This poem was written for Violet Gordon Woodhouse (1871-1948) by her dear friend, Sacheverell Sitwell, in the 1940s.
Violet Gordon Woodhouse was a prodgiously talented English harpsichordist and clavichordist, and a very important contributor to both the Early Music and folk-song revival in Britain in the early 20th century. She was the first person to ever make a recording on the harpsichord, for the BBC. Many believed her musical talents to be greater than those of her contemporary, Wanda Landowska.
LITTLE DARK MAGICIAN OF THE CLAVICHORD
(To Violet Gordon Woodhouse)
Of which wonderland of music
I tried to write the best I could,
With always at the back of my mind
“The little dark magician of the clavichord”,
A dear Friend I loved, and heard play for thirty years,
who was no musical pedant and not a scholiast,
But with a memory
amounting to total recall of music she had ever known.
A player beyond equal in Bach and Mozart,
and in sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti
But besides all this,
And more than all else perhaps,
In her unimaginable rendering of little pieces
Of which the effect would be totally lost
if played upon a piano;
Such as, old songs
Like “Dover Camp”, or “Tell me, Daphne”, of Giles Farnaby;
“Chesapeake and Shannon”, a sailor’s song’
“The Willow Song” from Verdi’s Otello:
Or “Scots wha hae”, this last
more spirited than were believable;
In all of which
she must have resembled, I think,
In effect, however different in idiom,
that forgotten virtuoso of the cymbalon,
And been thereby twice over,
Amongst the greatest of solo players there has ever been.
I believe the secret in her performance
of these little encore pieces in such perfection
Being the impeccable gradations
And the study of a lifetime, of tone and timing only attainable, it may be,
On the clavichord, which she called
“The most beautiful solo instrument ever invented”.