published by GAE, May 1996
We often hear about noted Goddard men; rarely about noted Goddard women. I am grateful to member Stanley Goddard for introducing me to Arabella Goddard, who might go some way to redress the balance of the sexes.
Madame Arabella Goddard, as she was styled in the press, was born at St Servan, near St Malo, in Brittany on 12 January 1836, the daughter of Mr T. Goddard of Welbeck Street, London. I have not yet been able to identify Mr T. Goddard, but presumably he was a musician, or music teacher for her delightful parents realised that Arabella, almost from infancy, showed an extraordinary propensity for music. At the age of four she played the piano at a charity concert in St Servan. Too small to sit on a conventional seat one had to be improvised for her, but the music she played was far from juvenile, being a fantasia on themes from Mozart's Don Juan. Realising fully how great her talents were, her parents moved to Paris and Arabella began to study under Frederic KaWbrenner, the foremost piano teacher of the age. Aged seven she played for Chopin and George Sand to their great pleasure.
After the revolution in France in 1848 her parents thought it wise to return to London, and Arabella was placed under the tuition of Mrs Anderson, who also taught Queen Victoria. She was soon commanded to perform at Buckingham Palace before the Queen and Prince Albert, who "highly complimented heron her playing". Her musical education was continued under Sigismond Thalberg, who had been a pupil of Kalkbrenner, under whose tuition she learned to play the most difficult passages at sight and developed the musical memory and ability to play without music for which she was justly famed, but which caused as much consternation as admiration from a public to which it was a novelty. She used notes when performing with an orchestra, probably to allay their anxieties that she would forget or make a mistake.
She first appeared in public at a matinee at her father's residence on 30 March 1850, aged 14. In the October of the same year she made her debut at the Grand National Concerts held in Her Majesty's Theatre, when she played the Elisere Fantasia and the Tarantella of Thalberg, "with marked success" the reviews said. In 1853 the Philharmonic Society engaged her to play a concerto at one of its concerts and she chose Sterndale Bennett's most famous work in F minor. This was the year of a quarrel between Costa, the society's conductor and Bennett, and unfortunately Arabella was caught in the middle. Punch of that week had the following to say:
THE EMBROGLIO AT THE PHILHARMONIC
Done in verse by a very Old
Subscriber and Poet
Sterndale Bennett was Indignant with Costa,
For not playing Bennett's Composition faster,
Costa flew into Excitement at Lucas
For Showing him Bennett's Order, or Ukase,
Haughtily Resigned the Seat which he sat on,
And Contemptuously told Lucas to take the baton.
Moreover Stipulated this Year with the Directors
That Nobody was to read him any more Lectures:
Also, he made it a Condition Strict,
He was only to conduct what Pieces of Music he liked,
Whereby this Year Costa doth Prevent
Any performance of Music by Sterndale Bennett:
Likewise Excluding the young and gifted Miss Goddard,
Whom with Admiration all the Critical Squad heard:
All to be Deplored, and, without more Amalgamation
The Philharmonic will Tarnish its Hitherto Deservedly High Reputation.
Having been asked to confine her playing to works of "the great masters and being prevented from playing works which were more modern and perhaps experimental, Arabella accepted an engagement instead with the rival "New Philharmonic Society". Here she played Bennett's C minor Concerto under the direction of Lindpaintner. It took until 1859 for The Philharmonic Society to recover from this surprise change of allegiance, but it did recover and in 1859 Arabella was presented with the Beethoven gold medal, its highest mark of favour.
It was the practice in those days for institutions to organise concerts and invite players and instrumentalists to perform at those concerts; not, as mostly nowadays, for artists to book, advertise and perform at their own concerts. For the next few years Arabella was in great demand to perform for societies at a variety of concerts and in a great number of halls, including the Crystal Palace, recently moved from its Great Exhibition site in Hyde Park to Siddenham.
On 25 March 1854 the illustrated London News describes her playing of Mozart's Concerto in D minor as "having a degree of finish, refinement and expression, which we have never heard surpassed. She was vehemently applauded and recalled after she had left the orchestra to receive additional marks of enthusiasm". Later in that year she went on a tour of Europe and played at the Gewandhaus concerts at Leipzig, "winning applause from the most critical and exclusive audience in Europe".
She returned to England in May 1856 and resumed her concerts. An account of the opening concert of the second series of The Popular Music Concerts in St James's Hall, London, in the Illustrated London Newse entertainment, in Conformity with its designation, was entirely calculated for a popular audience, consisting of well-known and favourite pieces. chiefly songs and ballads". It continues to tell that Mr Reeves, a favourite performer with the audience, was unwell and unable to take part. He had provided a medical certificate, but "this did not prevent a violent and unseemly clamour, which for a considerable time interrupted the concert, the malcontents refusing to listen to every performer who came forward till Miss Arabella Goddard appeared, when the charms of her music had the effect of allaying the storm". Every issue of the magazine around this time has a similar enthusiastic and appreciative account of her playing.
Arabella had long attracted the admiration of the music critic of The Times since 1846, J.W. (James William) Davison and he encouraged her to play Beethoven's posthumous sonatas, making her to be the first pianist to perform them in public in England. The son of a jounalist and an actress, he had attended the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied the pianoforte. He had written a few minor works, but transferred his attentions to writing about music for the leading newspaper and musical magazines. Despite an age difference of 23 years, Arabella and Davidson were married in 1859. Davidson, feeling that he might not give an unbiased opinion, asked to be excused from reviewing her concerts, but by this time Arabella was too well established to depend on newspaper advocacy. Her husband coached and advised her, assisting her in adding to her repertoire and suggesting new avenues for exploration. However, he also transferred his preferences and prejudices to her so that she did not try the music of Schumann, of whom he wrote "Robert Schumann has had his innings, and been bowled out - like Richard Wagner". There do not appear to have been any children of the marriage and Arabella was free to pursue her career, retaining her maiden name for musical circles.
Arabella took her farewell of the British public at St. James's Hall on 11 February 1873; already the fashion in piano music was changing from the classical to the playing of more easily understood, popular airs. Her time had passed. The same year she went on a three year professional tour of India, Australia, the Sandwich Islands and America, arriving back in England in April 1876. Her last public appearance is said to have been in the Sir Arthur Sullivan's Concerts at the Paris exhibition of 1878, after which she retired into private life. Her husband suffered from ill health for several years, and they moved from London to Malvern and then to Margate, looking for cures. Davison died at the seaside on 24 March 1885. In 1892 Arabella was living and teaching at Tunbridge Wells, to that town's great pride, and appeared in The Strand Magazine's portraits of celebrities. Her retirement from the public field, but not from music, lasted 40 years until her death on 6 April 1922 at her house in Boulogne, when the hands which had created music before Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and enthralled music lovers in many countries, were still at last.
Julie of Newbury
(Information taken from The Dictionary of National Biography, The Strand Magazine 1892, The Times, Illustrated London News, Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and with assistance from Stanley Goddard of Farnborough, Hampshire, and John Goddard of Amersham.)