My old friend Gerald

16th April 2023 | Daily Life, Inspirations, Travel | 12 comments

This weekend I heard that my old friend Gerald Pointon had died. I felt like writing this little reminiscence.

Gerald was a high-powered lawyer in Paris, specialising in arbitration. As a graduate student at Cambridge University he had sung in the famous choir of King’s College for a period of time, I forget how long. He remained devoted to King’s College and followed the Choir’s activities with great interest, giving them hospitality and treating them to meals when the choir was visiting Paris. Singing was his first love and he was great friends with several well-known opera singers including Robert Tear and Margaret Price.

As a graduate student at King’s College myself, some twenty years later, I spent several months in Paris doing research in French music libraries and having occasional piano lessons with Vlado Perlemuter. I knew nobody in Paris and, as I wasn’t attached to any institution in Paris, I found it difficult to meet people. One of my friends had given me Gerald’s address and suggested that if I was lonely I should get in touch, mentioning that I was a pianist and liked playing piano duets. I got in touch. Instantly Gerald invited me round to his flat to play duets and stay on for dinner with his family.

To say ‘his flat’ is hardly to do justice to the beautiful 19th century apartment in the 8th arrondissement, filled with the art, antiques, clockwork toys and musical boxes which Gerald collected. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I first walked in and saw the oil paintings and the antique toys spilling over the ornate mantelpieces. It was a far cry from the unheated little ‘chambre de bonne’ [maid’s room] I was renting in the attic of a similar building elsewhere in Paris.

Gerald always said he ‘wasn’t really a pianist’, but his love of music made up for any lack of technical skill. More to the point, we clicked as duet partners (I’m talking here about sitting side by side at one piano, not playing two different pianos). This is a mysterious thing. I have played duets with a number of excellent pianists, but have not always felt that we ‘clicked’. Subtle variations in finger and arm movements can make it quite tricky to put a note or chord down at exactly the same time as the person sitting beside you. When it works, one should just enjoy it. Gerald and I were well matched as duet partners and we played through a lot of music, focusing mainly on French repertoire such as Bizet, Debussy, Ravel and Fauré but also venturing into Schumann, Schubert and of course Mozart.

I don’t think he ever knew how much I treasured those evenings. The rest of the time I was basically on my own in libraries or practice rooms, but twice a week I knew I could look forward to visiting the Pointons for an evening of music, food, wine and very amusing chat. Did I mention that Gerald was very good-looking? That was part of the charm of the experience too.

At the time I used to feel like the limping lion who remained grateful to Androcles after Androcles had pulled a thorn out of his paw. And something of this feeling did in fact characterise my long-standing friendship with Gerald. We stayed in touch for decades. I followed the adventures of the members of his family. When I visited Paris I often stayed in his flat, and on each occasion we managed to play piano duets until ill-health made piano-playing too strenuous for him.

A moral of this story is: be kind to people who come to your town knowing nobody. They will be grateful to you for ever!

12 Comments

  1. Gareth

    How interesting. I’m about to embark on cataloguing Philip Radcliffe’s instrumental music manuscripts, having done the ~200 songs many years ago. One of them is a piano piece called ‘Pointon’s Pavane’, dated 1959. I guess it’s likely to be a portrait of Gerald Pointon, as they would have known each other at that time? I never made the connection until now. I think it’s the only one of the instrumental mss that has an evocative virginal-piece-style title like that.

    Reply
    • Susan Tomes

      That *is* interesting, Gareth! ‘Pointon’s Pavane’ is ringing a very faint bell in my mind. I think I must have been told about it. I mentioned that Gerald was a handsome man, and I know I wasn’t the only one who was captivated by him.

      Reply
  2. Mary Cohen

    What a lovely reminiscence. Gerald sounds like someone who totally understood and appreciated the aesthetic environment he ‘curated’ and shared with others. (A striking chance contrast with your previous post about influencers.) And it’s so interesting how some people can be really special musical partners even if they are not professional standard. I’ve had this kind of experience with pupils and friends, whose playing would always ‘just fit’.

