Previn, André – with Heather Sneddon
Type of Spiritual Experience
The Mail on Sunday 27 Aug 2006 FromSharon Churcher IN WASHINGTON and Caroline Graham IN LOS ANGELES
Heather Sneddon Previn ….. was [Previn’s] fourth wife, his companion of 20 years and the mother of his son, …. dumped in devastating circumstances – when Andre Previn left her for Anne-Sophie Mutter.
‘He really thought he was going to sail into the sunset with Anne-Sophie,’ said Heather yesterday, speaking at her home near Washington DC. ‘His admiration for her as a musician was boundless. He thought that being able to work together and live together would be magical.’
HEATHER said that Previn ‘loves being in love’. But she added: ‘It isn’t easy for a man of his age to have a fifth marriage go sour on him. Now I feel so sorry for him. He has not been well and I’d hoped he’d finally found whatever he’d been looking for.
‘He went into the marriage with such high expectations, full of virility. This time it is his heart that has truly been broken.’
This is Heather’s first interview about her time with Previn. There will be plenty who feel it serves him right – most of his relationships have foundered because of his infidelity – but Heather says she is not gleeful.
The daughter of a Foreign Office official, she is ever the understated English woman and rather too well brought up for that. She remains close to her former husband through their 23-yearold son Lukas, a rock guitarist. But the sense of schadenfreude is hard to escape as she recalls the lies and infidelities that destroyed her marriage.
Heather Sneddon met Andre Previn in the early Seventies, as the ruffle shirted conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra was approaching international stardom.
Heather and her then husband, actor Michael Jayston, briefly borrowed a cottage on the grounds of Previn’s Surrey estate and she became good friends with his beautiful third wife, Mia Farrow.
Heather says she felt decidedly short on glamour next to the famous actress, but she also felt sorry for Mia, who had to put up with long periods on her own. Previn was touring with the LSO, but rumours of his extramarital liaisons were already spreading.
Heather’s relationship with Previn began a few years later. Both were divorced and, out of the blue, she got a call saying: ‘I can’t find anyone to go to Wimbledon with me.’ Coming from some people the call might have sounded casual to the point of arrogant. But from Previn it was thrilling.
‘When Andre first took an interest in me, I was stunned,’ she said. ‘My self esteem was through the floor because I’d kicked out Michael after discovering he was having an affair. Andre invited me to the Royal Box at Wimbledon. After that, he went on tour and I didn’t hear from him for a few months, and then he asked me to dinner.
‘I was very surprised when he said he was in love with me, but I was in love with him. Then one day, in 1982, he asked me to fly to Pittsburgh, where he was conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony. He’d lined up a judge and we were married.
‘Maybe I am naive, but for the first 12 or 14 years together, I was incredibly happy. He was really romantic. We exchanged Cartier wedding rings and he gave me very pretty jewellery – nothing huge, because he is a man of extraordinarily good taste.
‘ There were hugs and kisses. He bought me a thousand daffodil bulbs for one birthday, he learned the Latin names of flowers to please me and, when Lukas was born, he bought me two drawings by Augustus John.
‘He loved to watch black and white movies on our battered old TV set. He had the worst equipment in those days. He played records on a creaky old machine.
‘Once, when he was conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, I asked if I could sit a beloved teddy bear in the front row to watch the rehearsals while I went shopping. The next morning, the whole front row was filled with teddy bears.
‘ I insisted we ate at least one meal a day together when he was at home, for the sake of Lukas and my other three children, though he wasn’t interested in food. Food to him is fuel. For breakfast he would almost always ask for a burned crumpet. He’d put liverwurst on them. It harked back to his German roots.’
Previn had been a refugee, arriving in America at the age of eight after escaping with his parents from Nazi Germany.
As a gifted pianist and composer, he was destined for stardom from an early age. He first came to public attention in Britain when he was appointed conductor of the LSO in 1968. He had already become a hugely successful composer and arranger in America, winning Oscars with his film scores for Gigi, Porgy And Bess, My Fair Lady and Irma La Douce.
