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Bronislaw Huberman: “naked in charm and virtuosity?”

Robert Lawrence wrote on 18 January 1943 for the New York Herald Tribune the following questions: ‘Does the playing of German masterworks presuppose the negation of the suavity and rich timbre contributed by the Russian School? Is a critic wrong or esthetically blunted in decrying a performance that offers playing strong in its fidelity to the music but almost naked in charm and virtuosity?’ Although Lawrence argues that Huberman is a ‘great musician’, he prefers not to evaluate his performance. Nevertheless, he concludes his review suggesting that those ‘who prefer a constant flow of tonal amenities would be disappointed.’

Similarly, Thomas Archer of The Gazette in Montreal wrote on 20 November 1944 that there may be other violinists that may surpass Huberman ‘in the production of tone, but there are none … who do so in magnitude of ideas and closeness of approach to a composer’s intention.’
 
Alan Branigan wrote on 19 December 1944 for the Evening News Newarld: ‘a few scratched notes, a bow placed on the strings with a definitive crash, blurred runs and other unconventionalities… the effect was more fetching than some of the soulless smoothness we have heard on occasion.’

Bronislaw Huberman: “like a cultured angel”

On 19 October 1942 Irving Kolodin of The New York Sun wrote: ‘Mr. Huberman’s "Chaconne", in mere physical terms, was a good deal more composed than his playing of the "Kreutzer" sonata. Here the surge of music too often force Mr. Huberman into sheer abuse of the violin, as counterpart to the sections in which he made it sing like a cultured angel." 

The St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat wrote on 21 November 1942 wrote: "After an ovation which recalled him again and again at the concert’s close he played Bach as an encore. The greatest Bach this reviewer has heard – so poised it was, so serene – a very flow of faith which suddenly illuminated this reviewer’s knowledge that the violinist would worship and talk on his life in Palestine with his co-religionists at Temple Shaare Emeth last night.
            Serenity of soul was in his Brahms [Violin Concerto], and overmastered the virtuosity which was its foundation. This attainment left him mannerisms, so that he appeared a gnome-like figure bent over his violin to rise to his full stature as its aspiration was completely realized in the poignant beauty of exquisite tone.’
 
Felix Herce wrote at the Excelsior from Mexico wrote on 20 February 1942: "somebody who hears Huberman for the first time will feel himself overwhelmed by the diabolic power with which the artist dominates his violin, enraptured by the docility or the mechanism, for which difficulties do not exist, opening to fantasy an unlimited space, giving to his violin the most divine breath of the human voice and arousing with his profundity the innermost sentiments of the soul’.

Huberman’s performance: ‘a living soul’

L. S. from the Winnipeg Free Press wrote on 18 February 1941: ‘Not to have heard Mr. Huberman would have been to miss a wonderful revelation in the Mendelssohn concerto, from example, of the tender unfolding of the phrase from within; on an instrument that in the language of the bible, became a living soul in the Bach Adagio and Fugue in G minor and the Andante in the Bach’s a Minor Sonata; of Handel performance (the sonata in D major) that seemed a dedication that all that was lovely on earth… The warmth beneath the easy melody could not be missed; the listeners could not help realizing the sum of human experiences that spoke out of this first work on the programme.’

Bronislaw Huberman in Cape Town: as if they themselves had taken part in a creation

The Cape Argus, 2 May 1940 wrote about a concert in Cape Town, South Africa. The review mentioned that many famous violinist visited the town, yet ‘few, if any, of these distinguished men have left behind them such a vivid sense of nobility and power as last night’s audience at the City Hall carried away at the conclusion of the Huberman recital. It was as if they themselves had taken part in a work of creation, so deep was the sense of fulfillment left by the music.’

            The reviewer wrote that when Huberman played the Cesar Frank sonata there was ‘a sense of religious awe and wonder in the music which was built up. Note by note, phrase by phrase, into a cathedral of intellectual sound.’ He continued that ‘Huberman’s profound and creative understanding of this deeply religious composer was one of the most moving episodes in the whole evening.’ Szymanowski’s ‘La Fontaine d’Arethuse’ ‘calls for infinitely subtle gradations of feeling and phrase, the culminating effect of which is one of mysterious beauty withdrawn from this world. Huberman played it magnificently’.

