Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Artur Rubinstein - Did he Wear a Sombrero??

Longevity, coupled with genius - an unconquerable combination in the arts.
Try to imagine a career which lasted almost eighty years, his having performed publicly for the first time at around age eight. Very few people knew that during the last performing years he was essentially blind, with no frontal sight. He could see the piano only from the outer edges. But his sense of keyboard location was so ingrained, that he could perform as well as always - I have a video of his playing some Brahms and Schubert during that period of veritable blindness. He was a man of such incredible will that he simply decided that in his early nineties he would stop performing, as it was becoming increasingly ' inconvenient' for him.
During those retirement years, he was simply re-born, traveling widely, and continuing to play here and there. I have a piece of film showing him visiting the Chopin piano in Poland, bending over from a standing position, and playing the same keys that the fabled nineteenth century composer had played - and with some tears.
I also remember seeing some home movies taken of the ninety -plus year old visiting Mexico, sitting at a table with his favorite short cigar and a cup of coffee, engaged in deep conversation with some friends, and wearing a sombrero.
My favorite statement coming from this man was about Horowitz, after Horowitz never showed up for a luncheon date - "a great pianist, but not a great musician."
I would imagine that there was a bit of rancor about Horowitz, especially after having been a victim of that aborted lunch date. To my knowledge, the two never spoke to one another after that incident.
My enjoyment in writing about Artur Rubinstein will never wane.



Blogger Corgihound said...

I enjoyed your musings about Arthur Rubinstein! (I'd love to see the photo of Senor Rubinstein wearing a sombrero!) I think, however, the story about Rubinstein's and Adolph Hitler's birth year is, probably, somewhat apocryphal. Rubinstein was born in 1887, Hitler in 1889! I know that Rubinstein, from an early age, played "games" regarding his birth year, with 1889 often cited. He used this age to help him avoid the Russian military draft (since Poland was under Russian dominion). Also, as a young prodigy, its always helpful to appear to be younger than you actually are! In his autobiographies, he cites 1887 and other historical data corroborates this date!

There are so many other anecdotes misattributed to Rubinstein. The story of Albert Einstein playing violin with AR at the piano, with the perplexed pianist admonishing the great physicist/mathematician by saying "Can't you count!," by other accounts, occured with the pianist Godowsky, a very good friend of Einstein. (Rubinstein did meet Einstein once, at a special benefit.) And who really knows if the oft-repeated story about a tourist asking AR how to get to Carnegie Hall ("Practice, practice, practice!") is really true. Still, a lot of fun, I agree...

Again, thanks for your interesting thoughts about this great pianist who I also admire greatly!

Best Regards,

Jonathan Cahill

September 3, 2009 at 10:03 AM  

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