C O L D W A R C U L T U R A L D I P L O M A C Y :
T H E R U S S I A N T R I P
Bliss invited six British musicians to join what The Times called 'a musical embassy':
Clarence Raybould, conductor
The choice was in fact strangely unrepresentative of the best of British music-making, and criticised as such in the UK press. Goossens, Campoli and Moore were well-established stars, and as the News Chronicle said of Vyvyan: 'this young soprano who gripped London audiences in Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw will dazzle the Russians in the Mozart she plans to sing them'. But Smith and Sellick were thought less exciting, despite their championship of new British music. And Clarence Raybould was clearly not a conductor of the stature of Barbirolli, Boult, Beecham or Sargent.
Vyvyan's first diary reference to her invitation, in March 1955, suggests that Britten and Pears were to be part of the delegation; but in the event, that didn't happen. And in fact the tour nearly didn't happen for Vyvyan herself, due to ill health.
It was the first serious indication of the bronchial/asthmatic condition what would trouble the rest of her life and eventually cause her early death. This initial attack forced her to cancel all engagements and retreat to a nursing home during the month before the Russian tour began.
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April 18 brought a chamber recital in the same hall featuring Goossens, Moore and Vyvyan – which Vyvyan's diary records as 'Altogether thrilling experience, although I only just got through'. April 19, the orchestral concert rehearsed two days earlier.
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On 21 April the musicians left immediately after an orchestral concert of Vaughan Williams, Walton and Bliss on the night train for Leningrad, Vyvyan sharing a sleeping compartment with an interpreter and two complete strangers. Also in the group was Vladimir 'a very large young man who is, I think, in charge of us' (letter from Vyvyan to her mother, 23 April).
That same letter describes the tour as 'going nicely for everyone – though if there is one star it is Campoli who is just not allowed to go home until he has given six encores and the lights are lowered'. It adds that 'there is just a little friction over the posters, where I am billed in large letters. Goossens is smaller and Gerald is weeny. It has annoyed them both quite a lot and I hope it may be possible to alter them in the next 2 towns'.
A Leningrad concert on 25 April included the first performance of Gordon Jacobs' Oboe Concerto ('the parts had luckily just arrived in time', recalled Bliss afterwards) and contributions from Vyvyan in which her diary says she 'sang very poorly despite feeling well. Got 4 calls – undeserved'.
On 27 April the delegates flew to Kiev via Minsk; and then, on 3 May, another flight to Kharkov where Vyvyan took part in an impromptu concert – filling in for Cyril Smith who, in the course of the tour, had suffered a stroke that paralysed his left arm. He never recovered and, as a result, spent the rest of his career playing specially written or adapted music for three hands with Phyllis Sellick.Flying back to Moscow for a farewell concert attended by Kruschev, the surviving members of the party changed their money at 7 roubles to the pound (a pernicious rate) and retraced the journey back to London via Helsinki and Copenhagen on April 8.
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R A D I O 4 D O C U M E N T A R Y O N
J E N N I F E R V Y V Y A N :
O P E N I N G T H E B O X E S,
O R I G I N A L L Y B R O A D C A S T
T U E S D A Y A U G U S T 1 8 T H,
1 1 . 3 0 P M
When JJennifer Vyvyan died in 1974 she left behind a husband, a small son and an awful lot of stuff – which was put in boxes and stored in a loft for almost 40 years until it was re-examined and turned into the material for this website.
Opening the Boxes is a reflection on how all this happened. Presented by the music critic Michael White, who did the research and wrote the site, it features contributions from conductor Steuart Bedford, stage director John Copley, soprano April Cantelo, and Jennifer Vyvyan‘s son Jonathan Crown. Listen to the documentary on iPlayer here (may be up for a limited time).