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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.’                  

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Huberman and the divine: report by Edmondo De Amicis

Max Brod on Bronislaw Huberman’s violin playing

 

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

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

 
Did Bronislaw Huberman encourage the perception of his performances as something that is related to the metaphysical? Huberman’s relation to Judaism was complex. Judaism is more than a religion, is contains important national and cultural beliefs that are present in the lives of Jews that may be considered secular. Huberman’s huge efforts to help Jews during the Second World War were manifested in his foundation of the Palestine Orchestra and his efforts to help Jewish musicians that chose to emigrate to other places than Israel, such as the cellist Emanuel Feuermann. On the other hand, he was not a strict observant Jew, as there is evidence that he did not observe the holiday of Sabbath according to the Jewish religious laws. For example, the Talmud instructs the observant Jew that musical instruments should not be played by a Jew during Sabbath. Huberman was asked to change a date of a concert of the Palestine Orchestra so that it will not occur on Sabbath evening (Friday night). On 23 April 1940 he replied:
 
      Then there remains the question whether a concert with a serious classical program of music representing the sublimest thoughts and feelings of mankind should not embellish and deepen Sabbath feelings for the listener as well as for the player.
      In Palestinian colonies the concerts could only take place on Sabbath because most of the colonists cannot leave their hard work during the week. And far from being distraction and amusement, these concerts give them a spiritual uplift and force for months and years.
      You write “Mr. Huberman has given a soul to Palestine and fame and happiness”. – Now then, this has not been done by strictly abiding by a law and sitting down and doing nothing, but by carrying out a law from within: to help persecuted people and to support them in their hard work and loneliness, regardless of day and hour. – Which do you think counts for more? (Hubermanm, Ibbeken ed., An Orchestra is Born, p. 70). 
 
Huberman did not argue that he secular or that the Sabbath is not important. He claimed that not only the sublime feeling of mankind that are represented in the performance of classical music ‘deepen Sabbath feelings’, but his inner law that dictates him to help persecuted musicians through the foundation and performances of the Palestine Orchestra is more important than the ‘strict’ religious law of avoiding playing during this day. The significance of these concerts to the Jews in Israel during these hard times is reflected also from the following letter dated 16 January 1939, Huberman reported to Sidney Matz that
 
In any other country, no matter how musical it might be, there would scarcely have been concerts altogether in a period of such a political struggle and economic crisis. For our people, on the contrary, the concerts proved to be a most necessary lifting up, filling them with new strength to hold out. One could gather it from the almost religious concentration with which the audiences listened. (Ibid., p. 65)
 
It is fascinating the Huberman himself uses the word ‘religious’ in order to describe the way listeners listened to performance of classical music. Indeed, the Palestine Orchestra’s performance and Huberman’s performances from the 1930s and 1940s can be better understood under the backdrop of the Jewish people’s struggle in Europe and Israel. In a speech Huberman gave at the Temple Shaare Emeth on 20 November 1942 and the Palestine Society of Philadelphia on 22 March 1944, he described the Jewish revival in Israel and the foundation of the Palestine Orchestra as ‘miracles’ (Ibid. pp. 73-76). He concluded his speech with the following statement: ‘As a child O often wondered how in our times of modern rationalism we could be expected to be as religious as people were in ancient times when they witnessed miracles. Well, today in Palestine one can see endless miracles, if only one has the sense to see miracles…’. Indeed, the combination of a special event and/or place may highly influence the perception of a musical performance. Consider the way the painter and author Nahum Gutman described how the violinist Moshe Hopenko received in 1917 the news of Lord Balfour’s declaration supportive of a national home for the Jews in Palestine. Hopenko not only received the news about the Balfour declaration, but he also returned with the other inhabitants of Te-Aviv after being expelled by the Turkish.
 
