Saturday 24 April 2010

Farewell, Noëlle

My dear, inspiring, vivacious, combative and energetic friend Noëlle Mann, doyenne of Prokofiev events and studies in recent years, died peacefully at home yesterday with her husband Chris holding her hand. There they are above. Astonishingly, I took that photo only two months ago, when Noëlle was already in extreme pain from the cancer she'd borne unknowingly for about eight years and with honesty during the shorter time she had to consciously manage it.

We realised I might not see her again, though I very much wanted to; despite her fatigue, she talked with her usual clarity and determination about tying up Prokofievian loose ends, trying to think of anyone she hadn't contacted on the organisational front, and very much wanting to know what was going on in the world. Frankly, I was expecting to be upset by how she'd changed, but she looked very much her old animated self, and the eyes had all their characteristic inquisitive sparkle. It was, paradoxically, an inspiring visit.

I first met Noëlle when I was about to embark on at least the background work for my book and she had just launched the Prokofiev Archive at Goldsmiths College (don't ask me which year that was). I liked her directness and her immediately engaging warmth - though I have to say that there were times in the early stages, as in any passionate friendship, where we might have hit a reef, since she could certainly give offence, and I was all too ready to take it. Once we'd overcome that, she enriched my life in so many ways: as conductor of the Kalina Choir, which I promptly joined and where I also met my Russian teacher, Joan Smith; as instigator of great confluences like the massive anniversary celebrations in Manchester in 2003; as editor of Three Oranges, a composer journal way above the usual standards, invaluable in the furthering of Prokofiev studies; and simply as a good friend, keeping me company during my big year of research at the Archive, coming to dine here with the ever-supportive and involved Chris and holding two big summery birthday parties in the garden of her son's house near Blackheath.

Later gatherings were rather valedictory, as she retired from Goldsmiths College, where she loved her students and they her, and withdrew from the Archive, handing over to the dependable and immensely likeable Fiona McKnight (it says much for Noëlle that she won undying loyalty from the people she needed around her). The gathering before the Barbican premiere of the Mark Morris/Simon Morrison 'original' Romeo and Juliet was huge fun, but retrospectively tinged with sadness: not only Noëlle but also her close friends Ted and Joan Downes, whose assisted suicide came as such a cruel shock to her, are no longer with us. But here she is on that occasion, beaming as ever with the invite for this Serge Prokofiev Foundation 25th anniversary bash, designed by the also-pictured Serge Junior, son of Sviatoslav and grandson of the composer.

As I told Chris this morning and seemed to startle him in what seemed to be a positive way, she came into my mind several times yesterday because it was - officially at least, though room for doubt exists - Prokofiev's birthday. Knowing that the end was close, I was thinking it would be rather grand if she could manage to take her leave on 23 April. And she did. Life without such a huge personality won't be the same, but now I just have to make more headway with that second volume, which will of course be dedicated to Noëlle.

I should have added when I first wrote this that my thoughts go not only to Chris but also to Julia and Tom and their families, who brought Noelle a lot of joy in recent years. There's a photo Noëlle showed me on our last visit of her with little Lina which is one of the loveliest I've ever seen.

Finally, an optional homage, encouraged by Serge's poetry below. I'd been sending Noëlle and Chris CDs of music I thought might provide some gentle support, and that helped me rediscover the wonderful Poulenc songs disc which I excerpted some way below. I think our grande dame bien-aimee would like the bittersweet levity of another great lady, Felicity Lott, in 'Les chemins d'amour'. Yours to take or leave, as you wish (though if you take it, it's best viewed fullscreen by clicking and going to the YouTube format). It's helped me to shed a few fond tears.


Nicolas Moron said...

Noëlle навсегда останется в моем сердце.

Anonymous said...

Трудно поверить, невозможно согласиться...
Солнце стало тусклым, жизнь – блёклой,
а мы все – одиноки.
Adieu, mon amie.

Сергей Прокофьев младший

Laurent said...

So sorry to hear of your lost of such a good friend.

Alexander Ivashkin said...

Даже видя Ноэль совсем больной, невозможно было представить, что ее не будет. И я уверен, что она будет с нами всегда - такие люди не умирают

Александр Ивашкин

David said...

For those of you without Russian, Sasha's eloquent message sums up what we all feel: that though we saw her suffering, we couldn't believe that a time would come when she wouldn't be with us. 'But I'm convinced', says Sasha, 'that she'll be with us always - such people never die'.

He also added 'vechnaya pamyat' - eternal memory.

Anthony Phillips said...

I’m still so stunned I find it hard to think beyond the dawning recognition of how widely and deeply the appreciation of Prokofiev’s art and personality has been transformed by Noelle’s knowledge, dedication and inspiration, and how great a friend we have all lost.

Will said...

