ADINE O'NEILL

Adine O’Neill (1875 –1947) was born the youngest of three children of George Rückert, a Swiss merchant, and his French wife Henriette (née Rooke).

After an early childhood in Burma Adine was brought up in Paris, studying piano at the Paris Conservatoire where she won a medal, and later in Frankfurt as a pupil of Clara Schumann. It was in Frankfurt that she became engaged to the composer Norman O’Neill who was studying at the Hoch Conservatorium under Iwan Knorr and with whom she was to create a joint musical partnership. Following the death of Clara Schumann (1896) and during the three years of her engagement to Norman, Adine commenced work in Paris as a pupil of the distinguished pianist and teacher Wilhelmine Clauss-Szarvadi.  It was with Mme Szarvadi – a famous Scarlatti exponent – that Adine studied in depth the keyboard music of the eighteenth-century, developing the broadness of execution and attention to clarity and dynamics for which she later became celebrated.  

Following her first public recital in 1899 at the Salle Erard in Paris at which she gave the premier of Norman’s Variations on a Theme by A. R. Adine began her married life in Kensington, London, commencing a career of performing and teaching she was to maintain for the rest of her life.  Working under her married name [Mrs Norman O’Neill] she began as a recitalist and chamber musician appearing with such groups as the Brodsky and Kruze Quartets – often giving the first performances of Norman’s compositions including that of the Piano Quintet in E minor at the Steinway Hall in 1903. In that same year her son Patrick was born and the family moved to 4 Pembroke Villas, Kensington – a home that was to become well-known in the musical life of London and where Adine and Norman’s great friends Frederick Delius and his wife Jelka stayed regularly from 1909. Delius wrote Waltz for a Little Girl in 1922/3 for their daughter Yvonne, born 1916.

It was however at a recital Adine gave at St Andrews in1902 that she had met Francis Gray the first High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School who the following year offered her the post of head music mistress, a position she held for the next thirty-four years. Adine was to attract the best of England’s music teachers to the school and in 1905 she suggested the unknown Gustav Holst for the position of choir master and musical director; he remained there until his death in 1934. Holst was to compose a Toccata for Adine and A Piece for Yvonne for her small daughter.  Holst remained especially grateful to Adine for two things: ‘firstly, introducing me to Scarlatti and then bringing me here’.

Between 1904 and 1914 Adine had performed concertos at the Promenade Concerts almost annually but following the outbreak of the First World War she became less inclined to give public concerts and from 1924 onwards played regularly for the newly-formed British Broadcasting Corporation then developing its artistic policy. Adine took part in its Foundations of Music series, playing all the Mozart and Haydn sonatas over a period of weeks and introducing modern French and English music (including An English Waltz by her Frankfurt friend Cyril Scott) and Scarlatti and other eighteenth-century music for which she became well-known. Here her crisp clear playing was especially suited to radio and won her admirers across Great Britain and beyond. Sadly she made no recordings of these works but a collection of private off-air recordings from the 1930’s has been preserved by the British Library and can be heard on CD. A list of all her radio programmes can be found online.

Following the tragic death of her husband in 1934 Adine continued to work at St Paul’s until 1937 training girls for further musical education at the main music colleges and as a competition judge.

 

Between 1921–1923 she had been President of the Society of Women Musicians. At the outbreak of World War II Adine moved to Ockley in Surrey and her death from a heart attack in 1947 was a blow to the musical world.  She had been preparing to make her first recordings of Chopin.

Katherine Hudson

Adine Rückert, 1897

Adine O'Neill 1899 at the time of her marriage

Adine, Pembroke Villas  1906

From L-R: Yvonne, Norman and Adine O'Neill at Losely Farm, 1930

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