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Monday, 22 February 2021

In London long ago

... The tone of a violins is influenced by the varnish, making it an important element of the instrument ... one cloth should be used only for the strings and the fingerboard, which should be wiped well. If the strings are thick with rosin, their tone will suffer and produce noise. The fingerboard becomes dirty with sweat from the fingers ... The violin is so delicate it will creak and pop if exposed to the wind of an air conditioner ... stored in high humidity and temperature the top and bottom plate will swell, changing the thickness of the body, causing the sound post to collapse ... the body of the violin has many curves, so it's not safe to just place it somewhere without thought...

I have had few close encounters with real talent. In the 1960s, we had a young American violinist upstairs. I was a post-grad, aimless, in a big old place on the Earls Court-Kensington border a mile north of the Thames. I'd hear her practising through two floors. We'd nod in the hallway. One evening - before she was due to play at QE Hall on the South Bank the following week, I was giving a supper party with tables pulled together for about twelve ex-uni friends (when food was cheap). She knocked on my door.
"Come in come in, Elizabeth"
I knew her name. Lots of people did, and here was I looking as if she was an extra guest. Wow!
She said "Hi! I won't eat. I'll have a glass of wine. If that's OK?"
So she joined our happy conversation.
After about half-an-hour - can't remember - she said "Hold on" and dashed off.
Well that's that, I thought. A minute later she's back - with that violin. Wood like fine porcelain, looking as if held together by polish.
"Would you like me to play?" (No. Can't you see we're having a nice conversation?)
"Yes yes yes"
So she did. Standing just beside me. Except far off, from the stalls, I'd never seen a talent at work. When she hit the strings with her bow I swear bits and pieces flew off. She near looked to break the thing. I couldn't believe the volume she drew from it, fighting it, driving it like I've only seen in close-up shot on tele, but you know how with boxing even the close ups don't show the violence and the danger that excites some people. I saw. We saw and heard. So so beautiful. And she made it look easy. Heart stopping. I was weeping, shaking in a most un-English way - and do now - as I recount that 30 minutes of her generosity to me and my friends.

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Simon Baddeley