Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
Memoirs By Humphrey Searle
Chapter 15: "TWO NEW CONTINENTS?" (part 2)
In 1964 it was still possible to cross the Atlantic by ship not too expensively and, as we had to take a lot of luggage for nearly a year's stay, we decided to travel on the "France" and cross the continent by train. The "France" was a modern ship, long, tall and narrow; the food was excellent, and free wine was produced with meals. We made friends with a young American couple who were sitting at the same table, Jack and Winnie Gray and maintained contact with them for several years.
Our arrival in New York was somewhat undignified. We had large numbers of shabby trunks, suitcases, and one very ancient theatrical skip; most of these were tied up with rope. The gum-chewing Customs official insisted on a very thorough inspection. Apparently he was suspicious because I was carrying a copy of "Private Eye" which had the headline "Dirty Plays" on the front page; this referred satirically to one of Peter Hall's productions at the Aldwych Theatre, but the official assumed that the magazine was pornographic and, sprawling on an upended trunk, read the magazine from cover to cover. Finally. with a look of disgust, he had to admit that we were not importing obscene literature and abandoned us to our chaotic luggage. The cases had never locked but were now impossible even to close. By now the Customs shed was almost empty, and we had to bribe a reluctant porter to go and buy more rope to secure them. The cab driver, when we eventually got one, deposited us outside our hotel but made no attempt to help us get the luggage into the lobby. It was extremely hot and humid, and we were thankful, after this inauspicious start, to sip our first American martinis at a nearby bar.
We spent a few days in New York meeting old and new friends. Robert Irving, who had been the musical director of the New York City Ballet for some years, took us out to a splendid Italian supper and when Fiona, wearing new high-heeled shoes, felt too footsore to walk back to the hotel, he insisted on carrying her; he is a very big man. Jack and Winnie Gray invited us out for an evening tour round New York, including a view of the junkies and meths drinkers in the Bowery - a depressing and horrifying sight. We also visited Oliver Daniel, the head of Broadcast Music Inc., the American equivalent of our Performing Right Society; we had met him at the Hamburg Opera Festival. Two nights before our arrival in New York we had a head-on collision with a hurricane called Ethel. The huge liner was tossed into the air like a cork, hovered wildly and then crashed down again. Fiona was hurled across our cabin and hit her head quite violently on the wall. This caused her first attack of what was later diagnosed as Meniere's Disease; an imbalance affecting the inner ear and causing dizziness, vertigo, and often nausea. She has suffered from it intermittently ever since. When we landed in New York she thought that all the skyscrapers were tilted and about to topple over, unaware that it was she who was tilting. The day we met Oliver she was very wobbly and was staggering a bit when we reached his office. However he was very charming and seemed not to notice her drunken-looking behaviour. But he must have noticed that Fiona refused anything stronger to drink than orange juice, on that particular occasion at any rate! On hearing that we were going to California by train he insisted that we should take the Santa Fe line and stop for two nights at the Grand Canyon. We had also been given an introduction to John Owen Ward, then the representative of the Oxford University Press music Department in New York. And we saw Newell Jenkins and his friend Jack again, spending a hilarious afternoon with them flying kites in Central Park.
The train journey to California took three days, with a change of trains in Chicago. We had a comfortable sleeper, and good meals and drinks in the restaurant car, but all alcohol was removed from the tables while we were travelling through dry states. The first night's journey up the Hudson River revealed some beautiful scenery; after that the countryside was mainly flat until we reached the Grand Canyon. A bus took us from the train to the Canyon itself; we arrived there at night and did not see its full splendour until we awoke the following morning; our hotel was right on the edge of the gorge. It is a most spectacular sight; we spent the whole day exploring the upper part of it, but did not have time to attempt the bumpy journey on mule-back to the bottom of the ravine. In the evening we were treated to an exhibition of dancing by the local Red Indian tribe; it was obviously laid on for tourists, which struck us as rather sad and demeaning for a dignified and ancient race. We then took the night train on to California, and in the morning arrived at Oakland, where the line ended. A bus took us accross the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, and gave us our first glimpse of the city which was to become very dear to us.
We took a local train on to Palo Alto, the town which includes Stanford University, and here we stayed with Philip Buck and his wife Barbara, who is English and and a daughter of the writer W.W. Jacobs; although she had lived in California for years she had preserved the speech and manners of an English country lady. In the afternoon the chairman of Stanford University Music School, Lorin Crosten, came over to meet us. Apparently he had been at the Paris performance of my first symphony in 1954 and had seen me there; he had also read my book on 20th Century Counterpoint which had led to my invitation to Stanford. He is a charming man and we soon became friendly with him and his wife, Mary.
