Pioneering women

Gollancz, Livia (1 of 7) National Life Story Collection: Fawcett Collection

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  • Subjects

    Journalism and Publishing

  • Recording date

    1991-11-01, 1991-04-02

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home

  • Interviewees

    Gollancz, Livia 1920-2018 (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Mowry, Linda (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [Pulls out baby book] Livia Ruth Gollancz [LG] Born May 25th 1920, 2:30 pm, 73 Ladbroke Road, W11, at home; mother had a midwife. Grandparents. Knew all four. Maternal grandparents lived around the corner. Mother's family close, and large; mostly lived in the same neighbourhood. No cousins on father's side. Paternal grandparents in Queen's Park, visits more formal, less frequent. Mother's parents had a garden, planted apple trees for her, her next sister and cousin. Lunched there every Saturday; grandmother sang Hebrew grace; Livia thought she was a sweet, 'old' lady. Grandmother wore a 'transformation'(nowadays we would call it a wig) so did not go grey gradually, but looked the same for a long time, until getting a grey wig when she was about 70. Grandfather in the City, though he wanted to be an engineer. Made and lost money so income fluctuated widely at times, but usually could afford to indulge his interest in model engines. Built up large collection which he donated to the London Transport; the collection was lodged at St. James's Park station. He received a lifetime Underground pass. Had seven cousins, one killed in WWII. School. At St. Paul's from age 12-16. Did not like school, left at 16. Began piano lessons at 6 or 7. Tried the violin, found it uncomfortable, embarrassed by the sensualness of it. At age 10 school consolidated and was changed to Kensington High. Headmistress, Ethel Home, keen on music; everyone in school learned music. For aural training students were grouped by ability, not age. Livia was placed in a low group while her younger sister was placed next to the top. Headmistress allowed access: any student could queue up to talk to her after assembly so Livia spoke to her, saying she and Diana should be switched. Diana was not changed but Livia was put in the top group. "That was the beginning" of understanding music. [10:00] Knew she wanted to be a musician. Went to children's concerts at Central Hall, liked the sound of the horn, excited by 'Emperor' Concerto and Beethoven's Fifth. Studied viola at St. Paul's. Did school certificate even though she was going to Royal College of Music [RCM]. Mother keen for her to do school certificate, and offered maths coaching to enable her to pass exams in return for a horn. Accepted at RCM as second horn, first viola; switched after 18 months. Studying at college (1936) was very like school. Walked across the park from Notting Hill Gate. Had lessons, played in orchestra, string quartet, took theory, sang in chorus. Easy to get in. She was not best at school ("barely adequate"). Music standards have changed much in her life. Went to concerts alone as a child - mother gave her her own front door key at age 12. Then it was common not to be able to hear the 'cello in a 'cello concerto. Many girls at college, perhaps more than boys; Miss Darnell kept an eye on the windows to keep men teachers from taking advantage of students. Lucky to be needed in orchestra, was approached by them. Keen on opera from St. Paul's days. Cycled to Covent Garden before school to get stool for queue for half-crown ticket, cycled home, went to school, went to opera after school. Parents let her do this on her own. Not especially aware of having more freedom than other girls. Lived in a world of her own. Travelled with orchestra, freelance player, mostly in Britain, but played for troops in Holland and Belgium in WWII. [Interviewer stumbles mentally, fumbling through blank mind] More on childhood. Mother slept every afternoon. [20:00] Children had nanny. Mother went out almost every evening with father who was a very public person. Mother painted. 3 sisters paint. Music on both sides, great grandfather (rabbi) had good voice. Livia also painted until music took her creativity and energy. Parents took her away from college for six months at the beginning of WWII. Father's business had done well ("mildly affluent") and they bought a country house. Mother bought printing business for her brother and let Livia live in the flat above the shop with a small allowance. She was 17, a very independent child. Evacuated with parents at outbreak of war to Brimpton. Office (Victor Gollancz Ltd) [VGL] set up at the bottom of the garden; runner brought papers back and forth every day. Father gave her a job (for 6 months), then she wanted to play so returned to London, Church Street flat. Grandmother in the flat in Notting Hill Gate with air-raid shelter basement, where Livia slept on a deck chair. So by 20 she was playing freelance horn and back at college for 6 months. Deputised with London Symphony Orchestra [LSO]. Touring when turned 21. Moiseivitch invited her and her friends to go drinking; she managed to stay sober enough to get them back to their digs (in Leicester). In Queen's Hall Light Orchestra which played for BBC. Played 1st horn there, while she usually played 2nd or 4th for LSO. Barbirolli knew her playing, and in 1943 needed a first horn. She asked for the job, and 2 pounds per week over the union minimum for principals out of town, and went to play with the Hallé. Left them for Scottish Orchestra and then BBC Scottish Orchestra. Auditioned for Covent Garden after living in north for nearly five years. Foolish because she had no pit experience, "had no right to have taken the job". Main conductor was Rankle, didn't like women. Played for him for a short while, then for other conductors, Constant Lambert, and ballet. Worked contract out.

  • Description

    Life story interview with the musician and publisher Livia Gollancz (1920-2018)

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