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Book Title: Erinnerungen. Die frühen Jahre.|
The author of the book: Arthur Rubinstein
Edition: Fischer (Tb.), Frankfurt
Date of issue: September 1st 1997
Loaded: 2574 times
Reader ratings: 6.5
ISBN 13: 9783596139484
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 529 KB
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Arthur Rubinstein was the Wilt Chamberlain of classical pianists. Apparently he would have sex with any moderately attractive female. And the reader is never left to wonder whether any female he meets is attractive or ugly; everyone in his range is subjected to the "hot or not" treatment.
Rubinstein begins his active love life having an affair with the wife of the couple he boards with. (He has essentially made himself independent of his family who are back in Lodz, Poland while he studies in other nations.) I wasn't clear on how old he was when this affair started - 14? 15? 16? In another anecdote, Rubinstein goes to the Folies Bergère and ends up in a room having sex acts performed upon him by not one but two of the lovely staffers. At the end of the event - surprise, surprise - he is presented with a bill that is much higher than he expected and has to leave some beautiful gem-encrusted cufflinks that he was given in England by a wealthy sponsor as collateral. Another time, while concertizing in Spain, he meets a sad Spanish woman, recently widowed, on a park bench at night. She emits her tragic tale of the death of her husband, he briefly commiserates, and suddenly they are having sex on the bench. The longest relationship of this memoir is with the pseudonymously named Pola Harman, a young married mother of two and the sister of one of his best friends, the pseudonymously named composer and conductor Frederick Harman. (Their real life names, I have since learned, were Julius Wertheim and Lily Wertheim.) At first he and Pola just sneak around. Then her entire family finds out about the affair and becomes alienated from her, keeping the children. For several years Pola lives with Rubinstein, her children very far away. Sometimes she gallivants with him on his concert tours, sometimes she stays at home alone. Now, obviously Pola was an adult, responsible for making her own decisions, but what kind of person implicitly asks or expects a mother to abandon her children for the sake of a multi-year love affair?
One of the oddest bits of Rubinstein's early years doesn't even merit a mention in the memoir. He befriended an American couple in London, Paul and Muriel Draper (Muriel was the sister-in-law of famed interior decorator Dorothy Draper). Paul was a singer of lieder and Muriel created a salon in her London home frequented by musicians, artists, and writers - John Singer Sargent and Henry James were among its attendees. Muriel "had a fine, graceful figure, a pale, silky complexion, and remarkably beautiful hands. But her face was disquieting: her narrow, long head, topped by hair that she kept closely under a net, her high cheekbones, her short, slightly flat nose, and exuberantly large mouth with thick red lips made her look like a white Negress." Soon Muriel and Arthur are having an affair (unbeknownst to Pola, who waits alone for Arthur). And one day Muriel announces she is pregnant. Eventually Arthur meets the baby, "which looked like any other baby". "His name is Smudge," she announced. (I have never known his real name.)" According to sources which are not this book, "Smudge" was Rubinstein's son; his name was Raimund Sanders Draper. He was killed during World War II, deliberately crashing his plane in order to avoid hitting a school. Did Rubinstein really not know "Smudge" was his son? Did it occur to him at least that he might be, given that he was sleeping with Muriel at the time she became pregnant? I guess I'll have to read the sequel to find out.
(This memoir only covers his childhood in Lodz up to about the middle of the First World War. He's still a bachelor when we say au revoir.)
The other thing that makes young Rubinstein unlikable is that in addition to being a horndog he was an incurable bon vivant who found it nearly impossible to economize. This was fine as long as his aristocratic friends and sponsors, of which there were many, were footing his bills or advancing him money. These were times filled with lobster, caviar, and champagne dinners, nighttime entertainments, and gambling. But when these friends weren't around, Rubinstein would descend into abject poverty. (His Polish family was solidly bourgeois until his father was ruined by a serious business downturn, so they were rarely able to help him with money.)
One thing I will sympathize with him on is the need for artists not to give away their talent as if it is charity. The wealthy and/or aristocrats would often attempt to have Rubinstein play at their gatherings or soirees without paying him, and he resented it unless it was a group of his close friends. In America, both Mrs. W.K. (Birdie) Vanderbilt and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, of all people, stiffed Rubinstein after he had played ("professionally") at their parties. And Pablo Casals, with whom Rubinstein played a concert in London, never gave him his cut of the proceeds.
As you would expect with a memoir of a rising artist of enormous talent from the early 20th century, the cast of characters is incredible. The composer Karol Szymanowski was one of Rubinstein's closest friends. (Oddly, though Szymanowski was gay in real life, in the memoir he seems to be heterosexual.) Rubinstein was friends with Pablo Casals and the great violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. Paderewski hosted the very young Rubinstein at his estate. Maurice Ravel and Camille Saint-Saëns came to hear him play. At Muriel Draper's salon he met John Singer Sargent, Henry James, and the writer Norman Douglas. Proust attended one of his concerts. Busoni attended another. While vacationing in Italy at the home of Mabel Dodge he met John Reed and Gertrude Stein. Modest Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich's brother, was a friend who helped him procure concert engagements. Rubinstein had a long conversation about The Rite of Spring with Stravinsky after hearing it performed for the first time. (Stravinsky didn't know Rubinstein was a pianist, he just thought he was a random man very interested in music.) He came to know Sergei Diaghilev, and one day ran into Picasso. Baron George Curzon hosted him at his estate. He saw Maxim Gorky at a cafe one day. And oddest of all, one day in St. Petersburg he saw a dirty, bedraggled man sitting in a room surrounded by acolytes, whom he later realized was Rasputin.
In spite of the occasional moments of seriousness, such as a failed suicide attempt (because he had no money to pay his bills) and his hunger in Paris during the First World War (which didn't last long as he quickly acquired new aristocratic sponsors), the overall tone of the narrative is very light-hearted, superficial, and self-serving. I found it rather off-putting. It's hard to tell how much is truth and how much tonal embellishment. Of most interest to me were the passages where he talks about specific pieces of music, or approaches to playing. The world was very lucky to have Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist and musician.
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Read information about the authorArtur Rubinstein was a Polish pianist who is widely considered as one of the greatest piano virtuosos of the 20th Century. He received international acclaim for his performances of Frédéric Chopin and Johannes Brahms and his championing of Spanish music.
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