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.

32 comments:

Philip Southern said...

from Philip Southern
The Queen's College, Oxford

I tend to agree with the opinions of Victoria Rothschild regarding music critics(cf your previous blog comments). Much as I enjoy radio 3's CD Review on a Saturday morning, for example, the things which the critics take issue with are often way above the heads of the average listener to the programme(I include myself in that). Sometimes it is almost as though they are addressing other critics and their capabilities - instead of the man or woman on the street.
By the way, Queens Oxford has a very good chapel choir, and though not up to the celestial heights of the three Oxonian choral foundations of ChristChurch, Magdalen and New Colleges, sometimes runs them pretty close.
Best wishes
Philip Southern

Susan Howard-Baylis said...

Susan Howard-Baylis, Godalming Surrey
Sad to read about Edward Downes and his wife, although I still do not know their final illness. I saw them once some years ago having dinner at Bibendum with Iona Brown, someone whom I greatly admired and who has also gone forever. I remember a prom in 1983 when she was playing one of the Mozart violin concertos, and a string on her violin broke. She passed her violin back, got another and a few minutes later a string broke on that too, the kind of double trauma which would make the rest of us seize up. Not a bit of it with Iona, who kept on playing having obtained her third violin of the evening, with even greater feeling and musicianship than before.
sincerely
Susan Howard-Baylis
Godalming, Surrey

David said...

Susan, I too remember a Prom where the lovely Iona broke a string - though I may sound a touch pedantic and contradictory if I say I'm sure it was the Walton concerto. It was amazing and impressive to watch, anyway.

Most of the newspaper articles refer to the Downes's illnesses : Joan had terminal cancer, Ted was nearly blind and had hearing difficulties - hence the controversy over whether he should not have been talked out of it. I'm sure they spent maximum time talking it over with their family and considering. Nonetheless in conversation with other folk I'm beginning to see the other side of the argument.

David said...

David Damant writes

From "The Cardboard Box", by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes...."What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever."

I would place works of art in the first class only if they address this question, if only to reflect on its existence. Take the 18 bars of Don Giovanni when the Commendatore is dying. Or Wuthering Heights where, as David Cecil pointed out, Emily Bronte ( unlike other novelists) asks of the universe - what does it mean? And if to a degree ( a small degree) some artists provide a way of understanding our nature in this context, or getting it in perspective, it does not matter whether in observing this dimension we are merely looking at the result of evolutionary programming or something more. One does not have to believe in a divine revelation to conclude that to ignore this dimension is to deny a real spring of human thought and emotion. As Jung said, if religion is not true it is certainly psycologically valid. Thus hard line atheism and materialism, even rationalism, is life denying if it moves outside the sphere of purely intellectual argument. And a significant part of the proper understanding of our nature is having a mind open to the mystery of life,and therefore a reverence for life itself. Institutionalising euthanasia cuts across our most important response to the human predicament

David said...

It's such a many-sided argument. Exactly what might 'institutionalised euthanasia' mean, and hedged around with what qualifications?

I have no doubt that the Downses knew the meaning of their lives, and of great art, and acted accordingly. But their act, as a high-profile public one, does, I now see, raise troubling questions. Would someone else who was nearly deaf and blind think his or her life was worthless as a result?

We like to think that all individuals are responsible for their own actions. But when mental health comes into it, it's very complex.

It also troubles me to know that the Dignitas rooms aren't in a very pleasant part of Zurich, and having seen the photos I have a kind of horror of that. To know that the Downes children were there, and have spoken very straightforwardly about their emotions, mitigates it a bit.

All the more reason, then, why people shouldn't have to be driven to travel to unknown and uncomfortable surroundings.

I know what I feel about the dignity and rights of the individual. But it's dented by different points of view. Earlier in the week was too soon to start thinking about it.

David said...

David Damant writes
By " institutionalising euthanasia" I meant accepting it ( for example legally) as a normally accepted part of the facilities available to all. This would institutionalise also a lack of reverence for life, which is in my view life denying in a fundamental sense. It would impress on everyone a materialistic view of life, especially as the years pass. Few people have the elevated moral insights of the Downes but all would have their view of life affected. Special cases make bad laws. A situation in which patients and doctors accept and facilitate the end of life at the margins ( as at present in this country) does not violate the principle of a reverence for life.