My duties at Stanford were not onerous; I had to give five lectures a week on various aspects of modern music, including a complete course on Webern, and take a seminar on composition. Otherwise I was free to get on with the piece for Scherchen, which I called Scherzi, and my various other projects. We soon moved from the Buck's shack into a small house near the campus which we rented. We bought a second-hand Renault car and I drove to the Music School every day to give my lectures. In addition to my colleagues in the Music School, which included the conductor Sandor Salgo, the composer Leonard Ratner and the university organist Herbert Nanney, we had contacts with professors in other departments. Robert Loper of Drama had visited my studio in London, and he was a friend of Patrick Wymark who had given some lectures at Stanford a few years earlier. Dick and Anne Scowecroft of the English Department had met Irene Nicholson the year before in Mexico, and she had suggested that they should look us up; they are both charming people and we have remained good friends ever since.
We soon got used to the American way of life; shopping was easy, as the supermarkets are open all the time. I hired a bicycle from the University and often rode it to the campus or the shops. The one thing we missed was the English pub life; no establishments selling alcohol were allowed within two miles of the campus, which didn't prevent the students jumping into their Cadillacs and driving to the nearest bar. We eventually found a saloon about two miles away which was passable, but not the same thing. And the television programmes were mostly awful. At weekends we often went into San Francisco, either for the day or to spend the evening and a night in an hotel. As we also wanted to see the Pacific, we drove across the hills to the nearest point on the coast, a tiny place called San Gregono. We didn't see the ocean, which was shrouded in fog, but we did find a marvellous general store in the Western style which sold everything from saddles to pincushions; it even had a small bar in one corner. It was owned and run by an elderly gentleman who had been an American soldier in England during the First World War and remembered England well. After our return to London we exchanged cards with him for many years, and we have introduced many American friends to his store.
In October I had news that the first performance of my fifth symphony in Manchester had been well received by both the public and the critics. Sandor Salgo wanted to conduct a work of mine with the university orchestra and suggested my first symphony but, as I thought it might be too difficult for the students, I offered him the U.S. premiere of my fifth symphony, and he agreed to do it in the following March. Sandor had studied in Budapest before the war in the same class as Antal Dorati, but had since lived in America. In addition to the university orchestra, he also conducted orchestras in Mann County, north of San Francisco, and e1sewhere, and is the director of the Bach Festival at Carmel in the summer. He has now retired from the university, but seems to be busier than ever. He has performed my third and fifth symphonies with his orchestra in Mann County and has also conducted my third symphony for the BBC.
Later that year we were invited to a dinner party at the house of the President of the University, Wallace Stirling. The invitation said "black tie" which in England would mean short (or cocktail) dresses for the ladies, and Fiona was embarrassed to find on arrival that allthe other ladies were in long ones. However she was seated next to the President and got on well with him; his family came originally from the Border Country. The guest of honour was Josef Krips, then principal conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
The following week the British Consul in San Francisco, Mr. Lancelot Pyman, gave a party in honour of John Pritchard, who was conducting a concert with the same orchestra. Again the invitation said "black tie"; not wanting to be caught out a second time, Fiona obtained a long evening dress which needed some alteration. She collected the dress from the shop and was driving home when the car's engine suddenly burst into flames. As the engine was housed in the boot of the Renault she was unaware of the danger, until a passing truck driver, gesticulating wildly and honking his horn, forced her to stop. He hauled her out of the car, which was now well ablaze, and called the fire brigade. Finally, clutching her precious dress, she was driven home by a kind-hearted policeman; we caught the train to San Francisco with seconds to spare. Needless to say, when we arrived at the dinner party she found that all the other ladies were in short dresses; British customs evidently prevailed at the Consulate. After the party John, Fiona and I were joined by Alexander Goehr who was on a visit to California at the time, and we all went to Finocchio's, a transvestite night club on North Beach - not really my scene, but certainly entertainingly different. Sandy Goehr was staying at the same hotel in San Francisco as we were; I had to go back to Stanford early the next morning to give a lecture, so Fiona offered to show Sandy some of the sights of San Francisco. "What time would you like to knock me up in the morning?" she said to him. We were having a nightcap in our hotel bar at the time and a rather drunken American, who overheard the conversation, swivelled round on his stool and muttered: "I guess British husbands are broadminded, but this broadminded?!" The barman later informed us that in America, to "knock a girl up" is to make her pregnant.
