Obituary: Antonia Booth
Saturday 20 November 1993
THE VIOLINIST Antonia Booth was one of the last surviving musicians who played with the Busch Chamber Orchestra, the leading small orchestra in Europe in the 1930s. And the help she gave latterly to music schools - with money for new musical instruments and scholarships, most notably for pupils at the Purcell School, in London - gave more than adequate thanks to the profession for the extraordinary quality of the teachers and colleagues that she worked with in the pre-war years.
Booth's first musical guides were her parents, her father George Booth, a shipping and leather magnate and son of the philanthropist Charles Booth, and her mother, Margaret, an accomplished amateur violinist and chamber player, who had gone to Leipzig to study at the age of 19. 'Toni' and her two sisters and three brothers all learnt the piano and one other instrument.
Toni Booth's first teachers were the violinist Marjorie Hayward and the composer Frank Bridge, who played the viola in a quartet with Hayward and from whom she received her grounding in music and musicianship. She also studied with the Hungarian virtuoso Jelly d'Aranyi. She then followed in her mother's footsteps to Leipzig to study at the Conservatoire there in 1928. Her teacher she found unexciting, but playing under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwangler, then Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, was an inspiration.
Booth's friendship with Furtwangler was one of the most important things in her life. While studying with Georg Kulenkampff at the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin in 1931, she might spend a weekend with Furtwangler playing Beethoven sonatas. She kept in touch with him until his death in 1954, and remained loyal to his memory despite the criticism that he received for staying in Nazi Germany in the Thirties while Booth's other great mentor, Adolf Busch, and his relations had to live abroad to escape persecution.
Adolf Busch founded the Busch Quartet and Busch Trio - with his son-in-law the pianist Rudolf Serkin and his younger brother the cellist Hermann Busch - in Berlin before moving to Basle in 1927. The quartet established its renown once the Busch brothers had been joined by Gosta Andreasson as second violinist, and Karl Doktor on the viola. Booth went to Basle to study with Andreasson for two years, and was drafted into the first violins when Adolf Busch founded the Busch Chamber Orchestra, with the quartet at its heart. At first the orchestra played only Bach's Brandenburg concertos, touring to London, Florence and Naples. Their recordings of the Brandenburgs were acclaimed and recently re- broadcast on Radio 3.
As they extended their repertoire, to Bach suites and Mozart concertos, the orchestra were joined by the oboist Evelyn Rothwell, the horn- player Aubrey Brain (father of Dennis Brain), and by Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski to play the piano solo parts.
Adolf Busch's brother Fritz was appointed music director of the Glyndebourne opera festival in 1934. When he came to present Don Giovanni he wished the stage band in the final scene to be real musicians rather than actors miming to the orchestra: Booth and her sister Polly, a cellist, were duly drafted in to lead the band.
The Busch Chamber Orchestra broke up with the coming of war, when Booth played with Ensa and was first violin with the Reid Orchestra in Edinburgh. After the war, she played for about three years with a quartet led by Andre Mangeot with Maxwell Ward on viola and Joan Dickson on cello, did some teaching, and conducted educational concerts for the local authority in Barking, Essex. But the Thirties were her glory days as a player. She did not regard herself as a great technician, but she was a remarkably intuitive musician and many of her colleagues considered her their finest critic. She lived in London until recently when she moved to Oxfordshire to be near her surviving brother, John.
Toni Booth had been lively and striking in appearance in her youth, and remained a gamine figure to the end, her eyes closing as a pencil- thin smile spread right across her face. She always said exactly what she thought. And always with a laugh: 'Ha ha, darling.'
She was shy and invincibly unworldly. In her Basle days she regularly dined with Montagu Norman, Governor of the Bank of England (her father was a director of the Bank), and not yet a married man, when he came to Switzerland for meetings of the International Bank of Settlements. A journalist from the Financial Times got to hear of this and tracked Booth down to ask whether she had inside intelligence on the Bank Rate. She had no idea what the Bank Rate was, and this side of life was always a mystery to her.
She lived for music, and in later days, her first question to a stranger at dinner was often: 'Which is your favourite Brandenburg Concerto?' If there was no satisfactory answer forthcoming, the conversation usually ended there.
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