Articles by Cesare Civetta

Slava! Courageous Humanitarian

Mstislav Rostropovich, affectionately known as Slava, (Glory) was born in 1927 in Azerbaijan. His father,  of Polish descent, was a cellist and had been a pupil of Pablo Casals. His mother, a Russian Jew, was a pianist. The earliest photo of him shows him lying in his father’s cello case, which served as his cot. As soon as he could walk he would seize a broom to imitate the gestures of his father playing the cello. Slava began composing at age 4, when he began studying the piano with his mother and began cello lessons with his father at age 8. He began his cello teaching career at 14. He attended the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied cello, piano, and conducting and his composition teacher was Dmitri Shostakovich. Rostropovich composed quite a bit until his 2nd year at the conservatory when he heard the 1st rehearsal of Shostakovich’s  8th Symphony. He was so impressed he decided to give up composition. In 1948 Stalin declared Kathaturian, Prokofiev and Shostakovich to be enemies of the people, resulting in the ban on their music, and Shostokovich losing his teaching positions at the conservatories in Leningrad and Moscow. The 21-year-old Rostropovich quit the conservatory, dropping out in protest. The persecution of Prokoviev and Shostakovich was so horrific that in 1951 neither composer had enough money for food. Rostropovich became a champion of both composers’ music. Rostropovich was a phenomenal virtuoso. At age 23 Rostropovich was the recipient of the highest award in the Soviet Union, the Stalin Prize. In 1955 he married the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, with whom he had two daughters. Any Western influences, even jeans were unavailable and prohibited in the former Soviet Union. When his daughters became teenagers, their mother had purchased them jeans on one of her foreign tours. Slava poured gasoline over them a set them on fire! Rostropovich made his U.S. cello debut in 1956. He was an extremely disciplined musician. He learned and memorized Shostakovich’s 1st Cello Concerto in just 3 days by practicing it 10 hours the 1st day, 10 hours the 2nd day and 8 hours the 3rd day! And his standards were incredibly high. He didn’t record Bach’s 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites until he was 63 because he hadn’t felt he was ready yet. Rostropovich was not only one of the greatest cellists that ever lived, he was also a conductor, and a fine pianist. He had a phenomenal memory, and was able to play all of his repertoire, even new compositions written especially for him in a record, short amount of time. In fact, he accompanied his wife, for 35 years, and he played all those performances from memory as well. She and his student Xavier Phillips explained that he had a way of singing on the cello. He became one of the most honored and treasured artists of the Soviet Union. But the recognition from the government didn’t come easily because he was not a Communist Party member. Slava greatly enlarged the cello repertoire exponentially by commissioning hundreds of new works for the cello. 243 cello compositions were written for him! Among the many composers who wrote cello compositions for him was Benjamin Britten, with whom he was great friends. On his deathbed, when Rostropovich listened to the recording he had made with Britten of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, he was moved to tears of joy. His former teacher and next-door neighbor, Dmitri Shostakovich, wrote 2 cello concertos for him. Rostropovich said of Shostakovich, “He was the most important man in my life, after my father. And 5 months before Rostropovich’s death he created the Shostakovich museum in St. Petersburg by purchasing the apartment where Shostakovich lived as a youth, and donated the museum to the city of St. Petersburg, with the stipulation that its archives be made available to scholars. Rostropovich made his conducting debut in 1961. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1962 novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, describes the life of a Soviet forced labor camp prisoner. In 1945 Solzhenitsyn had criticized Stalin in a letter, and was then arrested and spent 8 years in prisons and labor camps after which he spent three more years in enforced exile. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and helped raise global awareness of its forced labor camp system. In 1969 he was very ill and living in an unheated house. Rostropovich invited Solzhenitsyn to live in the empty caretaker’s apartment in his country home. S was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. Solzhenitsyn was ruthlessly persecuted. He was expelled from the writers’ union, and none of his other writings were published in Russia. Not only did Rostropovich take the courageous action of housing an enemy of the people, the country’s most famous dissident writer, he also fired off an angry, blistering letter to the media attacking the Soviet government’s censorship of the arts, suppression of ideas, and human rights abuses. And it was published by the foreign press. It reads in part: “Why do decisions about our literature and our art so often belong to people who are absolutely incompetent in these fields?…Each human being must have the right to think for himself and to express his opinion without fear.” Slava and Galina were then persecuted. Their passports were confiscated. Their home was put under 24-hour KGB surveillance. His foreign concert tours were cancelled and his performances in all major Russian cities were curtailed. Their home was put under 24 KGB surveillance. His name was removed from all programs and publications. His letters to Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union, went unanswered. Virtually the only places he was allowed to perform were in remote parts of the Soviet Union. Rostropovich found his concerts canceled. People were told he was ill. His recordings were suppressed. His concerts in smaller provincial towns were canceled arbitrarily, even after he had arrived or while he was making his way to a town. Frequently there were no notices of his performances in the press and no posters were to be seen, and so he often played to practically empty halls. Sometimes his name disappeared altogether from concert programs, reviews and publicity. He said: “Many times Solzhenitsen told us maybe I go from your house to make life a little bit easier for you, but my wife and I could not accept this. I tell you, if you ask me what I made in my life the best step, I’ll tell you, that’s found in music, but in my life, the best step was only that one-page letter, and since that moment my conscience was clean and clear.” Solzhenitsen was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974. Galina: “It all happened as I predicted like reading from a book. They hurled him from great heights down to the ground. He was banned from playing in big halls. They simply didn’t give him halls to play in. He traveled only to small towns, playing with very bad orchestras. I watched him simply fading away. His shoulders were stooped. His back seemed hunched, Of course, it could have all ended very badly in catastrophe. In Russia you usually drown your sorrows in the bottle, become a vodka addict, and then…” Incredibly some of his musical colleagues began to question his musicianship, both as cellist and conductor. And even more incredibly, Rostropovich began to believe them. In March of 1974 at Galina’s instigation, Slava wrote to Brezhnev, requesting to work abroad for two years. Slava had become terribly depressed. His wife wrote: “He would go quietly into the kitchen and weep. That most intelligent of men, that brilliant artist…was tortured by the realization that they were letting him go so easily.” Just before he left, Slava was rehearsing a new production of Die Fledermaus in Moscow. As Galina remembered: “He was called into the office of the theatre’s artistic director: ‘You know, Slava, I must have a serious talk with you…We can’t let you conduct our orchestra…But, well…how can I put it to you gently? As a musician, you’ve degenerated much too much, and we simply can’t entrust you with a premiere for our theatre. Yes, yes–now don’t take offense–as a musician you’ve gone downhill.’ Slava had only strength enough to walk out of the theatre, cross the street, and hide in the first doorway, where he burst into sobs. Slava’s friends and students came to the airport to see him off…The send-off was more like a funeral.” He left with one suitcase, two cellos and his Newfoundland dog. His wife and daughters joined him two months later. The great irony is that after he was punished and censored in Russia, he settled in the U.S. and in 1977 was appointed chief conductor of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., a position he held for 17 years. When the orchestra went on strike for high wages, he joined the musicians, and wouldn’t cross the picket line. In 1978 Rostropovich and Galina were stripped of their Soviet citizenships. The exile lasted 16 years. It helped make him an international celebrity. In 1989, from his Paris apartment, Slava heard on the radio that crowds of demonstrators had gathered at the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. He immediately traveled there and played an impromptu performance of the Sarabande from Bach’s 2nd Cello Suite. He returned to Russia in 1990 conducting the National Symphony from Washington in Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony, one of the composer’s most tragic compositions, that depicts the terror of the Stalin regime. He also conducted Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony during that visit. When he learned about the attempted coup in August of 1991, he rushed to Moscow by immediately purchasing an airline ticket from Paris to Tokyo, which stopped in Moscow, because he didn’t have a visa. He got off the plane in Moscow and talked his way through passport control. The famous photo of the soldier asleep on Slava’s shoulder while Rostropovich held his rifle, has been published all over the world. In 1993 he returned to Russia with his National Symphony. His piano soloist for the tour was Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s son. Rostropovich conducted Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in Red Square for an audience of 100,000 to commemorate the centennial of Tchaikovsky’s death. In 1992 he and Galina founded the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation, which led to more than 2 million children being immunized against hepatitis B. The foundation has provided medical equipment for children’s clinics in St. Petersburg, Orienburg and other villages and towns, and also developed a vaccination program for measles, mumps and rubella in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Lithuania. 1997 he founded the Rostropovich Foundation to provide scholarships and grants to hundreds of young Russian musicians of outstanding talent. Additionally, Rostropovich helped an enormous number of people, often quietly and anonymously. Rostropovich was an ambassador for UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He was the recipient of many honorary doctorate degrees, and more than 16 major awards from Russia, the International League of Human Rights, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, and top awards and honors from Japan, Austria, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Belgium, Hungary, Venezuela, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the U.S., Taiwan, Finland, France, Sweden, Ecuador, and Great Britain. The house in Baku Azerbaijan where his family lived in the 1920s is now the Leopold and Mstislav Rostropovich Home-Museum. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2006 and died peacefully, less than a year later at age 80.

A Tribute to Victor Borge

Victor Borge was born as Børge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in 1909. His parents, Bernhard and Frederikke Rosenbaum, were both musicians. His father was a violist in the Royal Danish Orchestra for 35 years, and his mother was an accomplished pianist. Borge began piano lessons with his mother at the age of 2! It was soon apparent that he was a prodigy, giving his first piano recital when he was only eight. When he was 9 he was awarded a full scholarship to the Royal Danish Academy of Music and later, studied in Vienna and Berlin. Among his teachers were Frederic Lamond, a pupil of Franz Liszt, and Egon Petri, a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni. Borge made his debut as soloist with the Copenhagen Philharmonic when he was 10. When his parents entertained with dinner parties and asked him to play for their guests, Borge would announce that he would play a work of Beethoven or Bach, but would actually play one of his own compositions in the style of Beethoven or Bach. Then he would secretly delight when a guest would exclaim “That’s my favorite Beethoven piece! I’ve never heard that piece played so well!” Although Borge’s piano playing was critically praised, he suffered from debilitating attacks of stage fright. To counteract this problem, Borge started engaging the audience in banter between pieces and presenting comedy routines. And this aspect of his performances came to overshadow his playing.In public recitals, he was a serious musician, but at school, in clubs, and at family gatherings he included humor in his entertainment. After years of study to become a classical concert pianist Borge discovered his flair for comedy and his ability to respect the music while skewering the pomposity that often characterizes the presentation of classical music. After a few years as a classical concert pianist, he started his stand-up comedy act, with a blend of piano music and jokes. Borge became one of the most successful nightclub acts in Denmark, as well as appearing in six films, commanding the highest salary of any Danish entertainer. Word spread, and by the time he was in his early 20s, Borge’s incredible sense of humor combined with his musical ability had established him as one of the leading film and stage personalities in Scandinavia. He married an American, Elsie Chilton. Borge started touring extensively in Europe, where he began telling anti-Nazi jokes. Borge, who was Jewish, often satirized Hitler. Borge was blacklisted because of his satirizing of Hitler and the Nazi party. Germany invaded Denmark in 1940. Fortunately, Borge was playing a concert in Sweden at the time, and he escaped with his wife and Scottish Terrier to Finland where they boarded the USS American Legion, which had been sent to evacuate Crown Princess Martha of Norway. The American Legion was the last neutral ship to leave Northern Europe. Disguised as a sailor, Borge managed to return to Denmark once during the Nazi occupation to visit his dying mother. Borge arrived in the U.S. with only $20. He learned English by going to the movies. For 15 cents he could watch a film three times and, by the third showing, would try to repeat every word. Translated into English, he quickly managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience.Borge transformed his struggle with the English language into one of the most endearing parts of his act. In 1941, after failing to get a job pumping gas because his English wasn’t good enough, he changed his name to Victor Borge and began earning money playing piano at swanky parties in Hollywood. Rudy Vallee met him at one of these parties and invited him to be a warm-up performer for his radio show. Borge was soon hired by Bing Crosby for his radio program for a year-long run performing to 30 million Americans every week. Appearances in nightclubs, on concert stages, and on television followed. Borge won the title of “Best New Radio Performer” in 1942. Soon after he appeared in movies with stars such as Frank Sinatra. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1945. Beginning in 1946 he hosted the Victor Borge Show on NBC radio and appeared on television, especially with his own TV show, and in movies while performing his music comedy act around the world. He also appeared several times on Toast of the Town hosted by Ed Sullivan. Throughout his long career, Borge performed with many legendary performers including Dean Martin, Don Rickles, Mary Martin, Salvador Dali, Lucille Ball, and even Kermit the Frog. He became a United States citizen in 1948 and in 1953 starred on stage in the show Comedy and Music in New York which became the longest-running one-man show in history with 849 performances, a record which made the Guinness Book of World Records. For the next four decades there was never a theater season when the name Victor Borge didn’t light up a Broadway marquee. In 1960 he was the highest paid entertainer in the world. His musical sidekick in the 1960s was the pianist, Leonid Hambro. In 1968 the pianist Sahan Arzuni joined him as his straight man. He performed his famous Phonetic Punctuation routine for 60 years, but ‘Phonetic Punctuation’ wasn’t his. The original idea was penned by a Norwegian scriptwriter who eventually took Borge to court over its copyright and won.  Starting in the 1950s, Borge owned a poultry business in Connecticut raising and popularizing Rock Cornish game hens. An expert skipper, Borge said, “With me, the three B’s are Bach, Beethoven, and Boats.” After he and his first wife divorced, he married Sarabel Sanna Scraper in 1953, and they remained married until her death, just 3 months before his own death in 2000. He appeared in the movies, Higher and Higher with Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme, a cameo in The King of Comedy directed by Martin Scorsese with Robert DeNiro, Jerry Lewis, and Sandra Bernhard, The Story of Dr. Wassell directed by Cecil B. DeMille with Gary Cooper, and is the voice of Zenith in the animated film The Day Dreamer with Tallulah Bankhead and Patty Duke. Borge appeared often on television. He made several guest appearances on What’s My Line hosted by Groucho Marx. He appeared on The Electric Company, many times on Sesame Street and was a star guest on The Muppet Show. Borge was also in great demand as a guest on Fibber McGee and Molly, Jubilee, Mail Call and Command Performance. He has conducted the National Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Copenhagen Orchestra, and those of London, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Some orchestras actually had their seasons rescued by a Victor Borge appearance and by his special benefit performances. He is the author of three books: My Favorite Intermissions, My Favorite Comedies in Music, and his autobiography, The Smile is the Shortest Distance, which was only published in Danish. Borge helped start several charity funds. In 1963 he initiated the Thanks to Scandinavia scholarship fund for Scandinavian students in gratitude for the heroic deeds of the Scandinavians, who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. The multi-million dollar fund has already brought thousands of students and scientists to the United States and Israel from Scandinavian countries and Bulgaria for study and research. Borge served as its longtime National Chairman. In 1979 Borge founded the American Pianists Association, then called the Beethoven Foundation, to help young Americans enter international competitions and to provide a bridge from the academic to the international concert stage. It produces two major piano competitions. In memory of his parents, he established a special music scholarship, one of the highest study grants in Denmark. It is awarded each summer at a gala ceremony in the Concert Hall of the famous Tivoli Gardens. He also established scholarship grants at the annual Rebild July Fourth Festival in Denmark — a Danish celebration of U.S. independence — and he has given innumerable benefits to help worthy causes. In 1964 he donated his 310-acre farm and 13-room farmhouse to the Univ. of Connecticut. During a career that spanned more than 70 years, Borge received numerous awards. Victor Borge Hall was opened in 2000 as part of the Scandinavia House, New York City’s center for Nordic culture. Victor Borge Square in Copenhagen was created in 2002. A statue was erected there in 2009, and Asteroid 5634 Victorborge is named in his honor. His life was celebrated by the American Scandinavian Foundation in 2009, and a TV special entitled 100 Years of Music and Laughter was broadcast on PBS.  He has been knighted by Iceland, Norway Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, and was honored by both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. He received an honorary membership from the Royal Danish Orchestra, and honorary degrees from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, Butler University, Dana College, the Univ. of Connecticut, and Luther College. He received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Order of the Dannebrog from Denmark, the Order of Vasa from Sweden, the Knight First Class of the Order of St. Olav from Norway, the Order of the White Rose from Finland, and the Order of the Falcon from Iceland, and the Kennedy Center Honors. Affectionately known as “The Great Dane,” Mr. Borge was an ambassador of goodwill for both his native Denmark and his adopted America. Victor Borge continued to tour until his last days, performing up to 60 times per year at age 90. He died peacefully in his sleep in 2000, in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the age of 91 after more than 75 years of entertaining. In accordance with his wishes, Borge’s ashes are divided between the Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich, Connecticut, and the Western Jewish Cemetery in Copenhagen, Denmark. Borge fathered five children, 2 with his first wife: Ronald Borge and Janet Crowle, and with his second wife: Sanna Feirstein, Victor Bernhard Jr., and Frederikke  Borge. His son, Ronald, occasionally performed with him onstage. At the time of his death in 2000, Borge left behind nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Borge always said that a smile is the shortest distance between people.   

Brahms’s Human Requiem and Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw was born in 1916 and died in 1999. He was one of the greatest and underestimated conductors of the 20th century. He commissioned and gave the world premieres of compositions by Hindemith and Copland and was a champion of the choral music of Bartok, Britten and Poulenc. Despite his innate enormous talent, Shaw had no formal musical training. But he hired a great teacher, to tutor him for several years, Julius Herford, a German Jew living in exile in the U.S., having fled the Nazis. When Shaw was just 29 Arturo Toscanini heard Shaw conduct Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, after which the elderly maestro kissed Shaw on both cheeks, and in tears said “I have been conducting this music for 50 years. This is the first time I heard it truly sung as it should be.” For the remainder of his career, whenever Toscanini scheduled a composition with chorus, he called Shaw. And not just Toscanini. It seems that everyone wanted Shaw to prepare their choruses, including Stravinsky. Koussevitsky invited him to head the choral program at Tanglewood, and William Schumann appointed him in charge of the choral department at Juilliard. He was the founder and conductor of the Robert Shaw Chorale, a group of young professional singers, with which he made many, many recordings and with which he toured throughout the United States, Latin America, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and Russia. Shaw was for 11 years the associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and for 21 years, the Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus, which he built into first-rate ensembles and with whom he won 14 Grammy awards! Atlanta even constructed an entire performing arts center for Shaw. Robert Shaw had an affinity with choral music, for Johannes Brahms, and especially, for his Requiem. He conducted it more than 100 times! Shaw first conducted it in 1942 and continued conducting it with many different choruses and orchestras for the next 57 years until the final year of his life. In 1947 he conducted the first recording made in the U.S. of the Requiem, and he re-recorded it with his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in 1983. In fact, as a young budding conductor, I was his personal guest in Atlanta for the rehearsals, performances and recording sessions that week, and it was a unique, amazing experience. I have been studying Shaw’s numerous writings on the Requiem, his recordings from 1947 and 1983, and recordings of performances he gave with the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus in 1990 and with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in 1992. In the last year of his life, Shaw created his own singable English translation of Brahms’s Requiem, which he was scheduled to record with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony. However, he died a few weeks before, and one of his proteges, Craig Jessop, conducted what turned out to be a beautiful recording. Johannes Brahms was worried about the increasing nationalism and in 1895 declared to his friends in Vienna: “Anti-Semitism is madness; it is so despicable to me.” Requiems consist of prayers for the dead, set to music by many composers through the centuries. The English translation of the original title is A German Requiem, To the Words of the Holy Scriptures. In the words of Brahms: “I must confess that I would gladly prefer to dispense with the term German, and simply substitute the word mankind instead.” Cory Wikam, in his doctoral dissertation on Shaw and Brahms’s Requiem wrote: “Brahms stated that it was for all humankind. It’s a setting of biblical texts that Brahms selected without regard to any established liturgy. Brahms wishes to address all people, whether Protestant, Catholic or also Jewish, in his avoidance of the name of Jesus Christ, which does not appear at all in the piece, and Brahms also strictly avoided using any scripture that dealt with Christian dogma.” The only reason the Requiem is in German is because Brahms’s bible was a German translation from the original Greek and Hebrew by Martin Luther and composed the Requiem in the living language of his time and society. Brahms knew the Bible very well. It contains countless markings and comments in his handwriting. His requiem derives from 16 passages of scripture. As a child, Shaw had memorized most of the texts selected by Brahms. Shaw wrote: “Brahms primarily addresses those who are in mourning. From the Robert Shaw Reader, by Robert Blocker: “He referred to it as a human Requiem because he was writing in exploration of a universal human experience. He was more concerned with comforting the hearts of those left to mourn rather than with escorting the departed through the medieval horrors of wrath and judgment. Rather than setting the traditional prayers for the safe journey of the souls of the departed to their heavenly rest, he was concerned with bringing some degree of comfort to the sorrowing who remain.” The conductor Robert Summer wrote that “many of the movements of this Requiem speak of a secure and blissful eternity and of a resting from the struggles of life in the dwelling place of god. The overall textual and philosophical emphasis is upon man’s acceptance of death which leads to triumph over death. In a letter to his friend Reinthaler, Brahms admitted that he would have preferred calling the work A Human Requiem rather than A German Requiem—a Requiem for all humankind.” Brahms composed it when he was in his early 30s. The death of composer, Robert Schumann and the death of Brahms’s mother in 1865 may have influenced Brahms’s decision to compose a Requiem. Lasting approximately 75 minutes, it is his longest composition. It consists of 7 movements or sections. It was written mostly between 1865 and 1866. The central theme of Brahms’s Requiem is: Blessed are the living. Because the first movement is about mourning and grieving, Brahms did not include violins in the first movement. It begins with double basses, 2 French horns, violas and cellos. Shaw said that “the way we learn about Brahms’s feelings about the words he chose from scripture is by learning to speak his language as perfectly and as trustingly as we can.” By learning to speak his language, Shaw meant that by accurately performing Brahms’s music, including the notes, pitches, rhythms, dynamics, and speeds exactly as he composed them, we could through his music, ascertain how he felt about the texts he chose for the Requiem. Wikam wrote: “In addressing his chorus Shaw wrote: ‘As artists – and as human beings – our concern is not with how we feel about death or the textual imagery of the Human Requiem, but how Brahms felt about these things. We have to believe that Brahms has something to say. We have to recognize that we are his voice. We have to realize that he speaks in terms of intonation and tone colors and rhythms, and that we are privileged to be truly the sound of his mind.’” Shaw spoke to his choruses about Brahms’s emphasis on consoling the living and cautions the chorus members not to color their singing with their own religious beliefs, but to sing what Brahms wrote as accurately as possible, to let Brahms’s beliefs be known through his music. In the second movement, what begins as a death march becomes the victorious march of the redeemed into eternity. The words are from Isaiah: “They shall return with singing unto Zion, coming rejoicing, joyful. Joy everlasting shall crown their heads forever more. “The grass withers and the flower falls. But the word of God remains.” The second movement starts with these words: For all flesh is like grass and all the glory of man is like the grass’s flowers. The grass is withered and the flower has fallen off.” This is a metaphor for the life and death of human beings. Brahms set these words to music, first quietly and then very loudly. The 2nd movement contains these words from Isaiah: “They shall possess joy and bliss, and pain and sighing will have to go away.” In the 4th movement the tenors sing from Psalms: “How lovely are your dwellings, Lord  Zabaoth.” The fifth movement contains an ethereal soprano solo. This was the last section Brahms composed, undoubtedly influenced by the recent death of his mother. “You now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice.” The conductor, Helmuth Rilling wrote: “The words are from Isaiah and Sirach: ‘Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth… I will see you again.’ These are the most personal words of the Requiem…The most intimate realm of human relationship is being addressed here. She speaks with the voice of a person who has just passed away speaking of the sorrow which her death caused. And then she says ‘but I will see you again’. She sings of the comfort and hope of another world in a very high register. It is Brahms’s vision of a mother who bids farewell in a very personal way.” In choosing these words “For a short time I had labor and sorrow, and have found great consolation”, Brahms may very well have had his own mother in mind, who had recently died, when he composed this. In the 6th movement the chorus sings about God’s triumph over human death. It ends with a glorious fugue singing God’s praises. The words of the last movement are “Blessed are the dead. Though they rest from their labors,  their works follow after them.” Rilling wrote: “The music describes the cheerfulness of Brahms’s conception of the future enraptured life of the deceased. Brahms conveys a transcendental vision of eternal life and seems to experience the words as a reality full of hope.”


Jascha Heifetz was born in Lithuania in 1901. At age 3 his father, who was also a violinist, began giving him violin lessons. For many years his father was very, very strict and very critical. He was soon enrolled in the local music academy. The only non-music school he ever attended was the shul. Heifetz studied Hebrew to please his grandfather, who was a rabbi. At one time he could read Hebrew script. At age 6 he performed the Mendelssohn concerto in public. Starting at age 7 he became the breadwinner for his family, who exploited him. As a child prodigy, Heifetz led a sheltered life and grew up on stage instead of among other children. He could do anything he wanted without interference from his parents as long as he practiced to their satisfaction. When he wanted to play after practicing his mother always told him it was not good enough. This became so instilled in him that he told himself it was not good enough millions of times during his life while he practiced. He said: “When I play a piece well I always hope that tomorrow I will play it even better.” At age 9 he moved to St. Petersburg to study with Leopold Auer. There, Jews were confined to ghettos and had to ask for permission to stay within the city gates overnight. In 1917 he made a phenomenally successful Carnegie Hall debut and went on to play in almost every major city in the world. During World War 2 he gave hundreds and hundreds of concerts to the troops all over the world. Heifetz very, very rarely canceled  performances. He was very professional about it unlike Horowitz.  He made several tours of Israel. In 1928 he married Florence Vidor a silent film actress with whom he had two children. In 1947 he married Frances Spielberger with whom he had a son. They were divorced in 1962. Heifetz was very self-critical. When he heard his own records he would invariably comment “too fast.” At age 20 as he became incredibly famous and successful, a music critic wrote about a lack of depth that had begun to creep into his playing. It was the first serious criticism he ever had encountered and it came as a terrible shock. The review thoroughly crushed him and he considered committing suicide. He later wrote the critic a letter of gratitude for bringing him to his senses. Heifetz wanted his playing to be exciting not just beautiful and he watched his audience for the slightest sign that their attention was starting to wane. Heifetz said: “You have to be convinced that whatever you are playing is the greatest piece in the world.” His near-perfect technique and conservative stage demeanor with a minimum of physical gestures created the illusion that his playing was cold. He was actually quite a passionate musician. In fact in his last years he sometimes cried when he made music with his assistant, becoming a little embarrassed about his emotional display. By the 1960s Heifetz pretty much stopped concertizing and spent the last 25 years of his life teaching master classes in Los Angeles. His assistants for the master classes were required to help his students with their financial situations, housing, health problems, and any problems with the United States immigration service concerning student visas and their extensions. They had to help the students with clothing, better food, personal appearance and family problems so that the students could give total dedication to the master classes. The students were not allowed to take courses at the university. They were not allowed to have jobs playing in orchestras nor film studios. For those in financial need, he established two foundations, from which he distributed funds to them without fanfare. Heifetz hated competitions and strictly forbade his students to enter them. “Why would you want to go to a competition? Who will be judging you? And what are THEIR qualifications?” Heifetz began all his concerts with the thought that every performance happens only once. He taught that one should play each performance truly as if one’s life depended on it. If a student was too intellectual and delivered a calculated, cold performance, his favorite statement was “It was wonderful but I didn’t feel anything.” He said “Try not to express your emotions through external means but convey them through your music and let the audience emote.” In a master class on the Finale of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto Heifetz admonished the student to use more of the bow. He said “I assure you that it takes the nerves of a bullfighter the digestion of a peasant the vitality of a night club hostess the tact of a diplomat and the concentration of a Tibetan monk to lead the strenuous life of a virtuoso.” Heifetz had a very complex personality. If someone disagreed with him he interpreted it as a personal rejection. Heifetz was active in the creation of the emergency telephone number 911. In the 60s Heifetz became very concerned about the air pollution in L.A. So he got the idea of converting his car into a battery-driven car, which he spent a fortune on, designing and commissioning. It was the first passenger car like it on the West Coast. It was his contribution to fighting the smog, as he put it “so we can breathe the air, that I think we are entitled to”. It didn’t work too well though, so it remained in his garage! His home in Beverly Hills was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. He also owned a beach house in Malibu. And as prices increased, he wrote the words “under protest” on the checks he wrote out for the utility and tax bills. And when his property taxes were increased he refused to pay them. He considered property taxes to be against the principles of the Constitution. City Hall put a lien on his property that eventually figured into the settlement of his estate. Ayke Agus studied both violin and piano with Heifetz, was his assistant for the master classes, and in his last years served as his private accompanist and assistant. She wrote that he invited himself for dinner once or twice a week, dictated the time and sometimes the menu. He thought he had a natural gift for interior decorating and insisted that she and her husband should change their furniture around according to his specifications. With Heifetz no one was allowed to discuss politics, religion, nor music! She wrote that in the last years he was frequently depressed, that his mind created groundless suspicions and there were several incidents of near insanity. He said: “I occasionally play works by contemporary composers for two reasons first to discourage the composer from writing anymore and second to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven.”  He made 150 transcriptions for violin and piano of short pieces which he liked to call “itsy bitsys”. Many of them were favorite encore pieces. He died in 1987 when he was 86 from a blood clot on his brain followed by a stroke. In his entire career, he only had 1 memory lapse. He was able to continue playing very well even in his 80s. He was the highest-paid violinist of his time, and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest-ever release devoted to the work of a single instrumentalist 103 CDs.

