For concertgoers and performers of my generation the cellist Anna Shuttleworth has been a ubiquitous presence. In fact in one of my very first published reviews, way back in 1969, when the (then) Midland (later English) Sinfonia, based in my home city of Nottingham, gave a series of concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, conducted by Neville Dilkes, I wrote in the Nottingham Guardian Journal
of Anna Shuttleworth’s cello continuo ‘played with evident relish’. She was in the Sinfonia from 1961 until 1995. Later I worked with her, under the conductorship of Denys Darlow, when she led the cello section of the Tilford Bach Orchestra in many concerts and recordings in London and Surrey. Relish remained a characteristic of her playing - as well as consummate artistry.
She was one of that group of wonderful female players - Olga Hegedus, Anita Lasker, Joanna Milholland and Jennifer Ward Clarke spring to mind - one or several of whom seemed always to be the mainstays of the cello sections of the numerous chamber orchestras performing in the 1960s and later.
Now her memoirs have been published, in a pretty hefty tome edited by one of her former pupils Tomas Sterner. It might be argued that it is too long, too discursive, and contains much that could be excised, or at least tightened up. On the other hand, it illustrates the minutiae of a professional career at a very interesting period and with a variety of fellow performers and the results are fascinating. More importantly, here is a very human woman whose interests do not begin or end with music, and have involved the acquisition of many skills and pastimes, including an Open University degree in her later years. Anna actually admits that the book is very large (like herself, she disarmingly insists!) and should be dipped into, rather than read from cover to cover. On the other hand, reading it from cover to cover reveals many sparkling pearls.
She was born in Bournemouth but with exotic antecedents, including a Polish-Irish mother, and I was delighted to discover her Uncle Dick, whose real name was Adolphus MacGillicuddy! Her father had worked for the Indian Civil Service.
Naturally there is much about the cello and cellists: those who taught her, those with whom she worked, and her own pupils. Her fellow students at the Royal College of Music - in the class of Ivor (‘Jimmy’) James - included Joan Dickson, Amaryllis Fleming, Eileen Croxford, Hugo Cole and Paul Ward, and through Amaryllis Fleming she came to work for Gerald Finzi and the Newbury String Players, from which developed a great and influential friendship with Gerald, Joy and the boys. Of the concerts Anna remarks that they were a pleasure for all manner of reasons, not least ‘the love of music generated by everyone involved’.
In fact, if we are tempted to think of orchestral players in particular as hard-bitten and disillusioned, it is refreshing to read of Anna’s appreciation of the performances of others and the music itself.
As well as orchestral work Anna Shuttleworth was of course a distinguished soloist, chamber music player and teacher, and she writes generously but candidly about her fellow musicians, including such players as Rostropovich, Tortelier, Navarra (through letters from Alexander Baillie), Anner Bijlsma and Jacqueline du Pré, and particularly their approach to teaching the cello.
The personal side is not neglected - there is a lot about sex (and an abortion)! - and family history and family holidays may perhaps be described in a little too much detail, but it all adds to this remarkably intimate portrait of a fine and possibly taken-for-granted artist (but not taken for granted by those who work with her). Vaughan Williams called her ‘the swellest cellist’!
The job of putting all this in a coherent and cohesive form has fallen to Tomas Sterner, who I suspect was the driving force in getting it all together in the first place. Having attempted (but not yet succeeded) in a similar exercise myself, I know very well the difficulties of the task, which should not be underestimated. Mr Sterner goes to a great deal of trouble to tell us, in his Foreword, that ‘his first language is Swedish’, perhaps subconsciously to explain the almost Teutonic fervour with which he has edited the text.
First Mr Sterner feels it necessary to explain (in square brackets) words which he feels his readers may not understand, or realize would normally be checked for clarity and meaning in a dictionary; for example (page 340): ‘The Leonardo Trio gave a wonderful performance of this work, imbuing [read: to inspire or permeate with a feeling of quality
] it with fire, lyricism …’, etc.
Then the encyclopaedic footnotes! When Anna tells us of her purchase of a BSA motorcycle we are given in a footnote a twelve-line potted history of the Birmingham Small Arms Company!; there is a mouth-watering description and history of sachertorte (p.322) after Anna recalls that she was once sent one by a pupil; and the absence of accents in certain names in the book is explained by the fact that they are not in the chosen text font, Garamond (p.281) - to quote but three examples!
But he excels himself on page 28 when Anna refers to accusations at school of ‘having a pash’ on older girls (they were simply her friends!) which, as any fule kno (and any dictionary will tell you), is a brief infatuation or ‘crush’, particularly common among schoolgirls. Mr Sterner however insists in his footnote that it is ‘an old name for a French kiss’, and then goes on to describe in intimate detail what a French kiss involves! After this, I decided not to be irritated by these preposterous interventions, but to enjoy them! My only disappointment is that Mr Sterner completely missed the opportunity for a footnote to describe Coronation Chicken (page 366), which was served at the wedding breakfast of Anna and her second husband David Sellen! I was tempted to correct the omission here, but on reflection refer you instead to http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/features/2003/06/coronation_chicken_recipe.shtml
There are the usual typos and examples of sloppy editing loved by reviewers: on page 349 for example we hear about Sylvia Cleaver’s love of Tilford but then that she ‘chose to be buried in the churchyard in Tilbury’; on page 350 there is Olga Hegadus (i.e., Hegedus) and on page 351 ‘St Georges Hannover Square’ [sic], the Queen Elisabeth Hall and Ossian (i.e., Osian) Ellis, to take just three consecutive pages.
If you want to know what the chapters headed ‘Every Time You Hooted’ (a lovely Finzi story), ‘Queen Victoria’s Cushion’ and ‘The Potato Institute’ are all about, you’ll have to read the book. You won’t be disappointed!
© GARRY HUMPHREYS, 2009