Helen Conway is the author of "Sir John Pritchard His Life in Music"
We are very grateful to her for allowing us to include the following extracts from her book relating to Sir John's early life before and after his attendance at Monoux.
September 1989. Seeing the conductor arrive, the concierge hurried over. 'Good morning Sir John. I saw you on television. The Last Night of the Proms was wonderful.' Elated, Sir John Pritchard CBE walked into Claridges smiling.
Recognition. At last! Recognition by the British public had always eluded him. In a career spanning nearly fifty years, he was respected and acclaimed abroad and deeply loved by the musicians with whom he worked but his name had never achieved the instant recognition in Britain that others, of arguably lesser ability, received. Fellow professionals are not starry-eyed individuals, yet many use the word 'genius' to describe Sir John Pritchard. This is the remarkable story of a boy who grew up in poverty in London and became an internationally respected artist. His parents had concentrated all their attention from his birth towards a total immersion in music. There was never any question that he would be anything other than a musician.
Early Pre-Monoux Days
Today it is customary for a person to boast of their humble origins but Sir John Pritchard felt a need to hide the past. Close friends of many years might spend wonderful hours of conversation with him over a glass of wine or a delightful meal. He was always charming and yet there was a limit beyond which they could not pass. When a journalist tried to probe into his family background, the questions were parried suavely with 'Ah, now you're delving into pre-history.' It was not only a question of personal vanity, wanting to hide his true age and that he had changed his name. There was a very good reason why nostalgia was not part of his personality. He had had a terrible relationship with his father.
Whilst he carried with him the letters he had written to his mother wherever he went, his father's diaries were found in a battered suitcase under the usual debris accumulated in a lifetime at the back of a garage. These diaries are a remarkable find, being the daily chronicle of a young man beginning in 1891, at the age of seventeen, until 1952. With their hopes and aspirations, they are a product of the Victorian era with all its prejudices and class-consciousness, its glories of Empire coupled with his own romantic attitude to life. Named after the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward Pritchard was born in Gravesend, returning there with his wife in the latter years of his life to die and be buried in a family grave surrounded by headstones belonging to the large family from which he came. One of the most beautiful passages in the diaries recounts his joy at walking along the Strand beside the sea and smelling the salty air once again.
The inhabitants of Gravesend, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary in close proximity to Tilbury, earned their living from that great port and its trade. The Doomsday book of 1086 records the existence of ferries between Essex and Kent across the Thames. In parish records of 1799 a Mr Pritchard, curate of nearby Prittlewell, together with several others, was drowned off Gravesend in a ship carrying too much sail. There are records of one Joseph Pritchard, also from Prittlewell, whose son Simon married Sarah and was father of the next Joseph Pritchard, a waterman. This Joseph Pritchard, John's grandfather whom he never knew, having finished his apprenticeship in 1852, left for the Australian gold fields, ferrying miners to the workings and was presented with a nugget from which two rings were made which are still in the possession of the Pritchard family. Becoming a Trinity House North Channel Pilot on his return to England, he lived at 24 East Terrace, Gravesend. His eldest son, also named Joseph, after being apprenticed to his father to become a River Thames pilot, went to sea instead.
His brother, John's father, although generally known as Ted, preferred the formality of Albert. He was apprenticed to a printer, work that he hated as he was incompatible with both authority and his workmates. At the same time he earned money playing the violin at local 'gigs' such as the Clarendon Hotel weekly dance and taught players in the Temperance String Baud. A completely self-taught musician, he had bought several instruments through mail order until finally finding his metier with the violin and viola. As the son living at home, he was deeply affected by his father's illness and death from thrombosis, heart disease and dropsy. When Joseph Pritchard died in December 1891, his seventeenyear-old son recorded in his diary that there were thirteen wreaths, that the River Pilots had sent 'a splendid everlasting wreath under a glass case' and that the Trinity Church bell had tolled all day.
Completing his apprenticeship, Albert decided to earn his living from music. Touring the country, taking whatever work was available playing at gigs and with the Rob Roy Company, an itinerant group of musicians in Scotland, he finally found regular work at the Royal County Theatre, Reading. There he met some 'nice' people who invited him 'to tea and a musical afternoon at 203 Caversham Road, Stanley Villas, with, amongst others, Miss Amy Shaylor, the daughter of the house', aged sixteen.
Albert became very friendly with her elder brother Stanley and invited Amy to come to the theatre where he was playing but she was always chaperoned by her mother. Considerably older than Amy, he recorded that he liked walking with her. Mr Shaylor's work, as a launch builder, then took him to London and the Shaylor family moved first to Ealing then later to Chiswick. It was on one of his frequent visits to them, in 1898, that Albert proposed to 'dear Amy'. Marrying five years later in Lowestoft on 29th April 1903, where he was playing in a small orchestra at the Marina Theatre on the pier, on 'the happiest day of my life' they must have looked a strange couple. Amy, young and petite, weighed only 8 stone 5 lbs and Albert Edward, over six foot tall, weighed 17 stone with size 13 boots and a 17 inch collar. With a very conventional gentle common sense, matter of fact 'a spade is a spade' manner, she was the opposite of her husband's highly eccentric, pompous, dictatorial but rather suave, oleaginous manner towards authority.
When their son Eddie was born the following February ('A son born to us'), Albert pronounced that he 'would be our pianist'. Unfortunately, Eddie was a born violinist but his father would have none of that - a pianist he was to be. It was the beginning of a disastrous relationship between father and son and the struggle between them exhausted Amy.
Friction did not only exist at home. Albert argued continually with the theatre managements where he played. He remained as forst violin in an orchestra of twelve at the devonshire Park Theatre in eastbourne for a year as he enjoyed playing for visiting companies such as the Moody Manners Opera Company in Il Trovatore. After several short-lived appointments, finally he was taken on as leader in an orchestra with two violins, cello and piano at King's Hall, Leyton for the 'animated pictures and variety' and after another disagreement with the management, went to the Scala Cinema, Leyton. The family rented a very small terraced house at 17 Cromwell Road in the working-class area in Walthamstow. Here in the living room with its heavy, dark furniture, in the days before television and radio, people would meet to make music and Albert would give lessons to young boys who, disliking his pedantic manner, never remained his pupils for more than a few weeks.