Felix Mendelssohn, One of the Greatest Composers of the 19th Century

Felix Mendelssohn was born on February 3rd, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany. His mother was Leah Solomon, whose grandfather was one of the most affluent citizens of Berlin as the financial advisor to King Friedrich II of Prussia. Felix’s father was Abraham Mendelssohn, a successful banker. Abraham’s father was the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, who was the preeminent Jewish philosopher of the German Enlightenment. He was nicknamed the Jewish Luther, who fought against anti-Semitism in eighteenth-century Prussia. He was a reformer and was nicknamed the father of the Jewish enlightenment, the Haskalah. The family left Hamburg in disguise fearing punishment for the role of the Mendelssohn bank in breaking Napoleon’s continental system blockade. Felix was the second of four children his older sister Fanny was also a brilliant musical prodigy. Felix began taking piano lessons from his mother when he was six and made his first public performance as a pianist at the age of 9. Mendelssohn was an incredibly prolific composer of more than 750 compositions. A scholarly edition of all his music totals more than 150 volumes! As an adolescent many of his compositions were performed at home by a private Orchestra for the intellectual Elite of Berlin who were the wealthy friends of his parents. He wrote 12 Symphonies for string orchestra between ages 12 and 14! When he was just 16 he wrote The magnificent Octet for Strings. At age 12 Felix met and played for the legendary writer Goethe who considered Felix’s playing miraculous and compared him to the young Mozart. The two met on several subsequent occasions and Mendelssohn instructed Goethe in music history and even set some of Goethe’s poems to music. At age 17 Mendelssohn began studying at the Humboldt University of Berlin. At 14, his grandmother gifted him a copy of the manuscript of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which, together with Bach’s Mass in B minor, is considered by many to be the pinnacle not only of Bach’s music, but one of the greatest creations of civilization! When he was just 20 Mendelssohn produced and conducted 3 very successful performances of the St. Matthew passion. Much of Bach’s music had been forgotten after the composer’s death in 1750. This performance marked the first time the work had ever been heard outside of Leipzig. It sparked the Revival of Bach’s music in Germany and eventually throughout Europe and earned Felix widespread acclaim. In Mendelssohn’s own words “To think that it took the son of a Jew to revive the greatest Christian music for the world!” From age 20, M had a busy career as a conductor. His conducting was praised by Hector Berlioz. And one of his innovations as a conductor was his use of a baton. Mendelssohn was a wonderful visual artist. He worked in pencil and watercolor throughout his life. And he wrote many witty letters in German and English, sometimes including humorous sketches and cartoons. Due to the pressures in society with the growing popularity of nationalism and the Prussian reform movement, Felix’s father, Abraham decided to convert to Christianity and to have his children baptized. There was tremendous resistance to the idea of German Jews wanting to succeed in fields other than commerce and finance. Mendelssohn’s great, biblical oratorio Elijah was composed within the context of the emergence of German national identity. The scholar, Jeffrey Sposato wrote this about Mendelssohn: “While under his father’s watchful eye he tried to distance himself from Judaism, often incorporating anti-Semitic imagery into his oratorio texts. But when his father was no longer in the picture he worked to find ways to celebrate his Christian faith in his music without denigrating the Jews in the process.“ Mendelssohn was proud of his Jewish heritage and was especially proud of his grandfather, Moses. In fact, he strongly advocated for the publication of the complete writings of his grandfather. At age 24 he landed his first professional appointment, that of music director of the city of Dusseldorf. While there Mendelssohn conducted a performance of Handel’s oratorio, Israel in Egypt. This led to a revival of Handel’s music in Germany. In fact based on his careful study of the original manuscripts, he edited for publication the first scholarly edition of Handel’s oratorios as well as Bach’s organ music. After 2 years in Dusseldorf, Mendelssohn became the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, which was founded in 1743. He insisted on a high standard of orchestral playing and he also fought for increases in the musicians’ salaries. While in Leipzig, Mendelssohn worked with several of the city’s choral and musical institutions, including the St. Thomas boys choir, of which Bach himself had once been the director. At age 28 he married Cecile and they had 5 children, none of whom were musicians. Cecile died 6 years after her Felix. Mendelssohn was a virtuoso pianist and organist. He concertized throughout his career, and especially championed the music of Beethoven, and von Weber. His performances of Bach’s organ music ignited an appreciation for Bach, who died 59 years before Mendelssohn was born, and whose music had become pretty much forgotten until Mendelssohn began to perform it. And Mendelssohn had a reputation for being an amazing improviser at the keyboard. During Mendelssohn’s time in Leipzig, Wagner sent him his new symphony, which M misplaced. However 11 years after Schubert’s death he conducted the world premiere of Schubert’s 9th Symphony. In 1843 Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory, which is now named after him, and he invited the violinist Joseph Joachim and the composer Robert Schumann to join him on the faculty. And he conducted the world premieres of Schumann’s 1st two symphonies and his piano concerto. Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor prompted Schumann to proclaim: “Mendelssohn is the Mozart of the 19th century.” He was somewhat friendly with Berlioz and Liszt, but considered Liszt’s compositions to be inferior to his playing. And of Berlioz’s Les Francs-Juges overture, he criticized the orchestration and wrote that one ought to wash one’s hands after handling his music! Though he did help with the preparation of Berlioz’s successful concerts in Leipzig. He was a distant cousin to another great, Jewish composer of the 19th century, Giacomo Meyerbeer. When a friend suggested that he and Meyerbeer looked somewhat alike, Felix immediately went to have his hair cut to do away with the resemblance! In 1847 his sister Fanny died. His 6th string quartet was composed as a ‘Requiem for Fanny’. In it one can hear Mendelssohn’s grief, pain, despair and yearning for his sister. Mendelssohn was a very excitable man. On one occasion he became so agitated that he began speaking incoherently, and sometimes would collapse during his fits of temper. 6 months after his sister’s death, Mendelssohn died after a series of strokes. He was just 38 years old. He is buried in Berlin. Mendelssohn died in 1847 and the disgusting anti-Jewish fever that strengthened throughout the 19th century, inhibited the spread of his great music, this despite the enthusiastic praise from von Bulow, Brahms and Max Reger. In 1936 the Nazis banned the publication, performance and broadcasting of Mendelssohn’s music and even asked German composers to rewrite the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Later that year, precisely in reaction to this, Toscanini inaugurated what is now the Israel Philharmonic, and conducted the Nocturne and Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. When it came to composing, Mendelssohn had incredibly high standards. It took him 13 years to compose and revise his 3rd symphony, known as the Scottish Symphony. And he didn’t permit the publication of his 4th Symphony, nor his 5th symphony, because he was not satisfied with either one of them. In 1934 the Nazis stopped the Mendelssohn scholarship at the Leipzig conservatory. It was reinstated in 1963.  And they destroyed the monuments to Mendelssohn in Leipzig and Dusseldorf in 1936. They were eventually replaced several years ago.  

The Fascinating Life and Music of Roland Hayes 1887-1977

Once known as the “Black Caruso,” during his 60 year career Roland Hayes packed concert halls all over Europe, South America, and the United States. At the height of his popularity he sold out famous venues such as Carnegie Hall; Washington’s Constitution Hall; Boston’s Symphony Hall; Covent Garden and Wigmore Hall in London, and the Hollywood Bowl. He was the first African American musician to perform with a major symphony orchestra in the U.S. He sang for crowned heads of Europe, prime ministers, presidents, and other heads of state.  His trail-blazing career carved the path for Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Todd Duncan, Dorothy Maynor, and many others. He was also one of the first concert artists to program spirituals on his recitals. Roland Hayes was born in 1887 in Curryville Georgia, where his mother, Fannie had once been enslaved. When Roland was 11, his father died, which resulted in his mother becoming a single parent. She then moved the family to Chattanooga, TN. With his brother Robert, Roland began singing in the Silver-Toned Quartet for nickels, dimes and quarters. At 14, Roland, who only went as far as 5th grade, began working in a metal foundry. One day he got pulled into the machinery by the conveyor belt, and he was brought home in a full body cast. It took 10 weeks to recuperate. “I could not understand how I had come out of it alive. I quite simply believed that my escape was miraculous. God had spared me, I thought, to work out in me some mission. I have never entirely lost since that time the feeling that I have had a heavenly vocation to fulfill, although I did not know then, that I should make a ministry of music. Hayes began taking two voice lessons a week with organist and choir director, W. Arthur Calhoun. He played young Roland the recordings of Nellie Melba and other great singers, but when he heard a recording of Enrico Caruso singing I Pagliacci Hayes said: “That opened the heavens for me. The voice of Caruso seemed to me to come from some remote and inaccessible heaven where a kind of light shone. My dormant senses were awakened by Caruso’s matchless tones.” Caruso’s influence is quite evident in his recording of I Pagliacci from 1918. Roland’s decision to become a great singer became his life’s work, and from that point on he pursued it with missionary zeal. However, Roland’s mother wanted him to become a preacher. She was opposed to his musical aspirations and said: “They tell me Negroes can’t understand good music, and white folks don’t want to hear it from us. So it seems to me you are making a mistake.” Nevertheless in 1905 at age 18 he left home with $50 of his savings and went to Nashville, TN where he became a student of Jennie Robinson, the head of the music department at Fisk University. While there Roland worked odd domestic jobs and formed another vocal quartet to earn extra money. Miss Robinson didn’t approve of his singing outside of school, and after 4 years kicked him out of Fisk. Roland then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked as a waiter and did some singing at private dinners and at movie theatres for silent films. He also sang with the Jubilee Singers, who toured extensively in the U.S. and Great Britain to raise money for a new campus for Fisk Univ. When the group performed in Boston, Roland decided to stay in Boston. There he auditioned for 5 voice teachers. Each of them believed that it would be impossible for a Black man to be accepted as a serious artist. “I was determined not to be permanently put down.” He began voice lessons with Arthur Hubbard. However the lessons took place at Hubbard’s home in the suburbs to avoid embarrassment if Roland were seen in his teacher’s studio by his white pupils, many of whom were from the South. While studying voice, Hayes worked as a page boy for the John Hancock Insurance Co. and moved his mother from Chattanooga to live with him in Boston.  In 1912 Roland met the baritone and composer, Harry T. Burleigh. They formed a successful vocal quartet that sang in Carnegie Hall at a concert attended by former president Teddy Roosevelt. Roland sang at various churches and in 1914 made a concert tour of several Southern states. He also formed the Hayes Trio with William Richardson and William Lawrence and they toured Pennsylvania’s Chautauqua circuit. Because of racism, Roland couldn’t get a manager, so he continued advertising his services and sang many concert tours, but always lost money after paying the rental fees for the venues, and the fees for his pianists and other performers he appeared with. Finally, Hayes decided to sing a big concert in Boston in 1917, and to rent Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Symphony with a seating capacity of 2600! This was against the advice of his teacher and most of his friends. In fact, when he asked the wife of the governor of MA, to be a backer, she refused, saying: “I cannot let my name be attached to an enterprise which is bound to be a failure before it begins.”  A music critic wrote negatively about the plan, which resulted in protests from Boston’s music loving public. Hayes hired a secretary to compile a mailing list of 3,000 people to send flyers to, and Hayes actually used a telephone directory, from which he chose names at random to call and promote the performance to. Roland spent the next 2 years giving concert tours throughout the U.S. to raise the money for the performance. He paid the hall’s $400 rental fee well in advance, saying: “Nothing now could stop me from doing as I pleased.” The result was that the concert was completely sold out, and several hundred people had to be turned away at the door. No record label would give him a contract, so he hired Columbia Graphophone Co. renting their studios and hiring their technicians to create his own recordings, which he then advertised, and distributed himself.  In 1917 Hayes brought his mother along on a transcontinental tour of the U.S. with the pianist, Lawrence Brown, who later became Paul Robeson’s pianist. The tour lost money, but undeterred, they made another tour the following year. Since no manager would take on a Black artist Roland negotiated the contracts, and managed all of the promotion and his performance fee collections in each city himself. And he had difficulty getting paid for some of the concerts, which led him to  demand in future contracts that he was to be paid in advance of each performance. In the spiritual Deep River, crossing over the Jordon River into campground is a metaphor for the enslaved people in the United States crossing the Ohio River to freedom in the North. In 1920 at age 32 Hayes and Lawrence Brown departed for London. There, he continued managing his own performances, which consistently lost money. After his first important recital at London’s Aeolian Hall, one reviewer wrote that it was “a sacrilege that a black man should sing the love songs of white people.” Roland then decided to give a performance at London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall. By then he had secured British managers, but he still had to pay to rent the hall. On the day of the concert, Hayes came down with pneumonia and was running a high fever. His doctor ordered him to cancel the performance, but he refused. Upon arrival at the venue, he was so weak that he had to be carried up the stairs. He wrote about the beginning of the performance: “As I sang, strength came. Perspiration fell from me almost like rain. I sweated out all the pneumonia. At the end of the first group of songs I walked off the stage alone like a man in a trance. When I returned to the stage for the second group, I had no feeling of sickness or infirmity.” Hayes met the chaplain of the Royal Chapel of the Savoy, who invited a representative from Buckingham Palace to hear one of Roland’s performances. When he sang an unaccompanied rendition of the spiritual Were you there?, several of the listeners began to weep. In fact Renee Vautier sculpted a bust of Roland with his SOMETIMES QUIET eyes shut, from a photo taken during this performance. He soon was called upon to give a command performance for the king and queen of England, which led to his associations with SEE VIDEO Lady Astor, the composer Sir Edward Elgar, and the soprano, Nellie Melba. Hayes was quickly becoming a sensation among the elite. Nelli Melba was ecstatic when she heard Hayes sing Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. Roland continued to study, taking lessons from Amanda Aldridge, a pupil of the legendary Jenny Lind, and who was the daughter of the Shakespearean actor, Ira Aldridge. Roland also began studying with George Henschel, a pupil of Brahms and the founder and first conductor of the Boston Symphony. In Paris, Roland Hayes sang for the rich and famous of Parisian society. He was hosted by and had the patronage of the Rothchilds, princesses, dukes, duchesses, countesses and baronesses. And he was coached by Gabriel Faure on the composer’s songs. In Vienna, Roland was coached in the Viennese tradition by Theodore Lierhammer. One Viennese reviewer wrote: “No German could sing Schubert with more serious or unselfish surrender.” Another one wrote: “Do not imagine that it is sufficient to be white to become an artist. Try first to sing as well as this black man did.” This led Roland to write: “I am persuaded that the spirit’s choice of my body to inhabit, has some specific purpose. I am Black for some high purpose in the mind of the spirit. I must work that purpose out.” In 1923, Roland’s mother Fannie died. His mother had repeatedly insisted that he sing with clearly intelligible diction and enunciation. And just in case it wasn’t perfect, he had the lyrics to each song printed in the concert program booklets. Among the last things she wrote to her son was: “Don’t sing yourself out. Stay in bound of reason and don’t let the folks cheer you to death.” Her last words to him were: “Remember this, you are a continuation of my desire. I have always prayed the good Lord that I might do something good through some of my children. Now you go on, remember who you are and reference your heritage.” Roland was unable to attend her funeral, but he requested that his recording of Sit Down be played at the service. As Hayes’s biographer, Dr. Christopher A. Brooks wrote: “It was Fannie after all who had taught the song to her son. Knowing of his mother’s enslaved background combined with her personal sacrifices, struggles, and losses, Roland saw the repeated phrases throughout the spiritual, ‘Sit down and rest a little while’, as a metaphor for her life. The final phrase, ‘Oh Hallelujah, in my kingdom’ was an equally meaningful metaphor for Fannie Hayes’s death.” Roland returned to Boston near the end of 1923 and became the first African American soloist to appear with a major American orchestra, in 3 performances with the Boston Symphony conducted by Pierre Monteux. Hayes now had professional management. He began traveling with a personal assistant, and in the 1920’s was earning 6 figures a year. Not long after the death of his mother Roland met Countess Bertha Colloredo-Mansfeld in Prague. Starting in 1924, Hayes and the countess began exchanging increasingly passionate letters. She was married with four sons but fell hopelessly in love with Roland. He wrote: “In preparation for my visits she would assemble a bibliography of whatever composer we had nominated for studying. She would present me with shelves of books and stacks of music to research and study. I found it so exciting to spend long weeks working together. We read the definitive biographies and sang and played the music in chronological sequence. We read Goethe, Schiller, and Bismarck for background. In such a way, year after year, we went through Bach, Handel and Mozart, Schubert and Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms and Hugo Wolf, and then the early Italian masters, such as Caccini, Peri, Monteverdi, Lulli, Galuppi, and others.” For 6 years she guided him through the study of composers’ lives and their music. And she accompanied him at the piano as they studied. In letters to the countess he called her “my revealer of wonders, my guiding star, my divine, my comfort. Oh! What bliss as we work side by side. My being cries out for the safe pillow of your presence.” About the countess, Dr. Brooks wrote: “She believed he was a genius and the representation of the very best of the Black race. For her, having a child with the tenor meant bringing about the blending of the two races, which would enhance, and perhaps save, humanity.” And in fact, they did have a child, a daughter named Maya, who had 6 children of her own. In 1924 Roland made his Berlin debut at the Beethoven Hall. Ads for the upcoming concert were placed in German newspapers featuring his photo, announcing that he would be singing songs of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Strauss and Wolf. The Berliners could only associate Black musicians with jazz and letters to newspaper editors were published denouncing the upcoming performance as a sacrilege. One newspaper called the event scandalous and stated that the best Hayes could do would be to remind them of the cotton fields of Georgia.”  The 1,000 seat Beethoven Hall was sold out and when Hayes came out on stage people began to boo and hiss at him. He believed that the demonstration was caused by the Nazi party. Roland stood there with his eyes closed for several minutes, and then offered this prayer: “God, please blot out Roland Hayes so that the people will see only Thee.” Eventually there was silence. Then Roland and Lawrence Brown performed Schubert’s song, Du bist die Ruh (You are the calm). When they finished, the audience leapt to their feet cheering and stomping! Singing the music of their beloved Schubert, Roland put the snobbish Germans in their place. Hayes wrote: “The critical world may have found me perplexing, but said that I had a new kind of vocal instrument, with its own individual color. It meant so much to me to read that I had made the spirituals sound ‘almost as though they have been written by a great master.’” Hearing Roland Hayes sing the spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot is a perfect illustration of this. The chariot is a heavenly vehicle to transport people to their home in heaven. But its coded message is a metaphor for abolitionists to come to the South and bring enslaved people home to freedom in the North or Africa. In 1948 Roland’s book of spirituals was published. It’s original title was My Songs: Aframerican Religious Folk Songs Arranged and Interpreted by Roland Hayes. In 2001 it was republished as My Favorite Spirituals, 30 Songs for Voice and Piano Arranged and Interpreted by Roland Hayes. In contains the sheet music to Haye’s arrangements of 30 spirituals and Roland’s essays on each of them. Dr. Brooks wrote: “He used the term Aframerican in the forward because he saw the term Negro as a misnomer and believed that Aframerican better reflected those Africans transplanted to the United States.” Hayes wrote about his experience with spirituals as a boy: “It became my duty in the church to learn new songs and teach them to the congregation. It was in this oral fashion that the spirituals were handed down amongst Negroes everywhere, and thus they have traveled all over the South. “The slave composers were moved by the same fiery spirit that inspired Bach and Schubert. It is their rare combination of art and spirituality that makes for great music. They approached their God humbly. Even in their music they did not dare to speak to him directly. They spoke to him in quiet melodies adorned with hundreds of delicate little turns which were a part of their instinctive modesty in the presence of the divine spirit they venerated. In such a way they asked for deliverance from their sufferings and peace at the last.” In 1926 Roland traveled back to his ancestral home in Georgia, where his mother had been enslaved. There he met with the elderly Joe Mann, the former owner of his ancestors, who was now poverty stricken and in failing health. Roland informed the old man that he had purchased the 600 acres of land where his mother, her immediate family, and her ancestors had once been held in bondage, and welcomed Mann and his sickly wife to stay on his land as non-paying residents. The son of the once enslaved mother would become the master of her former captor. However, before Roland could formally take possession of the land, Joe Mann and his wife died. Hayes envisioned the property not only as a functioning farm but as an artists’ colony. He had a friend create an architectural design that included dormitories, classrooms, a museum, a small hospital, a performing venue, and an elaborate garden for reflection and solitude. He also asked an architect to design a school and an Egyptian style building to be dedicated to the memory of his mother. Hayes wrote: “I wanted to invite promising Negro boys and girls, painters and poets and musicians to my farm in Georgia, where they could be tested for vocation: exposed to the arts in native and imported forms, and trained in the direction of their several propensities. I thought of making my house in Boston a kind of hostel to which boys and girls from the South could go for their intermediate education. After that, my villa in France was to have been open to the cream of the crop, those young people whose early promise had begun to be realized in Boston.” And he invited the preeminent African American scientist and inventor George Washington Carver to visit the farm. Carver responded that Hayes was doing God’s work for humanity: “What you are doing, my beloved friend, is bigger than one race. It is a contribution to all mankind. My prayers will follow you all the way wherever you go.” And he signed it: “Yours with genuine love and admiration, G.W. Carver” Unfortunately after the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, Hayes was forced to abandon these plans. In 1932 Roland married his 1st cousin, Alzada. They had a girl, named Afrika, who eventually had two daughters of her own. Once they were married, Roland abruptly ended his relationship in Europe with the countess and their daughter, Maya. In 1938 Roland invited a white Canadian student to come to his farm in Georgia to study voice with him. Soon, white locals made threats against Roland and the boy who was staying in the same living quarters with the Hayes family, because they were violating the norms of the separation of blacks and whites. Roland conceded to local segregation customs and sent the young man away. In 1947 Roland sold the farm in GA and bought one in Massachusetts. The experience, however, did not dissuade him from his goal of bringing the races closer together.  “We all have the same divine spark, whether our skin is white or black or yellow or brown. I want to show that in my singing. Real art that goes to people’s hearts leads to my life’s goal: the end of race hatred, with no difference between the colors of the skin. Peace and brotherhood all over the world.” Touring was often very hard on Hayes. In 1942 he wrote: “I had nearly always been required to pay as indeed I still do at least 50% more than white artists are charged for hotel accommodations and services. In American cities which I’ve visited for the first time, I often found the audiences inquisitive or skeptical, or even hostile. My managers tried to spare me discomfort and humiliation by making traveling arrangements for me well in advance, but even so, hotel keepers now and again refused to put me up when the day of my arrival actually rolled around. Once when I was interviewed while I was dining alone in my room in a Duluth, MN hotel, I was asked whether I had been requested to stay out of the public dining room. I admitted that I had been so ordered. Stones have been thrown through the windows of my house in Brookline. I have been refused a bed in a hotel in Tucson, a chair in a Seattle lobby, a meal in a restaurant in Duluth, and once not so long ago, I was beaten and thrown into jail.”  By 1942, Hayes had long been one of the most beloved, successful and highest paid classical performers of his time. Yet, that summer, Roland’s wife and daughter had been verbally abused and kicked out of a shoe store in Rome, Georgia.When he confronted the owner of the store, police were called and threw Hayes into the back of a police car, where they brutally beat him so badly that his lip was cut, his jaw was bruised and his eyes were swollen shut. They then locked up Roland and his wife in a prison cell. The incident was widely written about including in the NY Times, and Time magazine. Lawyers from around the country offered their services pro bono to sue the guilty police. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out about the incident. The people of Rome, GA were shamed by the negative national and international attention. Roland Hayes’s autobiography was published two months after the incident. It is entitled Angel Mo’ and Her Son, Roland Hayes. Angel Mo’ is short for Angel Mother.  Here is an excerpt from an essay entitled My America that the great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes published a few months after the incident: “America is the land of where the best of all democracies has been achieved for some people, but in Georgia, Roland Hayes, the world famous singer, is beaten for being colored and nobody is jailed, nor can Mr. Hayes vote in the state where he was born. Yet America is a country where Roland Hayes can come from a log cabin to wealth and fame, in spite of the segment that still wishes to maltreat him physically and spiritually, famous though he is.” Dr. Brooks wrote about “the very savvy and shrewd businessman that Roland was, a man who, with the equivalent of a high school diploma, could negotiate very complex contracts and was on top of every aspect of his career.” Yet, Hayes isn’t well known at all today. Why not? He himself is partially to blame. Once, after making some recordings for a record company, when unable to agree on the terms of distribution, he destroyed the masters discs, so that the recordings could never be published. He was opposed to the then new medium of radio, refusing to broadcast his singing because he felt that his art was not intended for mass distribution through radio. And when Hayes was invited to perform at the White House for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the idea was for him to be paired on a program with a jazz singer to demonstrate the musical versatility of African-Americans. Hayes refused because he didn’t approve of jazz and considered this sharing of the program to be below his artistic standards!  Roland Hayes’s last performance was in 1973 as a fund raiser for the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. He was 86! In his last years Hayes displayed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1977 at 89 from a respiratory complication. His archives comprising more than 75,000 documents are housed at the Detroit Public Library, which established the Roland Hayes Trail Blazers Award to honor African American artists whose careers mirror his high artistic goals. A museum in his honor was established in his home town of Calhoun, Georgia. A school in Chattanooga, Tennessee bears his name, as does a grade school in Saint Alban, West Virginia. The French government awarded him the Palmes Officier d’Academie for his service to French music. He was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. The Roland W. Hayes Concert Hall is at the Chattanooga campus of the Univ. of Tennessee. A documentary, The Musical Legacy of Roland Hayes was made in 1990. He was the recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Award, and is the recpient of 8 honorary doctorate degrees.  Several years ago Roland’s American and European families finally met! Through his 2 families he left behind 2 daughters, 8 grand children and many great grand children. His great grandson, Wenceslaus Bogdanoff is a bass singer.

The Incomparable Ella Fitzgerald Part 2

In 1965 she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. Among the songs she sang was a medley of Ellington songs performed without words such as I am Beginning to See the Light, and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. In 1972 she sang at the All-Star Swing Festival at Lincoln Center, and at the end of the performance Dizzy Gillespie came out on stage and took Ella by surprise by dancing with her! In 1966 Ella was performing at the jazz festival on the Cote d’Azur on the French Riviera when her sister passed away. Ella flew home to Los Angeles for the funeral, and then turned right around and flew back for the following night’s performance. Ella gave herself no time for mourning or embracing the emotions she was feeling. She simply rushed back to work. There was also no consoling her son, who lost his aunt, and who may have been his biological mother. She began having many health issues but at this point she had no life except for her music. For the rest of her life, she consistently defied her doctors who insisted she retire or at least slow down, but she kept working at a hectic pace. About her scat singing, Mel Torme said: “Anyone who attempts to sing extemporaneously, that is, scat, will tell you that the hardest aspect of that kind of singing is to stay in tune. You are wandering all over the scales, the notes coming out of your mouth a millisecond after you think of them. A singer has to work doubly hard to emit those random notes in scat singing with perfect intonation. Well, I should say all singers except Ella. Her notes float out in perfect pitch, effortless, and most important of all, swinging. She had those extraordinary ears. She grew up surrounded by great musicians and she kept those extraordinary ears open and listening. So she assimilated all of this. How do you describe it? It’s a God given talent. It’s the only way I can describe it.” Ella and Mel Torme were mutual admirers of each other. In 1976 Ella won her 8th Grammy Award and she and Mel Torme sang together again. Torme called it one of the highlights of his life. Ella was paid $500,000 for her first series of commercials for Memorex audio tape. And the 6 figure contract was renewed several times! In 1968 she said: “Being at the top is a strain. The first time you get hoarse or aren’t up to par, you think you’re slipping. Anytime you think that you’re at the pinnacle, that you’ve made it, then you’re nothing.” Ella loved to sing ballads sometimes even more than the fast songs. By 1970 Ella was dealing with several health issues including treatments and surgeries to save her eyes. Having diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure were very serious for an exhausted woman who was extremely overweight. And yet, by the middle of 1971 she sang in New York’s Central Park to an audience of 200,000 people. Despite her doctors warning her to slow down during the 1970s, Ella continued to ignore their recommendations, performing two shows a night as many times as six nights a week. Her blood pressure was high. It became more difficult to get around. And her eyesight and arthritis worsened. Beginning in 1983 Ella lost nearly 100 lbs in 2 years. This was after she fell onstage due to dizziness, medication, and the loss of footing caused by the amputation of one of her toes, due to diabetes. In 1985 she began suffering from fluid buildup in her lungs. The following year Ella suffered from congestive heart failure, had quintuple coronary bypass surgery, and had a valve in her heart replaced. Ella continued performing an exhaustive schedule despite protests from her doctors, her manager, her family and friends. Her biographer, Stuart Nicholson, wrote: “It’s ironic that Ella, who so loved her audiences and who throughout her life has given unstintingly of herself, should have remained such a lonely figure. Apart from her 6-year marriage to Ray Brown, her life was spent in a series of affairs that have never led to the security and happiness of which she sang and which she sought so desperately. But she found fulfillment through her music and in the warmth and joy she received from her audiences.” When asked about her favorite singers, she replied: Sarah Vaughn, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Mel Torme. There was a beautiful humility about Ella Fitzgerald. Mel Torme said “She doesn’t know how good she is. I’m presenting an award to her on the 4th of July 1991, a Black Achievement Award at the Palladium, and I consider it a signal honor. But believe me, when she gets that award it’s going to be like all the other awards she has received: ‘What did I ever do to deserve this?’ That’s the way she is.” Two years before her death another of her biographers, Geoffrey Fidelman wrote: “She was a legend who is still nervous about being good enough. Ella never really accepted the fact that she was so popular, or that she was unconditionally loved from the moment she walked on stage. Humble as ever, when she received another Grammy award in 1991 she said to a friend: “They’re just giving it to me ‘cause I’m old and still around.” In 1992 a second toe was amputated due to diabetes. Ella loved to laugh and her favorite subject to talk about was music and songs. Her social life was practically non existent. In her later years when she was at home a lot of time her favorite activity was watching soap operas on TV. Ella was not social. She seldom left the house, did not chat on the phone to friends, and spent little time with family. She lived to perform. Ella never healed from the operations to remove her toes. Because of severe diabetes, her eyesight greatly deteriorated, gangrene set in and in 1993 both her legs were amputated. Ella Fitzgerald died in her home from a stroke in 1996. She was 79. The majority of her media and memorabilia is at the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress. She recorded well over 200 records, and during her lifetime sold over 40 million albums. The Cole Porter songbook and the two My Fair Lady albums became the largest selling record albums in history. She was inducted into the Down Beat Magazine Hall of Fame, and is the recipient of 13 Grammy awards, a Grammy lifetime achievement award, the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, honorary membership in the nation’s oldest and largest African-American sorority, Alpha, Kappa, Alpha, the first New York City Cultural Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, France’s Commander of Arts and Letters Award, the Peabody Medal, the UCLA Medal for Musical Achievements, the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement, the first Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award named the “Ella” in her honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, the Univ. of Southern California Magnum Opus Award, and honorary doctorates from Talladega, Howard, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale and Harvard universities. The University of Maryland created the Ella Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts, Ella Fitzgerald Days were proclaimed in New York and Los Angeles. A theater in Newport News, Virginia was named after her, and there is a bronze sculpture of Fitzgerald in Yonkers, New York, across from the railroad station. Another statue is located at Chapman University in Orange, California. The United States Postal Service issued a stamp bearing her image and the most recent documentary, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things was released in 2019. In 1947 Ella began helping orphaned and disadvantaged children, an act of compassion that continued for the rest of her life. She became the chairperson of the Foster Parents Plan, which supported orphanages and disabled children in war-ravaged Europe. And she funded a place in a home for a young orphan in Naples, Italy. Though it was rarely publicized, throughout her career she gave pro bono concerts and charitable donations to many causes, culminating in The Ella Fitzgerald Child Day Care Center in the Watts section of Los Angeles, which she helped establish in 1977 and of which she was a long time supporter. In her later years her main social concern was fighting against child-abuse, for which she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through annual benefits that featured many popular entertainers. She sang for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to benefit international refugees from various wars, plagues, and political struggles. She also performed to raise money for the Retina Foundation. In 1968 she accepted the honorary chairmanship of the Martin Luther King Foundation, and in 1974 she sang with the Boston Pops and Arthur Fiedler to benefit the Retire Association. She supported the Dream Street Foundation, that provides camping experience for children with life-threatening diseases. In 1990 at Lincoln Center a star studded show raised money for the American Heart Association to establish the Ella Fitzgerald Research Fellowship. She also supported the City of Hope organization, dedicated to cancer research, treatment and prevention. In 1993 Fitzgerald established the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation focusing on academic opportunities for children, music education, basic care needs for the less fortunate, and medical research of diabetes, heart disease, and vision impairment. She always did her charity work very quietly, shunning publicity. Almost no one knew of her work with inner-city youth in Los Angeles, or of her help to children everywhere. Many of her hundreds of concerts per year were sung either gratis or at greatly reduced fees to benefit children. Ella defied the traditional expectations of a black person in a predominantly white society. She endured discrimination with dignity, and she was acknowledged as a legend in her own lifetime. She once said: “It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.”

