From the archive, 28 November 1970: Mystery cellist drama

Normally we would not pry into musical evenings at Chequers, which are Mr Heath’s private affair. We would not do so now if there were not grounds for thinking that the Russians are keenly interested in tomorrow night’s encounter between Mr Heath and Mr Yehudi Menuhin. The reasons for their curiosity are obvious, and to the Soviet equivalent of the Kremlinologist they present a pretty little problem. There is not much to go on, but what there is is dynamite.

When he let it be known that he and the Prime Minister were going to play together Mr Menuhin was reported as saying: “We have chosen to play a sonata by Handel.” Significantly, although this sentence appeared in the “Guardian” it did not appear in the “Times,” which the Russians believe to have close relations with the Government. Mr Menuhin is a precise man. In discussing music he does not bandy words around lightly. Yet a study of Grove’s “Dictionary of Music and Musicians” discloses that only one of the hundreds of works composed by Handel is a sonata for violin and piano. (It is in the key of G major, although that is not strictly relevant to our purpose here.) Mr Menuhin, as a violinist, is aware of this: why then did he say a sonata, and not the sonata?

People who distrust the Kremlinological method will say that this was a slip of the tongue. But this will not do. Other explanations must be sought.

There are only two. One is that Mr Heath plays an instrument other than the piano (and organ). This is subtle but not, we are afraid, subtle enough. Handel wrote no sonatas for the violin in duet with any instrument other than the piano. What he did write was a sonata for two violins, bass, and organ. But this sonata would demand two extra players and the Kremlinologist always looks for the simplest explanation. Is there a sonata for three players? No, but let us dig further.

Fortunately there is another clue which makes all plain. In several of Handel’s works the terms sonata and trio were interchangeable and what is usually described as the trio in G minor can equally well be described as a sonata. Moreover this is Handel’s only work for piano, violin, and one other instrument. The instrument is the cello. In short, Mr Heath and Mr Menuhin are playing tomorrow night with a cellist whose name they have taken the greatest pains to conceal. Only a meeting with the gravest possible implications for world peace could justify so breathtaking a conspiracy of silence. Who is the secret cellist? We do not know. We await developments. But if his name appears on the front page of today’s “Pravda” our professional pride will suffer beyond repair.

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