The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 23, 2016

August 23, 1905

A review of a biography of Constant Lambert (August 23, 1905 to August 21, 1951) begins:

We owe Constant Lambert ...a huge amount, and the flashes of brilliance that survive from his short life only suggest the energy with which he established the possibilities for English culture. What we remember about this extraordinary man are some delightful pieces of music, especially
The Rio Grande; the funniest and most cultivated book about contemporary music ever written, Music Ho!; and a few surviving recordings of his work as a conductor.


It continues along these lines:

Lambert was near to being a child prodigy. Barely out of school, he was commissioned by Diaghilev to write a score for the Ballets Russes, though the relationship didn’t prosper; according to Osbert Sitwell, whenever a gap emerged later, Diaghilev would moan ‘Sûrtout — pas de Lambert’. But Lambert was soon established in London as a brilliant, cosmopolitan figure...

After his death, many of his friends tried to pin down the louche charm of his conversation, his broad interests and his wit. Best of all are two portraits by his friend Anthony Powell — the first as the character Hugh Moreland in A Dance to the Music of Time, the second under his own name in Powell’s memoirs.


As conductor of the Sadler's Wells ballet company (later the Royal Ballet) the pressures on Lambert were more than musical perfection:

Astonishingly, in May 1940, Sadler’s Wells was ordered to tour Belgium and the Netherlands to raise morale, and found itself being ‘received with almost heartbreaking enthusiasm’ as the German invasion was poised to strike. The last performance of the tour, in Arnhem, was of Façade, that relic of camp 1920s fantasy. Afterwards, de Valois and the star, Margot Fonteyn, were presented with bouquets by an 11-year-old member of the Arnhem ballet class, later known as Audrey Hepburn. They left Arnhem at one in the morning and the Germans entered two hours later.

The reviewer notes:

Lambert has been surprisingly well served by biographers, including the triple portrait by Andrew Motion that includes Constant’s father, George (a painter) and his son, Kit (manager of the Who).

Where Lloyd
[the author of the biography] seems less at home is in the rackety world of Lambert’s drinking friends and his complicated love life. .... One feels as though one’s observing Lambert’s long and tempestuous affair with Margot Fonteyn from a remote distance, and at the end of the book one gets more of a sense of hearing Lambert conduct Tchaikovsky than of what it felt like to be married to him, or to finish a bottle of whisky in his company while arguing over Stravinsky’s merits.


Our quotes, lightly rearranged, are from Philip Hensher's review of Constant Lambert: Beyond the Rio Grande, (2014) by Stephen Lloyd.

Another memoirist, Humphrey Searle, remembers "Constant was a great cat-lover." Which sheds some light on this note Henscher put in his review:


The one thing no biographer can explain is that a number of Lambert’s friends reported posthumous, ghostly interventions in their lives: Powell was apparently rung up by him after his death, and an unexplained black cat appeared at a concert performance of ...[Lambert's] Eight Poems by Li Po, sitting patiently on the stage during the music and leaving afterwards, never to be seen again. 

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