The Church of Rome is right about this and it is a pity that the Vatican has made a mess of the moral argument about contraception ( the powerful emotions of sexual activity are for bonding and not for procreation which could be done mechanically.) As a result the Church's overall position on the reverence for life is weakened and indeed almost destroyed.

David said...

'Special cases make bad laws'. Indeed, there's the rub. Although I hold somewhat tenuously to the 'make it legal here' argument, if only so that people don't have to scuttle off to a seedy corner of Zurich - and they will - I can well see that other side of the coin.

JVaughan said...

Greetings Again!:

I hope I am not too full of comments this morning for your whatever-it-is.

I was unaware that Sir Edward had died until I read a brief comment in Mr. Robert Hugill's blog, in which he spoke quite favourably of him as a Verdi conductor. I have heard bits and pieces of his work over the years, but never anything sustained. I wish I could have heard that Prokofiev _Seventh_, and did not know that he was such a fine conductor of that composer's music. I also did not know, until I came here this morning, that he and his wife were euthanized, nor that he was nearly blind. It would now be nice to hear more of his Verdi. Any suggestions?

J. V.

Edward Tresiliotis said...

to David Nice
David Damant quotes the Church of Rome as being opposed to euthanasia, and of course officially it is, but even the Catholic Church accepts the legality of the Jesuitical "double effect" whereby sufficient painkiller/barbiturate is administered to someone to kill them, even though ostensibly it is as a pain-reliever. To say that death is NOT the intended consequence of this action is, of course, a falsehood, but even theologians accept the morality of this act; it is a legal fiction which hides use of the euthanasia taking place.
Pax vobiscum
Edward Tresiliotis

David said...

Probably the Stiffelio on DVD, JV. I'd have to say that while Ted's Verdi was brimful of knowledge and idiom, it didn't quite fire me up in the way that the truly great Verdians have. You saw that remark in which he said he wasn't enough of a bastard to be right at the top, like Solti? Well, I'm not sure he had enough of the superdrive either which could yield such exciting results.

He's to be found supporting many of the great singers in various operatic recital discs.

But my favourite Downes discs are the Prokofiev Onegin, the Korngold and the Glieres. I don't know his recordings of the byways of English music (G Lloyd etc).

JVaughan said...

I was unaware of that comment from the late Sir Edward which you cited. I have, and enjoy, the Solti _Rigoletto_, another first exposure to an entire standard-repertory opera, though I have heard Act IV, either in whole or in part, a number of times, or, better put, heard it, prior to this acquisition. At least he, as he usually does, presents the score uncut! When my real interest in so-called Classical music was beginning in the late 60's, I recall hearing operatic excerpts having been conducted by Sir Edward on a daily programme of such which used to air then, though doubtless such fare is usually not forthcoming on weekday's in our current radio climate.

Possibly to my shame since he is one of your core composers, I must again confess that I probably was unaware, until today, that Prokofiev had followed Tchaikovsky in treating the Onegin story. If you do not mind me asking, do you regard it as an important work from him, and where in his career did it come? The only Gliere I really know thus far is I think we both know what, though I recall hearing, and liking, something from one of his Symphonies. I gather that Korngold's music is currently undergoing a sort of resurgence, but do not know any of his concert music, and, quite possibly, only a little of that for film, though I could be mistaken about the latter.

J. V.

David said...

Prokofiev's Onegin music is one of his richest sources of lyrical themes - when the whole project (of staging this adaptation of Pushkin) came to nought in 1937, he saved up ideas for re-engagement in War and Peace, the Eighth Piano Sonata, Betrothal in a Monastery and Cinderella. I recommend the Chandos 2-CD set conducted by Sir Edward, with touching performances from Wests Timothy and Sam and Niamh Cusack.

It isn't quite as Prokofiev and the adaptor Kryzhanovsky intended, though. If you're interested in the minutiae, there are excellent essays in the Bard 'Prokofiev and his World' ed. Simon Morrison.

The big Gliere score is Ilya Muromets, the Third Symphony. Another Chandos spectacular with ED conducting the BBC Phil, who adored him (and he them).

David said...

