Local Connections with Russian Composer
by John and Elizabeth Way

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A little-known fact is that the Russian composer Nicolas Medtner, who died 50 years ago, lived for a number of years in the Midlands. His residence here was due to the interest of the Birmingham-born pianist Edna Amy Iles, who specialised in his music. The first meeting between Medtner and Iles occurred in 1930. When the composer visited London to give a recital, she wrote to tell him of her great interest in his music and asked him to listen to her play his first concerto. Thus began a creative partnership which lasted for the rest of Medtner's life. Medtner trained and worked with Iles, commenting on her rendering of a piece at an early meeting "I do not know how you have understood that; it is so very Russian".

When the Medtners moved to London in 1935, Edna Iles and Nicolas Medtner were in frequent musical contact. At the beginning of the war, Edna's father invited the Mednters to come to stay with them - a stay which lasted 2 ½ years. After bomb damage to the Iles' Moseley residence, Edna's father bought a house in the Worcestershire village of Wythall, where Medtner worked on his two "Elegies". They subsequently moved to an isolated house in Wootten Wawen, where Medtner could work without interruption and concentrate on his third concerto.

After a period of illness, Medtner decided to move back to London, as the worst of the bombing was over and he needed to renew his contacts. The composer himself premiered the Third Piano Concerto at the Royal Albert Hall, under Sir Adrian Boult. After the war, Edna Iles played the same concerto in a CBSO concert which was broadcast and yielded a letter from Medtner expressing his pleasure at hearing her play it. Edna "included something of his in virtually every recital I've given" and Medtner "heard many of her public performances of his works, both concertos and solos, and he always admired very much her authenticity and deep feeling for his music".

Precis of article by Duncan Honeybourne published in Issue No 4 2001 of The Journal of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and Library.
Article provided by John and Elizabeth Way

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