Published in Hampshire Magazine Vol. 24 No. 10 August 1984
Recalling one of Hampshire’s best-loved musicians, who won great acclaim:
“The Kathleen Ferrier of the violin”
Although born at Goodmayes, Essex in 1904, Eda Kersey’s close connections with Hampshire make her “one of us.” Those connections continued throughout her life. She was always happy to return either as a musician or as a visitor. I never knew her personally, my recollections being through her gramophone records, hearing her in concert and a great admiration for the position she held as an artist in this country and overseas. The discovery regarding the connection with Edgar Mouncher, as mentioned in an earlier profile on him, makes for me an even greater pleasure to record her musical activities. My last reason is because she was a frequent visitor to my own house, for a decade or so before 1939.
Early in 1915 the family moved to Southsea, where her father took a position on the clerical staff of St. James Hospital. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as will be seen later. Prior to Southsea, Eda’s main teacher was Thomas Behan, ATC., of Ilford, Essex. At the age of four years she began to find her way about the piano, and on her sixth birthday a small violin was presented to her. She became so fascinated with it that the piano was forgotten, and from that time on, she devoted herself to the violin. At the tender age of eight years she was awarded an honours certificate at the Trinity College of Music. This was her third certificate in the compass of one year and indicates a capacity for hard work, even at that age. The particulars of those exams are: 14 December 1911, 83 marks; 12 July 1912, 90 Marks; and 11 December 1912, 94 marks. The steady progress here is a measure of her success in later years. Eda was ten and a half years of age when the move to Southsea came about. At this time Edgar Mouncher had started a studio in the area, and she became a pupil of his for an interim period.
It was while studying with Edgar Mouncher that she took part in a pupils’ concert at the Highfield Institute, Southampton, in which nine of his pupils participated. Eda’s playing of the movement of the violin concerto in D minor by Wieniawski caused quite a stir. The Hampshire Chronicle report states -
“Miss Eda Kersey, a little girl, not yet in her teens, created nothing short of a sensation by her electrifying performance.” This youthful violinist has already a technique, which is usually attained only after years of hard study, and great praise is undeniably due in this case to master and pupil alike.
Mr. Herbert Batho was the singer in this concert; he became organist and choirmaster of Eastleigh parish church and is remembered by many folk to this day. The proceeds went to the “Serbian relief fund.”
From the age of seven years or so Eda came to the conclusion in her own mind that the violin was to be her vocation, moreover still in her early teens this dedication had not wavered, but was consolidated when introduced to the great players of her period. “I heard Fritz Kreisler and have longed since then to become a great violinist.”
Although the family continued to reside in Hampshire for nineteen years in all, Eda from the age of thirteen lived with an Aunt and Uncle in London when she was able to resume studies with Margaret Holloway. This teacher had just returned hot foot from Russia having studied for two years with the greatest teacher of that period Leopold Ader. Eda’s working and mental capacity enabled her to extract the utmost from this fortunate meeting. This was her last formal teacher.
The blessing in disguise, mentioned earlier, was that her parental home was in close proximity to the Royal Marine Barracks, with the Royal Marine Band conductor R. P. O’Donnell in attendance, so to speak. To have access to an orchestra of that calibre at that time was indeed a very happy coincidence as it meant not only was she able to rehearse with them, but was able to give several concerts in Portsmouth Town Hall, accompanied by the orchestra. The first was on 19 March, 1922.
Prior to the first Portsmouth concert, she had already given her first London recital in the Aeolian Hall aged sixteen years.
By 1925 her career had really begun to take off. The first important engagement was a performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, broadcast from Bournemouth, followed swiftly by the Beethoven and Elgar Concertos. Eda was by now a frequent soloist playing from the London and Birmingham BBC Studios.
The engagements in the provinces meant that her diary was full to overflowing. The hazards facing the solo violinist knows no bounds as the following two incidents indicate. The first occurred during a concert broadcast by the BBC of the Mendelssohn Violin concerto. The conducto, who shall remain anonymous, tended to thrash the air with arms and baton, and on this occasion his baton neatly lifted the violin from Eda Kersey’s shoulder so that it slithered, not too gently down her side to the floor.
Secondly, a more sinister incident happened during the war, a flying bomb cut out immediately over the Albert Hall while Eda was playing a concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra. It exploded nearby, but the music went on. Next day the police closed the hall because of “severe structural damage”. This occurred in June l944. Quickly following this a cruel and ironic situation began to unfold. That which the bombs could not destroy cancer did, for Eda was to live only a few weeks after this experience.
Back to Happier days.
In April 1931, a tour of Holland was arranged during which all the major cities music centres where covered. An eminent Dutch critic was prompted to write, “She must come back again soon. Eda Kersey deserves a full house everywhere.” By now her repertoire included some 25 concertos in addition to sonatas and a host of small pieces - a remarkable achievement for a young woman not yet thirty years of age, who worked entirely on her own initiative with no formal training after the age of sixteen years, preferring to rely on hearing as many of the great players as possible, plus a great deal of hard work. Seven hours a day she said was sufficient.
