Monday, January 31, 2011

Husbands from hell

When I get done with my book on Pennario I am going to write a book called, "Who Was a Bigger Pain To Be Married To, Horowitz or Rubinstein?"

There is a question that can keep scholars busy for years!

Horowitz must have been a pain to be married to because ... well, for a million reasons. Otherwise Horowitz' wife would never have had that affair with Byron Janis.

And Rubinstein, you would have thought he would have been better, aside from his cheating of course.


There is this Rubinstein book I keep poking into, by Harvey Sachs. Not to be blasphemous but reading it is a little like reading the Gospel in that every time I open it I find something new in it.

Nela Rubinstein, Arthur's wife, was much younger than he was and she was very beautiful. This did not stop him from flirting with everyone else on the planet, including but not limited to Olivia de Havilland and her sister, Leonard Pennario's friend Joan Fontaine.

Once, in what amounted to a nightmare for Nela, they all had dinner together. "Arthur did nothing through the meal but talk to and flirt with these two beautiful young stars, and Nela sat there, grim-faced." A friend  named Mildred recalled that.

Mildred continues the story, talking about Nela:

"She was one person when Arthur was there, and another when he wasn't. When he wasn't, she was loving and relaxed and finding dozens of things to do that entertained and amused us; when he was, she was uptight and worried all the time that she might be disturbing or distressing him or doing the wrong thing. Arthur was very much wrapped up in himself and wanted others to recognize whatever he did or said. In some ways you could relax with him. But you couldn't relax in a silly, easygoing way with him."

Fun? Wow!

The story continues: "During the war, when food was rationed, Mildred and Nela kept chickens, in order to have a supply of fresh eggs, but the chicken feed attracted rats and the whole process soon became so complicated that they killed the chickens. Nela decided to make chicken soup, and she invited Mildred over to help her pluck the chickens.

"They were working, laughing and gossiping together, 'when suddenly the door opened and in walked Arthur, looking very smart in a fedora hat, a brown suit with a vest, a red carnation and his cane,' Mildred said. "He was absolutely furious and started screaming at Nela: 'You have servants -- it's insulting to use your friends for this kind of thing! The whole situation was so embarrassing that I got up and walked home. He never forgave her for that."

What a pain!

Who needs that?

Before marrying Rubinstein Nela was married to the pianist Mieczyslaw Munz, shown here in a home movie from 1929. Maybe she should have stayed married to him! I wonder if that thought ever crossed her mind.

Here is Nela cooking. She has a few more years on her now than in the picture above.

Here she is with her husband and Robert Redford, left.

What a glorious period picture of Robert Redford! The gentleman next to Redford is the director Sydney Pollack. It is the Cannes Film Festival. It is May 8, 1972.

Whoa, look! Another picture apparently taken a few minutes later. That look Redford has! What a great and glorious era that was. People could have fun when they got dressed in the morning.

Here is a sweet and glamorous picture of Young Nela.

Nela wrote a cookbook.

There are a couple of used copies on Amazon.

Perhaps I will buy one and cook my way through it like that girl who cooked her way through the Julia Child cookbook.

But that would require a whole separate Web log.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Unchained melody

There are many monumental Mozart pieces you could listen to on his birthday, which was today.

But me, I like this goofy little Gigue.

The first time I heard it, years ago, I was driving somewhere and it came on the radio and I remember enjoying it so much. And I felt so good about myself. I thought: Who says I do not like modern music? Here is a modern piece I like.

Who is this composer? I wondered.

Then of course they announced it was Mozart and I almost fell over.

But I did not feel so stupid when I read somewhere that this piece, this Gigue, is unusual. Mozart was obviously experimenting and having fun. The "melody," I read -- I put that in quotes because you can hardly call it a melody -- is something like one note short of a twelve-tone scale. Mozart almost nailed the twelve-tone scale. You can tell when you listen to it it sounds funny. I like singing it to myself because it is so strange.

When you play it on the piano the line is thick with accidentals, all kinds of sharps and flats.

It is like a lot of colored tiles that are scrambled up and then he arranges them into a picture that makes sense.

That is Mozart for you.

Two hundred and fifty-five years young.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A fish called Wanda

I am glued this morning to David Dubal hashing over the respective memoirs of Byron Janis and Leon Fleisher in the Wall Street Journal.

Who knew that Janis had a romance with Wanda Horowitz -- daughter of Toscanini, wife of Vladimir?

I did not, I will tell you that right now! I was trailing after my husband this morning trying to talk to him about this. Howard was making his oatmeal, trying to get around me to the honey and raisins, trying to get me to go away.

Dubal, taking the high road, writes: 

"In a chapter titled 'Wanda,' we learn that, in his early 20s, Mr. Janis had an affair with Wanda Toscanini Horowitz, his teacher's wife. After 60 years, do we need this footnote to the tortured Horowitz marriage?"

