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Elizabeth Powell is proof of her own belief that artists are born, not made – but that what is made is the quality of their artistry, bred in them by their teachers and matured by their life experience. Born in France, marvellously gifted from earliest childhood, she was blessed with a succession of ideal teachers in her formative years. She was still only four when her mother, deciding to take piano lessons herself, engaged Annie Finel, a graduate of the Conservatoire at Nancy. When the child went to the piano and quickly found simple harmonies and melodic phrases on the keyboard, Mademoiselle Finel knew instantly what she had found and took her as a pupil as well. Elizabeth's gifts flowered so rapidly under Annie Finel's tutelage, word of the wonderchild spread, leading to her first public recital, still not five years old, in Nancy.
Taken to England two years later at the outbreak of war, she spent two years with Gerald King, a fine all-round musician and Director of Music at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, who knew how best to strengthen the foundations laid in France. Elizabeth's mother then learned of Leonie Gombrich, a refugee herself, an exceptional pianist before injury intervened, an even more remarkable teacher and formerly assistant to the great Viennese teacher Leschetitsky, and the family moved to Oxford for Elizabeth to study with her. This was the most providential pairing of all.
As well as an incomparable technical and interpretative endowment, Professor Gombrich brought with her the aura of Vienna in the first decades of the twentieth century, at the pinnacle of European culture. She had studied with Bruckner as well as Leschetitsky (student of Beethoven's student Czerny, teacher of Schnabel, Paderewski and their like), played with Schoenberg, heard Johann Strauss and turned pages for Brahms! Frequent visitors to the Gombrich home in Vienna included Mahler, Webern, Berg, Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin. She was a born teacher, following Leschetitsky's principle of framing the individuality of each student within full understanding of the work, absolute soundness of technique and, above all, beauty of tone. In this enchanting aura and her teacher's warmth and simplicity of nature, the young pianist blossomed gloriously and, by the age of twelve, she had twice been soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra under Anatole Fistoulari and George Weldon and was the first soloist to perform with the newly formed National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain under its conductor Reginald Jacques. Her lifelong love for the music of Mozart, whose concerti she played on those occasions, is another part of her inheritance from her Viennese teacher.
© 2007 Elizabeth Powell