Alfred Frankenstein, the music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, had attacked Josef Krips for not including a work of mine in the Symphony Orchestra's season during my stay at Stanford. This was a bit unfair, as orchestras programmes are usually drawn up a year in advance and Krips could hardly have known at that stage that I was coming to Stanford. However he asked to see some of my scores, and put my second symphony in the programme for the following season. After that he played it quite often in London and elsewhere, and made a record of it shortly before his death.
A bar which we used to frequent in San Francisco was the China Gate, between Market Street and Chinatown. One day in there we saw a large rugged-looking individual with a swarthy face and close-cropped hair. The little Chinese barman was twittering with nerves. "Don't cross AL", he warned us. ~ we won't cross Al”, we promised. But Al was all smiles; "Youse guys can have the freedom of this city!" he declared, which was just as well, since many of Al's victims were said to have been found in the waters under the Golden Gate with a knife in their backs.
I had two or three weeks' break from the University at Christmas and we decided to go to Mexico. As our charter flight went from Los Angeles, we first went there for a few days. My agent's opposite number in L.A. had arranged for us to stay in the Chateau Marmont, the home of Jean Harlow and other film stars in the 1930s, but now a kind of hotel which provided rooms with no other services. We had an introduction to Marni Nixon, who had recently recorded many of Webern's songs for Robert Craft's complete set of records, and had also dubbed the voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film of "My Fair Lady". She received us very charmingly in her luxurious house in the Hollywood Hills, and insisted on hearing a record of my "Diary of a Madman". We were also invited to dinner by Robert Wise at his home on Ocean Drive; he was as pleasant and good-natured as ever and so was his wife Pat. At that dinner party we met Nina Foch, famous at one time as a Hollywood star, but suffering from neglect at that time. We didn't like L.A. very much and were glad to get on the flight to Mexico City.
Fiona's cousin Irene, who was living in Mexico City, had arranged for us to stay in a comfortable old-fashioned hotel on the Reforma, the main street of the city. For the next week she showed us round the principal sights of the city and its environs, without ever pushing or lecturing us; she was an excellent guide. What struck me most about Mexican culture was its blend of native Indian, Spanish and modern elements, ranging from the very impressive temples of the old gods of Teotihuacan through the baroque splendour of the Spanish churches and the palace of the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian to the immense murals of Diego Rivera at the modern University. (Irene pointed out that the ancient Mexican word for god, teo, is almost the same as the Greek theos). The new National Anthropological Museum had only just been opened; it is fascinating and very well laid out its galleries being arranged around the central patio with its enormous fountain, so that one can choose which gallery to visit without having to tramp through them in a fixed order. The Mexicans were very nice to us once they discovered that we were British and not Americans, who were inclined to patronise them and, as Fiona speaks quite good Spanish and I managed a few words, we got on well. We spent a fascinating afternoon at the house of Senor Flores of the Ministry of Fine Arts; it was approached through a most appalling slum, but the house itself was richly and elaborately furnished. Flores played us Mexican music of all periods, from the primitive dances of the pre-Columbian era through the popular music of the Mariachis to the works of Silvestre Revueltas, who could be described as the Mexican Bartok; he has the same violence and feeling of primitiveness. As he died at the age of 40 his compositions are not numerous. Flores also got us tickets for the Ballet Folklorico, which performs some interesting traditional dances even if some of them are Americanised for the sake of foreign tourists.
Irene's brother Leonard Nicholson, a distinguished economist with the Department of Health and Social Security, joined us in Mexico City, and the four of us took the bus to Oaxaca , 300 miles to the south. On our arrival at the hotel where we had reservations, the manager decided that Fiona, as the youngest member of the party, must be Miss Nicholson and the daughter of Leonard, leaving Irene to be my wife and, therefore, Mrs Searle. The problem was further complicated since only two rooms had been booked, and there was no other accommodation available. Finally, Leonard and I had to share one room , leaving Irene and Fiona to share the other. In Oaxaca we saw the pre-Columbian site of Monte Alban, an enormous and vastly impressive hill-top fort. Altogether our Mexican visit had been most interesting and instructive; unfortunately Irene was taken ill on our last night in Mexico City and she had to return to England for an operation shortly afterwards.
In January Gordon Watson came to California from Sydney where he was now head of the piano department at the Conservatory. Earlier he had studied at Mills College, Oakland, with Egon Petri and Darius Milhaud, being the only male student among the female undergraduates. He gave a recital at Stanford which included sonatas by Weber and myself, and he introduced us to Arthur and Dorothy Schilder, with whom we became close friends for the rest of their lives. They in turn introduced us to Sidney and Alta Weinstock, and that was a beginning of another firm friendship; it began at a party at the Weinstocks' beautiful house overlooking Redwood City to which we and Peter Racine Fricker, who was staying with us, were invited. Peter had gone out to California as a visiting professor at the same time as ourselves, but to Santa Barbara, about 300 miles further down the coast. Eventually his appointment there was made permanent, and he has stayed there ever since, preferring the Californian sun to Eng1ish rain and snow. At the party we all enjoyed ourselves; Alta had recently presented her husband with a jazz drum kit for his 60th birthday, and a banner over the driveway proclaimed "Welcome Home, Ringo Weinstock!" (Beatlemania was then at its peak). We all took turns to play the drums with more zest than expertise, and the party went with a swing.
