SCORES TO SETTLE is a collection of Stories of the Struggle to Create Great Music by Norman Gilliland. There are 365 stories about colorful moments in Musical History, some of these composers and performers telling them in their own voice.
I thank Mrs. Sallee De Paz for giving me this book and truly enjoying every page of it. I would like to share them therefore in this blog and hope I can share all the 365 wonderful stories in them. Enjoy!
DEPEND ON YOURSELF 0326
He was determined and innovative and, at twenty-two, California-born Henry Cowell was also trying to establish his musical reputation. His mentor, John Varian, who was quite a nonconformist himself, advised young Cowell that “you will have to depend on yourself and very few other musicians to develop your music … you will have to forget the public and their demands altogether and only write to your best ideas.”
It was the summer of 1919 and Cowell the innovator took some of his music to an unlikely appraiser, the famous neo-romantic pianist and composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, who had just moved to Menlo Park. Cowell took a stack of manuscripts to Rachmaninoff’s house, but the Russian, once described as a six-foot scowl, opted to look ast just one of them. It was a piece called “Fleeting” that, more than any of Cowell’s other pieces, resembled Rachmaninoff’s own style.
Cowell recalled later that Rachmaninoff “looked at it intently with no comment for two hours, upon which he marked tiny red circles around forty-two notes, saying, ‘You have forty-two wrong notes’.” Seeing that the young composer was taken aback by the criticism, Rachmaninoff added, “I too have sinned with wrong notes in my youth, and therefore you may be forgiven.”
Cowell asked what was wrong with those forty-two notes. Rachmaninoff informed him that they “were not within the rules of harmony”.
Cowell asked if composers still needed to feel bound by those rules, to which Rachmaninoff replied, “Oh yes. Those are divine rules.”
Cowell spent the rest of 1919 working out a new set of rules, the result being a slender book called New Musical Resouces. When he finally got it published, sales of the book fizzled; and yet it went on to be considered one of the most influential books on composing written during the twentieth century.
Having heard the news of Abraham Lincoln’s death, Louis Moreau Gottschalk and some of his fellow passengers en route to San Francisco came to terms with the loss. He wrote in his journal in 1865:
We are to have a meeting on board to give official expression to the sentiments of grief, which, with merely two or three exceptions are felt by all the passengers. I have said with merely one or two exceptions, because a lady whose opinions are Secessionist, has pushed her forgetfulness of the respect due tohumanity so far as to qualify the assassination of Lincoln as a judgment from God; and one or two other female parrots ( a species of female dolls, who are dying for sorrow in not having put on their last new dress), who are exclaiming, with philosophic profundity, that “Lincoln would have had to die sooner or later!”
Where now are those frivolous judgments on the man whome we are weeping for today? His ugliness, his awkwardness, his jokes, with which we reporoaced him: all have disappeared in presence of the majesty of death. His greatness, his honesty, the purity of that great heart which beats no longer, rise up today and in their resplendent radiance transfigure him who we called the “common rail splitter”.
O Eternal Power of the true and beautiful! Yesterday his detractors were ridiculing his large hands without gloves, his large feet, his bluntness; today this type we found grotesque appears to us on the threshold of immortality, and we understand by the universality of our grief what future generations will see in him.
After the meeting, the Italian singers who are on board sing the Hymn of the Republic, which I accompany on the piano, Miss Adelaide Phillips sings with electric feeling the patriotic song “The Star Spangled Banner”. I play my piece, Union. The enthusiasm aroused is without doubt less owing to our music than to the actual circumstances.
EVEN ONE NOTE 0623
It wasn’t that Pablo Casals was always kind. After all, the fiery-tempered Spaniard had once published a double-dealing manager with some rough turns in a revolving door. But when it came to judging students, the celebrated cellist could be gentle almost to a fault.
In the late 1920s he was staying at the Berlin home of Francesco von Mendelssohn, a distant relative of composer Felix Mendelssohn, who invited up-and-coming cellist Gregor Piatigorsky to come over and meet Casals and another guest, the young pianist, Rudolf Serkin.
Casals said that he always enjoyed meeting young, talented musicians. He wanted to hear Piatigorsky and Serkin play. The two twenty-something musicians were nervous enough as it was, but being asked to perform together for the great Casals when they had just met made them all the more ill-at-ease. With reluctance they took on Beethoven’s Sonata in D.
Somewhere in the middle of it, they gave up.
“Bravo!” cried Casals, clapping.
Then they played Schumann’s cello concerto and some things by Bach, both badly.
Casals embraced Piatigorsky, “Splendid, Magnifique!”
Piatigorsky left confused, wondering why such bad playing had elicited apparently sincere praise from Casals.
Several years later, Piatigorsky met Casals in Paris. They played cello duets long into the night, and, feeling relaxed, Piatigorsky reminded Casals of his praise for the bad playing in Berlin.
Now the Casals temper came out. He snatched up his cello and played a phrase from the Beethoven sonata. “Didn’t you play this fingering? Ah, you did! It was novel to me … it was good … and here didn’t you attack that passage with up-bow, like this?” He went on to point out what he liked about everything Piatigorsky had played that night.
“Leave it to the ignorant and stupid who judge by counting only the faults, “ he said. “I can be grateful, and so must you be, for even one note, one wonderful phrase.”
THE IMPOVERISHED ROMANTIC 0624
Felicien David is remembered as one of France’s great romantic composers. At the age of twenty-one, he already had a strong sense of romanticism and the hardships that came with trying to make a living from it.
In 1831 David was writing a comic opera but his financial situation was no laughing matter. He had just lost the financial support of his uncle and was penniless in Paris. David managed to find a few students in harmony and piano, and fell in love with one of them, which left him “dreaming, timid, wondering, and more than a little confused”, according to a friend.
David longed for the recognition that would come with winning the prestigious Prix de Rome, but didn’t apply for it because he feared the loss of self-esteem that would come with the failure he thought inevitable, given the back room scheming that affected the outcome of the competition.
When he began to lose pupils, David expressed his romanticism in a worried but light-hearted letter to his sister and brother-in-law:
Unless my luck gets better, I’ll be as naked as a rat at the morgue. For some reason my mind has been rather fallow of late, maybe because of my persistent piano practicing. I’m working on some piano pieces - not sonatas- that term is too old. You understand that I’m a romantic. That’s what everyone tells me, even my teachers. Entre nous, it’s true. I have little patience with theory. I’d be delighted to be romantic like Beethoven, and Weber – new and original. That’s where my romanticism is. I hope it won’t detract from my severe principles. You would marvel at my chin – dark with a black beard. It’s the secret emblem of the romantic – or at least those who intend to be so.
Felicien David would go on to make a comfortable living as one of France’s great romantic composers.
SHIFTING ALLEGIANCE 0625
Although he was born in Glasgow of an English mother, Eugene d’Albert never considered himself an Englishman. His father, who was a ballet master in London’s King’s Theatre anad a Covent Garden, was German-born, but was of French and Italian descent, and had among his forbears two 18th-century composers, Giuseppe Matteo Alberti and Domenico Alberti.
If young d’Albert had a constant in his life, it was probably music. His first teacher was his father, who apparently was quite effective, because at the age of twelve the boy won a scholarship to the new National Training School for Music, where he became well-known not just as a bravura pianist, but also as a capable composer, and by the age of seventeen he was credited with writing the overture to Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Patience.
During the same year 1881, d’Albert won a scholarship that enabled him to study in Europe, where he made the acquaintance of Liszt and Brahms. Under the spell of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, he moved to Germany and changed his name from Eugene to Eugen. He said that one hearing of Wagner’s opera had taught him more than everything he had learned from his father or the National Training School of Music.
A year later, at eighteen, he became the youngest soloist to perform with the Vienna Philharmonic when he played his own piano concerto. After years of International touring, d’Albert devoted more and more time to composing, and produced a total of twenty-one operas, the seventh of which, Tiefland, found a permanent place in the repertory.
In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, d’Albert’s lonstanding favoritism toward Germany made him a controversial figure in England, and he later softened some of his statements, saying with a curiously foreign syntax, “The former prejudice which I had against England, which several incidents aroused, has completely vanished since many years”.
Eugen d’Albert’s personal allegiance also tended to drift. In 1932, having long since become a Swiss citizen, he died in Riga, Latvia, where he had gone to divorce his sixth wife.
A SUMMER PRANK 0626
Muzio Clementi was one of the most diverse musicians of his time. He was a celebrated pianist. He manufactured and sold pianos. He was a major composer. He was a publisher. And if one account is true, Clementi was also focused to a fault.
In his memoirs, oboist William Parke wrote of a hot summer day in 1796 and an outing during which Clementi and a cellist named John Crosdill went swimming while visiting the estate of the Earl of Pembroke. Hearing of Clementi’s absent-mindedness, Crosdill decided to test it. While Clementi continued to swim, Crosdill sneaked off with his shirt and took it into the house and let Lord Pembroke in on the joke. Parke continues:
At the expiration of half an hour Clementi returned, perfectly dressed as he believed, and while he was expatiating largely on the pleasure he received by his immersion, a gentleman and his lady (friends of the peer) arrived on an evening visit. After the usual introductions had taken place, the lady expressed a desire to hear Clementi play one of his own sonatas on the pianoforte, to which he readily assented.
Having taken his seat, and fidgeted a little in his peculiar way, he played the first movement of one of his most difficult pieces, and was about to begin the adagio when, being oppressed with heat, he unconsciously unbuttoned nearly the whole of his waistcoat, and was proceeding, when the lady greatly surprised, hastily retired to the farthest part of the room while Lord Pembroke, almost convulsed with laughter, apprised Clementi of his situation, who, staring wildly, darted out of the room, and could not by any entreaties be prevailed on to rejoin the party.
The absent-minded Muzio Clementi was also known for going out in the morning wearing one black and one white stocking.