It was no miracle that when Mr Hopenko returned home, he noisily opened the shutters to allow the light into the house which has been sealed for many months… It was no miracle that the violinist opened the black case and took out his good friend, the violin. For many months the case has been wrapped in rags for fear of arousing the curiosity of the Turkish soldiers. The violinist tuned the strings and drew the bow. It was no miracle that he felt happy and liberated. No miracle. His wife sat at the piano, wiped the dust off the keys, and the hitherto dormant sounds emerged.
                        No miracle? Yes, there was a mircle!
            Since the music poured through the windows on to the green road and filled the air. It endowed everything with a certain festive light, which is seen but not grasped. (Nahum Gutman, Shvil Klipot Hatapuzim (The Orange Skin Alley) (Tel Aviv, 1959), p. 78. Quoted and translated by Jehoash Hirshberg, Music in the Jewish Community of Palestine 1880-1948 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 49-50).
  

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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.’     

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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.’
 

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The internet and the interpretation of music

The internet and the interpretation of music

One of the interesting things about the internet is that it lets people become more than passive listeners. Not that listeners were ever really passive. My recent research on letters by listeners to the violinist Bronislaw Huberman show that many listeners experienced intense feelings when listening to his performances. Yet there is something in the web that grants people the possibility to comment and even participate in the creation of meaning in the work of art.


 

Consider for example the video above. One can listen to Arnold Schoenberg’s famous Verklarte Nacht with a film added to it. The music and the film are edited so that they will fit together and create a new experience for us. The story in the file (a solider returning from war) is close to the program used by Schoenberg. I prefer the text by Dehmal, however, the idea of love that is united, is reflected from both the film and the work of the person who arranged the music and film. He or she made a very good job in making them work together.
 
The creation of meaning does not stop here. Youtube grants people the possibility to comment on the film. This often influences the way people experience it. Here are a few examples of comments that were written about this film: "Lovely and touching moments you’ve wed together there. Schoenberg’s score is sublime, and so is she! Love the overall tone and mood of your piece. Thank you.", "Wow. Very nice use of film & music together. I am impressed.", "My gosh that’s absolutely beautiful!!!! x", "Outstanding." These comments affect how people see the video. They see it differently after reading these positive comments, as they tell them to pay attention to the way the music and video are ‘wed together’.
 
Moreover, Youtube grants people the possibilty to embed the video in their blog or website and continue to comment on it, as I did here. This too has the potential to contribute to the creation of meaning. Social websites such as Facebook and Twitter help people to be active in commenting, spreading the meaning, and influencing it in different ways.
 
The composers and performers of the future will know how to use the web, not only for spreading their creations (such as see my compositions pages), but in encouraging individuals to comment and contribute to the creation of meaning. They will encourage people to add things to their creations and change them, while potentially giving credit to all people who participated. The artists of the future will not be individuals who only project meaning. They will make their ‘listeners’ respond, share and influence. It will be an endless creativity of groups of people.
 
The questions of copyright, as well as, who is granted the right to participate, will continue to be significant. And yes, there is a problem of copyright here. The person who made this music and video ‘marrige’ did not bother to write who are the performers and who made the video (only the following information is given: ‘A short film to music. 1940’s period piece’. This might mean that he or she are violating the copyright of certain people and it might be removed from Youtube. Pitty.
 
Indeed, the internet is one of the platforms that will probably change the rules concerning what is and what is not under copyright, and what is a violation in this respect. I can tell you that when I did research at the British Library, I found the issue of copyright very troubling. When I wanted to use excerpts of recordings in order to convey to my readers the foundings of my research. I hope that the rules of copyright will benifit in the future, not only the commercial firms, but also the listeners, scholars and all web participaters.
 

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Huberman and the Divine: letters from listeners

In the follwing post I explore some of the letters listeners wrote to Bronislaw Huberman. This is a continuation of the theme of the Divine that I wrote about with relation to a concert review by Max Brod and  a report by Edmondo De Amicis. These two posts and the following were written, more or less, as notes that I plan to use in a future article on this subject.

Eugenie Tulakova wrote to Huberman on 30.4.1929 (The Listner Speaks, p. 36 X A):
 
            Yesterday, listening to your sounds, the soul has trembled like a chord;
 
It has included everything: enthusiasm and suffering, and a wild wave of happiness. 
 
