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Adela Verne


“One of the world's greatest pianists.”
                       [Ignace Jan Paderewski]



Adela Verne, youngest of the Verne sisters, was a tiny child when she played a Bach Invention and Prelude to Clara Schumann, on the great pianist’s last visit to England. Madame Schumann was so thrilled with her that she implored the little girl’s father to allow her to be taken to Frankfurt, where her extraordinary talent could be developed and where she could remain for some time with Clara Schumann’s own family. However, it was felt that the child was too young for such a venture; and so it was that her musical education was undertaken by her sisters, Mathilde and Alice.

At the age of eleven, Adela Verne had in her repertoire all the Beethoven and Mozart Sonatas, three Beethoven concertos, much Bach, all of Chopin’s preludes and waltzes, most of his studies and polonaises and his E minor concerto, as well as many pieces by Schumann and Brahms. At thirteen, she appeared at the Crystal Palace concerts and caused a sensation with her playing of Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor Concerto, conducted by Sir August Manns, so much so that Tchaikovsky himself heard of this astonishing young prodigy and wanted to meet her.

At 14 she was introduced to Paderewski, playing to him a number of pieces which included Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata. He was so impressed that he at once prophesied a great future for her, and when learning that the instrument upon which she had to practice whilst at boarding school was a “horror”, sent a beautiful piano to the school as a replacement. Throughout her extraordinary career she often studied with Paderewski, staying frequently with him and his wife at their villa in Morges in Switzerland, and meeting him whenever they happened to be touring the same country, even studying with him aboard his own private train. Apart from this unique musical association, she also became, on a personal level, accepted as one of his family. She studied much Chopin with him, as well as most of his own works, including his Sonata in E Flat minor, his Concerto in A minor and his Polish Fantasy, and she made her orchestral debut in New York playing his Concerto. Such was Paderewski’s admiration, he once wrote of her “She is the little woman who plays like a big man.  She is one of the world’s greatest pianists”.

That Adela Verne fulfilled Paderewski’s prediction in every sense is well Known, for she took her place as one of the elect among the great pianists, ranked alongside the male keyboard giants of her time such as Busoni, Rachmaninoff, Anton Rubinstein, Hoffmann, Rosenthal, Cortot, Pachmann and Paderewski himself. It is significant that when Madame Carre ño passed away Adela Verne was hailed as her legitimate successor. Adela toured with immense success all over the world, and after her first recitals in America she was acclaimed as one of the greatest pianists ever to visit those shores. In Europe it was the same story. Critical Berlin and Vienna audiences raved over her playing. In Vienna, after hearing her play four concertos in one evening, the renowned teacher, Theodore Leschetizky [the great pupil of Czerny, who in turn was taught by Beethoven], asked her to give a recital to his own pupils, a rare compliment.

Adela Verne was gifted with a phenomenal technique, a remarkably powerful tone equal to any man’s, and with a prodigious memory. Her repertoire - extraordinary by any standards - included a large amount from the 18th and 19th centuries and much from the 20th Century, and her programmes often included works by composers who were then regarded as the Avant Garde of the day. In Buenos Aires, she once gave a series of recitals covering a period of six weeks during which her programmes contained no less than forty-eight works, many of them major ones.

Sometimes (as was the custom in those days) she shared the platform with other distinguished artists, such as Melba, with whom she toured Australia, Tetrazzini, Galli Curci, John McCormack, Mischa Elman, etc etc. She played frequently with Ysaÿe often touring and collaborating with him in the Beethoven piano and violin sonatas - with neither artist using a score! A perennial favourite at the Promenade Concerts, Adela Verne assisted Henry Wood in his efforts to start and keep going the Promenade Concerts by appearing for him on many occasions, under ‘special terms’. She was the first British artist to give a solo recital at the Royal Albert Hall; she gave the first performance in Australia of Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor Piano Concerto and of the Saint-Saëns G minor Piano Concerto in 1898; the first Promenade Concerts performance of Brahms’ B flat Concerto, and the first performance in the UK of Cesar Franck’s Symphonic Variations.

During World War II, a severe illness forced her into temporary retirement, during which time she composed a Military March. dedicated to HM Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother), which was published and then quickly recorded by the Band of the Grenadier Guards. Adela Verne made a triumphant return to the concert platform recitals and concerto performances, and she also appeared on that new up and coming medium, television. She gave the first TV performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto for 2 Pianos, with her son John Vallier. At the request of the BBC, in 1952 she broadcast a special programme of works by Paderewski. Her last public appearance was at the special Jubilee Concerts celebrating the Wigmore Hall. She died later that year, and at that time was preparing for her first recital at London’s new Royal Festival Hall.

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