Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A rare moment for Uncle Eddie

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London 1934. Edward Cahill seated in the front row on the left of Princess Alice at a private Mayfair piano recital at the home of the Dowager Lady Swathyling

                                                Edward Cahill (1885-1975) at the piano in London at the Queen's Hall 1935

He was featured in the Prologue ofd my literary travel book on Poland. I have promoted the Polish edition of my book at a number of venues around Poland since I returned from South Africa. In Lodz, Krakow and at the Warsaw International Book Fair.
The most remarkable event however was on June 1 at the Chopin Institute in Tamka Street Warsaw in the Conference Room of the New Museum building. I was to formally present the surviving private recordings of Edward Cahill, my great-uncle and the brilliant but forgotten Australian concert pianist. The promotion was moderated by the former Director of the Chopin Institute Andrzek Sulek - a rare honour for me. The audience was quite distinguished with ambassadors, well-known music critics, journalists and of course many of my closest friends.

The evening began with the playing of some pieces from the remastered recordings from 1930 of Eddie's playing of Liszt ('La Campanella') and Chopin (B flat minor Scherzo Op.31). How proud he would have been to hear the enthusiastic applause of this appreciative and musically well-informed audience. Also the extremely positive remarks of the Director of the Chopin Institute concerning the delicacy of his touch and refined tone, his understanding of the 'tragic jests' in this scherzo. Well, Eddie adored Vladimir de Pachmann for his refined tone and qualities of touch  (if lamenting his increasingly disruptive behavioral ecccentricities). Edward Cahill belonged to that same glorious late nineteenth century school of pianism - Hofmann, Lehvinne, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Godowsky - all these pianists glorified tone, touch, velocity, charm, poetry and delicacy. The son perle. It is hard indeed to impress Poles with the playing of Chopin.

It was the greatest pleasure for me to have been able, with the help of my Polish publisher Czarne, to bring this event to a happy conclusion. The event revealed this pianist as truly great and 'a visionary'. He came from the tiny town of Beenleigh in Queensland Australia (400 souls when he was born) that distilled a powerful rum to reach European fame among the royalty and aristocracy of the glamorous London, Paris and Riviera of the 1920s and 1930s.

He also made a number of private 'visionary' Chopin recordings that also survived but you will have to wait for my book to hear those.

Free download of Edward cahill playing La Campanella ('Little Bell') of Liszt which reveals all these rare qualities of touch, tone and finesse at:


Now he has been heard with approbation in Warsaw at the very heart of the Chopin world in the 200th anniversary year of the composer's birth. My mission promised to him all those years ago on his death-bed in Monaco has almost been fulfilled.

My task will be completed with the book, accompanied by the remastered CD of his playing - a real challenge. The research is becoming a 'quest', the material evolving into a type of 'travel biography' if there is such a thing. If one is terribly famous like Artur Rubinstein every breath is documented. For a distinguished but for a not mega famous individual there are many biographical gaps....they need to be filled.

Researches into Edward Cahill in Cape Town

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Leica D-Lux 4

Children of all colours happily racing on the Strand at Somerset West, Cape Town

Vineyards near Franschhoek
                                                                On the road towards the village of Greyton

                                                          Klein Genot  luxury guesthouse,  Franschhoek
                                                                                        Klein Genot Vineyard

                      My informant Elizabeth B-A reading the H.V. Morton monograph on Uncle Eddie

Town Hall, Somerset West, Cape Town where Edward Cahill gave many recitals for the white, coloured and black communities

Chapman's Peak Cape Town
With heroic Afghanistan war wounded (Royal Green Jackets - now 2nd Battalion, The Rifles) recuperating from terrible injuries. I am standing far right and proud to do so.

Cape Point
Steenberg Hotel Cape Town
I flew from Warsaw to Cape Town on May 1 to carry out some research for my next book which will be about my grand-uncle the Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill (1895-1975). He lived in retirement Somerset West from 1950-61 during the difficult period of apartheid. I stayed at the fabulous Steenberg Hotel in Tokai nr. Cape Town for the first week. The story of the foundress Catharina Ustings Ras and her five husbands deserves a novel in itself. She arrived in the Cape in 1662 as a widow of 22 and a dramatic destiny followed. She rode 'bareback like an Indian and her children resembled Brazilian cannibals'. The first wines were made on the Steenberg estate she owned in 1695. The hotel comprises a number of buildings of dazzling white original Cape Dutch architecture with fine antique-furnished rooms, thatched roofs, great attention to detail, superb gardens and extensive vineyards.

A great deal of assistance in my research was unexpectedly given to me by the South African Section of the Rolls-Royce Club - of all organisations! I was able to meet the charming, elegant and highly intelligent coloured woman for a seafood meal by the Strand in Somerset West. She knew Uncle Eddie when she was 14 (she herself was descended from Javanese slaves imported by the Dutch East India Company). She had also travelled to Monaco to nurse him through his final illness in 1975. I discovered that his magnificent mansion in Parel Vallei (with a superb, specially constructed music room) had been demolished to make way for 24 nouveau riche suburban white development 'villas'. I also visited grand Schapenberg where the excellent and tremendously successful travel writer H.V.Morton lived in retirement (now unnacountably neglected as an author). He was a friend of Uncle Eddie. I had an excellent lunch at the Cape Town Club and wandered the streets of this maritime city that reminded me so much of Sydney.

Edward Cahill and the famous travel author H.V.Morton at Somerset West, Cape Town, South Africa. They were close friends and had both retired to the same spot on the planet

Schapenberg - the home of H.V.Morton in Somerset West

H.V.Morton's study much as he left it

The loggia at Schapenberg which was H.V.Morton's favourite place to write

The monograph written by H.V.Morton on Edward Cahill on the occasion of a concert in aid of the All Saints Church Building Fund, Somerset West, South Africa 

The disparate wealth of blacks and whites was disturbing and dispiriting for my entire stay. A shock for the uninitiated. Reflections on the atmosphere of simmering discontent accompanied me throughout my travels - despite the frenzy of the imminent World Cup. A mood of subdued apprehension prevailed in the minority white population. Wonderfully scenic excursions to Cape Point (where I met an heroic group of recuperating wounded soldiers from the former Royal Green Jackets who had been fighting in Afghanistan). I visited the Cape of Good Hope and drove along the incredible road at Chapman's Peak - how I wished I was in a classic car rather than a hired VW Polo.

In the second week I headed to Franschhoek to stay on another wine estate called Klein Genot. More like a luxurious English Country House Hotel than a working vineyard. Great warmth of hospitality from the Jewish-South African owner and the friendliness of the Malawians who work there. The weather was apalling for much of my stay in SA so I drove to Somerset West on a number of occasions and spent a lot of time in the library researching local newspapers of the period of my uncle. Fascinating colonial insights in the advertisements. The region has magnificent restaurants and wine. The landscapes are overwhelming in their immensity and beauty.

A final night at the Steenberg Hotel and some incredibly uselful phone conversations with more research contacts. I had to spend the night sleeping in Cape Town airport on Monday 17th as the Icelandic volcano had closed the Amsterdam hub. Arrived back in Warsaw extremely tired on Tuesday May 18th. A very expensive research trip but well worth it for the material and atmosphere gleaned from the experience. All grist to the mill of my new book.

Edward Cahill can be heard playing Liszt and Chopin using these free links:

http://www.box.com/shared/59e773yxjq  (Liszt)

http://www.box.com/shared/s4xakeg578  (Chopin)