Friday, December 21, 2018

DAY 32: Jennie's Music

Margraves Opera House, Bayreuth

No photograph of Jennie Churchill seated at a piano survives, which is unfortunate, because she spent so much of her time there. She was regarded as possessing a near-professional level of talent, and was frequently tapped to perform at charity functions--most notably, the gala she organized on behalf of her mother-in-law, Duchess Fanny, in 1892. This was an extravaganza worthy of Jennie's father, Leonard Jerome, and the funds Jennie raised supported a public recreation center in Randolph Churchill's constituency, South Paddington. 

(Randolph, of course, was traveling for the year in South Africa, prospecting for gold, although he was still the Member of Parliament for South Paddington--a job he honored in the breach more than the observance. Duchess Fanny thought the charity concert would keep his political profile high in his absence. But she left the work to her daughter-in-law.)

Dame Nellie Melba
Because Jennie was involved, the Prince of Wales patronized the event and Princess Alix attended on his arm, presenting a bouquet of flowers to Duchess Fanny at the concert's close. Every amateur in Society wanted a chance to perform in the limelight--but Jennie had a higher caliber of artistry in mind. She drafted her personal friend, Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski (a sensation she had helped introduce to London that year, and a friend of Charles Kinsky) and the Australian soprano Nellie Melba, with whom she was also acquainted. When one of the performers was delayed, Jennie was forced to take the stage and spontaneously fill the gap--which caused a momentary fit of nerves, but came off fairly flawlessly.

Ignace Jan Paderewski, 1892

What music did Jennie love, in the hours she practiced alone throughout her life?

In her girlhood in France, she had studied for several years with a disciple of Chopin, and loved to interpret that master's music. She was also a devotee of Beethoven and Schumann--not surprising for her time and temperament. Romantic themes would always appeal to Jennie Jerome more than the Baroque precision of, say, Bach. But she was also an admirer of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, traveling to Bayreuth for its dedicated Festival; in London, she once entertained Wagner's son, Siegfried, at her dinner table among friends. When he asked which German composer each of the guests valued, most replied with the name of his father--but Jennie demurred. 
"Beethoven," she said. 
"My father would agree with you," Siegfried replied.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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