However, more than the sounds it was astonishing, that You, playing like a God, You, the exuberant genius, conqueror of nations, at whose feet the crowd is lying, richness and glory – You did not forget … of old little friends.
 
Here too, Huberman’s music signifies suffering and ‘wild’ emotions. The capital ‘Y’ in the word ‘You’ and the direct reference to God, clearly show a perceived relation of the violinist to the divine.
 
The following is a letter from Mrs R.B. dated 24 March 1932 (p. 56):
 
            Last evening for one blissful half hour I (an invalid) lay back on my pillows entranced, pain forgotten, everything forgotten but the one lovely picture which you were weaving with those unspeakable beautiful notes – a picture of the future of our weary world when the Divine promises are fulfilled and out Lord reigns, and all is harmony and beauty.
            I hope in the next world to be permitted to thank you adequately; I cannot find words here, but can only pour out my soul to God in hearty thanksgiving for such beaty as He has given us through you, and also in a prayer that He will reachly [sic.] bless you.
 
On 26 January 1933 she wrote to Huberman thanking his again for his concert from the Queen’s Hall. She wrote:
 
Music of that kind is beyond words, and converys Divine truths that can hardly be spoken, but if I may try to tell you how I read God’s message to me though you, it was this: - if God’s love gives us such beaty as that, then we can trust Him for all the rest, and need fear nothing, and we can face life with a good courage.
 
מה הוא כתב לה????
 
C. E. wrote to Huberman from Hague, 24 April 1932 (p. 58). He wrote that he enjoyed the ‘great Soul’, with a capital S, ‘who spoke straight to my heart.’ He described Huberman’s playing as ’sublime’. It is interesting that the writer of the letter confesses that he doubts ‘whether really was conscious of the gem he composed, but then he knew no Huberman to play it and show him what it contained.’ In other words, the performer may present something divine that the composer was not aware of while composing.
 
Neville Cardus, a noted music critic from Manchester wrote on 17 January 1936 to Huberman: ‘You purified me with your own suffering.’ (p. 77). I will elaborate on two concert reviews by Nevill Cardus in one of the following posts. The theme of suffering is discussed in my post on the review by Max Brod.
 
A letter from San Fransisco, California, dated 22 March 1936 contained a song from which the following lines were taken:
 
I listened in raptures as his every note
            Thrilled me like a song from a Nightingale’s throat.
It was Wonderful, Godlike, Exquisite, Grand;…
 
I do not wish to argue that all people have experienced music in general or Huberman’s concerts in particular, as a religious experience. Yet even some of the most restraint listeners could have been carried away by Huberman’s music, as is evident from the following letter. M. S., a noted music critic, writes on 28 Mach 1937 from Boston Mass. that he cannot find words to describe the spiritual quality of the experience of hearing Huberman and Schnabel play together in a concert. The critic confessed that he does not see himself as ‘a sentimentalist’, and he even regards with ‘a little skepticism or contempt … those who could partake of music as of a religious experience.’ (p. 89). Yet during the concert, only the intermission could help him re-gather his ‘forces so as to be able to listen to more.’ After listening to a piece by Mozart, it ‘finished’ him and he had to go out and miss the piece by Schubert. The writer of the letter admits listening to music as something ’self-sufficient … discoursing in its own language about matters entirely within itself.’ Nevertheless, in the Huberman-Schnabel concert, ‘perhaps for the first time, it began to take on a meaning outside itself and somehow more lofty.’      
 
A similar letter was written by a women living in Sydney, confessing on 3 July 1937 that her ‘friends have all called [her a] cold and heartless’ person. However, she realized ‘that "Only the Perfect is Real" and that "God is Perfection and Love", also that one must love the Highest when one "sees" it.’ She immediately confessed that she acknowledges ‘the final sense of liberation and ecstasy your music has inspired me with.’ (p. 90).  
 