David Damant writes
Edward Tresiliotis describes an approach - that it may be Jesuitical is not a disadvantage - which reflects my own, as I have already described. In principle one must have reverence for life, including one's own, but there are circumstances where action can be taken, though the principle must be borne in mind throughout.

JVaughan said...

If perchance this is any more lyrical than _Romeo_ _And_ _Juliet_ and the _Seventh_ _Symphony_, then that must be _SOME_ lyricism! Maybe I should eventually have a go, though your recommended _Romeo_ doubtless should come before. I have and enjoyed the Bard collection on Brahms, assuming it was the one published by Princeton University Press, but my copy may currently be buried somewhere in the flat of the musician in our building who often helps me with mundane tasks. This one therefore could also prove valuable. Thanking you _VERY_ much, _THAT_ was the Gliere Symphony I heard and enjoyed, and therefore it must go on the list as well, _MAYBE_ near the top! Although, if I am not mistaken, Gliere, like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, did most of his work under the Soviet regime, I was wondering, as I have done from time to time, how Glazunov, whose career straddled the old and new order, coped under the Soviets. (That is unless, for some reason, he had stopped composing by the time of the revolution, or did so soon thereafter.)

J. V.

p.s. Since you recently referred to comments going off topic, and since this is a memorial thread to the Downes's, I hope my somewhat-unthinking veering was not inappropriate.
And it _JUST_ occurs to me that I referred to Glazunov in another thread, even unintentionally misspelling his name, so again hope I have not repeated myself above!

David said...

The three Gliere symphonies are pre-Revolution, Muromets especially one last big late romantic fling. The works Gliere wrote under the Soviets could have been written in the 1880s (viz my liner notes about his 'Zaporozhy Cossacks'.

Not off topic at all, JV: my point was that subjects can evolve. I just found a few non-sequiturs, though those are OK too.

David said...

PS Ted would in any case be delighted that the limelight switched from him to Gliere and Prokofiev.

BTW, I reckon the Korngold renaissance is way OTT, but there are some very good works to discover.

JVaughan said...

I do recall Muromets, on the one occasion I sampled it via the radio, being quite Romantic in an appealing way! I look forwaard to hearing it again and hopefully to getting to know it better! I expect I can get it as a download, though, if I do, will miss the liner notes.

I found the also-late Dr.? Blyth's obituary of Sir Edward most interesting. He is a man I wish I could have known since I have been enjoying reading his _Gramophone_ reviews in recent times, and, though it may be an odd quirk, appreciate him telling us about how much spoken dialogue is either retained or cut in recordings of works containing succh. Had it been possible to communicate with him, I would have wished to discuss that issue with him since, while dialogue can sometimes, if not often, be inferior to the music, are not the works containing it integral works of art, and thus should it not be treated with the same level of respect as the music since what is done with it can effect the drama it supports? Perhaps just one of my quirks to some, but one I personally feel is important. And yes, singers who can also fluently speak the dialogue should be cast in such works, hoping that they are also right for the vocal requirements!

J. V.

David said...

Alan Blyth was very pleasant when I met him, but I must admit I found it a bit macabre his phoning up the Guardian obits and saying 'I hear so-and-so has cancer' etc. And the summary did point out this oddity of stockpiling obits in preparation for the shuffling-off of the mortal coil.

I confess I've done a few, and I'm delighted the subjects are as far as I know still hale and hearty. I view it as a celebration of life rather than death...

David said...

PS JV - the liner notes for Downes's recording of Ilya Muromets(mine) are just about legible (if you enlarge)on this pdf:

http://www.theclassicalshop.net/pdf/CHAN%209041.pdf

Happy wallowing.

JVaughan said...

And I forgot to say that, while out marketing with the musician in our building who I mentioned above, he told me that he knows and likes Gliere's _Violin_ and _Saxophone_ _Concerti_, neither of which I recall having heard. And, though it is not relevant to the current discussion, he spoke of having played for a recent masterclass conducted by the Associate Leader of the National Symphony, and remarked on how well she taught the First Movement of the Brahms _Violin_ _Concerto_! I wish I could have attended, but did not know about it. As you may know, even if you have never visited us, we have some _FINE_ music-making around here, though my exposure to it is limited these days due to limited funds. Yet I can still enjoy free concerts put on by the military!

