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The Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna decided to give Avior Byron the Avenir Foundation Research Grant for a one month research trip in Vienna in order to work on two books that he is writing.  
 

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The Embodiment of Authority: Perspectives on Performances

Uri Golomb called me two weeks ago and told me that he is flying to give a paper in a conference in Helsinki. I was very happy for him, but them he told me that also I am on the program. I had no idea what he was talking about. This says volumes about my memory (I have sent a proposal and forgot about it) and about my email account (did the three emails go into my spam mail or did I simply miss all of them?!).

So if you are heading to Helsinki I will be very glad to meet you!

Here is some information about the conference so that you can consider whether you want to come:

 

"Performance’s only life is the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representation of representations [···]."

Peggy Phelan’s statement from the early 90s, slightly surprisingly reflecting Hegel’s aesthetics, emphasises the definitive "live" quality of performance as its ontology. Interestingly, both the concept of "live" and the diverse authorships around "saving", "recording", "documenting" and "representing" have recently been problematised in the versatile field of performance studies. In the current mediated world it seems to be more and more relevant to ask how far the ephemeral moment of the "present" actually reaches. How does one generate, define and redefine performance through the complex act of "documenting" - through recording, replaying, observing, theorising, writing and remembering? If the (hierarchical) difference between the "original" and the "representation" still casts a shadow on the study of performance, how, why and in whose interests does it have to be there?

The Embodiment of Authority Conference will be part of the recently formed international network of innovative discussion on the study of performance in the arts. One of the key aims is to look for common denominators, to link different trends in an area that seems to be developing into a major field of research in many countries. The social practices of performing, rehearsing, documenting and theorising, as well as the deconstruction of the creative process in performance, lie at the very heart of the conference.

For more information see http://www.embodimentofauthority.net/

Here is the program draft of the conference: http://www.embodimentofauthority.net/program/

A paper on Huberman in the 2010 Annual Israel Musicology Conference

The violinist Bronislaw Huberman is considered to be one of the greatest violinists in music history. Although his playing is controversial, there were few who did not recognize his greatness as a performer. There is very little academic research on Huberman and his playing. In this paper I will present materials from Huberman’s archive that was not discussed in the literature. I claim that people from different countries and periods conceptualized Huberman’s playing as something that is more than just playing. His performances and interpretations were considered to represent things that are transcendent or even metaphysical. The paper will analyze how important cultural figures, music critics and common listeners, perceived the technique of Huberman, his behavior on stage, his physical appearance, and how he interpreted the scores that he played. The presentation will include listening to historical recordings by Huberman.

Dr. Avior Byron is a musicologist, blogger and composer. Byron published in journals such as Music Theory Online and The World of Music and is currently working on a book on Schoenberg’s Writings on Aesthetics and Interpretation in Performance (Oxford University Press). He received his PhD from University of London (2007) and is currently conducting research on Bronislaw Huberman. Website: www.bymusic.org

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.’

A photo of a sculpture of Bronislaw Huberman

The following photo was taken at the Felicia Blumental Library at Tel-Aviv with the kind permission of the Library and Bronislaw Huberman Archive.

I need to add the name of the sculpture…

Note how the sculpture depicted Huberman looking to (or perhaps beyond) the sky. In many concert reviews, he was perceived as a musician who did not merely play music, but signified something that transcends music.

What do you think?

Do you know who made the sculpture? What do you think about it? Please comment below.

Related posts

Huberman in Scotland and Honolulu

Two antithesis reviews of Huberman

More newspaper clippings about Huberman’s violin playing

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

Bronislaw Huberman: funding ideas

 

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.    

Copyright Avior Byron 2014 .