Patricia Lynden: A most unlikely pioneer? By Robert Bigio
The first thing to be said about Pat Lynden is that not a soul has ever uttered a bad word about her. She was, and remains, one of the best-loved figures in British musical life. Spend any amount of time in her company and you will understand why. There exists a photograph of the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, taken in the 1950s. The photograph shows about a hundred players, all of them men but for the first flute player, Pat Lynden. Pat may not have been the very first woman to have played in a British orchestra, but she was probably the first woman to have played principal flute. She can’t, it must be said, understand what the fuss is about—she just got on with her job, the men she worked with got on with theirs, and there was never a problem. Pioneer? ‘I never thought of myself like that,’ she says. Pat was born three-quarters of a century ago in Barnet, north London. She still lives in the house her parents owned when she was born. She was the only child of a musical family; her mother played the piano and sang in a choir and her father, an accountant by trade, had a fine bass voice and was a semi- professional soloist who was often away at weekends, singing Messiah, Elijah and the like around the country. Pat’s father founded a choir that became the Barnet Choral Society and was its first conductor. There was always music in the house with father practising or taking sectional rehearsals when he was not at work. Music was her father’s life. When she was a small girl, Pat’s parents would take her to rehearsals, where she became the choir’s mascot and where she developed a love of the great choral works, to the surprise of her Philharmonia colleagues much later in her life, who often considered performances of works such as Elijah to be a frightful bore. She adored playing them. She attended a local primary school, held in those days in someone’s house (the teacher was a Miss Sally Simpson), but did not start school until she was six years old. At the age of eight she went to Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet, then took the Eleven Plus exam in order to stay there. Pat says she always wanted to blow something. She can remember having two great pots on either side of the fireplace which she used to blow as trumpets. One year she was given a toy trumpet for Christmas, and when she visited her two aunts in Wood Green she would often hear a Salvation Army band playing outside the tube station. She, of course, joined in with her toy trumpet. It was not until she was about fourteen years old that she considered doing anything serious in music. She played the recorder and wanted a tenor, but few instruments were available because of the war. Her father went to Schott’s, a large music shop in London, where he couldn’t find a tenor, but came home with a bass. ‘It was lovely,’ remembers Pat. ‘It looked like a great curtain rail!’ This instrument had been in the basement of Schott’s all through the war. Pat loved it. She went home every day after school to play. ‘There was something not quite right with it,’ she remembers. ‘It played for ten minutes, then got wet and didn’t work so well.’ She started playing the piano, but wasn’t terribly in love with it—‘It was a bit of a chore’—but when she heard Leon Goossens play an oboe concerto on a Sunday afternoon live radio broadcast she was bowled over and wanted to play the oboe. Everyone tried to talk her out of it—oboes, like all instruments, were hard to get because of the war, and were too expensive for her parents anyway. Pat used to get cross when people told her she couldn’t play two instruments (piano and oboe) and besides, Pat, who was asthmatic, was told that oboes were bad for asthma because you had to hold in your breath. One day, however, in Wood Green visiting her aunts, she saw a flute in a music shop window. It cost five pounds, which she could afford. The flute was a wooden, high-pitched one sold by Colonieu. She got it, played around with it, taught herself, then was put in touch with an elderly teacher named Christopher Claudis. Pat was then fourteen years old. Mr. Claudis played a Radcliff flute, a variation of the Boehm with a fingering system close to that of the simple-system, eight-keyed flute. Pat studied with Mr. Claudis for three years. She managed to play her high- pitched flute at modern pitch—nothing else was available, so she had little choice. (High pitch—A=452—was the standard pitch in Britain until the first few decades of the twentieth century. It is a full quarter-tone sharper than A=440.) In her school holidays Pat would walk up and down the Charing Cross Road, where (then as now) there were many music shops. One day she saw a Selmer Gold Seal metal flute which she took on approval. With great excitement she took it to Mr. Claudis, who said to her, ‘Oh, dear, no, this must go. This is just a peashooter with keys!’ Pat then looked in Exchange & Mart (the principal source of second-hand goods in those pre-Internet days) where she found a Boosey & Hawkes low-pitched wooden flute. ‘It was pretty rotten, I think, looking back,’ she says. It was this flute that she used for her audition to the Royal College of Music, and for her first couple of years there. She then got (again through Exchange & Mart) a thinned-throughout wooden Rudall Carte flute with unlined ebonite headjoint that had belonged to Gerald Jackson. (Jackson had been Sir Thomas Beecham’s first flute in the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic orchestras.) Pat’s teacher at the RCM was Edward Walker (universally known as Eddie). She only had two teachers in her entire career, in fact. Walker taught by example, not by theory, and simply expected Pat to get on and play. Pat remembers the day she chose to play the Gordon Jacob concerto in her lesson. Walker, she remembers, stood there and played the piece immaculately, as he could do with any piece in the repertoire. ‘He could play anything fluently,’ she remembers. Later, in fact, Eddie Walker was her second flute in the Philharmonia. He was a lovely man, she remembers, although he was quite scary to have as a second flute. Eddie was known for his fondness for drink, but although he was often, as Pat puts it, enveloped in alcoholic fumes at concerts, he always played impeccably and never, ever made mistakes. Pat used to get mad that she never touched a drop of alcohol until after the concert and frequently played wrong notes! Eddie Walker had been first flute in the London Symphony Orchestra but left that job to become second flute to Gareth Morris in the Philharmonia, and was still there when Pat replaced Gareth Morris as principal flute. Walker did a lot of film sessions and ran the Sinfonia of London, which was a very busy recording orchestra. He would often not be available for a term at a time, then would book a studio and give his students a block of lessons. On leaving college, Pat went to the Sadler’s Wells Opera (now known as English National Opera) as first flute, aged twenty-one. The orchestra’s piccolo player, Arthur Swanson (a lovely old fellow who had recovered from tuberculosis), said to her when she arrived, ‘Look here, my girl: you eat properly. None of this running from place to place on a bun and a cup of coffee. That’s what I did, and look where it got me!’ Pat says she took his advice and always made certain she ate well. Pat stayed at Sadler’s Wells for a year. That job involved long tours. On one twelve-week tour, while in Bournemouth, she heard that the co-principal job at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, had been advertised. A friend suggested she apply, so she phoned Covent Garden. She was told that the auditions had already been held, but was invited to audition anyway. She left Bournemouth one morning and took the train to London, knowing she had to be back in time for the evening performance. She only one piece of music with her, the Fauré Fantaisie. On arriving at Covent Garden she was taken to a rehearsal room at the top of the opera house and left there, alone. After a time, Rafael Kubelik, the music director, walked in. He asked what she had brought to play, took the piano part and sat down to accompany her. The slow introduction, Pat remembers, was lovely, but in the quick section Maestro Kubelik took off at what she describes as an unbelievable speed. Pat thought there was no way she would ever get the job as she couldn’t play it at that speed, but realised she could not stop the musical director of the Royal Opera House and tell him, ‘Maestro, that’s much too fast,’ so she carried on. ‘I just took a big breath and played.’ Afterwards, Kubelik gave Pat some excerpts from Carmen to sight- read, and that was that. She returned to Bournemouth. Later, she was told she had got the job. She has always maintained that she only got the job because Kubelik was so busy playing the piano part that he did not listen to her play! Pat was then still twenty-two years old. Her co-principal at Covent Garden was the late Christopher Taylor, and other members of the section were Don Davidson and John Bowler, both of whom have only recently retired, and Derek Honner. William Morton (known as Willy) joined the orchestra some time later. Pat remembers, ‘He looked about sixteen, and in fact when he and his wife went to the pictures he often had to produce ID to show he was old enough to get in.’ One day they were doing Fidelio  with Otto Klemperer—a great musical occasion, and one Pat remembers well. The orchestra decided to play a joke on the great man by telling him that the new, young flute player (Willy) was Miss Lynden’s son. Pat does a great imitation of Klemperer’s voice: ‘I didn’t know Miss Lynden had a son!’ She stayed at Covent Garden for six years, from 1956 to 1962. She says she left because she was still young—‘It was a different age,’ she says—and got fed up with working at night when everyone else was enjoying life. She freelanced for ten or eleven years, deputising in other orchestras, playing in school concerts (there were many in those days), and played in the London Mozart Players, the Capriol Orchestra and did some chamber music. She enjoyed the sixties. She played in the Menuhin Orchestra, which began as the Bath Festival Orchestra, originally as second flute to William Bennett, then, when he left, as first flute with Trevor Wye as second. She had by this time abandoned her wooden flute and played on a metal one made by Johannes Hammig, which she had ordered and collected from Germany. In the 1960s Pat often played in the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, which was made up mostly of Royal Opera House players who called it ‘Covent Garden by the sea’. This was where Pat got to know the orchestral repertoire. She claims that when she later joined the Philharmonia she did not know the repertoire at all. In the early 1970s Gareth Morris left the Philharmonia after a mugger had punched him in the mouth and ended his playing career. Pat eventually took his position. She says it was a most bizarre way to get a job. Pat never auditioned and had not intended to go for it, but she likens it to the sort of fairy story that doesn’t happen these days. After Gareth Morris had stopped playing, many flute players were in and out of the orchestra. Pat was invited to record Tosca  with Zubin Mehta, an important recording session lasting two weeks. With her experience at Sadler’s Wells and Convent Garden she was an obvious person to ask to do this job. She was then asked to do one or two more things, including a series of Havergal Brian symphonies, and then she was just asked if she would join the orchestra. ‘Every bit of me wanted to say no,’ she says, ‘because I had no idea of the repertoire, but I suppose deep down I just couldn’t resist it. It was a great struggle, though. I always found playing a struggle.’ Did she enjoy playing in the Philharmonia? She had nine marvellous years, playing under great conductors. She started at virtually the same time as Riccardo Muti. Vladimir Ashkenazy was then just starting to conduct, and she often got to play under Lorin Maazel. There were many wonderful musical experiences, but Pat says she found it very tough and wonders how she stuck it as long as she did. ‘I never got used to the stress of playing,’ she says. ‘I didn’t really enjoy it, but I struggled on.’ She spent nine years in the Philharmonia. She was living with her mother, who was disabled and frail. There was too much travelling, and she wanted to look after her mother. Pressure built up, and she decided enough was enough. For months she carried a letter of resignation with her. One day, after rehearsing a Mahler symphony in the Albert Hall during which she had clarinets blasting into her ears, she decided the moment had come. She says, ‘I went to the post box, dropped the letter in and walked on air to South Kensington tube station.’ A few days later the chairman of  the orchestra phoned her to ask if she really meant it. She said she did. ‘Well, then,’ said the chairman, ‘we’ll put the advert in the paper.’ And that was that. When Pat left the Philharmonia, her intention was to freelance. As a freelancer, though, she was required to do a lot of travelling, which she didn’t enjoy, and besides, she had her mother to look after. She was grateful, therefore, to return to Covent Garden, a job that required little travelling. The opera orchestra had to accompany ballets, too, which she didn’t enjoy so much, so after four years she left Covent Garden and returned to English National Opera, her first position from the days when it was called Sadler’s Wells, thereby completing a full circle in her career. After she had spent three years at ENO, Pat thought she had had enough. She decided at the age of fifty-five that she would leave while they still wanted her, and so ended a most amazing career. Pat has led a happy life since retiring: she did some teaching for a time, and now she is just enjoying herself in the same way she has done everything in her life: she just gets on with it. This article first appeared in Pan (The Journal of the British Flute Society, now called Flute) in September 2009.
Patricia Lynden in 2009 Photograph by Robert Bigio Patricia Lynden in 1950 The orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in the 1950s. Pat Lynden, the first flute, is the solitary woman in the orchestra. The New Philharmonia Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall in 1975, performing a large choral work with Riccardo Muti conducting. Photograph courtesy of the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Patricia Lynden Photograph courtesy of the Philharmonia Orchestra
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