Already in his forties, he applied to be a batman in the First World War but was declared unfit for military service as he was beginning to be troubled by his heart and suffered from eczema and other nervous problems. Amy, after an operation for a tumour at Guy's Hospital, suffering from a thyroid problem and considerable nervous tension from the pressure at home, developed an emaciated look. In the last year of the war, with sugar rationed and long queues for meat and other fresh foods, Albert waited at the Labour Exchange hoping for part-time clerical work during the day. Amy, at the age of thirty-seven, gave birth to a boy, on 5th February 1918.
DIARY ENTRY: 4.OOam. Our second son born, to be named Stanley Frederick [John]. Eddie was mystified as to Amy's illness.
Unhappy with the constant friction between her husband and the fourteen-year-old Eddie, Amy focused her attention on Stanley and, like many a mother, considered her child to be the most beautiful, even entering him for a 'beautiful baby' competition, where he received an honourable mention.
As a little boy Stanley loved going to parties, particularly those in fancy dress. His favourite costume was that of a Red Indian with a feathered headdress. A bright child, he was accepted early at the Maynard Road Infant School. The girl who sat next to him remembers his first day there; a 'podge' who seemed to be 'bursting out of his clothes'.
Shortly after his younger son's fifth birthday, Albert, noticing that Stanley was 'listening Intently' to his violin playing during his regular weekly duets with a neighbour, announced that Stanley was to be the violinist of the family and started to give him his first lessons. John would often relate that he was not allowed to eat lunch until he had practised for half an hour as he would not have been so alert after his meal. Resentment towards the violin built up but in later years John had cause to be grateful for the knowledge gained.
Life at home was not easy for the young child. His father, unable to find work during the day, obsessed by his family medical history and suffering from the same obesity as his father, would walk and walk and walk, in a languid and heavy manner, throughout the day. Rigid in his routine, it was always the same walk, often stopping at a neighbour's house, sitting himself down in the kitchen where he would bore the housewives with his repetitive stories. Despite his limited lifestyle, he was very conceited and would have an irrelevant nickname for everybody. Having always had varicose veins he developed the theory that the worst thing he could do was to play the violin sitting down on a chair for hours with his knees up, that to do so would prove fatal, which led to continual arguments with the cinema management as he insisted on standing while he played. With age, becoming slightly deaf, intonation too became a problem. In his diaries, during courtship and the early days of their marriage, he referred to 'dear Amy', taking long walks together, proudly parading their infant son. Now their relationship was one in which they never seemed to be seen together except when helping at the Church. Even there, Amy avoided his company, preferring not to have direct confrontation with him over every petty matter.
The friction between Eddie, now twenty and his father centred on the young man's outright disobedience regarding girlfriends and the time he came home. Amy, who was seeing the doctor frequently, just could not cope. Finally Eddie left a note on the kitchen table about his 'sweetheart' and when he did not come home early enough, his father decreed, 'Amy - he is bolted out.' Eddie went to live with his Shaylor grandparents who had also rented a house on Cromwell Road. The effect of the arguments in the small house on the young, sensitive brother was quite traumatic but protected by his mother, Stanley learnt how to get his own way without direct confrontation. An uneasy truce between the father and eldest son brought Eddie home again, contributing £1 a week for board and lodging. Shortly afterwards on 3rd Otober 1932, Albert formally recorded in his diary: "Eddie married Winifred Ada Fawkes. The reception was held at the YMCA Hall in Upper islington with the honeymoon in Torquay." Afterwards in the family tradition, they celebrated with music at home. No one was happy with Eddie's choice of bride. Looking at photographs one sees his somewhat weak face smiling broadly next to a woman whose martinet approach to life makes one think that Eddie had 'jumped out of the frying pan into the fire'. It was a childless marriage.
Eddie's marriage now meant that the father concentrated his attention on the younger child. Despite frequent absences from school, the reaction to events at home, Stanley was first in his class, resulting in a double promotion and found himself sitting next to Percy Timberlake. Throughout their schooling their musical paths were intertwined. Timberlake remembers that the music teacher, Mr W Creuse, was talking about music not always being in unison, that sometimes there were parts to the whole. As an example he chose the two boys to sing the song 'Cherry Ripe'. Stanley took the alto and Percy the treble with great success, much to the teacher's delight.
At the same time, March 1926, Stanley Joined Miss Geary's Sunday music class. 'Old Mother Geary' had a brood of daughters, all of whom were music teachers and were involved, in a small way, with Stanley's music-making. Mary Geary went to the Orford Road Baptist Church and would have nothing to do with the Church of England; daughter Elizabeth was Church of England, attending St Stephen's, where she used one of the halls for teaching. Stanley scathingly referred to them as the 'Misses Jeery'. As piano teachers they were not of the same calibre as any of the other musicians who were to influence Stanley later.
Amy, whose instrument was the piano, divined that Stanley's approach to music was going to be with her own instrument. Unknown to Albert, she arranged for her eight-year-old son to go for lessons to the house at 114 Grove Road of Dorothy Parks, the best piano teacher in the area, depriving herself to provide for her son's musical education. The opportunity presented itself when her husband was in hospital for eleven weeks with complications after an operation in the summer of 1926.
John considered that joining the choir at St Stephen's Church in May 1927 was his most important early influence. As a chorister under Mr Charles Mayhew, Stanley sang in church for weddings and played the violin at concerts, winning a book as first prize for his violin playing. Sensing the child's keen interest, Mr Mayhew allowed him to play the organ and always included the young boy in the group he took carol singing, which Stanley enjoyed as he liked the feeling for ensemble. Albert noted proudly in November 1928 that Stanley "sang alto in quartet at service." Understanding the pleasure it gave her son, Amy, from a Wesleyan background, was confirmed in the spring into the Church of England by the Bishop of Barking and joined the Parish Council.