L. R. from Camberwell, Victoria (Australia) wrote on 12 July 1937 that a radio broadcast of Huberman had awakened something in her. She confessed the following:
 
Have you gone to church often, because it made you strong and good? – You love kneeling before God and listening to the words of good counsel and kindliness. And then there comes a day when you realise, that you never really knew God at all. You just worshipped blindly. Of a sudden your eyes and heart are opened, and you see and feel God as He really is. Such a revelation was your music to me. (p. 92).  
 
L.R. admitted in the letter that she could not afford to but a concert ticket, so Huberman had sent her two tickets. After attending the concert she wrote to him another letter dated 16 July 1937: ‘That concert was the most wonderful thing in my life… Brahms Sonata … was played with God in your fingers.’
 
A letter from an admirer from New York dated 10 December 1942 (p. 112) argues that Huberman performance is ‘great’ in the sense that it is more than perfectly performed with ‘faultless intonation and with complete sincerity. The letter argues that this what makes Huberman’s performance ‘great is not descended from anything on earth at all but that it is a Chelek Eloha Mimaal – [in Hebrew:] a portion from God on High. It is a mysterious blended and glorious whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.’ The writer continued to argue that there ‘was a noble partnership in action on the stage of the Town Hall. The result was a great collaboration of the soul of Huberman, the genius of Bach and the mercy and loving kindness of God.’
 
Mysticism is not unapparent in the following letter by Samuel R. Wachtell from 17 January 1943 (Ibid.):
 
            Here is a dash of Nostradamus:
 
                        ( Bach
                        ( Beethoven
                        ( Brahms
 
            What had they in common last evening? Let us see:
 
                        ( Bach         
                        ( Beethoven       B. H. = Bronislaw Huberman
                        ( Brahms
 
The artistic solvent which sublimated these three different geniuses – the encompassing genius of – Bronislaw Huberman
 
The metaphysical connection between Huberman’s performance and the spirits of composers is present also in a letter by the conductor Wheeler Beckett dated 31 October 1944. He wrote to Huberman that during the performance of Brahms G major sonata, he ‘felt that the spirit of Brahms himself hung over you as you played and if so he must have been pleased to hear his inmost thought and feeling expressed.’ (p. 115)
 
A couple wrote to Huberman on 17 December 1944 that they try to attend as many concert of his as they can. They ended the letter with the following words: ‘God Bless you this season, Mr. Huberman, and may He deem it wise to give you years of further expression of His glory through your art.’ (p. 119).   


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Huberman and the divine: report by Edmondo De Amicis

Huberman and the divine: report by Edmondo De Amicis

Edmondo De Amicis
Edmondo De Amicis (1846 –1908) was an Italian novelist, journalist, poet and short-story writer. His best-known book is the children’s novel Heart. (source: wikipedia)

 
In one of my previous posts I wrote about Max Brod’s review of a concert of Huberman in Prague. In this post I will continue to review how Huberman was perceived with relation to the theme of the divine in music. The Italian journalist, poet and writer Edmondo De Amicis wrote in the summer of 1904 about an experience he had meeting Bronislaw Huberman (the text that was translated from Italian, appears in The listener Speaks by Ida Ibbeken (1961)). In the following excerpt De Amicis relates to the question of suffering during performance:
 
You have the glory – I said to him – dear Huberman – but what about your health? – "Good Lord – he answered with a smile – my health leaves to desire as the glory. But it is all the fault of the violin, I assure you. Unlike many others, who are excited before appearing before the public and quiet down as soon as they are there, I myself am quiet up to the last moment, and I become agitated when I begin to play. One would not believe it, don’t you think so? It seems to everybody that I am impassive, because I do not move when I am playing, except when necessary. But this relative immobility is the effect of a great effort, and the effort I am making to suppress my emotion reacts on my stomach and ruins it. All my suffering is restrained passion. But it is only just that I pay in some way for the inexpressible joy which my art gives me." – Well – I said to him – I have guessed it. (The Listener Speaks, p. 16A)
 