After that we saw a lot of the Schilders and the Weinstocks, together or separately; we were glad to have some good friends outside the university, nice as our colleagues were. Arthur Schilder, who came from a German family and was perhaps the most methodical of all of us, could also be very amusing on occasions. His wife Dorothy, of Welsh origins, came from a Mormon family in Utah and was a marvellously vivid person. They were both fond of music; Dorothy played the piano quite well, and Arthur had an electric organ which he used to play now and then. Their daughter Karen had been given piano lessons by Gordon Watson during his previous stay in California. Sidney Weinstock had as a young man been a cab driver in San Francisco, but went to night school and is now one of the top insurance lawyers of Northern California and a man of some wealth. He is the only survivor of our four friends today. His wife Alta, reputedly of Irish origin, had married Sidney when she was very young and had shared periods of poverty with him in the early days. She was a beautiful woman, rather imperious at times, but it was impossible not to like her.
About this time we had a call from Darius Milhaud in Oakland asking us over to tea. I had met him briefly before the war when he conducted his "Christophe Colomb" in the big BBC Maida Vale studio, and had always admired his music; in fact, I devoted a chapter to it in my book on counterpoint, which he may have read. At any rate he and his wife Madeleine received us with great kindness and affection; this was the beginning of another friendship which lasted until Milhaud's death, and I still visit Madeleine whenever I go to Paris. Milhaud was grateful to Mills College, which was the only American university to take him in when he had to leave France in 1940. After the war, instead of returning permanently to Paris he spent alternate years at Mills and the Paris Conservatoire and also presided over the summer festival at Aspen, Colorado, every year. On the occasion of our tea party, Fiona was somewhat distracted as she had to learn the part of Hedda Gabler for a Palo Alto dramatic society in four days, and she kept glancing at the book, hidden, as she thought, behind her handbag on her knee. Milhaud, sitting in his wheelchair, peered at her quizzically through some scarlet artificial flowers on the table, and Madeleine must have thought that she had a very rude guest since she asked Fiona pointblank whether the book was interesting. Fiona had to come clean whereupon Madeleine, an actress who had been a member of the Comedie Francaise, showed immediate interest. Fiona’s performance the following week received good reports, even though she doesn't really look right for the part, being small and dark-haired, whereas Hedda is meant to be tall and rangy.
Madeleine was amused by the fact that Fiona doesn't drink tea - she has never done so in her life - ("An Englishwoman who does not drink tea, tut tut!") but Fiona was able to turn the tables on her when the Milhauds came to dinner with us in Stanford before the final rehearsal of my fifth symphony and she discovered that neither of them drank wine ("A Frenchwoman who doesn't drink wine, tut tut!") "Touchee, Madame", said Madeleine. After that we were given permission to address her by her first name. The premiere of the symphony on 7 March went very well, the students giving a marvellous performance. Alfred Frankenstein gave it a good notice in the San Francisco Chronicle and the audience seemed to like it. At Easter we went to Los Angeles with Peter Fricker for the opening of the Municipal Music Center with a concert by Boulez.
My father had been ill for some time and early in April we heard that he had died. My mother was of course very upset, although she had been expecting it; at least my parents had been able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary the previous November. I was also sorry to hear of the death of Scherchen while he was conducting at the Florence May Festival.
The academic year at Stanford ended early in June; before the end of the term I put on a concert of works by my composition pupils, which made a varied programme and was well received. The most interesting piece was a string quartet by Donald Jenni, a brilliant student with a very cosmopolitan background; he speaks seven languages, including Hungarian. He is now a professor at the University of Iowa, and we have remained in contact.
While we were away a "friend" had been staying in our place at Ordnance Hill. I had received no rent or any communication from him and was getting worried. We had intended to return to London as soon as the term at Stanford was over but were persuaded by the Schilders and the Weinstocks to stay on until the end of July, when our visas ran out. So we gave up our house near the campus, and for the next two months alternated between the Schilders' house at Saratoga and the Weinstocks' at Redwood City, with occasional visits to San Francisco and one week-end in the Mother Lode with Herb and Jean Nanney. This was the scene of the 1849 Gold Rush, now deserted except for some townships which had been done up for tourists. We were particularly intrigued to find a derelict train on a siding containing newspapers from the 1920s. The atmosphere was filled with nostalgia.