Albert always joined the throng watching the Lord Mayor's Show, every Royal Wedding and State Funeral and when a member of the Royal Family died, would edge the diary page in black. At half-term he took the family to the City of London to see the Guildhall and then St Paul's to climb the 368 stairs to the library and whispering gallery for sixpence. Amy took Stanley to Westminster Abbey to hear the choir and then, like any other parent, to Selfridges to see the Christmas displays. During the Christmas holidays she took him to hear oratorio in St Paul's and, at Easter, Handel's Messiah at Leyton Chapel.
The mother and younger son were drawing closer together with Stanley's piano playing as their bond. It could not be kept secret for much longer and suddenly Albert mentions it for the first time in his 1928 diary, when his son was playing in a piano and violin competition at Mathers Memorial Church, Brettenham Road, London E.17.
DIARY ENTRY: His programme: Piano - 'Humoreske' by Rowley. Violin - Miniature Sonata in D by Gurlitt (accompanist Mr Taverner). He received 29 marks out of 40 for the violin and 77 out of a 100 for the piano.
Except for competition marks and prizes Albert Pritchard never mentioned Stanley's piano playing in his diaries.
He was now playing piano solos at St Stephen's Church (such as the 1st movement of Schubert's Sonatina in G minor) and playing string trios at home with Percy Timberlake and his father. Totally in keeping with his unmoving, unsmiling manner, Albert treated these occasions in the front room of 17 Cromwell Road with great seriousness, as if they were professional musicians working together. He would start the session by saying, 'I'll take the tenor' and would announce in a formal, pompous manner what they were going to do. At every mistake he would stop, tap the stand and say, 'No gentlemen - it doesn't go.' Then, 'Back to the commencement, gentlemen, please.' In this somewhat comic situation the two boys would have a whole series of private jokes together, all directed against the old man.
Difficulties with his father were exacerbated by the latter's problem in finding work and lack of occupation. When 'talkies' arrived at the local cinema, Albert Pritchard became unemployed, never to find regular work as a musician again. Except for occasional jobs such as acting as a temporary postman at Christmas and addressing envelopes on a piecemeal basis, he was without any regular income. He wandered the streets, unable even to afford the thruppence for a hot bath at the Municipal Baths, his annual treat. He filled his days with twice weekly visits to the Labour Exchange and a journey every Tuesday to the Musicians' Union, followed by a walk along the Embankment, beside the Thames, listening to a military band. Returning home, he would regale the family with stories he had heard of events and personalities at concerts. One can imagine the young impressionable boy sitting in the kitchen listening to these tales, which had grown in the telling, much as the old man must have listened to the stories of his own seafaring father. Amy found occasional work helping with school dinners but they were dependent on the generosity of her family, friends and Eddie. The diaries for these years provide a tragic picture of the Depression. It was a great relief to them when, a decade later in 1939, Albert was able to draw his old age pension.
In 1928, ten-year-old Stanley sat for a junior County Scholarship for the Sir George Monoux Grammar School whose magnificent new building had been opened by the Lord Mayor of London in the previous year. It was a considerable achievement when he was accepted at the latter and followed Percy Timberlake who had gained a scholarship there a year earlier.
Stanley's arrival at the Monoux school in 1929 was the beginning of the second phase in his development. He joined the orchestra immediately, playing with them on Prize Day. Very much a member of what is termed the 'old school', the music master, Mr L C Belchambers, encouraged him. Having studied with Markham Lee at Trinity College, the master was fanatical about Mozart and Stanley received his introduction to the composer's work through him. The boys would joke that 'Old Man Belchambers had built his stool up to a height and it was all Mozart that he sat upon.'
Romantically, John recalled:
I think that almost my first vivid sense of pure Mozartian magic came when as a schoolboy I suddenly heard, during a French lesson, the clarinet theme of the trio of the 39th Symphony, wafted through open windows from a hall of the school, where a small visiting orchestra was playing to senior boys. The serene tune with its undulating accompaniment was, in a certain odd way, all the more wonderful for being heard on a summer day and at a distance, so that to my sorrow I have never recaptured the exact vibrations of that moment:_ but I feel that the sort of enchantment it produced is not inherently different from our maturer reactions to the marvels of Idomeneo. The difference is of degree and not of kind.
Curiously, the next steps in my Mozartian education were not through the symphonies and operas but by way of the piano works and string quartets - an approach which made infinitely clear a cardinal point, that an appearance of technical simplicity on paper cloaked difficulties which only a relentless aiming at perfection would solve. Thus I stumbled my way quite early towards the important principle that anything by Mozart is difficult to rehearse - a judgement I have never later seen reason to doubt, either in opera house or concert hall!
The following March there was a panic when Stanley cut the first finger of his right hand and was rushed to the Connaught Hospital by a master in his car. It was two months before he was able to practise after a confrontation with his father.
DIARY ENTRY: DISAGREED WITH SON STANLEY (NOT READY FOR VIOLIN STUDY).
As an alternative to the hated violin, Stanley compromised, adopting the viola, his father's second instrument. In order to keep his son working with a string instrument, Albert would invite Timberlake and Bert Kenney (cello) to join their ensemble at home when Stanley would always play the viola.
At his first class with the vicar for confirmation (January 1931), he took the prize at the Scripture Union, his father proudly noting that Stanley had made his first public speech. Continuing his studies with Dorothy Parks, Stanley was playing the piano at socials and concert parties which she organised at St Stephen's Church and at the Misses Geary's churches, pieces such as the 1st Movement to Schubert's Sonata in D and the Shepherd's Dance by German. A week after his disagreement with his father about playing the violin, he won the piano solo contest at the Leyton Eisteddford, taking the bronze medal for his playing in the other sections, adjudicated by Alec Rowley and in the following year in the same competition with the same adjudicator - Arthur Rowley.
