Marie Novello (1898 – 21 June 1928) was a Welsh pianist. She was one of Theodor Leschetizky's last students and performed in public from childhood. Her early death from throat cancer cut short a promising career just as she began to record for one of the major English labels, having already amassed a considerable discography for one of its second-rank competitors.
Marie Novello was born Marie Williams, in 1898 in Maesteg, Glamorgan, the daughter of one William Thomas Williams and Anne Bedlington Kirkhouse. She owed her name to adoption by her piano teacher, Clara Novello Davies, mother of Ivor Novello and also a celebrated singing teacher. Following studies with her mother, Marie was among the last students of Theodor Leschetizky. He denied her first request to study with him in 1912, as she spoke only English; she responded by learning German, whereupon he relented.
Novello's professional career began early. As a child, Novello won the principal piano prize at the Welsh National Eisteddfod, and she shared piano playing honors with Ferruccio Busoni at the September 1907 Cardiff Triennial Music Festival. In 1908, she toured the English provinces with a company assembled by Percy Harrison, a promoter who regularly organized such groups; among her compatriots were John McCormack, fresh from his first season at the Royal Opera House and participating in a Harrison tour for the first time, and Emma Albani. Around the same time, a 10-year-old Novello performed at Wigmore Hall, then known as Bechstein Hall. A year later, in 1909, she made the first of her seven appearances at the Promenade Concerts, when on 22 September she played the Piano Concerto no. 1 in E-flat by Franz Liszt accompanied by the Queen's Hall Orchestra led by Sir Henry Wood.
She repeated that appearance every year until 1914, with two appearances in 1912, always in concerted works accompanied by the same forces. Besides the Liszt concerto, which she reprised in 1910, she performed the same composer's Hungarian Fantasia (1911 and 1912); Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto no. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 (1912); and the Africa Fantasy, Op. 89, of Camille Saint-Saëns (1913 and 1914). Aside from these festival performances, Novello performed regularly in London during her teen years, often as one of multiple soloists sharing a recital. In her early twenties, she began appearing at Ballad Concerts and Sunday League Concerts and in music festivals at Brighton and Cardiff.
Novello traveled to the United States in late 1921, arriving on 28 December aboard the White Star Line liner RMS Olympic. On 21 January 1922 she made her debut in Chicago. A month later, on 23 February 1922, she made her New York debut at The Town Hall, where she played a program including works of Chopin, Domenico Scarlatti, Debussy, Selim Palmgren, and Ede Poldini.
During this period, she made numerous recordings for the English Edison Bell. Marie Novello recorded reproducing piano rolls for the Aeolian Company's Duo-Art system; doubtless as a fruit of this connection, she once partnered with a reproducing piano in a public performance of the Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for two pianos, four hands by Saint-Saëns. A few years later, at the dawn of electrical recording, she formed an association with HMV, but throat cancer claimed her life when she had recorded only a few sides. Novello died on 21 June 1928 in London.
Repertory and Style
In her choice of repertory, Novello showed preference for music of the romantic era and particular affinity for virtuoso works such as Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor. She did not entirely neglect contemporary works, however; she achieved notice for performing the premiere of the Rhapsody on Tipperary for piano and orchestra by Frank Tapp, a composer well represented in English concert halls at the time but now forgotten. She then took the work on tour throughout the United Kingdom. Critical reception to her work appears to have been mixed, with more than one suggestion that she tended toward impulsiveness and a lack of firm control. Her tone sometimes drew critical disparagement but critics praised her technical facility and capacity to communicate.
Novello evidently had some interest in the mechanical reproduction of sound, as, on June 14, 1924, she participated as a judge in a public competition between gramophones sponsored by The Gramophone magazine. Her fellow judges included Alfred Kalisch, Percy Scholes, Peter Latham, Alec Robertson, and Francis Brett Young. Over the course of the evening, the judges and the audience of 400 marked ballots comparing the performance of some 15 different machines divided into two price classes, nearly all bearing names now long forgotten. She joined her compatriots in unanimous preference for a machine called The Three Muses reproducing the Adagio from Beethoven's Spring Sonata performed by Albert Sammons and William Murdoch; that vote was the sole instance of a unanimous panel, and her other opinions are not recorded. During the interval, the audience was treated to a demonstration of a reproducing piano, but on the Welte-Mignon system, not the Duo Art for which Novello cut a few rolls.
