Cello Concert with Birdsong
The writing of Anne Boileau that has graced this website during recent months has both captured the spirit of the age and cast a reflective light of history on where we are today.
Here Anne presents Cello Concert with Birdsong, which she describes as “a story with an Essex slant”.
“Beatrice Harrison could not have been broadcast on the BBC without technology developed in Chelmsford,” says Anne.
“I think her story has resonance for these days, when we have been listening to music through modern virtual channels. The birdsong in Fingringhoe added to the magic of Orlando Jopling’s playing.”
Cello Concert with Birdsong
In 1918 a War to End All Wars came to a sorry end, having cut a cruel swathe through the young adult generation throughout the world; in 1919 by a flu pandemic followed, which took more lives than the war itself.
‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’
In Chelmsford, a technological breakthrough: The Marconi Sykes Magnetophone is developed. A network of telephone cables is laid. The British Broadcasting Corporation begins to broadcast news, views and music to the nation.
In her parents’ garden near Hoxted in Surrey, Beatrice Harrison practises the cello. Drawn to the sound, a nightingale joins her in full-throated ease. A duet at dusk. She writes a letter to Lord Reith and persuades him to broadcast their duet live on the BBC, to a wounded nation. At first reluctant, he agrees and gives the go-ahead; sound engineers and electricians arrive in Beatrice’s parents’ garden. They hide microphones in trees and bushes, lay cables, test the system. Modern technology has made such a project possible. But would the nightingale sing?
Yes, the bird did sing! On May 24, 1924, families within the radius of a radio signal in the United Kingdom sat crouched around their wireless sets, weeping as they listened to Elgar, Danny Boy, Delius, accompanied by a migrant songbird. The music was expressing what they were unable to express, saying what they were unable to say. These live performances were broadcast on the Home Service throughout the month of May for the following 10 years.*
In July I attended a live concert: Orlando Jopling, artistic director of Roman River Music, played the cello for an hour in his mother’s garden in Fingringhoe to an audience of 15, seated at safe distance on their own portable chairs. The sky was blue with fluffy white clouds; it was sunny but with a blessed cool breeze. As we listened to Bach, Mozart, Scarborough Fair, Moon River, our hearts were filled with a mixture of joy and grief. To hear live music with other live people was an experience denied to us for three months.
For all the Zoom and Facetime connections, we felt deprived of the real thing and this was the real thing. And do you know what made it even more special? A lark in the adjoining field and a goldfinch in a damson tree joined in with their own full-throated song: a trio.
Live music with birdsong on a sunny Sunday in July: not on the Home Service, nor on Zoom or Facetime, but for real, in the open air; the fragrance of hyssop and lavender with a hint of the sea; an enthralled audience of real live people.
A little taste of Heaven on Earth, in a garden at Fingringhoe, Essex.
* You can read the whole story and hear the recordings on YouTube by googling Beatrice Harrison and the Nightingale.