The Incomparable Ella Fitzgerald Part 1

For more than half a century Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States. Known as the first lady of song, she filled concert halls around the world. Her audiences consisted of all races, religions, nationalities, rich and poor, She was known for her phrasing, timing, impeccable diction, purity of tone, infallible intonation, and her phenomenal scat singing. Ella was born in 1917 in Newport News Virginia. Her father and mother separated shortly after her birth, after which Ella and her mother then moved to Yonkers, New York, where they lived in a mixed neighborhood with her mother’s boyfriend, Joe. Eventually her mother gave birth to Ella’s half sister, Frances. They were a poor family. During her childhood she was an active churchgoer, an excellent student, and learned how to read music and play the piano. One of her childhood friends remembered that even from a young age Ella loved to dance and was determined to hit the big time. “She would tell us, ‘Someday you’re going to see me in the headlines. I am going to be famous.’ We’d all laugh, oh yeah, sure!” When Ella was just 15 her mother suddenly passed away from a heart attack and Joe mistreated her, resulting in Ella and Frances being taken in by their mother’s sister, Virginia in Harlem. Soon afterwards Joe also passed away from a heart attack. Ella became unhappy, her grades dropped dramatically, she often played hooky from middle school, and eventually dropped out of school. Ella began running numbers for an illegal lottery run by the Mafia and worked as a lookout for a bordello. She was picked up by the police and was sent first to the Colored Orphan Asylum in the Bronx, and was then moved to a state reformatory for girls a few hours north of New York City where she was beaten by the male caretakers. Fortunately she was able to escape. 15 year-old Ella found herself broke, alone, and living on the streets of Harlem during the Great Depression. She survived by singing outdoors for spare change. She later reflected on these difficult years with appreciation for how they helped her to mature, and felt grateful for her success because she learned early on what it was like to struggle in life. When she was 17 Ella won the opportunity to compete in amateur night at the Apollo theater in Harlem. Ella was shy and reserved, self-conscious about her appearance, and for a while even doubted her abilities. On stage Ella felt at home and had no fear. She said: “Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience. I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.” She was only 18 when she made her very first recording: Love and Kisses. In 1935 she won the chance to perform for a week at the Harlem Opera house, where Ella first met drummer and band leader Chick Webb. At first he was reluctant to hire her because she was unkept. Fortunately he changed his mind. Chick Webb’s manager said that the first time he saw her “she looked incredible. Her hair disheveled, her clothes terrible. She didn’t use soap and water. She was in bad shape.” Ella always sang in her street clothes because that’s all she had. She taught herself how to sight read music and wrote the lyrics down on flashcards, shuffling them faster and faster until she had the lyrics perfectly memorized. Ella’s musical education came from the band members, who were top-notch jazz musicians. She admired the singing of Bing Crosby and the Boswell sisters and was greatly influenced by Louis Armstrong. One of her early musical mentors was Dizzy Gillespie. She said “I learned a lot from those musicians and by following Dizzy around to these different places. I just tried to do with my voice what I heard the horns in the band doing. I feel that was my education. I am very grateful to him. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie have stimulated me more than I can say.” She often sounded like another instrument in the band. From the very beginning, musicians were impressed by her incredible rhythm. The first recording of hers that became legendary was If you can’t sing it you’ll have to swing it from 1936. The title was later changed to Mr. Paganini and she sang it throughout her career. A-Tisket, A-Tasket was a popular childhood nursery rhyme from the 19th century. Her 1938 recording of it became a major hit on the radio, and one of the biggest selling records of the ‘30s. It eventually became a million seller, and became her theme song all over the world. Because of A-Tisket, A-Tasket and the radio exposure from singing with Chick Webb’s band, at age 21 Ella had become the most popular female vocalist in America, even more so than Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey. Chick Webb had been afflicted with tuberculosis of the spine from early childhood. In 1939, he died in his mother’s arms from Pott disease. He was only 34. Ella continued singing with his band as its band leader! In 1941 Ella surprised her colleagues when she suddenly married Benny Korngay. Ella’s manager, Moe Gale, was suspicious because Korngay had borrowed money more than once that he didn’t pay back. Private investigators discovered that Korngay had a criminal record, had been convicted of drug charges and had served time. The marriage was annulled. Fitzgerald played herself in the 1957 film St. Louis Blues and also appeared in the films Pete Kelly’s Blues, and Let No Man Write My Epitaph. Her first film was the 1942 Abbott and Costello movie Ride ‘Em Cowboy, singing A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Ella’s 1945 recording of Flying Home was her 1st completely wordless scat recording. An even bigger hit than Flying Home was Ella’s first attempt at Calypso: Stone Cold Dead in De Market, which demonstrated her ability to sing with a Caribbean accent. In 1947 Fitzgerald made her Carnegie Hall debut and performed there every year for the next 44 years! Also in 1947, while performing and touring with Dizzy Gillespie’s band, Ella married the band’s bass player, Ray Brown, who was nine years her junior. They eventually adopted a young boy named Ray Jr., who may have been the illegitimate son of Ella’s sister Frances. Ella and Ray divorced after 6 years, but continued to perform together, and remained friends. Their son was basically raised by Ella’s aunt Virginia because Ella preferred to be on the road performing and was hardly ever home. Ray Jr. was not the most important thing in her life and this became a source of tension between them. As she said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” In 1937 Ella allegedly had an abortion. The operation had gone wrong and she would never have children, a cause of great sadness later in life. She said: “My one regret in life is that I loved a little too easily and a little too often.” In 1946 Ella made her first two recordings with Louis Armstrong, for whom she had incredible admiration: You Won’t Be Satisfied and The Frim Fram Sauce. Ella always suffered from performance anxiety before going on stage and no matter how famous and beloved she was, she always had self doubt. Ella never turned to drugs nor alcohol to relieve stress; she turned to food. Ella gained a lot of weight and it was a problem that she battled throughout her life, alternately dieting and going on eating binges. The most important thing to her was music and performing. Her contracts were signed by her agent, who had power of attorney. In this way, her approach to life resembled that of Louis Armstrong, who was only interested in playing the trumpet, and left all the mundane tasks of his personal and business life to others. In 1946 Fitzgerald recorded one of the biggest hits of her entire career, Lady be good. Between 1956 and 1964, Fitzgerald recorded her incredibly popular songbook series, which included songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwin’s, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rogers and Hart. Her legendary album, The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook includes 53 Gershwin songs. Even though it is a 5-record set, it sold more than 100,000 copies in its first 60 days. Ira Gershwin said: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.” In 1953 Ella made a cross country tour of North America and Hawaii, and then sang 24 concerts in Japan. It was the first time an American jazz ensemble performed for civilian audiences in Japan. The Japanese were so enthusiastic that a ticker-tape reception was given for her in Tokyo! A recording of one of the performances includes Frim Fram Sauce featuring Ella’s incredible impersonation of Louis Armstrong. She was a favorite and frequent guest on many TV shows including the Bing Crosby Show, the Dinah Shore Show, the Frank Sinatra Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, the Nat King Cole Show, the Andy Williams Show, and the Dean Martin Show. Despite all her success and popularity, towards the end of the 1950s Ella felt alone and vulnerable. She had no one to share her life with. She said, “I want to get married again. I’m still looking. Everybody needs companionship.” By 1954 she had sold 22 million records and that year recorded the album, Lullabies of Birdland that includes some phenomenal scatting in the song, Later. What pianist, Paul Smith said was echoed by several other musicians: “Music, singing is her life. It was the time she came alive, when she went on that stage. The rest of her life, well, she didn’t have any family to speak of.” Pianist Ray Bryant remembered that she got very nervous before a show, and this continued throughout her career. Paul Smith commented: “No matter how successful she was, and I don’t think anyone could be more successful, she always had that little anxiety before she went on stage about whether people would like her. She’d look around the curtain and say ‘I hope they like me’. I’d say how can they not like you! “The best thing I can say about Ella is that she is an accompanist’s dream. Ella was always very consistent in what she did. She never speeded up. She never did anything that wasn’t very musical. You knew where she was going to hold a note and where she was going; a lot of singers aren’t like that. You don’t know where the heck they’re going. They’re going to do it one way in rehearsal, and then they do it another way on stage. Ella was so musical; she made it very easy to play for her. She wasn’t always the same, but the general continuity was always very easy to follow.” Ella’s 1958 performance in Rome was published as the album, Ella in Rome. Pianist, Lou Levy recalled: “God! We were swinging our cans off. It was just great! So much spirit and drive on it. You could never get it if you went into a studio. We were on tour; you do it every night, and you’re in great shape. You’re like a sporting team, the more you play, the better it gets. It’s just got to be at fever pitch.” Ella’s manager, Norman Granz, felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians. Granz refused to put up with any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants, or concert halls, even when they traveled to the Deep South. Interestingly, Ella recalled the assistance she received from Marilyn Monroe. “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the 50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman, a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.” In 1960 Ella performed for an audience of 12 thousand in Berlin. During Mack the Knife, she forgot the words and made the most out of the situation with fast thinking, humor and her impression of Louis Armstrong! She followed that song with How High the Moon. The recording of the concert was one of her best selling albums, Ella in Berlin, for which she won 2 Grammys! In 1961 Ella sang at the inauguration of President Kennedy. Soon after that, she performed again in Berlin and the recording of that concert, the album, Ella Returns to Berlin features some of her best performances. She went on to sing in Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, and Israel, where she sang for the Israeli army. Also in 1961 Ella had a one-year-long affair with a Danish young man, with whom she lived in a house she purchased in Denmark. In 1962 she sang a 46-week European tour with very little time off. The pianist Paul Smith said “We could never understand how she did it. She had done it for years before, and she did it for years afterward. That’s when she comes alive, when she goes on stage. When the show was over, she usually went back to her hotel with her maid. It was kind of a lonely life.” A close associate who traveled the world with Ella remembered: “She was working her ass off. Sometimes she was double booked in two different cities on the same night. She loved to sing as many performances as possible. It was not unusual for her to sing a 7 pm show in one city, and then race to the airport to fly to another city and sing another show at 11 pm. She always did two shows a night. At dinner, she’d be talking about songs, trying them this way and that, worrying that the show wasn’t good enough, that the audience didn’t like her. She wasn’t a doper, she wasn’t a big drinker. Her traveling companions made sure she got where she needed to go, would get her back to the hotel, put her to bed, get her up in the morning, and off we’d go to the airport and onto the next show. No shopping, no movies, no television, no friends, and no contact with family, unless they needed money, just hard, hard work until she dropped. Don’t get me wrong, she loved it, but everyone deserves to have a life.” In 1963 she recorded the album Ella and Basie with Count Basie. It’s one of her greatest albums. She also recorded an entire album of classic blues called These Are the Blues. Her version of W.C. Handy’s song St. Louis Blues on this album is perhaps closest to Handy’s original.                                                                

The Great Artur Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein was born on Jan 28, 1887 in Lodz, Poland. He was certainly one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Many regarded him as the greatest Chopin interpreter of his time. He played in public for more than 80 years! Rubinstein’s autobiography is so long and detailed that it comprises two volumes. He played throughout the world, and was loved on every continent! He was very much an extravert and took a big bite out of life! He said: “I have never missed a concert in my whole life, not through my fault, never.” All of his RCA recordings have been released on CD and total over 107 hours of music. He was the youngest of seven children and his father owned a small textile factory. At the age of two, Rubinstein demonstrated perfect pitch and a fascination with the piano, while observing his elder sister’s piano lessons. By age four, he was recognized as a child prodigy. His father had a predilection for the violin and offered Rubinstein a violin; but because he preferred the piano, Rubinstein smashed it to pieces, for which he was promptly beaten by his parents. 
He made his debut at age 7! At the age of ten, Rubinstein moved to Berlin to continue his studies, and gave his first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1900, at the age of 13.
When he was 17 Rubinstein moved to Paris to launch his career in earnest, where he met the composers Maurice Ravel and Paul Dukas and became friends with the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. He also played Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in the presence of the composer. Rubinstein made his New York debut at Carnegie Hall in 1906. He was not well received in the United States. In 1908, Rubinstein was destitute and desperate, was hounded by creditors, and threatened with being evicted from his hotel room. He tried to hang himself but was not successful. He said that afterwards, he felt “reborn” and endowed with an unconditional love of life. In 1912, he made his London debut, and found a home there in company with Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Casals, and Pierre Monteux. During World War I, Rubinstein stayed in London, worked as a translator and gave recitals and accompanied the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. He was disgusted by Germany’s conduct during the first world war and never played there again. His last performance in Germany was in 1914. In 1916 and 1917, he made his first tours in Spain and South America where he was wildly acclaimed. It was during those tours that he developed a lifelong enthusiasm for the music of Enrique Granados, Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla, and Heitor Villa-Lobos, who dedicated his Rudepoêma to him. Stravinsky dedicated his Three movements from Petrouchka to him. In his youth Rubinstein practiced as little as possible. He was able to learn new pieces quickly and relied on his personal charm to conceal the lack of finish in his playing. Amazingly, Rubinstein was a clever faker in the earlier years of his career. He didn’t like to practice! In an interview he explained and demonstrated how convincing he was at faking a passage of Chopin’s A minor Etude with his right hand! Although he was already very successful, when he heard Vladimir Horowitz play, he was stunned, and decided to do something about his own lackadaisical attitude towards his piano technique. He started doing some very serious practicing in the early thirties. Rubinstein withdrew from performing for several months of intensive study and practice.
”I buckled down back to work—six hours, eight hours, nine hours a day.” “And a strange thing happened… I began to discover new meaning, new qualities, new possibilities in music that I had been regularly playing for more than 30 years.” He believed in some spontaneity in concert. 
“At every concert I leave a lot to the moment. I must have the unexpected, the unforeseen…It’s like making love. The act is always the same, but each time it’s different.” Rubinstein toured the United States again in 1937, and his career became centered here during World War II when he lived in Brentwood, California. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1946.
During his time in California, Rubinstein provided the piano soundtrack for several films, including Song of Love with Katharine Hepburn. He appeared, as himself, in the films Carnegie Hall and Of Men and Music. 
Although best known as a recitalist and concerto soloist, Rubinstein was also an outstanding chamber musician, partnering with Jascha Heifetz, Pablo Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky and the Guarneri Quartet. 
He was one of the earliest champions of Spanish and South American composers, as well as French composers of the early 20th century such as Debussy and Ravel. Rubinstein also promoted the music of his compatriot Karol Szymanowski. At one point Rubinstein said that Brahms was his favorite composer. By the mid-1970s, Rubinstein’s eyesight had begun to deteriorate. He retired from the stage at age eighty-nine in 1976. Rubinstein was fluent in eight languages and held much of the repertoire, not only that of the piano in his photographic memory. It was so amazing that he could even visualize a coffee stain on a page of music. His memory was sometimes put to the test by Rubinstein’s friends, who would randomly pick excerpts from opera and symphonic scores and ask him to play them from memory. Rubinstein had a great affinity for Chopin, who was also Polish. There’s video clip of him at age 90 recalling an fascinating incident whereby the opera singer Emmy Destinn asked him how Chopin himself played the piano. Of course Chopin died before Rubinstein was even born, but he suddenly found himself at the piano playing one of Chopin’s compositions, which he had never performed before. At the age of 45, in 1932, Rubinstein married Nela, (Aniela) a 24-year-old Polish ballerina. Her father was the co-founder and director of the Warsaw Philharmonic, Emil Mlynarski, who conducted Rubinstein’s first concert there, and later that’s how he met Nela. They had five children. Before and during his marriage, Rubinstein carried on a series of affairs with women with whom he had at least one child.
”It is said of me that when I was young I divided my time impartially among wine, women and song. I deny this categorically. Ninety percent of my interests were women.”  Though he and his wife never divorced, in 1977, at age 90, he left her for 33 year old Annabella Whitestone, with whom he lived until his death at age 95. She was 57 years his junior! Rubinstein was very proud of his Jewish heritage. He was a great friend of Israel, which he visited several times with his wife and children. He played many concerts with the Israel Philharmonic, and played recitals, and master classes at the Jerusalem Music Center. Rubinstein lost several family members in the Holocaust. In 1949, along with other prominent musicians including Horowitz and Heifetz, he announced that he would not appear with the Chicago Symphony if it engaged the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had continued conducting in Germany during the 2nd W.W. Rubinstein was active in supporting charities throughout his life. In 1961, he performed ten recitals in Carnegie Hall to raise approximately $100,000 for charities including Big Brothers, the United Jewish Appeal, Polish Assistance, the Musicians Emergency fund, the National Association for Mental Health, and the Legal Defense Fund of the National Advancement of Colored People. He donated 100K to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, 50K to the Israel-America Cultural Foundation, and in his will he left 500K to the city of Jerusalem, stipulating that the money be used by the Jerusalem Foundation for cultural purposes. In 1974, Jan Jacob Bistritzky established the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, held every three years in Israel, to promote the careers of young outstanding pianists. The Rubinstein Competition also commissions works by Israeli composers. Around age 70 Rubinstein began offering critical musical advice to pianists, who played for him. He received many honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Legion of Honour, and the Kennedy Center Honors. He won several Grammy awards including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was voted into Gramophone’s Hall of Fame in 2012. Rubinstein died in his sleep, at his home in Geneva, Switzerland in 1982, at the age of 95, and his body was cremated. On the first anniversary of his death, an urn holding his ashes was buried in Jerusalem—as specified in his will—in a dedicated plot now called “Rubinstein Forest” overlooking the Jerusalem Forest. In 2007, his family donated to the Juilliard School an extensive collection of his music that had been seized from his home in Paris by the Germans during World War II. Seventy-one items were returned to his children, marking the first time that Jewish property kept in the Berlin State Library was returned to the legal heirs. Throughout his life, Rubinstein was deeply attached to Poland. At the inauguration of the UN in 1945, Rubinstein showed his Polish patriotism at a concert for the delegates. He began the concert by stating his deep disappointment that the conference did not have a delegation from Poland, and angrily pointed out the absence of the Polish flag. He then sat down and played the Polish national anthem loudly and slowly, repeating the final part in a great thunderous climax. When he finished, the audience rose to their feet and gave him a great ovation. He played Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise in A flat major as an encore during one of his triumphant returns to Poland.


Sergei Rachmaninoff was born into an aristocratic family in Oneg, Russia on April 2, 1873. He was one of 6 children. Sergei began taking piano lessons at age 4 and because of his huge talent, a piano teacher was hired to live with the family to begin his formal training. At age 10 the family moved to St. Petersburg and he began studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. That year one of Sergei’s sisters died of diptheria and his father left the family. Sergei’s maternal grandmother helped raise the children. She frequently brought him to Russian Orthodox Church services, where he heard liturgical chants and church bells, both of which he later incorporated into his music. 2 years later, Sergei’s older sister died at the age of 18 from anemia. It was she who had introduced Sergei to Tchaikovsky’s music, which he loved. As a result of her death, the boy slacked off and failed his exams that year. His mother therefore transferred him to the Moscow Conservatory. He lived with 2 other students at the home of his new teacher, Nikolai Zverev. The training was strict; piano practicing began at 6 o’clock each morning. During this period that he became friends with the composer Alexander Scriabin. After 4 years Sergei moved in with an aunt and uncle, and spent summers at their country estate, Ivanovka, which he later owned. As a student he composed several works at Ivanovka, including his 1st Piano Concerto in 1891. After graduating from the conservatory, Rachmaninoff composed one of his most popular compositions: the Prelude in C# minor. He played it at his professional debut in 1892 and later lamented that he was repeatedly asked to play it as an encore everywhere he performed. That same year Rachmaninoff wrote his 1st opera in 17 days: Aleko based on Pushkin’s poem, The Gypsies. It was given its 1st performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, and was praised by Tchaikovsky, who went to the rehearsals and the performance. In fact, Tchaikovsky planned to conduct Rachmaninoff’s tone poem, The Rock on a European tour. Before that could happen, Tchaikovsky suddenly died, and when Rachmaninoff found out, he expressed his grief by beginning to compose the Trio Elegiaque No. 2 for piano, violin and cello, as a tribute to Tchaikovsky. Rachmaninoff became very depressed after the deaths of his grandmother and Tchaikovsky. During this period he did some performing and gave piano lessons. In 1895, Rachmaninoff composed his 1st Symphony, which was given its world premiere 2 years later. He blamed the conductor, Alexander Glazunov for the negative reaction to the symphony, claiming that Glazunov conducted it while drunk. The composer Cesar Cui compared it to a depiction of the 10 plagues of Egypt, and wrote that it would be admired by inmates of a conservatory in hell. It was not performed again during R’s lifetime. As a result of the critical failure of his 1st Symphony, Rachmaninoff fell into a depression for more than 3 years. He continued giving piano lessons but hardly did any composing. He was then engaged as a conductor at the Private Russian Opera Co. where he formed a life-long friendship with the bass Feodor Chaliapin, who was singing there. During this period of depression he composed the song Fate, which is only one of almost 100 songs he composed. Rachmaninoff was very sensitive and highly strung. In an attempt to alleviate the depression, his aunt arranged for Rachmaninoff to visit the writer, Leo Tolstoy, who was a living legend and greatly admired by Rachmaninoff. However the visit did nothing to encourage the young composer. He became very self-critical and was suffering from writer’s block. His aunt then suggested he receive treatment from Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who administered daily hypnosis and psychotherapy sessions for several months. It worked! And he began to compose his 2nd Piano Concerto, which he completed in 1901, and dedicated it to Dr. Dahl. In 1902 Rachmaninoff married one of his 1st cousins, Natalia Satina. They had 2 daughters, Irina and Tatiana. During those years R taught music at St. Catherine’s Women’s College and at The Elizabeth Institute. In 1904 he became conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre. He was strict as a conductor, insisting on high artistic standards. Like Wagner in Germany and Verdi in Italy, Rachmaninoff implemented the design of an orchestra pit, thus ensuring that the instrumentalists would not be visible and therefore not be distracting to the audience. It also allowed for a better balance between the singers and the orchestra because up until the end of the 19th century there were no orchestra pits. Orchestras used to be placed on the ground floor between the front row and the stage, resulting in the players often drowning out the singers. He also stood on his feet to conduct, another innovation of the time. His 2nd and 3rd operas, The Miserly Knight and Francesca da Rimini had their world premieres at the Bolshoi with Rachmaninoff conducting. Both operas received great acclaim. Apparently he was an excellent conductor. In his memoirs, the composer, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote: “In the early days of autumn I attended the premiere of my opera Pan Voyevoda, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The conductor was Sergei Rachmaninoff, a musician of rare talent. With the exception of two of the singers who lacked in vocal power, the performance was superb. The orchestra and chorus performed with great excellence.” After conducting 89 performances at the Bolshoi during his 2 years there, Rachmaninoff quit his position, due to the social and political tensions of the 1905 Revolution. He and his family moved to Dresden, Germany for a few years where his freed up schedule allowed him to compose. He was inspired by a black and white print photograph of Arnold Böcklin’s painting The Isle of the Dead, which he viewed in an art gallery in Leipzig. After seeing this print, Rachmaninoff composed his orchestral tone poem The Isle of the Dead. Years later when he saw one of Böcklin’s 5 color versions of the painting, he stated, that had he seen the color versions 1st, he would not have composed this music. Although he still experienced periods of depression, apathy, and a lack of confidence in his compositions, Rachmaninoff began composing his 2nd Symphony while in Dresden, and completed it as he returned to Russia. Its world premiere in 1908 was a great success. In 1909 Rachmaninoff made his U.S. debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Max Fiedler, the father of Arthur Fiedler. He performed as conductor and as pianist at Smith College, and in Cambridge, Boston, NY, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago. Rachmaninoff composed his 3rd piano concerto especially for this 1st American tour. He played the world premiere with the NY Symphony conducted by Walter Damrosch and again 7 weeks later with the NY Philharmonic conducted by Gustav Mahler. Not wanting to leave Russia, Rachmaninoff turned down an offer to become the conductor of the Boston Symphony. In 1910 he became the vice president of the Imperial Russian Musical Society. And he resigned in protest when a musician was dismissed for being Jewish. In 1912 he completed his choral symphony, The Bells, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Bells. During WW I Rachmaninoff gave concerts for wounded soldiers and for the relief of hungry, homeless refugees. In a 2 week period he composed his All Night Vigil for a chorus of boys and men. Performances of it to aid victims of the war was very enthusiastically received. Rachmaninoff stated that he wanted the section, Now let thy servant depart, to be heard at his funeral. That year his teacher Sergei Taneyev died and even more impactful to Rachmaninoff was the death of his friend, the composer Alexander Scriabin, at age 43 from blood poisoning. Rachmaninoff immediately began a concert tour playing S’s music to raise money for the composer’s widow. It was after these two deaths that Rachmaninoff composed his Vocalise for soprano and orchestra. He composed another version for orchestra only, which he conducted in a recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. As the Revolution of 1917 raged on, Rachmaninoff’s country home Ivanovka was seized by members of the Social Revolution Party and soon after was confiscated by communist authorities. The old order based on the absolute rule of the all-powerful Czar broke down along with that of the Russian aristocracy, which was being run over by the peasants who demanded bread and power. At the end of 1917 Rachmaninoff left Russia with his family, taking with them whatever they could pack into their small suitcases. They went first to Finland, then Sweden, and finally settled in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rachmaninoff was 44 and broke. He decided to concertize full time. This meant he had to buckle down studying and practicing to learn much of the solo piano repertoire for the first time! Rachmaninoff had an amazing memory. He could hear any piece of music and play it from memory the next day, the next year, or ten years later. Rachmaninoff was offered the conductorship of the Cincinnati Symphony, and received an offer to conduct 119 concerts with the Boston Symphony, and another offer to give 25 piano recitals in the U.S. He turned down these offers, but finally decided to move to America because he realized that the U.S. was more financially advantageous. He was warmly welcomed upon arrival and immediately began performing solo piano recitals throughout the U.S. and purchased an apartment on Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson River in Manhattan. In 1919 Rachmaninoff made some recordings for Thomas Edison, who was rather deaf and didn’t like classical music. So the following year he signed a contract with the company that became RCA records for which he made many recordings. He also recorded many piano rolls, which have been reproduced and recorded in stereo on today’s pianos, notably the Bosesendorfer piano. How wonderful it is that we can hear just how Rachmaninoff actually played!

In 1924 Rachmaninoff established a music publishing company specializing in compositions by himself and those of other Russian composers. Beginning in 1928 he became close friends with the pianist Vladimir Horowitz. When Horowitz sunk into one of his bouts of paralyzing depression, it was Rachmaninoff who comforted him. And about Horowitz’s playing of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto, the composer said: “This is the way I always dreamed my concerto should be played, but I never expected to hear it that way on Earth.” In 1930 Rachmaninoff built a summer home in Switzerland at Lake Lucerne. He loved to drive his boat on the lake. He named the home Senar. The s & e are the 1st 2 letter s of Rachmaninoff’s first name, Sergei. The N & A are the 1st 2 letters of his wife’s name, Natalia, and the R stands for Rachmaninoff. He also utilized the rhythm of his last name, Rachmaninoff, as an ending to many of his compositions: “Rachmaninoff”. It was at Senar that he composed his 3rd Symphony and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Rachmaninoff’s final concert in Europe was at the Lucerne International Music Festival in 1939. He then returned to the U.S. and performed many concerts to benefit the Red Army in support of Russia’s role in the war against Nazi Germany. His last composition, Symphonic Dances was composed in 1940. As he aged Rachmaninoff suffered from arthritis, sclerosis, high blood pressure, headaches, pain in his lower back, nerve pain, and extreme fatigue, so the Rachmaninoff’s moved to Beverly Hills, CA to be in a better climate. He decided that he’d make one last concert tour during the 1942-43 season in order to then be able to devote himself full time to composing. He became too ill to complete the tour and his last performance was at the Univ. of Tennessee in Knoxville. He returned to CA, was immediately hospitalized and was diagnosed with an advanced form of skin cancer. He died a month later in his home just 4 days before his 70th birthday. He was buried in Valhalla, NY. A statue marked: Rachmaninoff: The Last Concert was erected in Knoxville. A music conservatory in Paris bears his name, as do streets in Veliky Novgorod and Tambov, Russia. The Moscow Conservatory of Music named an auditorium after him, monuments to Rachmaninoff stand in Moscow and Veliky Novgorod, near his birthplace. And the Russian Federation issued a commemorative Rachmaninoff coin. The legendary pianist, Arthur Rubinstein wrote: “He had the secret of the golden, living tone which comes from the heart…I was always under the spell of his glorious and inimitable tone…There was always the irresistible sensuous charm.”

The Legendary Vladimir Horowitz

Vladimir Horowitz was born in Ukraine in 1903. He was a great musical genius and a child prodigy. As a teenager he knew all of Gotterdammerung, by heart! In St. Petersburg he performed a marathon of 22 concerts with 11 different programs at age 20, causing a sensation. His early partner was Nathan Milstein who spoke about the economy of motion Horowitz used when he played. His colleague Rudolf Serkin recalled the 1st time he heard Horowitz play. “I nearly fell off my chair, it was so amazing. The white heat of his playing, the fir and passion were incredible, and my hair stood on end. I have never in all my life heard a performance like that and I will never forget it.” And his colleague Artur Rubinstein remembered: “I shall never forget it. There was much more than sheer brilliance and technique. There was an easy elegance, that magical something which defies description…He brought his own arrangement of the dance from Carmen to a shattering climax which made me jump. We were all flabbergasted by him. When he played his final encore, in a high state of excitement I rushed with the others to see him backstage.” He made his U.S. debut in 1928 with the NY Philharmonic. Rachmaninoff said: “Until I heard Horowitz I did not realize the possibilities of the piano.” Horowitz said: “When I was young I spent much time playing operas. I was in love with opera and with singing. I didn’t play Bach. I didn’t play Mozart or Scarlatti at that time. Operas only. When I was 12, 13 I was playing operas of Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Wagner. I was collecting records of singers, never of pianists. I was interested in Battistini and Caruso, and on the piano I would try to imitate the singers. That is still true of me today. The most important thing on the keyboard is color and singing. I would much rather go to the opera than to piano recitals. At piano recitals I was bored. I wanted to sing at the piano and I listened to those bel canto singers from morning to night. This was a major influence on everything. I never met Battistini but I got every record of his I could find. He was the greatest of the bel canto baritones and very free in his style. He was always sliding from one note to another. I have never heard a singer with such a portamento. I loved it. I try to do it on the piano. You can do it with the pedals. I do it all the time.” His romantic interest in other men was common knowledge among his friends. However in 1933 he married Arturo Toscanini’s daughter, Wanda. Toscanini was at that time THE most famous musician in the world. In those days the pressure to get married was tremendous. He needed someone to take care of him. And she was very much in love with him. Rubinstein told Horowitz’s biographer Glenn Plaskin, that “everyone knew and accepted him as a homosexual and everyone was therefore astonished when he married Wanda Toscanini.” Horowitz was the highest paid pianist in the world! He said: “The public who knows nothing of what is required, knows nothing of the hell of the work required. The tears. I’ve torn out many pieces of hair when I was young. There is almost always a gap, sometimes a big gap between the intention and the realization of what you are trying to achieve. It is that gap which is so painful. The critic criticizing the concert doesn’t know that you had worked forever building up a crescendo and that you didn’t succeed in making it come out.  Each time you go out on stage you have to outdo yourself. You have to do better. It’s my character. I cannot change myself.” Horowitz had a very difficult life. One of his brothers died in the Russian revolution; another brother hanged himself. his daughter died of an apparent suicide. His father died in a Russian concentration camp and his mother died of neglected appendicitis. In 1936 Horowitz became convinced that he should have HIS appendix removed. and even though every doctor he consulted told him not to have his removed because there was nothing wrong with his appendix…he had it removed. After the operation he then contracted phlebitis. He was always incredibly nervous before a performance, always bothered by cramps, a nervous stomach and chronic diarrhea. 1936 until 1939 marked the first of four periods of his life that he refused to perform in public. He later admitted that he had suffered a nervous breakdown, and it was actually Rachmaninoff who gently encouraged him on a daily basis. It was a very stormy marriage. His valet recalled that if he had a problem with his manager, an experience with a bad piano, a bad concert hall, or a bad review: “He would yell and scream and take it all out on Wanda. She would gently pacify him. She tried to make his life as comfortable as possible, and was an incredible caretaker. They were married for 56 years. The conflict between his sexual orientation and his marriage was an enormous stress. At one point he even saw a psychiatrist who was trying to change his sexual orientation. His valet reported: I would be with him backstage just before the concert. He was always extremely tense and perspiring. I tried in every way I know to relax and comfort him but he was like a man about to jump into the rapids. He would grit his teeth as he went onto the stage.” Horowitz said: “I was exhausted and felt like my heart was going to burst. My stomach was tight and it felt like it was coming up into my mouth. The tension was unbelievable and I actually felt I might drop dead before I finished.” In 1949 he began living in hotels, away from his wife. That is until 1953, when he suffered a complete collapse. His valet reported that when he went to visit him he was just like a vegetable, totally incoherent, just blabbering away, speaking nonsense. The second absence from the stage lasted 12 yrs from 1953 until 1965, when he made a historic comeback at Carnegie Hall. People waited online throughout the night to buy tickets. The concert was sold out within 2 hours. Beginning in the 1960’s and again in the seventies he was treated for depression with electro shock therapy at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. In 1969 he stopped playing in public for the third time. He was often tired and depressed. This lasted 5 yrs until 1974. By then when he traveled on tour he would take along his valet, his manager, his wife, sometimes her sister, his piano tuner, the truck driver for his piano, his cook, a water purifier, blackout curtains, and it was stipulated in his contracts that fresh Dover sole had to be flown in to each city he performed in. He said to his manager: “Playing the piano is the easiest thing in the world, it is all the things around playing the piano that drive me crazy. I said to myself, my God! I can earn big enough money with recordings, why should I perform? I don’t have stage fright but nervous anticipation, yes. I want to give the best I can. I’m only nervous to play the conception I have in my head. I am nervous to know if it will come out from me or not. The tragedy of the performer is to have to be at your best at a certain day and time. What a horrible fate! Your best might have been two days before or after. Maybe I will have a cramp. I’m only a human being. The problem is that at exactly four o’clock on Sunday I have to be on top, and if at that moment I am not… I don’t have the right to play. That’s what is difficult, the timing of things.” He had a very sophisticated sensitivity to the acoustics of concert halls. He studied the acoustical properties of each hall before a concert. He knew every crack in the wall. He spent hours finding the optimum position for the placement of the piano on the stage of each hall. if the piano was moved a few inches his acoustical equilibrium could be fatally disturbed. He said: “I have my integrity; I won’t play in a bad hall for a million dollars.” Horowitz liked to go for a walk every day: 30-40 blocks. If it rained he wouldn’t take the walk, which meant he couldn’t get his exercise. Also if it was humid, the action of his piano would be affected. That meant he couldn’t practice. And these things would throw him into a depression. Horowitz was enormously self critical. “Sometimes I hear records that I made around 1930, 1940 and I hardly like one note that I play. I am very critical about myself.I listened to the radio and there was some pianist. It was the Liszt B minor Ballade. I listened and said to Wanda, it is horrible. Tempi too slow and tempi too fast. I said it’s probably somebody good and I don’t like it. It turned out to be Vladimir Horowitz. I hated this performance. It was horrible. I would not play one note like that today.” A fourth absence from the stage was between 1983-85. His biographer Glenn Plaskin said: “24 years total away from public concerts created a mystique. He took advantage of it very cleverly and received tremendous attention in the press.” In 1986 Horowitz returned for the first time to the former Soviet Union, for which the Presidential Medal of Freedom was bestowed upon him by Ronald Reagan. He said: “You see, the world is full of prejudice and hatred. In a way I work to fill that gap a little. I feel that if I can create beauty and emotion and sometimes a little perfection, then I am helping to close up the terrible gap where ignorance lives.” When asked why he was going to Russia, he responded: “To make peace between countries so that people won’t kill each other.” After hearing Horowitz play his 3rd Piano Concerto, Rachmaninoff said: “This is the way I have always dreamed that my concerto should be played, but I never expected to hear it that way on earth.”    

