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Huberman and the divine: concert reviews by Neville Cardus

Huberman and the divine: concert reviews by Neville Cardus

In the last few weeks I have examined the subject of the perception of the divine in performances of Huberman as reflected from reviews by Max Brod and Edmondo De Amicis, as well as admiration letters from various listeners to the violinist. The reviews by Max Bord and Edmondo De Amicis were written by literary figures. In the following posts I will study reviews that appeared in various newspapers and were written by other music critics. This post will focus mainly on two reviews by the Neville Cardus.

Neville Cardus, wrote for The Manchester Guardian from 1917 until 1975. He was one of England’s most famous classical-music critics. HE was also a critic on cricket. His autobiography from 1947 became a best-seller. He was knighted in 1967, the first music critic to receive such an honor. His criticism on both music and cricket was subjective and full of prose. His style was very different from the objective and factual criticism of Ernest Newman of The Sunday Times. It was argued that Newman "probed into Music’s vitals, put her head under deep X-ray and analysed cell-tissue. Cardus laid his head against her bosom and listened to the beating of her heart." (Brookes, Christopher (1985). His Own Man — the Life of Neville Cardus, Methuen, p. 137). The Yehudi Menuhin claimed that Cardus "reminds us that there is an understanding of the heart as well as of the mind… in Neville Cardus, the artist has an ally". (Daily Telegraph Review supplement, 8 August 2009, "Knighted for services to cricket and music", p. R21.)
 
Cardus wrote about Huberman on 19 March 1932. He argued that he had never saw a violinist ’so possessed, so far removed from the normal.’ He interpreted the ‘failures’ of intonation and rhythm as ’signs of a subtle, enigmatical temperament.’ Ordinary violinists may not have these problems. Yet Huberman is not ordinary: ‘Huberman’s violin is as though bewitched out of the ordinary and rational world of music.’ The critic tried to trance the source of Huberman’s violin playing claiming that is sparks from the tradition of ‘Paganini, Sarasate, and those necromancers of the instrument of whom it is possible to believe that they learnt their secrets by communication and contact with unearthly forces.’ 
 
The critic went on to describe Huberman’s visual aspects of performance. He noted that Huberman is a short man with a big head, and that he crouches and sways during performance. [I will insert here caricatures of Huberman in various newspapers].
 
I mentioned above De Amicis report of Huberman playing as if he was tearing off a vampire sucking his blood. Cardus, too, wrote that
 
We get a sense that there is a genie within his violin, and that he is now coaxing and then tormenting it with his bow. Or we feel that it is not his bow at all but his fingers that are, so to say, putting a hypnotic influence upon the fiddle. His playing is extraordinarily tactile; his instrument might well be compact of living nerves.


 
Cardus argued that Huberman’s performance was ‘not a classical interpretation; the phrases were too lithe, too magical for that.’ He implied to the myth of the violin as the instrument of the devil and other creatures, when we wrote ‘there was somehow an alien note – the note of a fawn-like fantasy, a cloven-hooved allurement.’
 
As in Max Brod’s review, Cardus suggested that Huberman’s music does not come from himself, but from metaphysical sources. He wrote that at times Huberman ‘appeared to be listening to his own music, as though hearing it from a distance, blown to him of the winds of Elf-land.’
 
Not only Brod argued that Huberman’s performance was a struggle. Cardus reflected a similar idea, developing his aforementioned metaphor of a struggling beast when he noted that during the cadenza, ‘Huberman’s bowing was hard to follow with the eye in all its gyrations and pawings and sword-thrusts and attacks.’ 
 
Cardus concluded his review claming that Huberman is ‘a violinist possessed… capable of holding everybody in thrall by the genius that dwells in him.’ 
 
Cardus wrote another piece of criticism about Huberman on 30 January 1933 in the same newspaper. Similar ideas from the pervious article appear here. Huberman is described as a violinist ‘possessed by the demonic’ and that ‘there is a vampire sort of tenacity in his playing; he sucks the music dry’ so that when the performance is finished one gets the impression that the work of music that was performed is ‘now done with, explored and exhausted’. He echoed the notion of Huberman listening from a distance. He argued that Huberman’s sprit seeks to ‘penetrate behind the notes and pierce the core of things’.
 
Cardus’s notion that Huberman’s performance is not just music, as it points to a metaphysical reality, is clear from the following passage:
 
Huberman, who is a philosopher as well as a musician, plays as though aware that, as Goethe puts it, all the transitory world is only symbolical. Even the notes of music may well be nothing more than a great imagination’s unrealized effort to get behind the veil. Huberman is far more than a fiddler intent upon thrilling and pleasing us; often he appears to challenging his music to reveal its ultimate secret.
 
Music is not just sound. It serves to point to something that is beyond sound. Huberman’s bow, the critic argued, is used as ‘a rod to strike the impersonal, everlasting inscrutability of the music’s noble rock, to wring out of it a human truth and beauty.’ Although he wrote about ‘human’ beauty, the language is similar to that religious thinking claiming that reality points to the divine that is beyond it.
 
Cardus also argued that Huberman is a mediaeval alchemist … he makes us think of agencies of good and evil. There is an enigma in his art. He wrestles, and often it strikes us that the beauty he is conjuring about him and us is a matter likely at any moment to get out of his control.’
 
He concluded his criticism stating that ‘Huberman is the modern "Doktor Faust" of the violin – two souls do dwell within his breast, the surging romantic and the contemplative thinker.’      
 
—-
 
Something from the next post:
 
The Morning Post of 6 February 1933 reviewed a concert in the Queen’s Hall. It argued that the audience was ‘quick to appreciate the privilige of hearing interpretations so profound, so ardent, so transcending.’ This critic too, argued that Huberman’s playing is pointing to something that is beyond the material. He claimed that ‘Huberman’s playing … is comparable to Schnabel’s in its relentless grip upon the music’s form, a grip that never relaxes until from the form the spirit is recreated.’
 

Related posts

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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