LAURETO RODONI PRIVATE ARCHIVE
BIASCA - SWITZERLAND
FROM THE BURRA MOODY ARCHIVE
THE LETTERS OF
AND EGON PETRI
TO ROSAMOND LEY
DR. RICHARD THOMPSON
Concert pianist and teacher Rosamond Ley trained at the Wimbledon School of Music before attending the Royal Academy of Music. It was here, under Oscar Beringers tutelage that she gained numerous awards and honours for her pianoforte playing. It was in 1899, whilst still at the Academy, that she first heard Ferruccio Busoni play and was so overwhelmed by his genius that she swore never to miss an opportunity of hearing him play in the future.
Her London debut at the Wigmore Hall in February 1905 was well received and during 1906-7 she continued her studies in London and Berlin under the watchful eye of the great Venezuelan concert pianist Teresa Carre_o. (See the four letters and one postcard from Carre_o to Ley). In 1908 a recital at the Wigmore Hall resulted in criticism over her frequent lapses of memory during performance. Undoubtedly due to nervousness, she sought advice from the composer Rene Ortmans who introduced her to Busoni. They met and after he had listened to her play, recommended that she study under Egon Petri, his star pupil, then resident in Manchester.
As Busoni was scheduled to play in the city at the time (November 19th 1908) he suggested to her that she attend his concert and take the opportunity of meeting Petri while she was there.
Rosamonds parents refused to allow her to travel to Manchester unchaperoned, but the problem was overcome when a close friend, Mary Bruce, offered to accompany her. Unpublished memoir notes tell how Busoni asked Ley for a photograph of herself, which she duly sent to Berlin. Mary Bruce is quoted as saying that, on the journey home in the train to London, Rosamond talked like a prophet all the way.
Throughout 1909 Ley followed Busonis advice and took lessons from Petri. Towards the end of the year he suggested something to her that was to have a profound influence on the course of her life. I was studying with Egon Petri in Manchester at the time, she writes in a memoir, and had the good fortune to hear about the forthcoming masterclass with [Busoni, in Basle].
He advised quite a number of us to go to it. You could join as a performer or listener. Petri pupils were all performers of course.
The few days she spent in Busonis company in Basle proved a revelation to her both personally and professionally...
DRAWING BY BUSONI GIVEN TO ROSAMUND LEY
DURING A DISCUSSION ABOUT THE PIANO
FIRST WORLD PERFORMANCE OF
SONATINA SECONDA BY FERRUCCIO BUSONI
CLICK TO ENTER
THE LETTERS OF
BUSONI AND PETRI
TO ROSAMOND LEY
Shortly after Rosamond Leys death, in 1969, her niece, the actress Phillada Sewell [(1910-1998), English stage, TV and screen actress. She was the daughter of the miniaturist, Margaret Ley, Rosamonds sister, and of the painter William Sewell, who was killed in France in 1917], unlocked a metal box sealed with a handwritten label bearing the instruction: These are private papers of mine and are to be given to Phillada Sewell unopened at my death. Rosamond Ley, December 1950. The box contained bundles of letters addressed to her aunt from the great composer and concert pianist Ferruccio Busoni spanning the period 1910 to 1924 from the time she attended his Basle pianoforte masterclass, to his death in Berlin.
Phillada knew of her pianist aunts life-long dedication to the memory of Busoni and her championship of his musical legacy. She also knew, from selected letters read to her by her aunt, that Rosamond had loved Busoni deeply, and that he had loved her too, though it was a relationship that could never flourish. He was already married and, from quite early on, she had become a close friend of his wife Gerda.
Rosamonds letters to Busoni do not appear to have survived, but his replies to her - particularly in the years immediately after they met suggest that he wanted more from her than she was willing, or able, to give. While she seems to have exercised restraint, he chided her for her coyness. The very qualities that rendered her unobtainable appear to have increased her attraction for him. More than once his letters describe the essential difference between them: his latin passion and her English reserve.
