British financier Leopold de Rothschild is a director of the family's merchant bank, N M Rothschild, and his rich career in finance has also included a thirteen year stint as a Director of the Bank of England, the country's central bank.
But along the way, music has been at least an equal partner. A lifelong student of the piano, he has also been a leading musical philanthropist, serving as either President or Chairman of such leading British musical institutions as the English National Opera, the Royal College of Music, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the legendary Bach Choir with which he has sung for 50 years.
In conversation with “Mad About Music” host Gilbert Kaplan, de Rothschild reveals:
- His mother was a descendant of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer
- Why Bach’s fourth Brandenburg Concerto “has always sent me”
- About his friendships with conductors George Solti, Charles Mackerras, Colin Davis
- Why composer Benjamin Britten has such appeal
- In his fantasy he would be a world-class pianist playing concertos such as Brahms' First: “I’ve often had fantasies about those double octave trills"
His musical selections include works by Bach, Walton, Mozart, Britten, Faure with a “wildcard” of music by the Andrew Sisters.
Johann Sebastian Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. Final movement. English Chamber Orchestra. Raymond Leppard. Universal Classics B00009P1PI.
Sir William Walton Gloria [excerpt]. Philharmonia Orchestra. Sir David Willcocks. Bach Choir. Chandos B000000AJ5.
Gabriel Faure Piano Quartet No. 1. Second movement. Arthur Rubinstein. Guarneri Quartet. RCA B00005427T.
Don Raye and Hughie Prince “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. The Andrews Sisters. Goldies B00005BIBA.
Benjamin Britten A Midsummer Night’s Dream [conclusion]. London Symphony Orchestra. Benjamin Britten. Decca B0000041WB.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Rondo in A-major for Piano and Orchestra [excerpt]. English Chamber Orchestra. Murray Perahia, pianist and conductor. Sony B0000025YR.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to "Mad About Music" where my guest today is the British financier, Leopold de Rothschild.
KAPLAN: He is a director of the family's merchant bank, N.M. Rothschild, and his rich career in finance has also included a thirteen year stint as a director of the Bank of England, the country's central bank. But along the way, music has been at least an equal partner. A lifelong student of the piano, he has also been a leading musical philanthropist, serving as either President or Chairman of such leading British musical institutions as the English National Opera, the Royal College of Music, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the legendary Bach Choir with which he has sung for 50 years. Leopold de Rothschild, welcome to "Mad About Music."
LEOPOLD DE ROTHSCHILD: Thank you very much. It’s a great honor for me to be here and to be able to tell you a little bit about why I am so mad about music.
KAPLAN: All right, now, in my introduction I’ve emphasized your rich banking career, but equally your intense involvement in musical life. Has music always been a passion?
ROTHSCHILD: Ever since I can remember, I think my first consciousness about being moved by music, was hearing Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and the slow movement from the Beethoven A major Symphony. As a child, I took violin lessons until my mother thought that my sister – who was also taking violin lessons -- and I made such a disagreeable noise that she was very happy for us to change to the piano. And I’ve been a bad pianist ever since.
KAPLAN: But have you continued to play over the years?
ROTHSCHILD: Yes, and to take lessons.
KAPLAN: Now, I think I read somewhere that your mother was a descendent of Meyerbeer.
KAPLAN: And I suppose you must love his music therefore.
ROTHSCHILD: Well -- I have to be loyal, don’t I?
KAPLAN: Yes, you do. Let’s talk a little bit more about memories of your first exposure to music. You mentioned listening to Schubert. What about opera? What was your first encounter with opera?
ROTHSCHILD: Well, my first encounter with opera was in New York during the war, I suppose 1941. My guardian sent the people I was staying with and me off to the Met to see or rather hear, Rosenkavalier because we were put in seats right up in the gallery. And all I could see were the pink slippers of I suppose the Marschallin, and I suppose it was, I think it was Lotte Lehmann, and I can’t remember the others.
KAPLAN: How old were you then?
KAPLAN: All right. Well, let’s then turn to your most interesting music list and I see your first selection is by Bach.
