that so fast and listen to the clarity of their trills and everything, but it doesn’t say anything to me. 
Bernard: Yes. 
Joanna: Of course I was brought up with old 78s of pupils of Liszt or people like Friedman – various big old pianists – so I suppose that I was very influenced – I don’t want to play like them, in fact I haven’t heard them for a long time . . . 
Bernard: Yes, but you keep that in your subconscious. 
Joanna: . . . sort of that seemed to be Chopin and things to me. I wanted to play in a way that it meant to me as a child. 
Bernard: The proximity with improvisation; after all most of his compositions were first of all improvised and then reconstituted. Georges Sand explains, doesn’t she, that he would improvise something wonderful, would try to write it; would tear his hair out and went mad for several days and finished writing more or less what he had done in the beginning. 
Joanna: Sometimes it was a bit different in different editions and how he taught his pupils. 
Bernard: Yes, it kept changing. Yes, because he was a perfectionist. Of course the improviser would not be a perfectionist; but he was a perfectionist as well and he wanted the music not to be distorted, but had originally been felt as a whole, as something organic. It’s true that the best interpreters should try to find that natural flow and I honestly found this in your record. 
Joanna: Oh Bernard, I am so grateful to you because it means such a lot coming from someone like you. Andreas has also been very nice about my playing and he actually was listening to a tape we had made when Isobel Buchanan came and we did the Frau Leiben und laben and some Fauré and Duparc songs – I was accompanying her. Andreas, he was interested in Isobel because he had met her and everything; so we played it to him and he was so complimentary and I felt, god I had to struggle really to do those quite difficult accompaniments. Anyway he spoke to Stephan [Loges] who said he would love to come down and do some Schubert Leider. So you see, it’s given me this . . . and to get it from somebody like Andreas as well . . . well I feel life’s been worthwhile if I die tomorrow! You know what I mean (laughing). 
Bernard: You are the most in-demand accompanist. 
Joanna: Well, I can’t read music very quickly and I take a long time to learn it; I’m not as good as a lot of people – Eugene Asti and all these wonderful people who can play anything. Alexander Schmalcz who did the piano on our disc of Stephan singing Brahms and Schumann Dichterleibe; he is wonderful and can play suddenly in a different key – just like that. Maybe you can do that.

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.