20th January 1932
Stanley won first prizes for the following:
Accompanying at sight
Reading at Sight
Finally in February 1935 he won the gold medal for a piano solo and a prize for accompanying at sight. Shortly afterwards, he came third in a piano playing contest at St Brides Institute. Intellectually, as well as musically, that summer he was first in his form at school.
Mr Belchambers ran the school orchestra but Stanley and Percy Timberlake, together with six others, formed their own private orchestra adopting the grandiose title, 'Borough Juvenile Orchestra' because Walthamstow had just received its charter as a municipal borough. They went in for music festival competitions and won a cup at the Leyton Eisteddfod in 1932. This brought them to the notice of Reginald Adler, who was to be the most important influence musically on Stanley during his first twenty years. A fine musician and a good conductor, he was a marvellous teacher of string instruments.
Reg Adler took Stanley and Timberlake into the String Orchestra at the Modern College of Music on the Orford Road, Walthamstow. He encouraged the boys to go to his house on Sunday mornings which necessitated Stanley's resignation from the choir at St Stephen's. At the Adlers' home, with Bert Kenney and Ronald Jennings, they would play the quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Brahms. Working with Reg Adler, Stanley explored a remarkable range of repertoire. In later years when he conducted small orchestras, nearly all the pieces played had been studied under Adler. As a youth he would mock Hiawatha but appreciating its popularity with audiences, would programme it later.
The other important influence on Stanley at this stage was Raie Hinde, to whose house at 126 Grove Road, off Cromwell Road, he would go for quartets. Raie Hinde BA was a very competent pianist and her husband a baritone. Vera Kantrovitch, the violinist, who had been a student with her, remembered going to the house in Grove Road to play music in the evenings. She found a fourteen year old boy struggling to play the viola. "my friend friend whispered to me "Don't worry about that, wait till you hear him play the piano." Then we changed instruments and played a trio. He played the piano and it was a dream. We kept in touch through our friend who would tell me about his progress.' Stanley continued to visit Raie Hinde for sonata practice for several years after he left school, meeting Timberlake there after the latter went up to Oxford.
As neither Timberlake nor the Pritchards possessed a radio, Amy took the friends to Eddie's house in Chingford to hear the broadcast of a concert conducted by Sir Landon Ronald. It was the first occasion that Bliss' A Colour Symphony was performed and it was an event. On this occasion Timberlake realised that this work, which was entirely new and untempered so far as he was concerned, meant a great deal to Stanley, that he was very much into listening to that kind of music and that, by vocation, he would never be other than a musician.
During the school holidays the two boys would go early in the morning to reserve the wooden seats outside the Queen's Hall to queue for the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, not knowing until the day itself if they would have the money for the two shillings entry as well as the tuppence bus fare. Just as Timberlake had noticed the effect of Bliss' A Colour Symphony on Stanley there was no questioning his breathless excitement the first time he heard Sir Adrian Boult conduct. Amongst pianists he showed the highest regard for Solomon and Louis Kentner but it was Sir Adrian Boult whom he idolised.
During one of their sessions at Reg Adler's when the boys were talking about music and flicking through the pages of a score, Adler told Stanley to look at the score more closely. Stanley said that he had grasped it already. Reg corrected him, 'You mean you glanced at it.' 'No,' replied Stanley, 'I grasped it.' He had. It prompted Reg to comment, 'You should try conducting.' Whilst one of their group, Godfrey Bramhall, did become a professional conductor, the other boys did not believe this was possible for Stanley. His school friends had often sniggered at his physical appearance; his body was huge but his arms were small and he looked somewhat grotesque. Like his father, he had a heavy attitude - a languor - and was always pompous in his speech but to his peers he appeared to be comically so. As with any sensitive child, he was different from most boys, an oddity. Life at school was not easy but he never appeared shy or abashed, seeming to have a fund of self-assurance.
During Timberlake's vacation from Oxford, Stanley played trios at home with him, Godfrey Bramhall or Kenneth Paton, a violinist who later took up the bass. The old man took them with him to St Martin in the Fields for the Bach Mass in B minor, conducted by Dr Darke. Stanley and Paton became close friends, going on holiday together, not only to Littlestone-on-Sea in Kent but also to Jullouville Le Pins near St Malo in France. In later years, John would stress the importance of travel abroad at an early age, to assimilate as many different cultural experiences as possible and to develop one's artistic personality.
He was very nervous that Timberlake knew his true age and his family background, particularly that his father had never played in a large orchestra or with a well-known conductor. Later, whenever they met, knowing that the other knew the truth as opposed to seemingly autobiographical articles in journals such as the Radio Times, John would plead, 'You won't tell anything, will you?' Even though he looked upon his father as a joke, as a romantic John created an image which he presented to the world. He had himself inherited so many of his father's physical characteristics. Six foot six inches tall, with Eddie and his father likewise, the three would seem like giants as they walked together. In later years John was remarked upon for his apparent calm and ability to cope even under the most difficult conditions. He learnt to withdraw from harsh reality, presenting a facade which hid his own private world by immersing himself in music. That he was prone to stress from his vulnerability to the paternal as opposed to maternal influence, probably accounts for his future attitude to managements, transferring them into the ogre that was his father and at the same time retaining his father's working-class perception, 'them and us' or 'he and I' in another form.
The Pritchards were a large family and at every opportunity, as a means of protecting Stanley from the pressurc of his father, Amy would take her son to visit his elderly Aunt, Ada pritchard in Gravesend during the half term holidays, as it was she who assisted the family financially. Amy's brother Stanley and his family lived in Scotland. "The Scottish branch", as john would refer to them, would come to London every summer during the early thirties as the Pritchards could never afford to travel there. To his younger cousin, Eric Shaylor, the holidays were not necessarily a pleasant time. He had just started playing the piano and although only nine years old, whenever he visited Cromwell Road his uncle wanted him to play the piano constantly. Eric commented: 'I think that the dedication of his father must have helped to produce this marvellous artist. We just thought at the time that he was a slave-driver!' The house in Walthamstow was always filled with the sound of music which, in retrospect, he quite enjoys but at the time he hated. 'I think that the discipline that you have to have to be a musician of standing was from his father but the warmth of his personality was certainly from his mother.' Significantly, he added, 'I never saw his father smile.'
Whilst it was inevitable that Stanley would become a musician, at one time he considered becoming a writer. Fluency and the cnjoytnent of the play of words and sounds was remarked on early. Never receiving less than an 'A' for English, French and Music at school, his report at the age of twelve was the blueprint for his life: 'He has a distinct bent for linguistic and literary subjects. For his age, he writes an English of exceptional finish, has a wide vocabulary and excellent powers of definition. While these qualities should later stand him in good stead he must :It present try to improve his weak subjects. Somewhat inconstant III his devotion to mathematics.' In his Maths' reports there is a continual pattern of 'C' with a bad report, a subsequent carpeting from his father, followed by a 'B' then a slipping back to 'C' again. 'Conduct: Occasionally restless and talkative.' Matriculation with honours and three prizes at the final Speech Day were a tribute to his own ability, the devotion of his parents and an exceptional school. The choir at St Stephen's and now his school had refined his accent and given him a polish unobtainable from his background. He showed his gratitude to the Monoux when he arranged for a group of boys to visit Glyndebourne for rehearsals in June 1964.
With money needed at home, he could not continue his music atudics. In July, before leaving school, the search began for work. With two other boys he went to Hampton's Furniture Shop wher he was offered work at ten shillings a week. Dissatisfied, he tried elsewhere in the hope of a better job. Fortunately he was recommended by a Mr. Allen to the Prudential. After a holiday at his Aunt Ada's in Gravesend, Stanley started work in August (officially commencing in October) at the Prudential offices in Holborn, as a clerk (4th class) for £65 per annum. However, by December he was able to do overtime of one hour daily for eightpence extra. Although he was quite impractical, John kept lists for everything that needed attention; just one glance at his father's diaries reveals the source of this habit. It was this daily keeping of lists rather than mathematics which suited him to book-keeping. In addition, he would earn a shilling by tuning pianos in local church halls.
It was customary during the Depression for a number of seats - at concerts to be set aside for the unemployed for sixpence. Often, following a disagreement, Stanley gave his father the money needed to attend. Little did Albert realise that this was his son's way of deflecting attention, of 'buying him off.
Inheriting a propensity for bronchial problems, which had prevented him from doing gym during his last year at school, he was frequently absent froin work. Finally, after a bout of chicken-pox in May 1938, Stanley was admitted to the Connaught Hospital suffering from pleurisy and was hospitalised for a month before being ordered to the seaside for a three month convalescence. The local vicar of St Stephen's gave Amy 12s.6d for the hire of a taxi to Victoria and Eddie took his brother to the Surrey Convalescent Home at Seaford. Together with Eddie and Will, Amy visited him for a couple of weeks, staying in lodgings. She discovered Stanley was enjoying his time with the other twelve male patients, had put on weight and would be able to resume work in October. This illness was later given as the reason why he was not accepted by the army during the war.
When Italy invaded Abyssinia during the period leading up to the Second World War, there was heated debate amongst the British public as to the appropriate method of dealing with aggression. The Pritchard family attended several such discussions at their Church, as to whether 'pacifism should be the true attitude of a Christian'; an attitude that was alien to Albert's patriotism.
With the actual outbreak of war in September 1939, the Prudential moved their headquarters to Torquay but the section to which Stanley belonged was evacuated to Wakefidd in Yorkshire where hefound lodgings at 4 Westfield Grove. A month after his son had supposedly registered for the army, Albert was shocked to hear that Stanley had registered as a conscientious objector.
There was a tremendous row at home but the old man was mollified when the prodigal, returning home for the weekend, played a sonata with him, as well as visiting Raie Hinde for sonata practice. Peace was finally restored after Stanley had his medical examination for the army in Huddersfield in January 1940 and was graded '3', medically unfit for army service.
In September 1940, Amy was away visiting her brother Stanley in Glasgow. With frequent air-raid warnings, Eddie lent his father a camp bed so that he could spend his nights in their neighbour's shelter. Fortunately Albert was in the shelter when a bomb dropped in nearby Grove Road at 4.40am. With two holes in the roof of 17 Cromwell Road, ceilings were damaged, the front door destroyed and many window panes broken. With Eddie's help the house was made habitable again before Amy arrived home.
ln November, the lease of their home in Walthamstow came to an end. Notifying the Labour Exchange of a proposed change of address, they said their goodbyes to their friends at the church. With Eddie and Win seeing them off and the ex-mayor sending a cheque to pay their fares, they departed from Paddington Station for 6 Victoria Terrace, Brinscombe near Stroud in Gloucestershire where they looked after Amy's elderly aunt, Edith Pearce, who was able to assist them financially in return. Stanley visited them frequently at weekends.
Stanley hated the name Frederick and like many teenagers had toyed with various alternatives, rather fancying 'Davenport'. Stressing the importance of a person's name there was a time when, in deference to his mother, he wished to be known as Stanley Shaylor Pritchard. Eddie took the name Shaylor Pritchard. To the Prudential he remained Stanley Frederick Pritchard but from this period, dreaming of a career in music, he was generally known as Stanley John Pritchard, later dropping the Stanley. The opening page of his scrapbook is headed with a picture of a pilchard, cut from the wrapping of a tin of that wartimc food: 'John Pilchard the famous conductor!'
Continuing with his piano playing and on good terms with his fellow clerks, gravitating to the Wakefield Music Circle, it was the small beginning of his conducting career. The orchestra of twenty string players whose ability, like that of its conductor, was strictly limited, gave teir first concert in July 1941 in the Hall of the Wakefield Grammar School. In a programme of works by Purcell, J.S. Bach, Handel, Delius and an early Classic Suite arranged by Anthony Collins, John played a number of piano duos with Erica East in the second half of the concert. Again, at the same venue, he had the opportunity in December 1941 to conduct the choir of the Pontefract High School for girls in the Pastoral Symphony from Bach's Christmas Oratorio. The following year, at the Grammar School Carol Concert, he conducted the Old Savilians' String Orchestra, opening with the overture for John Blow's Venus and Adonis. The concert, in aid of the Red Cross, raised the then large sum of £10. His services in Wakefield required only for a short period, he was transferred in January 1942 to the Prudential offices in Derby.
In Derby John was appreciated both as a talented pianist (playing excerpts from Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in March 1943) and as an accompanist. In the Central Hall on 6th October 1943, in aid of the British Red Cross & St John's, Prisoners of War (Derby Branch) he accompanied Arthur Catterall, formerly leader of the BBC Orchestra, whose autograph he had sought as a young boy at the Proms. They played Dohnanyi's Sonata for violin and piano, opus 21 and Henry Eccles' Sonata in G minor for violin, cello and piano, with Olga Hegedus. In the second half he accompanied her again, in the Beethoven Sonata in A for cello and piano, opus 69. The recital was very poorly attended, as Derby audiences clearly preferred listening to a symphony orchestra.
The Derby Philharmonic Orchestra, of which seventy-five per cent of its sixty or seventy members were amateurs, owed its survival to Mr William Daltrey, who, determined to revive the orchestra, had collected together as many members as were available during the war. As well as coping with the organisation, he had conducted on two previous occasions, not very satisfactorily. A committee was formed 'to remove Mr Daltrey of some of the hard work' and an announcement appeared in the local press on 22nd November 1943: 'Mr John Pritchard, who until then has been principal viola and who is an experienced musician, was asked to become conductor for this season and he has accepted the office.'
.John's first concert with the reorganised Derby Philharmonic (Orchestra on 29th April in the Central Hall, was well attended. The Orchestra was full of enthusiasm, perhaps making up for their lack of proficiency in a programme including three movements from the Schumann Symphony No 1 in B flat ('The Spring'), Mozart's Magic Flute Overture, Sibelius' Finlandia and the Grand March from Tannhuuser, as well as arias sung by Noel Eadie from La Traviata and items by Purcell and Mozart. The soloist's success demanded two encores. John's father noted with amazement in his diary that his son had 'conducted an orchestra of sixty'.
During this 1944 - 45 season there were still restrictions on travel abroad and it was part of a musician's career to perform on behalf of charities, such as the Red Cross and War Disabled, in provincial cities like Derby. It gave John an opportunity which he would never have had in normal circumstances to work with artists of calibre. A concert on 14th October 1944 with Leon Goossens as soloist was remarkable for the wide range of programming. As his accompanist was unavailable, John left the rostrum accompanying him at sight, much to Goossens' satisfaction.
Whilst John was praised for his work, the Derby Philharmonic's standard of playing evoked much criticism. The surprising success of the evening, from John's point of view, had been Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite but the pivot of the programme was the Cesar Franck Symphony. It had attracted a painfully small audience. It would surprise today's listener that the Cesar Franck Symphony, a work which many would regard almost as 'pop' music, should be regarded as of 'too advanced a nature for the people of Derby who had not been given the opportunity of regularly attending orchestral concerts for some time'. Provoking considerable discussion in the local press, many readers believed that it was for the radio to introduce new music to the public but that in their midst they preferred listening to well-loved works, with an acoustic standard that could not be attained on either their radios or gramophones.
Replying to a long letter to the Derby Evening Telegraph on 25th October 1944, John expressed views on unfamiliar music that were to remain his philosophy for life. Commenting that he had a good deal of sympathy with correspondents who were a trifle uneasy lest familiarity with the works to be played should mar their appreciation of the concert, many people who heard the performance of the Cesar Franck Symphony in full for the first time had assured him that they found no difficulty in enjoying this beautiful work. He believed that those who mistrusted a programme including the 'Franck' but were thoroughly at home when listening to Beethoven's 7th Symphony, might be compared with people who, 'after many happy holidays at Llandudno, are unwilling to make the dangerous experiment of a long weekend at Colwyn Bay!' He recognised that whilst standard works of the concert repertoire had a legitimate claim on the main affection of music-lovers and programmes which did not take this into account were not fulfilling their proper function, he would be less than fair to whatever artistic conscience he possessed were he to exclude from the Philharmonic programmes beautiful pieces of music, merely because they were unfamiliar. He concluded: 'I am hopeful that what I have said may remove a possible impression among the musical public of Derby that the Philharmonic's conductor is "riding a hobbyhorse" in search of mere novelty for its own sake.'
However, it was the decision by the Music Club to devote its meeting of 21st July 1943 to a programme of music for a string orchestra that was to have more far-reaching consequences for John. The date had been chosen to enable rehearsals to take place during the summer months when blackout hours were shortest. In a letter of 5th April 1943, the honorary Secretary (later Chairman), Leslie Smart informed members that the 'duty of making the necessary arrangements had been delegated to Mr John Pritchard, who has had considerable experience, to conduct the first rehearsals.' In an Art Gallery concert on 2nd February 1944 with J Yates Greenhalgh (bass) and Eva Metzler (soprano), John introduced a new aspect into his music-making. Her programme with the newly named Derby String Orchestra included the Mozart arias 'Ay, ye who have duly learned' from The Marriage of Figaro, 'Hours of joy' from The Magic Flute and 'When a maiden takes your fancy' from Il Seraglio.
Several years older than John, Eva Metzler was an attractive dark-haired lady who had been a singer in Germany. She had had a difficult time coming to Britain, particularly as her mother continued to live in Berlin. Leslie Smart gave the young refugee a room in his house in exchange for assisting his wife Dorothy and a close friendship developed between the two women. Highly knowledgeable about opera and Wagner in particular, Eva had taught John a great deal since the time he first accompanied her at the piano in a concert given by the Derby Home Guard Military Band on 1st November 1942. The obvious rapport in their Art Gallery concet ws suh that it elicited a warm letter dated 13th February 1944 from Leslie Smart to John. Writing on behalf his committee, he expressed:
Congratulations and thanks for the very excellent programme of Music which the Derby String Orchestra offered to the Club on January 2nd. The evening was certainly the most successful in the history of the Club. It has already brought us many new members, and the attendance was a record.
My Committee feel that whilst many people contributed to the success of the evening, the chief credit lies with yourself. They feel that you possess great talents in this sphere and that when the time is ripe you should go a long way.
The players felt that they would like to continue working with John giving concerts on a regular basis in the Art Gallery. They even holidayed together and with Leslie Smart went to Crag House, Grasmere in the Lake District, where one evening John accompanied Vera Kantrovitch, Olga Hegedus and Eva Metzler in a concert. Olga Hegedus commented that even at that time John showed a natural authority and was able to get the best from an orchestra with minimum effort.
When Adila Fachiri, the vivacious Hungarian violinist, a great-niece of Joachim, appeared at Derby on 17th February 1945 for the Education Committee in the Art Gallery, Leslie Smart suggested John as her accompanist. Impressed by his accompaniment of Bloch's Baal Shem, having only seen the difficult score for the first time just before the concert, she asked him to accompany in a recital at the Wigmore Hall on 2nd May. His first appearance at the London venue was an exciting moment for John. 'The reaction to his ability as an accompanist by a soloist of international calibre was to be instrumental in his decision to become a professional musician.
The Derby Philharmonic often worked with the Derby Choral Union. At his first rehearsal with the choir, he told them to 'relax the voice, pay no attention to expression marks, aim at good tone and accuracy of notes' but at the second rehearsal, when they tackled the well-known opening chorus from Mendelssohn's Elijah, he took off his jacket, would not allow the singers to sit and worked paticularly on their expression. Favourably received, he commented: "The public public is entitled to hear its favourites and to good performances." Unfortunately the venue for the concerts, the LMS Institute, was unsatisfactory for such large works and for accomodating an audience.
The Decision to turn Professional
Peace and the Prudential decision to return to its headquarters in Holborn forced John to make a decision. With work as an accompanist, the increasing viability of the Derby String Orchestra, the Derby Philharmonic and now the Derby Choral Union, John realised that he should remain in Derby. He was fortunate that events had combined to take him away from the pressure of his parental background. Informing his mother on 8th July 1945 of his decision to become a professional musician, afraid that his father would not want him to leave a secure job, he wrote on the envelope in pencil, 'To be opened in secret'.
25 Bedford Street, Derby
My dear Mum
I think it would be wrong of me to let any more time go by without telling you of an intention which (perhaps you have guessed) has been in my mind for several months. To come quickly to the point. I think the time will arrive in two or three months for me to give up my work with the Prudential. Needless to say, I haven't reached such a decision without the most terrific thought, and a very deliberate weighing of ways and means.
Briefly, the position is this. As you know, I have been very lucky here in Derby to have such easy working conditions, under a sympathetic chief who has allowed me as much time off as I need for my musical activities. Well, now the time is fast approaching for the Pru. Divisional Centres to return to London and believe me, not only for myself but for all evacuees there is going to be a very difficult time in getting readjusted to the discipline and essential regimentation of Holborn Bars. If I go back to London (where, remember, I have no home to go to) I shall find it absolutely necessary to reduce very much, that which is the breath of life to me, my music. Moreover, I should find myself in the vast London arena, with no conducting appointments and lots of competition I expect for those which do arise.
By comparison, in Derby I have, I really think (without sounding conceited), created a very special position for myself which is quite unchallenged. The new Choral Union appointment carries with it excellent fees, the Derby Philharmonic has guaranteed me fifteen guineas a concert when I become a professional musician and so has the Derby String Orchestra. In addition my work as accompanist for the Municipal Concerts will be re-rated at probably five guineas a concert: it has been quite touching while I have been enquiring into the possibilities, to find how many eager friends are anxious to help me, keen as some of them put it, to help me get to a place 'right at the top of the profession.'
What I have in mind to do is this:
1. Spend a good part of my time in Derby to work with:
a) the Derby Choral Union
b) the Derby String Orchestra
c) the Derby Philharmonic
also a 'cracking' Orchestra for the Derbyshire Education Committee, also the Municipal Concerts, also all the 'odd' engagements which normally come my way as accompanist etc. during the season in Derby.
2. Go to London or any part of the country to accept engagements as Accompanist - in this I am assured of the support of Vera Kantrovitch who would like to work with me on a larger scale and also of Adila Fachiri who wishes me to play for her on every possible occasion. Also I expect to get work through Ibbs & Tillett, the London Concert Agents, whom I am seeing in London this coming Wednesday. You must remember too the large number of famous artists with whom I have played - almost without exception those people have assumed that I was a full-time musician and when they learned this was not so, have urged me to take up the profession without delay, as there are so few really good accompanists, though there are dozens of solo pianists.