Huberman Communicating with Bach: reviews from Australia

H. Brewster Jones of The Advertiser, Adelaide, Australia wrote on 4 August 1937: ‘Huberman seemed detached, aloof, in his playing of the Bach ‘Chaconne’. His beauty of tone and phrasing was something to revere at a distance rather then enter into. It had a classical purity and spiritual exaltation. It was as if Huberman was communicating with, in intimate fashion, the very innermost thoughts and feelings of the great composer, Bach; without making any concession whatsoever to what might be termed popular appeal.’ 

The Daily News from Perth, Australia wrote on 12 August 1937 an article on Huberman. They dedicated almost half of it to a concert incident were he had to stop the concert due to noise of motor cars that came from the street. He complained that there was only one set of doors that separated the concert hall from the street. A subtitle in the article was entitled: ‘Beware of the Gods’. At this part Huberman told the reporter about a similar incident in Kursaal Theater in Cairo. He claimed that although the Egyptian Government tried to take care of the problem, the theater was burned down. "So beware of the wrath of the Gods of music!" said Huberman to the reporter. Perhaps Huberman was half joking. Nevertheless, his demand for silence during performance (including his complementing the audience for not coughing during the concert) and his reference to ‘the Gods of music’ is telling.
 
Howard Ashton of The Sunday Sun and Guardian Magazine (Australia) wrote on 4 July 1937 that Huberman said that ‘Art… is the philosophy of the soul.’ To make music like Beethoven, Huberman argued, it is not sufficient to have talent; ‘A man must devote himself, must sacrifice himself. To be a musician one must be a prophet.’ He suggested that ‘great music’ lasted from Bach to Brahms’ and that ‘An age which is suspicious of emotion and romance and sacrifice is not an age fertile in great art. Plenty of clever art, but little great. But I think that there are signs that the people are beginning to get tired of it, and wish to go back to something that springs more from the heart and soul.’ Then Huberman reveals to which target he pointed his arrows: ‘Machine made art can never really satisfy.’
            Ashton wrote that Huberman approaches music ‘as Gerardi once told me he approached the Haydn ‘Cello Concerto, "with fasting and prayer." His bow is a sward in the eternal crusade for that which is true and beautiful, his violin an instrument for voicing the thoughts and emotions of the great men who have created beauty for his expression. He dedicates his artistic powers to something more austere and more moving than dazzling effects and specious appeals to wonder and admiration.

Bronislaw Huberman: the cherubim descended at the recall to play

Carl Bronson wrote at The Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express of 16 April 1937: ‘the results of [Huberman’s] … magnificent musical ideals are overwhelming. His violinresponds to every whim, and these are many, as this very unusual Paganini draws from the wood and strings his celestial idioms… Strange to say, Huberman looks as did Brahm’s friend Remenyi and the concerto sounds more Hungarian than German. Merely coincidence, but very interesting.’

The Smith’s Weekly from Sydney Australia wrote on 23 June 1937: ‘Short of stature, stern of mien, with grave eyes that calmly surveyed the crowded Sydney Town Hall without apparent interest; prominent brows surmounted by a massive dome of forehead; pouted lip, compressed in a thin line of individual character almost as forbidding in its seriousness as the mask of Beethoven – Bronislaw Huberman … bowed solemnly when he appeared at his first concert on Saturday night.’
 
Thorold Waters of The Sun News-Pictorial from Melbourne, Australia wrote on 12 July 1937: ‘It was a though one of the cherubim [angels] descended at the recall to play the Andante from the Third Partita, spiritually the most serene Bach performance Melbourne has enjoyed on any instrument, or set of them, for ever so long.’
 
The Argus Monday wrote on 26 July 1937: ‘The popular conception of Delius as an enfeebled visionary found no echo in Huberman’s dynamic reading of the composer’s only violin concerto. Not alone a great musical performance, but a psychological study of significance and power, this interpretation revealed the authentic Delius, whose proud, secretive, and indomitable temperament rose superior to paralysis and loss of sight.’

Huberman in Scotland and Honolulu

Glasgow Times, on 13 January 1937 wrote the following review on a concert with Szell and the Scottish Orchestra, under the subtitle ‘Human Outlook’: ‘Beethoven’s violin concerto is a great human work, and there is no living violinist with a more human outlook than Huberman … everything combined to provide us with a rare experience in our musical life.’

On 31 May 1937 an news paper in Honolulu Reviewed a concert with Huberman and the pianist Jakob Gimpel: ‘the listener was … deeply stirred by the silken quality of his bowing which was fraught with ineffable charm and literally breathed a spirit of serene meditation… Huberman … satisfies thje poetic carving of his listeners and leaves them serene and satisfied, and conscious of a sublime musical experience.’  
 
