Elena Gerhard's Brother Reinholt
After I had worked for Benjamin Britten my mother thought I ought to learn to sing properly and I ended up as a singing student at The Guildhall school of Music and Drama with a Herr Reinholt Gerhard as my professor. I was totally overwhelmed and very impressed. I was 16.
I have never thought of him until yesterday when a writer who is researching and translating a book about Mr Gerhard's famous sister the Lieder singer Elena Gerhard got it touch. The writer was researching into her family and was trying to find somebody in fact anybody who knew anything about him.
The mentors you meet usually by accident during your teenage years have a profound effect on one's outlook on life. I was lucky to meet Mr Gerhard. He was eccentric and old and German but I admired him tremendously and was even I am afraid to say a little scared of him too. He seemed so wise and knowledgeable about the theory music of which I knew very little although I certainly knew more about music written after 1836 than he did. I don't think he had even heard of Benjamin Britten and when he had to go over my 'Dolly shall sleep" Mr Gerhard was well out of his depth.
Before the war in Leipzig Mr Gerhard was a lawyer. That was his profession. He had a famous sister and he played the piano adequately but if he had not had to flee Leipzig he would never have taught singing.
Mr Gerhard fell head over heels in love with his wife Claire 'Mutti' who was a famous singer and very beautiful. She was already married may have had two sons by her first husband but when I spoke to her during the many nights I spent with her in the flat in Finchley she only talked of one son. I think Mr Gerhard was much younger than 'Mutti' and she eventually agreed after a long courtship to marry him. They had no children of their own.
I feel sure that through the war Mr Gerhard had been a true German, he adored his country. He and his wife would never have left but the Russians on the doorstep meant he had to flee and Elena had friends in London who were prepared to help.
Obviously as Mr Gerhard could not practice law in UK but he could trade of being the brother of a famous singer which he did with success. Singing teachers can be 'charlatans' in my experience with the exception of a famous nun, Sister Leo here in Auckland who did know how to teach singing. Kiri Te Kanawa is just one of her famous pupils.
Although Mr Gerhard had no musical credentials he looked the part, spoke German, could play the piano and his method consisted of not letting the pupil actually sing a note for months. The lessons were very expensive and he could fill out twenty minutes very easily and he was always late. I think I at 16 did not sing at all for the first two terms. I could see my money ticking away.
I stayed with Mr Gerhard for four years as I knew no better. I was as I said young a naive and very pretty but so obviously virginal and Mr Gerhard had an embarrassing way of telling me how wonderful my first encounter with sex would be. He would go on and on about it especially when he was teaching me 'Susanna' in 'The Marriage of Figaro'. Today this would not be allowed me thinks!
On the day I received the GSM&D Production Prize Mr Gerhard was made an honorary Dr of Music GSM&D He earned his musical credentials.
Eventually I grew out of Mr Gerhard but I have never forgotten him and the love of Lieder he instilled in me. I had a tiny voice, unfortunately not operatic in anyway but he and Britten said one day if I stuck to it I should sing Leider well if not in German! I try to do my best.
'Songs of the Auvergene' Janette Miller