ROTHSCHILD: Yes. Well, I mean, I couldn’t live without Bach. And the work I would like to play is the last movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major. But this particular movement has always sent me, as it were. I’m so happy when I hear it. And I chose the recording that you’re going to hear. It’s by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Raymond Leppard. I’ve been involved with the ECO ever since its formation in 1960 and still am – I’m its President. And Raymond and I met at Cambridge and became friends. This piece, although it’s not recorded by period instruments, has actually got not flutes but recorders, and one of the recorders is played, was played by David Munrow, who later went on to form his own early music consort before his untimely death.
KAPLAN: The final movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, the English Chamber Orchestra led by Raymond Leppard, the first selection of my guest today on "Mad About Music," the British financier, Leopold de Rothschild. Now I'd like to turn to choruses. Is it really correct as I read that you have sung in London's Bach Choir, what was it -- for more than 50 years?
ROTHSCHILD: Yes, more or less. I sang in the Cambridge University Music Society Chorus when I was at Cambridge. And when I came down, I sort of “cased the joint” to see what choirs I thought I would like to join. And I heard the Bach choir singing Belshazzar’s Feast, and I thought, “That’s the choir for me.” Well, when I applied to join, I was told that there was a waiting list and it was closed. And it just happened that I met the son of the conductor a few days later, and I said to him “I don’t think much of your father’s moldy choir.” “Why not?” he said angrily. Well, and so I told him and within a day or two I got a postcard inviting me to an audition. But I haven’t looked back since.
KAPLAN: Now, I would have thought, just listening to you speak here, I would have guessed that you would be a tenor, but I read that you’re actually a second bass, that low basso profundo. You would have been a real catch. I mean, that voice is still very rare in choruses.
ROTHSCHILD: Well, I can get down to C quite happily, and sometimes to B. But it’s not a very strong voice. But I suppose it has its uses.
KAPLAN: Well, it certainly does, and it’s difficult to find. Now British choruses, in my experience, this is as a listener, as a conductor, I know they are made up of amateur singers -- they’re simply extraordinary, all of them. And I wonder, what accounts for this choral tradition in the country?
ROTHSCHILD: Well, it’s always been there, I think. You go back to the 19th century, when you get massed choirs singing The Messiah, you get the great provincial choir like the Huddersfield Chorus, and the Bach Choir was formed well over 125 years ago. It’s a sort of way of life. But the Bach Choir is quite special, I think. It’s an amateur choir and so not only do we meet for singing, but we form friendships within the choir. It’s a very social choir.
KAPLAN: I see. Now, you know when a colleague of yours, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King was a guest on our show, he talked about that one of his great disappointments as a child was that he was not permitted to sing in the chorus at school because he was not singing well enough. And that this was a great blow to him. He likened it, I think, in my mind; he didn’t say this, that it was sort of not getting on in America would be, you know, the varsity football team or something. It was just that competitive and that important. I mean, do you feel that about the history of singing?
ROTHSCHILD: Well, I can understand his frustration. The Bach Choir has tri-annual voice trials, and I know that there is a great deal of anxiety and nervousness when those trials come up because people regard this as a part of their way of life and if they’re turned down, it’s a great disappointment to them.
KAPLAN: Now, since you’ve sung for so many years with the Choir, I wonder, do you have any particular memories of moving experiences that you can isolate?
ROTHSCHILD: Oh, there was so many, this is hard to do. I think I must have sung in over 100 performances of the Matthew Passion, and at some point in the piece, it never fails to knock one sideways, really. Another piece that I find really very moving is the Haydn Creation.
KAPLAN: All right, well your next piece I see is in fact a choral work, and it is Walton’s Gloria.
ROTHSCHILD: Well, I chose this, because as I mentioned earlier that I heard Belshazzar’s Feast in the Bach Choir, and performed it many times with them. And after one of these performances, I met Walton, and I said to him what a wonderful piece it is. And he said, “Well, you know, the Gloria is not bad either.” So I thought we’d give it a go. The Bach Choir is singing, and I’m singing in it, but I just hope you don’t hear my voice!
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Walton's Gloria, the Philharmonia Orchestra, soloists and the Bach Choir, where embedded in the bass section is my guest today on "Mad About Music," financier Leopold de Rothschild. When we return, we'll talk about conductors Leopold de Rothschild has come to know.
KAPLAN: This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on "Mad About Music," British financier, Leopold de Rothschild. Now you have not only served on boards, but have also been president or chairman of orchestras and some opera houses. Have you come to know some conductors on a personal level?