Huberman’s playing, according to the De Amicis report, is a result of retrained passion and emotion. The consequence of this is great suffering that has implications on his health. Yet the source of this passion is not clear at this stage of the article. De Amicis, however, leads his reader to an impression that this passion is related to metaphysical entities. He responds to the passage I quoted above in the following:
 
Your quite attitude could not mislead me. I watched you intensely when you played. I saw when your eyes sparkled and when they grew moist, and I saw the shiver running through the muscles of your pale face. Sometimes, when you pressed the violin, you seemed to press a living and adored thing, which inebriated and tormented you; and when you took it from the shoulder, you made a movement as if you were tearing off a vampire sugging [sic.] your blood; and then you took it back to your breast and re-embraced it with even more passionate love and pressed it under your chin with the tenderness of a mother who presses her face against the face of her creature. Oh, I was not misled. I understood, I felt when from the depths of the soul welled up the lamentations, the sighs of love, of joy and sorrow, the sound of the nightingale and the voices of angels, which you poured forth into the theatre; and which out of your two thousand listeners made one single soul; a soul which palpitated, throbbed with you and which loved you.
 
Performance is not something that happens between a violinist and members of the audience. It is a meeting of metaphysical subjects. The violin is simultaneously adored by Huberman since it grants him moments of joy. Yet it also cases him great pain. Here again one accouters a romantic view of art that grants the artist both joy and suffering. Moreover, the audience is not a group of individuals that perceive the music in different ways. They are united by the elevated experience into ‘one single soul’. Huberman, as in Brod’s description, is a mere medium that communicates emotion, vibrations and energy from an active and divine source to the passive and astonished listeners. De Amicis ends his article claiming that he will always remember ‘the profoundest emotions which my heart received by that instrument which speaks most humanly about the most divine art.’

 


 

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Recordings give us some evidence of the sound that was produced in the first part of the twentieth century. In spite of the distortion of the recording mediums, often influencing tempo, pitch, dynamics, color and practically all musical parameters that were present in performance, there is a feeling that one actually is granted a rare glimpse into the past. Finding a rare recording of Bronislaw Huberman, for example, may be compared to discovering a rare old picture of one’s family member. Yes, it is black and white, and the focus may be distorted, yet it does seem to communicate something of the past. Nevertheless, even if we could travel in time, and sit in a concert of Huberman, a contemporary listener would not hear what previous generations heard. It seems to me that contemporary societies have changed to such a great degree, that they experience music in significantly different ways than in the first part of the twentieth century.
 


The brutal violence, such as stabbing, that occurred in some of Schoenberg’s concerts seem unbelievable in our days. The expectations, social behavior and experiences were very different, even in more normal concerts in the beginning of the previous century. 
 
In this and some of the posts of the following weeks, I will present concert reviews and letters from listeners in order to explore one theme that reappears in relation to Huberman’s performances: the experience of music as something divine. The almost religious experience of music seems to me something that is absent the life of most contemporary listeners.  
 
Max Brod, who is chiefly remembered as the one who translated the operas of Janacek and arranged that the writings of Kafka would not be lost, reviewed a concert by Huberman. The review entitled "Art as deliverance", is dated 13 January 1927 and appeared in the Prager Tagblatt (I found the translation of this newspaper clipping attached to it in the Felicja Blumental Library in Tel-Aviv). The review itself is very poetic and descriptive, as if trying to convey to the readers how it actually was to experience Huberman’s performance. Brod opened his review describing Huberman just before starting to perform:
 
He steps on the platform – bent, austere. Never have I seen so much suffering concentrated on the small surface of a human face. Strindberg’s "Poor humanity!" is written in all its depth of melancholy on this finely arched brow. Yet below it the expression of the eyes as they glance round is impassive, untrusting. The lips tightly closed together. The corners of the mouth are reminiscent of Beethoven in their tragic solitariness.
 
