Edward Cahill performs in Paris 1945 - 1948

The exuberance of a liberated Paris in 1945 by Robert Doisneau

Click on photographs to enlarge

For the last two weeks I have been touring the chateaux on the Loire and also in Paris researching the period after World War II that Edward Cahill (1885-1975) spent there. For those who have not been following the evolution of the biography I am writing, Cahill was a brilliant but forgotten Australian concert pianist who rose from particularly humble beginnings in a tiny town of 400 souls in Queensland (Beenleigh) to play for many of the royal houses of Europe and attract the finest teachers. He possessed a complete natural genius for the instrument and did not have a conventional conservatorium training but played for the travelling silent cinema and vaudeville rising with charm and extraordinary talent to the heights of the finest classical performance. There are many postings on this blog concerning him and his astonishing life. He was also my great-uncle.

After a glittering career in London, Paris and the Riviera Cahill had spent the entire war years in Switzerland in Montreux selflessly giving innumerable charity recitals and gathering food and requisites for interned troops. Typical of the response to his playing at the time is this account of a concert in November 1943 given in the Grande Salle Paroissiale in Avenue Nestlé for Les Familles pauvres (Catholique de Montreux). Professor Bosset writing in the Journal de Montreux of November 14th was as effusive as ever. The two concerts raised almost 800 Swiss francs.

‘That a musician realises a wager of filling a concert hall twice within eight days in Montreux in these difficult times is in itself almost a miracle. Well that miracle is Eddie Cahill the Australian pianist […] Amongst the crowded audience were noticed Her Majesty the Queen of Spain and the wife of the Dutch Minister at Berne. Her majesty came especially from Lausanne to hear Mr. Cahill and show her esteem for this great Australian pianist […] Mr. Cahill gave this second concert (the twentieth altogether so far). Mr. Spruytenburg representing the Dutch Minster who is ill, expressed the great friendship Holland has for England […] We must mention this last recital was one of the most transcendent ones that Mr. Cahill has ever given in Montreux. The four waltzes of Chopin were played with unsurpassable finesse. This concert was assuredly one of the musical feasts of the winter season here in Montreux.’ (my translation)

The troops themselves were also full of gratitude. Eddie clearly lent a sympathetic ear to their troubles. A classical concert for men who had survived such terrible experiences was like a breath from heaven. In his Montreux charity concerts Eddie attempted to satisfy a tremendously varied number of people both in terms of their fate and social class. From the Civil Prison in Vevey he received the following note from an interned prisoner W. Morgan.
I want to thank you for the cakes, cigarettes and all the other things you sent us here. All the boys imprisoned here with me send their thanks. The five of us sat up and looked when the parcel arrived and then when the lid was lifted we fell upon it like hungry wolves.’
In the late 1930s Cahill had spent a great deal of time on the Cote d'Azur before leaving for Switzerland in December 1938. He had always agreed with Churchill's reading of the inevitability of war with the Nazis ever since his harrowing concert tour of Germany in 1935. He did not believe in the policy of appeasement and had not wanted to return to living in London where barrage balloons had already been tested and the distribution of gas masks arranged.

The French Riviera too had been awash with rumours since the  Italian invasion of Abyssinia and what it may have presaged of Mussolini's utilisation of power. Here he had made the aquaintance of and played for a number of the English aristocracy who habitually wintered in Menton and elsewhere on the Riviera. Many also had houses in Paris or took suites for long periods at luxury hotels such as the Ritz, the Crillon or the Meurice. After weathering and contributing to the war mainly in Montreux, he was offered a number of concerts in Paris by his former patrons. 

In 1945 he took a room (No: 855) on a long-term basis at the Grand Hotel at 14 Boulevard des Capucines next to the Paris Opera.