The tone of his letters ranges from uninhibited affection to patriarchal criticism. Often passionate, sometimes petulant, and occasionally patronising, he never fails to confirm his love for her throughout the fourteen years of their friendship. The fact that she held a candle for him for the rest of her life bears witness to the bond that existed between them during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Leys decision, in 1950, to leave the Busoni correspondence in the hands of her niece had dual significance. She trusted Phillada implicitly, knowing that she could rely on her to make the right decision as to their future. It was also a way of enabling Phillada to focus on a parallel situation in her own life her devotion to the great Russian theatre producer Theodor Komisarjevsky, whom she had first met as a student in 1930 and with whom she remained in close personal contact until his death in Connecticutt in 1954.
SKETCH OF ROSAMOND LEY IN LATER LIFE,
BY HER NIECE PHILLADA SEWELL
Rosamond could see that Philladas dedication to an older, charismatic, married man of genius was a reflection of her dedication to Busoni commitments that, however rewarding personally, artistically and intellectually, were ultimately to result in both women remaining single and childless.
In her (unpublished) diaries Phillada provides a rare insight into the power of these relationships:
Our stories are a lot alike in that we both loved men of genius. It was only at the end of his life that Komi[sarjevsky] wrote in a margin of a letter: It was you I should have married. If he had wanted me earlier on there would have been no resistance whatever on my part. R.L. said Gerda [Busoni] once met her at the door in Stockholm and said Rosamond you should have been Ferruccios wife.
In 1970, after carefully assessing the Busoni letters, Phillada made the decision to deposit them with the British Museums Department of Manuscripts. Forty six years had by then elapsed since Busonis death, and nearly fifteen since Gerdas. Phillada felt sure that had her aunt not wished this to happen, she would have destroyed the papers. Accordingly, on April 13th 1970, the collection was transferred to the BM. A serial number, B490, was assigned to the three volumes of letters, which also include some of Rosamond Leys diaries and the letters of Mary Bruce - another of Busonis students and friend to both of them. Today the Busoni letters are housed in the British Library.
THE ROSAMOND LEY PAPERS
Shortly before her own death in 1998, Phillada Sewell legally assigned her personal papers, and those of Rosamond Ley, to Dr Richard Thompson of the Burra Moody Archive*. When he began examining the Ley papers, he found:
- a complete photo-facsimile set of the 70 Busoni-Ley letters, 19101924
- two more original letters from Ferruccio Busoni
- a Busoni sketch of a piano, undertaken, personally, for Rosamond Ley
- the telegram from Egon Petri to Rosamond Ley, dated July 27th 1924, informing her of Busonis death in Berlin
- a previously unseen, major collection of letters between Rosamond Ley, Egon & Mitta Petri, Gerda, Helmi & Rafaello Busoni (1930s to 1960s)
- early letters from Teresa Carreño, Sir Henry Wood and Sir Edward Dent.
- further letters from Sir Adrian Boult, Kaikhosru Sorabji, John Ogden, Dietrich Fischer-Diskau, Murray Dickie, Lords Harewood, Londonderry & Sackville, Secheverell Sitwell, Rebecca West, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Philip Hope-Wallace, Spike Hughes, Philip Wayne, Otto Friedburg, Norman Tucker and others connected with the world of classical music.
- photographs of Professor Grigori Kogans pre-war and Second World War Russian concert programmes, featuring Busoni compositions, sent to Rosamond Ley by Kogan in the 1960s.
- rare photographs, delicate negatives, cine-film, programmes, press cuttings and a host of artifacts relating to the composers life and career, including:
- a photographic album containing numerous portraits of Busoni (at all ages)
- a photographic record of the 1910 Masterclass in Basle, showing all of the participants, and the fire that destroyed part of Schloss Botlingen
*The Burra-Moody Archive represents the collected papers of author and critic, Peter Burra (1909-1937) his twin sister, the soprano Helen (Nell) Burra (1909-1999), and Helen's husband, the actor and producer John Percivale Moody (1906-1993). It also houses the personal papers of the actress Phillada Sewell and the pianist Rosamond Ley, as well as the letters of the painters William Sewell and Margaret Ley. The Moody, Ley and Sewell families are interconnected, hence Philladas decision to assign her papers to the Archive. The material spans three broad areas of interest: English literature, poetry and literary criticism of the inter-war period; twentieth century theatre and drama; opera, music in the theatre, and music criticism.