We do indeed!

If Byron Janis is writing a memoir, how could he leave that out?

I cannot wait to read that chapter "Wanda." When I get my hands on this book I am going to skip right to it. 

That is Wanda and Vladimir up above, c. 1946, says the site from which I stole it. Dubal makes the point that she would have been horrified to have had that information in Janis' book made public. But you know what, you marry someone like Vladimir Horowitz, you better get used to the spotlight, even when you are dead. Especially when you are dead. Plus, I am tired of Horowitz being looked on as being this sacred being. 

And furthermore, Dubal wrote that book "Evenings with Horowitz" that contained a lot of personal details that I do not think Horowitz would have been crazy about getting out. There are people who see that book as unprofessional. I am not one of them, needless to say. I enjoyed the heck out of that book and think it is wonderful that Dubal got around to writing down all his experiences. 

Anyway, I am looking forward to reading Janis' book too even though it sounds kind of loopy, full of stuff about Uri Geller. Uri Geller, how 1970s. I have not heard that name in forever.

These pianists, I am telling you.

By the way, the "Fish Called Wanda" headline is not meant to imply that Wanda was a cold fish. I know not. I have not yet read Byron Janis' book. The headline was irresistible to me because my husband has a friend who was something of a ladies' man and finally got married and settled down. The friend is happy with his choice. "I got my fish," he says.

As we have discussed before, you can hear Byron Janis reading from his book here

He has his own inimitable style!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The music of the morning

You know how you get music in your dreams? Last night I had this Bach fugue on my mind. It was the fugue I wrote about the other day. The music wove in and out of my dreams all night. Sometimes I was just hearing its cool layers. Sometimes I was playing it on the piano and in my dream I thought, I had not realized I had this thing memorized.

This morning, Monday morning, I am wondering if it is a good thing or not to have a piece like this on your brain all night. I mean, I love this music, and things could be worse, because I had just been to this hip-hop dance master class and I could have had hip-hop on my brain. But still, that fugue was starting to drive me crazy.

This morning I must politely show it the door.

So as not to offend Bach I will usher in instead his Coffee Cantata, a piece that has special relevance to me on Mondays.

I would die without my cup of coffee in the morning! Above is a portrait of me drinking it. It is by Canadian painter Oliver Ray. I cribbed it off is Web site.

My husband, Howard, he is giving up coffee temporarily, for whatever reason. "Fine, if you think it makes you a better person." That is what my boss at the Niagara Gazette said to me years ago when I tried the same experiment.

What I love about the Coffee Cantata, besides the robust music of course, is how it proves to us that coffee was debated about even in Bach's time. Even in the 1600s people were hemming and hawing about whether you should drink it or not. It is irrefutable proof!

This great chorus, the YouTube version only has it in German, so I will translate.

It means "Stick it, our ancestors drank coffee and we are going to drink it, too."

Monday, January 3, 2011

On the ninth day of Christmas...

With the Christmas season on the wane, I am looking back and thinking of the music I have listened to. Normally I am a creature of habit when it comes to Christmas music. I like the music I know. And I do not like people overengineering it. That is a common Christmas sin. Everyone wants to mess these songs up.

Let's put revolutionary harmonies to "O Holy Night"!

You know "I Wonder as I Wander"? Let's speed it up!

Yes, I am a bitter creature of habit when it comes to Christmas songs. But still. This year I was surprised to find a few things I liked that I did not know that well.

There is this song "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning." It was never part of my Christmases but I find I like it a lot. The music comes from an earlier song called "Star in the East. There is a fascinating account of Reginald Heber (1783-1826) who wrote the words. Heber also wrote the famous and thrilling chestnut "Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty."

When Heber was born Mozart was 27. Heber died one year before Beethoven died. There, now that we have placed him in context, that is a picture of Reginald Heber up above.

When Reginald Heber died he had just come back from, where else, a church service.

”He retired into his own room, and according to his invariable custom, wrote on the back of the address on Confirmation 'Trichinopoly, April 3, 1826.' This was his last act, for immediately on taking off his clothes, he went into a large cold bath, where he had bathed the two preceding mornings, but which was now the destined agent of his removal to Paradise. Half an hour after, his servant, alarmed at his long absence, entered the room and found him a lifeless corpse."Life, &c, 1830, vol. ii. p. 437.

How about that?

"The destined agent of his removal to Paradise." That is a phrase I love!

"Brightest and Best" is an Epiphany song which makes it perfect for now. Another song I got to like this year: "The Little Road to Bethlehem."

Judy Collins sang it too. I must have been the only person in the world who did not know this song. It dates to the 19th century.

There is really such a trove of Christmas music.

I do not care if it is January. I am going to keep listening.