Daisy gave the first broadcast performance of John Ireland’s 2nd Violin Sonata, on 13th March 1924, with the composer at the piano.
Maurice Moiseiwitsch’s book about his uncle, “Moiseiwitsch – Biography of a Concert Pianist”, conveys a very positive impression of Daisy Kennedy, despite the fairly short marriage. It is worth noting however, that the book was written without consulting Benno’s family and therefore has omissions and errors. Daisy did not perform much during her marriage to John Drinkwater, The biography comments that when Drinkwater died, Daisy was compelled to take up performing again after a long break (see comments below).
And secondly a page of reviews of her American Debut in November 1920, advertising her second recital in January 1921.
Announcer: And now, Daisy Kennedy, the violinist remembers her early life in music. The Kubelik she refers to is Jan, the father of Rafael Kubelik who’s conducting tonight’s concert.
Irene Slade: You were found to have musical talent when you were very young, weren’t you. How was this discovered?
Daisy Kennedy: Well, originally, I was taught the piano by my mother when I was four, before I went to school. But by the time I was seven, a very amusing thing happened: one very hot Sunday afternoon, father and mother were resting and we were told to be quiet, and my mother said to my father, “I do wish our neighbours next door would stop playing the piano only in the key of C.” Father, being an argumentative Irishman, said, “How do you know it’s the key of C?” And mother said, “Well it sounds like the key of C,” so father got up and went to the piano and struck the chord of C and it wasn’t. “There you are,” he said. “We’ll have the children in and see if they’ve got absolute pitch. I don’t suppose any of them have.” So he tried us all in turn, and I was the last. And none of the others could tell any key of any notes. Then he tried me and found that I could tell him any key of any notes, even if he put both hands down over a series of notes top and bottom. Then he tried me with whistles and chair squeakings. So he said, “She’s got absolute pitch, she’ll have to learn the violin. The piano’s a waste.” And he brought home a little violin, it was a half size. He couldn’t find one in Adelaide anywhere in one of the shops. Eventually, in a pawnbrokers, he found this little baby violin, I think he paid 25 shillings for it. Now, I fell in love with it at sight, and just loved holding it up to my neck.
Did you have lessons straight away?
Straight away, yes. With a very charming woman from Austria, who played very beautifully and had a very beautiful family.
Did you concentrate more on your music than on your lessons at school?
Always. I was always doing everything I could to stay away from school to be able to play the violin more. I played at students’ concerts every year, and occasionally charity concerts, of course. And I was growing very, very tall. By the time I was fifteen, I was as tall as I am now. In fact even taller, because I think now I’m beginning to shrink a bit. But I was about five feet nine. I was very tall, with long red hair and lots of freckles. And I used to streak through Adelaide with a fiddle, everybody knew me.
How was it that you eventually came to Europe?
It’s a very exciting story from my point of view. Kubelik, the great virtuoso violinist, visited Australia for the first time, and when he came to Adelaide he had a series of recitals every night in the Town Hall. And naturally, I went to hear him, and I was thrilled. And I said, “I must play to him and see what he’ll say about me. What he’ll advise me to do when my scholarship’s finished.” And everyone said “Don’t be ridiculous, he’ll never listen to you. Why should he? He’s travelling all over the world and he wants to hear.. nobody, I should think. Rather anything than another fiddler.”
So I thought, “No, I shan’t be down, I’ll try.” So instead of attending my lessons, I went down to the hotel where he was staying, in Adelaide, and stood outside waiting, and every time he came out he was guarded by a coloured servant, who waved me away and said, “No, no, no.” And then a miracle happened. Kubelik was lunching at Government House. Sir George Le Hunt was then governor of South Australia, and he’d been the previous week to hear the Elder Conservatorium annual concert, at which I played the Mendelssohn Concerto. And he’d been very charming to me about it. And when he spoke to Kubelik he said, “Have you heard any local talent?” and Kubelik said “No, I never do. If I hear one I must hear all.” “Oh,” said Sir George, “I wish you’d hear our red-headed fiddler.” “Red head?” said Kubelik, “That must be the girl that stands outside my hotel every day for a week.” “Do hear her,” said Sir George. “Well, perhaps I will.”
