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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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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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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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Feeling bad about my concert review

Last week I attended an all Schoenberg concert in Jerusalem. I reviewed the concert in my blog and the review was not positive. Lady R, who is one of my subscribers, wrote to me arguing that she did not like my review. She claimed that it was too harsh. I used the word ‘murdering Schoenberg’ and she said that this was too much. She said that I should think about these young performers as if they were my children and avoid hurting their feelings. She told me that I do not want to be like the critic Hanoch Ron who is notorious for hurting performers’ feelings without justifying his arguments (Lady R did acknowledged that my criticism was not without explanations).

After writing the review, I noticed that another subscriber sent me an email (about a week before the concert) telling me about the concert, and that he got the information from one of the performers. This made me feel even worse, since I really do not want to hurt anyone, and especially young performers attempting to play Schoenberg.
 
As a result I lowered the tone of my review. I removed the ‘murdering’ and used ‘distorting’ and wrote that it was a students’ concert so that my review will be considered in proportion. However, the basic criticism stayed almost the same.
 
There is some difference between my criticsim and that of the critic Hanoch Ron. As lady R wrote, I do try to explain why I think the way I do about a concert. Moreover, I have about 60 subscribers and this is much less than the readers of Hanoch Ron. It should be remembered that I did mention the first violinist of the 2nd quartet, who played in a professional way. I liked how he performed. The idea behind the concert was brilliant and some of the lectures were better than others (I did not go into too many details since I preferred to speak about the playing). The whole idea of making such a project is great, yet I am not sure that the ideal place should have been the hall of Mishkenot Shaananim and not the School’s facilities.
 
After I changed my review, Lady R was happy from the result. The question of how to make negative criticism in a productive and not destructive manner is an important one. When I did a course on how to lecture in higher education, in Royal Holloway, University of London, we were told that a criticism should start and end with positive remarks. This gives the students a feeling that not everything is black. I truly think that what the student performers did has value.
 
As students, they probably were very busy with other duties. They may not have had too much experience with performing Schoenberg’s music. Some of the movements were reasonable. Nevertheless, I do think that with a few more rehearsals, and with listening to recordings, they could highly improve the result.
 
There is also value in presenting criticism to young performers. Without knowing where one can improve, one cannot advance and do it better next time. This, however, should be conducted in a gentle manner.
 
What do you think? Was my review too harsh? Is there a better way to write things when there is a chance that students will read it? Feel free to comment in the form below.

 


 

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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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A student performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartets

A student performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartets

Two days ago I stumbled upon a message via Titter saying that there will be a concert with the first movements of the four String Quartets by Schoenberg. After each lecture there will be a short lecture. I decided to attend the concert that occurred yesterday. The lecturers and the student performers were from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. 

The basic idea for the concert is brilliant: play only the first movement from each String Quartet and let the audience hear things that cannot be usually heard in concerts. There were two quartet groups. The first played from the String Quartets 1 and 3 and second group played no. 2 and 4. This could grant the listeners a perspective on the creativity and development of Schoenberg though most of his life. It also granted the students an opportunity to focus on a reasonable task.

It would not be fair to judge a student concert with the same criteria as with more professional performers. It is true that this music is not easy to perform. Nevertheless, there are some things that I would expect also from students of an Academy (this is one of the two highest education institutes for performers in Israel.


 

When the first quartet group started to play I felt physical pain. I know this music quite well from listening to various CDs. I especially adore the performances of the Kolisch Quartet (see the two videos below) and the Lasalle Quartet. I do not expect that the students will play on the level of these excellent quartets. However, I felt that they were simply distorting the music. It seemed to me that they were struggling to play the right notes. There was no groove and no sense of feeling to the various sections of the first movement of String Quartet No. 1. It seemed to me that they did not enjoy playing the music.