Tribute to Charlie Chaplin

“Humor preserves our sanity. Because of humor we are less overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life.” Charlie Chaplin was born in England in 1889. His parents were music hall entertainers. When Charlie was 2 his parents separated, and his father did not give any financial support. Chaplin’s mother was unable to support herself and her two sons and at 7 Chaplin and his brother were placed in an institution for destitute children. At age 9 his mother was committed to a mental asylum. His father, an alcoholic, died 2 years later from cirrhosis of the liver. 
Chaplin began performing on stage at age 5 and left school at 13, supporting himself with odd jobs. His great ambition was to be an actor. The young comedian was successful touring England and the U.S. in vaudeville shows. At that time he was said to be unsociable, shy and moody. At 24 he was invited by Keystone Studios to make his first movies. He soon created the character of the little tramp and began directing his own films. He went on to create 81 movies! The Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda has written about Chaplin’s appreciation for his mother, who taught her son the art of pantomime. Ikeda wrote: “She played a major role in his becoming an actor and comedian. No matter how famous he became, Charlie always had a sense of appreciation toward his mother.” “If I have amounted to anything, or ever do amount to anything, it will be due to my mother.” He soon hired 20 year-old Edna Purviance as his leading lady with whom he had an affair. They made 35 films together. At the end of that first year his movies were so popular that he was offered the equivalent in 2016 of 30K a week and a bonus of 240K! In Dec. of 1915 he was offered 10K a week the equivalent of 240K per week today. At age 26 Chaplin was making the 2016 equivalent of 16 million dollars. Chaplin had literally become the most famous man in the world! He was given his own studio and later referred to his years there as the happiest period of his career. Chaplin personally edited all his films and composed the music that accompanies them. The song Smile is his best known composition. Chaplin played the violin, cello and piano, as a teenager, practiced 4-6 hours a day and had great ambitions to be a concert artist, but gave up when he realized he couldn’t achieve excellence as an instrumentalist. Chaplin was also a conductor. In 1917 Chaplin purchased 5 acres in L.A. on which he built his own studio, and gained complete control over every aspect of filmmaking. He soon created United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and quietly married his first wife, Mildred Harris, a 17 year-old actress he believed he had impregnated. It turns out she wasn’t pregnant at that time, but a year later a son was born deformed, and died after 3 days. They divorced the following year. A month after the death of his son, Chaplin began filming The Kid, co-starring 4 yr old Jackie Coogan who Chaplin discovered. It’s a serious film about an abandoned baby the tramp finds and raises on his own. The film is a reflection of Chaplin’s childhood. Chaplin was the most incredibly versatile actor. In the film A Woman, It’s hard to believe that it’s actually him. Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. Stan Laurel said “He just absolutely refused to do anything but the best. To get the best he worked harder than anyone I know.” In The Adventurer the chase scene is one of Chaplin’s masterful achievements. Chaplin was a perfectionist and his financial independence enabled him to spend years on the development and production of a movie. He took longer to shoot a movie than any other filmmaker at that time. 
It was common for him to film 50 or more takes for every finished take he used in a film. Chaplin said that he would shoot 20 hours of film for a movie that lasted only 40 min. Nijinsky told Chaplin that his comedy was balletic, and that he was a dancer. For most of his movies there was no written script. He improvised as he went along, filming all the rehearsals of a scene. When he ran out of ideas, he would stop filming, sometimes for days, keeping the studio and his employees standing by until the inspiration returned. When asked how he got ideas, he responded: “By sheer perseverance to the point of madness. One must have the capacity to suffer anguish, and sustain enthusiasm over a long period of time. “At the completion of a picture I would be left depressed and exhausted, so that I would have to rest in bed for a day.” This relentless pursuit of perfection caused severe mental anguish, was extremely costly, and Chaplin would become very agitated, lashing out at the actors and crew. Chaplin was not only an athlete, a dancer, an acrobat and a mime; he was also a virtuoso skater. In The Rink the meticulous, perfectly timed choreography is amazing! In 1924 and 25 Chaplin spent a million dollars filming the movie he said he wanted to be remembered by: The Gold Rush. In one scene Charlie and his friend are stranded in a cabin high up on a mountain during a blizzard. They’ve run out of food and Chaplin prepares a gourmet meal consisting of his shoe. He savors the shoe laces as if he were eating spaghetti!
During the production of the Goldrush he began an affair with his 2nd wife, Lita Grey, a 15 year-old who became pregnant with their son Charles. They were secretly married in Mexico and their 2nd son, Sydney was born a year later. A bitter divorce settlement that year and a claim by the IRS that he owed a million dollars in back taxes resulted in c experiencing a nervous breakdown and he attempted to jump out of a window of his attorney’s apartment. The courts ordered him to pay a divorce settlement of 825K including support for his 2 sons. Chaplin was worried that his creative powers might become damaged. “My ability as an actor is very frail–you don’t know whether the spark will die.” His next great film, City Lights, took over 2 years to make. Chaplin said that he had “worked himself into a neurotic state of wanting perfection.” In fact he made 342 takes just of the opening scene before he was satisfied! City Lights became his personal favorite. The tramp falls in love with a blind girl. He manages to raise the money to pay for an operation which cures her of her blindness. She thinks it is a millionaire that has helped her. In the film’s final scene, c meets the girl again, and when she holds his hand, she recognizes his touch. It is only then that she realizes it was the tramp that paid for her surgery. The girl was played by 20 year-old Virginia Cherrill. Chaplin experienced great highs and devastating lows. At times he had tremendous pride in his achievements, at other times he had terrible doubts: No one will laugh. I’ll be ruined.” In 1932 he met his 3rd wife, the 21 year-old actress, Paulette Goddard whose original name was Marion Levy, and in 1936 cast her in his next film, Modern Times, which he described as “a satire on our industrial life”. He feared that machinery in the workplace would increase the dire unemployment levels of the Great Depression. Modern Times has an unbelievable skating scene which Chaplin performs blindfolded!
Goddard also starred in his next movie, The Great Dictator and divorced him in 1942. Chaplin’s affair with Joan Barry in 1941 and 42 and her fraudulent paternity suit became the source of a sensational smear campaign against him by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and gossip columnists. Hoover’s surveillance of c dates as far back as 1922. During this scandalous controversy Chaplin, then 54, married playwright Eugene O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, resulting in Eugene O’Neill disowning his daughter. They had become a couple when she was 17, they had 8 children together, and remained married for 34 years until Chaplin’s death. In 1952 the Chaplin family traveled to England for the world premiere of his film Limelight. The day after leaving the US his re-entry permit was revoked based on his political views and moral behavior.
Even though Chaplin had lived and worked in the US for 40 years he never became an Am citizen. Accused of being a communist, Chaplin said: “My sin was and still is, being a nonconformist. Although I am not a comm, I refused to fall in line by hating them. I am what u call a peace monger.” He considered himself a citizen of the world. Chaplin sold his home and film studio in California and purchased a 16 room mansion on a 37 acre estate in Switzerland overlooking Lake Geneva, where he lived until his death. Chaplin died in his sleep on Christmas day, 1977. He was 88. Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator is an incredible tour de force. Chaplin made Hitler an object of ridicule and showed how comedy could be a potent weapon and an excellent morale builder. “For me the funniest thing in the world is to ridicule imposters and conceited people in high places and it would be harder to find a bigger imposter than Hitler. He was the best target in the world for satire and mockery.” Costa-gravas, film director and producer said: “After doing research on the period, I realized how deeply historical and deeply intelligent the film is.” The Globe scene has been called the greatest scene in all of cinema. Chaplin’s films were banned by the Nazis because they considered Chaplin to be the very embodiment of the jew. When asked in 1915 if it was true that he was Jewish, he responded, “I have not that good fortune.” The Nazis published a pamphlet of photos of Jews including one of Chaplin with a caption that read “The little Jewish tumbler, as disgusting as he is boring.” Chaplin responded by playing a Jew in The Great Dictator and announced, “I did this film for the Jews of the world.” The European profits from the film went to a fund created by c to support the tens of thousands of German Jews trying to escape Nazi persecution. c was dubbed the 20th century Moses and he never tried to dispel the misunderstanding concerning his roots. He told one journalist “I never protested when someone said I was a Jew because I would have been proud to be one.” Costa–Gravas said: “What’s incredible is that he wrote the script in ’37 & ’38. What’s surprising today is the silence around h at that time. h&m were then at the peak of their glory and were regarded with great admiration. Hitler had saved Germany from communism and had totally revived the economy. All the big companies saw Germany as a country with which they could do a lot of business, so h. wasn’t to be meddled with. Whereas Chaplin looked into history and saw the future, the great spiritual and political leaders of the world couldn’t see it and remained on Hitler’s side. But Chaplin was a visionary. He saw what was going to happen later. In The Great Dictator the actor who plays Goering says ‘I’ve just discovered a poison gas that will kill everybody.’ So in the film there’s indirect talk of zyclon as early as 1938. Knowing now what they didn’t know then you realize Chaplin had been right. He was a visionary.” He also mocked Mussolini. It took remarkable insight and courage to make a strongly anti Nazi film. The Hollywood bosses didn’t want to adversely affect the distribution of their films in Germany and Italy. The reactions in Hollywood were hostile and malicious. Chaplin received death threats and was warned that there was a good chance that the film would be banned in certain countries resulting in a major financial loss. Despite additional pressure from the diplomatic sphere, Chaplin made up his mind to go ahead with the picture, and during the Great Depression spent 2 million dollars of his own money to make the film. In fact he said he would rent his own halls to show the movie if he couldn’t get it into theatres. He wanted to warn people about the terrible danger of Hitler and persuade America to take the right stand, and his only weapon, his absolute weapon would be laughter. Chaplin later stated “Had I known the actual horrors of the German concentration camps I could not have made The Great Dictator.” Chaplin began shooting the film on 9/9/39 six days after Hitler began WW II by invading Poland. Chaplin also played the role of the dictator’s double, a Jewish barber. The legendary shaving scene is brilliantly choreographed to Brahms’s 5th Hungarian Dance. During production Chaplin had 2nd thoughts about finishing The Great Dictator, but Pres. Roosevelt indicated that HE wanted to see the film completed. It opened in New York City in Oct. 1940. It opened 2 mos. later in London where it lifted people’s spirits during Hitler’s aerial bombings of England. The ending of the movie is a 6 min. speech given by the barber who is mistaken for the dictator. It was filmed 1 week after the fall of France. Chaplin shot this scene last, rewriting, and reshooting for a full three months. And it’s the first film in which Chaplin’s voice was heard speaking! In 1972 Chaplin returned to the U.S. for the 1st time in 20 years to be honored by the film industry. “I’ve been through a hell of a lot.”

Beethoven, My Hero

Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany and lived 57 years until 1827. His earlier style was right out of the 18th century. It’s somewhat similar to the styles of Haydn and Mozart, but is still his own unique personality. There is an incredible variety in the types of music he composed, and he was quite prolific. There are numerous compositions he wrote as a student, many compositions for piano solo, organ solo, and many songs for voice and piano. In fact he wrote over 100 songs, in many different styles, with texts in many different languages including settings of English, Irish and Welsh folk songs, two masses, several cantatas, 2 oratorios, and several large arias for different voice types with orchestral accompaniment. He wrote all kinds of chamber music, including string trios, piano trios, 16 string quartets, piano quartets, piano quintets, wind trios, sextets, septets, octets, all kinds of duet combinations such as for mandolin and harpsichord, three duets for clarinet and bassoon, several piano duets and other duet combinations, 10 sonatas for violin and piano, 6 sonatas for cello and piano, one of them doubling as the great French horn sonata, 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano and orchestra, several works for violin and orchestra, 13 overtures, dramatic music for the theatre, wind band music, such as marches, various dances for string orchestra, his one opera, Fidelio, and a lot of music for piano solo, including 32 piano sonatas. The piano was his main instrument, upon which he was a famous virtuoso. In fact, Beethoven was particularly great at the art of improvising at the piano. Therefore much of his music was never written down! Beethoven loved nature, and everyday went for a walk in the woods. It was there that many melodies and fragments of melodies occurred to him, and he would immediately pull his notebook out from his pocket and jot them down. Beethoven’s method of composing was difficult. He would work on sketches for years before utilizing them, only to then rewrite, revise, and revise again over and over before he felt satisfied. He composed 4 different overtures for his opera Fidelio until he was satisfied. Happily many notebooks and sketchbooks have survived and we can get a glimpse at his creative activity by following the evolution of a work through its many revisions. When he was 31 Beethoven wrote in a letter to a friend: “My art shall be exhibited only in the service of the poor. Oh happy moment, how fortunate I am to be able to further, if not to create such a moment.” My mentor, the Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda, wrote: “He felt that his art should be dedicated to the poor–an extremely revolutionary way of thinking for a musician in those days. And it was an attitude and way of life that brought him much financial hardship.” The finale of his 9th String Quartet is very indicative of his rebellious, revolutionary nature, and the exhilaration of his spiritual victory over his physical deformity. This is why Beethoven is my hero. Beethoven started out with perfect hearing. However, when he was 27 he began to experience a gradual hearing loss that got worse and worse.  The primitive hearing aids he used were called ear trumpets, and they helped for a while. But he eventually became completely deaf. When he realized that his hearing would never return, he became incredibly depressed and thought of committing suicide. 

He wrote: My ears whistle and buzz continuously, day and night. I am living a truly wretched life; for two years I have avoided all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people: ‘I am deaf.’ How great was the humiliation when one who stood beside me heard the distant sound of a shepherd’s pipe, and I heard nothing; or heard the shepherd singing, and I heard nothing. Such experiences brought me to the verge of despair;–A little more and I would have put an end to my life. Art, art alone deterred me. I shall seize fate by the throat!” Although Beethoven was subsidized by members of the aristocracy and royalty, he never intended his music to be for their exclusive enjoyment. He meant his music to be for everyone. In fact, when he was invited to visit the palaces and courts of Vienna he rebelled against the ritualistic protocol of behavior that he was expected to observe. In the last years of his life, during the composing of his great Missa Solemnis, Solemn Mass, in which he set to music the words of the Roman Catholic Mass, a visitor arrived at his apartment, entered the outer room, and described the sounds he heard coming from Beethoven’s studio through closed doors: Beethoven banging on the piano, parts of the Credo, singing at the top of his lungs, screaming the choral parts, his feet stomping on the floor. Beethoven was not exactly considerate to his neighbors. He was very much a slob! His hair grew long and wild, and was usually uncombed. Because he kept firing servants, his dirty dishes accumulated for days without washing them. When he bathed, he splashed the water all over the room. After composing for several hours, he loved to take a break, by pouring cold water over his head. This water leaked through the floorboards to the apartment below so he was often in trouble with his landlords, and frequently changed apartments often moving every several months! Accounts of his conducting describe him crouching down below the music stand during very quiet passages, and then as the music increased in volume, rising to the tip of his toes, his arms above his head, shouting at the top of his voice as the music reached its loudest part. Referring to his gradual hearing loss, Beethoven is said to have said that the famous melody at the beginning of his 5th symphony symbolizes “fate knocking at the door”. By the finale of the symphony, the music is blazes forth triumphantly. Daisaku Ikeda wrote: “The clouds of torment and anguish could not obscure the vast blue skies of his inner spirit.” The reason I love his music so much is because Beethoven so clearly revealed his innermost thoughts and feelings in his music. In fact, in his Missa Solemnis, he demonstrates what a master he was of setting words to music. At the beginning of the Missa Solemnis, Beethoven wrote “From the heart, may it go again to the heart.” Near the end of the work Beethoven depicts the sounds of war using trumpets and kettledrums, and wrote an incredible double fugue, as the music depicting war returns, and the singers call to god for peace. Beethoven’s grave is in Vienna’s central cemetery. The white marble tombstone is in the shape of a metronome, a device that was invented during Beethoven’s lifetime to measure the speed music is played at, which he made great use of. As you may know, Beethoven’s final symphony, the 9th, is the first time in history that voices appear as part of a symphony. It’s twice as long as other symphonies written up until that time, lasting a full hour. In the finale, he set to music Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy. Daisaku Ikeda wrote: 
”The 9th Symphony is a tribute to the triumph of spirit that expresses Beethoven’s whole stormy life; it is a hymn to the sanctity of the human spirit. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is the roar of the spirit of that great musical genius, who proclaimed: ‘At the end of suffering, there is joy!”‘ And at the concluding moments of the symphony the words are: ‘Love toward countless millions swelling blows one kiss to all the world!’        

Jackie Mason, A Comedic Virtuoso

Jackie Mason was born Yakov Moshe Maza in 1928 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the fourth son in a family of six children of strict orthodox Jews. Mason came from a long line of rabbis which included his three older brothers, his father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, and his great great grandfather. His parents were born in Minsk, and emigrated to the United States in the 1920s. When Mason was five his family moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan so that he and his siblings could have a yeshiva education. His parents and their friends all spoke Yiddish. He wrote “for 65 cents you could go to the Paramount theater and see a movie and then, out of the ground, an orchestra would rise up! Out of nowhere. I can still hear the announcer’s voice “and now ladies and gentlemen Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller. I couldn’t believe the band rising out of the ground, the music so thrilling, so wonderful; it made your hair stand on end. Once, Eddie Cantor paid a visit to my high school. What an event! The police had to bring him in. Thousands of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse. Eddie Cantor was a great hero on the Lower East Side. One of our own. You couldn’t imagine. I began to hang out with the boys on the corner already by the time I was 11. I was hiding the yarmulke in my pocket so I should appear American because I would hear them say “here comes the rabbis son”. “Learn!” my father would say. The more he said it, the less I studied. I was hanging around street corners shooting pool and learning about politics and boxing. Finally he blew his top, he said “sit down, learn”. I said “I learned enough.” He said “Do you want to learn yes or no?” I said “I don’t.” He was flabbergasted. “You don’t? Why not?” I told him “I’m not interested.” He couldn’t understand, he said “you’re not interested in learning? This is the only thing we’re on this earth for; this is the only reason for life; this is why God made us with a brain. You are saying that everything in life that means anything to me and your family for generations, the scholarship of our people, the learning, you’re rejecting it? You’re telling me you’re rejecting the whole history of our people, you’re not going to be a rabbi, a scholar? You’re going to be a bum? God means nothing to you?” And then he started to pinch me, to bump me. I was a kid. 12. But I could feel his fury, his rage. “I’ll teach you that you’ll never say that to me again!” He was hitting me by now. I was screaming in pain and agony because he was hurting me. “I’ll teach you! You’ll never say that again! You lowlife! You bum! You common bum, filthy animal!” And he belted me and hacked me and banged me and I was choking with tears. I was gagging from crying so much and pleading for mercy and screaming but it didn’t stop my father. He kept doing it, intense, intense, intense. Hits in the mouth, banging over the head. He had hit me before but nothing like this. This was a violent, crazy, insane type of beating. And then at the end of it he told me “sit down and learn! You’re going to learn whether you like it or not. For the rest of your life. No son of mine is going to be a traitor to God and holiness.” I remember looking at him and saying to myself “this man will never get away with this. He’ll never make me learn!” As a teenager Mason worked at resorts in the borscht belt of New York’s Catskill mountains as a busboy, lifeguard, and activities director. In 1953 Mason graduated with a bachelor of arts degree with a double major in English and sociology from the City College of New York. At age 18 he became a cantor and at age 25 he was ordained as a rabbi. He led congregations in North Carolina and in Pennsylvania. In 1959 Jackie’s father died. Jackie was 31 and was overcome with guilt. While all the other members of the family sat Shiva, Jackie withdrew into his room. He stayed there for more than a week, refusing to come out and refusing to display his grief. Finally at the end of the period of mourning he emerged pale and trembling, having buried his father in his own way. But it didn’t work. Rabbi Eli Maza, wagging that accusatory finger would remain with his son forever. Three years after the death of his father Mason resigned from his job as a rabbi to be a comedian. Mason wrote most of his own material. He performed at New York City nightclubs and made his first national TV appearance in 1962 on the Steve Allen show, then the Tonight show, the Perry Como show, the Dean Martin show, and the Gary Moore show. When Mason got his first opportunity to appear on TV his agents wanted him to shed his heavy Yiddish accent. “We advise you that it is our opinion that you should not appear on this program. We think that you have a very bright future, you are a very funny man, but you are not ready for national television. We implore you to take speech lessons and learn the techniques of how to reach an American audience first. Mason wrote: “I looked at the signature. Sure enough, a Jew. The idea that a Jew not a gentile led the attack was maddening. Always the Jews with the same excuse: ‘the Gentiles won’t get it.’ Always the Jews were terrified of the reaction of inviting attention to their Jewishness.” Once Jackie became successful and was earning good money he set up one sister’s husband in a cleaning store, he opened a kosher deli for another and when that failed when that failed, a real estate office. He bought everyone in the family television sets and sent $200 a week home for expenses. He planted seed money for each of his nephews’ education. He rented an apartment for his mother in Forest Hills, Queens and paid for his mother’s trip to Israel; she went with one of her daughters. One night, in a Tel Aviv hotel room she died of a heart attack. He refused to attend his mother’s funeral. It was that mental quirk: if he didn’t see it maybe it didn’t happen. In 1964 on the Ed Sullivan show, Sullivan was letting Mason know by holding up two fingers that he had only two minutes left. Mason began to make fun of the situation and pointed towards Sullivan with an index finger and thumb but not, as Sullivan mistakenly believed, his middle finger. Sullivan banned Mason from future appearances, worth the equivalent of $393,000 in 2021. To clear his name Mason filed a libel suit at the New York Supreme Court on the grounds that Sullivan had defamed him. Mason was banned from the show for two years until Sullivan publicly apologized. Mason later appeared on the show five times, but the damage was done. It took Mason the next 20 years to regain the upward momentum of his career because people were afraid that he was unpredictable and could cause trouble. As a child Mason had helped contribute to the blue and white collection boxes spread around in Jewish communities to buy land in Palestine for a Jewish national homeland. There stirred in every Jewish heart a flutter of pride when that fragment of land became a nation. And that pride exploded when, despite all forecasts that they would be hurled into the sea, the tiny nation defeated five Arab armies. The Israelis lived under the unsheathed sword of sworn enemies. In 1967 during the Six Day War Jackie decided to travel to Israel to encourage the troops. Jackie could not sit idly by, making jokes while Israel was at war. When his manager asked “What about Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? You’re supposed to appear. You’re getting 12 1/2 thousand a week; it’s the most you’ve ever made.” Jackie replied “Are you kidding me? Jews are dying over there. Do you believe that I am that despicable a character that I would for a second consider the consequences to my own career when the fate of my people hangs in the balance by a slim thread? Volunteers who wanted to fight were clamoring with great difficulty to get into Israel but they were turned away from Israeli consulates and embassies around the world. Jackie and his manager were finally able to travel to Israel. When they landed and looked out the window Jackie could see the name of the airport in Hebrew. He wrote “People tell you what it feels like to land in a Jewish country a whole country of Jews! But there is no way to explain the feeling. You see on the buildings Hebrew letters. Hebrew! Letters that I learned as a boy on the Lower East Side in Hebrew school. Here they are on official buildings, on military aircraft. Not something you have to hide from the goyim so they won’t beat you up on the way home from school. Official Hebrew letters! Nothing prepares you for that. We sat there in the airplane looking out the window and our hearts were in our throats. We couldn’t speak. We could hardly breathe.” On the way to his performance they were in a jeep on the road to Hebron. They could see smoke in the distance. The area was not safe. There were still mines and snipers. Mason said “My heart was in my throat but I didn’t want to show fear, not after what these boys have been going through. Here was death and sacrifice.” They put on the show in the captured barracks of the Trans Jordan troops in Nabulus. The exhausted soldiers stood, holding their automatic weapons, their faces smeared with the smoke and grime of battle, their eyes still looking at death. They were the paratroopers, the elite, the soldiers who took back the Wailing Wall. What would his father think now? What would he say if he could see Jackie standing there on that sacred soil bringing comfort to the soldiers of Zion? They were big, big soldiers with red berets. They had just destroyed seven armies and liberated Jerusalem. In 1991 during the Gulf War an Iraqi launched SCUD missile landed in Israel. Mason closed his one-man show and the next day flew to Israel to show support for the embattled troops. Jackie tried so hard for so many years to advance his career beyond the Catskills, Miami Beach and Las Vegas. There were talk show pilots that he couldn’t sell, sitcoms that never got further than a lunch date with a network underling, movies that never got released, concerts that went half sold, and plays that opened and closed after one performance. He fired managers and nagged agents and questioned people everywhere about what they would like to see, what he should do with himself. Jackie was like a scientist possessed, trying one experiment after another tirelessly. He wanted what he could never have: his father’s approval. 1974 Jackie met Jyll Rosenfeld. He was 46, she was 20. They eventually married and remained together until Jackie’s death. It wasn’t long before she rolled up her sleeves and got involved in Jackie’s business. Gradually Jyll began helping more and more with his career. She needed him like the father she never had. She accepted the other women and the unequal terms. She adored him and simply wanted to be around him. And she made herself indispensable, becoming in charge of his money, attending to his appointments, and reading his contracts. She needed someone to care for and he needed care. Mason wrote: “I was frustrated and anxious and very depressed. Everything I tried went nowhere. I was tired and I didn’t have the spirit to do everything by myself anymore. She got right into it seeing if she could overcome my sub-star problem. And she was amazing, making 40 calls in an hour to tax accountants and lawyers, to organizations and managers.” And even with Jyll working as hard as possible, the failures continued to occur one by one. He was struggling and working hard and getting nowhere. He was 50 years old and he could not see the breakthrough coming. With time running out he knew that he had to succeed. To draw 400 or 500 people a night was not enough to mitigate turning his back on his father. At night he had nightmares in which he saw himself alone at a table with no audience at all. It was Jyll’s idea for Jackie to do a one-man show: Jackie Mason’s The World According to Me! He began performing the show first in a theater in a seedy part of Hollywood, then Beverly Hills, and finally starting in 1986, he performed six one-man shows on Broadway, which earned him a special Tony award, an Outer Critics Circle award, an Ace award, an Emmy award, and a Grammy nomination, a Drama Desk nomination, and a nomination for a Lawrence Olivier award for best entertainment for its run in London. Mason also won a prime time Emmy award for his voiceover as Rabbi Hyman Krutofski on the Simpsons TV show in which he appeared in eight episodes. He holds the record for the longest running one man show in Broadway history and the longest running standup show in the history of London’s West End. Mason appeared in over 200 self written videos on YouTube, in which he gives his opinions on current events and politics. His daughter, Sheba Mason was born in 1985 and is also a comedian. Mason died in 2021 at the age of 93.  

