Ghost Variations

By Jessica Duchen

The strangest detective story in the history of music

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


Let's continue the A-Z today with D-F. I was hoping to find a recording of Alexander Fachiri, Adila's husband, playing the cello - he was one of those frighteningly gifted people who not only had a fine career as lawyer, but was almost equally accomplished as a musician. However, nothing's come to light yet, so above there appears a recording by Adila and Jelly of a beautiful duet by Spohr, which I hope you'll love as much as I do.

D is for...The Depression. The curious incident of the glass game took place in 1933, in the middle of the so-called Great Depression, though I personally have always felt that "great" is an unfortunate misnomer for something that caused such horrific suffering to millions of people. One of Jelly's chief passions during these times was a series of charity concerts she put on to benefit the unemployed. In 1933 she toured to nine cathedrals, in each case performing recitals free to all comers, with a collection taken at the end, culminating at Westminster Abbey on 10 July. She encountered scenes of deprivation around Yorkshire and Durham that proved a profound shock; equally seismic was to experience the power that music has to bring something comforting, spiritual and meaningful into people's lives. This tour forms a crucial part of the book, setting the fascination of the "spirit messages" that demand her attention against her strong desire simply to bring music to the people. 

E is for...Baron Erik Palmstierna. The Swedish Minister to London (as the ambassador was then called) was an eminent politician and diplomat, a former Swedish MP of the Social Democrats, who first came to London as envoy in 1921. In 1924 he got to know WB and "George" Yeats and became great friends with them. As George and Jelly were very close, it seems most probable that it was through the Yeatses that he met the d'Arányis - most crucially, Adila - probably soon after this. It was the Baron's fascination with spiritual philosophy and "psychical research" that proved the lynchpin of the Schumann Violin Concerto story, because it was he who went to Berlin in August 1933 and physically discovered the manuscript in the Prussian State Library. And it was his telling of the Schumann glass-game story in his book Horizons of Immortality, published in September 1937, and articles written about it, which sparked the scandal that rebounded so viciously against Jelly. Erik resigned from his diplomatic post three months later. It's a long story, but ultimately he ended up living with Adila and Jelly in Italy and died in their house in 1959. 

F is for...Fachiri. Alexander Fachiri, known as Alec, was Adila's husband, a lawyer who was closely involved in work for the Foreign Office and the League of Nations. He was the author of a book on the Permanent Court of International Justice, published by OUP in 1932. Of Greek extraction, he was born in New York and became a naturalised British citizen in 1919. He and Adila married in 1915. He was a very keen amateur cellist and appears to have performed to professional levels. A quiet, calm, very lovely man from the sound of it, he adored animals (he had a pet bird for a long time which apparently used to fly around the house, but by the time our story starts it had been superseded by Caesar the dog) and seems to have been a valuable grounding figure for both his wife and for his sister-in-law, who lived with them. Tragically, he died of pneumonia in 1939, aged 50. He and Adila had one daughter, Adrienne.

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