Brod wrote that the moment Huberman started to play, the ‘expression of wild suffering fades, the features relax into pure melancholy… The glance has lost its fierceness when the eyes reopen. Only the nervous eyebrows twitch, and the eyelids are as though under spell.’ Brod continued to quote (from memory) a poem by Hofmannsthal, and suggested that ‘All the sorrows of humanity find expression, as in a dream, in this playing.’ He went on in describing the essence of Huberman’s playing as he experienced it:
 
And now love springs up. Huberman plays nothing but passion and pain; but passion and pain may look up at times to their blue skies above. Here is the outpouring of a happy passion, the peace of a strong love. Even when Huberman paints happiness it is never playful, comfortable happiness. It is the happiness of a heart of passionate storms, brought beneath a blue sky of compassion.
 
Brod argued that under Huberman’s playing, Smetana’s "Fatherland" ‘had no longer its simple rustic quality, but became the desire and fulfillment of a strongly emotional, strongly inspired soul.’
 
A theme that appears in this review and reappears also in other sources is the impression that technical difficulties are ’swept aside and completely subordinated to the revelation of the music’s soul.’ Brod describes such technical passages as ‘daemonic speeding’, and ‘an ascent in search of God and deliverance’. He suggested that in Huberman’s performance, ‘one is at peace, one is awakened to the best in one.’ This echoes the romantic concept of the ethical power of music to improve people.
 
In various parts of the review Brod seems to be embarrassed from the fact the Huberman is performing to a public: ‘Is not one brought to feel that the great artist is escaping from humanity, from us who listen, into the realms of his music? We are troubling him. The lights should be put out and he should be allowed to play in darkness, not to have to gaze our faces, faces unworthy of this music…..’ Brod argued that Huberman in not like a preacher who tries to convince his audience:
 
the characteristic attitude of Huberman at the peaks of interpretation [… is that] he turns away, we see him in profile, he lifts the violin high up, he turns right away from us into the background, as though he were playing to some invisible higher being, not to us; he is far away from us now, he has placed his fiddle as a barricade between himself and us. But it is then above all, in the liberation of solitude, that we feel nearest to him.         
 
 
The references to a ‘higher being’ and God, as well as the recurring theme of suffering (see the reference to Beethoven above) is part of a romantic conception of the performer who delivers art from God to passive listeners, that just happened to be there by chance. The performer is a medium that helps regular listeners to connect with higher spheres of existence. The passive listeners are exposed to beauty that was presented by the composer and delivered by the performer, yet the source of this beauty, is clearly divine.
 
Some of the notions described in Brod’s review appear also in letters written to Huberman concerning other concerts. For example, the notion of the audience becoming one soul is relfected in a letter written by S. R. W. on 19 October 1942 (The Listener Speaks, p. 111):
 
… the Chaconne … I never heard a greater performance than that of last night. The tones of your violin, in defiance of the law and nature of sound, seemed to gather power as they rose on the air. - It was an evening of enthusiasm and rejoicing. There was in the air that upsurge of good fellowship which draws men and women nearer together after withnessing a great event. 
 
The notion of the extreme demands of performance on Huberman is also present in the letter by A. J. W.: ‘It’s incredible how you survive one of your playings of Chaconne. You give your life away when you play it. None of us are worth it. I remain awed …. overwhelmed". 
 
I will continue to explore this topic in the next weeks when I work in the Huberman archive in the Felicja Blumental Library in Tel-Aviv. Subscribe to the Blog and be updated via email or RSS.
 
The translation of the German text was probably done by Ida Ibbeken who was the secretary of Huberman.
 

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Save the Music Library in Tel-Aviv - sign petition now!

A few heartless people in the Tel-Aviv City Hall aim to close the Music Library in Tel-Aviv (Felicia Blumental Library) by gradually reducting its budget. Please take two minutes and sign the petition here in order to help preventing this. Please forward the address of this page to as many people that you know so that they will sign and help.

I am doing research at this library (on Huberman) on a weekly basis. I can assure you that it contains cutural treasures such as the Huberman Nachlass as well as that of many other international and Israeli musical figures. We must spread this information and find as many people as possible that will sign the petition so that the Library’s cutural treasures will not be lost.