The Boston Evening Transcript wrote on 25 March 1937: ‘Schnabel and Huberman portrayed …[Beethoven] in his superb masculinity, a masculinity, by the way, which at will can manifest the tenderness of a woman.’

Two antithesis reviews of Huberman

Today I had only one hour to sit in the Huberman Archive in Tel-Aviv. But I read two interesting newspaper clippings about Huberman’s performances:

The Argonaut, from San Francisco, California wrote on 3 April 1936 about Huberman’s ‘imperfect’ technique: "It is but natural, if not essential, that the utter submergence of self to the recreation of the composer’s message can not always result in a one hundred per cent technical performance – nor should it. We would rather hear an artist give his heart and soul to transmitting a master’s ideas and ideals than concentrate his mind upon exact placing of every note, the unchanging clarity of tone quality and the cold, methodical precision of approximate technical perfection. In other words, we prefer an artist of warmth of expression and intensity of emotional versatility to another who has technical precision but no depth of feeling."

Not all critics saw Huberman as a messenger of the composer or any other metaphysical entity. W. L. wrote at The Manchester Guardian on 4 November 1935 about Huberman’s approach to the Brahms Violin Concerto and compared it to that of other violinists: ‘Heifetz stands aloof from it, observing all but seemingly remaining unmoved by it. Kreisler comes to it with love and reverence, and, without disturbing the unity of the work, shows us each of it wonders like a connoisseur lovingly proud of his treasures. Huberman sees with so many of us that Brahms lacks inner vitality, and, again without disturbing the shape of the work, infuses it with his own quick, intense vitality. It is impossible to imagine finer-nerved or more sensitive fiddling than Huberman gave us.’ Here the critic argued that Huberman adds to the music an important element that is lacking from the score due to the composer’s limitations. This is an antithesis to the views mentioned above.    

More newspaper clippings about Huberman’s violin playing

The Manchester Guardian wrote on 24 April 1933 that the ’sudden, violent plundege into the scherzo [of Beethoven’s G majour Sonata] came as though we had escaped a revelation which it is not for mortals to know’.

Neville Cardus wrote on 23 February 1934 (The Manchester Guardian) about a forthcoming concert of Huberman in aid of German refugees from the Nazi regime:
‘Kriesler, who has never rebelled against his own beauty pf line and form, has entered into disillusionment through as sort of satiety. Art cannot live on its own perfections; the artist must shed skin after skin… until you have heard Huberman in the slow movement of the Beethoven Violin Concerto you can scarcely be said to have heard it at all. He brings to it a wonderfully shaded tone, quite yet of spiritual intensity, a tone which, as he plays his fiddle, Huberman himself seems to be overhearing, as though the music came from some withdrawn place of meditation.’ Cardus went on to write about how Huberman affects the form of the piece with his playing: ‘in the rondo … he will make the music much more than a pretty gambol, a conventional rounding of off the work. He exults in the tough energy he brings to the rhythm; he trashes his instrument, shakes the patterns of classical form until the playing becomes a daemonic protest against formalism. Yet the same artist will give you Bach pure and absolute. He is the most uninhibited violinist; he is not afraid of any mood that may come over him. He is not afraid, even, of playing badly. His gospel, in art and in all the ways of his varied life, is freedom.’
 
There is much one can learn about how Cardus perceived Huberman from the way he compared the violinist to other musicians. On 26 February 1934 he compared Huberman to Heifetz. Here too he describes Huberman as a ’searching spirit, not to be satisfied by such external things as sensuously satisfying fiddling.’ For Cardus, Heifetz is Huberman’s antithesis, since he ‘lacks vivid, changeful life, and there is not in his art anywhere that enigma which is the mark of the finest imagination… Heifetz lacks a daemon… There is nothing difficult to comprehend in his art.’ Cardus claimed that the older Huberman grows the more he ’seems to pursue some private truth of self-expression, as though searching in music for a freedom of spirit not to be got out of the external universe. A more inhibited violinist never lived. Sometimes the limitations of his medium seem to stir a divine impatience in him; then he will achieve what few artists ever dare to venture – the tone that rebels and protests against the eternal complacence of beauty, whose very order and fulfillment are finite, and, therefore, irksome to the creative spirit.’ He describes Huberman’s performance of the beginning of Beethoven’s Kreuzer Sonata as ‘mystical’. Cardus sums up his review by articulating ‘the old problem of all artistic activity’: ‘How far may a master pursue truth without infidelity to his medium, and how far does absorption in his medium tend to imprison imagination and make a routine of it?’
 
