Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Let Us Speak Now of Famous Musicians

Over the course of a long life, it’s been my privilege to experience performances by some of the greatest musicians of recent times. As a high school student in the nineteen-fifties, my parents were generous enough to drive me to the University of Tennessee in nearby Knoxville to hear such performers as American opera stars Jan Peerce and Leonard Warren. It was there I heard the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein twice.

Since I write books about gifted musicians, I’ve begun also to read more books about real-life musical geniuses and am currently engrossed in Rubinstein’s book My Young Years. The book is as much about Arthur the young man as it is about Arthur the piano virtuoso, and I am enjoying it immensely. It seemed almost criminal that I paid the grand sum of seventy-eight cents (plus shipping) for this now out-of-print book written by this great artist.

From the time he was about fifteen (he made his professional debut at thirteen), Arthur began to develop a zest for experiencing all life has to offer a young man basically on his own. I’ve raised my eyebrows and laughed more than once at his escapades. Women of all ages seemed to find him irresistible, and he reciprocated enthusiastically. He developed the palate of a gourmand and money slipped through his fingers much too easily.

The result of this was that the young pianist far too frequently found himself in dire straits. He borrowed money constantly, paying it back when he could. This all took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe, and there were many wealthy and titled patrons of the arts who were very generous with him.

Recently I was struck by a part of the book in which he describes hitting bottom. A wealthy friend was ignoring his pleas for financial assistance, and twenty-year-old Rubinstein was barely eating. He was seized by a deep depression and eventually attempted suicide. He tried to hang himself with the belt of his bathrobe, which broke when he kicked the chair aside, and he was thrown to the floor.

He cried for a long time; but tears were not enough, and he says he “staggered” to the piano and “cried myself out in music. Music, my beloved music, the dear companion of all my emotions; who can stir us to fight, who can inflame in us love and passion, and who can soothe our pains and bring peace to our hearts – you are the one who, on that ignominious day, brought me back to life.”

Thank you, maestro. An affirmation of everything I’ve tried to express in my books.

  “It’s more than music: It’s light. It’s love. It’s life.” – Niall Logan, Jamie’s Children.