Sunday, January 29, 2012

Birds and bombs

Beatrice Harrison (1892-1965) was a British cellist who studied at the Royal College of Music in London and made her debut in the Bechstein Hall in Berlin. Beatrice was from a very musical family and had 3 sisters: May (a violinist), Monica, and Margaret (a pianist).

"The Harrisons were very much part of the London social life when they lived in Cornwall Gardens from 1901 to 1920. After their move to Foyle Riding in Oxted, Surrey, in 1922 their music room was visited by most leading musicians of the day. Their garden was the scene of many social charity garden parties, and received visitors from all over the world to see `The Garden of the Nightingales'. These included coach parties of all kinds of people from London who were always served tea by the sisters. None of the sisters ever married," writes David Candlin, Chairman, The Harrison Sisters' Trust.

Beatrice was important in musical circles for being the 1st to perform several important English works, but became popular among the public because of recordings of her cello-playing accompanied by the sound of nightingales that were broadcast in the early days of sound radio (listen to the 1st link here) from Beatrice's garden in Foyle Riding, Surrey.

Transmitted by the BBC. The broadcasts - with or without the cello music - became an annual event, even after Beatrice moved in 1936. To quote Retronaut, "On May 19th, 1942, as BBC engineers were recording the bird-song prior to transmission, a faint hum gradually became audible, slowly increasing in volume, as 197 bombers flew overhead on their way to raids in Mannheim. Realizing the security risk, the broadcast was halted. But not the recording…" (listen here).

Mannheim 197 aircraft - 105 Wellingtons, 31 Stirlings, 29 Halifaxes, 15 Hampdens, 13 Lancasters, 4 Manchesters. 11 aircraft - 4 Halifaxes, 4 Stirlings, 3 Wellingtons - lost. 155 aircraft reported hitting Mannheim but most of their bombing photographs showed forests or open country. A concentrated group of about 600 incendiaries in the harbour area on the Rhine burnt out 4 small industrial concerns. Only light damage was caused elsewhere. The only fatal casualties were 2 firemen. Minor Operations: 65 'freshmen' crews to St Nazaire but bombing results were poor, 9 aircraft minelaying off Lorient and near Heligoland, 13 aircraft on leaflet flights to France. 1 Wellington lost on the St Nazaire raid. Total effort for the night: 284 sorties, 12 aircraft (4.2 per cent) lost.~Campaign diary of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command for the night of May 19, 1942

Beatrice gave the 1st performance of Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto outside London in 1921 and it became the work with which she was most closely identified. Less than a year after she performed it with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1940, the old Queen's Hall in which they had played was destroyed by German bombing. In fact, during the performance itself - during which Beatrice's style was particularly animated - there was a rattle of gunfire outside and plaster fell inside the hall.

Reminders of war indoors and out...

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