I first became aware of de Sabata being a ladies man after this anecdote, told to me by Felix Aprahamian who was on the staff of the LPO at that time but was later a writer for the “Times of London” and also a noted musicologist.
The LPO booked de Sabata into the Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge and Felix went round to see if de Sabata needed anything. De Sabata had forgotten his pyjamas so Felix went across the road to Harrod’s and bought him some silk pyjamas. When he got back he presented the pyjamas to de Sabata and asked him if he liked the colour. De Sabata replied , ‘Yes, but where is the woman!’.
On another occasion we were rehearsing the Verdi Requiem and de Sabata went over to the famous soprano soloist, an attractive woman with an ample bosom. De Sabata was pointing out the finer points in the score, all the while clutching her bosom in front of the orchestra. Naturally all the orchestra smiled, and one wag quipped that it was all asp and tit. I must explain that the soprano was famous for singing Berlioz’s “The death of Cleopatra”. Everyone knows Shakespeare’s play wherein Cleopatra commits suicide by clutching an asp (viper) to her bosom.
On another occasion Adolf Borsdorf, another member of the LPO staff accompanied de Sabata in a hired limousine to York Minster where we were to perform the Verdi Requiem. On the journey there was a motor bike in front with a girl riding pillion. She glanced back and de Sabata was fascinated with her looks so he asked to driver to follow the motor bike and said to Adolf, ‘You never know, it might be all right!’. Adolf remonstrated with him saying, ‘Maestro, you have a concert to conduct at York, we shall be late’. With reluctance the driver was ordered to drive straight to York. I was incredulous and very sceptical when Adolf told me this, but he repeated over and over again to me that it was true.
The next season de Sabata was amiable and all smiles. He had brought over an auburn haired actress with him to break the solitude.