All-round musical greatness
Can we no longer tolerate the 'great all-round' musician within the
professional sphere? It could be a feature of our current age of
specialization that anyone who appears on the concert platform in more than
two roles is suspected of treating the musical profession with a flippancy
that is not forgivable. Appearing in a dual capacity, when the later one
is that of conductor, and the earlier an acknowledged distinction as a
pianist, is perhaps the most acceptable. Other instrumentalists frequently
graduate to the conducting rostrum also, though former guitarists (like
Berlioz) and singers (like Domingo) are rare. Some conductors appear in
public as keyboard accompanists, a part many of them constantly play
exceedingly well in private rehearsal. Beyond that, however, there seems
to be little space on the platform. A composer, for instance, who is a
proficient conductor and who appears publically as a pianist, violinist,
cellist and organist, is unlikely now to be taken seriously -- even if there
is no discernible flaw in any of the accomplishments.
George Enescu was
such a musician. He was one of the world's finest violinists alongside
Kreisler and Heifetz; a pianist whose technique was the envy of Alfred
Cortot; a cellist and organist; a conductor brilliant enough to have been
considered to succeed Toscanini with the New York Philharmonic; a phenomenal
musical memory (he memorized Ravel's sonata after one read-through from the
manuscript, and sang the part of Wotan from the podium at a rehearsal of
Siegfried, Act 3 when the bass had been taken ill). He taught Menuhin,
Grumiaux and Gitlis among others. And he was the composer of an opera
(Oedipe), five symphonies (of which two involved chorus), many chamber works
and songs. He died in 1955, in poverty, in a one-room Paris flat.
The English musician York Bowen was regarded as a pianist 'of remarkable
brilliance' in the 1920s, appearing in public as a horn and viola player, as
a conductor, and at the Promenade Concerts as soloist in his own piano
concertos. His 24 Preludes Op 102 were considered the finest solo piano
pieces ever written by an Englishman. The Scotsman William Vincent Wallace
toured the world in the mid-nineteenth century, and was heard in Australia as a
composer and conductor, and frequently performed his own violin and piano
concertos in the same programme.
Contemporary specialism has deprived us of our 'great all-rounders'.
Copyright © 17 August 2004 Patric Standford,
From: Robert Jordahl, USA
Patric Standford's recent article on musical greatness calls to mind such American wunderkind as Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn. It seems that we've always had composers who were equally at home on the podium - think of Mahler and Stravinsky.