Sasha is right -- such people are the rock dropped into the pool from whom the ripples expand outward to affect the lives of untold numbers, from those who love them to people they'll never know. It must have been wonderful to have had her in your life.

Rachel Foulds said...

This is the most upsetting news, and I am very sorry to such a great loss to the Russian music world, not just of an ardent and inspiring scholar, but more so of an honest, kind and enthusiastic human being. Noelle was always willing to dedicate her time and energy to her students: her lectures were always stimulating, and her words encouraging. The last time I saw Noelle was at the
conference in Cambridge in November, where she said that she had been very ill, yet she was still loyally and energetically contributing to our field.

My thoughts are with her family and close friends at this time.

Anonymous said...

A very sad loss of someone who seemed to have more energy than almost anyone else I ever met. I worked with her on the Southbank Rimsky-Korsakov Festival. She was demanding in all the right ways, inspiring, and above all hugely supportive, notwithstanding my shortcomings. Someone I have thought and talked about many times, despite not meeting her for many years. So sorry for the loss of all who were close to her - may you be comforted from heaven and know no further sorrow.

Steve Muir

Anonymous said...

Such shocking news, David. Daniel told me about it today. She lived fully, with all that that entails. I hardly knew her at all, but she had unmistakeable presence. Love to you and to her friends and family.

Frith x

Shin-ichi NUMABE said...

The sad news arrived also in Tokyo.

I met Noëlle for the first (and, the last) time at Goldsmiths in May 2008, on the day of publication of "Three Oranges" Journal No. 15. For the issue,
she generously gave me a rare chance to contribute an article on Prokofiev's stay in Japan in 1918 and kindly edited it through e-mail again and again...

I do not want to believe she is gone. I completely agree with Sasha. Noëlle will be always with us and never die.

Halldor said...

Shocked and saddened - I had no idea she was ill. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Noelle only twice, but she left an unforgettable impression; so engaging, so full of life, so committed - heart and soul- to her beloved Prokofiev, and such a passionate and eloquent speaker in the talks she gave for us here in Birmingham. Hard to believe she's gone.


David said...

Shin-ichi, I know Noelle was very proud of that issue, which told us so much about Prokofiev's time in Japan we didn't know.

Halldor, I think this will come as a shock to a lot of people. Noelle was private about her illness, but utterly practical in making sure that everyone closely involved with Prokofiev issues knew and could take steps to continue the great work she was doing.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly right David - Noëlle worked so hard to pass on the wealth of knowledge and information we needed to carry on the great work she started.

Knowing how things were, this was perhaps not such a shock, but I still find it difficult to believe - because she was such a huge presence and life force, the absence and silence is all the more strange now. It would take much more space than we have here to even summarise the debt of gratitude we in the world of Prokofiev owe Noëlle. And furthermore, she was a great friend - as someone said to me yesterday, always with your best interests at heart.

Fiona McKnight

Rob Ainsley said...

Shocked and saddened to hear the news - like so many others, I had no idea she was ill.

I was at Goldsmiths from 2003-07 and sang in the Chamber Choir, which Noelle led wonderfully: she was no-nonsense, methodical, insightful, humorous, always full of energy and sheer love for the music.

She introduced us to so much gorgeous, underrated Russian choral repertoire, much of it undersung in the west - Gavrilin's 'Chimes' will mean even more to me now. Sometimes we were singing from manuscripts she'd got from the composer himself. There was something very privileged and special about it all.

She also taught some of the Russian study modules as part of the undergraduate course. Her profound feeling for the country and its music came across in her riveting, eye- and ear-opening lectures. I always came away excited, rushing to the library to discover music I didn't know, or rediscover music I'd thought I did.

Our thoughts are with her friends and family.

Rest in peace, Noelle. You gave us something very special, and we'll always remember you.

Slapparr said...

thanks for expressing what i've had difficulty getting out David, I was really shocked and saddened to hear the news about Noelle. I had the privilege to be both taught, inspired and supported by her through my own good and bad times. She was truly exceptional person capable of enthusing an entire room with a few sentences. She was also capable of scaring a room into doing their best if it were needed! I always enjoyed taking part in anything that she was organising, whether it was study days on the southbank or choir rehearsals of Russian choral music. The thought of her loosing any battle is unthinkable... And to keep such a battle largely to herself... well, to me that is very Noelle.
I will miss her greatly.

David said...

Good to hear from you, Lucinda, and I hope others feel as I do - that in the difficult time before we can all gather together to remember and eventually - I hope - to celebrate Noelle's life, this is a good rallying-post for us all to feel together in this. It will be quite amazing to see how many people from what different walks of life Noelle inspired.

Guardian would like a short obit, so there will be an official tribute, of which I'm all too aware we're rather short at the moment.

Chris Mann said...