J. V.

Further p.s. This man served as the accompanist for the students and was not one himself, though hopefully even experienced accompanists such as himself can still learn things, as I am doing here thanks to you, etc.!

JVaughan said...

I admit to not usually enjoy reading PDF files since my old and limited screen-reader software will only support equally-old versions of Acrobat. Yet I will have a go at this one in hope that it will read as properly as the technology will allow.

I was not aware of that side of Mr. Blyth. And yes, when someone has lived a good, productive life, he should be celebrated at death, though his/her close loved ones will have varying degrees of sadness. I tried to emphasize this idea of celebration near the end of the eulogy I wrote to be read during my favourite uncle's funeral.
My apology for the grammatical error near the beginning of the above.

J. V.

JVaughan said...

As you suggested might happen, there was a problem. My reader kept saying "error loading document," and finally said, "This document appears to be empty. It may be a scanned image that needs OCR or it may have malformed structure.." You said something about enlarging, but I do not know how to do that, and, even if I did, would need to use a keyboard command since I do not use a mouse.

J. V.

David said...

Yes, I'm afraid that even though I was able to access a 'malformed' version, it may not work for all. The same happens on the Chandos page, but here it is for ref:

http://www.chandos.net/details06.asp?CNumber=CHAN 9041

Edward Tresiliotis said...

to David Nice's blog
David Damant is trying to have it both ways in his reply to my comment. Either the Jesuitical "double effect" is euthanasia or it is not. Even he admits that actually it is, even though he approves of it - therefore his claiming to be against euthanasia on the principle of reverence for life is bogus, with all due respect to him. The only way that the double effect can be got past his objections is if everyone in the Catholic Church and including himself agrees not to call the double effect euthanasia. But this is a legal fiction. It clearly is euthanasia by design and premeditation, and whether David Damant chooses to describe it otherwise does not change this fact.
Edward Tresiliotis

David said...

I agree, Edward. But no doubt Mr D will want the last word?

David said...

One can, according to my moral code,and I think that of the church, in extremis allow or encourage the end of life if the principle of reverence for life is also there. Maybe the word for the action to end life should be split into euthanasia(1)( when at the margins, and with the understanding of the reverence for life) and euthanasia (2) (without that understanding and established as a process.). If it were legalised, it would generally become (2). Or give up the word "euthanasia" altogether as not being complex enough. One can as I said earlier easily imagine that highly moral people such as Edward and Jean had a similar moral insight in their analysis, even if ( as I do not know) it was non-religious. And yes, the Jesuists often have it both ways. Moral questions in particular often require complex analysis, as do questions about ultimate reality. What is dangerous is a slide into simplistic materialism

JVaughan said...

Since I find I can get a copy of the MHS issue of this recording for less than the original Chandos, either via CD or download, do you perchance know if that issue reproduces your Chandos notes or rather offers someone else's?

Speaking of what technology does and sometimes does not do well, as above, I just bought the new book of essays in tribute to the late Handel scholar, Dr. Howard Serwer, last week, and, in addition to sometimes reading "the" as "die," etc., my reading software, when reading about Caleb's last air in _Joshua_, "Shall I In Mamre's Fertile Plain," first read it as "Shall I In Manure's Fertile Plain," though read it properly the second time.

J. V.

David said...

Sorry, JV, can't tell you. I've downloaded the Chandos file OK, though some of the lines are squidged together.

Re misreading, this morning I recommended 'Cleo sings Sondheim' to a friend, and she wrote it down as 'Cleo sings Song Time'. As for Google asking 'do you mean?...', some wild guesses there.

David said...

For your special typo delectation, JV, I just came across a Radio 3 messageboarder referring to Simon Keenlyside's performance of VW's 'Five Mystical Snogs' - which I suspect SK's many adoring fans would not have minded at all.

Do you notice how often 'Lieder' become 'Leider'? Sorrow is often very apt in Mahler's case...

JVaughan said...

The whimsical error I pointed out to you was actually not a typo, but a misreading by my reading software, a later re-checking having shown that the word was actually rendered correctly in the book.

