Eileen Joyce CMG 1908-1991
During the war she performed regularly with Sir Malcolm Sargent and the London Philharmonic, especially for people devastated by the blitz.
Joyce returned to Australia for the ABC in 1948.
Eileen Joyce married in London in 1937 and had a son; sadly her husband died on active service and, over the years, she and her son became increasingly estranged.
Though small in stature, Joyce was strikingly beautiful. She enjoyed and exploited the glamour of celebrity, and developed a penchant for changing her elegant Norman Hartnell gowns to suit the music she was playing – blue for Beethoven, green for Chopin, red for Tchaikovsky. She also adjusted her chestnut-dyed hair – drawn back for Mozart, piled high for Beethoven, falling free for Grieg and Debussy. Critics sneered, but her audiences loved it.
During the war she performed regularly with Sir Malcolm Sargent and the London Philharmonic, especially for people devastated by the blitz. She reached vast new audiences by playing on film soundtracks. She was heard in The Seventh Veil, Men of Two Worlds, Quartet and, most notably, Brief Encounter, which elevated the Rachmaninov second piano concerto to hit parade popularity. And she appeared as herself in Battle for Music, Girl in a Million and Trent’s Last Case. Her young years were the subject of a somewhat fanciful biography, Prelude; published in 1947, it was designed to appeal to older children.
Joyce returned to Australia for the ABC in 1948. ‘It is a long established tradition,’ said the program note, ‘that no British artist can possibly be a great pianist, and for years her advisors urged her to adopt a name with a continental flavour, but she stubbornly refused. She has now raised the name of Eileen Joyce to the level of the great.’ Again her reception was ecstatic. ‘I have lovely memories of Eileen’s playing,’ said Richard Bonynge, then a student at the New South Wales Conservatorium. ‘She brought such glamour to the concert stage. We all used to flock to her concerts, not least because of the extraordinary amount of cleavage she used to show!’
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Richard Davis: Eileen Joyce – A Portrait, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001
Cyrus Meher-Homji: ‘Eileen Joyce’, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Music, Oxford University Press, 1997