I am immensely heartened and proud to see these lovely comments. Noëlle was great communicator, passionate about whatever she turned her hand to, inspiring but also full of warmth and affection for those who responded to her. It makes me realise, if I didn't already know it, what a privilege it has been to be her companion for all our adult lives. Many thanks to you all. I am deeply touched. Chris Mann

Johanna said...

I'm absolutely stunned that we've lost such a great and giving soul. Its been 10 years since I left Goldsmiths but I can still remember our 1998 concert where Noelle had taught us how to sing in Russian phonetically - and I can still remember some of the words! Her energy and passion have and will continue to stay with me. Thanks Noelle for sharing your knowledge and sharing your joy!

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

As Alfonso the Wise ( King of Castile 1252-1284 and of Germany) said

"Had I been present at the Creation of the world, I would have had changes to suggest"

Emily Nelson (nee Kershaw) said...

This is very sad news indeed, David. I am shocked to have discovered it while researching Prokofiev for this year's BBC Proms. Noelle was always a wonderfully generous and helpful contributor to the radio programmes I have worked on in connection with Prokofiev's work. My thoughts are with you and all those who were close to Noelle.

Martin Anderson said...

It's odd that memories of Noëlle should be tinged with any degree of sadness: it's simply incompatible with the vivacity of her personality. But she would have appreciated the inrony: I can see her shrugging and saying: "Ah, ça, mon vieux...". Those of us lucky enough to have known her know we are better people for her having passed amongst us. Once the shock of her death has passed, the thought of Noëlle will sit in our memories, giving off all the warmth of a fireplace stacked with logs.

Colin Dunn said...

Catching up on your blog, I was terribly sorry to hear of Noelle's death. She used to ring me up in the Hire Library at Boosey's from time to time until she retired from the Prokofiev Archive, full of ideas and plans and demands for full scores that were not easily obtainable. And when I came to meet her at last - first at a conference at Goldsmiths, and then at your book launch - she was everything I expected her to be: buzzing with energy, personality and intellectual verve. Hers is a sad loss, but thank you for the lovely picture of her and Lina.

David said...

Thanks, Colin: out of respect for a family member, that photo has been removed, but happy at least that its radiance touched you.

I've also had to remove my last message owing to the private nature of the funeral service, but I'll reproduce the rest of its gist now:

I know what you mean, Martin, but don't deny people their sense of sadness. I think I'm right in saying that Noelle herself felt sadness, maybe better described as frustration, at not being able to do more in the last year or so of her life.

There are two ways of looking at it: either that she died too soon (undeniable) and could have achieved so much more, especially in having further input in her loving grandchildren's lives (which is the thing I feel saddest about); or that she fulfilled her major tasks in life and had no causes for regret. Both true.

Anonymous said...

So sad to hear this news today. Like Rob, I met Noëlle through the chamber choir at Goldsmiths, where she introduced me to some of the most beautiful music I've been fortunate to sing, and I am very glad to have met her.

My thoughts and condolences with those friends and family left behind.

John Riley said...

Just to add my name to the chorus of praise. Noëlle's inspirational energy is legendary. There are so many aspects to discuss and memories to enjoy. Too much for a comment on a blogpost but I'd like to put a word in for how sensitively she edited Three Oranges. Writing articles for her was a truly collaborative experience: she was happy to accept suggestions and advice but firm in her vision of the whole project, each individual article and the particular details.

Sasha has probably said it all.


Linsay said...

David, thank you for your touching memorial to Noelle and to so many people for sharing their memories of her.

Jonathan said...

I heard the news only yesterday. I had no idea she was ill.

What a star and a true friend! She has brought so much fun, joy and light into all our lives.

My first contact with Noelle was as one of her 'teachers' at Goldsmiths, a very long time ago. But she has taught me far more than I ever taught her!

Thanks, David, for your heartfelt and touching memorial.

Farewell, Noelle, a lovely lady and a dear friend and Blackheath neighbour and a great musician. Just thinking about her makes me smile, as always. So glad to have seen her recently, and pleased for her that her passing was peaceful and at home.

All best to Chris and the 'children', and to you, David.

With love from Jonathan Burton and Diana Bickley.

David said...

Many thanks for that lovely post, Jonathan. I only respond because I think the only times we properly chinwagged were on those two perfect summer birthday parties in the garden of Noelle and Chris's son Tom and his family. And that's also where I spent a long time talking to Joan Downes. Eheu fugaces.

Anonymous said...

Noelle was my sister in law and had been since I was 15. Of course, with families, you assume they will always be there and take them so very much for granted. I do know that she and Chris were so very much a pair....such a dreadful loss for him, the children and grandchildren. She is quite simply irreplaceable

JVaughan said...