Where Israelis, Palestinians and Iranians Must Listen to One Another

When conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim joined philosopher Edward Said to establish the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, combining Israeli and Arab musicians, they knew it would be no magical bringer of peace. Instead, it was intended as a project against ignorance, giving space for opposing sides to understand one another and to disagree without “resort to knives”. For 24 years its achievement has been to show that mutual cooperation and respect can produce grace and beauty in a world too often defined by bloodshed and cruelty. Students from the Middle East come to Berlin to study music with the star conductor Daniel Barenboim. Now the Israel-Hamas war is testing their ideals. Mr. Barenboim, who has been scaling back his appearances, made time to rehearse and perform with the academy’s students this fall. It was a recent afternoon at the Barenboim-Said Academy, a sleekly modern music conservatory in Berlin founded by the renowned Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim with the intention of bringing together students from across the Middle East, and the musicians were wrestling with the Israel-Hamas conflict and their raw emotions. An Israeli music student described the trauma of the Hamas attacks. A Palestinian spoke of feeling voiceless and vulnerable. An Iranian described fears that violence could spread across the entire region. “It takes courage for you to be here,” Mr. Barenboim, 80, who has worked almost 25 years in pursuit of the elusive goal of Middle East peace, said from the podium. “We have to listen to each other,” he declared, giving voice to what might be the academy’s unofficial credo, both for music-making and politics. The academy, like other peace projects, has long had to deal with the volatility of the Middle East, navigating bursts of violence, unrest and shifting politics. But the Israel-Hamas war has tested these efforts in new ways, as became clear during a visit to the academy earlier this month when Mr. Barenboim and the students were preparing for their first concert together since the fighting began. The scale of the conflict, the rapid spread of images of death and destruction on social media and the ubiquity of misinformation have made it harder to promote civil debate and to find common ground. In an environment where Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese and others study and live together, the war has prompted a reckoning. Some students, after heated debates with classmates over who is to blame for the carnage, have questioned whether they should even play music together in a time of war. Others say that music has brought them closer. “We will not bring peace, and we will not solve the world’s problems, as much as we might want to,” said Katia Abdel Kader, 23, a Palestinian violinist from Ramallah who is in her fourth year at the academy, which offers music degrees and courses in the humanities. “But we create a space, and that’s what is missing in the world, not only in the Middle East. Places for people to be accepted by the other.” Itamar Carmeli, 22, a pianist from Tel Aviv who is in his third year, said it was impossible to escape the conflict because “our families are there and our childhood is there.” He said he had learned to accept his classmates’ views even if he disagreed with them, partly because music had taught him to listen more deeply. “There is no harmony,” he said, “without dissonance.” The current conflict has even tested the idealism of the school’s founder, Mr. Barenboim, who founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 to bring Israeli and Arab musicians together. The academy, which is rooted in the same principles as the Divan, now has 78 students — about 70 percent from the Middle East and North Africa — who study in a well-appointed building in the heart of Berlin that opened in 2016; its concert hall was designed by Frank Gehry. Mr. Barenboim, a titan of classical music who led the Berlin State Opera for three decades before stepping down this year, has drastically reduced his commitments because of a serious neurological condition. But he has made a special effort to be with the students in recent weeks for rehearsals and discussions. The academy, which opened in 2016, has quotes about peace by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza on its glass doors; practice rooms; and a vibrant humanities program. In an interview after a recent rehearsal, Mr. Barenboim said he worried the latest war could morph into a “world catastrophe” in the absence of more efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. “There’s no use saying, ‘We the Jews have suffered more than anybody else,’ or the Palestinians’ saying, ‘We suffered more than all of you,’” he said. “This has been a very difficult century with little rest. I think we have to keep going, and forget our own positions, and get along with a sense of equality.” The school year at the Barenboim-Said Academy began this month with the usual orientation sessions on Israeli-Palestinian tensions, how to respect differences and ways to see beyond stereotypes. Then came the deadly Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 and the ensuing Israeli strikes on Gaza. Many students, their phones buzzing with frantic messages from friends and relatives and displaying images of devastation, were too disturbed to practice their instruments. The school’s leaders, including Regula Rapp, the rector, and Mr. Barenboim’s son, Michael, who serves as dean, brought in counselors fluent in Hebrew and Arabic. The students made a point of checking in with each other, and they organized meetings to try to work through some of their differences. Unsure of what to say, they sometimes offered only hugs. At one point, they gathered for a start-of-the-semester dinner, sharing homemade dishes: hummus, baba ghanouj, labneh and bulgur salad. Their conversations were sometimes tense, as musicians from Israel spoke of losing a sense of security and the Palestinians described life under the suffocating blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza for 16 years. The conversations were also deeply personal, with some students sharing stories of losing loved ones during decades of violence in the Middle East. The students tried to support each other as they faced new difficulties in German society; the authorities banned many pro- Palestinian gatherings, and a synagogue in Berlin was attacked with firebombs. They met at their dorms or went out for beer and cigarettes and talked about how they felt guilty being away from their families. Roshanak Rafani, 29, a percussionist from Tehran who is a member of the student government, said the tumult in the region could be shattering; she has at times contemplated abandoning her studies. “Imagine that people are dying, and now I’m just practicing to see which hand I should put here or there,” she said. “We all feel this inner conflict.” She added that the young musicians had gotten beyond their differences by embracing the idea that “we’re all students, and there is no side now for us here.” “We’ve all accepted the fact that we cannot really convince each other about many things,” she said. “People talk and raise their voices and yell and cry, but two hours later, they are hugging each other.” The war has hung over classroom discussions as well. In a recent philosophy class, the topic was Plato’s allegory of the cave, a metaphor for contemplating the divide between ignorance and enlightenment. Mr. Barenboim’s efforts have not been without controversy. His projects have been denounced by Israelis and Arabs alike, and musicians in the Divan sometimes face displeasure from their families. But Mr. Barenboim, who has described his work as not political but as a “project against ignorance,” said he was confident that the Divan orchestra and the other programs would endure, even if he was no longer at the helm. “No question,” he said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. But it’s not easy.” Mr. Barenboim is visibly weaker now. But there are still flashes of his spirited self at the podium, as when he chastised the students the other day for fumbling a bit of Beethoven: “Do you want me to buy a metronome for everybody?” Or his rejoinder to a horn player who complained that he was tired: “At your age, you’re tired? I’m 80 years old, and I would never say in company like this, ‘I’m tired.’” In the days leading up to the academy concert last week, the strains of the war were evident. Some Palestinian students were having doubts about performing, concerned that they would project an aura of harmony at a time of deep division and suffering. But after prolonged debate, they decided it was important to embrace the spirit of the institution, announcing their decision to Mr. Barenboim at rehearsal. At the concert, the student body released a statement making clear that they all had felt the impact of the war. “Our hearts are heavy; our minds are elsewhere with every single person affected by the devastating situation in Palestine and Israel,” the students said in the statement. “May our music bring us together, may it heal a little piece of our hearts.” When Mr. Barenboim took the stage to lead works by Prokofiev, Wagner and Beethoven, he praised how “wonderfully and generously” the musicians played together before asking for a minute of silence. “The situation is inexplicable, and my words cannot change it,” he said. “But we are happy to perform for all of you today.” After their performance, and a standing ovation, the students embraced onstage. (A few days later the war would enter a new phase, with Israel beginning its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.) Mr. Carmeli, the Israeli pianist, recalled before the concert that he had not spoken to Ms. Abdel Kader, the Palestinian violinist, for 18 months after joining the academy. But when he heard her play, he approached her and discovered that they had once lived only about 20 minutes apart. “The landscapes and the smells and the tastes and the flavors that we grew up on is all shared,” he said. Ms. Abdel Kader said the experience of getting support in a difficult time from “the other side — the side you learned to hate” had moved her. “Now is the time to remove the walls and look at each other,” she said. “The moment you just look in someone’s eyes and you understand we’re just the same — that’s what matters for me.” Based on articles by Stephen Pritchard (the Guardian) and Javier C. Hernández (New York Times)  

Luciano Pavarotti “King of the High Cs”

Pavarotti: “I believe women generally have keener sensitivities than men. For an artist that is important. Women are quick to understand. They know what is on your mind without you having to tell them. Women also protect you. When they see that you need protection, they protect you like crazy. Women won’t let anyone get at you or hurt you.” Luciano Pavarotti was born in Modena, Italy in 1935. His father was a baker and amateur tenor, his mother, a cigar factory worker. His father had a fine tenor voice but rejected the possibility of a singing career because of nervousness. 
Pavarotti began the serious study of music in 1954 at age 19. The first six years of study resulted in only a few recitals, all in small towns and without pay. When a nodule developed on his vocal cords, causing a “disastrous” concert in Ferrara, he decided to give up singing. “In those early years of struggle, I often thought of giving up, and going into teaching or selling insurance.” Pavarotti worked first as an elementary school teacher for 2 years and then as an insurance salesman. He was a member of the Corale Rossini: an all male amateur choir from Modena. He made his debut as Rodolfo in La Bohème in Reggio Emilia in April 1961 and made his first international appearance in La Traviata in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In 1963, he debuted at the Vienna State Opera in the same role. That same year was his Royal Opera House debut in London, where he replaced an indisposed Giuseppe Di Stefano in La Bohème. Giuseppe De Stefano was his favorite tenor. In 
1963 he was invited to tour Australia with Joan Sutherland. They gave 40 performances in 2 months. Pavarotti credited Sutherland for the breathing technique that sustained him throughout his career. Two years later when Joan Sutherland was singing Lucia at the Miami Opera, the tenor that was scheduled to sing canceled at the last minute. Despite Joan Sutherland and her husband conductor, Richard Boynge’s best efforts at recommending Pavarotti, the opera company wouldn’t engage him, because no one had ever heard of him. It was only because every other tenor they asked turned them down, that he was given the opportunity and made his American debut in Miami in 1965. 
Also that year Pavarotti made his La Scala debut in the famous Franco Zeffirelli production of La Bohème, with his childhood friend Mirella Freni and Herbert von Karajan conducting. Karajan had requested the singer’s engagement. His major breakthrough in the United States came in 1972, in a production of The Daughter of the Regiment at the Met. He drove the crowd into a frenzy in his aria with nine effortless high Cs. He achieved a record seventeen curtain calls. Pavarotti sang La Bohème in the first Live from the Met telecast in 1977, which attracted one of the largest audiences ever for a televised opera. There were more than 20 live opera performances taped for television between 1978 and 1994, most of them with the Metropolitan Opera. About the mammoth outdoor concert he sang in Atlantic City Pavarotti wrote: “After my performances I always try to greet anyone who wants to come backstage to see me. That night I signed programs in my dressing room for over three hours. His manager, Herbert Breslin wrote: “Luciano, come on” I’d say, shifting from foot to foot. “This is ridiculous. It’s twelve-thirty in the morning! Let’s go home! “Calmati, P would reply. “Calm down. We are not going to leave until I have seen the last person.” His manager recalled: “Some big name singers tried to get out of singing the Metropolitan Opera’s annual national tour, when the company used to go on the road to present opera in smaller cities around the country. It was a big hassle and it wasn’t as prestigious as appearing at the Met itself. Luciano, however, was willing to go on those tours. He understood the importance of reaching out to his public. And they loved him for it.” He won many Grammy awards and platinum and gold discs. In 1979, he was profiled in a cover story in Time magazine. In 1990 he sang the hugely successful Three Tenors concert, held on the eve of the World Cup final in Rome with fellow tenors Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and conductor Zubin Mehta. The recording of this concert became the biggest selling classical record of all time selling over 11 million copies. His televised concert in London’s Hyde Park, drew a record attendance of 150,000. In June 1993, more than 500,000 listeners gathered for his free performance in New York’s Central Park, while millions more around the world watched on TV. That year in Paris, he sang for a crowd of 300,000. Additional Three Tenors concerts were held during the World Cups: in Los Angeles in 1994, in Paris in 1998, and in Yokohama in 2002. Over a billion people watched the 1994 3 tenors concert live. His manager wrote: “In his prime he approached every performance with one determination. It was ‘I will bring them to their feet.’ And he knew how to do it. He knew how to reach people and get them so excited they would jump up and scream when he was done. That was one of the big, big secrets of his success.” Here he is at the Metropolitan Opera singing his favorite encore, the aria Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s final opera, Turandot. Pavarotti wrote: “As a singer’s reputation gets bigger and bigger, it becomes more and more difficult to meet those expectations. It is not enough to sing well. You must somehow give the audience the thrill that justifies the big reputation. You must not disappoint them. I am always afraid. In fact, I think the only way to be continuously successful is to be a little scared all the time. If you are not scared it means you think something is easy. If you think something is easy, you won’t work as hard and you will not be as good as you can be. I concentrated on doing better than I had done the day before and stopped worrying about what other singers were doing.” He performed at benefit concerts to raise money for victims of tragedies such as the earthquake that killed 25,000 people in northern Armenia in 1988. He was a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales. Together they raised money for the elimination of land mines worldwide. In 1998, he was appointed the United Nations Messenger of Peace, using his fame to raise awareness of UN issues, including the Millennium Development Goals, HIV/AIDS, child rights, urban slums and poverty. In 1999, Pavarotti performed a charity benefit concert in Beirut, to mark Lebanon’s reemergence on the world stage after a brutal 15 year civil war. It was attended by 20,000 people. In 2000 Pavarotti agreed to pay the Italian government more than $7.6 million in back taxes and penalties as a result of tax evasion charges that dated from 1989 to 1995. In 2003, at age 68, he married his former personal assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani (born 1969), 34 years younger with whom he already had a daughter. He had three other daughters by his first wife Adua, to whom he was married for 34 years. Pavarotti annually hosted the Pavarotti & Friends charity concerts in his home town of Modena, to raise money for several UN causes joining with singers including Andrea Bocelli, Jon Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Bono, James Brown, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Céline Dion, Elton John, Sting, the Spice Girls Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen. Concerts were held for War Child, and victims of war and civil unrest in Bosnia, Guatemala, Kosovo and Iraq. After the war in Bosnia, he financed and established the Pavarotti Music Center to offer Bosnia’s artists the opportunity to develop their skills. For these contributions, the city of Sarajevo named him an honorary citizen in 2006. In 2001, Pavarotti received the Nansen Medal from the UN High Commission for Refugees for his efforts raising money on behalf of refugees worldwide. Other honors he received include the “Freedom of London Award” and The Red Cross “Award for Services to Humanity”, and the 1998 “MusiCares Person of the Year”, given to humanitarian heroes by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He set two Guiness book of world records, one for receiving the most curtain calls, 165 of them. Through benefit concerts and volunteer work, he has raised more money than any other individual. Here he is with Charlie Rose explaining why he expanded his repertoire to include pop music and the advantages of performing in large stadium concerts. He wrote: “One of my biggest goals as a performer and a vocal artist is to make people happy. I frequently get letters from people telling me how depressed, miserable, and even suicidal they were. Then they heard me sing on television and felt better. For maybe a few minutes they felt good about life. After my Central Park concert in 1993 the NY Times wrote that all of the 500,000 people who saw the concert had forgotten their problems by the time they left the park. Maybe for only a short time they were happy. No one can imagine how happy this makes me.” He recorded over 30 complete operas and appeared in 37 roles. His final performance was singing “Nessun Dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July of 2006. He died the following year at age 71 at his home in Modena. His estate was valued at $474.2 million dollars.  

La Bohème Part 2

Puccini often suffered from depression and never tried to hide it. He said he was born carrying a heavy burden of melancholy. Puccini biographer, Mosco Carner wrote: “Far from considering himself an outstanding artist who enjoyed his world fame and material fortune, Puccini was a self-divided, neurotic personality, fundamentally unhappy, and lonely.” One of his librettists and friends, Giuseppe Adami, who Puccini said knew him better than anyone else wrote: “His natural shyness often isolated him during long periods of contemplative solitude. This free and contemplative life was always necessary to his inspiration. It was discontent with little things, which, to the sensitive temperament of an artist can be a source of more misery than great troubles. As he grew older he saw life rushing on, which his eternally young spirit could not accept.” He was worshipped in Vienna and wrote from Berlin: “They treat me here is if I were the Kaiser or the Crown Prince.” Yet, he preferred to be at his home at Torre del Lago, a tiny village in Tuscany on the banks of Lake Massaciuccoli. “I am longing to creep into my lair again, among my pines.” From Paris, where Puccini was overseeing the rehearsals of La Boheme, he wrote: “I am not very happy here. I should like to be away now for the sake of my work. I cannot work here. I am suffering too much nervous excitement, and don’t have peace of mind, which to me is necessary. An invitation to dinner makes me ill for a week. I wasn’t born for a life of drawing rooms and parties.” And after he became loved and honored in Paris he wrote: “I am sick of Paris! I am panting for the fragrant woods, for the free movement of my belly in wide trousers and no waistcoat; I pant after the wind that blows free and fragrant from the sea. I hate pavements! I hate capitals! I hate columns! I love the beautiful column of the poplar and the fir; I love the blackbird, the blackcap, the woodpecker! I hate the steamer, the top-hat, and the dress coat! I love the green expanse of cool shelter in forests old or young.” There were months and years of attempts at finding stories to create operas about, which frequently resulted in nothing. His misery increased as time passed while he composed nothing. There were projects which sprang up, matured, and were suddenly destroyed. “If I touch the piano my hands get covered with dust. Music? Useless, if I have no libretto. I want a libretto which can move the world!” Once a story was chosen, he became fanatically concerned with the words, and made life difficult for his librettists. Before he could set words to music, it was essential that the words would fire his spirit as if they were his own creation. Puccini was very close to his mother. He was 26 when she died. 6 years later his younger brother Michele died from yellow fever. After the death of his mother Puccini began an affair with Elvira Manfredi. She was married with a daughter, but because she had fallen in love with Puccini, she abandoned her husband and had a son with Puccini. She was given a very hard time by the residents of Torre del Lago, the little village where she lived with Puccini. They knew her as an adulteress, who they believed had the evil eye and who had laid a curse on them. Eventually they married, but it was a marriage filled with difficulty. Elvira was intensely jealous and suspicious of Puccini, who was not faithful to her. She regularly opened his mail, went through his pockets, and convinced her self that Puccini was cheating on her even when he wasn’t! After Puccini was seriously injured in a car crash, he spent months at home recuperating and he and Elvira hired a 15-year-old young woman to help with the household chores. She remained employed by them for six years. Elvira was absolutely convinced that the young woman and Puccini were having an affair and spread this rumor throughout the village incessantly. Eventually the girl moved back in with her parents but Puccini’s wife continued spreading this lie until the girl could no longer leave her home. Eventually the pressure became intolerable and she committed suicide. An autopsy then revealed that she had been a virgin. Puccini was so enraged with his wife that he left her for several years. When the popularity of his operas made him a wealthy man he spent freely: 6 homes, 14 cars, and 5 motor boats including an expensive yacht. Puccini was self-centered, and his principal interests outside his music appear to have been sex, fast cars, and the shooting of birds. Puccini liked to cook. He sent a letter to Ricordi that included his recipe for beans which he was sending as a gift to the publisher. “I am sending you a small quantity of beans and two boxes of grapes. These beans are very special ones and must be cooked in this way: Put them on the fire in cold water, which should be a moderate amount—neither too much nor too little. Boil for two hours on a slow fire and when they are cooked there should be no more than three or four spoonfuls of liquid. Ergo, be careful of the quantity of water. When you put them on to cook add four or five leaves of sage, two or three heads of garlic, salt and pepper, and when the beans are half cooked, add a little oil to boil with them.” Adami wrote: “Terrifying doubts would plunge him into desolate periods of inertia. It was distrust of his own work which returned continually to torment him.” And in writing about his last opera, Turandot, “I have finished the orchestration. The result is beautiful. Or is it possible that I am mistaken in thinking so?” Adami continues: “These doubts sometimes assumed agonizing proportions, when he thought that he had not given enough, had not given everything. ‘I am going to sleep so as not to torture myself with thinking. I am sad and find no consolation. Here there is sunshine and fresh greenery, but in my heart blackness. I am a poor, unhappy man, discouraged, old, abject, nothing! I live in torment. If the fever abates it ends by disappearing altogether. And without fever there is no creation. For emotional art is a kind of malady, an abnormal mental state, accompanied by over-excitation of every fiber and every adam of one’s being. I live in torment because I do not feel the throbbing life that is essential to the creation of a theatrical work which is to endure and hold.’” His letters are filled with this endless searching and craving, this continual fight against the dull and the lifeless. A poem he wrote about 18 months before his death states. ‘I have no friends. I feel alone. Even music makes me sad. When death comes to find me I shall be happy to rest. Oh how hard my life is, though to many I seem happy, but my successes? They pass, and leave so little. They are ephemeral things. Life runs on toward the abyss. He who lives and is young finds the world enjoyable but who is aware of all this? Youth passes so quickly, and the eye contemplates eternity. I am truly stranded. I cannot get clear. Work! Work! There is no better medicine than work for making one’s existence less miserable’ Carter wrote: “He was by nature shy and almost timid, hypersensitive, and highly vulnerable.” He wrote of Puccini’s “unpredictable and constantly changing moods, his sudden enthusiasm for a subject one day and its complete rejection the next. In his own words, he had more heart than intellect. Carner also wrote of Puccini’s “strange conviction that there was no one in the whole world who really loved him. This was, in fact, a projection of what Puccini felt about the world: it was he was never capable of loving.” A life-long smoker, Puccini had diabetes, and how ironic it is that the man who composed some eternally gorgeous melodies developed cancer of the esophagus. Before he could complete his final opera, Turandot, he died in 1924 in Brussels, soon after a surgery to plant radiation needles in his throat. He was only 65. After he finished composing the death scene at the end of the opera, Puccini wept uncontrollably. He said: “It was as though I had seen my own child die.”

Puccini’s La Bohème Part 1

Puccini was born in Lucca, Italy in 1858. He came from a long line of composers dating back to the 18th century. Scenes de la vie de Bohème (Scenes from Bohemian life) was written by French writer Henry Murger when he was 25, and was published as a series of short stories in installments between 1845-1848. It depicts the world of young artists in Paris around 1830. Much of La Bohème was composed when Puccini was 37, and is based on incidents in his own life. Puccini was almost exclusively a composer of operas. He wrote: “If only I could be a purely symphonic writer! Almighty God touched me with his little finger and said: ‘Write for the theatre, and only for the theatre.‘ And I have obeyed the supreme command.” Puccini had to have the librettos (texts) to his operas finalized before he would compose the music. He was fanatically concerned with the words. Before he could set words to music, it was essential that the words would fire his spirit as if they were his own creation. There were months and years of attempts to find a story that he wanted to make into an opera which frequently resulted in nothing. His misery increased as time passed while he composed nothing. There were projects which sprang up, matured, and were suddenly abandoned. “If I touch the piano my hands get covered with dust. Music? Useless, if I have no libretto. I want a libretto which can move the world!” Puccini worked with two librettists to transform Murger’s novel into the opera’s libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. It took 2 years of arguing, disagreements, pleading, controlling, and wrangling with his two librettists before he began setting the libretto to music. Puccini was incredibly demanding. Throughout his career Puccini was obsessed with the dramatic pacing of each scene and each act. He repeatedly sent scenes of the opera back to the librettists to revise and shorten. His publisher, Giulio Ricordi, who was also a composer, assisted in the process, coordinated the communication between the 3 and sometimes refereed their arguments. It was very stressful working with Puccini, who often changed his mind. And after 6 months of working on the libretto, Giacosa resigned from the project though Ricordi was able to persuade him to continue. But 21 months later Giacosa had had enough of the constant pressure and dissatisfaction from Puccini and wrote to Ricordi: “I swear to you that I can’t go on revising everything 20 times. I’m tired to death of this constant remaking, retouching, adding, correcting, cutting, piecing together, extending on the one hand and reducing on the other. I have written this damn libretto from beginning to end three times and certain sections 4 and 5 times. I am sick to death. Curse the libretto! How am I supposed to finish at that rate? I swear to you they’ll never trap me into doing librettos again! Tomorrow I’m installing myself all alone in some quiet hotel. And there, I will have finished in a few days. But will it be finished then? Or will we have to start all over from the beginning?” Once Puccini had finally approved the libretto, it took him less than a year to write the music for La Bohème. Most of it was composed at his home in Torre del Lago, where Puccini had befriended a small group of painters with whom he formed the Bohème Club, who met in an old hut to eat, drink and play cards. The audience at the world premiere included royalty, noble families, and several important composers including Mascagni. One local critic wrote: “Bohème failure. It won’t make the rounds.” Others wrote that they didn’t think the opera would become a popular favorite. Another wrote “La Bohème will leave no large imprint on the history of our lyric stage, and it will be well if the composer will persuade himself that this has been a brief detour in the road of art.” Or this review: “You have today conceived the whim of forcing the public to applaud you where and when you will. For the future, turn back to the great and difficult battles of art.” Another critic wrote: “We ask ourselves what has pushed Puccini along this deplorable road of Bohème.” And another: “Let us await better things from the strong endowment of this composer.” Another could not forgive Puccini “for composing his music hurriedly. It is music which can delight but rarely move. Even the finale of the opera seems to me deficient in musical form and color. God forgive him!” Then there was this one: “The music of La Bohème is real music, made for immediate pleasure, intuitive music. And that is precisely for this reason that we must praise and condemn it.” And finally: “On the whole, melodic invention is extremely scanty.” Toscanini himself wrote: “Puccini took it very badly; and left him like a rag.” In the end it is always the judgment of the public that counts. At its conclusion the audience jumped to its feet with great enthusiasm. Throughout the evening they called Puccini out on stage a total of 15 times. In fact, in the weeks following the world premiere in Turin, La Bohème was so popular that it was performed there 24 times, and each performance sold-out! It was then performed in Rome, Trent, Brescia, Bologna, Naples, and Milan’s La Scala. In Florence, Puccini was called on to take some 40 curtain calls! Queen Margarita attended the second performance in Rome and Puccini was nominated Commander of the Italian Kingdom. The Sicilians loved it so much at its first performance in Palermo that at its conclusion they continued applauding, bringing Puccini onstage for 45 curtain calls, prolonging the performance until one in the morning. And when the audience refused to leave, the last scene had to be repeated, even though some of the orchestra had already left and the singers had changed into their street clothes! It quickly began to be performed internationally: in Alexandria, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Algiers, Lisbon, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico, The Hague, Prague, Barcelona, Athens, Chile, Malta, Warsaw, Zagreb, Helsinki, Budapest, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Los Angeles, New York, Vienna, where it was conducted by Gustav Mahler, and in Buenos Aires where it was conducted by Toscanini. It has become one of the most popular and often performed operas. Debussy said: “If one did not keep a grip on oneself one would be swept away by the sheer verve of the music. I know of no one who has described the Paris of that time as well as Puccini in La Bohème.”

The Artistry and Tragedy of Maria Callas

Maria Callas was born in NYC in 1923. Her parents were Greek immigrants and they lived in Washington Heights. Her mother returned to Greece with Maria and her sister when Callas was 13, and there she studied at the Athens Conservatory with Elvira de Hidalgo, a Spanish coloratura soprano who sang with Caruso and Chaliapin. Hidalgo: “When I started teaching her she was the laughing stock of the whole conservatory…she was frightfully clumsy, fat, and ungainly…She was a glutton for advice and suggestions, and made every effort to take it all in and act on it as far as she could. The results were pitiful at first, but little by little she did begin to improve.” To release her nervous tension, Callas worked harder than ever, spending most of each day at the conservatory or at Hidalgo’s apartment. She went to her teacher at 10 am for her lesson and stayed, listening to all the other voice students until eight pm. “I loved to listen to all those different voices: light soprano, lyric soprano, and the men too because I always believed that even the poorest voice can teach you something.” Hidalgo remembered: “Always silent, almost scowling, she would sit in a corner and stay there until I had finished, in other words until the evening. She was there watching and listening while I took all my other lessons, and she learned all there was to be learned.” Callas was happy to do exercises to train the agility of her voice to sing coloratura music. The soprano, Renata Tebaldi said that it was an incredible experience to hear Callas scale down her great big, huge voice to sing coloratura repertoire. Hidalgo: “She put such force, such sentiment, such wonderful interpretation into all she sang. She would want to sing all the most difficult coloraturas, scales, and trills. Even as a child her willpower was terrific. She had a phenomenal memory and could learn the most difficult opera in eight days.” Callas sang Norma more times than any other opera. She said: “Bellini’s opera Norma was used by Hidalgo as an exercise. So I remember I started learning Norma at the very early years of my schooling in music, many, many years before I sang it on stage.” Hidalgo spoke about how near sighted Callas was, and that she couldn’t wear her eyeglasses on stage: “Maria Callas performed over 40 operas on stage without being able to see the conductor. In order not to miss her entries she memorized each of the entire operas, the parts of the tenor, the baritone, the bass, the chorus, everything. When she came to me at the conservatory she was already in the habit of learning the entire opera by heart.” In fact Callas trained her memory so well that she was able to practice without the music. “I learned for instance Norma and La Gioconda, so I could rehearse them in my mind, on top of a bus or walking in the street. There is a great deal to be done in the mind: you don’t always require a piano, nor to open your mouth. The poets talk of the mind’s eye: there is also the mind’s ear.” She was an exceptionally quick learner. She considered solfeggio, the skill of being able to perform music at first sight, to be a singer’s most important training asset. She would pick up her part and devour it, and almost immediately sing it note for note. But the greatest of all her qualities, even then, was the expressive power she put into her singing. Callas said: “It is so much hard work, so much love and so much devotion, but other people around you don’t see that, they think everything around you is just given to you. “In Greece during the war it took six months of rehearsal to get an opera ready for the stage…how many sacrifices…at least you were well prepared. Whereas nowadays young singers are thrown out onto the stage just as they are without preparation, without knowing the opera well. After a few engagements they don’t take time to reflect: they immediately think they are great and famous, and that’s the beginning of the end.” “I continued studying voice and piano with a kind of fury.” 
A friend remarked: “She practiced so hard and so intensively…that she would often spend more than ten hours a day practicing, which left her dead tired.” Her mother recalled: “She practiced day and night and sometimes forgot to eat. Maria would refuse to leave her piano for meals, and I would bring them to her in her room. She would put the plate in her lap and go on working,” Particularly impressive was her uncompromising self-critical approach to her work, remarkable in one so young. The conductor Yorgos Vokos stated that she was stricter with herself than her teacher was. “As a young girl she worked on her voice interminably, taking care over every detail. “She had a brilliant ear. Whatever exercise her first teacher, Maria Trivella, played for her on the piano, she sang it almost right at the first go. We would hear Maria doing her vocal acrobatics—trills, runs, phrases, legati, staccato, scales—and every so often Trivella’s voice exclaiming, ‘Well done, Maria, well done!’ ‘But my passagework was terrible, my trills were only half there, my legati were awful. ‘But Maria…’ ‘No, no, I must do it again from the beginning! I’ve got to satisfy myself too. I’m sorry.’ So once more from the beginning, until Maria gave it her OK.” At age 24 Callas said: “Everything I do, I am convinced I am doing it badly, and then I start feeling nervous and discouraged. Sometimes I get to the point of wanting death to release me from the torments and the anguish that constantly afflict me. I would like to give much more to everything I do.” Callas first sang Tosca when she was only 18. She attended all of the orchestra rehearsals, and in this way studied the orchestration. She also requested private rehearsals with the conductor, who recalled: “You have no idea what a nitpicker she is! She drives you up the wall, always pestering you about the most trivial details. ‘Shall we go through it once more, Maestro?’ Whether you like it or not she makes you do it all over again! Whereas with the others you only have to mention the word “rehearsal” and they start looking at their watches!” At age 20, having been cast in the role of Marta in the opera Tiefland, Maria shut herself in her room to study the role, and refused to open the door to anyone. From time to time her mother had gone in to bring her a drink or something to eat, and often found her asleep on the floor with the pages of the opera scattered around her. She showed up at the production’s first rehearsal with the entire opera memorized. She worked frantically to prepare herself, asked for extra rehearsals and begged the conductor to go through her part with her privately. When asked what the word luxury meant to her, Maria said: “To me it means having a conductor who undertakes any number of rehearsals to produce a performance of high quality, and having musicians who work hard, without fixed hours. That’s the way people used to work once upon a time.” Maria’s total dedication to her ambition of becoming a great singer was the one thing to which she clung desperately. “My life was my work and my work was my life.” A friend remembered: “When we chatted on the way home, practically the only subjects we talked about were music and our future careers. She didn’t join in personal conversations. She was eternally absorbed in singing: nothing else interested her.” Another friend said: “As if she could see a vision of her future, she paced nervously to and fro, saying over and over again with deep conviction, ‘Some day I’m going to make the big time! I’m going to get to the top.’” She once said to her mother: “I’m going to be the greatest opera singer of them all. The whole world will be talking about me.” A friend recalled “One day we were waiting for her in the living room while she got dressed in her room, and was singing something that reverberated throughout the apartment. Her mother shouted: ‘For heaven sake’s, stop! We’ve had enough, our heads are spinning; we can’t hear ourselves think!’ Defiantly, Maria answered from her room, ‘Mother, I’m going to be the greatest prima donna in the world!’ ‘Oh get lost!’ her mother retorted. When she began singing with the National Theatre in Greece at age 17, some of her colleagues were jealous and felt threatened by her talent. They began trying to find ways to prevent her from appearing. “That American bitch that’s come in, what right has she got to be here, the fat cow, taking our performances away from us? Kick the American out! A foreigner’s got no business in our opera company. She’ll ruin the performances with her accent.” They stood in the wings while she was singing, laughing and pointing their fingers at her, keeping up a flow of loud whispers, including remarks about her fat legs, until she couldn’t go on singing. Callas would sob and cry in her dressing room. An older colleague advised her friends; “Tell her to give up the theatre! After all, the poor girl’s never going to get anywhere.” Remembering what it was like in 1944 at the Greek National Opera, Maria said: “I got on my colleagues’ nerves. They were older people. I was young, they couldn’t understand why I was chosen for certain roles. I was always ready. I just studied and was ready, which is always my weapon, always being prepared. It’s a conscientiousness and love of my work.” Hidalgo: “The attacks of her colleagues not only made her work harder, but taught her to be a warrior. She learned to be a fighter and survivor, not a victim.” “I won’t let anyone stand in my way. If anyone tries, I’ll smash them, and I don’t care who they are!” The jealousy of her classmates only confirmed her belief in her ability and made her feel strong and optimistic. She worked harder and more consistently than any of her fellow singers, with a fierce dedication and persistence. Through her faith in herself and her indomitable persistence, she survived the various trials and tribulations of those early years in Greece. During an eight year period in Greece she sang 56 performances of seven leading roles “Everything I have achieved, I achieved by hard work.” During her early years in Greece one conductor didn’t think Callas sang the opera Fidelio well. She said to him: “One day you’ll be groveling to conduct me!” Callas said to a conductor of the Athens Radio orchestra: “In a few years you will be begging me!” She also said this to the general manager of the Greek National Opera, to the general manager of the San Francisco Opera, and to the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. At 22 Callas returned to New York. She intended to sing at the Met. One of her colleagues asked: “What if they don’t give you an audition?” “Oh, then I’ll go there every day and sit on the doorstep. One day they will get fed up with me and give me an audition.” “In 1946 in America I went from one movie house to another, not to see the films, but so as not to go out of my mind from torturous thoughts about my uncertain future.” Finally she was invited to make her Italian debut in La Gioconda at the ancient amphitheatre in Verona. Even though her performances there were successful, she couldn’t get a job afterwards!!! No one in Italy would hire her, despite the most intensive efforts at promotion, including a recording she made of her best arias. Callas was frustrated. Finally Tulio Serafin, who had conducted her at the arena in Verona, hired her in Venice to sing first Tristan und Isolde, and then a year later, Die Walküre. In the midst of the series of performances of Die Walkure, the soprano who was to sing Bellini’s bel canto opera, I Puritani became ill and Serafin decided that Callas would replace her, despite the completely different kind of voice required for the role. Amazingly, Callas learned Puritani in just one week while she continued performing Die Walkure! This feat earned her a ton of publicity and people have been marveling at her accomplishment ever since. Her colleague, the soprano, Renata Tebaldi said that the most fascinating thing was to hear how Callas was able to scale down her enormous voice to sing bel canto repertoire. In fact, when she auditioned for Toscanini, he wanted very much to cast her as Lady Macbeth, because of the size and particular quality of her voice. Unfortunately, he retired soon thereafter and they never collaborated. Callas said: “Conductors for us, once upon a time especially, were gods. We went to the theatre on tiptoes—it’s like going to church, really. That’s how we were brought up.” Tulio Serafin had played viola in the La Scala orchestra under Toscanini in the early part of the 20th century and went on to conduct all over the world. He was an early mentor of Callas. She spoke about what she learned from Serafin: “I drank all I could from this man. He was the first maestro for me, and I am afraid he is the last man of his kind. Today they don’t take the trouble, they don’t have that much experience, they start too young and don’t have enough humility towards music. What I learned from Serafin is that you must serve music; it is our first and main duty.” Callas observed how awkwardly many singers moved on stage, and swore that that would never happen to her. She bought a big mirror in which she would watch herself practicing, scrutinizing her every movement from head to toe and making sure she did not overact. Callas married a successful Italian businessman, Giovanni Battista Meneghini in 1949. He was 28 yrs older than her. Meneghini gave up his interests in his family’s business to invest in and manage her budding career full time. Callas wanted to do dramatic justice to the roles she played, so she decided to lose weight. When Callas saw Audrey Hepurn in Roman Holiday, she decided that that was her standard. She lost eighty pounds in less than a year. Suddenly she became glamorous! As her career became that of a super star, she attracted the attention of the billionaire, Aristotle Onasis. They fell in love she left her husband of ten years, and began a widely publicized affair with Onassis, who was also married. He was 23 years her senior. The Law of cause and effect is very strict, because nine years later, Onassis left her and married Jackie Kennedy. 8 years before her death Callas said to a close friend: “I started dying when I met this man and gave up music.” The last role she sang onstage was Tosca. Not long after this Callas’s voice deteriorated to the point where she had to stop singing in public. She tried acting in a movie. She tried stage directing. She gave the master classes at Juilliard. After several years, she tried to get her voice back and in 1973 and ’74 Callas sang a world concert tour with her long time friend and colleague, tenor, Giuseppe DiStefano, but her voice was only a shadow of what it once had been. Having stopped singing in public, and with no one to share her love, Callas became incredibly depressed. She became addicted to sleeping pills, and during her last years, isolated herself, living with two servants in her Paris apartment. She could no longer sustain her interest in living. The last time she saw DiStefano she said to him “Everyday is one day less”. Her last public performance was in Tokyo, on the world tour with DiStefano. Three years later she died of a heart attack at the young age of 53.      

