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Thread: Beatrice Harrison

  1. #1
    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Default Beatrice Harrison

    Hearing Beatrice Harrison play for the first time was one of those moments of intensity that you never forget. I was in Elgar's birthplace cottage, standing by Elgar's gramophone, looking through the window into the garden - full of sunshine and flowers. And through the headphones I was wearing, Beatrice Harrison was playing a fragment of the Elgar cello concerto, recorded in 1928 with Elgar himself conducting. For a few minutes, the past slipped effortlessly into the present.

    So afterwards I bought the complete recording (there are several versions, transferred from 78s and digitally cleaned up to a degree that is quite incredible), realising that her performance had an authenticity that set it apart from all others, for she was regularly Elgar’s soloist of choice. Listening to her gave me a different perspective on Jacqueline du Pre’s famous rendering, which had been, until then, the definitive performance for me; but now I wasn’t so sure. I embarked on a Beatrice Harrison quest.

    I was thrilled to find that her sketches for an autobiography had been posthumously edited and published as The Cello and the Nightingales (see here:; and reading that, I found it impossible not to be drawn into her world - a world focused totally on the cello. It was there that I read about the nightingales. I guess most people reading this will know about them, but for anyone passing who doesn’t, here’s the tale.

    It was Beatrice’s habit to take her cello outside on fine summer evenings, to play in her garden. And one evening in 1924 a nightingale joined in with her – she listened, and was convinced that it was singing along with the cello ‘in thirds’. The nightingale became a regular visitor after that, and eventually she contacted the BBC, asking if they’d like to come and record this 'cello and nightingale' phenomenon. They were very resistant – no such outdoor wildlife radio broadcasts had ever been done before; but Beatrice persisted and eventually the BBC gave in and sent out a recording team. They set up the equipment in her garden and she began to play. For hours nothing happened, but then, suddenly, the nightingale was there, singing along with her cello - the first ever live wildlife radio broadcast. A million people across the world had tuned in to hear it. 50,000 of them wrote letters to her. After that, Beatrice Harrison and her nightingale became a regular weekly radio spot, and the broadcasts continued for twelve years.....

    You can hear some snippets from the nightingale duets, as well as Beatrice talking a bit about it, here (just click on 'listen to this item'):

    There's a great photo of her playing her cello to some doves, here:

    And apart from the famous Elgar cello concerto recording (see below), there are CDs available from the Harrison Sisters Trust, here:
    I have two of these - numbers 1 and 6 on the list. Don't expect the wonderful clarity of the remastered commercial releases of the cello concerto - these recordings come complete with 78rpm shellac surface noise. But if you want to invite one of the most charismatic cellists of the 20th century into your home, along with a few nightingales, these discs will bring her there. (She plays a cracking good reel, too).

    The Dutton release of the cello concerto (a snip, frankly, and I think this is probably the best of the remasterings I've heard), is here:
    and the Naxos release, which equally won't break the bank, is here:
    Last edited by Elgarian; Aug-04-2008 at 20:02.

  2. #2
    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    I must have missed this thread. Thank you for sharing your this piece of information, and your enthusiasm for the music and the musician.

    Sampling the Naxos CD as I type, and I think I will listen to the du Pre reocrding tomorrow (today, actually ).

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    Beautiful. I believe I knew Beatrice"s daughter personally her daughters name was Beatrice who died in 2001 and I have old articles of her opera performances and photos of elger and other old photos too. If I'm not mistaken she was the most loveable human whom I'll never forget.

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