    Reply
  3. Rhonda Rizzo

    As another pianist who spent a great part of her career playing duets with other pianists, I found myself nodding my head when I read your comments about “clicking” with another pianist. I’ve “clicked” with just two other pianists (out of the many with whom I collaborated): my long-time duo partner Molly Wheeler and William Chapman Nyaho. Most of the others have been uncomfortable mismatches–even the time I collaborated with a lifelong friend. The chemistry is either there or it isn’t.

    Thanks for this beautiful reminiscence.

    Reply
  4. Susan Tomes

    Rhonda, thank you for your comment. I had an interesting experience once when playing duets at Prussia Cove with the South African pianist Lamar Crowson, whom I had only just met. We played a page of duet music (which went along easily) and he stopped and said to me, ‘Gemini, right?’
    I was startled and admitted that Gemini was my star sign. He said that his was too, and that he could ‘always tell’ a fellow Gemini when playing piano duets. Intriguing!

    Reply
  5. Roy Howat

    In reply to Gareth, PFR wrote ‘Pointon’s Pavane’ for Gerald’s wedding. We were all enormously fond of Philip, and that mutual friendship was part of the bond with Gerald, who always kept in touch with Philip. When Philip died in a car accident in France, it was Gerald whom King’s immediately contacted for help and information.
    It was as an undergrad that Gerald sang in KCC, while he read law. He said he never wanted to do music professionally, after hearing an overly dry professor (not PFR) say he preferred reading a score to hearing the music performed. (‘Can you imagine?’, Gerald exclaimed, incredulity all over his face.)
    There’s also a violin piece Philip Radcliffe wrote for James Ellis, and if anything else is unrecognised I might just be able to identify one or two items.

    Reply
  6. Roy Howat

    An update re Philip’s pieces:
    Pointon’s Pavane was for Gerald in 1959, then he wrote Pointons’ Pastoral (note the plural possessive) for Gerald’s and Priscilla’s wedding in 1961. (I just found my copies of them.)

    Reply
    • Susan Tomes

      Excellent, thank you Roy! You have helped the library to clear up this little mystery.

      Reply
  7. Gareth

    Thank you, Roy, for this invaluable information! I’ll send you an email about the mss presently, still working through them at the moment.

    Reply
  8. john humphreys

    Hello Susan.

    A fascinating and fond memory. Duet playing is rarely given any attention in our conservatoires/schools of music. Can’t think why except perhaps that it smacks of the ‘amateur’ (which indeed in the best sense it is). Nonetheless it has offered me a happy (and not unprofitable) career in music with dear colleague, Allan Schiller whose friendship, musicianship (not to mention reputation) and equable spirit have inspired me over fifty years. Very easy to work with, no arguing, few disagreements and, I hope a genuine sense of occasion when we play. Perhaps, at our ages our last Wigmore next March. (listening to your Mozart K413/414/415 as I write this – very very classy!)
    all best, John

    Reply
    • Albert and Wendy shashoua

      I am sorry to hear Gerald has passed away.. my wife and I were good friends with his family and attended his daughter’s wedding in Paris.. we stayed at his wonderful flat in blvd malserbes several times when we were in Paris on holiday from the USA.. we moved to Atlanta from London many years ago. We enjoyed wonderful meals with Priscilla and Gerald.. Priscilla was an excellent cook and our talks were always very lively with them. We called Gerald occasionally but unfortunately not for a longer then usual gap this time. We only found out when we just called and did not get Gerald on line and no voice message either.
      He will be missed.
      We briefly knew his now grown children Mary Nicholas and Jessica.. we send our heartfelt condolences to them if they read this.

      Reply
      • Susan Tomes

        Thank you, Albert and Wendy. It’s nice to know so many people have fond memories of Gerald and his family.

        Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

La Puerta del Vino

La Puerta del Vino

Debussy's Prelude 'La Puerta del Vino', from his second book of Preludes for piano (written 1912-13), has been one of my favourites...

read more