From a Conversation with Marianna Leach
(Jo’s granddaughter)   25th January 2011

Joanna: Looking back, I don’t feel that my life is a blank sheet of paper. I feel that a lot of things have happened to me – some of them have been bloody awful and difficult to cope with, but as I have often said to other people, they have thrown into relief the good times, so that I have really appreciated the good times. Because I had two bloody awful husbands to start with, I appreciate Mike being a wonderful husband and Dave, in a completely different way, being a wonderful husband. I went through agony with my first and second husbands, but the pattern of life has to be a rich pattern; that’s the important thing. What I feel I want to leave behind – I’m not going yet anyway – are certain things that have perhaps enhanced people’s memories of me, or that I’ve done things. I’m glad that there have been times when I have influenced peoples lives; they are not going to . . . for instance, I don’t think any of the men I have been with are ever going to forget me.
Marianna: (laughing) I don’t think that anyone who has ever met you will forget you!
Joanna: The important thing is . . . I know I’m a perfectly ordinary person with a little bit, but not a huge talent. I know I have had a lot of friends and people I have managed to help. And some people I have managed to influence and some people don’t like me, but at least [my life] has not just been a blank page. The main thing is to enjoy every moment and not keep on spoiling it by thinking ‘oh well perhaps next week I won’t be here’.
Now I want to go down tomorrow morning and have a look to see if the snowdrops are out yet. There are also some lovely snake-head fritillaries that I go and enjoy. I think, ‘aren’t I lucky to see these again’. I thought last year that I might not actually be here to see these snowdrops this year. So one has to be very, very grateful. When I think of all the wonderful people, Schubert and Mozart and countless others, who had so much to offer yet have died when they were thirty-five or younger; they were snuffed out much earlier than I’m being snuffed out. There are lots of people that don’t live to my age of seventy-three; lots of people. It’s lovely to know that I’ve got friends who love me enough to want me to carry on. It would be awful if everybody was just waiting for that ‘stupid old bat’ to pop off!
Marianna: No, that’s definitely not the case. After mum, there’s my family in Poland, but you and my mum have always been on par in my life. It’s hard to explain ‘my grandmother’ to a lot of my friends, because they have grandmothers that they have seen maybe at special occasions, or stayed with here or there, but we’ve had things happen and we have got closer and I have been able to talk to you about everything, which is actually quite scary. There are sometimes conversations that come up that I want to close my ears too, even though I’m twenty-five, eeeeek!! I feel ‘come on you’re my grandparents; I don’t want to know about this!’ Well you know . . . you’ve not only been my grandma but you’ve been my friend; you’ve been my confidante; you’ve been someone I’ve looked up to. You’ve been so strong and stuff like that.
Joanna: Well it makes me feel I wish I had done better.
Marianna: But you did the best already.
Joanna: Well there are lots of times when I didn’t; but there’s bound to be that. But I think I did try. As I said to Jenny once when she was much younger and she was going on rebelling against me and the fact that she was my child and everything. Well I said, ‘You can’t expect me to be a goddess; I’m human’. All I can say is that I may have failed often, but I have tried and I have done my best. There have been times when I haven’t paid people enough attention, or thought about them as much as I should have done. But there is a lot in life; life’s so full of things. There’s things to do and sometimes one can help people by doing these things and not necessarily concentrating on them entirely. There are quite a lot of mothers who are wonderful mothers and their children are their lives, but it doesn’t necessarily help the child to deal with its own life, especially if they have been looked after completely by a mother and not allowed to develop their own ways of overcoming their difficulties.

Martino Tirimo

“My first meeting with Joanna Leach was at Morley College, when she decided to join my piano class there. Her exceptional musicality was clear from the first moment, but what pleased me particularly was her strong individual expression. For example, in works like the Janacek Sonata her passionate attunement elicited an emotionally powerful interpretation that few pianists can attain. This was an expression of the highest order. Her playing also had a lyrical and poetic quality, which was most moving.
We soon became friends and when she turned her attention to producing recordings, together with her husband Dave Turner, it followed quite naturally that we would record something together before too long. After an initial ‘Piano Encores’ recording, the opportunity arose to work on Debussy’s complete works.
This was a project which was close to my heart, but it was also close to Joanna’s heart for she played quite a number of these works and thus knew them intimately. This cannot be said for too many producers! Her deep knowledge meant that we could have detailed discussions, even during the sessions, and this was most stimulating for me.
Throughout these recordings, sessions and post-production, her expertise and wonderfully positive attitude much contributed to the final result and the consequent success of this project. It was a happy collaboration that I treasure greatly.
Professional contact aside, Joanna remained a very close friend and one with whom no cross word was ever uttered for there was never any reason! Her constructive approach to life was an example to many of us and her company is sorely missed.”

