CD - Family Connections

Songs by friends, teachers and relatives; spanning 200 years of Rothschild family history.

"In one of the most intriguing recordings of recent months, a present-day Rothschild sings works inscribed in her family's volume...Charlotte de Rothschild, whose attractive voice has earned her a career as a recitalist and oratorio soloist, intersperses treasures from the family album among other works associated with home musicales - most notably, songs composed by her cigar-smoking ancestor Mathilde de Rothschild."

"..a neat and unique package indeed."

Music has played a very important part in the history of my family, both by way of their patronage and through composers who were their teachers, friends or relatives. The five brothers and their descendants made their salons, in the European capitals of Frankfurt, Paris, Naples, Vienna and London, focal points for the great musicians of the day. The history starts in the drawing rooms of London, Frankfurt and Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Rothschild bank helped various composers, handling their financial affairs and investments and several members of the family were composers themselves, the most prolific and significant of these was Mathilde de Rothschild.

My great-great-great grandfather Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the English branch of the family (and known as NM for short), had two very musical daughters, Hannah, who was an extremely accomplished harpist and a pupil of Mendelssohn, and Charlotte who married her cousin Anselm and lived in Frankfurt. In 1829 Charlotte started a wonderful musical autograph book - a Livre d’Or - in which she asked any visiting composer to write a little song or piano piece. Mendelssohn was a guest in1836 when he wrote to his mother that he admired the Rothschild's "splendour and luxury and the way they compel the philistines to regard them with the utmost respect (though these would gladly give them a sound thrashing if they were let loose!), this is a source of exultation to me, because they owe all this entirely to their own industry , good fortune and abilities."

In 1820, Louis Spohr visited NM at the bank in New Court, possibly to ask for a loan or sponsorship. He asked NM whether he liked music, and apparently NM had his hand in his pocket and jangled his coins, replying that that was the only sound of music that he liked!

Charlotte and Anselm's daughter Mathilde was exceptionally musical and took lessons from Chopin at the young age of 15 or 16. One of her English cousins remembered visiting in Frankfurt and remarked on her graceful and distinguished appearance but told how she was amazed at the sight of Mathilde and her sister Julie smoking cigars - not even cigarettes - "My youthful eyes gazed with astonishment at this masculine indulgence!" In 1849 Mathilde married her cousin Wilhelm Carl von Rothschild ("Willy"), and her songs were widely published by the leading French and German publishing houses during the 19th Century, either as La Baronne Mathilde de Rothschild or Freifrau Willy von Rothschild.

Rossini's friendship with the family spanned about thirty years and he was especially close to NM's children, Hannah, Charlotte and Lionel, and to James de Rothschild in Paris, who he used to visit almost daily. James had married his beautiful niece Betty, and their salon was renowned for being the centre of excellence where all the leading cultural figures of the day, such as Balzac, Heine, Delacroix, Ingres, Chopin and Rossini would meet. Rossini wrote “Mi lagnéro tacendo” for Charlotte in her little autograph book.

Franz Liszt was a frequent guest and performer at her soirées. Charlotte's brother Anthony wrote about one such occasion at the Grüneburg to his wife Louisa; "The delightful singer Rubini was accompanied by Liszt in a concert the evening before last, where I had an excellent opportunity of hearing and seeing the most extraordinary player in the world. I say seeing because he is as curious to look at as to hear, with his long hair at times streaming over his face, at others completely thrown back by a violent toss of the head, his wild eyes which he now and then turns on every side as if to mean sometimes 'Am I not wonderful?' at others that he is delighted with his own performance. Dearest, he is an agreeable and talkative man in society, and is no doubt a dear and pleasant companion..."

Mathilde was asked by many leading singers of the day to compose songs for them, among them Selma Kurz for whom she wrote "Der Komet" and Adelina Patti for whom she wrote her most famous song "Romance". Patti was often asked to sing it as an encore and made a recording of it in 1905. Once, while in Paris in 1866, Patti omitted to sing Baroness Willy's exquisite Romance and the pit in the Paris Opera rose en masse crying out for 'la Romance de Mme de Rothschild'. Mathilde wrote her song "Bluette" for her daughter, Adelheid.

Patronage of music remained an important part of the Rothschilds' lives right up to the Second World War. In France, the grandson of James, Robert, and his wife Nelly held musical soirées in their house on the Avenue Marigny, where artists such as Elizabeth Schumann, the young Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Lotte Lehmann sang. Among their close musical friends were Reynaldo Hahn, Jaques Février, Georges Auric, Henri Sauguet, Francis Poulenc and other members of "Les Six".

My cousin Liliane had a poignant memory of Reynaldo Hahn, who was one of her father-in-law Robert's closest friends; because there were many power cuts in Paris towards the end of the Second World War, Hahn rang one evening to ask if he could borrow an oil lamp. He met her at the door of his home in rue Gréffulhe, wearing a large blue beret to cover the fact that he had just had an operation for a brain tumour, and greeted this lamp as if it were the finest present in the world. He died the following week.

During the Second World War, various members of the family left Europe for the safer shores of America. Whilst in New York, my uncle Leopold remembers the friendship between Clarice and Samuel Barber.

My great-uncle Alfred had a great passion for music; he had his own orchestra which he conducted with an ivory baton which has a circle of diamonds around it. Many famous musicians graced his soirées such as Niccolini, Liszt, Rubinstein, Sir Arthur Sullivan and Tosti. Sir Arthur Sullivan was a frequent guest of the Rothschilds and especially of Alfred who helped finance the opera "Ivanhoe". Alfred was teased by his friend Sullivan in the Lord Chancellor's song in Iolanthe when he and Gilbert wrote; "The shares are a penny and ever so many are taken by Rothschild and Baring, and just as a few are allotted to you, you awake with a shudder despairing!"

Charlotte de Rothschild

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