I belatedly join all others in regretting your loss. After reading of it this past weekend, I checked through my E-Mails to find out what I had from her so as to forward it on to you. Regretably all I coulld find was a short procedural. I continue to regret the unintentional misunderstanding re her Christian name, which led to me mistakenly thinking she was a man. It was kind of her and Dr. Hibberd to help me out in 2005, and maybe, if the mail on the Website will permit it, should re-read that _Three_ _Oranges_ article the Archive sent me re Prokofiev's association with Christian Science. I wish I could have known her a bit better.

J. V.

Valentina Chemberdzhi said...

Преданность и верность служению музыке Сергея Прокофьева, сила любви, глубина исследований, бескорыстие и чистота душевных исканий Ноэль Манн настолько сильны, что не хочется сказать про эту наполненную духовную сферу, что она БЫЛА, верю, что она ЕСТЬ, осталась с нами, в нас,распространилась на других, растворилась в природе. Такое не исчезает. Оно живёт в помощь оставшимся здесь.
Валентина Чемберджи
7 мая 2010

David said...

Thank you, Valentina, for expressing with further Russian eloquence the feeling that Noelle is still very much with us.

I'm rather sad and even a little embarrassed that this is still the only online rallying-post for memories of Noelle. I filed the Guardian obit a week ago, with Chris's invaluable input, but I regret to say that so far it's not risen to the top of the pile. Such is the way these papers work, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

I met Noelle in 1994 when I spent some months at GOldsmiths on a scholarship. She was a fantastic person and she really helped me...I did not know she passed away, I knew she was ill...I was so happy planning to meet her in a couple of weeks in London...I wanted my kids to meet her...and now...RIP, my dear Friend.

Yekaterina Vlasova said...

Примите самые искренние соболезнования. Эта трагическая весть оказалась полной неожиданностью для всех, кому дорого русское музыкальное наследие и творчество С.С. Прокофьева.
С самыми искренними чувствами
Е.С. Власова
(Власова Екатерина Сергеевна, Москва)

Anonymous said...

My heart felt heavy when I learnt of Noelle's untimely passing and it is with sadness I write these few words. It was an absolute pleasure knowing and working with Noelle for many years in my capacity as Library Secretary at Goldsmiths. Noelle was always so very appreciative in whatever work I did for her. She was very kind and supportive to me when I needed advice and was never too busy to listen. She made my time working at Goldsmiths a happy one. Rest in peace dear Noelle, you were a ray of sunshine in all our lives and you will be sadly missed. My thoughts and condolences go to family and friends at this very sad time.

Jackie Forbes

Christine Glen said...

I met Noëlle during a one week Russian intensive course in London in ...92 or 93. We were not allowed to speak any other language than Russian, even during the breaks...To celebrate the end of this course, we had to prepare a little “something” for the Russian ambassador, a poem, a short play. Noëlle asked me to sing a Russian song with her. After our “performance”, the ambassador asked us where we came from. I replied, from France...Noëlle jumped and shouted “t’es Française” ? We had spent a whole week talking to each other in Russian and sometimes cheating discreetly in English ! Just a proof of her truly full commitment to everything she did.

Shortly after that encounter, Noëlle told me she was planning to create a Russian choir and invited me to join. I realize today that amongst ones’ life’s adventures, this one was one of the most beautiful ones I ever lived. I remember so lively all the rehearsals and concerts we did with the Kalina choir, I still listen to the old tapes very regularly.

Noëlle immediately became a friend, Chris too. I have never met any other person, suffering so much and yet achieving so much with such determination, rigor, perfectionism and passion.

I attended the funerals yesterday, and was deeply moved –although not surprised- that she even had planned the ceremony. Hearing the choir again, in that same church were we sang some 15 years ago, was an instant of profound happiness, as I could see all of us being one with Noëlle conducting. It also was a moment of terrible sadness, the thought that this was so unique and won’t happen again. The priest, Julia, Tom and Chris made wonderful speeches, thank you.

Back in Paris, I cry. But I know that, as the priest said, time will slowly erase the pain. I am waiting for that time to arrive when, thinking of Noëlle will only make me smile and remind me of the wonderful emotions she was able to provoke through her love and passion.

Christine Glen

David said...

Thanks, Christine, for another wonderful tribute.

But I do want to cheer us all up with the prospect of what happens next:
1) A concert of live music some time in the next six months. I'm sure Sasha Ivashkin will want to co-ordinate this?
2) On the anniversary of Noelle's death every year - since it was also Prokofiev's official birthday - a communal meal celebrating her culinary talents (albeit unreproducable) with songs and speeches. Big village-hall-style 'do'.

How about that, then?

Lewis Owens said...

I am ashamed to say I have only just heard. Words cannot express what Noelle achieved and the dignity and humbleness with which she worked. All the comments on this blog testify to this. As Rachel Foulds says so accurately, Noelle was a wonderful person too. My wife, Tanya Ursova, is deeply upset at the news. Noelle had been so massively supportive of Tanya during her studies at Goldsmiths and work for the CRM.
Deeply missed, Lewis Owens