Melanie Petre – “Memories of Jo”
7th October 2011

Jo was a wonderful friend to me and to Tessa (Flemming) Davies for over 60 years.
We all met at the Hall School, Somerset, when we were ten. I never did discover why, when her family lived in Cornwall, Jo was sent to boarding school in Somerset (Tessa and I were locals.) It was a very happy school, with an emphasis on art, handwork and music and Jo always showed a shining musical talent, playing the piano most beautifully and inspiring a lot of us with her love of classical music. School life was pretty uncomfortable; one dormitory held 23 of us and was called “The Roosters”. Lessons took place in Nissen huts which were incredibly cold in winter and we all got chilblains.
I often used to stay with Jo in Cornwall, at her parents’ magical old house, Trewarne. At Christmas time, in the stone flagged dining room, there would be a huge Christmas tree decorated entirely in white and silver. Jo even then was a great cook and one speciality was Corn Fritters and Mushroom Sauce. We listened to music and played the piano, read a lot of books and played cards and darts – there was, of course, no television in the late Forties.
On one visit I unfortunately developed measles, which Jo promptly caught and her very kind and dear mother had to nurse both of us for at least a fortnight I remember her reading to us, rather appropriately, “Bleak House”. Jo’s father was great fun and would come out with some splendidly dismissive one-liners. “They hunt with the Heythrop and fish with Macfisheries” always made me laugh. The Thompson family had two Dachshunds, Topper and Truffle, in whose honour they all successfully backed Royal Tan in the 1954 Grand National. They also had guinea pigs called Lord Palmerston and Highly Mollases.
In the summer we would go surfing at Polzeath, find small, out of the way coves to swim in and try (unsuccessfully) to catch crabs and lobsters by hand. I don’t remember grown-ups being present on these forays – children were allowed so much independence in those days. Julian was usually there, often with a friend staying and I remember him taking Jo and me out rabbit shooting. For target practice we took pot shots at telegraph poles – a bit dangerous, perhaps, General?
Jo would come and stay with me and we were often joined by Tessa. I had ponies so we rode a lot. Jo, having ridden in India where it seemed the horses had no brakes, used to disappear fearlessly at full gallop – we all decided she had an “electric bottom”.
Once we grew up, inevitably Jo’s and my lives took different paths, but I am godmother to Susan and we were neighbours in Fulham from 1978 until Jo left London, so we always kept in touch (and remembered each other’s birthdays, usually with cards depicting Dachshunds.)
I admired and miss Jo enormously. She was incredibly brave all her life whenever illness and adversity struck, a great wife to all her husbands and wonderful company, with a strong opinion on everything – she could be quite confrontational. She was a supremely loving and supportive mother to Susan and Jenny and an incredibly talented musician who realised her talents in every way possible, particularly towards the end of her life when she knew she had an abundance of support but little time left.
Jo was altogether very special and it was a great privilege to have been her friend.

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 intentions 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.

Michael Robson – Memories of Jo at Trewarne

Jo’s mother and mine had been close friends in Calcutta in the 1930s, but had lost contact after we had moved to Cape Town from 1942. Six years later, and by an extraordinary coincidence, Jo’s older brother Julian and I found ourselves at the same boarding school in North Dorset.

Jo’s family had returned to England after the war and her parents had bought Trewarne, a beautiful, compact Jacobean manor just a few miles from north Cornwall’s magnificent coast and the Camel estuary. Our two families were reunited and for several years my mother, my brother Jeremy and I stayed at Trewarne each summer; these visits were high points in our family’s life.

I so clearly recall meeting Jo for the first time on our arrival at Trewarne. She was about 11 and although naturally shy to begin with, was at once engaging and an absolute delight to be with. I can still hear her infectious laugh (which sometimes followed a mildly outrageous remark, particularly as she grew older). Initially I think she may have felt a bit “surrounded” at times by three young males- her brother, Jeremy and me- but this did not constrain her from organising us and cooking delicious suppers with a no-fuss assurance. (The grown-ups ate later- after their cocktail hour). We would go on daily excursions to one of the many beaches, which in those days were mostly relatively uncrowded. We all swam a lot – in all weathers (no wet suits of course!). They were happy times.

Our family’s abiding memories took place in Trewarne’s beautiful drawing room, which doubled as a music room. At one end stood the magnificent grand piano on which Jo’s special talents flowered year by year. Her progress was dazzling, with a developing mastery of a growing range of increasingly demanding piano music.