Despite his unprepossessing looks and diminutive height, his sheer talent and self- belief ensured that he became one of the heart-throbs of swinging London, complete with silk scarves and a Beatles hairdo. He reached a genuinely popular audience with his self-deprecating performance as ‘Andrew Preview’ on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show, now seen as a classic of television comedy. He was knighted in 1996.
But he has never been an easy man to live with. Like his previous wives, Heather seldom saw him because he spent so much time on tour. When he was at home, he became increasingly withdrawn. ‘I realised that, like all child prodigies who become soloists, he was totally self-absorbed,’ she said.
AND there was the womanising. As his first wife Betty later recalled, Andre could ‘entertain a girl for hours’, adding that the girl need not necessarily be his wife. When their son Lukas was a baby, Heather toured with Previn in the hope that her presence would reduce the temptations. But she decided to stay at home after Lukas started school.
‘ Andre falls in love quickly, maybe because he is tremendously lonely,’ said Heather, sadly. ‘I don’t think he realises that the way he operates makes him lonelier and lonelier. There must be something deeply unsatisfactory about being a sexual butterfly.’
It was from 1996 onwards, when Previn was recovering from a quadruple bypass, that she was forced to confront the extent of his infidelity. ‘As soon as he was better he started having affairs, or at least I started finding out about them,’ she revealed.
‘I don’t know if it was because he’d had a brush with mortality, but I felt I had become a disappointment to him.
‘I always found out the same way. The phone would ring. One day it was an opera singer he’d been working with. She was beautiful, young and perky – and she was married. When I picked up the phone, I just knew.
‘I asked Andre if they were having an affair and he denied it, but I had friends who knew what was going on.
‘A bassoonist was next. Her husband called to tell me. After that, it was Anne-Sophie. I knew immediately. I’d met her during her first marriage and remembered her as incredibly professional and very attractive. I told him I couldn’t cope with another affair. I was very hurt.’
Although slender, elegant and expensively dressed, Heather has a look of great melancholy as she recalls their parting.
‘I suppose I should have seen it coming but it was inelegantly done. He wanted a divorce as quickly as possible and then he immediately went off and married her. There was no time to grieve, no time to talk.’
After their divorce in 2002, Heather moved to Washington to be closer to her sister.
Heather, 58, concedes that Previn is ‘still a very attractive man – he has a wicked twinkle in his eye’. But she has a message for ‘the next 20-yearold’ that he goes for: ‘Walk away as fast as you can.’
She said: ‘Many famous men feel that arm candy gives then credibility. But there is a side of Andre that wants normality and contentment. It’s something that has eluded him all his life. Maybe that has something to do with being a refugee.’
A description of the experience
Previn's longest marriage was his fourth. In January 1982 he married Heather Sneddon. With Heather he had two children, Li-An Mary, adopted 1982 and Lukas Alexander, born 1983. Previn wrote a brief memoir of his early years in Hollywood, No Minor Chords, which was published in 1991, edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and dedicated to Heather. This marriage ended after 20 years in 2002. Songs written during this time include the following
Honey and Rue for Soprano, Jazz Band and Orchestra, Texts by Toni Morrison (premiered in New York in 1992)
Sallie Chisum Remembers Billy the Kid, Texts by Michael Ondaatje (premiered in Tanglewood in 1994)
Four Songs, Texts by Toni Morrison (premiered in New York in 1994)
Vocalise (premiered in Tanglewood in 1995)
Three Dickinson Songs, Texts by Emily Dickinson (premiered in Quebec, Canada, in 1999)
The Giraffes Go to Hamburg, Text by Karen Blixen (premiered in Newark in 2000)
Sieben Lieder (Seven Songs), Texts by Theodor Storm (US premiere in San Francisco in 2006)