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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Glamorous gowns and great music

Published 02/07/2011 | 05:00

When your biography is subtitled Adventures of a Concert Pianist, it would be fair to assume that, as a musician, you've been cut from a different cloth. Cloth being the operative word here, for the lady in question had a penchant for elaborate evening gowns.

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Marguerite Wolff, who died recently at the age of 92 -- an educated guess, for she never revealed her exact date of birth -- was small in stature but had a huge stage presence. A Londoner, she championed contemporary English music.

It was her mother who spotted her talent early and packed her off to piano lessons.

She was performing in public by the age of 10. She was 15 when she made her orchestral debut, and international acclaim followed.

Her first performance abroad was in Paris, with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was here she made her first big fashion statement. Her dress, featuring silver lamé under a billowing skirt, almost stole the show.

It would be ever thus. In her 80s, she played a charity concert in the English Lake District. The Cumberland & Westmoreland Herald reported that "Marguerite swept into the room wearing a magnificent lilac-silvery gown designed for her by Sir Norman Hartnell (dressmaker to the Queen of England), bringing an aura of romance and glamour to the evening."

Marguerite believed that there should be an air of magic about a concert performance, but she never lost sight of the music.

In a letter she wrote to the Financial Times she recalled a recital in Peru where the desperately high humidity threatened to render the Steinway unplayable.

The tuner reckoned there was only one thing for it. "He (...) took the entire action out of the piano," Marguerite recalled, "and put it on a stone step on the terrace in the sunshine for a few hours, and said: 'That will do more than anything I can do'.

"That night at the concert the piano played like a dream."

Marguerite Wolff: Adventures of a Concert Pianist by Robert Clarson-Leach, is published by Artmusique Publishing Co, London.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning. ghamilton@independent.ie

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