Eddie Cahill's luggage label from the Grand Hotel, 14 Boulevard des Capuchines, Paris 
ca. 1945

The Grand Hotel at 14 Boulevard des Capucines - Paris - July 2012 - where Edward Cahill lived on various occasions from 1945 to 1948

It was in 1945 in Paris where he first played before the Duke and Duchess of Windsor through the good offices of Lady Michelham who gave a number of parties for him at her suite at the Ritz. Unlike today, elegant private parties were often held there with eminent classical musicians giving seriously considered recitals. The hotel had operated more or less normally during the war (Coco Chanel lived there in her own suite for the entire period) although many clients had been impoverished by the Great Depression and the war ceasing to patronise the place.

The Nazi officer class had curiously been somewhat in awe of the establishment and agreed to many restrictions on their activities there, except of course the 'bejewelled hippopotamus' Hermann Goering who had taken the Imperial Suite, wearing silk dresses and fondling bowls of diamonds and rubies.

Place Vendome from the entrance to the Ritz around 1948  
The Ritz in Paris  [Francois Halard 2008]
The Ritz July 2012 before the imminent closure over two years for complete refurbishment

The superb staircase at the Ritz from below - July 2012
Edward joined the long line of truly glamorous celebrities (quite unlike today's superficial and sensationalist 'arrivisti') who almost lived there and frequented the famous Grand Bar  - Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Proust, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter...[“The world admits, bears in pits do it, / Even Pekingeses at the Ritz do it, / Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.”]

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor outside the Ritz in 1948  
[Keystone-Gamma - Getty Images]

Georges Scheuer spent four decades working at Le Grand Bar, the hotel’s main bar, on the Cambon side and reminisced later on the notorious couple: 
The Duchess of Windsor invariably had cocktails with the playboy Jimmy Donahue and then went off to join the Duke for dinner. The Duchess would often appear for lunch the following day but without the Duke, who had not yet recovered from the night’s revels.

“I married David for better, for worse,” she remarked, “but not for lunch.”

The Duchess exclaimed after one of Eddie's recitals at the Ritz : "Oh! J’aime tant quand vous interprétez Mozart….il est si élégant! "

At the requisite hour, I ventured into the Ritz for coffee and cake, the Hemingway Bar already being closed for renovation. The entire hotel is soon due to shut completely for two years for a major refurbishment. I ordered a Millefeuille Vanille de Bourbon (Napoleon) and a Machiato coffee. The cake seemed an inordinate time coming which I put down to the diffident waiter. However I discovered later that the cake was actually being assembled and baked for me to order. Apparently it is the only way to achieve the zephyr-like delicacy of the millefeuille pastry.  The cream contained authentic specks of vanilla pod and was magical. Overall a quite superb cake  - at a delightful 22 euros. 'Naturellement! C'est Le Ritz monsieur!'

This one above was made by Sebastien Serveau. It's an almost classic millefeuille: it has the requisite three layers of puff pastry (at The Ritz, a new batch of puff is baked every two hours) and two layers of vanilla cream.  But the cream is lighter than usual.  Instead of straight pastry cream, the chef uses a Creme Chibouste.

Chibouste had a pastry shop on the rue Saint-Honore in Paris and, in 1846, he created an enduring classic, the Gateau Saint-Honore, a pastry in which a cream puff ring is 'glued' to a puff pastry base with caramel, and then topped with caramel crowned cream puffs and filled with a standard pastry cream lighted with Italian meringue (egg whites beaten with hot sugar syrup), a recipe now known as Creme Chibouste.

The colourful Ritz cabinet de gateaux - to coin a phrase - July 2012

When Cahill first met the Windsors, although not at that time giving recitals for them, they had been battling King George VI and the British Government over questions of monies to be regularly paid to  H.R.H. as a result of various labyrinthine agreements. I do not intend to open that Pandora's box here. Suffice to say that in May 1938 they had taken a two-year lease on a vast shore-front villa known as La Cröe at Cap d'Antibes.