And I didn’t know anything about this. I went, my last despairing visit, stood there a little sadly, still hopefully with my fiddle under my arm. And to my amazement, the coloured servant came out and said, “Mr Kubelik will see you.” And in I went, and it was very exciting to meet him in the flesh. And the room was full of cages and cages of parrots. He collected parrots everywhere he went. And he said, “You will play for me.” And I looked at the parrots and thought, “So much competition, I don’t think I could play very well.” He said, “I will cover up the parrots,” and each one was carefully covered up. And then I played to him for about an hour all the works I knew, the inevitable Mendelssohn and the Bruch concerto, some unaccompanied Bach and various things. And he sat down and wrote a wonderful letter for me, to whomever it may concern that I should go abroad immediately and continue my studies with the greatest master, Professor Otakar Sevcik, his own professor, and leave no stone unturned, etc. etc. So I rushed home, didn’t wait for the 15 minute tram that was very infrequent and slow, but tore home across the parklands to find nobody in when I got there. But eventually father came, and I told him, and he said, “Oh, but you mustn’t get too excited, you know. There’s no possible means of you going to Europe. There’s nobody could send you, nobody could take you, and we can’t afford it.” Well, eventually mother came in and I told her and she said, “She SHALL go.” Father said, “How?” Mother said, “Well, don’t you know that Great Aunt Elizabeth left all her nieces a thousand pounds, and I know I’ve put it into government bonds, but I’m going to take them out and invest them in my daughter. She shall go abroad.” Father said, “You can’t do that.” Mother said, “I can and will, it’s my money, the only money I’ve got.”
So this money was taken out of government bonds, and my sister went with me and we left for Europe in December 1908. I left Australia, you know, in blazing heat, I think it was about 110 in the shade. But when we arrived in Prague it was deep snow and ice, which of course I’d never seen before.
Did you like Prague?
Oh, it was a beautiful city, it was fascinating. I’m glad I went there first of all and then I had to find out where Sevcik lived and try and play to him. And of course I immediately slipped on the ice and went down on my behind. However, nothing daunted, I got there, and I heard somebody playing gloriously and I thought, “No he’ll never take me.” So I went in and sat down and presently he came through the curtain of the adjoining room and said, “And what do you want?” Well, I looked at him, he was a little man, he only had one eye, the other had been supposed to be knocked out by a violin string that broke, but he would never tell us if it was true or not. He had a beard and he had little hands, and he could speak about twenty languages. So he obviously though I was British, because he spoke to me in English and said, “What do you want?” And I said, “I want lessons.” He said, “Where’ve you come from?” I said, “I’ve come from Australia.” He said, “Australia? Why do you want to study with me?” So I said, “You’re the only person in the world I want to study with.” And he said, “Well what will you do if I don’t take you?” I said, “I think I should take the next ship and go straight back to Australia.” Well, that tickled him, he thought that was very amusing. He said, “Well, you play”. So I played for him, and he said, “Tomorrow, you will come for lessons.” It was just as easy as that, and I thought it was going to be terribly difficult, And I said, “Oh, I have a letter of introduction from Kubelik.” He said, “Why didn’t you show me?” I said, “I was so excited meeting you I forgot everything else.”
How long were you in Prague?
Oh, not very long, because while I was studying there, Professor told me he’d been appointed Professor at the Meisterschule, the Master class of the world for violin playing, in Vienna. And he said I should come with him. I said well how could I get in the Master class. “Well,” he said, “you can try.” I said, “How many will you be allowed to have?” and he said, “Only ten. But I shall still take private pupils.” So I said, “Well how do I manage to do that.” He said, “Well, come to Vienna and work hard all the summer.” Well, we found very inexpensive digs, but the first night we had an invasion, my sister and I, and we were bitten to pieces by those dreadful things called bugs. Not the American type of bugs, the bed bugs of Europe. It was terrible. So we moved the next day and tried again. The same thing happened. And the third night was the night before my examination, and again the same thing happened. And then I had to play a concerto, I think it was the Saint-Saens I prepared, and some unaccompanied Bach, and various other small pieces, and before I’d finished, the board of examiners said, “We’ll accept you. On temperament alone,” but I didn’t dare tell ’em it was bug bites gave me that different temperament. I was simply mad with irritation from top to toe.
You must have heard many great artists in Vienna. Who were those who impressed you most?
Well, from the violin point of view, the four outstanding influences, shall I say, on my own emotions and thoughts on violin playing were four utterly different types of players and temperaments and people and personalities. Eugene Ysaye, the Belgian was dynamic and dramatic. He would stamp his foot, and he would give a leonine performance. Sometimes you only heard the bottom and the top note of a run, but it was thrilling and exciting, and his interpretation was always vivid and unforgettable, and he had the most exquisite pianissimo I think that I’ve ever heard. Then Kreisler – what a touch! He had these natural finger pads. They gave a quality to his playing that went straight to your heart, you didn’t stop to think, you only felt, every note that he played. Sometimes he would not be as good as others, but it didn’t matter, because this pure personality and tone and exquisite emotion came right through every time, it never failed. Then there was Mischa Elman. He had perhaps the biggest boldest and most thrilling tone of all, but he was too excitable to control it. He once played the Tchaikovsky Concerto, and at the end of one of his dramatic passages, the bow left his hand and flew out into the audience, which was picked up quite close to me and returned to him just in time for him to come in for the next part. Then there was Karl Flesch. He was quite different. He was very calm, some people thought he was cold. But his playing was silver pure, and I think his performance once of the Beethoven concerto, to me, was perfection, and I’ll never forget it till I die.