The second quartet group was better. I even had a few moments were I enjoyed to listen to the first movement of the Second String Quartet. It was easy to notice that most of the performers, if not all of them, enjoyed the music making. The first violinist (I am not sure whether it was Yuval Herz or Shachar Pooyae) was especially good. They too had some problems with intonation (especially when they started to play) yet the difference between the groups was prominent during the whole concert, especially due to the fact that they played alternately. However, with the second group one could start feeling an interpretation and ensemble playing. The problems of intonation were less important, since they gave the audience the impression that they feel and breathe the music. For me, this is much more important than aspects such as hitting right notes during performance. In short, Yuval Herz, Shachar Pooyae – violin, Willy Zaikin – viola and Daniela Shemer – cello, proved that students can make music on a high level. Yet, even this group had to stop playing in the middle of the performance of the Fourth Quartet. Next time, give the music a few more rehearsals and you will avoid such embarrassing situations.

The lectures were not interesting. The big problem with the lectures was not the mistakes of some of the four lecturers (it is not Robert Kolisch, but Rudolf Kolish), or some of the things that I would never dare to write in public (the program notes actually argued that Schoenberg had a basic musical education! I hope that they meant that he was an autodidact), but they attempted to speak about the music by using anecdotic tales (the Second Quartet and Schoenberg’s wife’s affair with the painter Gerstel) or analyze the music in terms that simply no one could follow (these were moments were some of these people simply slept. The problem was that some of the people were music analysts themselves!). It was absurd that one of the lecturers quoted a letter from Schoenberg to Rudolf Kolisch were he argued that counting the tones in a twelve tone composition is speaking about how the music is built and not about what the music actually is. This was exactly the problem with the lectures. They did not grant the listeners any information that helped them enjoy the music in a better way.


The problem with such concerts is that they give a very bad reputation to the music of Schoenberg, to both the audience and the students. Although the basic idea of the concert was very good, I would recommend that the lectures be much shorter (originally planned for five minutes) and focus on one or two ideas that all of the audience can understand. I would suggest that the students will listen to recordings of famous performers and try to understand what this music is about, before attempting to play it in public.

In short, the feeling was not that of a concert, but of sitting and listening to a rehearsal of under-rehearsed music. I suddenly understood why Schoenberg insisted on many rehearsals. It was clear to me how a bad performance can distort the music. It does not matter whether you like or hate Schoenberg. Listening to an under-rehearsed performance of his music can leave you only with a very negative and general impression. It is simply not the same thing.

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Max Brod on Bronislaw Huberman’s violin playing

Max Brod on Bronislaw Huberman’s violin playing

 
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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The Berliner Philharmoniker’s FIRST FULL SEASON OF live webcasts

Will the internet save the declining world of classical music?

It seems that the internet might do good also to the buisness of classical music. The Berliner Philharmoniker announced that it will broadcast over the internet live from the Berlin Philharmonie.
 
"The Berliner Philharmoniker’s first full Digital Concert Hall season opens on Friday, August 28 with Sir Simon Rattle leading the orchestra in Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Laterna Majica and Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.  Over the season, 33 concerts will be webcast live from the Berlin Philharmonie and later become available on the site’s video archive."

Where can I find it?

If you wish to see and hear what it is all about, live as well as archived content can be accessed at www.berliner-philharmoniker.de/dch

Prices

Unfortunatly it is not free of charge. Here are the prices: subscription to the complete season (149€, approx US$209), a 30-day subscription (39€, approx $55) or individual concert tickets (9.90€, approx $14).  Individual works are also available starting from 3€ (approx $4.30).  Students receive a 30% discount. 

Subscribers receive access to archived concerts.  All tickets are available online at www.berliner-philharmoniker.de/dch with payment able to be made by credit card or through PayPal.

Some figures

The Shuman Associates news report that since it was launched the Digital Concert Hall has been accessed by more than 200,000 visitors, 2,000 of which are Season Pass holders. Almost two-thirds of the visitors come from outside Germany.

Is it wise?

Is it wise that they are asking for money to see and hear these concerts? I doubt it. They would probably attract far more people if they would let people access it all for free. They could make more money from selling CDs other products on the way. If you give something for free on the web you can receive much more web traffic. Perhaps they should have given free access to the archives (or is there a copyright problem here?).

Comment

What do you think? Will the internet save the declining world of classical music? Please comment in the form below.

Copyright Avior Byron 2017 .