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Avior Byron

My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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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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