At the end of October they also took a lease on the eighteenth century town house situated at 24 Boulevard Suchet in Paris in the fashionable 16th arrondissement near the Bois de Boulogne. It was built in 1929 in Louis XVI style in the  district of Passy and contained twenty rooms and six bathrooms. It housed the couple themselves, three secretaries, two detectives, two chauffeurs and nine other servants. They leased the property that included a small garden until 1949. Both spent a great deal of time lavishly furnishing these properties and filling Boulevard Suchet with period French furniture that they fossicked out in antiquaires.

In 1946 Cahill renewed his aquaintance with the Windsors (he was a great 'networker' long before the term had been coined). He  was often invited to dinner and gave many of his recitals at 24 Boulevard Suchet after his return to Paris in that year. The building itself had been largely spared by the Nazis during the occupation of Paris. There are numerous letters, invitations, notes and telegrams from the Duchess of Windsor among his papers. Below are a few examples. I feel her handwriting is clear enough not to require a transcription.

In his patchy journal Eddie tells amusing story concerning the Duke of Windsor whom he calls 'A One-Fingered Musician'.

'Indeed, if I played for many crowned heads, I may also say that one day, a Sovereign who had reigned over an immense Empire, played for me. This happened at Boulevard Suchet in His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor's mansion. His Royal Highness the Duke and the Duchess, who adore music, had asked me to come and play Chopin for them. When I had finished, I had an opportunity, while exchanging a few words with His Royal Highness the Duke, to tell him that I knew that he had himself, in the past, composed a piece especially for Scottish bagpipe players.

'I am surprised that you should know about it!' replied the Duke
'But this is correct and I can still play the tune for you.'

Upon which, with one finger only, he played this piece which he had composed himself and which is played by the bag-pipers, not always knowing that its composer is one of the most eminent figures in England. In the time-honoured fashion of Johann Sebastian and Frederick the Great, I improvised a few variations on it which delighted them both. [The piece is still played and known as 'Mallorca']

I find the Duchess of Windsor a most refined and dignified woman with great artistic flair, particularly in clothes and interior decoration. She is always the perfect hostess and I may say perfectly charming. A perfectionist and a very independent and strong personality. I could never understand fully the dislike that seemed all too common during the traumatic Abdication, but then unlike many people I actually know her!'
Edward Cahill in recital during World War II in Montreux Switzerland

24 Boulevard Suchet in 1939 
[William Vandivert - LIFE]

24 Boulevard Suchet in July 2012 now the Delegation du Tourisme de la Republique de Cote D'Ivoire pour L'Europe et L'Amerique and the Chamber of Commerce of the Ambassade de Cote D'Ivoire

The garden of the 
Place des Écrivains Combattants Morts pour la France 
adjacent to 24 Boulevard Suchet July 2012

24 Boulevard Suchet from the small adjacent square known as the 
Place des Écrivains Combattants Morts pour la France 
July 2012

The Dining Room at 24 Boulevard Suchet where Cahill would have had dinner on a number of occasions although Wallis would probably have redecorated the rooms of the house after the war.  According to the Duchess the walls of the dining room in 1939 were 'painted cream, with the delicate boiserie picked out in gilt, and pierced by arched windows draped with crimson curtains tied back and hung with enormous gold tasselled cords at two levels.  Each window was fitted with matching mirrored shutters on the inside that could be pulled closed to magnify the candlelight on formal occasions - an effect heightened by the immense mirrors that cloaked the doors, stood above the fireplace, and filled the alcove against one wall in which stood the carved and gilded rococo sideboard.' [LIFE Magazine article July 10, 1939 - William Vandivert photo 1939]

The White and Gold Salon - a spacious room where Cahill may well have given his recitals. The round gold box on the table is engraved ‘To Edward Prince of Wales from his parents, 1923.’ [William Vandivert photo 1939]