ROTHSCHILD: Quite a lot, yes. I mean, I knew George Solti pretty well and Colin Davis and Charles Mackerras and so on. But I’ve been moved many times by many different conductors. I suppose one of the ones who really affected me at one time was Giulini -- Giulini conducting Falstaff at Glyndebourne. Falstaff -- I suppose, this must be in the 60s or early 70s -- was not often performed, and it was a revelation when I heard it first, and performed by him, it was something.
KAPLAN: All right. Then let's return to your music list and I see next is a Fauré Piano Quartet.
ROTHSCHILD: Well, the older I get, the more I like chamber music and the more I like slow movements. So it may seem perverse, but I’ve chosen a scherzo. But the sister that I mentioned earlier on who took piano lessons the same time as I, this was a great favorite with her. We used to listen to it together a lot, and get great enjoyment from it.
KAPLAN: The Scherzo from Fauré's First Piano Quartet, featuring Arthur Rubinstein and musicians from the Guarneri quartet, a selection of my guest on "Mad About Music," financier Leopold de Rothschild. You know, before we went on the air you mentioned the challenge of picking music, as there were just so many composers, so many works you could have chosen. Are there any mainstream composers that you just don't connect to?
ROTHSCHILD: Well, I have to think about that one. Not many. I’m not terribly keen, and it is to my great discredit, on very early music, on Renaissance music, and even later than that. And then again, to my great discredit I can't always connect with the very modern composers. I try; I work at it. And then sometimes I think, oh well there's so much other music to hear, I’ll be lazy, and listen to that instead.
KAPLAN: Do you think your reaction to contemporary music is partly based on the fact that it seems to be a truth today that writing a beautiful melody is no longer allowed?
ROTHSCHILD: That is a very good point. What’s wrong with a good tune? I mean, it seems to me that a lot of the contemporary music is so cerebral; they’re speaking to people who know their craft, who are professionals, like I don’t. But I have to say one modern composer, contemporary composer who I do find does connect is John Adams.
KAPLAN: Yes, he seems to be a favorite in America also. Listenable, and at the same time, contemporary. Well, you know, you said, "who doesn’t love a good tune?" And that brings me to the next section of the show we call the “wildcard,” where you have a chance to pick a tune or anything else that’s not classical music, not opera. So what would you like us to listen to?
ROTHSCHILD: Well, I was evacuated to America during the war for three years and I became very fond, amongst others, of the Andrews Sisters. And one particular piece which I thought was deliciously silly, called the “Boogie Woogie Piggy” but I think you’ve been unable to find it, and I think you’re going to play the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” instead. I just added a little postscript: A few years ago I was in New York and a friend took me to the ballet, where, to my huge delight, one of the ballets was entirely Andrews Sisters music.
KAPLAN: The "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," a classic by the Andrews Sisters, and a lasting childhood memory of British financier, Leopold de Rothschild, from his teenage years he spent living in New York, this, his "wildcard" selection. When we return, we'll discuss one of Leopold de Rothschild's favorite British composers.
KAPLAN: This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on "Mad About Music," the British financier, Leopold de Rothschild. Now let's talk about music in your life today. How often do you attend performances?
ROTHSCHILD: Not as often as I would like. I find myself listening more and more to the radio or playing CDs. I go to opera quite a lot. I know I should make a real effort and go to concerts more, and I intend to do this. As the older I get, I intend to do this.
KAPLAN: Now, you say you listen at home. Are you an audiophile? Do you have a fancy rig at home for listening?
ROTHSCHILD: It’s become very antiquated. I’m about to move my residence, and I’m looking forward to setting up something really modern in the new place I’m going to.
KAPLAN: Are you a person with an ipod?
ROTHSCHILD: I’m 83. Not yet!
KAPLAN: Well, your ears still work.
ROTHSCHILD: I intend to do so. Certainly.
KAPLAN: Well, we’re talking about your life in Britain. Let’s come to a different Britain now, namely Benjamin Britten because I see he’s next on your list.