- a rare copy of the 1913 illustrated libretto of Die Brautwahl, given as a gift to Rosamond Ley by Busoni
- rare copies of both the Manifesto & Catalogue of the Italian Futurism Exhibition in London, March 1912, attended by Busoni & Ley
- the 1925 auction catalogue detailing the sale of Busonis private library
- three etchings by the noted English draughtsman Francis Sydney Unwin, supported by a handwritten letter to Busoni, dated December 2nd 1919, asking him if he would:
accept these prints
as a token of the reverence which I feel for you as an artist.
- the proofs of Leys 1938 English translation of Busonis letters to his wife
- Leys extensive diaries & notebooks on piano technique, travels, people
- a tape recording, by Phillada Sewell, of Rosamond Leys written account of the 1910 Basle Masterclass, including Leys personal appreciation of Busonis genius, and Egon Petris unique interpretation of his music and technique.
All of the (facsimile) Busoni letters to Ley have been transcribed on to computer and are available electronically as part of the current collection. The original letters of Gerda Busoni and Egon Petri throw new light on some of Busonis greatest compositions including Die Brautwahl, Arlecchino and Doktor Faust. Busoni and Petris concert programmes provide a rare opportunity to see how the Busoni repertoire developed (and has been handed down to future generations of pianists see Alfred Brendel and Daniell Revenaugh programmes and letters, amongst 1960s Ley papers)
Ferruccio Busoni to RLey
(2 original, 68 photo-facsimilies) 70
Rosamond Ley to Phillada Sewell (niece) 42
Rosamond Ley to Joy Ede 31
Egon Petri to Rosamond Ley 29
Gerda Busoni to Rosamond Ley 21
Rosamond Ley to Margaret Sewell (sister) 19
Mitta Petri to Rosamond Ley 15
Sir Adrian Boult to Rosamond Ley 15
BBC related correspondence 12
Rosamond Ley to John Moody
(nephew & opera producer) 9
Dietrich Fischer Diskau & related
Lord Alistair Londonderry
to Rosamond Ley 6
to Rosamond Ley 5
Rebecca West (Cicely Andrews)
to Rosamond Ley 5
Philip Wayne to Rosamond Ley 4
Benni Busoni to Rosamond Ley 3
Helmi (Busoni) Sjostrand to Rosamond Ley 3
Daniell Revenaugh to Rosamond Ley 3
Glyndebourne Festival Opera 3
Rosamond Ley to Edward Dent (draft copies) 3
Sacheverell Sitwell to Rosamond Ley 3
Florence Pertz to Rosamond Ley 2
Desmond Shawe-Taylor to Rosamond Ley 2
Ian Wallace to Rosamond Ley 2
Murray Dickie to Rosamond Ley 2
Lord Harewood to Rosamond Ley 2
Bekky to Rosamond Ley 2
Rosamond Ley to Frances Creighton 2
Otto Friedburg to Rosamond Ley 2
Alfred Brendel to Rosamond Ley 2
Lord Sackville to Sir Adrian Boult (draft copy) 1
Egon Petri to Florence Pertz 1
Egon Petri to John & Nell Moody 1
Jan Petri to Rosamond Ley 1
Rafaello Busoni to Rosamond Ley 1
Katie Munchhausen to Rosamond Ley 1
Rosamond Ley to Basil Creighton 1
Lihain Stauf to Rosamond Ley 1
Rosamond Ley to Florence Pertz 1
Kaikhosru Sorabji to Rosamond Ley 1
Rosamond Ley to Bekky 1
R. L. Romer to Rosamond Ley 1
David Ley to Rosamond Ley 1
Ursula Creighton to Rosamond Ley 1
Rosamond Ley to Sacheverell Sitwell 1
Spike Hughes to Rosamond Ley 1
John Ogden to Rosamond Ley 1
John Moody to Rosamond Ley 1
Jerrold Moore, Yale University 1
Norman Tucker to Rosamond Ley 1
Philip Hope-Wallace to Rosamond Ley 1
IN THE TEXT ARE REPRODUCED
SOME OF DRAWINGS
WITH WHICH BUSONI USED
TO ILLUSTRATE HIS LETTERS
FROM A LETTER BY ROSAMOND LEY
ON TAPE & READ BY HER NEICE
THE ACTRESS, PHILLADA SEWELL
And now I am going to tell you why (Egon) Petris playing is one of the most important things in life for me
It is rather like a confession of faith because the reason lies in something that has been and is, and always will be, the greatest illumination in my life. That illumination is the realm of music in which (Ferruccio) Busoni lived and to which he was able to take others through the medium of pianoforte playing.