In 1911, Sevcik brought six of his best pupils to London. Each had to play in a Queen’s Hall concert, and give a recital. Daisy Kennedy was a great success, and after a brief return to Vienna she came to London to stay. All she had in the world was five pounds in cash her fiddle and a letter of recommendation from Sevcik.
Then came the exciting news, a letter from Sir Landon Ronald, offering me an appearance at his famous promenade concerts in Birmingham. And he asked me to play the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The fee he offered was 2 guineas. So I thought, well, now I can’t start at 2 guineas, I might never get any higher. So I wrote a letter and said I was delighted to appear with him and looked forward to it immensely, and was very proud that he had chosen me to play at his concerts without ever having heard me play at all. But Sevcik’s magic letter did the trick. But I did say I’d rather not accept the fee of 2 guineas, I’d prefer to come and play for nothing. He wrote back and said, “Don’t be a silly child. Come and play, and perhaps we’ll do something.” And when I did go and play, he was wonderful. He was the best accompanying conductor I have ever known in the world in any country at any time. Whatever you did, he was behind you, and had the most sensitive understanding of your tempos, of your tone, of your interpretation. And I was thrilled to play with him that night, and he was very excited about my performance. And in the artists’ room afterwards he said, “Now. We’re going to give you our maximum fee.” And of course I was simply excited, I couldn’t think what was coming. And he said “Instead of 2 guineas, we’re going to give you 5.” And those days of course, it was quite a lot, really, because, we used to travel to concerts and we got special rates in every city in England, we would get for 10 and 6 a jolly nice room, very good food, a bath and all pleasures and conveniences. Well, then I came back to London, and there was the engagement for Queen’s Hall, Promenade Concerts with Sir Henry Wood. And he offered me 3 guineas without every hearing me play. So I felt, well, looking up, but I didn’t get it doubled. And from then on I think I played for about ten years of Promenade concerts and then there were various recitals, there were dates up in the north and provincial concerts all over Great Britain.
Do you remember your first appearance at the Albert Hall?
Oh yes, I’ll never forget that. In those days, the artist room led from a, well through a corridor, up a steep flight of stairs, and you emerged onto the platform. And I had designed, and had made, what I thought was a charming pleated chiffon green dress. I’m not superstitious, though I like wearing green. And Sir Landon said, “Now, I will take you onto the platform, to introduce you to the Albert Hall.” Well I knew I had my fiddle and bow to carry, and this steep staircase to negotiate, and I thought “What will happen to my dress? I can’t hold it up if he holds my hand.” But Landon had a very commanding way with him, and up we went. But before I got to the top, I put my foot through the dress, and it tore away from the high waisted.. yoke, I think you’d call it. And yards and yards of green chiffon, pleated, was laying all over the platform. I stood in a sort of sea, and played the concerto which lasted I think about 40 minutes. I couldn’t move. And then he had to help me off.
You were one of the first musicians to broadcast, weren’t you?
Yes, I think it was in 1922, when I started to play again, I was invited to play at Marconi house, and also at Savoy Hill.
Was it considered a good thing for your reputation that you should broadcast?
Oh, no no. You see, I’ve got pioneer spirit in me, inherited from my parents and my grandparents, and I must do what is fresh and new, and I wanted to try this new medium. And everyone said, “But you can’t do it, it’s ruination. You’ll just ruin your career. You’ll never be able to play in public again. It’s a terrible thing!”
Well even Sir Landon Ronald, my very dear friend and mentor said, “You’re not wise to play, because you will never be able to play anywhere else. And you mustn’t do it.” And later on he had to change his tone, because of course he did appear, frequently, in concerts on the radio, and was quite… converted, shall we say.
Then of course the Promenade concerts were broadcast, weren’t they?
Later. But before that, there were… the first orchestral concert in London given in public and broadcast at the same time was at the Central Hall, Westminster. And I think I’ve told this story elsewhere too, I played Saint-Saens Concerto in an all-French programme, and Percy Pitt conducted that orchestra, and that was when he gave the downbeat for the opening of the tutti for the first violins, and his baton came whack down across my fingers, which were already on the violin waiting on the fingerboard to start playing.
Announcer: That was Daisy Kennedy talking to Irene Slade. The program was from a BBC Sound Archives Recording.
I was recently contacted by Daisy and Benno’s granddaughter, who prompted me to make the recordings available once more on this page, and kindly sent me the following picture of Daisy: