Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Lessons of the Masters

As we approach the official publication date of Tully Potter's long-awaited life and times of Adolf Busch, here are two short extracts which demonstrate how Adolf and his brother Fritz were willing to learn from others. First, we join the brothers in Pyrmont:

More progress in broadening and deepening his repertoire was made that summer, when Fritz had a second season as Pyrmont Hofkapellmeister and Adolf again agreed to be his concertmaster. This time there was no chance of reinforcing the moth-eaten orchestra with young, unpaid students; worse, there was little music of good quality for the ‘court musicians’ to play. Chamber music came to the rescue. […] Fritz also arranged a small Schumann Festival, at which Adolf performed the Fantasy and the renowned tenor and reciter Ludwig Wüllner took part with his sister Anna in Manfred: the chorus was provided by visitors to the baths, augmented by the local male-voice choir. After the morning rehearsal, Fritz asked Wüllner for his comments and was told: ‘Young man, you are doubtless gifted but you have not the slightest idea what lies behind the notes of this magnificent work. The spirit, the true beauty of this music is a completely dead letter to you, and I am afraid you will never grasp it, as you are much too conceited’. That afternoon Wüllner gave Fritz a three-hour tutorial in the interpretation of Schumann’s music; and the evening concert was an experience neither of the Busch brothers ever forgot.

Most of the time, the musicians were expected to grind out selections from operettas by men such as Paul Lincke, the particular local favourite. Fortunately the chief director of Simrock, publisher of Brahms and Dvořák, was taking the waters at Pyrmont. When he heard of Fritz’s plight, he sent for the scores and parts of all Dvořák’s available orchestral works and made the young Kapellmeister a present of them. The Busch brothers already liked the Bohemian composer’s music but this chance happening led to a lasting love for it: they played it ad infinitum that summer of 1910, until the regular clientele began to complain and Kurt von Beckerath ordered Fritz to lay Dvořák aside and give the customers their usual fare. Adolf then suggested the ingenious ploy of announcing Lincke’s music on the programmes but playing Dvořák’s. All went well until Lincke, who unbeknown to the brothers had been taking the cure at Pyrmont, presented himself to Fritz and complained that he kept seeing his own name on the programme and hearing the strains of Dvořák. Adolf made a strategic exit, leaving Fritz to pacify the angry composer by suggesting a special series of Lincke evenings in the park, to be conducted by the composer himself with red illuminations; there would also be Lincke pieces in the morning concerts – which Fritz did not conduct. Thus honour was satisfied on both sides and the brothers could go back to their lodgings to play Beethoven and Bach sonatas.

A little over a year later, Adolf Busch found himself playing in New York with the great maestro, Toscanini:

Then came the most demanding test, Busch’s first concert with the Philharmonic-Symphony of New York under Toscanini, at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, 26 November. The programme would seem curious today: Mozart, Symphony No. 29; Bach, A minor Violin Concerto; Franck, ‘Morceau symphonique’ from Rédemption; interval; Beethoven; Violin Concerto; Overture, Der fliegende Holländer. During a run-through of the concertos at the Astor with Giesen at the piano, an amicable argument arose over a detail in the Bach, as Piero Weiss related:

In the last movement there was a grace note that Busch interpreted as a long grace note. Toscanini disagreed and wanted him to play an acciaccatura, not an appoggiatura – short, not long. Years later, Busch came to him and said: ‘Maestro, you were right about that note in the Bach Concerto, because I was just the other day reading Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s treatise on keyboard playing and there he quoted a passage that was exactly the same’. Toscanini said: ‘Mio caro Busch, either you feel it here’ – touching his heart – ‘or you need to read a lot of books’.

It appears that, at the concert, Busch played the disputed note Toscanini’s way. After the conductor had taken his final bow, green, pink and yellow slips of paper rained down from the top gallery, bearing the legend: ‘Long live the great Maestro Arturo Toscanini! Mussolini and his Black Shirts do not represent the spirit of Italy. Viva Arturo Toscanini!’ But Busch had his share of the evening’s ovations and cabled home: ‘Greatest success. Wonderful music-making. Maestro happy with me’. Fritz in Dresden received a similar telegram, signed by Toscanini and Kreisler – one of many string-players present. The programme was repeated on the Friday afternoon; but before then Busch had read some of the best notices of his life.

The two-volume set of Adolf Busch: the Life of an Honest Musician by Tully Potter is available from wherever good music books are sold.

No comments: