by Anita Mercier, Ph. D.
Guilhermina Suggia (1885-1950) was one of the first women to make a professional career of playing the cello. A child prodigy, Suggia began to study the cello in her native Portugal at age 5, graduated from Leipzig Conservatory at age 18, and went on to become one of the most celebrated musicians of her era. Her artistry was ranked alongside that of Pablo Casals, who was her teacher, musical partner, and lover. England's prestigious Suggia Prize is one of her many legacies to the cello-playing world.
Suggia's story is not widely known, and much of what was written on her prior to the last decade is not fully credible. Suggia herself contributed to the mystery and misconceptions by deliberating obscuring parts of her history and destroying personal papers before her death. Most of the documents she left behind are stored in a municipal archive in Matosinhos, Portugal. Some papers are in private hands and in the Fundació Pau Casals in Barcelona. Two books on Suggia by Portugese author Fátima Pombo, one of which is published in a bilingual edition, are valuable sources based on the available documentation. Robert Baldock discusses the relationship between Suggia and Casals in his 1992 biography of the Spanish cellist. In Portugese there also exists a fictional biography by Mário Cláudio. From these sources it is possible to assemble a portrait of a singular virtuosa at work during a period of rapid transformation in women's musical history.1
Only one professional female cellist is known from the first half of the 19th century. Lisa Cristiani (or Christiani) had a short but brilliant career. Born in Paris in 1827, Cristiani made a sensational debut at the age of 18 and toured several cities in Germany. Mendelssohn dedicated his Song Without Words, Op. 109, to her. She died in Siberia in 1853 while attempting to recapitulate a tour of the remotest regions of the Russian Empire undertaken by Servais, leaving behind a 1700 Stradivarius now known as the Cristiani cello.3
By 1914 Van der Straeten was able to identify over 20 female cellists, among whom May Muckle, Beatrice Harrison and Suggia are the most well-known today.4 Most of the women listed by Van der Straeten were born in the 1870's and 1880's (Beatrice Harrison was born in 1892). They were the pathbreakers, the generation of pioneers who confronted decisively the notion that women couldn't or shouldn't play the cello. While they were assisted by a variety of sociological and educational factors, a technological innovation -- the widespread adoption of the endpin -- was a particularly important turning point in the history of female cellists.
Though the endpin was in use as early as the 17th century, it did not meet with universal approval until the late 19th century. The benefits of playing with an endpin were important for all cellists but particularly so for women, for whom it was a virtual necessity: feminine grace was saved in the more upright and relaxed posture permitted by the pin. The use of the endpin is probably the main cause of the sudden surge of women cellists in the late 1800's. The leading authority on the history of the endpin in fact suggests that it was the women who led the way to what became a standard practice: "As the number of women cellists increased, use of the endpin increased and recognition of its benefits must have grown as well."5
Even with the endpin, however, many women were taught to hold the cello in ways designed to avoid placing the instrument between their legs. A side-saddle position was popular, with both legs were turned to the left and the right leg either dropped on a concealed cushion or stool or crossed over the left leg. A frontal position with the right knee bent and behind the cello, rather than gripping its side, was also used. Feminine alternatives like these were still in use well into the twentieth century. Paul Tortelier's first teacher, Béatrice Bluhm, played side saddle, and a photograph exists of Beatrice Harrison playing in the modified frontal position.
Suggia was not alone when she decided to make a profession of playing the cello; she was one member of a group of female cellists who stepped through the window of opportunity that arose at the end of the nineteenth century. But among these pioneers she loomed large, arguably the most successful and influential of them all.
Augusto Jorge de Menim Suggia was a native of Lisbon of Spanish and Italian descent. A professional cellist, he served on the faculty of Lisbon Conservatory before taking a teaching job in Porto in the early 1880's. His wife Elisa was also Lisbonese. The first daughter of Augusto and Elisa, Virginia, was born three years before Guilhermina. Both children inherited their father's musical abilities. Virginia was a talented pianist and, like Guilhermina, had the benefit of careful musical training from a young age.
Augusto taught Guilhermina solfege before she could pronounce the letters of the alphabet properly. Cello lessons began when she was 5, at which point the family had moved to the neighboring town of Matosinhos. Augusto played the cello with an endpin, so it was natural that the ¾ size cello he ordered from Paris for Guilhermina also had one. He taught her to play in the straddle position: a picture of the cellist at age seven shows her sitting comfortably with the miniature cello between her knees. Virginia studied piano with a teacher named Thereza Amaral. The musical progress of the young sisters was so rapid that before long they began to give public performances at clubs and meeting halls where the local aristocracy gathered for social and cultural events. The first appearance of the "prodigiosas" was at the Matosinhos Club in 1892. Seven-year old Guilhermina was described in Porto's Jornal de Noticias as
Between 1892 and 1895 Guilhermina and Virginia gave several joint recitals and became celebrities of sorts in the local salon circuit. In reviews praise was invariably given to Augusto, the "father and distinguished artist," who would take to the stage for his share of applause at the end of concerts. The success of his daughters fed Augusto's filial pride and probably enhanced his cachet as a music teacher. A comparison with the hands-on father of another famous female prodigy, Clara Wieck Schumann, is called to mind. But unlike Frederick Wieck, who was tyrannical, possessive and rancorous, Augusto dedicated himself enthusiastically and sometimes at considerable self-expense to advancing his daughter's interests. At least until 1904, when Guilhermina began to tour regularly in Europe and probably became self-supporting, Augusto managed everything necessary for the launching of her career, from bookings and publicity to accompanying her to Leipzig Conservatory for a 16-month period of study with Julius Klengel. In Catholic Portugal Augusto Suggia had the vision to imagine futures for both of his daughters that far exceeded the traditional norms of feminine identity. The foundations for Guilhermina's development and ultimate success were laid by her father, who not only identified her abilities but also supported her ambitions with unstinting devotion.
Abundant opportunities for formative musical experiences in and around Porto also facilitated the young cellist's ascent. In the last decades of the century the city was home to an energetic and innovative community of classical musicians. The leader of this community was the violinist and conductor Bernardo Valentim Moreira de Sá (1853-1924). In the 1870's and 1880's Moreira de Sá helped found several organizations with the aim of introducing Porto audiences to music well-known in other parts of Europe but scarcely heard in Porto, or in Portugal for that matter. Through performances led by Moreira de Sá chamber works of composers such as Haydn, Boccherini, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Weber, Schubert and others become a familiar part of the Porto musical scene. The capstone of Moreira de Sá's efforts was the creation of the Orpheon Portuense in 1882. Though originally intended as a forum for choral works, the Orpheon Portuense eventually branched out to feature chamber music and symphonic repertoire. In its 30 years of existence the Orpheon Portuense presented the music not only of established masters, but also of new and contemporary composers such as Franck, d'Indy, Debussy, Dvorák, Saint-Saëns, Borodin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. In 1928 Ravel came to Porto at the invitation of the Orpheon for a concert devoted entirely to his works, to be heard for the first time in Portugal. A brochure published in 1913 celebrating the history of the Orpheon Portuense lists appearances by a number of the most popular musicians of the day, including Harold Bauer, Ferrucio Busoni, Alfred Cortot, Wanda Landowska, Artur Schnabel, Georges Enesco, Fritz Kreisler, Jacques Thibaud, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Felix Salmond.
In the 1890's, then, when Suggia's musical gift was beginning to ripen, Porto would have been buzzing with concerts, recitals, and news of exciting performers. As a local wunderkind Guilhermina would have been introduced to visiting artists in a position to dispense advice and encouragement. One such opportunity arose in 1898, when Pablo Casals appeared on the scene.
In the summer of 1898 Casals took a job playing nights in a septet in a casino in Espinho, a resort town about 16 kilometers south of Porto. He also gave solo recitals once a week that generated a great deal of attention in music-hungry Porto. At the time Guilhermina was 13 and Casals was 22. He immediately recognized her potential when Augusto brought her to play for him. She traveled by train from Porto to Espinho for weekly lessons with Casals until he returned to Barcelona at the end of the summer.
By the time she met Casals Guilhermina was already experienced at performing in more professional venues than social clubs and salons. She debuted at the Gil Vicente Theater at Porto's Crystal Palace in May of 1896, playing one piece accompanied by Virginia and Haydn's "Andante with Variations" with a string quartet. Following the success of this event she participated regularly in concerts presented by the Orpheon Portuense as a soloist, in chamber groups, and as first cellist in the Orpheon orchestra directed by Moreira de Sá. By 1901 she was a member of the Quarteto Moreira de Sá, joining the founder and Henrique Carneira on violin and Benjamin Gouveia on viola. In March of that year the quartet played at the Lisbon Conservatory and a few days later Guilhermina and Virginia were invited to give a recital at the salon of Michel'Angelo Lambertini, a Porto native and friend of Augusto.
The impression created by these performances led to an extraordinary opportunity: Guilhermina and Virginia were invited to play at the Palácio das Necessidades in Lisbon. King Carlos and Queen Amelia along with other members of the royal family attended the recital. A few weeks later the queen sent the sisters two gold bracelets hung with heart-shaped charms of rubies and diamonds and a note expressing her appreciation. Of greater consequence, from Guilhermina's standpoint at least, was a brief exchange that occurred after the concert. The queen asked the young cellist to say what she most desired, and Guilhermina responded without hesitation that she wanted to go abroad to continue her studies. The queen promised to help her realize her dream. Eight months later Guilhermina was on her way to Leipzig.
For the first 15 years of her life Porto had offered Suggia the kind of environment that any musician, male or female, would need in order to develop a promising talent. Familial support, first-class teaching, and exposure to the best music and musicians were the seeds of professional success. But all of this opportunity would have been of little consequence had not Guilhermina herself possessed the will to make use of it. Here a comparison with her sister Virginia is revealing. By all accounts Virginia's pianistic abilities were exceptional. In early appearances with Guilhermina she was not simply an accompanist, but a soloist featured in her own right. When Guilhermina completed her studies at Leipzig Conservatory the sisters toured Europe together and separately. While little is known about the specifics of Virginia's activities in these years, a few reviews from the French press leave no doubt that she was a highly respected musician. After one recital of Bach, Beethoven and Liszt Le Monde Musical observed that
Ultimately Virginia was more interested in settling down in domestic life than in pursuing a career. Declaring that "love is better than music," she married a Parisian editor and bookseller named Leon Pinchon and abandoned the stage.9 She contentedly kept house at 14 Quai de Bourbon in Brive-la-Gaillarde, following her sister's career with interest but little comprehension. "Guilhermina can't spend her whole life with a cello in her hand," she wrote in a letter to their mother.10 Guilhermina for her part might have been bemused when Virginia wrote her in rapture over a new household appliance: "My husband bought me a vacuum cleaner that I use all the time. It's amazing, I never imagined my house could be so dirty even though I clean all day! You must know about this apparatus, maybe you have one already. There's nothing better."11
With virtually identical backgrounds and opportunities Virginia and Guilhermina chose very different paths in life. Guilhermina had many lovers, but she deflected any commitments that might dilute her focus upon her career. She agreed to marry only at the age of 42, for overwhelmingly pragmatic reasons, and had no children. From an early age she was independent, unconventional, and clear about her aims. Her sense of artistic vocation was unwavering. As she once explained,
Suggia had three teachers: her father, Pablo Casals, and Julius Klengel. Each teacher influenced her musical development in distinct ways.
Of the two dominant schools of cello playing in the 19th century, the French and the German, Augusto was probably trained in the more austere German tradition. This can be surmised from the bow grip he taught Guilhermina and because when the question of where to send her for advanced study arose, inquiry was made no further than Germany. In early lessons with Guilhermina he probably was strict about technique. There are indications that from the beginning she had her own ideas about how to approach the cello: lessons with Augusto are described as tempestuous, with Guilhermina chafing against paternal authority and playing in ways that Augusto found exaggerated.13
At Espinho Casals undoubtedly taught Suggia the revolutionary technique that he called "Freedom with Order." While it is not known for sure what repertoire Suggia worked on with Casals at Espinho, it is reasonable to assume that he introduced her to the Bach Unaccompanied Suites. In 1920-21 Suggia published three pieces in the British journal Music and Letters that give an indication of what she deemed the most valuable aspects of Casals' teaching.14 Casals, she wrote,
Like Casals, who said that "the most perfect technique is that which is not realized at all,"16 Suggia emphasized that technique is a means of musical expression and not an end in itself. Of two types of bad cello playing – virtuosity without musicality and musicality with weak technique – she believed that the latter did less harm than the former. 17 She also credited Casals with stressing the technical and musical importance of the common scale (he "was convinced that if a cellist could play a scale perfectly he could play anything") and with insisting upon careful training of the ear. 18
In the British press of the 1920's and 1930's Suggia was frequently compared with Casals, but she was never viewed as a mere imitator. A distinct individuality in her style of playing was mentioned frequently in reviews.19 Suggia's work with Julius Klengel at Leipzig Conservatory in 1902-03 probably fortified her command of the tools and confidence she needed to develop her own voice.
Julius Klengel (1859-1933) came from a musical family. His grandfather played violin with the Gewandhaus Orchestra for fifty years without missing a single concert, a feat the grandson repeated as principal cellist of the same orchestra from 1881-1924. Klengel's father and siblings were musicians as well; together the family could muster a piano quintet. After studying with Ernst Hegar at the Leipzig Conservatory Klengel toured Europe as soloist and with chamber groups. He studied composition with Jadassohn and produced a great of cello music including etudes, concertos, capriccios, a Hymnus for 12 cellos, and chamber works. As a teacher Klengel mentored many famous students including Emanuel Feuermann, Edmund Kurtz, Alfred Wallenstein, Joseph Schuster, Jascha Bernstein, Mischa Schneider, Benar Heifetz, Henri Honneger, Stefan Auber, Paul Grummer, Gregor Piatigorsky and William Pleeth.20
Klengel's chief rival in Germany as teacher was Hugo Becker at the Berlin Hochschule, who had a completely different approach. Becker delved deep into physiology and anatomy in an effort to make a science of cello playing. He was considered by many, including Piatigorsky and Raya Garbousova, to be rigid and dictatorial. Klengel on the other hand was a relaxed and genial man who respected the individuality of his students. He intervened as little as possible, always allowed a student to play a piece to the end while he puffed on an ever-present cigar, and provided encouraging guidance where needed. Piatigorsky said that he "taught without teaching" and Pleeth observed, "he had no whims, no sophistication and never encouraged us to copy. We were all different." 21 While not overbearing, he took a personal interest in his students, dispensing advice and assistance as needed.
Pleeth said that Klengel had a "fantastic, Paganini-like technique." 22 But it was of the old school – by the turn of the century Klengel's technique was considered outdated in comparison with the new canons already established by Casals, which Suggia was exposed to years before going to Leipzig. Klengel knew and liked Casals and defended him against critics including Becker. If Suggia came to Leipzig playing with a technique influenced by Casals, Klengel probably supported her without being able to offer much help. Suggia did later say that before going to Leipzig she had developed an injury from overpracticing and that she was indebted to Klengel for helping her overcome bad habits leading to muscular strain. 23
Why was Guilhermina sent to Klengel? The decision was both auspicious and somewhat haphazard. There were famous cello teachers not only in Leipzig and Berlin but also in Paris and Brussels. Germany was probably the instinctive destination of choice for Augusto. Klengel was recommended to Augusto by his friend Oscar da Silva, a Porto pianist and composer who knew the Leipzig cellist. Casals too may have put in a word for Klengel. In any case Augusto's letters from Leipzig indicate that they set forth from Porto with very little idea of what to expect. It was a good if less than fully informed choice. Certainly Becker's authoritarian style would not have sat well with strong-minded Guilhermina.24 Her time with the more amicable Klengel was very fruitful, and later in life she would speak of her Leipzig teacher with the great respect and affection.
With Queen Amelia's help Suggia was awarded a government scholarship to study in Leipzig for three years. After a farewell concert in Porto at which Guilhermina played for the 50th and final time with the Quarteto Moreira de Sá, she and Augusto departed for Leipzig on November 15, 1901. Elisa and Virginia remained at home while Augusto and Guilhermina were in Leipzig. During this period all of the family's resources were dedicated to Guilhermina. The scholarship covered only her expenses. Augusto was not subsidized, and while in Leipzig he had no means of earning an income. It fell to Virginia not only to support herself and Elisa, but also to send supplemental funds to Leipzig. It was a total investment in Guilhermina's future. Letters from Augusto to his friend Lambertini give a sense of both the thrills and the hardships of the Leipzig period.
Within a few days of arriving Guilhermina played for both Klengel and Arthur Nikisch, the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. On December 1 Augusto wrote to Lambertini with news of how she was received.
Klengel too was deeply impressed by Guilhermina. Taken by the way she played one of his compositions at a lesson with little time for preparation, he dedicated his "Caprice en Forme de Chaconne" to her "with deep affection…in memory of your time of study in Leipzig." 26 At the end of the first term the authorities in Lisbon required a progress report from Klengel. In it he praised the dedication she brought to her studies and her intelligence and said that she had progressed with surprising swiftness. Declaring that "she is a cellist with the highest artistic merit, who has no reason to fear comparison with cellists of the masculine sex," Klengel predicted a stellar future for his pupil.27
Guilhermina's progress at Leipzig was so meteoric that she was there for less than half of the three years originally projected. Financial pressure may have been a spur. Already in January 1902 Augusto expressed anxiety in a letter to Lambertini: Virginia wanted to go to Lisbon to play in a concert but she could not afford to take a break from the piano lessons that provided for her father's upkeep. A year later he was in a state of near panic. It had been over six months since he had received any money from Lisbon and Virginia needed a new piano in order to continue teaching.
I haven't complained and I'm not now for fear that it might reflect badly on Guilhermina in Lisbon, and because I am so embarrassed. It shames me that Klengel, to whom I was forced to confess all, has not taken any money for his lessons for the past two months….
Virginia has already sent her sister 423000 R$ That's the price of a good piano. If you my dear friend can do us this favor [of buying a piano for Virginia], you will be helping one of the best creatures in the world, and Guilhermina will be happy to repay the loan in a little while. In any case it is guaranteed by Virginia's earnings.28
Guilhermina did not return to Porto for summer vacation at the end of the 1901-02 school year, remaining instead in Leipzig to continue her lessons. In October she received a formal invitation from the Gewandhaus to make her debut in February. Klengel organized a celebratory musicale featuring Guilhermina playing with members of the Gewandhaus orchestra, which gave her some useful practice in performing under intense scrutiny and also heightened anticipation for the debut. A Gewandhaus presentation entailed two separate concerts, one with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and another of chamber music. One February 26, 1903 Guilhermina played the Volkmann concerto with the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted my Nikisch. After the concerto she played a solo encore, and the maestro permitted an unusual breach of protocol: at the insistence of the audience she was recalled to the stage to repeat the entire piece. For the second concert she played a duet with Klengel. He gave her the part of the first cello. Suggia later recalled that the other professors at the Conservatory considered it unseemly for a student to be featured above a teacher in this way. But Klengel dismissed the criticism, saying "I am old, I'm beginning to decline. She is young and full of talent; she knows all of the secrets of the cello and is on her way up. She will go so high that no one will be able to reach her."29
Guilhermina Suggia was 18 years old. She was accredited by one of Europe's premiere conservatories and ready to make her way as a concert artist. Between 1903 and 1906 she journeyed regularly from Porto to perform in a dizzying succession of cities including Altenburg, Mannheim, Leipzig, Mainz, Dresden, Frankfurt, Bremen, Bayreuth, Coburg, Berlin, Freiburg, Hamburg, Stollberg, Leiden, Budapest, Brussels, Stockholm, and London. In Vienna she played some works of Sinigaglia with the composer. In Karlsbad David Popper signed her autograph book, "To the greatest of living cellists, Guilhermina Suggia, from your old friend David Popper." In Prague she met Dvorák's daughter, who told her that she interpreted her father's music exactly as he would have wished. And at some point in 1906 she landed in Paris and deepened her acquaintance with Pablo Casals.
Suggia's seven years with Casals in Paris constitute one of the most elusive yet defining periods of her life. When it was over they both tried to bury the story of their romance. Casals refused to speak of Suggia with his many interviewers and biographers, stating only that his time with her was "the most cruelly unhappy episode" of his life."30 When Suggia spoke or wrote of Casals it was solely in a professional, not personal connection. Some correspondence and papers were burned, others were lost in Paris during World War I. Yet impossible as it is to know many of the details, the general picture is clear enough. Suggia had a glamorous and comfortable life with Casals. But she also felt stifled: it was impossible to be the cellist and the woman she wanted to be while living in Casals' shadow. She precipitated their breakup for the sake of her emotional and professional independence.
Suggia and Casals probably crossed paths periodically after their initial encounter at Espinho in 1898. He visited Leipzig at Klengel's invitation while Suggia was there, and they may have been in contact during peripatetic concertizing in the years after Suggia left Leipzig. In 1905 Casals rented Villa Molitor, a 3-story house with garden in the Auteuil section of Paris. In 1906 Suggia was in Paris and probably had some lessons with Casals. By 1907 she was living at Villa Molitor, clearly as more than a student. In early 1908 she announced to friends in Porto that she intended to marry Casals that spring. There is no evidence that Casals and Suggia ever married -- records of neither marriage nor divorce have ever been discovered – but from 1908 onwards they pretended to be. On concert programs she was listed as "Guilhermina Suggia-Casals" or "Guilhermina Casals" and in correspondence with family and friends they referred to each other as husband and wife. Apparently they cared enough about appearances to maintain the fiction of marriage, but one or both of them – most likely Suggia -- lacked the resolve to actually go through with it.
Villa Molitor was their mutual home base from 1907 to 1913. Casals was accustomed to traveling frenetically and it was the first fixed residence of his adult life. While they were together Casals toured regularly in European destinations not more than a day's train ride away from Paris. Records of Suggia's concert schedule have been lost, but she certainly did not retire from the stage, as one source claims. 31 In addition to performing she may have done some teaching in Paris.32 If his schedule necessitated a separation for more than a few days then she would travel with him, as when she accompanied him on a trip to St. Petersburg in 1908, where they both performed.
With Casals Suggia was at the center of an international circle of friends and acquaintances that included many of the most famous musicians of the day. Casals' trio partners Cortot and Thibaud, pianists Harold Bauer, Ferruccio Busoni, Raoul Pugno and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, violist Pierre Monteux, and violinists Fritz Kreisler, Georges Enesco and Eugène Ysaÿe were among the regular visitors at Villa Molitor. At the home of Suggia and Casals they were able to unwind and make music together unencumbered by business pressures. "Just ourselves and the music!" Casals recalled. 34 In the summer months the couple and guests vacationed at the beachfront house in San Salvador, Spain, that Casals built in 1908, where swimming and tennis were favorite activities. Many photographs show the couple and various friends looking relaxed and full of youthful joie de vivre.
But there were tensions in the relationship from the beginning. In some ways it was a case of "opposites attract": Casals was somewhat straightlaced, formal, and absolutist in his judgements while Suggia was more casual and led by emotion. Their ultimate incompatibility, however, probably stemmed from a striking similarity: a deep-seated need to be in control. Both were very driven, uncompromising and ambitious individuals, and neither could accept being subordinate to anyone.
Casals was one of the towering public figures of the twentieth century. As Robert Baldock argues so persuasively, Casals was not only a great musician but also a great humanitarian. When Suggia lived with him he was not yet the famous man who defied Franco and brought the world to his door at Prades, but the qualities that saw him through future decades of extraordinary achievement were already present. His personal authority was immense and virtually irresistible. Throughout his life, in intimate and professional relationships, Casals was most deeply involved with people who were dependent upon him in some way, who accepted his leadership and decisions. And he was supported from birth to death by a succession of women whose selfless domestic attentions allowed him to remain focused on his musical and political activities.
Suggia was not cut out to play the supporting role. The fact that she was nine years younger than Casals, and originally his student, skewed the balance of power between them in a way that could only have been uncomfortable for a woman of Suggia's strong and independent temperament. Professional issues only added to the complications. Though Suggia could easily hold her own as a cellist, Casals' career was already well-established when hers was just taking off. Comparisons and a certain level of rivalry were inevitable, as when, for example, the composer Emmanuel Moór dedicated his double concerto for cello to both Suggia and Casals but assigned the part of first cello to her. Rumors that Casals was jealous of Suggia's success circulated; it was said that he hid her cellos in retaliation. Suggia was extroverted, attractive, and rebellious. Flirtation with other men was a weapon in her struggle for self-assertion. At times the ambience at Villa Molitor grew histrionic, and there were multiple separations and reconciliations.
Troubles in the relationship reached a climax in the late summer of 1912. In September the Scottish composer and pianist Donald Tovey arrived at San Salvador to deliver his new Sonata for Two Cellos, written for Casals and Suggia. Enrique Granados and his wife and Mieczyslaw were also houseguests. The details are cloudy, but somehow Tovey's presence precipitated a devastating confrontation. Casals exploded in a jealous rage probably caused by an amorous transgression between Tovey and Suggia. The vacation ended abruptly. Tovey retreated to London and Suggia left for Paris.
Horszowski had witnessed the entire fracas and in the immediate aftermath Suggia relied on him for emotional support. A desperate-sounding note written to Horszowski on the 7th of October indicates that Suggia did not return to Villa Molitor: "Dear Miecio, Can I speak to you? And where? I need to ask something very delicate of you and we have to be alone. If you want to meet at your house, I can come whenever you wish. It did me good to talk to you yesterday…I'm suffering horribly for everything and for everyone. Send word to me here at 79 Rue Chardon Lagache, quickly, because I'm thinking of leaving soon." But she signed the letter "Guilhermina Casals," as she would other correspondence until 1914. Casals meanwhile had cancelled a series of concerts he was to give with Tovey in Scotland but continued with the rest of a tour in other parts of Great Britain. His desolation is voiced in a poignant telegram delivered to Suggia at a Rue Hemelin address on New Year's Eve 1912: "Dear Guilhermina, I arrived yesterday very tired from traveling. I want you to know that I am longing for you and for your happiness. At midnight I will be quite alone and thinking of you with all my heart. Perhaps you will be thinking of me as well." 35
In 1913 there was a short-lived reconciliation: they performed the Moór double concerto in Paris in March, and cheerful letters from Suggia to Horszowski in April indicate that they were once again living together. But in July Casals left Villa Molitor for San Salvador by himself and Horszowski stopped addressing correspondence to "Monsieur et Madame Casals." After spending some time with her sister and brother-in-law in Brive-la-Gaillard Suggia moved to England in early 1914 and began a new chapter of her life.
The break-up strained relationships with all of the friends Suggia and Casals had in common. Allegiances were tested and Suggia was cut off from many of the connections formed during the Paris years, though she did maintain lifelong friendships with Horszowski and Tovey. Casals and Suggia never played together again. For her the end of their love affair was both dislocating and liberating. She had arrived in Paris at the age of 21, poised for adult life but still unsure of her footing and susceptible to the ambiguous mix of master teacher and lover that Casals embodied. Seven years later she was better equipped to take control of her future. Her Paris experience had taught her the costs of compromising her autonomy, and she never repeated the mistake.
It is not known why Suggia moved to England rather than elsewhere in 1914, who she knew there, or exactly how she went about rebuilding her life after leaving Paris and Casals. She initially visited England in 1905, when as part of the post-Leipzig touring she played a concert at London's Bechstein Hall. She also accompanied Casals on one of his tours in England in 1912 or 1913; while he had high-profile engagements, she played only at informal musical events. She probably made some acquaintances and professional contacts on this visit which were useful when she relocated, and Tovey may have provided some assistance. But she was far from famous in England. She was known chiefly as Casals' "wife," and a war was raging, which would have curtailed performance opportunities.
Astonishingly, within a decade Suggia was one of the most celebrated women in the country. She had her pick of prestigious bookings, was adored by critics and the general public, socialized with the rich and powerful, and had the means to maintain residences in both England and Portugal. As a mature women in her third decade she emerged as "La Suggia," concert artist and femme fatale.
Records of Suggia's personal and professional activities in the early London years are scanty. In the archives there are programs from concerts at Queen's Hall in 1915 and 1917 and from the Royal Theater of Dublin in 1919. There is also a handful of press clippings: a brief write-up in The Ladies' Field magazine in 1917 announcing an upcoming concert at Queen's Hall by "that most attractive of cellists, Mme. Guilhermina Suggia," and reviews of a few London performances between 1919 and 1922. The articles on cello playing published in Music and Letters in 1920 and 1921 signal that she was by then a familiar and respected performer. After 1922 there is a steady stream of programs and reviews documenting a busy concert schedule based in the United Kingdom, with tours in Portugal and Spain, to the eve of World War II.
It was in the late teens and early twenties that Suggia's huge reputation was established. The key ingredient of her success was supreme musicianship: over and over again in the press she is hailed as one of the two greatest cellists alive, the other being Casals. Another important factor was the sheer magnetism of her persona. She had the instincts of a diva and quite consciously cultivated a compelling image of glamour and magnificence. An article by Suggia published in Country Life magazine in 1921 on the Russian singer Fyodor Chaliapin is telling.
He does with the public what he does with his songs: he manipulates them and hypnotises them and, for the time being, everybody becomes his slave; and he knows it, and we forgive him for taking advantage of us, for what we get in exchange is something wonderful and worth living for. 36
Chaliapin epitomized Suggia's conception of a great artist: not only musically and technically beyond reproach, but intensely dramatic and conscious of his role before the public. It was the exactly the kind of artist Suggia was. Her appearance was an immense preoccupation; on stage and off she loved to dress grandly, and in letters to friends she often reported on the "success" of this or that gown. Her hair was always fashionably styled, and she wore make-up accentuating her large brown eyes. "To be on the stage is to communicate with the whole body and not only with the cello," she said. 37 An interesting if hyperbolic account of Suggia performing is worth quoting at length; behind the mixed metaphors it gives a good representation of the visual effect she had on receptive audiences.
It was a delight to see her, before each bout began, sit up alert, balance and adjust her bow as a fencer balances his foil, then settle herself with that huge tortoise between her knees, like a jockey sitting down to the ride: erect at first and watchful, till gradually, caught by the stream she created she swung with it, gently, sleepily, languidly, until the mood shifted, the stream grew a torrent and the group rocked and swayed almost to wreckage. Or again, she would be sitting forward, taking her mount by the head, curbing it, fretting it, with imperious staccato movements, mastering it completely – the letting it free to caracol easily, or once more break into full course, gathering itself in, extending itself, in a wild gallop. She was creating sound till you could see it: the music seemed to flow like running water, up her arms, over her neck; one felt that seated behind her one could see it coursing down her shoulders and her spine, with the whirls and eddies of a mountain river.
Only the face remained apart: in it was something different: the face with its closed eyes belonged to us who were played upon rather than to who played: it was the artist in the artist's other role, her own audience, listening to herself, experiencing first and more than all others the emotion which her art evoked. That rapt and passive countenance, that swift ordered disciplined activity of every fibre of her body – disciplined till all was instinctive as the motions of a flying bird – showed once for all the double nature, speaker and listener at once, actor and spectator, which must be the artist's.
And then at the end, with some long-drawn sighing fall, or with one abrupt vehement clang of sound, she would finish, would raise her bow high, in a gesture of dismissal, break the magic – and come to the top like a diver, a little breathless and smiling. 38
Needless to say, the virtuosa was never lonely. In 1919 she became engaged to a wealthy aristocrat named Edward Hudson. A director of the firm that published Country Life magazine, Hudson owned a home at fashionable Queen Anne's Gate in London and a romantic 16th-century castle on an island off the Northumberland coast. As an engagement gift Hudson presented Suggia with a 1717 Stradivarius cello. She kept the Strad when she broke off the engagement. Hudson was significantly older, which may have contributed to her reservations; and probably she was convinced that her career ambitions were incompatible with marriage. It is possible that the Queen Anne's Gate residence she maintained until her death was also acquired from Hudson. Another fringe benefit of association with the admiring publisher was a great deal of press: in the 1920's she was featured regularly in Country Life. When Hudson died in 1937 he bequeathed £250 to Suggia in appreciation of her "valued friendship and glorious music."
Suggia's image was iconized in a famous portrait by the English painter Augustus John (1878-1961). John was a flambouyant artiste known primarily for his renderings of famous writers and musicians. It was said that he became "eccentric" after receiving a head injury as a boy and that he camped with gypsies as a bohemian youth. In World War I he was the only officer in the Allied forces, apart from King George V, who was permitted to wear a beard. John was also famous for his drinking and womanizing. As an acquaintance put it, "He knew he was a genius and came to think it was his duty to people the world with others."39 Among his illegitimate offspring was the cellist Amaryllis Fleming.40
The painting of the portrait was begun in 1920 and took a total of three years to complete. During sittings in John's Chelsea studio Suggia sat facing a brightly-lit window and played Bach, which probably accounts for the dynamism of the pose. It shows Suggia sitting in voluminous red gown with a low-cut neckline and short sleeves. The cello, burnished with highlights from the window, sits on an assertive endpin. Suggia's right leg is extended beneath the instrument and an elegantly-shod foot peeks out beneath the gown. The cellist's bowing arm is fully extended in the act of playing and the fingers of the left hand look long and strong against the strings. Taut muscles are visible in her arms and neck. Suggia's head is turned to the right and tilted slightly back; her eyes are closed in an attitude of artistic transport. It is an arresting portrait, at once serious and sensual. John called it "La Suggia."
The exhibition of the portrait at the Alpine Club in March of 1923 was the sensation of the artistic season. In attendance were, among others, the Infanta Beatrice of Spain, the Spanish Ambassador, Mr. Asquith, Miss Lord George, and several earls, countesses, lords and ladies. Suggia held court in front of the portrait wearing a fur coat and a scarlet and gold hat. It was bought by William P. Clyde, Jr., the American owner of the Clyde Steamship Company, who flew in from Monte Carlo to make the £5,000 purchase. Clyde loaned it for exhibition in museums in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Michigan. In the meanwhile Suggia's English fans felt affronted at the loss of their "national treasure" to the Americans, and in 1925 the wealthy art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen succeeded in convincing Clyde to sell it to him for an undisclosed amount. Duveen donated the painting to the Tate Gallery. The English press reported on the virile competition to acquire the painting with a mixture of pride and glee. The Daily Mirror noted that "the history of 'La Suggia' reads like a romance," and it did indeed seem that the subject was being wooed in absentia.41
John's portrait presented a potent image of the artist that shaped indelibly the public's expectations. Many concert-goers saw the portrait or read fervid descriptions of it before they actually heard Suggia play. At a time when mass media was still in its infancy the painting accomplished for Suggia what flashy CD covers, concert posters and videos do for performing artists today. References to the painting followed her in reviews throughout the rest of her life; time and again she is described as the "subject of the famous portrait by Augustus John." In a way the portrait was a double-edged sword: if it boosted her visibility and popularity, it also predetermined ideas about how she was to play. As one reviewer floridly put it, "Is it possible that any player on the cello could live up to the romantic picture of her painted by Augustus John? That ecstasy of passion on the face, that feline grace of limb, that air of the violently exotic – how were these outward and visible signs to be expressed in the inward and invisible terms of music?" 42
The portrait is a piece of a complicated issue that ought to be considered when evaluating Suggia's achievements. It may be the case, as Baldock observes, that the portrait "dealt conclusively with the suggestion that the cello was not an elegant instrument for women."43 But in Suggia's time acceptance of female cellists was far from universal. In the 1930's the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonic, and the Hallé Orchestra were still all-male preserves. The more liberal BBC Orchestra employed some women but specifically banned female cellists from its ranks.44 Along with other instrumentalists of their gender, female cellists were forced to struggle for respect in segregated, second-class institutions like The British Women's Symphony Orchestra.45 Soloists like Suggia were still rare and prejudice against them was never far below the surface. Suggia's fellow cellist Emanuel Feuermann, for one, insisted that women lacked the physical strength to produce a big tone on the instrument. Intrigued by his playing, Suggia once invited him to tea. At his request she played on both of her cellos in turn, and both times he seized the instrument from her and tried to prove that he could produce twice as much sound. He dismissed her as a "drawing-room player."46 Beatrice Harrison, Suggia's contemporary and her only serious rival as a female cellist, suffered one of the crudest sexist put-downs in musical history from Sir Thomas Beecham. Unhappy with her work at a rehearsal, the maestro exclaimed: "Madam, you hold between your legs an instrument that could give pleasure to thousands, and all you do is sit there and scratch it."47
In an environment not unreservedly accepting of female cellists Suggia managed to win almost universal acclaim. It is tempting to say that she "transcended gender," something often said of women who secure footholds in male-dominated fields. But in Suggia's case at least, this would violate the reality of the gender-inflected discourse in which cultural pronouncements of her time were negotiated. Musically she was a strong, domineering presence. Van der Straeten observed that "not only is her technique remarkable, but her tone has a masculine force rarely heard in a woman cellist."48 She was capable of overwhelming her partners: a review of a performance of a Brahms sonata with Gerald Moore noted that "too often the cello, matched against the piano, suggested a skirmish between a dwarf and a giant"49 and another review of a performance with Luís Costa at Wigmore Hall said that the balance between piano and cello was lost "simply because of the gigantic personality of Suggia's playing."50 In many women of her era such assertiveness might have been a cause for serious disapproval from male critics. Yet Suggia's playing could also suggest a beguiling "femininity": her Bach was "essentially feminine in its slender grace"51 and her rhythm was "very subtle and feminine, illusive but never indistinct."52 She projected, in sum, an appealling androgyny.
A similar combination of "masculine" strength and "feminine" charm is suggested in the John portrait. Suggia's image was, in a sense, that of the classic temptress: in the press she was described as a siren, a sorceress, and even a mermaid (this in response to a "scaly" -- i.e. sequined? -- gown). Male listeners could explore the metaphorical seductions of her potent music without cost to their virility, and women could aspire to her unapologetic self-assertion without putting their femininity at risk. If Suggia were all style and no substance it would have been easy to dismiss her.54 But musically and temperamentally she had enormous power. In the eyes of the public she functioned as a rare object of desire who commanded real respect. This was not a strategy on Suggia's part; it was who she was. It worked in her favor professionally, and it helped soften the barriers of prejudice and condescension for future female cellists who followed in her wake.
Gerald Moore said of Suggia, "She persuaded you her playing was passionate and intense, but the reverse was the case: it was calculated, correct, and classical, and like her nature, equable. She was far from being the fiery prima donna she appeared." 55 Her showmanship never disfigured a rigorous musical foundation. Throughout her career Suggia was praised for her faultless technique, commanding bowing, supple phrasing, warm and sonorous tone, and sensitive interpretations.
Another noteworthy aspect of Suggia's ascent to fame was her deliberate obfuscation of ties to Casals. He avoided England during the war years, probably because Suggia was there. When he began to play in England again after 1920 Suggia regularly attended his concerts, apparently causing some discomfort. At a 1926 performance in Royal Albert Hall, Suggia sat in the front row as no seats were available further back. Nonplussed, perhaps, by Suggia's proximity, Casals developed a hand cramp and was forced to leave the stage.56 Suggia was in Paris in the summer of 1921 and attended one of Casals' master classes, her notes of which were published in Music and Letters. In "The Violoncello" she described Casals as "the greatest cello exponent of the present day"57 and explained the basic principles of his teaching without mentioning any personal or pedagogical ties between them. In some brief biographies in the press in the 1920's her Paris period is omitted altogether. A lengthy profile by the writer Lyle Watson makes this astonishing assertion, obviously at Suggia's prompting:
From one professional to another, Suggia was happy to give Casals his due. But she denied any influence that might indirectly credit him with a share in her achievements. It is an interesting stance which betrays the depths of the competitiveness Suggia felt toward Casals and the lengths to which she willing to go in order to assert her independence.
Their paths continued to cross occasionally. In 1931 Suggia substituted for Casals at a B.B.C. concert that he was forced to cancel because of a family emergency. "Thus Portugal stepped into the breach made by Spain," noted the Daily Dispatch.59 It was a fitting postcript to the relationship between two gigantic personalities.
In her youth in Porto Suggia played frequently in chamber groups. When she arrived at Leipzig Klengel expressed concerns about gaps in her repertoire, which probably meant that her experience with works featuring solo cello was underdeveloped. Interestingly, Klengel seems to have encouraged Suggia to learn a number of works that she subsequently dropped from her repertoire. Concert programs from 1903 to 1906 feature a number of composers who rarely if ever appeared on her programs again, including Volkmann, Davidov, Rubinstein, Godard, Rossini, Sitt, Liszt, Goldmark, Chopin, R. Strauss, Wagner, Svendsen, Piatti, Volbach, Chabrier, Herbert, and Klengel himself. For the Paris years (1907-1914) there is a lacuna in records of Suggia's concertizing. This must have been a period of experimentation and growth, however, because programs from the late teens and twenties announce a substantially changed and deepened repertoire.
In the 1920's Suggia was known for her interpretations of concertos by Haydn, Dvorák, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, and Schumann. She also played Bruch's "Kol Nidrei" and the "Symphonic Variations" of Boëllmann. Sonatas by Sammartini, Brahms, Beethoven, Locatelli, Franck, and Valentini appear regularly on her programs. Among the Bach unaccompanied suites Suggia was particularly famous for No. 1 (G major) and No. 3 (C major). Suggia never played Delius, for an obvious reason: Beatrice Harrison premiered both Delius' Cello Sonata and his Double Concerto, and his Cello Concerto was dedicated to her. Suggia also liked to perform a wide variety of smaller pieces by composers including Popper, Veracini, Fauré, Boccherini, Senaillé, Locatelli, Call Abaco, Bruch, Guerini, D'Andrieu, Schubert, Sinigaglia, Dvorák, Ravel, Glazunov, Gluck, Kreisler, Albéniz, Granados, Falla, Smetana, and Marie Thérèse von Paradis.60 In the 1930's Suggia added some major works to her concert offerings: the Elgar concerto and sonatas by Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn , and Franck. As late as 1947 she performed for the first time – or least for the first time in a long while – the Debussy sonata.61
Her sister Virginia was Suggia's most frequent accompanist before World War I. After moving to London she began to collaborate with the pianist George Reeves, who accompanied her regularly until World War II. In addition to concerts in the UK, Reeves traveled with Suggia on tours in Spain and Portugal in 1924 and 1925. In the 1930's Suggia played several concerts with Gerald Moore. Other more occasional accompanists of the inter-war period included Harold Craxton, Ella Iviney, Kathleen Long, Reginald Paul, Kathleen Markwell, Ivor Newton, Harold Bauer, Regina Cascais, Leonilda Moreira de Sá e Costa, Princesa J. de Broglie, Luís Costa, Reginald Paul, Harold Samuel, and Ernestina da Silva Monteiro.
With Donald Tovey, the proximate cause of her break with Casals, Suggia maintained a close musical friendship. After they performed Beethoven's D Major Cello Sonata in London in 1919 one reviewer observed that Tovey "is not so aloof from his audience as he used to be: Thursday he was beaming at them like a bachelor uncle at a roomful of nieces."62 In 1930 Tovey (now Sir Donald) engaged Suggia to play Beethoven and Brahms sonatas with him at a concert series he organized in Usher Hall, Edinburgh. The invitation was repeated two years later, and Suggia played one concert of Beethoven sonatas and another featuring the Dvorák and Haydn concertos with Tovey conducting the Reid Orchestra. In the course of discussing details of Suggia's impending trip to Edinburgh Tovey made a characteristically chivalrous request:
Their last concert together was on November 24, 1938, two years before Tovey's death.
In her long career Suggia shared the stage with several other celebrated musicians. In 1920 Ethel Smyth conducted the prelude to Act II of her opera "The Wreckers" after Suggia's rendition of the Schumann concerto at Queen's Hall. She collaborated with Artur Rubinstein at a recital in 1926 ("the warmest interest and admiration last night was reserved for Madame Suggia's playing"64) and again in 1934. A joint appearance with Wilhelm Backhaus in 1927 was described as "the perfect cooperation of genius."65 One of the highlights of Suggia's career was a performance before an audience of 10,000 at Albert Hall marking the Queen's 65th birthday on May 26, 1932. Other soloists included Frederick Schorr, John M'Cormack, Fritz Kreisler, and Elena Gerhardt. Sir Edward Elgar opened the program conducting "Pomp and Circumstance" and Sir Henry Wood, Sir Landon Ronald, and Adrian Boult also took turns at the podium. In 1938 Suggia joined Carl Orloff for a performance of the Rachmaninoff sonata, "the vivid beauty of which revealed the powers of the two artists more impressively than anything that had gone before."66
The only records of Suggia participating in chamber groups date to the time when she initially moved to England and was struggling to establish herself there. In 1914 she became part of a trio with the pianist Fanny Davies and the violinist Jelly d'Aranyi. They played two recitals together. Under the auspices of the Classical Concerts Society she also performed with the d'Aranyi sisters and with the violist Rebecca Clarke.67
Suggia worked with many distinguished conductors including Sir Hamilton Harty with the Hallé Orchestra; Sir Adrian Boult with the B.B.C. Orchestra, Sir Henry Wood with the Queen's Hall Orchestra, Pedro de Freitas Branco with Portugal's National Symphony, and Sir Malcolm Sargent with the Orquestra Sinfónica da Emissora Nacional and the LSO. Sargent once sent Suggia a gift along with a note that read, "With all my best love and kind thoughts. Please don't hurry to get up – Queens can wait upon Suggias. Your devoted Malcolm."68
In addition to the Stradivarius given to her by Edward Hudson, Suggia owned two cellos that she purchased herself. She concertized most frequently with the Strad and with a Montagnana made in Cremona c. 1700. She also possessed a Lockey Hill made in London at the end of the 18th century. Suggia was notoriously fussy about her cellos and refused to have flowers placed on the stage when she played for fear of what the humidity might do to the instruments. She never followed through on an invitation to tour the United States in the late 1920's, reportedly because she didn't want to subject her cello to possible damage during a transatlantic voyage.69 In her will Suggia bequeathed the Montagnana to the Porto Conservatory, which loans it to members of the Porto Symphony Orchestra. The Lisbon Conservatory received the Lockey Hill in remembrance of her father. The Stradivarius and two bows were willed to the Royal Academy of Music with the understanding that proceeds from their sale would be used to establish a scholarship for young cellists.
Suggia had little interest in making recordings. She only produced three: a 1924 recording of pieces by Senaillé and Popper; a 1928 recording of the Haydn concerto, the Sammartini sonata, the Bach Suite in C, Bruch's Kol Nidrei, and Fauré's Elegie with an unspecified orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli; and in 1946, a recording of the Lalo concerto with the LSO conducted by Pedro de Freitas Branco.
Given her success, by the early 1920's Suggia was able to establish a comfortable and independent lifestyle. Despite her happiness in London she missed her native Porto and was increasingly preoccupied with the responsibility of caring for her aging parents. The marriage of Augusto and Elisa was not smooth; they separated periodically and both relied on their youngest daughter for emotional and financial support. In 1924 Suggia purchased a house in Porto for the purpose of reuniting her parents and having a home base away from London.
On December 23, 1925 the cover of the English magazine The Tatler featured a photograph of Suggia wearing a white wedding gown and veil, a wedding ring, and a large crucifix around her neck. The caption reads "The world-famous 'cellist, photographed exclusively for The Tatler in her wedding dress, was married recently in Portugal to Dr. José Mena, who is head of the Pasteur Institute in that country." This is very curious, since Suggia and Mena did not actually marry until August 27, 1927! (And, contrary to the crucifix, they were not married in the Church.) The Tatler photograph looks suspiciously like a fake; the body shape is rather thicker than Suggia's and the crucifix hangs unnaturally. Additional photos from the same shoot printed in other publications look more authentic, however. At that point she had recently moved into the house on Rua Allegria and completed a tour in Spain. The previous spring she had written to a friend in Porto that she was recovering from a "small operation" but appreciated the rest -- life had been stressful lately.70 The exact circumstances of the faux marriage are a mystery. If Suggia did pretend to be married in 1925, it wouldn't be for the first time.
Dr. José Casimiro Carteado Mena was a wealthy and respected radiologist in Porto. He and Suggia met in 1923, when he became her mother's physician. He quickly became a close family friend, and his assiduous attention to Elisa's needs was very valuable to Suggia during her long absences abroad. The mother's letters are full of grateful references to "the saintly doctor." Suggia was 42 years old when they married and Carteado Mena was 51. Letters from her mother and sister indicate that it was a step she hesitated to make. Virginia tried to reassure her but added frankly, "If it's going to make you unhappy then it's best not to do it."71 In the end the benefits of marriage to a dependable helpmate outweighed Suggia's fears, and she set up a household with her husband in a house on Rua da Alegria near the one she had bought for Augusto and Elisa. It was a less than passionate union, but an amicable one that grew to real tenderness over the years. In the early 1930's Suggia explained the importance of her home life in Porto:
In Portugal Suggia was tremendously popular, although her "English eccentricities" were regarded with some skepticism (she collected expensive Persian rugs, doted on her dogs Sandy and Mona, and loved to play tennis, fish, sail, and row). In 1923 the Government of Portugal made her an official of the Order of Santiago da Espada, an honor rarely bestowed upon women, and in 1937 she was promoted to full commander of the Order. In 1938 she was awarded the Gold Medal of the City of Porto.
Through the 1930's until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 Suggia's schedule remained packed with concerts in the U.K. and Portugal. The outbreak of the war kept her at home in Porto for the better part of seven years. She suspended nearly all concertizing from 1939 through 1942, focusing instead on teaching and on volunteer efforts for British soldiers. The temporary retirement ended in 1943, when Sir Malcolm Sargent was engaged by the Círculo de Cultura Musical to do a series of concerts with Suggia and the Orquestra Sinfónica da Emissora Nacional in Lisbon. Her return to the stage in England in 1946 was something of a come-back. By then she was in her 60's, known to the younger generation of British concertgoers more by reputation than by direct experience. She had lost none of her magic, however. An appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in the summer of 1949 was a triumph:
She returned to England again in October of 1949 for an appearance at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens, which turned out to be her last performance in the U.K. Suggia's health had been fragile for some years and near the end of the 1940's she began to experience disquieting abdominal pains. Augusto, Elisa, Virginia and Jose Carteado Mena were all dead, and Suggia was feeling desolate: "I am alone, without a single relative in the world."74 In the spring of 1950 a long-anticipated tour in the United States, planned with the help of Sir Rudolph Bing at the Metropolitan Opera, had to be cancelled because of the cellist's declining health. Her last recital was in Aveiro, Portugal on May 31, 1950. In June surgery at the London Clinic disclosed inoperable cancer in Suggia's liver, gall bladder and appendix. The patient was cheered by the attention of many friends and greatly flattered to receive a note and flowers from the Queen of England. But she accepted the inevitable with equanimity. Suggia made the arrangements for a final voyage to Porto, where she died at home on the night of July 30.
At the end of her life Suggia's thoughts turned to a relationship buried deep in her past. It had been 37 years since she abandoned her life in Paris. Three months before she died, aware of her fragility, she wrote to Pablo Casals to request tickets to the Prades Festival in July commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Bach.
Casals did not respond to her letter.
The status of women in the classical music industry evolved enormously in the course of Suggia's lifetime. By 1950 professional female instrumentalists were no longer token exceptions: they played every instrument, worked alongside men in major symphony orchestras, and were celebrated soloists. Suggia contributed significantly to these changes as a concert artist and as a teacher.
Suggia enjoyed teaching. Her articles in Music and Letters display an informed grasp of the history of her art and strong opinions about the principles of good cello playing from both technical and musical standpoints. Her students described her as a demanding but attentive instructor who never looked at the clock when she taught but gave each pupil as much time as was needed. Only a handful of her students have been identified and the most prominent among them, Amaryllis Fleming, left behind an unflattering portrait. Despite her personal misgivings, Fleming's playing was compared favorably with Suggia's and she benefited professionally from association with her. Suggia also mentored a generation of young cellists in more informal ways. Raya Garbousava sought an audience with her. Zara Nelsova remembers her as an inspiring and generous advocate. On one of her trips to England after World War II Suggia heard about one of Nelsova's concerts. She had the young Canadian cellist to tea at the home of her friend Audrey Melville and invited her to play in Lisbon and Porto. Suggia died before the concerts were arranged, but Nelsova played at her memorial concert in London with Sargent and the LSO.76
Suggia dedicated a substantial portion of her estate to the support of young cellists. The Porto Conservatory awards the Guilhermina Suggia Prize annually to an outstanding cello student. The Suggia Trust, established with the £10,000 sterling that encompassed the cellist's wealth in Great Britain, is administered by the Arts Council of Great Britain. It awards scholarships to international cello students under the age of 21. The Stradivarius was sold by the London dealers W.E. Hill & Sons to Edmund Kurtz in 1951 for £8,000. Hill's declined to take a commission on the sale in order to maximize Suggia's bequest to the Royal Academy of Music. The Royal Academy's Suggia Prize supports the career development of gifted young cellists. The most famous recipient of the Suggia Prize is Jacqueline du Pré, who at the age of ten in 1955 was awarded a scholarship that paid for six years of lessons with William Pleeth. Additional funding from the Suggia Trust enabled du Pré take master classes with Casals at Zermatt, Switzerland in 1960 and to go to Paris in the fall of 1962 to study with Paul Tortelier.77
Suggia was a woman to be reckoned with. Passionate, self-confident and imperious, she commanded respect for herself and, by extension, for other women aspiring to careers as cellists. Milly Stanfield, who studied with Casals and became his English secretary, put it well in an obituary published in The Strad. In reviewing Suggia's achievements Stanfield focused in particular on the inspiration she provided to young female cellists coming of age in the early decades of the century.
1. The author is indebted to Prof. Pombo for her generosity and hospitality during a trip to Porto in July, 2001. Natalia de Campos assisted with Portugese translations for this article.
2. The Violoncello and its History (1889), trans. 1984.
3. Elizabeth Cowling, The Cello (New York: Scribner's, 1975), p. 180 and F. J. Fétis, Bibliographie Universelle des Musiciens et Bibliographie Générale de la Musique (Paris: Librarie de Firmin Diderot Frères, 1961), vol. II, p. 296.
4. Van der Straeten, History of the Violoncello, the Viol da Gamba, their Precursors and Collateral Instruments (London: William Reeves, 1914).
5. Russell A. Tilden, "The Development of the Cello Endpin," Imago musicae, iv (1987), p. 352.
6. Many English-language sources erroneously list the year of Suggia's birth as 1888.
7. Fátima Pombo, Guilhermina Suggia: A Sonata de Sempre (Matosinhos [Portugal]: Edições Afrontamento/Câmara Municipal de Matosinhos, 1996), p. 44.
8. Pombo, p. 136.
9. The date of the marriage is not known. Virginia and Pichon had no children.
10. Pombo, p. 136.
11. Pombo, p.137.
12. Pombo, p. 115.
13. Pombo, p. 43.
14. Two of the pieces are articles; the third consists of Suggia's notes from a master class given by Casals in Paris in the summer of 1921.
15. "The Violoncello," Music and Letters, Vol. I, No. 2 (April, 1920), p. 107.
16. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., Stanley Sadie, ed. London: Macmillan, 2001, p. 759.
17. "Violoncello Playing," Music and Letters Vol. II, No. 2 (April, 1921), p. 131.
18. "The Violoncello," p. 107.
19. For example, "It is possible to imagine another artist with Madame Suggia's technical equipment, but relatively commonplace through the lack of that indefinable quality which makes her art unique." The Scotsman, March 25, 1932.
20. Besides Suggia, one other female student of Klengel has been indentified: Agge Fritsche of Denmark. Van der Straeten, p. 636. It is unclear when Fritsche was in Leipzig.
21. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., Stanley Sadie, ed. London: Macmillan, 2001, p. 761.
22. Elizabeth Wilson, Jacqueline du Pré: Her Life, Her Music, Her Legend (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1998), p. 34.
23. Glasgow Evening Citizen, Nov. 23, 1936.
24. Suggia and Becker did eventually meet. In 1905 Becker inscribed her autograph book "To my most talented colleague, Guilhermina Suggia, in memory of your stay in Frankfurt." At this point she was no longer a student and Becker was relating to her as an independent professional.
25. Pombo, p. 59.
26. Pombo, p. 58.
27. Pombo p. 60.
28. Letter to Lambertini dated 1/26/03.
29. Pombo, p. 63.
30. Robert Baldock, Pablo Casals (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993), p. 72.
31. Bruce Bohle, ed., The International Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians, 11th ed. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1985), p. 2201.
32. Pombo speculates that Suggia may have given some lessons to Casals' students, including the Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassadò, when Casals was unavailable. P. 176.
33. Baldock, p. 87.
34. Baldock, p. 74.
35. Baldock, p. 99.
36. In addition to this article and the three articles in Music and Letters, Suggia published a piece on Cervantes' D. Quijote de La Mancha and an account of "sitting for John." Suggia did not attend school after the elementary years, but she was an avid reader and had a remarkable ability to master foreign languages. All of her published writings display a fluent command of idiomatic English and trenchant wit.
37. Pombo, p. 44.
38. Stephen Gwynn, "When Suggia Was Playing," Country Life Magazine, November 26, 1927.
39. Fergus Fleming, Amaryllis Fleming (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993), p. 117.
40. As a child Fleming was told that she was the adopted daughter of Eve Fleming, the beautiful and wealthy widow of a war hero and Member of Parliament. At the age of 24 Amaryllis discovered that Eve had had a surreptitious affair with John for several years and that she was the likely offspring of their liaison. While John readily admitted that he was her father, Eve continued to insist that Amaryllis was adopted. Amaryllis studied briefly with Suggia and was said to resemble her, musically and physically. It was rumored that she, not Eve, was Amaryllis' real mother. Fleming's nephew, however, dismisses this conjecture. Fleming, p. 116.
41. February 5, 1925.
42. Brighton Herald, December 8, 1934.
43. Baldock, op. cit., p. 71.
44. Ethyl Smith, Female Pipings in Eden (1933), in Carol Neuls-Bates, ed., Women in Music (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996), p. 285.
45. Interestingly, Suggia tried her hand at conducting the BWSO at least two times. In June 1924 a Times critic complained that "Miss Gwynne Kimpton, Mme. Suggia and, to some extent, Dame Ethel Smyth, all hindered rather than helped the orchestra by beating in unintelligible jerks." In August of the same year another reviewer commented more gallantly (but no less condescendingly) that Suggia "proved the most graceful exponent of stick-wagging of the female sex that I have yet seen." If Suggia had any real ambition to conduct she can't have been encouraged by these responses. It was over two decades before she attempted conducting again, this time leading an orchestra at the British Institute of Porto in a performance of Haydn's Toy Symphony.
46. Gerald Moore, Am I Too Loud? (New York: Macmillan, 1962), p. 97.
47. Elizabeth Wilson, p. 31.
48. p. 599.
49. Daily Telegraph, November 21, 1938.
50. Attribution uncertain.
51. Attribution uncertain.
52. Scottish Daily Mail, August 25, 1949.
53. Morning Post, November 4, 1927.
54. The potential benefits and perils of "feminine display" on the part of female classical musicians are discussed by Marjorie Green in Music, Gender, Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
55. Moore, p. 98.
56. Baldock, p. 100.
57. P. 107.
58. Date of publication uncertain, probably 1928.
59. March 26, 1931.
60. Perhaps intending to bolster the profile of a rare female composer, in a 1932 interview Suggia singled out the "Sicilienne" of Von Paradis for particular praise. She noted that Von Paradis (1759-1834) "composed an enormous quantity of music – symphonies, concertos, quartets, as well as smaller pieces – but almost all of it has been lost. I don't know why she isn't better known, but it is a shame because her music is among the most beautiful ever composed. "Sicilienne" was one of my father's favorites." Pombo, p. 146. It is now believed that "Sicilienne" was actually composed by its purported discoverer, Samuel Dushkin.
61. Excerpts from reviews of the most popular elements of Suggia's repertoire are grouped usefully by composer in Pombo, pp. 76-94.
62. Ladies' Field Magazine, November 15, 1919.
63. Letter dated March 13, 1932, from 39 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh.
64. Aberdeen Press and Journal, October 25, 1926.
65. Bristol Evening News, November 22, 1927.
66. Gloucestershire Echo, November 18, 1938.
67. Joseph Macleod, The Sisters d'Aranyi (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1969), p. 101; Susan Mina, "Rebecca Clarke: An Evaluation of Her Published and Unpublished Viola Works in the Context of Her Life as a Violist and Composer for the Viola," http://pubweb.nems.nwu.edu/~smina/clarkebio.html
68. Letter from 9 Albert Hall Mansions, London (date uncertain).
69. Suggia never played in North America. She was known there principally through the influence of the John portrait and occasional press coverage by critics visiting the U.K. A rare review in an American publication found the B.B.C. Orchestra uninspiring until Suggia joined it in the second half of the program to play the Saint-Saëns Concerto. "Personality enable Mme. Suggia to raise a lukewarm audience to that display of decorous applause the English call enthusiasm." Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 1930.
70. Letter dated May 25, 1925 from Queen Anne's Gate. It is interesting to note that Amaryllis Fleming was born on December 10, 1925.
71. Pombo, p. 138.
72. Pombo, p. 146.
73. Scottish Daily Mail, August 25, 1949.
74. Pombo, p. 188.
75. Baldock, p. 196.
76. Interview with Zara Nelsova, March 29, 2001.
77. Amaryllis Fleming said that she sat on the Suggia Prize jury for a few years but was dismissed when a clause was found in Suggia's will stating that "no woman cellist should be employed in the decision-making of awards from this gift." Fleming, p. 159. Hillary and Piers du Pré also mention this supposed clause in their biography of their sister. But it is inconceivable that Suggia would make a bequest on these terms, and indeed her will contains no such provision. The will is published in Pombo, pp. 192-96. A list of Suggia Prize recipients from 1952 to 1996 is also given on pp. 179-80.
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