Obituary: Daniel Kelly

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Daniel Kelly, pianist, born 19 September 1898, died London 11 February 1993.

IT IS relatively rare for a promising young pianist to forgo the prospect of fame and fortune as a solo artist on the concert platform and to opt instead for the role of subordinate partner in a duo where a singer holds the limelight. For Daniel Kelly, almost pathologically if endearingly self-effacing and unassertive, although fully cognisant of his exceptional gifts, there could be no other choice.

As he came of age, following the First World War, he had the singular good fortune to be taken in tow by an eminent lieder singer and teacher, Raimund von Zur Muhlen, who had been a friend of Brahms and a pupil of Clara Schumann.

When Zur Muhlen established himself as lieder guru and coach at Steyning, Sussex, in the 1920s, Kelly became a sort of official 'accompanist-in-residence', sight- reading the songs of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Brahms et al, and gradually acquiring a sound and extensive knowledge of the lieder repertoire.

One of the celebrated singers of the day for whom he played at Steyning was Marian Anderson. Others he accompanied in the London concert halls included Plunket Greene, John McCormack and Maggie Teyte. He had many an amusing and not always flattering anecdote to recount concerning the vocal stars who stood in the bend of the piano as he accompanied them.

Inevitably, a man so palpably unversed in the art of selling himself was no match for the less retiring members of his profession. In the inter-war years, the practice had grown up by which a young singer preparing a concert at the Wigmore or Grotrian Hall would work on the programme with his or her regular pianist and then hand over to one of a small band of well-publicised accompanists - Gerald Moore, George Reeves, Ernest Lush and Ivor Newton were the best-known - who would run through the programme with the singer in one or two last-minute rehearsals and add the cachet of a big name to the proceedings.

When I myself gave my first Wigmore Hall recital in 1945, determined to conquer London with a totally unknown, exotic repertoire of songs I had brought back after a long official wartime assignment in Latin America, I prepared the programme with Daniel Kelly, a pianist greatly respected but not so well publicised, my agent, Ipps & Tillett, took it for granted that I would switch over before the concert to Gerald Moore, who had played for me early in the war at Myra Hess's National Gallery concerts. To everyone's surprise, I turned down the suggestion as patently absurd, since Moore was not acquainted with my repertoire and, anyway, I found Kelly's playing far more sympathetic.

We formed a partnership which was to last until diaphragm trouble forced me to retire from the profession at an early age. For over a decade we built up and performed a vast international recital repertoire unrivalled in its range and variety at the time and possibly even today. Apart from the Latin American connection, as one of a mere couple of singers with a professional linguistic training, I was able to take advantage of Daniel Kelly's rare acquaintance with the Scandinavian song repertoire, acquired as official pianist to the Norwegian Government in Exile during the War.

He was, incidentally, highly critical in private of the pretentions as a French specialist of the legendary Maggie Teyte, with whom he worked a good deal. But he was wise enough to keep his views well hidden from that formidable diva.

For the last few years, the Royal Academy of Music in London has awarded an annual Daniel Kelly Prize for Accompanying, a fitting tribute to a pianist who possessed all the attributes of the ideal accompanist - a strong feeling for poetry and the subtle art of balancing the vocal setting of words with the piano part; and a willingness to accept that provided the singer is equal to the task in musical, cultural and linguistic terms, a thoroughly satisfying interpretation demands that the person who recites the poem must be the one to set the tempo, the mood and the character of a song, with the sympathetic collaboration of the accompanist 'at the piano'.

(Photograph omitted)