So, by this, are you suggesting that Mr. Keenlyside is another singing wit? Ssince I know that Papageno is a specialty of his, I should not be surprised if he is! As for lieder versus leider, my reader pronounces both the same way (as if they both were lieder), and thus I would not know the difference except by arrowing letter-by-letter through the word, which I had to do on this occasion to get the difference you were pointing out. I am haphazardly learning bits and pieces of German, but may not yet know the meaning of leider. Yet, in context of the conversation, it would seem to have something to do with sorrow, though the word for that which I do know is trauereichkeit (or traureichkeit?). And, of course, that would be apt in Mahler's case. The latest in my string of confessions is that I do not yet know much of this famous baritone's work, only thus far having his two contributions to one of Mr. Terfel's several crossover discs, one of these being a _QUITE_-inauthentic rendering of the opening movement of Pergolesi's _Stabat_ _Mater_. It would seem, on the strength of these two duets, that he would do fine with the VW snogs, which have been favourites of mine for many years, notably in the Shirley-Quirk/Willcocks recording, though I am avoiding the English _Magic_ _Flute_ because the dialogue is apparently drastically truncated and, if I am not mistaken, the text is vernacularized, though actually the latter might not be too inauthentic since Schickaneder may have done the same thing with his original. Yet give me Sir Charles's Telarc set, which, while the dialogue is also cut there, it is done _EMINENTLY_-sensibly as far as I am concerned, leaving plenty to give the drama full sway, as is also done in his _Fidelio_! And, apparently contrary to Mr. Deathridge on _Building_ _A_ _Library_, I find Miss Hendricks' "Ach, Ich Fulls" _MOST_ moving, also much liking the late Mr. Hadley's Tamino (I do not recall Mr. Deathridge's reaction to the latter). I was going to ask if Mr. Pountney, for whose work I do not care, e.g., what he did with _The_ _Wasps_, though doubtless well-meaning, and _Hansel_ _And_ _Gretel_, also translated the Mozart, but I now recall that one Mr. Sams in fact did. And, returning to Mr. Terfel's tendency to record much crossover, I do like some of it, notably discs of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Loewe with various composers, but would _MUCH_ prefer that he basically stick to the Classical repertoire! Yet DG seems to be largely catering to the popular market these days, another regretable casualty of this for me being no more Handel oratorios from Maestro McCreesh. I would like to think that he would give us a _MAGNIFICENT_ _Samson_!

J. V.

David said...

Jerry Hadley - now there's someone I much miss, and whose end one can only feel distressed about. Yes, the voice coarsened towards the end and he had problems, but there's a wonderful disc of Britten song-cycles, on which I reckon his Nocturne might well be the best I know. And his Tamino brims with life and intelligence.

The unintentional comedy about the VW 'snogs' with nothing to do with Simon Keenlyside. I reckon he takes himself rather seriously, though he's very thoughtful and articulate in interview. And intense. He told me that after every performance as Andrey in Prokofiev's War and Peace, he'd walk the streets for hours, he was so wound up.

JVaughan said...

I also have him in Sir Charles' _Don_ _Giovanni_ and the famous EMI set of _Show_ _Boat_. I personally wish, per the latter, that they had recorded the entire 1927 text instead of devoting most of its final disc to musical appendices. Act I is rather-well covered, but Act II seems sketchy in places without some of the dialogue, notably the omitted passage where the gambling debt is discussed. Mr. Hadley is certainly in fresh voice in that recording, and, even though he could be a bit wild when high and loud in Sir Charles' Mozart, he is _WONDERFUL_ at his best, his performance of Tamino's famous aria seriously challenging, if not equaling at least, Herr Wunderlich's! If it is as good as you say his performance of the _Nocturne_ is, I hope his Britten disc also includes the famous _Serenade_ since I do not yet have either work and probably should have the _Serenade_ at least. If I recall aright, Mr. Rolfe-Johnson, whose work I also like, won the _Building_-_A_-_Library_ recommendation for that.

I must have falsely assumed that, his fans potentially having fun over that unintentional error, Mr. Keenlyside must have at least a whimsical sense of humour, as Mr. Langridge did on the one occasion I met him, referring to Finzi's _Intimations_ _Of_ _Immorality_, etc. I seem to have a vague recollection of having heard about Mr. Keenlyside in _War_ _And_ _Peace_.

J. V.