Making her own records almost entirely for Edison Bell, Novello accumulated an extensive discography of acoustic recordings, albeit, as was typical of the time, one weighted heavily to the sort of short works that could fit on one or at most two sides of a 78 RPM record. Her sole multi-disc set was a recording spreading over five sides of Mendelssohn's Op. 25 piano concerto. One source suggests that Novello was the first musician to record J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (Tausig arrangement), although the associated claim of extreme rarity for the record may be open to question. Her association with HMV yielded but two issued sides, her sole electrical recordings: a gavotte by Rameau and an Étude de Concert by Arensky.
Acoustic 78 RPM
A partial list of Novello's acoustic records would include the following. All were issued by Edison Bell. "V" denotes Edison Bell's "Velvet Face" label and "W" its "The Winner" label.
- J. S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (arr. Tausig) (V 676)
- Beethoven: Incidental Music to The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113 – Turkish March (W 3609)
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight) – 1st, third movement only (V 529)
- Chaminade: 4eme Valse (W 3768)
- Chaminade: Air de Ballet (W 2340)
- Chaminade: Pas des Amphores (W 3768)
- Chopin: Etudes, Op. 10, No. 5, in G-flat major (Black Key) (W 3479)
- Chopin: Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2 (W 3479)
- Godard: Mazurka (W 2340)
- Grieg: Lyric Pieces Book VIII, Op. 65, No. 6, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen (W 3424)
- Leschetizky: Toccata (W 3813)
- Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 (abridged) (W 3599)
- Liszt: Liebestraum no. 3 (W 3443)
- Mendelssohn: Concerto no. 1 in G minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op 25 (with Royal Symphony Orchestra under Joseph Batten) (V 640-642)
- Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14 (V 642)
- Ede Poldini: Poupee Valsante (W 3609)
- Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 (W 3443)
- Schubert: Marche Militaire (W 3813)
- Scott: Danse Negre, Op. 58, No. 3 (W 3609)
- Sinding: Frühlingsrauschen, Op. 32, No. 3 (W 3424)
Electrical 78 RPM
Both of the following sides were recorded on March 1, 1927; they appeared coupled as two sides of a single HMV 10" record, no. B 2592.
- Arensky: 24 Characteristic Pieces, Op. 36, No. 13, Étude de Concert in F-sharp major
- Rameau: Les Boréades, Act IV – Gavottes pour les Heures
Reproducing piano rolls
- Duo Art issued two reproducing rolls cut by Marie Novello:
- Dvořák: Humoresque in G-flat major, Op. 101, No. 7
- Ivor Novello: Gamin
Very few of Novello's recordings, acoustic or electrical, have achieved reissue since the end of the 78 RPM era.
- The Ivor Novello Duo-Art roll is presently available as a reproduction.
- The HMV Arensky Etude de Concert appears on Naxos 8.111120, Women at the Piano: An Anthology of Historic Peroformances, Volume 1 (1926–1952).
- The HMV Rameau Gavotte and the Edison Bell Leschetitzky Toccata appear on Pearl Opal 9839, Pupils of Leschetitzky.
- Biographical sketch at the Naxos records Web site, accessed 6 November 2008
- Ancestry: Welsh censuses and Probate Records
- http://www.concertprogrammes.org.uk/html/search/verb/GetRecord/4351 National Arts & Humainities Research Council, Concert Programmes
- The John McCormack Society, Biography of John McCormack, Chapter 2
- BBC Proms Archive Web site, accessed 14 August 2011
- "Marie Novello Arrives", The New York Times, 29 December 1921
- "Marie Novello, Pianist, in Debut", The New York Times, 24 February 1922, accessed 5 November 2008
- Duo-Art Piano Roll Catalogue, Albert M. Petrak, ed. The Reproducing Piano Roll Foundation, accessed 6 November 2008
- "The Gramophone Tests at the Steinway Hall", The Gramophone, Vol. II no. 2, July 1924, accessed 19 August 2009]
- Bach Cantatas Website, accessed 5 November 2008]
- New Duo-Art and 88-note piano rolls for sale
- Review of "Women at the Piano", accessed 5 November 2008