We met the Milhauds again at a party given in San Francisco by Agnes Albert, a well-known patroness of the arts, after the first performance of Milhaud's setting of Pope John's Encyclical by the Symphony Orchestra and chorus. Amongst those of the party was the Californian composer Emmanuel Leplin, a pupil of Milhaud's and also sitting in a wheelchair, owing to polio. It was touching to see the two of them together. Leplin was worse off than Milhaud, being only able to move three fingers of one hand, but he still managed to compose and even to paint.
At Berkeley, across the Bay from San Francisco, we met the composer Andrew Imbrie, whose music I like very much. Of Scottish descent, he looks a typical Highlander, with his tall physique and craggy face; he said that while he was visiting Scotland he saw himself at every street corner. At his house we met Robin Laufer and his English-born second wife Eunice, who had worked in the S.O.E; he was the director of the San Francisco Conservatory. Of Polish origin, he had worked for the French Resistance during the war and had been decorated with the highest honour, the Croix de Guerre with palms by the French Government. The Nazis had put him in a concentration camp with his first wife, whose baby was forcibly removed from him and thrown into a furnace and who also died in the camp. But, in spite of all he had suffered, he was a cheerful man, and great fun at a party. His experiences had naturally affected his health, and he died young from a heart attack. Both the German Consul in San Francisco and the German Ambassador himself, who flew over from Washington, attended the funeral.
Two other friends of Gordon Watson's whom we met in San Francisco were David Kessler, a well-known psychologist who is passionately fond of music - we have remained friends to this day - and Arthur Foster, President of the grandly named First National Bank of Cloverdale, a tiny township north of the big city; he lived in a Picturesque converted power station. In this same area lived the Schilders' daughter Karen with her first husband Bill Crawford; they owned a large ranch near Ukiah. Bill's parents were killed soon afterwards when their private plane crashed in an Alaskan lake, while en route for a fishing holiday. By a cruel stroke of fate Bill himself disappeared two years later while piloting his own plane in the Redwood forest area of North California, and it was many months before his body was found. Eventually Karen married the helicopter pilot, Richard Keehn, who had conducted the search for Bill. They still run the vast vineyard which Bill had bought shortly before his death.
Other friends of the Schilders were Joe and Martha Coe, formerly of the U.S Diplomatic Service, who invited Arthur, Dorothy, Fiona and me to spend Independence Day weekend with them at their lovely cabin in the Feather River Valley, at least fifty miles from their nearest neighbour. Arthur was not too keen on driving there, because of the colossal amount of traffic there would be on the road at that time. We suggested going by train, a thing Californians never do; but they agreed, and the Schilders got dressed up as if they were attending a wedding, evidently regarding it as quite an event. Dorothy even insisted on wearing a fur stole and gloves. The interior valleys in California get extremely hot in summer, with temperatures up to 120F; the Coe's car and also their house were air-conditioned. We slept in a small lodge built up a tree and situated over a splashing stream, in which Joe kept his white wine for coolness. On Independence Day itself our hosts and friends played the well-known American game of "taking the Redcoats (us) prisoner", dancing around us with mocking gestures. I reflected that in 1776, and even a hundred years later, Arthur Schilder's ancestors would have been living in Dusseldorf.
We finally departed in the middle of July; the Schilders and Weinstocks saw us off from a tiny station in the middle of nowhere with a magnum of champagne. This time we caught the Californian Zephyr which went through the Colorado gorges in the Rockies - a spectacular sight. We spent a few days in New York before boarding the ship; we were invited by Winnie Gray's mother to spend Sunday at their lavish house at New Canaan, Connecticut We enjoyed the country atmosphere of New England, so utterly different from that of California. We also saw John Ward again and I visited Dover Publications, an enterprising firm which specialises in reissuing books which have gone out of print. They offered to reissue my book on Liszt's music and I brought it up to date, as a number of unknown Liszt works had been discovered since the book was first published in 1954.
During the last few months the singer Tony Bennett had achieved great popularity with his rendering of "I left my heart in San Francisco", and Dorothy Schilder had recently bought the record for us. When we reached our cabin on the ship - it was the old Queen Elizabeth 1 - we found a telegram from our Californian friends; it read:
"YOUR HEARTS FOUND IN SAN FRANCISCO STOP COME AND RECLAIM AT ONCE".
We knew we would have to return before long.
Part 1 of this chapter
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