Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Farewell, Ted and Joan
Sadder than I can say, and yet also amazed and thoughtful, to learn that Sir Edward Downes and his wife Lady Joan chose to end their lives on Friday through Dignitas in Switzerland. The superb photos above were taken by Prokofiev's great-granddaughter Lina at the 25th anniversary party of the Prokofiev Association last November.
Though I'd interviewed Sir Edward about Verdi at the Royal Opera, I came to know and admire them both as splendid human beings through their association with the Prokofiev Foundation, Association and Archive. Lady Joan, former dancer, TV producer and administrator who knew Covent Garden from the inside, proved a delightful conversationalist at Noelle Mann's various parties; Ted, always modest, humorous and self-effacing, was happy to chew the cud over his various enthusiasms. He was also the most entertaining and natural of speech-givers.
The last time I saw them both was at the Prokofiev gathering before Mark Morris's Romeo and Juliet, mentioned above (and as Serge Jnr reminded me ruefully when he sent me Lina's photos, that was the 'happy ending' version of the ballet. Though maybe after 56 years of marriage, Ted and Joan would see their quiet curtain in the same way, too). Joan and Frances Prokofiev were especially touched at seeing Ted with Anastasia, remembering how she'd gone to the Downes house as a child, so they encouraged me to take this picture of the two.
Although I don't have my own shots of husband and wife together, there's a lovely photo of them as proud parents in today's Times news piece.
My second thoughts when I got over the shock were, what could I play? Ted didn't record quite as much as he should have done, least of all Prokofiev - the Eugene Onegin incidental music is magnificent, but not really appropriate this morning (in concert, his performances of the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies were the best I've heard, Gergiev included). Then I remembered the Gliere symphonies, and a Korngold disc for Chandos.
There are two particularly apposite poems among the Abschiedslieder, beautifully sung by Linda Finnie. Since the first is the finest song, let's have the whole of Christina Rossetti's poem:
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me.
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet:
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain:
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
The first stanza of the last Abschiedslied, a poem by Ernst Lothar, is even more appropriate, as translated by R. R. Avis:
Do not weep that I am going now.
Cheerfully let me kiss you.
If happiness doesn't bloom nearby
It will greet you more chastely from afar.
And the fourth stanza makes me think how it might have been in Zurich:
Give me your hand without trembling.
Give in blissfully to a last kiss.
Do not be afraid of the storm: after rain
The sun rises all the more radiantly.
Well, I must staunch the tears and get on with the practicalities of updating the late Alan Blyth's obit of Sir Edward for The Guardian. It's now up and running here. There's also a leader lamenting how sad it is that he should be better known for the manner of his death than for his distinguished career, and a salute from various folk in the music world who knew him.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before the self-righteous started weighing in with their anti-euthanasia arguments. Shame on you, Daily Telegraph, for starting the ball rolling so soon, however cautiously worded may be the article from your hardly objective 'Religion Editor'. I join with Jessica Duchen in hoping that the Downes's example may help to edge us towards legalisation in this country.