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Arthur Rubinstein (1887 - 1982)

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Arthur Rubinstein (1887 - 1982)

Towards the end of the Taruskin's book on Stravinsky, volume 2, he refers to a memoir of Arthur Rubinstein for some insights on Stravinsky. That reminded me of how much I enjoyed one of his memoirs, he wrote two, a few decades ago. That book was titled My Young Years and it is available on Kindle for, ahem, a song. Rubinstein is an entertaining writer because he remembers so many details, knew so many people and had such an eventful career. I had the great good fortune to hear him play a recital in Spain in 1974. It was one of the finest piano performances I have ever heard. I swear he changed the whole color of the piano when he got to the D major section of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne. The second half had a lot of Chopin. He was one of the greatest performers of Chopin of the 20th century.

So I'm re-reading My Young Years and I have the second book, My Many Years, that I will get to soon. Apart from the fascinating details of his life, what is really interesting is how different the musical, and social scene generally was from now. In the whole book there is no mention of applying for a government cultural grant. For much of his early life Rubinstein, along with many of his fellow musicians, was desperately poor and constantly struggling to survive. Apart from concert fees, his support came exclusively from wealthy patrons, most of them members of the aristocracy which still existed even more than a hundred years after the French Revolution. Remarkably, quite a few of them were real music lovers.

Wealthy patrons today seem to be less interested in young musicians but quite willing to give ten billion dollars to fight climate change:
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” Bezos said. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.”
 Uh-huh. And what about the threat Justin Bieber poses?

Another thing about the Rubinstein memoir is how candid it is about the many intimate liaisons he participated in. He also seemed to meet just about everyone in the performing arts including composers, singers, ballet dancers as well as fellow pianists and violinists.

Let's have a listen. This is Arthur Rubinstein playing one of his favorite warhorses from his early career, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor by Saint-Saëns:




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