Berg, Rubinstein, Arrau 2018

Berg, Rubinstein, Arrau 2018

February 5, 2018.  Berg and two pianists.  Alban Berg, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, was born on February 9th of 1885.  A year ago, we posted a detailed entry about him, so this time we’ll just play some of his music.  Berg wrote the Lyric Suite in 1925/26 using the 12-tone Alban Bergtechnique following his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg’s theories, and dedicated it to Alexander von Zemlinsky.  Here is the first movement of the Suite, Allegretto gioviale, and here – the second, Andante amoroso, lyrical indeed, despite its 12-tone origin.  They are performed by the Alban Berg Quartett.

As no other significant composers were born this week (unless you’re fond of the music of Gretry), we’ll turn to the instrumentalists.   A week ago was the birthday of Arthur Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.  Rubinstein life is legendary, both musically and socially; he dominated the music scene for more than 80 years.  A small blurb would never do it justice, so we’ll have to start today and continue at a later date.  Rubinstein was born on January 28th of 1887 in Łódź, in the part of Poland that back then belonged to the Russian Empire.  His Jewish parents owned a small textile factory.  Rubinstein was a child prodigy if ever there was one: at the age of three he was taken to Berlin to play for Joseph Joachim, the famous violinist and Brahms’s collaborator, who listen to him and declared that the boy may become a great musician.  He played his first concert in Łódź at the age of seven, and made his Berlin debut in 1900, playing Mozart’s Piano concerto no. 23, Saint-Saëns’s Piano concerto no. 2 and pieces by Schumann and Chopin (Joahim conducted the orchestra).  He started playing regular concerts in Poland and Germany, and in 1904 moved to Paris.  There, he became friends with many musicians: the violinist Jacques Thibaud, composers Maurice Ravel, Paul Dukas and another Pole, Karol Szymanowski.   Two years later, in 1906, he made his American debut at the Carnegie Hall, playing with the Philadelphia orchestra.  (He would play his last Carnegie Hall concert 70 years later, at the age of 89).   

At that time, Rubinstein was leading a very active social life, he was spending much time chasing women (although some would say that they were chasing him) and not studying enough.  He didn’t have a regular piano teacher; many of his concerts were carried by his natural talent and enthusiasm but were under-prepared.  The New York critics noticed it and his Carnegie Hall debut received rather mixed reviews.  By 1908 he was back in Berlin having big financial problems and desperate.  He even attempted suicide, half-heartedly it seems.  That was a cathartic event, as he was, in his own words, “reborn.”  In 1912 Rubinstein made his London debut and settled in Chelsey.  He became friends with two American expats, Muriel and Paul Draper, whose Chelsea salon was a center of London music life.  There he met Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Monteux, Pablo Casals and many other musicians.  He stayed in London during the Great War; very much anti-German by then, he played his last concert in Germany in 1914.

Rubinstein had a very large repertoire and is known as probably the best interpreter ever of the music of Chopin.  It’s a revelation to listen to his interpretations of the same piece recorded during the different phases of his career.  Here’s Chopin’s Nocturne Op.9 No.2 in it’s perfect simplicity.  The recording was made in 1965, when Rubinstein was 78.

Another pianist was born this week and we’d like to at least mention him (we’ll write about him at another date).  Claudio Arrau, also one of the greatest, was born in Chillán, Chile, on February 6th of 1903.