Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. You can see some of last year’s pictures in this entry, and find (endless!) more Xmas books via the tags at the bottom of the page.
While the Music Lasted by Kitty Barne
[It is the end of 1938. Andy and Karen are newly-married musicians, short of money: Wanda is their rich patron]
They spent Christmas in Studio Two [where they lived] and celebrated it by copying out the parts of the now completed piano concerto; a most unnatural proceeding [her sister] Judy thought, when they might have been enjoying themselves in a family party in her house.
Karen, however, found it more exciting than any Christmas party…
Wanda had burst in on them just before Christmas, her Christmas spirit like the unattached thread from a spider, streaming from her ready to fasten on any object that presented itself and make a bridge down which presents could be hurled.
‘Always I give my musicians a present, the memory of me at Christmas, and what do I give you, my Andee? And the little Karen? That is what I came to ask.’
[after some discussion Wanda says:] ‘then you shall have two pianos. I would have given you a Christmas tree with a bride and groom in silver figures like little birds in the branches, but now it shall be a piano.’ She was like an offended fairy.
commentary: I loved this book when I read it earlier this year: it’s the grown-up followup to a children’s book, She Shall Have Music, about Karen, a talented pianist. She has married a very modern young musician and they are living in poverty trying to make their names. But at the same time, war is coming, so the musical events are mixed in with political discussions, and the Munich agreement plays a large part in the story.
It makes for a particularly fascinating read, and the struggles and interests of starving artists, although familiar, are very well done. The romance between Andy and Karen is refreshingly free of artificial troubles and romcom tropes.
The top picture comes, appropriately enough, from the programmes of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the first half of the 20th century - they are available online and are strangely fascinating. It is obviously an advert, but seemed in the spirit of Wanda’s gift idea.
The other one is from the marvellous Sam Hood, this time from the Australian Maritime Museum.