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the end of the 19th century the east-end of London had already become
home to many European Jewish refugees including a number of musicians.
Knowing this and speaking virtually no English, the Tschaikovs quickly
made their way to where at least they would find some people who would
understand them. When a year or so later the father left the family
the responsibility for providing for mother and eight children fell
on the two eldest boys, Anton and Anissim, my father.
in the first years of the 20th century employment opportunities for
boys aged eleven and eight were limited. However, by now my father
had already acquired a good deal of skill on the clarinet and so,
with Anton playing the violin, he made his début on the streets
of East London. With their youth and instrumental facility they probably
picked up a reasonable number of pennies, but not always enough to
support a large family. My father told me how when things were really
bad his mother had on one occasion been forced to break into the gas-meter
so that they could buy some food.
day as they were playing in the street Mr Mandelbaum, a wealthy antique
dealer who was a great music-lover, heard them. Their talent impressed
him and he made arrangements for them to attend the Guildhall School
of Music where they were both later awarded scholarships. It was not
long before Anton was leading the student orchestra. Unfortunately
the need to earn money meant he had to accept engagements, which from
time to time required him to be absent from some of the orchestra’s
rehearsals. Excuses and guile got him through for a time until one
day he was away from a performance the College considered important.
When he was subjected to some searching questions and it was revealed
that he had accepted a paid engagement, in place of fulfilling his
obligation to the College, his Scholarship was withdrawn.
father, then still only a boy, was extraordinarily fortunate to have
the opportunity of studying with the great Charles Draper, the father
of the British school of clarinet playing. His influence on clarinet
playing was considerable since at one time or another he was also
professor at both the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy.
His pupils included, amongst many others, Frederick Thurston and Ralph
Clarke, principal and second clarinet in the BBC Symphony Orchestra,
who in their turn were both professors at the Royal College of Music.
Through them and subsequent generations of players Draper’s influence
can still be heard today.
my father had finished his lesson and the next pupil came in Professor
Draper would sometimes say ‘All right young Tschai; get this chap
started and see how he’s doing – I’m just off to get a newspaper.’.
He usually did not return for an hour or so. Of course that sort of
thing could not possibly happen now; nor could a boy of ten any longer
be studying at one of our national music colleges. The following year,
1906, ‘young Tschai’, whilst still at the Guildhall, started to earn
his living as a professional musician. He was now eleven – a little
younger than usual to be working in the profession, though it was
not uncommon for children of thirteen or fourteen, whilst still at
school, to be playing in music halls, and some years later for the
silent cinema. He must have been exceptionally gifted as the Musical
Times reported that in 1908 he was the soloist at one of the Guildhall
School of Music’s concerts playing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and
again in 1909, this time playing the Clarinet Concerto in F minor
a boy or girl in a poor Jewish family showed musical talent at an
early age it would be encouraged. This was true in poor immigrant
Jewish families everywhere. Of all the professions music is the easiest
for a foreigner to join when they have only a limited knowledge of
the language of their new home. This may account for the remarkable
number of famous Jewish musicians, especially solo pianists and violinists,
during the first half of the 20th century.
professional musicians at that time, certainly those who were Jewish,
came from lower middle class or poor working class families. For those
with talent music provided an opportunity to jump their class. In
more recent times the children of black families, especially in the
USA from the 1920s onwards, have followed a similar escape route through
jazz and the dance and swing bands. Sport rather than music seems
to have become the preferred way out of poverty and social deprivation
since the 1950s.
musical families there were always parents, uncles and cousins able
to provide free or inexpensive lessons. A child that showed talent
would be encouraged, though encouragement could sometimes be a euphemism
for being obliged to work exceedingly hard, and by no means always
willingly. A number of the older musicians that I worked with in the
past (mostly string players) told me how they were made to practise
for many hours and of the harsh criticism with which their efforts
were quite frequently rewarded. Many of these young string players
gained their early professional experience in the smaller music halls
and cinemas. For wind players the main route into the profession was
often from army and brass bands, where they learnt to play in ensemble
and to sight-read.
1910 when a father, a skilled artisan – a tailor, shoemaker or hairdresser
– might still be earning no more than thirty shillings (£1.50) a week,
his violinist son, if really talented, might by the age of only sixteen
or seventeen be earning five or six pounds a week leading one of the
larger cinema orchestras. Some idea of the extent of the employment
opportunities for musicians to work in the ‘silent’ cinemas can be
gained from the number of cinemas in London alone: between 1909 and
1912 their number leapt from 90 to 400 and by 1927 it is estimated
that over 15,000 musicians were playing in cinemas throughout the
country. Then, suddenly, with the arrival of sound films, the ‘talkies’,
everything changed and by 1932 all those musicians were unemployed.
A sense of insecurity is endemic in all performers; doubt about their
own ability has always been compounded by the vagaries of employment
opportunities. The trauma caused by the loss of employment for thousands
of musicians that the coming of the ‘talkies’ created had a lasting
influence on the psychology of musicians for a number of generations.
my own circumstances in the 1930s when I was still a child protected
me from the harsh realities of life that afflicted so many others,
I was aware of something of the hardship and humiliation that they
suffered. There was a regular stream of relations, all musicians,
seeking financial aid from my father, at that time the only member
of the family with a steady income. They were good musicians and competent
players who had devoted their lives from an early age to practising
their instrumental skills to the best of their ability. Now they were
unwanted. And, worse, their skills fitted them for no other trade
or occupation. Their indignity affected me profoundly and at a very
early age I vowed that I would never allow myself to be in that situation.