New York Times, 31 December 1934, Olin Downes:
‘Mr. Huberman played the fiery introduction, the great fugue and the lesser movements of the G-minor sonata with an eloquence that reveled the spirit as well as the mind of Bach … more virtuosity than ever.’
 
Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 December 1943, George A. Leighton
The New York Herald-Tribune of 20 February 1935 wrote about Huberman’s performance of the Brahms concerto. It suggested that ‘the wraith of the composer had he been listening from some fourth-dimensional box , might excusably have droped an astral tear or two upon his beard.’
 
B. H. Haggin from Brooklyn, N. T. Eagle wrote on 25 February 1935 about a recital of Huberman and Schnabel. He suggested that during the Brahms sonata in D minor ‘Huberman seemed to be trying to do things with the music, and did things that were unnatural and sometimes in shocking taste.’ However, in their performance of ‘Beethoven’s sonata in G. Op. 96, one found oneself in a new world… Huberman’s playing was itself something beyond mere violin playing. It had, in fact, nothing to do with violin playing as produced by other violinists… One recognized that Mr. Winthrop Sargeant had been correct in reporting … [that] Huberman "seemed to be straining every physical capacity of the violin as an instrument in an attempt to produce an interpretation that transcended its limitations."’
 
O. T. of The New York Times wrote on 24 February 1935 that ‘Huberman communicated at the opening [of Schubert’s C major "Fantasie"] a vision as of another world.’                  

Related posts

Bronislaw Huberman’s faith: the affect of events on the perception of performance

Reviews of Huberman by Neville Cardus, part II: technique and spirit

Huberman and the divine: concert reviews by Neville Cardus

Huberman and the Divine: letters from listeners

Huberman and the divine: report by Edmondo De Amicis

Max Brod on Bronislaw Huberman’s violin playing

 

Reviews of Huberman by Neville Cardus, part II: technique and spirit

Reviews of Huberman by Neville Cardus, part II: technique and spirit

 
Huberman’s technique was an issue that was discussed in various newspaper reviews, and letters from listeners. In the follwing review for The Manchester Guardian, dated 13 December 1933, Neville Cardus discussed this issue in his normal poetic manner, and suggested that Huberman’s technique points to metaphysical issues.
 
Cardus talked about Menuhin’s ‘perfect’ technique, who was only seventeen years old and performed in England during those days, and claimed that if his ‘playing remains for ever sensuously satisfying, flawless in line and tone, he will remain outside the secret places of the imagination.’ The critic reported that a remark was made in the audience that Huberman’s tone was not as consistent as that of Menuhin. Cardus argued that there is not only a difference of age between the two violinists, but also a psychological difference: ‘Huberman is a searcher, a chaser if ideals’. He suggested that if Huberman would be given Menuhin’s technique, he would find it ‘a prison for his spirit.’ Cardus told his readers that several years ago Huberman reached the peak of his technique, and at that very moment he stopped playing for a year, and went to study philosophy during that pause period, at the Sorbonne. Cardus suggested that Huberman is neither a slave of ‘beautiful sounds’ nor ‘the allurements of the fiddle’. Just like Max Brod, Cardus compares Huberman to Beethoven. He suggested that their similar great quality is in ‘penetrating and penetrating’ beyond the mere beautiful sound. He hinted to Moses when he wrote that Huberman ’strikes music out of his instrument as though with the rod on the rock.’
           
Cardus argued that if Huberman can do an ‘exquisite’ violin sound in one place, surly his ‘hard’ sounds are not an outcome of technical flaw. This ‘hard’ sound, so he claimed, is connected to the idea of music. Cardus regretted that in England, music is regarded as something beautiful that is apart of life, while Huberman’s playing is a ‘criticism of life’.
 
Huberman’s performance of the slow movement of Beethoven’s violin concerto was describe by Cardus in the following: ‘Never before have I heard the figuration sound so unearthly, so spiritual in its mazeful transitions.’     

Related posts

Huberman and the divine: concert reviews by Neville Cardus

Huberman and the Divine: letters from listeners

Huberman and the divine: report by Edmondo De Amicis

Max Brod on Bronislaw Huberman’s violin playing

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