I remember hovering around the passage outside the drawing room listening to her practicing (as she did for most of the mornings). In fact there were not many parts of the house where her playing could not be heard as she tackled pieces calling for a wide range of interpretations- sometimes played with passion, sometimes with sensitive fluidity and at other times with that almost effortless clarity from rapid finger work which became a hallmark of her later playing on her square pianos.

As she matured through her teens so she developed her views on how she wanted to interpret each work she was playing. She was a perfectionist and consequently she would on occasions give herself a hard time if she felt she had fallen short of her own very high standards; that is the prerogative of a consummate artist- and the mark of one.

There is a Schubert Impromptu (in E flat D.889 No.2) which I felt then perfectly illustrated her gifts when she first mastered it in those early Trewarne years at the age of, I think, 12 or 13. It still thrills me to hear it played because it reminds me of her wonderful talents and our visits.

Trewarne’s drawing room was also the setting for some lighter moments. In one of the later years someone had the idea of ending our little, informal concert (a feature of each stay) with a ballet scene. Jo provided the “orchestral” accompaniment on the piano. Julian, for whom ballet was a complete anathema, was eventually persuaded to become the male dancer, dressed in tights- with appropriate “support”- while Jeremy and I drew the short straws and became prima ballerinas (dressed distinctly primitively with “ballet” shoes better suited to a work-out in a gymnasium). Jo decided to dash off a couple of suitable Chopin waltzes during which Julian would shove Jeremy and me through a series of movements involving lifts (difficult, notwithstanding Julian’s considerable strength) and what in polished ballet circles would be called pirouettes. This promising performance was brought to a premature and unscheduled end with Jo overcome by uncontrollable giggles and we three dancers swung into a perspiring heap on Trewarne’s drawing room floor.

Back to those early recollections of Jo, it was a joyful privilege for our family to have heard and watched her piano playing for those years during our visits to Trewarne, and to have experienced her blossoming into one of the outstanding musicians of her time in her field.

From Roland & Patricia Whiteside
28th September 2011

Jo we can picture you now in your most comfortable chair quietly and almost meditatively creating one of your petit point pictures, sitting by a cosy fire burning in the grate.
Jo, what a lovely and delightful friend together with your husband Mike whom we were fortunate to know when we lived as neighbours at Shute in the glorious countryside of East Devon.
Jo loved to have people around her – enjoying their company and entertaining them to dinner, spoiling them with a variety of delicacies that she prepared with love and fastidious care reflecting her high standards . . . and so it was with Jo that we had many conversations on a wide range of interests when her natural colourful character was allowed full rein with obvious emotion and sensibility, occasionally spiced with her impish sense of humour and coupled with a giggle!
We were fortunate to see Jo playing the piano – it was so special and what we heard exquisitely subtle and astonishingly thrilling, so that for me I felt possessed by the spirit of the moment which seems to endure in one’s body memory. The many times that we enjoyed with Jo and Mike that rise from memory of their own volition and which will sustain us through time . . .
with love Patricia & Roland

Uta Spitzenberger and Joanna

Jo we can picture you now in your most comfortable chair quietly and almost meditatively creating one of your petit point pictures, sitting by a cosy fire burning in the grate.
Jo, what a lovely and delightful friend together with your husband Mike whom we were fortunate to know when we lived as neighbours at Shute in the glorious countryside of East Devon.
Jo loved to have people around her – enjoying their company and entertaining them to dinner, spoiling them with a variety of delicacies that she prepared with love and fastidious care reflecting her high standards . . . and so it was with Jo that we had many conversations on a wide range of interests when her natural colourful character was allowed full rein with obvious emotion and sensibility, occasionally spiced with her impish sense of humour and coupled with a giggle!
We were fortunate to see Jo playing the piano – it was so special and what we heard exquisitely subtle and astonishingly thrilling, so that for me I felt possessed by the spirit of the moment which seems to endure in one’s body memory. The many times that we enjoyed with Jo and Mike that rise from memory of their own volition and which will sustain us through time . . .
with love Patricia & Roland

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