One of the most interesting persons I ever met was Yvonne Arnaud. A brilliant comedienne, possessed of a pair of the most alluring eyes and eyelashes it has been my wont to meet, and a fascinating foreign accent, Yvonne Arnaud, for twenty years, has been without rival in the realm of light comedy. She is a first-rate actress with a charm and a fascination all her own.
But, of course, it was not as an actress that she appeared at our concerts. Yvonne Arnaud is also a brilliant pianist and had already a considerable reputation as a sensitive and delightful performer long before she took up acting professionally. A child prodigy, she had played all over Europe under such conductors as Nikisch, Mengelberg, Mahler and Siloti.
Among our guests at the inevitable party was Sir John (then plain Mr.) Barbirolli who was a close friend and admirer of Madame Arnaud. He told me that although she was French she was trained in the thorough German School of piano playing, and dutifully did her eight hours a day of scales, arpeggios and studies, in the good old-fashioned way, until her success in the stage made this impossible. It was apparent at her concert, and at a subsequent appearance in a Mozart Concerto, with Barbirolli conducting the Scottish Orchestra, that she could still hold her own in Concerto and Recital with the best women pianists of the day. As a matter of fact she had only taken up acting for the amusement of her friends. It was after one of these impromptu performances that it was suggested to her that she should take up acting more seriously, and following on this advice, she almost overnight became one of the leading French actresses.
When she came to Glasgow she brought her husband, Hugh McLellan, with her, who was a don at one of our English universities; anyone less like the expected husband of the vivacious Yvonne would be difficult to imagine: he was of the “huntin’, shootin' and fishin” variety of husbands. It was obvious to all that they adored one another. I think it was the day before the concert that she celebrated her birthday. I won't give her years away (Grove puts a ? at her age) but I remember thinking that I hoped I’d look as young, fresh, and gay, if and when, I celebrated a similar number of years.
At the birthday party which we gave for her, we had invited not only musicians, actors and critics, but a number of really hard-headed business men. Although we invited the latter for her husband, I have to admit that, along with the others they went down like nine-pins before her. It's amazing how business men, out of office hours cave in so completely, when they come up against “oomph” The critics too were there. Critics I find for the main part, are a dour set of males. They seem frightened to unbend in case you misunderstand and that they must give you a good criticism, they raise a barrier between you and them which they are most reluctant to lower. Oh yes! They are delighted when the opportunity occurs to meet celebrities. After all most of them are on the staff of newspapers, and it's part of their job to get 'copy'. It is always a surprise to me when I read the glowing accounts they sometimes give of interviews and meetings with these celebrities. From their manner you'll certainly would never have guessed that such enthusiasm had been there at the time of the interview. At this particular party, Yvonne Arnaud, was, of course, the guest of honour. A small dark vivacious woman, over-flowing with humour and mischievousness, heady as champagne, simply bubbling over with “joie de vivre”, she set out to entertain us with the wit, and brilliance of her conversation. She flirted outrageously with all the males but once, during the meal when the men got into a debate about something or other, and left the women for a few moments to their own resources, she said to me: “Mrs. Cheesum, me I do not need to make my eyes go so” - flutter, flutter, flutter, went her eyelashes “but the pets, they do love it and Hugh (looking lovingly at her husband) he does not worry, so why should I disappoint them?” I noticed that one or two of the wives looked a trifle disapproving, and were not too pleased with the success and effect she was having. I admit that the thought flashed through my own mind that in some ways it was a good thing she was not stopping in town very long. I, too, have a husband, and I did not possess the art of eye-flapping . “Oh well! All men are so susceptible.
That was the personal, possibly even the theatrical side of Madame Arnaud. On the night of the concert she was an entirely different personality: modest, sincere, artistic and studious. Not only was she keen on, and knowledgeable about contemporary music, but she had co-operated many times in actual performances with the International String Quartet, at that time one of the leading English groups presenting chamber music concerts of works by Bartok, Schonberg, Alban Berg, Szymanowski and other moderns. The main item on this programme was the Sonata for Violin and Piano, by the Rumanian composer and violinist, George Enesco. Enesco is also a noted teacher, one of his pupils being Yehudi Menuhin. Strangely enough, Yvonne Arnaud's recital coincided with Yehudi Menuhin's debut in Glasgow. Bessie Spence, her violinist in the Enesco, was most anxious to hear Yehudi, so I agreed to slip away with her after she had played the sonata and hear what she could of Menuhin’s début. We reached the hall just in time for the interval. Bessie wanted to go round to the artists room and meet Yehudi. Nothing loath I went with her. When we reached the room it was, of course, filled with admiring people, and it was difficult to get a chance to speak to this little boy, dressed in short trousers, who looked only a baby from the front of the house, but one who had complete mastery of his art and himself. We spoke (or at least Bessie did) to Yehudi's father. There had been no student concession tickets for this concert, a fact that had caused considerable annoyance among teachers and students alike, so Bessie thought she would put in a word for a future occasion. She first of all apologised for not being able to attend the whole concert because of the Yvonne A's, and secondly asked rather tentatively why there had been no concession given. She had hardly got the words out of her mouth, when Mr Menuhin completely "went off the deep end." "What who dares to give another concert in Glasgow when my son is playing! When Yehudi comes to your town in future he is to be the only artist preforming that night. I will see that all other concerts are cancelled. Concessions?, Concessions? what concessions?” Here Miss Spence explained what she meant, how difficult it was for students to pay so much for tickets, and how it was a general practice for all great artists to make specially priced tickets for students. Mr. Menuhin looked as if he would explode. "The Great Gods! There are no concession tickets when Menuhin plays, Madame, if you wish to hear him, you pay." I wonder what he would have said if he had known we had not paid! Just then young Menuhin came up looking rather shame-faced. I think even then it was obvious to all that he did not share his father’s arrogance. This by the way, was proved to be true when Menuhin visited S.A. a few years ago. Not only were there concession tickets on that occasion, but once he knew that the matinee programme was not only for children up to twelve years of age as he had thought, he, by special request played the first movement of Bartók's unaccompanied Violin concerto, remarking to the younger children, that even if it was beyond their understanding now they would come to love it later.
The following day Yvonne went back to London. Glasgow seems particularly dull and grey for quite a time afterwards.
I can let you hear Miss Arnaud playing two short pieces, the "Waltz Caprice" of Saint-Saëns, and the finale of Haydn’s D Major concerto, both with string orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli.
Recorded in 1932, played by Yvonne Arnaud
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D - Rondo all 'Ungarese piano played by Yvonne Arnaud