It was a realm which, of course, has been reached by the greatest composers, and possibly through the medium of the pianoforte by one or two people perhaps Liszt but nobody I have ever heard, play, or conduct, or sing, has ever lived in that realm and shown the wonders and beauties of it through a whole concert, as Busoni did. There have been moments when the door has opened for others, but nobody I have ever heard has lived there all the time. There is only one Busoni and only someone with a spirit and genius like his could do this again. I feel and believe that Busoni has done something infinitely bigger and more wonderful for the world than to open the realm only to the people who have heard him play. He has also opened the door for all those coming after him.
This is very difficult to explain. I can only try to explain through my own experience. When I was eighteen, knowing nothing of him, I heard Busoni play. I knew that, for me, where he had taken me was a realm into which no music had taken me before. For me, that realm was music. I knew nothing of him in those days, I simply continued hearing him whenever he came to London. When I got the chance of being introduced to him I was afraid to accept, because I was afraid something very perfect would be destroyed. Instead of this, the illumination of a music increased and became more and more satisfying.
I can only say that the outlook on music is different from other peoples outlooks. It seems to me that music is made use of in different ways: some people say it is a language of which they know every letter and those people are, as far as I have experienced, are generally the people who are very gifted musically, ie. for sound,
And these gifts pour through their nature with quite beautiful results; but they are results limited to the size of the owners nature. That seems to me to be using sound to express your nature.
To me, Busonis outlook was quite different to this. There seemed to be a realm in which sound lived quite definitely a life of its own with definite aim and shape and beauties, and he reached it quite consciously knowing and realising every step of the way, and all his knowledge of what is in that realm was quite conscious too. This is where the difference lies in what he has given the world, and what people give who only reach that world in moments. These people are unconscious of how they reach it. Sometimes it is because the composer has found such beauties in the realm that the performer has a sudden flight and reaches them, but it would be a very rare thing if a performer could tell you step by step how he or she had achieved this moment. The generally accepted idea is that tou ought not to know that such moments are inspired and that you have no emotion if you do know.
Busoni was conscious that he had constructed a technique to fulfill the demands of what he found in that realm of music. He did not play by just letting the sound pour through his nature, but he consciously went into a realm of music. And he showed (Egon) Petri how to go there too. Petri has not got Busonis spirit, and has no charms and magnetisms, but if you had heard Busoni play a lot I know you would realise it.
The realm of music Busoni showed has not got to do with the players personality. It is a realm with a life of its own
and can you see a little now what I mean when I say that Petris playing is one of the most important things in life for me. I can understand when people dont appreciate Petris playing because it must be rather like being shown a very wide open country when you are expecting a small stretch of cultivated land.
So outlook and technique are one thing. Most techniques are constructed from the opposite end. People build up a technique then find out what to do with it. As outlook and technique were one, the more one of his pupils realised and saw his outlook, the more of Busonis technique he acquired too. Petri is the pupil who saw and realised Busonis outlook the most. That is not my opinion: I have heard Busoni say so many times. In fact, he is the only pupil who could follow him actively in that wonderful realm.
MUSIC'S ROOM IN BERLIN
LIBRARY IN BERLIN