Ghost Variations

By Jessica Duchen

The strangest detective story in the history of music

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


Dear friends,

This is the first part of an ongoing series about who's who and what's what in Ghost Variations. I thought it might be a fun way to whet your appetites! Our A-Z will appear in chunks of three or four at a time, with listening and/or viewing material whenever I can find it. And how better to begin than with...

A is for....ADILA.
Our heroine Jelly's closest ally, her much-loved sister, seven years her senior. Adila Fachiri was a celebrated violinist as well and was one of the last pupils of the sisters' great-uncle, the legendary Hungarian violinist and composer Joseph Joachim. This gave her a different playing style from Jelly's; she has been described as a rather "masculine" violinist with a strong bow arm and rigorous approach, and she was sought after as both performer and teacher. In 1915 she married Alexandre Fachiri (known as Alec), a Greek-American lawyer who was much involved with work for the Foreign Office and the League of Nations. They settled in Chelsea and in 1926 had their only daughter, Adrienne. Unusually for the day, Adila did not give up her career after marriage and motherhood. Meanwhile her close friend, Baron Erik Palmstierna, discovered that she possessed a peculiar capability as a psychic "medium"; he wrote two books based on the "spirit messages" that he credits her with channelling. Adila was a larger-than-life character with by all accounts a deep, forceful, strongly accented voice, a passion for cooking and a name for holding fabulous parties. To bake a cake, she said, "first you desecrate the coconut..."

The recording on the attached video is of Adila with pianist Ethel Hobday playing a movement of the d'Arányis' former teacher Jenö Hubay's Scena de la Csarda. I hope you'll enjoy her charismatic, charcterful playing as much as I do. The picture shows Jelly (left) and Adila (right), flanking their friend Bartók.

B is for... BARTÓK. In their home city of Budapest, the d'Arányi sisters got to know Bela Bartók when they were young girls and he was a jobbing musician and aspiring composer. He gave piano lessons to Jelly and Adila's middle sister, Hortense (Titi for short), and became so fond of them all that, the story goes, he went to the d'Arányi house almost every day for five years. This story does, however, appear in a d'Arányis biography that is somewhat prone to exaggeration! He appears to have been enamoured of Adila first and Jelly later; neither reciprocated and indeed they claimed to find his lack of a sense of humour rather tiresome - "How we hated him!" Adila would remark, with her own naughty sense of humour. In fact, they didn't hate him. They were quite fond of him. And they - Jelly particularly - were instrumental in bringing him to London. He wrote both his violin sonatas for Jelly and gave their premieres together with her in London in respectively 1922 and 1923. 

C is for... CAESAR. The Fachiri family's wire-haired fox terrier, Caesar, was not allowed in the library, the "green room", at the Fachiris' house in Chelsea. One day, so the story goes, the poet Rabindranath Tagore came to visit. He was a little early and the family was not yet home, so he went into the green room to wait for them and have a rest. One has the impression he may have drawn the curtains and put his feet up on a sofa, for the maid came in, caught a glimpse of his beard and misidentified him as...Caesar the dog. 

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