A British harpist
, last of the famous musical members of the Goossens family
, Sidonie Goossens was active into her nineties and has died today
at the age of 105. Her professional career spanned seventy years.
Born in 1899, daughter of the second Eugene Goossens, she and her sister Marie were enrolled as harpists by their father, and she discarded her wishes to be a singer or actor. Her professional debut came with her 1921 performance in the Proms, and fittingly she last played at the Last Night of the Proms in 1991.
Her musical life was full of firsts: first harpist on the radio (1923) and on television (1936). First woman in the London Symphony Orchestra. She was principal harp in the BBC Symphony Orchestra from the day of its first public performance in 1930 until her official retirement in 1980.
Sidonie's talents were much in demand. Works created for her included William Alwyn's Lyra Angelica (1954*). She gave the first British performance of Germaine Tailleferre's Concertino for Harp in 1937. She recorded with several dance bands back in the 1930s, including those featuring Jack Hylton, Carroll Gibbons, Van Phillips, and Geraldo.
Her first marriage was to conductor Hyam Greenbaum, her second to Norman Millar. They lived on an old farm in Surrey and worked it actively, bringing produce in for the orchestra.
There were naturally tremendous celebrations for her hundredth birthday. I remember hearing a radio interview with her around then, and she was very spry and intelligent in her recollections.
Her three brothers were a composer/conductor, an oboist (Léon), and a horn player (Adolphe**), all first-rate too; and she recorded with Marie and Léon. Her conductor brother Sir Eugène Goossens had the same name as their father and grandfather, so it may be salutary to mention that this Eugène, Sidonie's brother, had daughters Renee and Sidonie, and that Sidonie Scott (Sidonie Goossens's niece, who was of course born Sidonie Goossens too) was herself an orchestral player, in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Sir Eugène was its chief conductor and the dominant figure in the Australian musical scene until in the 1950s his career was destroyed in a sex, black magic, and smuggling scandal.
BBC obituary: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3393369.stm
dance band info: www.users.bigpond.com/jcday/dayspast/bbcpersonalitiesorch2.html
and in a letter from her: www.ronniescotts.co.uk/ronnie_scotts/ronniescotts/123/123_20.htm
Sidonie Scott and that scandal: www.abc.net.au/gnt/history/Transcripts/s1086081.htm
* Erroneously given as 1956 in the BBC obituary.
** Yes, I know it's sounding very like the Marx Siblings.