Tribute to Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, Romania. His mother and father, Sara and Shlomo had 4 children of which Elie was the 3rd, and the only boy. His mother encouraged him to study the Torah. His father ran a small grocery store and was frequently sought out by many of the town’s inhabitants for advice. His father influenced Elie through his humanistic behavior. And as Elie put it, his father “forced” him to learn modern Hebrew. The family spoke mostly Yiddish, and also German, Hungarian, and Romanian. Since his childhood Elie was a voracious reader. Rather than playing outside as a boy, he spent most of his time in the schoolroom or in the synagogue. “When I travel, I am always afraid of running out of books. If I had to describe hell, it would be as a place without books.” As a boy he also studied the violin and played chess. In May of 1944, the entire Jewish community in his hometown of Sighet was deported to Auschwitz where 90% of them were exterminated upon arrival, including Elie’s younger sister, Tzipora, his mother, and his grandmother. Elie was 15. His father was 50. Upon arrival at Auschwitz a prisoner advised them to lie about their ages and state that they were 18 and 40, so they would be put to work. Eventually, Elie and his father were brought to Buchenwald concentration camp. His father died 10 weeks before the liberation by the U.S. 3rd army. Germany surrendered 3 1/2 weeks later on May 7, 1945. Elie was 16. This photo of Elie in the barracks at Buchenwald was taken just after the liberation. Elie is circled in yellow. After the war Elie lived in an orphanage in France run by the Children’s Aid Agency. He quickly learned French and in 1947 entered Sorbonne Univ. in Paris, where he studied literature, philosophy, and psychology. Elie attended lectures by the philosophers Martin Buber and Jean-Paul Sartre and studied the writings of Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and Thomas Mann. At age 19 he began working for French and Israeli newspapers as a journalist. He also taught Hebrew, and assembled and conducted a choir. Elie decided not to speak or write about his experiences in the concentration camps for 10 years. An S.S. officer had said to a young Jew: “Even if you survive, even if you tell, no one will believe you.” In 1954 Elie interviewed Francois Mauriac, a Nobel Prize recipient in literature, who convinced Elie to begin writing about his experiences. In 1955 he began writing his account of the Holocaust. It was a 900-page manuscript in Yiddish entitled Un di Velt hot geshveegin And The World Remained Silent. This origignal 900-page version was never published. An abridged version was published in Buenos Aires. He re-wrote it as a shorter version in French entitled La Nuit, published in 1958. And in 1960 the English translation, Night, was published. Eventually it was translated into 30 languages and has sold more than 7 million copies. Wiesel turned down an offer from Orson Welles to make Night into a feature film. He wrote: “The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future. To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” In 1956 he moved to New York and worked as a foreign correspondent for an Israeli daily newspaper. His salary was only $175 per month, and there were days when he couldn’t afford food. He soon got a job in the U.N. pressroom. In 1965 he began traveling to the former Soviet Union to report on the conditions of the 3 million Soviet Jews. They were discriminated against, persecuted and prohibited from practicing their religion. The series of articles he wrote were compiled and published in 1966 in the book The Jews of Silence, about the Soviet Jews and the massacre at Babi Yar in Ukraine. Wiesel called on the American Jewish community to provide support and aid to Russian Jews. This helped to change what had been only a small number of Jews being allowed to leave Russia, to a huge mass exodus. Since the 1970’s over 1.1 million Jews have emigrated out of Russia. Wiesel called his efforts for this cause “a turning point” in his life. In 1969 he married his Austrian wife, Marion. They had one child in 1972, Shlomo Eleesha, named after Wiesel’s father. In 1975 Wiesel and the Jewish activist, Leonard Fein, founded the independent magazine, Moment, to provide a voice for American Jews. Wiesel taught at the City Univ. of New York from 1972-1976 and then at Boston Univ., which created the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies in his honor. He also taught at Yale Univ. and Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fl. in 1982. From 1997-1999 he taught at Barnard College of Columbia Univ. And he began a 5-year appointment teaching at Chapman Univ. in Orange, CA. in 2010. In 1979 he wrote the book and play The Trial of God based on his experience of witnessing three Jews in Auschwitz who, close to death, conduct a trial against god, under the accusation that god has been oppressive of the Jewish people. Wiesel was asked by Pres. Carter to spearhead the construction of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. He was the Chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. 
At Wiesel’s suggestion, the first Day of Remembrance was held on April 24, 1979 in Washington. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. In his acceptance speech he explained that silence only encourages the tormentor, stating: “I have tried to keep memory alive, I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. The world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation…Whenever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must–at that moment–become the center of the universe. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours.” When he traveled to Oslo to accept the Nobel Prize, he encountered groups of Holocaust deniers, who had gathered in Norway to protest. With the money from the Nobel award, Elie and his wife Marion immediately founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Its mission is to fight against indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs. He wrote more than 60 books including 2 volumes of memoirs, the 1st: All Rivers Run to the Sea, recounts his life up to 1969, and the 2nd is entitled And The Sea is Never Full, and is about his life between 1969-1999. Wiesel adhered to the same daily work schedule for his entire career. He wrote from 6-10 each morning, working on 2 projects simultaneously, one fiction, and one non-fiction. After writing for 4 hours he then conducted research on the topics he was writing about. He wrote with a photo of his hometown of Sighet in full view. He often wrote 3 drafts of each book, and then cut and edited to achieve a concise result. He said: Why do I write? To help the dead vanquish death. To forget would be the enemy’s final triumph. Wiesel is the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Grand Officer and Grand Cross of the French Legion of Honor, an honorary knighthood from the United Kingdom, and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was the recipient of more than 100 honorary degrees. Wiesel advocated for the victims of apartheid in South Africa, the plight of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, Argentina’s Desapare-cidos, the Kurds, Bosnian victims of genocide in the former Yugoslavia, and he protested against human rights violations in Iran, the Balkans, Rwanda, and Ireland. 
In the mid-1990’s soon after thousands of Ethiopian Jews were rescued from violence and persecution in Africa, Elie and his wife, Marion, created two educational centers in Israel to provide academic and vocational training to Ethiopian-Jewish children. The centers are a model for other schools. He has championed the causes of Cambodian refugees in Vietnam, and indigenous peoples in Latin and South America including Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians. In his speeches and writings he repeatedly pointed out the existence of so many victims of terror and bloodshed in places such as Rwanda and Chechnya. And he urged Pres. Clinton to intervene in the genocide in Bosnia. In 2003 he discovered and publicized that over 280,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews and other groups were massacred in Romanian-run death camps. In 2006 he appeared with actor George Clooney at the U.N. Security Council to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. That year he accompanied Oprah Winfrey on a televised visit to Auschwitz. In 2007 his foundation issued a letter condemning the denial of the Armenian genocide. The letter was signed by 53 Nobel winners. 2009 he accompanied Barack Obama and German chancellor, Angela Merkel on a tour of the Buchenwald concentration camp. That year he announced his support of the persecuted Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. Wiesel was active in trying to prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons. He said: “The words and actions of the leadership of Iran leave no doubt as to their intentions.” He also ran ads in several large newspapers, in which he condemned Hamas for the use of children as human shields in 2014. Wiesel criticized Pres. Obama for pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu to halt Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem. He stated: “Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than 600 times in Scripture–and not a single time in the Koran. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city.” 
In 2012 Wiesel protested against the whitewashing of Hungary’s involvement in the Holocaust and returned the Great Cross Award he had received from the Hungarian government. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1986 he said: “I trust Israel, for I have faith in the Jewish people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around the Holy Land.” In 2012 he spoke out against the unauthorized Mormon practice of performing posthumous baptisms of Jews by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This was after such a baptism was performed for Simon Wiesenthal’s parents and upon learning that Wiesel himself was being considered for a proxy baptism. Wiesel suffered from heart disease, and died on July 2, 2016 in his home in Manhattan. He was 87. In June of 2017 the southwest corner of West 84th St. and Central Park West was named Elie Wiesel Way. It was on that block where he had his first home and family since losing both to the Holocaust. He explained: “What is the Sabbath? Everything is different. When the poor don’t feel their poverty. Even the sick forget their sickness because of the Sabbath. Sabbath is not only a change of behavior; it’s a change of time. The time of Sabbath. And therefore actually at the end of any meal in the Sabbath what we sing is a song that we love to sing with our friends when we are sharing a meal for the Shabbat, and it’s the Harachaman. He wrote: “None of us is in a position to eliminate war, but it is our obligation to denounce it and expose it in all its hideousness. War leaves no victors, only victims.”    

Verdi’s Nabucco

Giuseppe Verdi was born in Roncole in northern Italy in 1813. He composed 28 operas. While in his 20s Verdi experienced the death of his 1st wife and the deaths of his 2 infant children. This threw him into a terrible depression. And he refused to continue composing, until he read the libretto of Nabucco. He was twenty-eight when he composed Nabucco. Its world premiere was at Milan’s La Scala opera house. In Verdi’s day, the country of Italy didn’t yet exist. The Italian peninsula was divided into 10 political units consisting of 2 kingdoms, 3 republics, 4 duchies and a theocracy known as the Vatican. Most of these were dominated by the Austrian Empire. Nabucco broke all box office records at La Scala up until that time. And it was not long before Verdi became a symbol of the Risorgimento, the movement for the unification of Italy. The Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda wrote: “The cries for liberty it inspired in the Italian people spread from heart to heart like wildfire… Filled with pride, they all began singing Verdi’s melodies. After Nabucco Verdi produced a succession of operas to inspire and encourage the people. He composed always and solely for the people. That is where his greatness lies.” Nabucco takes place in 586 B.C. and is based on the biblical story of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nabucco, the king of Babylon, who ordered the Jews to be taken from Judea as prisoners, and led by chains to the foreign land of Babylon. Act I is set in Jerusalem, at the temple of Solomon Each of the 4 acts is preceded by a quote from the book of Jeremiah. Act I: “Thus saith the Lord: behold I shall deliver this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it with fire.” Jeremiah 21:10 Its overture is one of the most exciting in all of opera. The Babylonian army has defeated the Israelite army and is advancing towards the city of Jerusalem. At the temple of Solomon everyone is lamenting their defeat and praying to God to spare the temple. The Hebrew prophet and high priest Zaccaria enters with Nabucco’s daughter, Fenena, as a hostage. Zaccaria sings: “Have faith in God…As our hostage she can secure peace for us.” Ismaele enters with a group of Hebrew soldiers. He is the king of Jerusalem’s nephew. Zaccaria entrusts Fenena to Ismael. Zaccaria sings: “Come down and fight with us, mighty God of Abraham. Fenena and Ismaele sing of their love for each other. Abagaille is has been raised as Nabucco’s other daughter, but is actually the daughter of a slave. She enters with Babylonian soldiers disguised as Israelites. She announces the capture of the temple and threatens Ismaele and Fenena with death AND declares her love for Ismaele. She curses them vowing revenge. She sings: “My love is a raging fury. It can give you life or death. Ah, if you love me, I could still save your people! Ismaele. sings that he can not return her love. Fenena feels the power of the true God of Israel. Hebrew men and women, Zaccaria’s sister, Anna, old men, and Levites all enter singing that Nabucco is approaching. Hebrew soldiers enter who also sing that Nabucco is coming. Nabucco enters with Babylonian soldiers. Zaccaria stops him at the entrance to the temple singing: “How dare you! This is the house of God.” Zaccaria threatens to kill Nabucco’s daughter, Fenena if Nabucco attacks the temple. Nabucco replies: “Wicked Zion must flow in a sea of blood amid tears and groans. Zaccaria holds a knife to Fenena’s throat but Ismaele seizes the knife and Fenena runs to Nabucco, who sings: “Your God fears me, you fools. He didn’t even appear on the battle field.” He orders his soldiers to plunder and burn the temple. Abagaille sings: “This accursed people will be be wiped from the face of the earth. If my heart’s affection can not be satisfied, then at least my hate will be!” The Israelites curse Ismaele for being a traitor. ACT II The Wicked Man “Behold…! The whirlwind of the Lord goeth forth and will fall upon the head of the wicked man.” Jeremiah 30:23 Scene 1 takes place in Abagaille’s residence in Nabucco’s royal palace in Babylon The Jews have been led captive into Babylon. Nabucco is away at war, and while he continues his battle against the Israelites, he has appointed Fenena as ruler and as guardian of the Israelite prisoners. Abagaille enters hastily and triumphant holding a parchment scroll and venting her bitterness and desire for revenge. Jealous of her sister and dying to know whether or not she is Nabucco’s daughter or as rumor has it only a slave, she finds a document that proves she is the daughter of slaves. She is bitter that Nabucco has refused to allow her to participate in the war against the Israelites. The role of Abagaille requires a soprano that has a hefty sized voice, who has the agility to singing rapid notes, high Cs, and powerful low notes as well. The soprano who sang the world premiere of Nabucco, Giuseppina Strepponi later become Verdi’s 2nd wife. When Nabucco premiered she was already experiencing difficulties with her voice, and singing the role of Abagaille seems to have killed what remained of her singing voice. Verdi wrote music for the part of Abagaille that is incredibly aggressive and fiendishly strenuous on the voice. When she sings about her own anger, her music climbs to a high C and then abruptly drops down to a low C, something singers are never asked to do. She rages in fury but then remembers her love for Ismaele. The high priest of Baal, who is the Babylonian God enters with soothsayers informing Abagaille that Fen is setting the Jewish prisoners free. They urge her to seize the power of the throne and inform her that they have already spread the rumor that Nabucco has been killed in battle. Abagaille sings: “I’m already ascending the bloodstained seat of that golden throne. I know very well how to unleash my revenge from that seat.” They sing: “Yes, Baal’s revenge will thunder forth with your vengeance.” Scene 2 takes place at nighttime in a hall in N’s palace Zaccaria enters the royal apartment with a Levite carrying the tablets of the Law. The Hebrews are gathered together. To the accompaniment of a cello sextet Zaccaria prays to God for guidance. He then goes with the Levite to summon Fenena. Ismaele enters with the Levites, who accuse Ismaele of treachery. Zaccaria’s sister Anna enters with Zaccaria, Fenena and the Levite announcing that Ismaele has saved Fenena, who has converted to Judaism and urges them to forgive Ismaele. One of Nabucco’s long time officers enters out of breath with the news of Nabucco’s death. He urges Fenena to flee and warns of the rebellion that Abagaille has started and conveys that the people now call for Abagaille as their queen. The high priest of Baal, an enemy of the Hebrew God, enters with Abagaille, the soothsayers and their assistants. Abagaille orders Fenena to give her the crown. Fenena refuses. Nabucco enters, grabs the crown and places it on his own head! He defies Abagaille to take it from him. He orders everyone to bow their faces to the ground and worship him as their God. Fenena sings that she has converted to Judaism. Nabucco declares that he is no longer king and that he is God. Suddenly there is a crash of lightning and thunder over his head. Terrified, Nabucco feels the crown being lifted from his head by a supernatural force and he loses his mind. What follows is a wonderful 5 part canon where everyone sings about the approaching moments of a fatal rage with thunderbolts preparing to open their wings. Nabucco then sings a magnificent mad scene. Zaccaria sings that heaven has punished the boaster. Abagaille picks up the crown and sings: “But may the splendor of Baal’s people not be extinguished.” Act III The Prophecy “The wild beasts of the desert shall dwell in Babylon and the owls and hoopoe birds shall dwell therein.” Jeremiah 50:39 Scene 1 takes place at he hanging gardens of Babylon Abagaille is now the Queen of Babylon. The high priest of Baal hands her a document to sign. It is the death warrant for the execution of the Hebrews, including her sister, Fenena. Nabucco wanders in still insane. What follows is an incredible duet between father and daughter in which Abagaille commands Nabucco to sign the death warrant, which he does. He then suddenly remembers his daughter Fenena and angrily tells Abagaille that she is actually a slave, whereupon Abagaille shows Nabucco her birth certificate and tears it up before his eyes. Soldiers take Nabucco into custody and lead him away. Scene 2 takes place on the banks of the Euphrates river We then hear the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves where the Jews are in captivity in Babylon resting after a long day of forced labor. They lament their unhappy fate as prisoners, singing: Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate… Go, thought, on golden wings… The thought is of their beloved homeland. They sing: “Oh, my country so beautiful and lost!” They yearn for their homeland. To Verdi, the suffering of the biblical Jews was similar to the anguish of the Italians under foreign domination. It is the struggle of an oppressed people for freedom. Dr. Ikeda wrote: “It was as if the Italian people’s own subjugation by another country was mirrored back to them. The opera provided ‘wings of hope’ upon which the hearts of those who aspired for Italy’s freedom could majestically soar.” Zaccaria prophesies God’s destruction of Babylon. Act IV The broken Idol “Baal is confounded; his statue is broken into pieces.” Jeremiah 50:2 Scene 1 takes place in an apartment in Nabucco’s palace Nabucco wakes up from a nap and realizes that he is now a prisoner. His mind is still confused and raving. He prays to the Hebrew God for forgiveness and to spare Fenena. And he promises to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Nabucco’s sanity instantly returns. Nabucco and his soldiers depart to rescue Fenena. Scene 2 is at the hanging gardens: the place of execution A funeral march is played as Fenena and the Israelites enter. They pray as they prepare for death. Nabucco and his soldiers enter. He raises his sword and the statue of Baal shatters into pieces. He tells the Jews that they are free and everyone sings praises to mighty Jehovah. This incredible scene is one of the most solemn and majestic compositions for vocal soloists and chorus only, with no instruments. Abagaille enters after she has drunk poison and begs for forgiveness from Fenena, prays for God’s mercy, and dies. Zaccaria sings to Nabucco: “As Jehovah’s servant you shall be a king of kings.”                                      

Toscanini and Wagner

Toscanini was born in Parma in 1867. His career spanned an incredible 69 years. Beginning in 1898 he was the artistic director of La Scala for several years, from 1908-1915 the principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, the artistic director of La Scala during the 1920s, music director of the New York Philharmonic in the ’20s and ’30s, and for 17 years the principal conductor of the NBC Symphony. He conducted the world premieres of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, I Pagliacci, La Boheme, The Girl of the Golden West, Turandot, the American premieres of Boris Godunov, and Ravel’s Bolero, and the Italian premieres of Salome and Pelleas et Melisande. Toscanini had a photographic memory. He performed and rehearsed over 600 compositions from memory. He died in 1957 in New York at the age of almost 90. When I was a teenager I interviewed 50 of the artists who knew and worked with Toscanini, and broadcast these interviews on a radio show I produced called The Toscanini Legacy. That’s me at the radio station, and yes, that is all my own hair! The musicians were in their 70s and 80s when I interviewed them, and were quite young when they worked with Toscanini, who in those years was in HIS 70’s and 80’s. These interviews with the musicians are a direct link to the 19th century. I was struck by the vividness of their recollections and the enthusiasm with which they recalled events they had participated in thirty to forty years before. Toscanini recalled: “The first impression I received of Wagner’s music goes back to 1878 when I was 11 and heard the Tannhäuser Overture at a concert in Parma and I was bewildered.” In 1884, while a student at Parma’s Royal Conservatory of Music, the 17 year-old Toscanini played cello in a production of Lohengrin at Parma’s Teatro Regio, and was so moved that he wept. He wrote: “It was then that I first acquired a great, marvelous awareness of Wagner’s genius. From the first rehearsal, or rather from the first bars of the Prelude, I was overwhelmed by magical, supernatural feelings; the celestial harmonies revealed a new world to me, a world whose existence no one had even the slightest intuition until Wagner’s transcendent spirit discovered it.” The conservatory’s director, Giusto Dacci believed that Mendelssohn had reached the limits of harmonic expression, and the students were discouraged from studying Wagner. Therefore the young Toscanini secretly studied whatever music of Wagner he was able to find. He wrote about the Prelude to Lohengrin: “…When Wagner set down this simple A major chord for the Violins and Woodwinds, I’ve always imagined that at a moment of great, sublime inspiration he disappeared from the earth, went up to heaven for a time, and came back down bringing that magical chord, of whose existence no one before him had dreamt…” In 1888, at age 21, Toscanini was in Bologna listening to the first performance in Italy of Tristan und Isolde. By the end of the second act he decided to abandon his ambition to be a composer, even though several of his compositions had already been published. In 1895 Toscanini began his first artistic directorship: in Turin. He opened the season with Götterdämmerung, sung in Italian, as all operas were at that time in Italy. Amazingly it had a run of 22 performances! Toscanini’s first rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1908 with Götterdämmerung, which he led from memory. Amazingly, he heard and corrected mistakes in the orchestra parts, which for decades, none of the well-known German conductors had noticed. In 1926 Toscanini conducted the New York Philharmonic for the first time, and he included Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music from Gotterdammerung. For his last appearance with the New York Philharmonic Toscanini included Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music. 1932 he wrote: “Among operas, I value those of Wagner and Verdi above all. It is difficult to state a preference for one of Wagner’s operas. I have noticed that if I am conducting one or another of Wagner’s operas, or playing it at the piano, whichever one it happens to be takes possession of my heart. And yet, every time I glance at the score of Parsifal, I say to myself: This is the sublime one.” The timing of Parsifal conducted by Toscanini is by far the slowest ever recorded in Bayreuth’s archives going all the way back to its first production in 1882! Alan Shulman remembered: “At a dress rehearsal of an all Wagner program. We did the prelude to Parsifal. When we finished he said, ‘Thank you, see you at the concert tonight.’ And my stand partner and I sat there three or four minutes. We were so moved by the magnificence of the man’s concept, that we just couldn’t pack our instruments away, and head for home, and rest before the concert. It was an incredible experience.” The Viennese photographer Robert Hupka took over 1,500 photographs of Toscanini at rehearsals and recording sessions. Hupka was very excited about the publication of my
book, The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro, because it is based on 50 interviews I recorded with musicians who knew and worked with the maestro. Fred Zimmermann, who played bass with Toscanini said: “Wagner with him was deeply stirring, deeply spiritual; and being part of it was a transcendent experience. After the concert I just couldn’t bear to go into the subway; and so I walked for blocks and blocks to my home with the sounds of the performance ringing in my mind. Toscanini conducted the first ever symphony concert on TV in 1948. For this historic occasion he chose an all-Wagner program and he conducted a second televised all-Wagner concert in 1951. Toscanini conducted the Forest Murmers from Siegfried on both of his televised all-Wagner concerts. He conducted more performances of Die Meistersinger than any other Wagner opera. And the three works he conducted the most frequently in symphonic concerts were Debussy’s La Mer, Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, and the Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger. Hugo Burghauser, the chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic in the 30s recalled Toscanini conducting Die Meistersinger at the Salzburg Festivals in 1936 and ’37. “I had heard Die Meistersinger for 25 years; but this second act was an entirely new experience for me. In sound and dynamics, in clarity, in expression–this was the ultimate. And afterwards, when we ran up to Toscanini’s dressing room, I never saw him as he was then. He said: ‘Com’un sogno. Like a dream.’ 20 years later, somebody played for him a recording made from the broadcast of one of his Meistersinger performances in Salzburg. When he heard the second act he was touched…and said: ‘It’s a heavenly dream.’ He was moved to tears– such was the power of his own conducting. And of course for all of us also.” Marcia Davenport, a writer and friend of Toscanini recalled: “We who heard that rehearsal and saw it…were overwhelmed with emotion. But when the curtain fell on the finale, and then went up again as curtains do at rehearsals…there stood the entire company on stage, every one of them in tears. The Maestro himself stood motionless in his place with his right hand covering his eyes.” Lotte Lehmann who sang Eva in 1936 recalled the effect Toscanini had on the baritone singing Hans Sachs: Hermann Nissen. According to Lehmann, Nissen had a calm personality and was not easily carried away by emotion. “Even this man was stirred to his very depths by the great Maestro. I can still see him, his eyes overflowing with tears, as he turned around after the ‘Wach auf’ chorus in the general rehearsal saying, ‘My God, how shall I be able to sing now? This damned demon down there has absolutely devastated me with his fire.’” After the first performance Toscanini wrote: ” I was in a daze for two days! I was dead tired. It was a moving performance. I don’t think I’ve ever obtained a better performance of Meistersinger. Can you imagine that the singers were crying at the end of the opera? Bruno Walter came back after the 2nd act; he told me that we had brought off a miracle! I’m so happy to tell you this…But I was quite frightened…” And after the second performance he wrote: “Yesterday evening, after Die Meistersinger…I was exhausted…as if I’d done battle against forces greater than my own…When I’m working I don’t have time to feel joy; on the contrary, I suffer without interruption, and I feel that I’m going through all the pain and suffering of a woman giving birth…” Toscanini conducted Die Meistersinger again at Salzburg the following summer with Maria Reining as Eva. Late at night, after the first performance he wrote: “After the first act, Eva Chamberlain (Wagner’s second daughter) came with tears in her eyes and said to me, “‘My dear friend, I feel as if I were hearing Die Meistersinger for the first time. Never, not even in Bayreuth’s early days, has it made so great an impression as this evening.’ And she kissed my hands, bathing them with her tears, which seemed unending… I foresee and predict a sleepless night. My nerves are still tense; as I write, I have to stop every once in a while, because my hand jerks, as if from epilepsy…” In 1898 Toscanini chose Die Meistersinger to begin his tenure as artistic director of La Scala. The last performance Toscanini conducted at La Scala was an all-Wagner concert. And his last performance ever was in Carnegie Hall with an all-Wagner program. In 1899 Toscanini visited Bayreuth. He sent his brother-in-law, a postcard of Wagner’s grave, and wrote: “Here is the tomb of the greatest composer of the century.” Siegfried Wagner, the composer’s son, was astounded when he heard Toscanini conduct Tristan und Isolde at La Scala in 1901 and wanted to invite him to conduct at Bayreuth but was met with strong opposition to engaging a non-German-school conductor. Siegfried told Toscanini that the production excelled even those of Munich and Berlin, and reported to his mother, Cosima Wagner, about the excellence of the production. She wrote the maestro a letter of gratitude. Toscanini had presided over the installation of what was then the most modern stage lighting system in Europe, and German theatre managers all sent representatives to observe it. In 1930 Siegfried Wagner finally succeeded in bringing Toscanini to Bayreuth where he conducted five performances of Tannhäuser and three performances of Tristan und Isolde both staged by Siegfried. Toscanini returned to Bayreuth in 1931 and conducted five performances of Tannhäuser and five performances of Parsifal. He was the first non-German-school conductor to perform at Bayreuth, which the maestro considered to be a great shrine of art and therefore refused any compensation. The violist, Nicholas Moldavan, remembered that the musicians had resented the intrusion of an Italian in this shrine of German art until Toscanini’s first rehearsal of the orchestra, when he reduced them to stunned silence. Conducting as always, from memory, he detected in their playing mistake after mistake in the orchestral parts that had gone undetected for half a century by the German conductors. At a rehearsal of Tristan, Toscanini asked why no one was playing the cymbal part at the end of Act I. He was told that there were no cymbal notes in the parts. The maestro insisted that the manuscript be consulted, where, to the Germans’ surprise the cymbal notes were found, clearly notated! Lauritz Melchior who sang Tristan and Tannhauser that summer, recalled Toscanini saying: “What Wagner meant is very clear. Just examine the score. You will find everything there.” Alexander Kipnis, who sang the role of King Marke recalled: “He objected to the fact that the singers gave more importance and emphasis to pronouncing the word than to singing the music… The chief characteristic of Toscanini’s Tristan was its lyricism, which the typical German conductor doesn’t bring to the work…I always loved the lyrical approach to Tristan, which I heard many times from other conductors, but never in such a degree as from Toscanini. I would say his Tristan was like an Italian opera; and curiously enough, some time before Toscanini came to Bayreuth, Siegfried Wagner said Tristan should be sung like an Italian opera…That’s the way Tristan should be sung, because it was not a Teutonic opera.” Ernest Newman, born in 1868, was the leading British music critic of his generation and the author of more than ten books on Wagner. Hearing Toscanini conduct Tristan at Bayreuth he wrote: “I thought I knew that work from end to end and from outside to inside; but I was amazed to find, here and there, a passage coming on me as a new revelation and going through me like a dagger stroke…The total effect was indescribable: I shall remember it and thrill to it to my dying day…” In 1930, Toscanini’s first summer at Bayreuth, he also conducted a new production of Tannhauser. Melchior remembered that the first rehearsal had taken place while Siegfried was hospitalized, and that Toscanini wept through it. Siegfried suffered a heart attack and died during the 1930 festival. Kipnis recalled the concert in the Festspielhaus a few days after the burial. “On the program was the Siegfried-Idyll conducted by Toscanini: it was the most beautiful I have ever heard in my life; and everyone in the audience had tears in his eyes from the sound of this music. Toscanini’s Tannhäuser was different. His approach to every phrase was very soft…It was lyrical.” Daniela Thode was Cosima Wagner’s daughter with Hans von Bülow. She and her half brother, Siegfried planned a gradual light change from the Venusberg to the Wartburg In Tannhäuser. Toscanini insisted that the composer’s instructions for a sudden light change be followed. And in a letter to her he quoted Wagner’s words: “The great transformation scene takes place all at once…the valley bathed in midday sunlight at its brightest.” The cellist and conductor Alfred Wallenstein remembered: “During a rehearsal of Tannhäuser, when Elizabeth entered for Dich, teure Halle, the stage was darkened. Maestro stopped and asked: ‘Why is the stage so dark?’ And Siegfried Wagner said: ‘That’s what Father wanted.’ And Maestro said: ‘Father wanted?! You have the writings of Father?’ They had, of course at Villa Wahnfried…so they went straight into the library, and he took down the particular volume he wanted, turned to the exact page and said: ‘Here! Read!’ And Wagner [wrote] that for Elizabeth’s entrance there should be the brightest lights possible.” Toscanini returned to conduct the following year at the 1931 Bayreuth Festival. He was the favorite of the Wagner family. There was no Bayreuth festival in 1932. In 1933, Toscanini agreed to conduct five performances of Parsifal and eight of Die Meistersinger. However at the end of January 1933, Hitler became chancellor and immediately began destroying democracy in Germany. Toscanini was greatly alarmed and on April 1st sent a telegram to Hitler protesting the boycott of Jewish musicians and the dictator’s racist policy. This was published on the front page of the NY Times. Two days later Hitler wrote to Toscanini, inviting him to Bayreuth that summer and expressing how much he was looking forward to personally greeting him. Toscanini responded indicating that this was not likely to happen, and a month later he informed the Wagner family that he would not be returning to Bayreuth. Several years later he referred to giving up Bayreuth as the deepest sorrow of his life. Siegfried’s daughter, Friedelind Wagner, was strongly influenced by Toscanini’s anti-Fascist and antiracist attitudes and soon became an anti-Nazi renegade in her family. During World War II, Toscanini helped her immigrate to the United States and supported her for a long time. She considered herself to be an honorary stepdaughter of Toscanini and said: “I have yet to meet a great artist whose character is as wonderful as his artistry–except when his name is Toscanini.” In 1936 and ’37 the maestro traveled to Tel-Aviv and trained and conducted the first concerts of a special orchestra comprised of Jewish refugee musicians escaping Nazi persecution. When he returned in 1938, he insisted on conducting the 2 Lohengrin Preludes. This orchestra is now known as the Israel Philharmonic. My mentor, the Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda wrote:”Toscanini was not able to separate art from daily life. For him, pretending not to see injustice was not only stifling to his humanity but fatal to his art. As he said: ‘When one’s spirit is twisted, one’s backbone is twisted as well.’ It was Toscanini’s solid conviction that his daily actions must reflect his conscience.”