Now I do not want you to worry about my future, dear - have faith in my determination and the talents which you have helped to give me. As you know, had it not been for our position at home I should have gone from the Monoux on to the Royal Academy or the Royal College of Music, there to train for the musical profession in the orthodox way. As it is, I do not at all regret the years spent with the Prudential: I have kept myself and made my way in the world. It has enabled me to have a fair amount of time for music, and has been the means of bringing me to Derby, the first town m which I have really made a first class name as a musician. The choice now is
a) whether to go back with the Prudential to London, giving up all my musical work here, keeping music as a hobby and concentrate on earning promotion in a job which now less and less appeals to me and which will eventually become a Government Department, or
b) to stay on in Derby, where I am happy in 'cheap' digs, where the cost of living is lower than in London and where I have great influence and literally scores of friends, here to, develop all my musical work and obtain a really big name in British Music, I hope. I would not make this monumental change in my life if I felt I had only a quite ordinary career as a 'competent' musician ahead of me. But I feel (and I am confirmed by all the opinions of those best qualified to speak) that I can, if I work properly, become a really first-rank conductor and meanwhile I have the useful second string to my bow, piano accompaniment. The more professionals I work with, the more I realise, quite without conceit, that by far the great majority of them have nothing that I too do not seem to have.
I have deliberately tried not to be too optimistic in my calculations, so that I am not building up false hopes but the more I think about it, the more sure I am that it is no good shivering on the brink but I must take the plunge now. A further consideration is that the Regional broadcasts of the BBC are starting up again and there will be a lot of work going there.
As a final guarantee, my friend Leslie Smart, who constantly urges me not to hesitate, has promised that he will not allow my income to drop below a certain level during the first two years of my career as a professional musician. So you need never picture me on the dole! I confidently anticipate getting sufficient well-paid engagements (apart altogether from my standing salaried orchestral engagements here) to increase my all-over income quite considerably.
Lastly, I should perhaps even now think twice about this matter if I were married or even intending marriage. As this is not so, as a single man I have not the least reason to be cowardly and always clinging to mere security at the expense of happiness in my true career. 'He who hesitates is lost.'
I know you will always understand perfectly how I feel and how excited I am at the prospect of giving all my time to the beloved art. I'll let you know how things progress! Let me know what you think.
Best love, Yours always John
P. S. The decision is really forced on me by the Choral Union appointment. With this added to my already full life, I should without doubt have had a nervous breakdown this winter!
Leaving the Prudential in September 1945, he had only reached clerk status in the third class (earning £275 pa) - hardly a meteoric rise.
His father noted in his diary:
1st October - Stanley enters the musical profession.
With many qualified people returning to 'civvy street,' Johm had been understandably nervous about leaving the security of a job. Leslie Smart, who made it financially possible for John to become a professional musician, was a very poor cellist. A timber merchant of 'old Midland stock', not attractive to look -it, very tall and with rather bad teeth, which did not worry him, he was an honest, outspoken man. Childless, he and his wife Dorothy treated John and Eva as family. An atheist, with Dorothy non-Conformist, he was rather disgusted, arguing fiercely with John when he determined to become a Roman Catholic in April 1947.
Totally unaware of his religious adherence, never having thought of him as a religious person in an outward sense, many of John's close friends were surprised when his funeral service took place in a Roman Catholic Church. Several reasons for his conversion have been given by those who knew him well, such as the cynical comment that the productions in a Catholic Church are 'very well rehearsed with outstanding sets and beautiful costumes'. During the years after the war there was certain social cachet in being Catholic and many young people embraced that faith. John wanted to 'belong', to be 'accepted'. Instrumental in his decision was the simple fact that he was happy in his mother's company as opposed to that of his father and it was she who took him to religious ceremonies in spectacular venues such as Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral. He had worshipped in Wakefield Cathedral, retaining a photograph of the interior amongst his papers. There are notes in his diaries as to times of services, and his attendance in the company of friends, particularly Marie King, a lady whose company he enjoyed.
The influence of St Stephen's Church was not only on his musical development. Winning first prize at the Scripture Union for his confirmation was paralleled by 'A's in the subject at the Sir George Monoux School. Religion helped to satisfy an emotional need. Above all, he needed the Confessional, needed the solace of confiding in someone, of expressing himself in truth, resolving the conflict between hid personality and his background.
In 1958 he had wanted to take part in a Catholic Pageant on 10th February at the Royal Albert Hall but as his career developed and he became accepted, his Catholicism changed from a means of public identity to a very deep personal conviction which surfaced when hw conducted religious music. He would sometimes slip away to a church on his own. Visiting the 'Tosca' church in Rome, there was a moment when he went away and prayed quietly. On holiday in Italy, attending an audience with the Pope, the presence and the atmosphere affected him profoundly. His depth of feeling evinced itself, not just with tolerance but in the respect he showed to others, of whatever religion, thoughtfully endeavouring to assist them in their practice. To them he could confide his feelings.
At this stage in his career, having made the decision to become a professional musician, John had doubts as to his capability to succeed. Although he had not had a formal training in the music colleges, away from the metropolis he was mixing with organisers of concerts who accepted his musicianship. In his nervousness over a proposed appointment at Uttoxeter, a well-known, established Choral Society, he lied. Interviewed prior to a performance of Messiah in the Town Hall, Uttoxeter on 7th December 1945, he began by claiming that his father was a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra. He probably chose this orchestra because the father of one of John's friends played the trombone in that orchestra and occasionally gave John and his father free tickets for their concerts. He then proceeded to assert that he had studied under Tobias Matthay, the well-known professor of piano and Dr Markham Lee, both statements being completely untrue. (Mr Belchambers of the Monoux School had been Markham Lee's pupil.) He then asserted that he 'entered the Royal College of Music in 1934 where I studied the piano, viola and conducting. In 1936 I was appointed conductor of the Chingford (London) Choral Society.' (John had played the piano at a Chingford Choral Concert in December 1934.) However, the article finished with 'Mr Pritchard possesses a brilliant technique both as a conductor and pianist. We are of the opinion that John Pritchard is a young man of whom we shall hear more.'
Absolutely delighted by the performance he gave of Messiah, the County Music Organiser considered that the balance of the Choir was 'the best that he had ever heard in the whole of his experience. A very impressive debut.'
Whilst the importance of the Uttoxeter appointment was in the distant future, it was an engagement in Derby by the young violinist, Yfrah Neaman that opened a whole new vista for him.