It was during the 1930 Proms. that she made her debut in the Old Queens Hall under Sir Henry Wood, with a fine performance of the Beethoven Concerto, followed in 1931 with the Brahms and again in 1932 with the Bach A Minor concerto. By 1932 she had also joined forces with Gerald Moore, piano, and Cedric Sharpe, cello, to form “The Trio Players”; with the trio and as a soloist Eda played at the South Place Concerts and in many other London recital rooms. My own recollections of her playing at about this time was her rendering of the Brahms Concerto in the Winchester Guildhall, some very inspired playing which has left its mark on me to this day. As another member of that audience said to me only recently, she was my introduction to Brahms and opened up a completely new world for which I have always been grateful.
At the outbreak of the Second World War until her untimely death in 1944 Eda Kersey, like so many other artists, became part of the C.E.M.A. organisation, giving numerous concerts for the troops and workers. During her years she did fit in some advanced lessons given in a studio over Whitwams Winchester music shop, among her pupils was Edward Trigg, then leader of the Southampton Philharmonic Society Orchestra,
Other ties with Hampshire were considerable. A cousin, John Sealey, was for many years’ head of the string section at Winchester College and well known in Hampshire as a fine violinist and conductor. In December 1931, a concert in the Deanery, Winchester took place, the principal violins being Eda Kersey and John Sealey. It was a varied programme, in which Eda played violin solos and John together with Mrs. Alcock, viola and Sheridan Russell, cello, joined forces with Eda to play Schubert and Haydn Quartets.
My own house plays a part in Eda Kersey’s career. During the period between the two wars the property was in the hands of George Frederick Alcock, who, with apologies to Handel, was known to all as Fred. His elder brother was Sir Walter Alcock, the celebrated organist, who was for many years in charge of music at Salisbury Cathedral. Fred played oboe and cello and, was well connected in musical and literary circles. A puckish sense of humour made him an excellent host to the house parties he held for the many musicians who where among his friends. Two of these were, Albert Sammons, Britain’s foremost and finest violinist of his time and the young Eda.
No profile of Eda would be complete without reference to Sammons, Fred invited them both to one of his soirees where they met and became firm friends. I suspect Fred knew exactly what he was doing! Eda must have benefited tremendously from Albert Sammons’ influence. My own valued friendship with Albert Sammons bears this out, for he, by his very nature, belonged to that rare breed of artists who, with their kindness and encouragement, gave hope to we lesser mortals. His interest in modern makers was important in helping to establish violin making in England at that time. Sammons recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto is still a firm classic. In recent years it has been transferred from the old 78 records to 33. This is a work, which Eda Kersey played many times.
Eda’s venture into recording was mainly through that of solos of short duration; works by Brahms, Kreisler and Hubay come to mind. This was the usual procedure in those days. Negotiations were well advanced for her to record the major violin repertoire. These were brought to an abrupt end on account of the beginning of hostilities in 1939 and her sad and untimely death in 1944.
Her entry in the New Groves Dictionary records that she gave the first performance of the Arnold Bax concerto in 1943, and mentions her capacity for hard work. A fine interpreter of the classics, Kathleen Long being her principal duo partner, she gave first performance of the works of Ernest Moeran and Arthur Benjamin.
Eda’s first important violin was made by Nicolo Amati (c.1650); however, her main work was accomplished on a violin made by J.B. Vuillaume, one of the best makers of the French School. A year or so before her death an important instrument by Joseph Guarneri del Gesu came into her possession. This acquisition and her promise of recording contracts was in preparation for the final stage, to consolidate the international recognition already achieved. Alas, this was not to be. Emerging from the minds of musicians contemporary with Eda Kersey there are still many today who remember vividly different aspects of her own working technique. These range from the rock like control and variety of nuances contained in her bowing to the almost ‘electric’ effect of her trills. The security in double-stopping maintained by clarity in very fast passagework remain in the minds of those artists it has been my privilege to interview in recent time. To sum up, her performances had depth and substance rather than being of a facile nature, all of which endeared Eda to her audiences, whether on radio or in the concert hall.
Among us today are a number of very talented young string players: how many become endowed with the art of interpretation is another matter. There is no doubt that Eda Kersey was well prepared and poised to become one of an elite few, who can thrill us with a touch of magic.
As a musical friend of long standing expressed it, she was the Kathleen Ferrier of the violin. This comparison she would have enjoyed, one of her strongest beliefs being that intelligent string players should learn much from their fellow artists. This was the basis on which Eda’s work was founded; for instance, a violinist can absorb much about legato playing by simply listening to a gifted singer. Besides broadening the horizon, it strengthens ones ability to communicate. It also teaches us humility.
Eda gave so much time to the National Gallery lunchtime concerts that it is not possibly to be very specific, except to say that many recitals were presented from 1939 until a month before her death in l944. Always with her then was her principal duo partner Kathleen Long, joined when the music demanded by James Whitehead, cello.
In l947 the Eda Kersey Memorial Exhibition was established, the trustees being the Royal Academy of Music, designed to help each year a suitable young violinist, this continues to operate to the present time, a fitting tribute to the memory of Eda Kersey.
During the preparation of this homage to one of England’s leading musicians it became abundantly clear that the devotion of her sister, Rosalie, played an important role.
To Rosalie, I am indeed grateful for her recollections after a lapse of four decades.
By her interest and indefatigable industry, Eda Kersey contributed greatly to the art of music.
The epitaph on her memorial plaque in the Golders Green crematorium aptly sums up the part that all musicians play: ‘They will maintain the fabric of the world.’
It is particularly appropriate today.