Tony Bennett: What an Inspiration!

Anthony Dominic Benedetto was born on August 3, 1926 in Queens New York. His mother was a seamstress and his father was an Italian immigrant who worked as a grocer and instilled in his son a love of art, literature and compassion for human suffering. He died when Tony was just 10 years old. That year Tony sang at the opening of the Triborough bridge. He began singing professionally at age 13 performing as a singing waiter at several Italian restaurants in Queens. He attended New York school of industrial art studying painting and music but dropped out at the age of 16 to help support his family working several low skilled low paying jobs. He fought in World War II in the US Army as an infantry rifle man. In March 1945 he joined the front line in what he later described as a front row seat in hell. He experienced bitter fighting in cold winter conditions often hunkering down in foxholes as the Germans fired on them. Bennett and his company entered Germany engaging in dangerous house to house fighting in town after town to clean out German soldiers. Bennett narrowly escaped death several times. The experience made him a pacifist. He wrote “Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn’t gone through one, and later said it was a nightmare that’s permanent. “I just said this is not life this is not life.” At the wars conclusion he was involved in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg. His first number one song was because of you in 1951. rags to riches and stranger in paradise followed in 1953. And in 1962 Bennett recorded his signature song I left my heart in San Francisco, which won Grammy awards for record of the year and best male solo vocal performance. Frank Sinatra said “For my money Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who gets across what a composer has in mind, and probably a little more.” A firm believer in the civil rights movement Bennett participated in the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery AL in 1965. He also refused to perform in apartheid South Africa. His career and personal life experienced an extended downturn during the height of the rock music era. By the end of the 1970s Bennett had no recording contract, no manager, and was performing few concerts outside of Las Vegas. He had developed a drug addiction, was living beyond his means, and the IRS was intending to seize his Los Angeles home. In 1979 after a near fatal cocaine overdose Bennett called his two sons for help saying: look I’m lost here. it seems like people don’t want to hear the music I make.” His son Danny then became his father’s manager and succeeded in getting his fathers expenses under control, moved him back to New York and began booking him in colleges and small theaters. He also began a successful plan to pay back the IRS, and began to regularly book his father on late night with David Letterman, on late night with Conan O’Brien, the Simpsons, Muppets Tonight, and various MTV programs. Bennett staged a come back in the late 1980s and 90s. Bennett has so frequently donated his time to charitable causes that he is sometimes nicknamed Tony benefit. In 2010 Bennett sang on the we are the World 25 for Haiti to raise aid after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He has received the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees humanitarian award. He wrote: “there is simply no excuse for terrorism and the murder of the nearly 3000 innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks on our country. My life experiences ranging from the battle of the bulge to marching with Martin Luther King made me a lifelong humanist and pacifist, and reinforced my belief that violence begets violence and that war is the lowest form of human behavior. In 2011 Columbia records released a 73 CD set which is not even complete! In 2012 Bennett performed I left my heart in San Francisco in front of more than 100,000 fans commemorating the 2012 World Series victory by the San Francisco Giants. That year he published another memoir, life is a gift: the Zen of Bennett and a documentary was produced by his son Danny also entitled the Zen of Bennett. In 2016 at the age of 90 Bennett was honored by the unveiling of a statue of his likeness in front of the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco where he first sang I left my heart in San Francisco in 1961. In 2018 after almost 69 years, he re-recorded Gershwin’s song fascinating rhythm which according to Guinness world records earned him the title of longest time between the release of an original recording and a re-recording of the same single by the same artist. Bennett was commissioned by the United Nations to do two paintings including one for its 50th anniversary. His painting Central Park is housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC. Each of his paintings and drawings sell for as much as $80,000! Many of his works were published in the art books Tony Bennett: what my heart has seen and Tony Bennett in the studio: a life of art and music. Regarding his choices of repertoire he stated I’m not staying contemporary for the big record companies I don’t follow the latest fashions I never sing a song that’s badly written. In the 1920s and 30s there was a renaissance in music that was the equivalent of the artistic renaissance. Cole Porter Johnny Mercer and others just created the best songs that had ever been written. these are classics and finally they’re not being treated as light entertainment. this is classical music.” He is a recipient of New York City’s bronze medallion, the national endowment for the arts jazz masters award, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and has been honored by the art institute of Boston, Roosevelt University’s musical college George Washington University, the Cleveland Institute of music, the Juilliard school, Fordham University, and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Berkeley College of music. He has received 19 Grammy awards including a lifetime achievement award and 2 PrimeTime family awards. He was named a national endowment of the arts jazz master and a Kennedy Center honoree. Bennett has sold over 50 million records worldwide, several of them have gone gold and platinum. As the New York Times put it “Tony Bennett has not just bridged the generation gap, he has demolished it. He has solidly connected with a younger crowd weaned on rock. And there have been no compromises.” His duet with the Jewish pop singer, Amy Winehouse on body and Soul was the last recording she made before her death. He has attracted acclaim for his collaborations with Lady Gaga starting with the album cheek to cheek in 2014 and the release of their second album love for sale in 2021. The cheek to cheek album earned him the Guinness world record for the oldest person to reach number one on the US album chart with a newly recorded album at the age of 88 years and 69 days. In 2014 Bennett performed for the first time in Israel in Tel Aviv and with Lady Gaga at Hayarkon Park. Bennett broke the individual record for the longest span of top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 chart for any living artist. He also broke the Guinness world record for the oldest person to release an album of new material at the age of 95 and 60 days. Bennett’s final televised performance was with Lady Gaga on December 16, 2021 on MTV unplugged. The special had been filmed five months before. He had no intention of retiring saying about Pablo Casals, Jack Benny, and Fred Astaire: “right up to the day they died they were performing. if you are creative you get busier as you get older.” Bennett continued to record and tour steadily doing 100 shows a year by the end of the 90s. The good life: the autobiography of Tony Bennett was published in 1998 and he has sold over 50 million record worldwide. In February of 2021 his family revealed that Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. Due to the slow progression of his illness he continued to record, tour, and perform. In August of 2021 at the age of 95 he performed at radio city music hall in New York City with Lady Gaga. A week later his son announced his retirement stating that though his father remained a capable singer he was becoming physically frail and risked a major fall if he were to continue touring. Bennett died in New York in 2023. He was 96 years young.  

The Genius of George Gershwin

George Gershwin was born on Sept. 26, 1898 in Brooklyn. He was named after his grandfather Jacob Gershovitz. His father was from St. Petersburg, Russia, and his mother was from Vilnius, Lithuania. His brother Ira, originally named Israel, was born 2 years earlier. They had a younger brother, Arthur, and a younger sister, Frances, and grew up on the Lower East Side in the Yiddish theatre district. George’s favorite past time was roller skating. He always had poor grades, and dropped out of high school his freshman year. At age 12, his mother had a used upright piano brought into their home, and he immediately demonstrated a great passion for the instrument. He studied with several piano teachers, each time requiring more advanced instruction because his pianistic skills developed quite rapidly. He also took private lessons in music theory, harmony, orchestration and composition. As a young teen, Gershwin began attending concerts of the Beethoven Symphony Orchestra, and when he returned home he would recall the music he heard, both in his mind, and as best as he could at the piano. At 15 he got his first job, working as a pianist for a music publisher. His task was to advertise popular songs of the day with the intent to sell the sheet music to these songs. There was no radio in those days, no movies with sound, and the machines with the large horns upon which records were played were not yet commonly owned, so the way people experienced music was either by attending vaudeville shows in a theatre or by purchasing sheet music to play and sing at home. Gershwin played and sang these songs in music stores, dept. stores, cafes, bars, at silent movie theatres, and between events in sports arenas. Because he was such a piano virtuoso, he was quite successful at making any song sound very attractive to the prospective buyers of the sheet music. His rhythms had a striking impact, and his use of harmony was way ahead of his time. He wanted very much to compose his own songs, and became disinterested in plugging other people’s songs. After a few years he abruptly quit his job and then worked as a freelance pianist in vaudeville theatres, as an accompanist to singers, and as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway shows. He loved Irving Berlin and called him America’s Schubert. Irving Berlin thought about hiring him as an assistant and secretary, but then instead, encouraged George to continue on his own path. When he was 18, one of the most popular vaudeville stars of the time, Sophie Tucker, heard his song “When you want ‘em you can’t get ‘em; when you get ‘em, you don’t want ‘em. Based on her recommendation it became his first song that was ever published. Then Jerome Kern’s publisher, Max Drefus, who believed in the young man’s talent and potential, offered Gershwin $35 a week, basically subsidizing him, with the expectation that his hunch would pay off. Gradually more of Gershwin’s songs were published. In 1919 he composed Swanee with lyrics by Irving Caesar and Al Jolson requested to sing it. Within a year a million copies of the sheet music, and 2,250,000 recordings of it were sold. It was Gershwin’s all time biggest commercial success. One of his jobs was recording songs on piano rolls. He actually recorded 140 piano rolls including Swanee In 1922 Gershwin composed a one act jazz opera performed at the Globe Theatre, called Blue Monday, set in Harlem, with an all black cast. It’s about a jealous woman who has been led to believe her lover is cheating on her. When a telegram for him arrives, she assumes it’s from the other woman and demands to see it. Her lover refuses and she shoots him. Then he reads it and discovers that it’s actually a telegram informing him about his mother’s death. His lover asks to be forgiven, which he does, and the curtain comes down as he sings about going to heaven to be united with his mother. I’m struck by its great lyrical beauty. One critic wrote: “The most dismal, stupid and incredible black-face sketch that has probably ever been perpetrated.” The conductor of the opera was none other than Paul Whiteman, known then as the “King of Jazz”. He loved it and asked Gershwin to compose a jazz piano concerto. The result, in 1924, was Rhapsody in Blue! In the audience for the world premiere played by Gershwin with Whiteman conducting were Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, the conductors Walter Damrosch and Leopold Stokowski, the composers Victor Herbert, Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff! Gershwin recorded it in the 20s! Gershwin played the famous melody much faster than we always hear it played by others. It was an enormous success at its world premiere inspiring an instantaneous standing ovation at its conclusion. It has become the most frequently played concert work by an American composer, and at age 26 made George Gershwin a rich man and the most famous composer in the U.S. Among excerpts from the reviews we find these statements: “How sentimental and vapid the harmonic treatment.” Another critic: “It runs off into empty passage work and meaningless repetition.” Another called it “crude.” And another wrote: “weeping over the lifelessness of its melody and harmony, so derivative, so static, so inexpressive.” Gershwin wanted to write truly great music. He wanted to continue to develop and go deeper. He had obstacles though: It was very easy for him to write a new pop song, which would earn him a lot of money in royalties. He had a need to be the center of attention. And the roaring 20s were a time of superficiality. Gershwin kept in good shape by doing calisthenics, and was a good dancer and athlete. In his home he had a punching bag, a rowing machine, and he loved ping pong. Those who knew him best said that the smiling, handsome young man surrounded by friends and acquaintances at parties was really a very lonely young man and that he may have used music to fill an emptiness in his life. In 1925 Walter Damrosch invited George to compose a piano concerto, which had its world premiere in Carnegie Hall with the NY Philharmonic and then was repeated in Philadelphia and Baltimore. It was an enormous success; the audience gave it a standing ovation. Arturo Toscanini conducted it with Gershwin’s close friend, Oscar Levant. The 1st movement, passages of great lyricism. Toscanini liked Gershwin very much as a composer and as a person. And one area of common ground was their love of music that sang. Toscanini really got the musicians to sing on their instruments. After the world premiere one critic called the concerto conventional, trite, at its worst a little dull. Another wrote that it was “fragmentary, uncertain in form” and another wrote “much less interesting than the Rhapsody in Blue.” Walter Damrocsh commissioned Gershwin to compose another work for the NY Philharmonic. While visiting Paris, Gershwin soaked up the sights and sounds of the bubbling city and while there, asked to study with the Queen of composition teachers, Nadia Boulanger. He also wanted to study with Ravel. Both declined to teach him, advising him to continue on his own individual path. In fact both of Ravel’s piano concertos may very well have been influenced by Gershwin. The composition he wrote for Damrosch was An American in Paris, and it was another instant success at its world premiere in 1928. It’s interesting that many critics wrote that Toscanini didn’t have an affinity for this music. Yet, when compared to the recording made with Gershwin’s participation, the tempi are identical. The beginning of the piece includes real taxi horns that Gershwin brought back from Paris with him. Again, Toscanini got a beautiful singing quality out of the NBC Symphony. The music fully captures the rhythms and spirit of Paris in 1928. Among the critic’s reviews after the world premiere were “Nauseous claptrap…patchy, thin, vulgar, long-winded and inane’ Blunt brutality—ballyhoo vulgarity.” Gershwin thrived on being worshipped. A friend said: “George needed praise and admiration.” In 1930 Gershwin auditioned Ethel Merman for the show Girl Crazy. She was then unknown. He was so impressed that he asked her if she wanted him to make any changes in the songs for the new show. In 1932 Gershwin vacationed in Cuba, and was immediately taken by the rhythms and many percussion instruments he was encountering for the first time. When he retuned home he composed his Cuban Overture. Unlike his brother Ira, George was very extroverted, and frequently went to parties, where he often played the piano for hours. People just couldn’t get enough of his dynamic playing! I’ve got another surprise for you! In 1934 Gershwin was even given his own radio show. He was very wealthy, and very popular with audiences here and in Europe. He constantly attracted and was attracted to beautiful women. Yet, he still wasn’t artistically fulfilled. He felt there was more music he wanted to compose, of a more serious nature. He had frequent stomach problems, and would become depressed. He complained to his friends; “I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t fall in love.” Actually the one woman he did fall in love with was Paulette Goddard, but she was married to Charlie Chaplin. No matter. George asked her to leave Chaplin and marry him, which she refused to do. In 1930 Otto Kahn, a philanthropist and arts patron, commissioned Gershwin to write an opera for the Metropolitan Opera. Gershwin decided to base his opera, Porgy and Bess, on the best selling novel of Dubose Heyward. It is set in Charleston, South Carolina, and calls for an all black cast. Gershwin said it was going to be “a labor of love.” He spent the summer of 1934 living on Folly Island, near Charleston, where he soaked up the local music and did a lot of composing and painting. Dubose worked on the libretto, and Ira joined them on the project. George called it a folk opera. When it was completed the following summer the piano vocal score was 560 pages long. The orchestra score was 700 pages. It was more than 4 hours of music! Being a practical man of the theatre, Gershwin made many cuts to shorten the enormous length. The Met decided not to produce it, since they didn’t have any black singers on their roster and Gershwin insisted it be sung by a black cast. The world premiere was given on Sept. 30th 1935 in Boston, and opened on Broadway 10 days later. One critic wrote: “It does not utilize all the resources of the operatic composer.” Another wrote: “The song hits which he has scattered through the score mar it. They are cardinal weaknesses.” A third wrote: “Porgy is falsely conceived and rather clumsily executed.” And another wrote: “The score sustains no mood. There is neither a progressive nor an enduring tension to it.” It was a commercial failure and Gershwin lost the money he had invested in it. Next Ira and George were asked to create the music for 2 movies: A Damsel in Distress and Shall We Dance? With Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. George was becoming an increasingly lonely man. He was frustrated with writing music for Hollywood. He told his friends that he had a compete string quartet in his head, which he never got the time to write down. His third and unfinished movie was The Goldwyn Follies. At a concert during which he was playing his Piano Concerto, he thought at one point the lights had completely gone out, and he suddenly smelled the stench of burning rubber. He soon lost his usual energy, and began experiencing violent headaches. Then he lost his coordination. While eating, a knife would fall from his grasp, he would spill water on himself when drinking from a glass, bright lights hurt his eyes, and the smell of burning rubber continued. He became depressed, and when he consulted doctors, he was told that it was because of nerves. On July 9, 1937 he collapsed in the bathroom and fell into a coma from which he never recovered. He died 2 days later from a brain tumor that had gone undiagnosed until his coma. By then it was too late. He was 38. About all those negative reviews: Gershwin said: “I am one of those people who honestly believe that the majority has much better taste and understanding, not only of music, but of any of the arts than it is credited with having.”                        

Victorious Tina Turner

Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939 in a village in Tennessee called Nutbush. Her family lived in a 2-room sharecroppers’ shack. When she was 10, Tina’s mother left the family, and her father left two years later. She was shuffled around from relative to relative and felt she didn’t belong anywhere. As a pre-teen she was employed as a domestic worker for a white family. At 16 she went to live with her sister and mother in St. Louis, Missouri. After high school Tina worked as a nurse’s aid at a hospital. She soon met Ike Turner, who was a popular musician in St. Louis, the leader of the Kings of Rhythm Band. She began singing with his band, and soon became its featured performer. What started out as a platonic relationship changed into something else through Ike’s force. When Tina rejected him he beat her. She thought: “You have really gotten yourself into something.” Many of he words that I quote from Tina Turner are from her autobiography: I, Tina. “After I gave birth to our son he insisted that I sing two days later for an engagement in Oakland. I bled a lot when I hit the high notes that night. “It was constant hard work: if we weren’t on stage we were on the road to the next show. If we weren’t on the road we were in the studio; in every city no matter where we were, he’d find a studio to work at. If we weren’t recording we were rehearsing, running down songs, and working out steps. It was nothing to drive 700 miles from one show to the next, Ike sitting in the backseat with his guitar and us singing and practicing new tunes all the way; it never stopped. “Out of nowhere he would leap up from a couch and walk right up to you and pow! and you’d go: what did I do? What’s wrong? And he’d hit me again. It was insane. It got to be that I always had a black eye and a busted lip. He would beat me with shoes and shoe trees. Then he would have sex with me; it was torture. I always had a cut on my head somewhere, always had bruises, and later I’d be on stage trying to sing through these cuts and swollen lips. “One night Ike said do you want to marry me? I said yeah because if you said no to Ike you were just going to get beat up. I knew that I didn’t want to marry him. I didn’t want to be another one of the five hundred women he had around him, but I was scared. Sometimes I’d see him fooling around with one of the Ikettes or picking up women from the audience, sending me home early. He started renting party rooms at the hotels we stayed at just for him and the band and the women they’d bring back from the show. I was never allowed in there. Later on, the party rooms became party suites. I was jealous, but I couldn’t say anything to Ike because you never knew what he’d do.” Ike’s business manager, Ann Cain said: “One time in Dallas I saw him stick a lit cigarette up her nose and he would beat her with clothes hangers for no reason. One night I could hear him beating her up in their dressing room and I went in the room just as the fight ended. Tina was covered in blood and Ike had fractured her ribs but Tina stayed because of the children.” Rhonda Graham was the group’s manager and later managed Tina when she started out on her own. She said “You lived in fear; you wanted to get out but you were afraid to, just like Tina, and if somebody did leave, Ike would always track them down.” Tina wrote “I knew I needed something to help me deal with what my life had become, to help me find the way out but I knew that drugs weren’t it.” One of the Ikettes said “She taught me how to be a woman and how to carry myself as a lady, always told me you can’t work and party too, and she lived by that, never drank never smoked always went to bed after every show. She was so strong.” Tina wrote: “When Ann Cain became his mistress Ike set her up in a separate room at our house. I was trapped in the sadistic little cult, totally ashamed and totally without hope. Ike never let me have money; once I asked him for $5 a week just as an allowance and he had said no. The first time I left him I borrowed some money from the Ikettes and my sister and I got on a bus to St Louis to go back to my mother. Well Ike tracked down the bus. I had to get off the bus and go back with him and boy I remember that was the first time I got it with the wire hangers. It was like a horror movie. “After he began abusing cocaine that made him worse. Everything came quicker: getting mad, the fighting, the impatience; it got so you were so scared to say a word to him never knowing how he would react. If I thought it was bad before, the cocaine started making him evil. “One night he threw boiling hot coffee in my face; he said I wasn’t singing the way he wanted. When the coffee hit me it felt like ice and then it started burning and I started screaming. I grabbed my neck where most of it had hit and the skin just peeled right off. I had 3rd degree burns on my face. That scared Ike and you know what he did? He started beating me. My left eye pretty much stayed black and my nose was always swollen. It got so if I happened to roll away from him in bed at night– because he always had to lie in the crook of my arm– and he woke up and noticed, he would start punching me in my sleep. It was like living in hell’s domain.” “I tried leaving him a few more times but he always found me brought me back and beat me. When we were on the road he would always have his mistress, Ann Thomas, in a room right next to ours. One time he got out of our bed, walked through the doors connecting the two rooms, didn’t even bother to close them and got in bed with her, had sex and then came back to bed with me. When I found out that she was pregnant by Ike, I lost all feeling for him as my husband.” 

Tina was becoming a familiar battered face at the local hospital. Nathan Schulsinger, an emergency room nurse at a nearby hospital remembers Tina well. “She would come in pretty bad shape all beat up and bruised face, swollen bloody noses, hematoma on the eyes all puffed out and black.” 

Tina wrote: “It got to the point where I was ready to die. Ike was beating me with phones, with shoes, with the hangers, choking me, punching me. One time right before a show he punched me in the face and broke my jaw and I had to go on and sing anyway with the blood just gushing in my mouth. I felt like I could not take anymore.” Tina went to her doctor and got a prescription for 50 valium pills; she took all 50 of them. She was rushed to the hospital and her life was saved. “As soon as I got out of the hospital Ike made me go right back to work; he forced me; I went on stage trying to sing and hurting so bad. And when I came off I was coughing and throwing up; I didn’t even make it back to the dressing room. I was standing in the hallway all sick and choking and he came up and said ‘It serves you right. You want to die? Then die.’” In Tina’s words: “I was really seeking a change and I knew that it had to come from the inside out, that I had to understand myself and accept myself before anything else could be accomplished.” After years of abuse she desperately needed an change escape from her misery. Then in 1971 she found solace when she was introduced her to Buddhism and chanting. “I found a way to deal without without being so frustrated.” While chanting gave Tina a feeling of inner peace and tranquility it frightened Ike. 

This is the chant she does: Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, the Law of the universe, the Law of cause and effect. Tina continues: “After I was introduced to the chanting by a new secretary Ike had hired, I set up an altar in an empty room we had, and when Ike was out I would do the chant and read  the prayer book book. I could feel myself becoming stronger becoming less and less afraid. Then Ike discovered the altar and he blew up and forced me to get rid of it because it scared him a lot. It really scared him for some reason. I thought he was going to faint so I had to get rid of it but that didn’t stop me from chanting whenever I could. Now I could feel the power deep inside me stirring up after all these years. And I would think about Ike’s face and how funny it was to finally see him scared, to know at last that he wasn’t all powerful, and that I could be set free. That’s when I really started chanting.” Tina was chanting more than ever, growing stronger and coming into her own. On the verge of age 36 she felt that a massive transition was at hand, an end to all the old things and the beginning of the new. All the years of fear had left her finally fearless. “I knew I was going somewhere. By now my determination was outweighing my fear of this man. What did I have to lose anymore? By 1976 we had our last fight. I fought back I didn’t care what he did because I was flying. I knew I was gone; that’s when I left him for good. I’m gone and I’m not going back was the attitude.” When Tina left Ike, she only had 36 cents and a gas station credit card with her. In her words: “I moved from place to place for 2 months working my way at each one housekeeping and cleaning. I moved junk stored stuff away, put out the trash, cleaned the cupboards, washed dishes and scrubbed stoves, because that was the only way I could repay these people. I didn’t have any money so I paid my rent by cleaning for them and organizing their closets. I finally had my freedom; god how I dreamed about it for 16 years. My women friends were into the rhythm of chanting. I was chanting up to four hours every day. The chant brings you into harmony with the hum of the universe, that kind of subtle buzz at the center of all being. My friend Anna Maria had a Buddhist altar, so I stayed indoors all day and just chanted and chanted building up my spirit for the trials I knew still lay ahead.” Ike Next Ike sent all four of the children to live with Tina. She continues: “One night all the windows of Rhonda’s house had been blown out with a shotgun. Another night all the windows on my car had been blown out and the car belonging to my son’s girlfriend was set on fire.” To haggle with him over the terms of the divorce, she knew would be to remain tied to the man for as long as he could manage to stall and stymie her. Thus her only ultimate non-negotiable demand, she informed her lawyer, was her freedom. She told him that she wanted to walk away from everything because her life was more important. “What was it like when I walked out and left Ike? Yeah, I was afraid but sometimes you’ve got to let everything go–purge yourself. I did that. I had nothing, but I had my freedom.” Because Tina walked out of the marriage during a concert tour, she was legally responsible for the $500,000 in debts incurred to the concert promoters of the canceled tour and a heavy IRS lien. The Ike and Tina Turner name was now mud with promoters and as a solo act Tina was an unknown commodity. At the age of nearly 37 she found herself starting over at the bottom of the business. “I knew I had talent but what I didn’t have was the backing to get me back into work. I said I don’t have this yet but I’m going to get it. Buddhism changed my old patterns of thought; it taught me to be a positive thinker and helped me stop saying what I can’t do and what I don’t have and start saying what I am going to do. “I never gave in to alcohol, never gave into drugs not even to smoking. I am very proud of how I came up. The whole thing is about earning your way and you don’t really get there until you earn it; that’s the real truth.” In 1988 Tina made the Guinness World Record when she performed in front of the largest paying audience to see a solo performer. 184,000 fans in Rio de Janeiro. And in 2000 Guinness World Records announced that she had sold more concert tickets than any other solo performer in music history. Well into her 50s, Tina was paid 10 million dollars to wear and endorse Hanes pantyhose. Her amazing youthful appearance has been the envy of many. Tina Turner lived in Europe for almost three decades. In 2013, Tina married the German music executive, Erwin Bach, after a 27 year romantic partnership. He was 16 years her junior. That same year she gave up her American citizenship and was issued a Swiss passport. She divided her time between her homes in the mountains of Switzerland and her villa on the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France. It has breathtaking views of the French Riviera, a spectacular pool and all the comforts one could imagine. Mike Wallace: “You feel like you deserve all this?” Tina: “I deserve more! HAHAHA!” 
And on the 2nd floor, a Buddhist altar. Tina Turner credits Buddhism for giving her the strength she needed to get through her rough times and she continues to chant every day. 

Tina wrote: “The real power behind whatever success I have now was something I found within myself—something that’s in all of us, just waiting to be discovered.” At age 73 she became the oldest person in the world to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. “If I look in the mirror in the morning and don’t like what I see I don’t accept it’s because I’m an old woman. I do whatever I can at the moment to bring myself back to life: perhaps a facial mask, a massage, sauna, whatever I can do naturally to return the glow to my face. As long as you’re alive why not keep living as beautifully as you can.” And these words of Tina’s are particularly revealing:
“If I want something I go for it and really push until I get it, and I don’t give up.” In 2013 she had a stroke. Then in 2016 she had intestinal cancer and kidney failure. She received a kidney transplant from her husband. However, her body rejected the new kidney. “‘And I said yes, but darling you’re young and I am already old. I don’t mind.’ In Buddhism you’re taught that you live when you die. It’s something that’s accepted. And so after Irwin said that, I said ‘OK darling if you’re willing to give up a kidney, then fine.’” In 2018 her son Craig took his own life. “I think Craig was lonely. That’s what I think really got him more than anything else. I have pictures al all around of him smiling and I think I’m sensing that he’s in a good place. I really do.” In December of 2022 her son, Ronnie died of colon cancer. In her book, Happiness Becomes You, Tina wrote “I was never shaken, at least not for long. I mustered all my resilience and I know that my ability to smoothly navigate the healing process came from my spiritual training. Throughout many hospital visits and many surgeries I kept this empowering message in mind from Nichiren, the 13th century religious reformer and philosopher. ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is like the roar of a lion. What illness can therefore be an obstacle?’ Remembering this call to courage I summoned my inner lion and roared. I roared and roared and kept roaring until I overcame every health challenge just like I’d overcome every challenge that came before.” In 2019 the very successful musical, Tina, about her life opened in England, Germany and on Broadway. When she turned 80 in 2019 she had this to say: “Yes, I am 80. What did I think, how did I think I would be at 80? How is this? Oh! Well, I look great. Ha Ha Ha Ha! I feel good. I’ve gone through very serious sicknesses that I am overcoming. So it’s like having a second chance of life. I am happy to be an 80 year old woman. I have everything. When I sit at the lake Zürich in the house that I have, I am so serene, no problems. I had a very hard life but I didn’t put blame on anything or anyone. I got through it. I lived through it with no blame and I’m a happy person.” Gayle King: “Here’s to you! You earned it.” Turner: “Cheers!” After a long illness, Tina Turner died in 2023 at her home in Switzerland at 83.  