ROTHSCHILD: Well, I mentioned earlier that my involvement with the English Chamber Orchestra, and I had the great privilege of writing to Ben to ask him to be our patron, which he accepted. And in doing so, he said he was so pleased to do so, because he liked to be associated with musicians he admired so much. I knew Ben reasonably well, but not closely. There’s so much of his music that I would like to include, but I thought this was because one season Glyndebourne put on a production by Peter Hall of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and at the close, the very close, the fairies take over, and one had the feeling that as you were going to walk out of the theater, you walk straight into a magic fairy land.
KAPLAN: The concluding moments of Benjamin Britten's opera, A Midsummer Night's Dream, the London Symphony Orchestra, choirs and soloists, all under the baton of the composer himself. Music chosen by a personal friend and admirer of Britten, financier Leopold de Rothschild, my guest today on "Mad About Music." Now in my introduction I cited the many boards of musical institutions on which you have served. Can you tell me a few cases where you felt you made the difference?
ROTHSCHILD: Well I like to think that I helped to preserve what was then Sadler’s Wells Opera and became the English National Opera. I mean, this may be a conceit on my part, but I just remember – I was on the Board of the old Sadler’s Wells, and they were in pretty low water, so they thought they would try and revive their fortunes in putting on The Merry Widow, which was a complete adventure as far as they were concerned. At the time, the Lehár estate I think was owned by MGM and they wouldn’t allow it. Well, it just happened that I have a home in southern Hampshire, my family’s home, a big garden, and one of the senior executives from MGM was visiting Exbury, a lawyer I think. And I had the opportunity to put a word in for us. And we were allowed to proceed. Now I have no doubt many other more powerful forces intervened, but I hope I had a little hand in it. The other thing I think I was proud of was my involvement with the Royal College of Music because when they had their centenary, I chaired their appeal, and we got enough money to build what is now called the Britten Theater at the College. And I really was proud of that achievement. Later on, they very kindly made me Chairman. That is one of the things I think I probably cherish most.
KAPLAN: I see. All right, now I have a question I want to ask you, and it’s mandatory on this show for anybody who is over 60 and you have revealed that’s probably true in your case. And for someone particularly who loves music as much as you do, have you thought at all about music you might want played at your funeral?
ROTHSCHILD: Oh, yes, but like one’s will, it keeps on changing.
KAPLAN: What are some of your tentative thoughts?
ROTHSCHILD: You’ve set me thinking - I think that’s quite a fast one.
KAPLAN: Even composers?
ROTHSCHILD: Oh, I suppose Bach or Brahms, or something fairly conventional.
KAPLAN: All right, well, we always ask, and sometimes the answers are rather unusual. In your case, you’re still mulling it over. Now, I hope, for a long time. Let's then come back to your list, and we’re now turning to a Mozart rondo.
ROTHSCHILD: Yes. Well, I think all music lovers must admire the wonderful set of piano concertos that Mozart wrote. And one keeps on thinking, “Oh this is the one I like best,” or “this is the one I must hear again” or something. But this little Rondo is I think not very often played, probably because, I believe, the closing pages -- there is some dispute as to their authenticity. But never mind, I think it is an absolutely delightful piece.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Mozart's A major Rondo for Piano and Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra with Murray Perahia at the piano, as well as conducting -- the final selection of my guest today on "Mad About Music," British financier, Leopold de Rothschild. All right, this brings us to the final section of the show where we explore musical fantasies and I'm going to ask you for two of them. First, if an opera were to be written about your life, which composer would you want to do it?
ROTHSCHILD: Well, I think it would be terribly presumptuous to name any serious composer. I think the one I wouldn’t go for is Meyerbeer – maybe a bit close to home. Well, if you are talking about who one admires, obviously Verdi, but I can’t imagine that my life would be remotely interesting to him. But maybe a composer like Offenbach might find something quite funny to bring out in it.
KAPLAN: Okay, my second question in this fantasyland section is, what would you like to be, if you could be a star in music? Composer? A conductor? A pianist?
ROTHSCHILD: A pianist.
KAPLAN: A pianist.
ROTHSCHILD: Yes -- I would love to be able to play Mozart concertos, Rachmaninoff concertos, you name it. The Brahms, Brahms One -- I’ve often had fantasies about those double octave trills.
KAPLAN: All right, well, Leopold de Rothschild, you have been a wonderful guest today, revealing not only the music you love, but to my sense, the power music has always played in your life. Thank you for appearing. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
Heidi Bryson, Producer
Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
Leszek Wojcik, Recording Engineer