I suggested to some people who are concerned that it would be very useful to arrange a concert in protest of the decision. If you are a musician in Israel, please contact me if you are willing to perform in such a concert. If you are a musician out of Israel you may consider making an internet performance on YOUTUBE adding that it is for this cause (if you do so, let me know about it, and I will add it to my blog).

Here is more information in Hebrew:

בימים אלה נדונה בעיריית תל-אביב האפשרות של קיצוץ דרמטי בתקנים העומדים לרשותה של הספרייה למוזיקה (במרכז למוזיקה ע"ש פליציה בלומנטל). ייתכן מאוד שהתקנים ושעות העבודה שייוותרו אחרי הקיצוץ יורידו משמעותית את תפקודה של הספרייה לשפל שאינו מאפשר שירות  מקצועי  ואחראי; למעשה  -  בטווח קצר או ארוך קצת יותר  -  למצב שבו אין עוד טעם בעצם קיומה של הספרייה, ולסגירתה .

כל מי שנעזר בשירותיה של הספרייה למוזיקה, וכל מי שבקי בחשיבותן  בתפקידיהן המגוונים ובדרכים שבהן אמורות ספריות מסוג זה לשרת את הקהל הפוטנציאלי שלהן, מבין שצוות מינימום ובו שני ספרנים בלבד (ובמונחים יבשים של מצבת כוח-אדם  -  ספרן-וחצי ), הממונה לבדו על אוספים גדולים מאוד של ספרים, פרטיטורות ישנות וחדשות, תקליטים ,דיסקים, כמה וכמה ארכיונים (בהם ארכיון ברוניסלב הוברמן ועזבונותיהם של יהויכין סטוצ’בסקי ומנשה רבינא) ואוסף מיוחד של כלי-נגינה   -  צוות מינימום כזה אינו אלא ‘עלה תאנה’. בשעות  העבודה ובשעות הפתיחה המעטות שיאפשרו התקנים החדשים , הנדונים עתה בעירייה, עשוי צוות כזה לבצע רק מינימום של השגחה על הבניין ועל המלאי שבתוכו. הרי הספרייה, שצברה ותק וניסיון מאז שנות החמישים , אינה מתמקדת ב’תצוגת חומרים’ בלבד ולא רק בהשאלה-כשלעצמה. הקהל המגוון שלה (מתל-אביב ומחוץ לתל-אביב)  - סטודנטים שהספרייה מציעה להם, לא פעם , תווים והקלטות שאינם נמצאים באוניברסיטה ובמכללה; תלמידים במגמות מוזיקה; מורי מוזיקה בבתי-ספר ומורים לכלי נגינה; נגנים, מנצחים וזמרים וכן חובבי מוזיקה רבים נזקק כמעט תמיד לשירות מקיף, מה גם שחומרי הספרייה (שלא כמו בספריות ציבוריות כגון בית-אריאלה) אינם מוצגים, ואינם יכולים להיות מוצגים, באופן חופשי על המדפים. השירות המקיף כולל, לעתים קרובות, יעוץ, הפניה והמלצה מפורטת (איזה ספר , איזו פרטיטורה, איזו הקלטה, איזה ביצוע מוקלט, מתאימים לצורך ספציפי, למורה מסוים או לסטודנט מסוים או למבצע מסוים, והיכן מוצאים אותם), מתן עזרה בשימוש במכשירי ההאזנה, סיוע לתלמידים ולחוקרים בהתמצאות בחומרים שהספרייה מציעה.  שירות זה הוא לב-לבה של הספרייה למוזיקה; הוא דורש צוות סביר ושעות עבודה ופתיחה סבירות ; ויתור עליו  - כמוהו כסגירת הספרייה, ותקני-המינימום הנדונים בעיריית תל-אביב - אכן פירושם ויתור וסגירה .

אנו פונים לכל מקבלי ההחלטות בעירייה לשקול היטב את משמעותו של קיצוץ קיצוני ולא להוציא אותו אל הפועל .

אנא, צרפו את חתימתכם לעצומה זו . 

http://www.atzuma.co.il/musiclibrary

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