Scott Joplin, King of Ragtime

Scott Joplin was born in Northeast Texas in 1868 and grew up in Texarkana. His father an ex-slave worked as a laborer for the railroad and played violin. His mother was a maid, played the banjo and sang. After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, African Americans were blamed for what their former slave owners lost economically. Therefore there was tremendous opposition to schools for African Americans. The few that existed were frequently attacked and burned. Teachers were whipped and beaten. It was considered the lowest position for a white person to be a teacher of Blacks. However, the Joplin children received private tutoring, paid for with food. By age 7 Scott Joplin became proficient on the banjo and began accompanying his mother to the home of a white family, where she did domestic work, and where he was allowed to play their piano. Scott was a child prodigy. He had perfect pitch and his talent was noticed by some of the local music teachers, who gave him lessons for little or no pay. His parents didn’t get along, and his father left the family when Scott was 12. As a boy, he spent the money he earned doing errands and odd jobs on popular sheet music. Joplin kept to himself and practiced. A family friend recalled: “Scott was earnest. When a bunch of boys got together one night and asked Scott to go with them, he said ‘No sir. I won’t have anything to do with such foolishness. I’m going to make a man out of myself.’” He soon attracted the attention of Julius Weiss, a German Jewish immigrant who had been hired to tutor the children of a wealthy landowner. Weiss taught Joplin for free from age 11 to age 16. He tutored him in folk music, sight-reading, harmony, composition and the music of classical composers. He also helped Joplin’s mother buy a used piano for the boy to practice on at home. Joplin never forgot him, and later in life, sent Prof. Weiss money when he became old and sick until his teacher’s death. Joplin played at church gatherings, taught guitar and mandolin, and at 16 formed a vocal quartet. He was a quiet, introverted person, yet he had a magnetic personality that attracted people to him. One of his friends recalled “Scott worked on his music all the time. He was a musical genius. He did not have to play anyone else’s music. He made up his own, and it was beautiful. He just got his music out of the air.” Around age 20 he quit his job with the railroad, where he had been working as a laborer and became a traveling musician. He found steady employment in the brothels of the red light districts throughout the mid-south. In 1890 he moved to St. Louis, then known as “The Gateway to the West”. It was filled with saloons, gambling houses and bordellos, where musicians were in constant demand. In 1893 he visited the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a huge world’s fair, where he formed his 1st band, playing cornet, and piano, and made orchestrations for the band. Ragtime music originally derived from spirituals and minstrel songs. By 1893 people wanted to break free from the restraints of traditional, Victorian culture. It was a racy alternative to the stuffy, respectable Victorian parlor music. Instead of Victorian genteel self control, ragtime’s rhythmic exuberance created an irresistible urge to dance. Its syncopated rhythm was an exciting departure from the usual order and regularity of waltzes, marches, hymns and dreamy ballads. But its popularity was controversial. At first Ragtime was not considered suitable for polite society. It was associated with lowlifes, saloons and bordellos. It was called “a disease, an epidemic, a rapidly increasing mania, and the source of physical and mental disturbances such as a frenzied mind, and abnormal heart action!” The criticisms were due to the vulgar lyrics of the songs, which Joplin deplored. Most of his rags are purely instrumental, without words. In order to promote Joplin’s music to respectable middle class families, his publisher advertised Joplin’s music as “classic rags…that have lifted Ragtime from its low estate and lined it up with Beethoven and Bach.” In the 1890s piano manufacturers began making inexpensive pianos. By the end of the century there were 400 companies in the U.S. manufacturing 150,000 pianos a year, and many middle class families purchased pianos for their homes, which created the demand for ragtime sheet music. In 1894 Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri, where he played 2nd cornet in the Queen City Concert Band, taught piano, sang in choirs, and worked as a piano accompanist. He composed Victorian songs, piano pieces, marches and waltzes. He performed at Black clubs and sang and conducted a male vocal octet called the Texas Medley Quartet with which he toured for 3 years. He also enrolled at the George R. Smith College for Negroes in the mid 1880s where he studied advanced harmony, theory and composition. Joplin’s colleagues recalled that he was always ready to help a fellow composer and never uttered a word of jealousy or condemnation. It was in Sedalia that Joplin’s dramatic rise to fame occurred and he became known as the King of Ragtime. In 1899 he met John Stark, a local music storeowner and publisher. After hearing Joplin play his Maple Leaf Rag at the Maple Leaf Club, Stark decided to publish it and sold it for 50 cents per copy. He paid Joplin no money up front and only a royalty of 1 cent per copy sold. Thus began one of the legendary relationships in the history of American music based on mutual respect between a white businessman and a black composer. The Maple Leaf Rag only sold 400 copies the 1st year. Commenting on the fact that his music was not appreciated, Joplin said: “Maybe 50 years after I am dead it will be.” Not long after the publication of the Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin composed The Ragtime Dance, a dramatic Ragtime folk ballet of 10 pieces with a vocal introduction and narration. He established the Scott Joplin Drama Company, and rented the Woods Opera House to put on 1 performance. Scott played the piano and conducted the orchestra. His publisher, John Stark was there, but the sales of the Maple Leaf Rag hadn’t begun to take off yet and Stark wouldn’t publish the ballet. Joplin was disappointed and it became a source of tension in their relationship. Three years later Joplin again produced a private performance of the Ragtime Dance, and this time Stark published it, but it didn’t sell well. Also in 1899 Scott began a common law marriage with Belle Jones and they soon moved to a house in St. Louis where he composed and was a respected teacher. To supplement their income, Belle rented out several of the rooms transforming it into a boarding house. Their relationship was difficult, one reason being that Belle had no interest in music. They had a baby daughter, who died only a few months after birth. They soon separated, and a few years later Belle died. In the fall of 1903 Joplin established the Scott Joplin Ragtime Opera Company with which produced his first opera: A Guest of Honor, and took it on tour. During the tour, the box office proceeds were stolen and the company was forced to abandon the remainder of the tour. The opera was never published and the music was lost. It has never been found. He returned to St. Louis after the tour, and then moved back to Sedalia in 1904. That year Scott married Freddie Alexander. She caught a cold that progressed into pneumonia and died at the age of 20, just 10 weeks after their wedding. Following her funeral, Scott left Sedalia and never returned. 1905 was a very non-productive period for Joplin. Though Joplin’s ballet and opera didn’t spark any interest, his shorter compositions did. The Ragtime waltzes, 2 steps, and Slow Drags were very popular. By 1900 Ragtime was becoming a national craze. Sales of the music of the Maple Leaf Rag exploded! It has been played and recorded more than any other Ragtime piece. His rags are very difficult to play. Therefore the public demanded a simpler form of ragtime music. In response, composers came up with a less complicated and more commercial style. Talented pianists began to play the rags faster and faster, showing off their virtuoso techniques and delighting and exciting the listeners. New York was a large, busy city, where faster and more nervous speeds of musical performance became the norm. The resulting tinny sound is where the name Tin Pan Alley came from. It was the genre of these New York City ragtime musicians. Tin Pan Alley was characterized by an underground, bohemian lifestyle: fast paced and lots of alcohol and drugs. Deaths from drug overdose and syphilis were common. Joplin’s music was meant as a serious genre, not the music of a carnival atmosphere. Therefore his performances were less flashy than those of the virtuoso pianists and he often included these instructions on page 1 of his compositions: “Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play Ragtime fast.” In 1908 he wrote and published an instructional manual consisting of exercises in the correct way to play Ragtime. It’s called School of Ragtime–6 Exercises for Piano. In 1909 Joplin met and married Lottie Stokes. They moved into a house in New York City on W. 47th St., which Lottie ran as a theatrical boarding house, and where Scott gave violin and piano lessons. After a few years they moved to W.138th St. in Harlem. They later moved to W. 131st St. where Lottie rented out rooms to boarders and prostitutes. He gradually performed less frequently, and devoted his time to composing and teaching. Sadly, some of Scott’s friends began deserting him and he was unable to penetrate the circle of black entertainers in Harlem. Amazingly, as Ragtime became the nations favorite music, The King of Ragtime got lost in the shuffle. This period also marked the development of the mechanical player piano—the pianola. These pianos used a paper roll, on which pianists made recordings, which then reproduced their performances on player pianos in homes. This resulted in fewer people purchasing the difficult sheet music of Joplin’s compositions. His 2nd opera, Treemonisha, is a folk opera that takes place on a plantation in Arkansas in 1884. A married couple desires to have a child who they would educate to grow up and teach their people to discard their beliefs in superstition. Their desire comes to fruition and they name her daughter Treemonisha. The opera deals with the birth and rise of a female black leader who leads her people out of ignorance and superstition, teaching the concepts of self-determination and self-government. Joplin worked on Treemonisha for 15 years, creating a thoroughly American opera. He was an optimist with a mission. In 1911 Joplin tried unsuccessfully to find a publisher for Treemonisha. He therefore published it himself and then orchestrated it. It consists of 27 musical numbers. After searching for two years for a backer to produce the opera, the manager of the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem decided to stage it. However, the theatre then changed management, and the new manager decided not to produce it. For 2 more years Scott tried to interest backers. Finally, in 1915 he rented the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem and put on a concert version performance for an invited audience with himself at the piano, with the aim of attracting financial backers. The performance was a failure. No one was interested. The finale: Marching Onward implies that education, hard work, and morality will translate into progress for Americans. Its fundamental message was that education was essential for freedom. However, NewYork’s African American cultural leaders couldn’t identify with its message because they had had excellent formal education; they were not from the South, and knew very little about the oppressive plantation life. Scott was heart broken, and plunged into despair, suffering a breakdown. He was bankrupt, discouraged and worn out. For several weeks he was inconsolable. His wife stated after his death: “He was a great man, a great man! He wanted to be a real leader. He wanted to free his people from poverty and ignorance, and superstition, just like the heroine of his opera Treemonisha. That’s why he was so ambitious; that’s why he tackled major projects. In fact, that’s why he was so far ahead of his time…” At the end of his life Joplin was working on his 1st Symphony. But he began suffering from the effects of syphilis. Sometimes, when he tried to compose, his mind went blank. He would sit at the piano and not be able to remember his own music. A few months before his death he burned most of the manuscripts of his unfinished compositions. He experienced deep depressions, lost his physical coordination, and eventually lost his sanity. In 1917 he was taken to the Manhattan State Hospital for mental illness on Ward’s Island where he died two months later at the young age of 49. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Queens, New York that remained unmarked for 57 years. Then in 1970 Knocky Parker recorded a 2 record set of Joplin’s music for Audiophile Records. That same year Joshua Rifkin recorded an album of Joplin’s piano rags for the Nonesuch classical label. It sold 100,000 copies in its 1st year and became Nonesuch’s 1st million-selling record. Scott Joplin was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1971 the New York Public Library published 2 volumes of Joplin’s music and excerpts from Treemonisha were performed at the Lincoln Center Library with piano accompaniment. In 1972 Robert Shaw conducted the world premiere of Treemonisha with the Atlanta Symphony and singers from Morehouse College. It was 61 years since Joplin had published it. In 1973 Gunther Schuller arranged and conducted an album of Joplin’s rags with the New England Ragtime Ensemble, which won a Grammy award and became Billboard Magazine’s Top Classical Album of 1974. That year London’s Royal Ballet produced a ballet of Joplin’s music called Elite Syncopations and the Los Angeles Ballet produced a ballet of Joplin’s rags entitled Red Back Book. ‘The Sting’ starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1974. Marvin Hamlisch adopted Joplin’s music for its sound track, for which he won an academy award. In 1975 Treemonisha was staged by the Houston Grand Opera, and after going on tour, ran for 8 weeks at the Palace Theatre on Broadway. Soprano Kathleen Battle sang the title role and an original Broadway cast recording was produced. In 1976 Joplin was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize. In 1983 Joplin received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame and his St. Louis home, is now a National Historic Landmark. That year the U.S. Postal Service issued its Scott Joplin stamp.            

Viva Verdi!

Giuseppe Verdi was born in Roncole in northern Italy in 1813. He composed 28 operas. While in his 20s Verdi experienced the death of his 1st wife and the deaths of his infant children. This threw him into a terrible depression. And he refused to continue composing, until he read the libretto of Nabucco. He was twenty-eight when he composed Nabucco.  Its world premiere was at Milan’s La Scala opera house. In Verdi’s day, the country of Italy didn’t yet exist. The Italian peninsula was divided into 10 political units consisting of 2 kingdoms, 3 republics, 4 duchies and a theocracy known as the Vatican. Most of these were dominated by the Austrian Empire. Nabucco broke all box office records at La Scala up until that time. And it was not long before Verdi became a symbol of the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian unification. The Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda wrote: “The cries for liberty it inspired in the Italian people spread from heart to heart like wildfire… Filled with pride, they all began singing Verdi’s melodies. After Nabucco Verdi produced a succession of operas to inspire and encourage the people. He composed always and solely for the people. That is where his greatness lies.” Nabucco is based on a story from the bible. The Jews were taken as prisoners, and led by chains to the foreign land of Babylon. In the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco this scene shows the Jews in captivity in Babylon resting after a long day of forced labor. They lament their unhappy fate as prisoners, singing: Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate… Go, thought, on golden wings… The thought is of their beloved homeland. They sing: “Oh, my country so beautiful and lost!” They yearn for their homeland. To Verdi, the suffering of the biblical Jews was similar to the anguish of the Italians under foreign domination. It is the struggle of an oppressed people for freedom. Dr. Ikeda wrote: “It was as if the Italian people’s own subjugation by another country was mirrored back to them. The opera provided ‘wings of hope’ upon which the hearts of those who aspired for Italy’s freedom could majestically soar.” Verdi’s next opera, I Lombardi created a frenzy. It’s about the Lombards on a crusade to the Holy Land. The tenor sings: ‘The Holy Land today will be ours’, to which the chorus and the audience replied, ‘Yes! War! War!’ Pandemonium broke out in the theatres. The choruses from I Lombardi and Nabucco became popular hymns of the revolt in Lombardy and are still taught as patriotic anthems in the elementary schools of northern Italy. Even today Va Pensiero is thought of as Italy’s second national anthem. At most performances, the audiences demanded that it be repeated, despite police prohibitions against encores! In his opera Attila, which is about Attila the Hun, the audiences were electrified by the line ‘You may have the universe, but leave Italy to me’ This quickly became an anti Austrian slogan. His opera La Battaglia di Legnano is about the battle of Legnano, when Italian cities united to defeat the German invader, Frederick Barbarossa in 1176. It was the first Italian victory over a German emperor. Its world premiere took place in Rome. When Verdi was in Rome for the rehearsals, crowds gathered around him whenever he was spotted on the street. At the dress rehearsal a crowd of people broke into the theatre, packing it full, and called Verdi to the stage 20 times. It was illegal for people to gather publically, but going to the opera offered them a way to defy the authorities. Opera was the main form of entertainment. The house lights were kept on, because during performances, the audience would leave their boxes to socialize with each other. These patriotic operas were a weapon against the occupying forces. At the world premiere of La Battaglia di Legnano, pandemonium broke out when the audience heard the opening chorus: “Long live Italy! A sacred pact unites all its children!” The audience became delirious and came close to starting a riot. La Battaglia di Legnano became so popular that at every performance the entire 4th act had to be repeated. The pope had fled the city and 10 days later the Roman republic was established. However this didn’t last very long, and Verdi expressed his frustration to a close friend: “Let us not talk about Rome!! What good would it do? Force still rules the world! And Justice? What can Justice accomplish against bayonets? We can only weep over our misfortunes and curse those who are responsible for so many disasters…I have an inferno in my heart.” Verdi himself stage directed his operas, demonstrating to the singers how to stand, fall, embrace and address each other throughout a 4-6 week period. He rehearsed the singers and the orchestra and conducted the first three performances of almost all of his 28 operas. He was described at rehearsals: “shouting like a mad man, stamping his feet so much that he looked like he was playing the organ, while sweating profusely. He is music from head to foot, fighting for his own ideals, pouring his artistic genius into those men, those women, searing them with his own flame, which burns him, too; running upstage, and stopping the choristers to correct something.” During these early years, Verdi composed an average of 2 operas per year composing from early morning until midnight, usually with one break! His favorite drink was very strong coffee. Verdi referred to this period in his life as his “years of slavery.” As early as age 31 he announced his decision to retire. And when he was 46, he announced that he was definitely retired. In fact this is how he signed one letter “A deputy of central Italy who was stupid enough to write music for many years. G. Verdi” He also wrote: “I cannot wait for these next three years to pass. I have to write six operas, then addio to everything.” But within 2 ½ years the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia commissioned him to write a new opera and he began composing La Forza del Destino, The Force of Destiny. Verdi was a great symphonist. The Preludes and overtures to his operas are phenomenal. Italians began to use Verdi’s name as a political slogan, which expressed their secret support for a new potential king: Vittorio Emanuele. Vittorio Emanuele King of Italy (in Italian): Vittorio Emanuele Re D’ Italia  (abbreviated): V. E. R. D. I. “VIVA VERDI!” (literally): Long Live Vittorio Emanuele King of Italy! “Viva Verdi!” was scratched on walls and shouted in the streets. Verdi became a member of Italy’s first Parliament. Back to Nabucco! The soprano who sang the world premiere of Nabucco was Giuseppina Strepponi. Before meeting Verdi she had had 3 or 4 illegitimate children from different men. They were given to foster homes, and her “reputation” in the opera world was well known. She and Verdi soon became lovers and lived together for 16 years before marrying. She was 2 years younger than him. They both suffered on and off from depression, and the relationship had its ups and downs. From her diaries, we learn that at times Verdi became very angry with her and with their servants, and was unable to control his bad temper. When he was 59 Verdi began an affair with Teresa Stolz, who was the soprano in many of his operas. She was 21 years younger than Verdi. His wife insisted that he end the affair, but Verdi threatened to kill himself. His wife actually befriended the younger woman, and suffered through the affair for years. Nevertheless, Verdi and his wife spent 54 years together and he outlived her by 3 years. Verdi living with Giuseppina Strepponi in the small town of Busetto, caused quite a scandal, and they were terribly mistreated. To get away from everyone, Verdi purchased a home in the country outside the village of St. Agata. When he was 38, Verdi legally separated himself from his parents. His mother died six months later. That same year, Verdi and Giuseppina moved into their new home, and he gradually built it into a grand country estate surrounded by acres of plants and trees. Verdi employed up to 10 house servants and 18 gardeners, even in the winter! As a landlord he sometimes greatly reduced the rent payments, or did not collect them. He also purchased and operated several farms and employed 200 farm laborers whom he personally supervised! He even supervised the construction of a complex irrigation system for his gardens and fields. Verdi’s wife wrote that “His love for the country has become a mania, madness, rage, fury, everything exaggerated. He gets up almost at dawn, to go look at the wheat, the corn, the grapevines, etc. He comes back dropping with fatigue.” He soon had an abundance of farm animals, and loved the physical labor of gardening, and tramping about in the fields. He marked his career by planting selected trees: a sycamore tree for Rigoletto, an oak for Il Trovatore, and a weeping willow for La Traviata! Verdi sold his operas to his publisher, who then leased the operas to various theatres for each performance, and paid Verdi a percentage of these rental fees. For 25 years Verdi prohibited the performances of his operas at La Scala because he found the standard of performances there to be unacceptable. In fact, he had a clause in his contracts that gave him the right to decide which theatres would be allowed to present his operas. In this letter to a close friend, he complains about the theatre in Naples during rehearsals for Aida. “I knew how disorganized this theatre was, but neither I nor anyone else could have imagined it to be like this. The ignorance, the inertia, the apathy, the disorder, the indifference of everyone to everything, is indescribable, and unbelievable. If I hadn’t been such an imbecile as to give my word…I would have gone off even in the middle of the night, to dig my fields and completely forget about music and theatres.” 
He also frequently complained about the Paris Opera Theatre. He wrote to his French publisher that a performance must have “fire, spirit, muscle, enthusiasm; all these are lacking at the Operà.” And he hated when singers or conductors changed his music. His contracts included a clause that called for the publisher to pay him a huge penalty fee if theatres performed his music with cuts, transpositions, or other changes. In another letter he wrote: “I never succeed in producing those sweet words, those phrases that send everybody into raptures. No, I shall never, for instance, know how to say to a singer, ‘What talent! What expression! It couldn’t have been sung better! What a divine voice! What a baritone, there never has been anything like it for fifty years…What a chorus! What an orchestra!…Time and time again I have heard them say in Milan… ‘La Scala is the world’s leading theatre’. In Naples, ‘The San Carlo is the world’s leading theatre’. In St. Petersburg, ‘the world’s leading theatre’. In Vienna, ‘the world’s leading theatre’ (but in their case, it’s true). In Paris they think the Opéra is the leading theatre of two or three worlds. And I end by saying that one second-leading theatre would be better than all these ‘leading’ ones.” To the father of a young playwright he wrote: “…He should imitate no one…Let him put his hand on his heart, and listen to it. He shouldn’t become conceited by praise nor depressed by criticism. He should not fear the darkness that surrounds him. Let him go straight on, and if sometimes, he stumbles and falls, he must get up, and go straight on.” Once a libretto was completed, Verdi memorized it, and then developed his musical ideas slowly, walking around his farm brooding on it until the concept of the whole fell into place. Then he would quickly write it all down in the heat of inspiration. It didn’t take Verdi long to orchestrate his operas. The music came to him in a complete package, both the vocal and orchestral parts. He said: “The thought presents itself whole…The difficulty is always in writing it down fast enough to express the musical thought in its entirety, precisely as it came into my mind.” As a child Verdi had been an altar boy. One day at church when he was 7, he became distracted by the music and wasn’t paying attention to the priest’s instructions. The priest pushed Verdi, and he fell. Humiliated, the young boy cursed the priest, saying: “May god strike you with lightning!” Eight years later, the priest was struck by lightning and killed. In his old age, Verdi’s advice to a young relative was: “Sta lontan dai pret!” Stay far away from priests! In a letter to his friend, Countess Maffei he wrote: “I don’t raise my hat to counts, marquesses, or to anyone.” Verdi was opposed to the catholic church’s financial and political power, and the priesthood’s abuse of its power. In 1864 the pope issued a document called the Syllabus of Errors in which he listed what he called the 80 “errors of our time”. These included freedom of conscience, religious toleration, freedom of discussion, and freedom of the press. It was a reactionary attack on everything that was progressive in the 19th century. And three years later the pope proclaimed the dogma of the “infallibility of the pope”. This quickly led to the final step in the independence and unification of Italy. It was around this time that Verdi, greatly disturbed by the church’s opposition to Italian unification, composed a 5 hour long opera about the conflict between church and state. Verdi’s Don Carlos is based on Schiller’s play Don Carlos, which takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. Verdi depicts on stage, the tragic burning at the stake of so-called heretics by the church. These unfortunate people were often innocent. There is a scene between King Philip II of Spain and the Grand Inquisitor, who was given power by the pope to decide the fate of these unfortunate people: who would be burned and murdered? Verdi describes this man as being 90 years old and blind. He’s a symbol of the forceful negativity of the church. The Grand Inquisitor is someone who just plows through, unseeing, and uncaring for the idealism of youth, insisting on tradition. Verdi’s musical characterization of him is incredible. You feel the tremendous weight of the church. After the king’s son, Don Carlos, threatened to stab his father, the king has him arrested, and asks the GI what he thinks about having his own son murdered. This is so shocking. Yet, the Grand Inquisitor gives him justification saying: “god sacrificed his only son.” Verdi’s wife commented on his anticlergy attitude and refusal to believe in god or any higher power. “I won’t say he is an ‘atheist’, but certainly a very doubtful believer.” When Countess Maffei’s lover died, he wrote her a month later: “There are no words that can bring comfort during this kind of misfortune…Something else is needed. You will find comfort only in the strength of your soul and in the firmness of your mind.” Verdi’s gods were Dante and Shakespeare, and his saint was Manzoni, whose novel I promessi sposi was a milestone in unifying the Italian language and a symbol of the Risorgimento. His enemies were hypocrisy, mediocrity, pretentiousness, and the priests. He wrote to his protégé, Emanuele Muzio: “Respect yourself and make others respect you: never a moment of weakness: treat men of the highest rank just as you treat those of the lowest: don’t favor anyone; don’t have likes and dislikes; and don’t be afraid to swear occasionally.” During the wars of Italian independence, Verdi launched an appeal for contributions “to help the wounded and the poor families of those who died for our country.” And in the spring of 1879, when the Po river flooded the provinces of Piacenza, Parma, Mantua and Ferrara, Verdi wrote: “This winter there will be famine and people dying of hunger…At the same time the government is thinking of raising taxes…It really is a slap in the face.” Verdi organized a relief concert for the flood victims at La Scala where he conducted his Requiem. Because there was no hospital near Verdi’s estate, he decided to buy a parcel of land, and personally financed the construction of a hospital for his 200 farm laborers and their families. The mayor wanted to name it after Verdi, but he refused, and insisted that the only word inscribed on the façade should be “Hospital” Ospedale. After his death his name was added to the building’s facade. Verdi personally supervised the construction and paid the workers himself every Saturday. Verdi kept two copies of Shakespeare’s works next to his bed, and created 3 operas from Shakespeare’s plays: Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff, which is based on the Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. He also wanted to write operas based on Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear, but never did. When he was 74, Verdi decided to compose Otello with Arrigo Boito as librettist. After Boito completed the libretto, Verdi began composing Otello, but then stopped. His wife, his publisher, and the director of La Scala, all tried to get him to continue. But Verdi was completely engrossed in farming and wrote that he was “surrounded by cows, oxen, horses, working like a peasant, bricklayer, carpenter…master stonemason, and blacksmith” repairing many of the tenant houses and building new ones. He wrote that he had “said goodbye to books and music” And he completely forgot about composing Otello! His protégé, Muzio, told him that he ought to finish the opera, and that it was a great way to cover the expense of the hospital he wanted to build, and even of providing it with an endowment. That’s what got him to continue composing Otello! Verdi wrote: “When I am alone and am wrestling with my notes, then my heart pounds, tears stream from my eyes, and the emotions and joys are beyond description.” One of his conditions for the world premiere of Otello at La Scala was that the poster advertising Otello would not indicate the date of the first performance! He had the right to cancel it even after the dress rehearsal, if he was not pleased with the rehearsals. And if anyone attempted to produce the opera, his publisher would have to pay him a fine of 100,000 lire! When rehearsing with one of his singers he said: “I’ll never stop urging you to study closely the dramatic situation and the words; the music will come by itself. In a word, I would be happier if you served the poet rather than the composer…Keep the dramatic situation well in mind.” During his lifetime, it was said that Verdi had begun imitating Wagner, a remark that he hated, and denied. He did admire Wagner’s music, however, and had this to say about Tristan und Isolde: “I still cannot quite comprehend that that it was conceived and written by a human being. I consider the second act to be one of the finest creations that ever issued from a human mind. This second act is wonderful, wonderful…quite wonderful!” Verdi’s opera, Aida, was written for a commission from Egypt and had its premiere in Cairo. It was the first opera Toscanini ever conducted, in 1886. He knew Verdi personally, and received the composer’s praise for his interpretation of his music. At the end of his life Verdi bought a piece of land in Milan and financed the construction of a Rest Home for Old Musicians. Its capacity is for 100 residents. He wanted to provide a place where professional instrumentalists and singers would be able to live out their sunset years with great dignity. After composing 28 operas and other compositions, he said that his most beautiful work was the Rest Home. Verdi died in 1901, at the age of 87. One month before his death, he arranged for all of his compositions from his youth to be burned! At his death Verdi’s net worth was approximately 35 million dollars. In his will, he left money to day care centers, the childrens’ rickets hospitals, and the hospitals for the deaf, mute, and blind of Genoa. He left money to each of his servants. He left 9 farms to his hospital, and stipulated that part of the income from these farms was to go to the nursery school in Cortemaggiore. The hospital was also to give money to 100 poor people in Villanova each year, and each year give money to 50 poor people in Roncole, the town of his birth. To the Rest Home he left money, stocks, bonds, and his author’s rights and global royalties from all his operas. As a result, I am delighted to say that over 100 years later, these two institutions are still functioning. The will also included his strong wish to be buried with his wife in the chapel of the Rest Home. Several weeks after his death, a quarter of a million people lined the black-draped streets of Milan as his coffin was transferred from the cemetery to the Verdi Rest Home. Daisaku Ikeda wrote: “In later years, he is said to have remarked, ‘I am nothing but a peasant.’ And it was with this recognition of being from humble origins that, as a friend of the people, Verdi devoted his life to composing operas out of his love for music and his love for Italy.”                      

PAUL ROBESON, singer, activist, lawyer, scholar, actor, athlete

“The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I have no alternative.”   Paul Robeson was born in Princeton, N.J. in 1898, the son of a slave. He attended Rutgers University on scholarship, where he was the only black student enrolled. He won the debate team contests every year and was awarded fifteen varsity letters in four sports. He was the star of the football team and valedictorian of his class. While at Columbia University’s Law School he played professional football and basketball to help pay for his expenses. After earning his law degree he began working at a law firm, immediately experienced racism, and quickly realized that there were limitations on how far he would be able to advance in the field of law. He therefore decided not to practice law and became enormously successful internationally as a concert singer and as an actor on stage and in films. His portrayal of Shakespeare’s Othello in the U.S. and Great Britain was legendary. After starring in fifteen movies he renounced further film acting in 1942 because of the movie studios’ stereotyped portrayal of black characters common in that era. He was especially popular in Great Britain where he lived in the 1930s and befriended the future leaders of Nigeria, (Nnamdi Azikiwe), Kenya (Jomo Kenyatta), Ghana (Kwame Nkrumah), and India (Jawaharlal Nehru). He was a very outspoken advocate for Indian independence and for the freedom of the African nations then under colonial rule. Robeson also fought for equal rights for the Māori people of New Zealand and the Aborigines of Australia. Robeson was fluent in 14 languages and recorded approximately 300 songs. Although he sang in many languages he decided against singing opera and European classical art songs because they weren’t connected to his heritage. He was the first artist to perform entire concerts comprised of Negro Spirituals. Robeson lived in solidarity with the working peoples of the world, and consistently visited, sang, and spoke to factory workers, miners, construction workers, and members of many other blue-collar labor industries. Robeson greatly encouraged the formation and strengthening of trade unions across the U.S. He fought for justice in solidarity with African Americans and with the people of Africa and its diaspora. At a meeting with President Truman at the White House in 1946 he implored Truman to urge Congress to immediately enact an anti-lynching bill. Truman refused. As of June 2, 2020 lynching is still NOT a federal crime.* Widely speaking out for independence, freedom, and equality for all people he believed that artists should use their talents, exposure, and celebrity to aid causes for justice throughout the world. In 1938 to assist victims of the Spanish Civil War he sang for the Spanish Loyalists including for wounded hospitalized soldiers and even at the battlefront to boost their morale. He often wrote and spoke about the inhumane treatment of blacks in the South calling out the U.S. government’s actions as fascist. In 1950 the State Department canceled Robeson’s passport for eight years because he consistently criticized the U.S. government for its racial policies and spoke out for the end of colonial rule in Africa. The distribution of his recordings and films ceased. He was kept off the radio and had great difficulty finding venues for his concerts. In 1958 his passport was re-issued after eight years, when the Supreme Court ruled that the State Department could not deny citizens the right to travel because of their political beliefs or affiliations. In 1956 he was called to appear before Congress’s House Un-American Activities Committee. Robeson invoked the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer questions about his political affiliations. This is a fascinating audio recording from that hearing. His son was convinced that in 1961 three weeks before The Bay of Pigs Invasion, as Robeson was preparing to meet with Fidel Castro in Cuba the C.I.A. in cooperation with Britain’s M15 poisoned his father to “neutralize” him through the secret C.I.A. mind control program, MKUltra. Subsequently, Robeson experienced hallucinations, and extreme depression and paranoia. He attempted suicide more than once. For the next two years, he was in and out of hospitals and sanitariums in Russia, East Berlin, London, and New York during which time he was simultaneously given an incredible quantity of drugs and fifty-four electro-shock treatments. The result was that he never fully recovered and spent the next fourteen years withdrawn from public life until his death in 1976. His numerous honors include four streets being named after him in New York City, Princeton, Somerville, and New Brunswick, New Jersey. The U.S. Postal Service issued a Paul Robeson stamp. A mountain in Kazakstan bears his name. He is largely ignored in American textbooks. This is a recording Robeson made of the song, “Joe Hill” about a union organizer and songwriter. In 1914 he was accused of murder, and executed in 1915, even though many people believed he was innocent. His songs are still an inspiration for all kinds of workers. Joe Hill *The law making lynching a federal crime finally came into being in 2022.