Obituary: Antonia Butler
Saturday 26 July 1997
She was born in London in 1909 into a musical family and could not recall a time when music was not part of her life. She had her first lessons on the piano at five and went on to the cello with Valentina Orde when she was ten. Her progress was such she was soon able to join in the family music-making. One of her earliest memories was playing at their home with the violinists Jelly and Adila d'Arnyi who were great-nieces of the celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim. As a reward she was given a gold coin which she treasured all her life.
It was through a recommendation from the d'Arnyi sisters that when only 13 she went to Leipzig to study for four years with the great Julius Klengel at the Conservatoire. She considered this a very important period because Klengel taught her to develop her own individual musicality and, in addition, she learned so much of the concerto repertoire, especially the Brahms Double Concerto for cello and violin which she played twice with the Conservatoire Orchestra. She told me that her own interpretation was greatly influenced by her studies with Klengel: "Klengel had heard performances by its dedicatees, Robert Hausmann and Joseph Joachim, and he was able to pass on some very good advice especially on tempi".
Butler went on for a further three years study with Diran Alexanian at the cole Normale in Paris which was important in an entirely different way from Klengel. Alexanian went into minute detail about every aspect of the music and Butler remembered how Pablo Casals and Emanuel Feuermann and many other famous musicians would sit in on the sessions.
Butler made her London debut recital at the Wigmore Hall in 1930 and received encouraging reviews which led to a number of solo engagements. These included playing the Haydn D Major Concerto in the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, deputising at the last moment for the indisposed Thelma Reiss. It was around this time that the great Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia heard her and was very impressed. In 1937, Butler and the violinist Marjorie Hayward and pianist Kathleen Markwell formed a piano trio, the "Kamaran" which soon gained a reputation and broadcast frequently.
One of Butler's indelible memories was of a Prom in August 1940 when she was playing the Brahms Double Concerto with the violinist Arthur Catterall. Halfway through the evening the air-raid siren sounded, and since regulations did not permit anyone to go on the streets during a raid, nobody could leave the hall. The concert continued, but when the planned programme had finished, the musicians decided to band together to provide an extended number of items.
Butler and Harvey Phillips played a two-cello arrangement of the sonata for two violins by Handel, followed by the Schumann Piano Quintet and so on throughout the night. In the early hours of the morning when the "All Clear" signal was given, audience and musicians departed weary but happy. Butler told me: "It was the most exciting and inspiring experience, and symbolic of good triumphing over evil". Later during the war, Butler appeared in many of the lunch-time series of concerts at the National Gallery organised by Myra Hess.
From this time Butler had a continuous stream of engagements both as a soloist and chamber music player, playing with many of the well-known instrumentalists of the day. In 1941, she married the pianist, Norman Greenwood, who unfortunately was called up the day after their wedding. When he was demobilised they appeared frequently in sonata recitals and broadcasts from the BBC and became known for their innately musical interpretation, especially of the work of contemporary British composers. (Their son, Richard Greenwood, is also a pianist.)
The composer Arthur Honegger was a personal friend and Butler played his cello sonata in Paris with Honneger's wife as her partner on the piano; Butler always felt an affinity with this work because Honneger was able to advise them personally.
When her husband died in 1962, Butler gave sonata recitals with a number of pianists including Angus Morrison, but her concert activities were gradually overtaken when she started to teach because she found it increasingly rewarding. Many of the younger generation of cellists who are in the public eye today remember her as being a very understanding and helpful teacher, but not so understanding if the student lacked musical integrity.
The violinist Maria Lidka, a close friend with whom she played many times, told me that she held strong convictions on many issues and was very outspoken when the need arose. As a person she was kind and generous and friendship, for her, meant total loyalty. These qualities came out in her playing which was innately musical with an almost spiritual quality, best illustrated in her performances of the Bach Solo Suites, to which she remained devoted to the end of her life.
Antonia Katharine Margaret Butler, cellist: born London 1 June 1909; married 1941 Norman Greenwood (died 1962; one son); died Farningham, Kent 18 July 1997.
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