 The Duchess of Windsor at her desk in the upstairs sitting room writing to Cahill? Highly unlikely but bear with me! ‘This is where I do most of my correspondence,’ she says.  ‘It is an interesting piece of furniture, a cashier’s desk of the time of Louis XVI.  Money was paid through the centerpiece, where I have attached an electric light.  I did not want to spoil the shape of the desk by having a standing lamp.’  [LIFE Magazine article July 10, 1939 - William Vandivert photo 1939]

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor emerging from 24 Boulevard Suchet in 1939 
[William Vandivert photo]

Letter from Wallis Windsor to Edward Cahill Dated June 12th. 1946. Note her thrifty continued use of the Royal Coat of Arms stationary rather than their personal cipher (invitation above and letter below) although H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor had by this time been released from his official post as Governor of Bermuda
La Cröe – Cap d’Antibes

It is clear Cahill experienced a great deal of social success in Paris but by far the most important purely musical success was his concert at the prestigious Ecole Normale de Musique on 19 March 1947. This concert was patronised by the glamorous and beautiful Lady Diana Cooper, wife of the then British Ambassador to France, Duff Cooper, 1st Viscount Norwich. It was also in the presence of his old friend from the war years in the French region of Switzerland, the Minister for Colonies, Marius Moutet. He had been eternally grateful for Eddie's selfless war work.

The Ecole Normale de Musique  was founded in 1919 in Paris by Cahill's sometime teacher before the war and Chopinist of renown, the charismatic French pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962). The audience for this concert reads like a gallery of characters from À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust. Many of the greatest classical musical instrumentalists and composers the world has ever seen have performed and lectured there.

The Ecole Normale de Musique 
78 rue Cardinet 
Paris July 2012

A selection from the original guest list appears below:


(Son. Exc: His Excellency; Duc: Duke; Desse:  Duchess; Pce: Prince;  Pcesse: Princess;  Cte: Count;  Ctesse: Countess)

The reviews of this concert were effusive. In the well-known Quatre et Trois  the music critic Lucien Laurent wrote:

"Eddie Cahill has conquered Paris. He received the acclamation of the elite of Paris who refused to cease applauding his beautiful recital."

In the Musical Week in Paris Mario Facchinetti wrote perceptively:

"The personality of Eddie Cahill, Australian pianist, is quite unusual. His exterior appearance expresses the profound morality which is the perogative of real artists. For his first recital in Paris since the war, Eddie Cahill avoided blustering publicity and, in the elegant arrangements of the estrade of the Ecole Normale, I felt only the influence of the aesthetic sense of the artist and of the charming lady [Lady Diana Cooper] who organised the evening. Eddie Cahill has an excellent technique, a sort of literary conversational play and remarkable strength. But his particular quality is the pleasant clearness which, united to the exact rendering of the musical text, seems to explain and comment on it. So the execution is, at the same time, musical, intellectual and sensitive.

The first part of the programme included Schumann, Schubert and Brahms; the third part a complete series of Chopin's works. The second part, dedicated to Corelli, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach proved an excellent understanding of classical music and a clever manner of treating the modern piano with the lightness of the harpsichord."

(Cahill had given some of the first recitals in the revival of the harpsichord
 in London in the late 1930s. He was a friend of Colonel Benton-Fletcher who assembled the great collection of early keyboard instruments now at Fenton House in Hampstead in London. Directly influenced by the great Wanda Landowska, Cahill performed on  a modern Pleyel instrument of the time with numerous register pedals, superseded today by instruments constructed with rather more historical understanding. He gave concerts using both piano and harpsichord in a single recital).

Considering Edward Cahill's humble background from Beenleigh, a small Queensland town of 400 souls in 1885, a town whose only claim to fame was a powerful rum distillery, his life story is astonishing and his musical achievements quite extraordinary. This is a pianist whose first piano lessons were in secret from the wife of the milkman.

Rare remastered private historical recordings of Eddie Cahill playing Liszt and Chopin made in 1936 can be downloaded free using the following links:


There are other numerous posts on this blog concerning my ongoing researches.

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