British female pianists and teachers: Fanny Davies

In today’s blog post, I’m continuing my series on British female pianists and teachers. Fanny Davies was born in Guernsey in 1861 moving to Birmingham where she gave her first performance at the age of 6. She studied privately in Birmingham, then at the Leipzig Conservatory under Carl Reinecke and Oscar Paul. She also studied with Clara Schumann in Frankfurt.  Fanny was an extremely successful concert pianist and was considered to be the successor to Arabella Goddard although her playing was nothing like Goddard’s in style or technique.

Her concert career began with the Saturday and Monday popular concerts in 1885. Then she performed with the Philharmonic in 1886; the Gewandhaus, Leipzig, 1888; Rome, 1889; Beethoven Festival at Bonn, 1893; Vienna Philharmonic, 1895; Milan, 1895 and 1904; Paris, 1902, 1904 and 1905; Netherlands, 1920 and 1921; Prague, 1920 and 1922; and Spain 1923.

Davies was frequently engaged by the Royal Philharmonic Society, making her last appearance in its Society programme on 15 November 1915 under the baton of Thomas Beecham in Mozart’s G major Concerto, K. 453. She had appeared in a Mozart concerto at Beecham’s London debut at the Bechstein (Wigmore) Hall on 5 June 1905. Fanny was the first pianist to give a recital in Westminster Abbey.Her playing has been admired by many for its lyrical projection, warmth and clarity of inner lines and musicianly authority. George Bernard Shaw was not a great admirer, and in 1891 described her as a ‘wild young woman’. In May 1892, after a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia, he wrote: ‘To those who cannot understand how anybody could touch a note of that melody without emotion, her willing, affable, slap-dash treatment of it was a wonder’. But a year later, at her Crystal Palace performance of the Chopin F minor concerto, he was warming to her, calling it ‘the most successful feat of interpretation and execution I have ever heard her achieve’.

Harold C. Schonberg observed, ‘behind her neat, controlled, tasteful playing one can see the specter of Clara…….she embodied in a remarkable degree the unique qualities of the romantic school of which Clara Schumann was admittedly the most spontaneous and finished exponent’.

Fanny Davies loved to play chamber music, working often in a piano trio with Joseph Joachim. In 1892 she appeared with Richard Mühlfeld and Robert Hausmann in the first London performances of the Brahms Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op. 114. She also gave the first London performance of Brahm’s D minor Violin Sonata, also with Joachim. She was accompanist for lieder recitals given in 1894–6 by the baritone David Bispham, in Schumann and Brahms (including the Op. 112 Liebeslieder).

Davies gave the premiere performance of Edward Elgar’s Concert Allegro, Op. 46, in 1901. The piece was written only after constant requests from her for a new piece, and was dedicated to her.

Fanny Davies’ success had a great influence on other female pianists; she was professor of piano at the Royal College of Music and gave much encouragement to students in England and on the continent. She also helped to ‘create among the general mass of amateurs a taste for pianoforte playing of a more warm-blooded type than had hitherto satisfied them’, wrote Herman Klein. Davies wrote articles and lectured widely on music, and many of these papers and articles are in the RCM archives. She died in 1934.

Main Source: Wikipedia


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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