EMANUEL FEUERMANN

by Annette Morreau

Word may have gotten around that after a ten year involvement with Emanuel Feuermann, my biography, commissioned by Yale University Press, has just been published in the UK and the USA.

It's been an amazing adventure. Effectively, it all started in my childhood. I was a cellist, the daughter of a professional viola player -- Beryl Scawen Blunt who at 16 was an advanced player at the Royal College of Music in London and who went on to be the first viola member of the Macnaghten String Quartet, a quartet modelled on the Kolisch Quartet. After studying cello at Dartington Hall, I went on to read music at Durham University, where I became the first woman to win the Durham/Indiana University Scholarship. In 1966, I ended up in Bloomington where, after a couple of alarming lessons from Janos Starker, I decided that a career as a solo cellist was highly unlikely. But I did start a thesis on the string quintets of Boccherini....

My career remained in music. From the Arts Council of Great Britain, where I founded the Contemporary Music Network, a national touring scheme for new music that was heavily influenced by my Bloomington experience -- why play a piece, especially a new piece, only once after so much practice? -- I went on to be Commissioning Editor for Serious Music at Channel 4 Television, and then an independent radio and TV producer and music critic for various publications, including the Independent newspaper.

In 1991, I was invited by the newly founded BBC Music Magazine to review Pearl's 6 CD set: 'The History of the Cello on Record.' I was entranced and as a result met Keith Harvey, the youngest Principal cellist in his time of any London orchestra and a collector extraordinaire, who had supplied Pearl with the precious 78s. We made seven programmes for the BBC World Service about the cellists and Feuermann was one of them. I had never heard such playing as Feuermann's and I suggested to Keith that we try to interest BBC Radio 3 in some programmes. In 1994 my 'Feuermann Remembered,' four two-hour programmes, was broadcast (and again in 1996). In the course of the research for these programmes, I discovered that the Reifenbergs who welcomed the young prodigy into their lives in Cologne where Feuermann at the age of 16 had been appointed Professor at the Conservatory, were distant relatives of my family. When I met Feuermann's widow, Eva [née Reifenberg], she gave me many letters including one from Feuermann to her on my grandmother's headed note paper with a postscript in my grandmother's handwriting.... Had my mother still been alive she would have reminded me of the story of Feuermann visiting my grandmother and leaving the Strad in the passageway with children and dogs jumping around. My mother 'rescued' the instrument, putting it up on the piano. So my professional interest in Feuermann turned into a family one too.

The book is divided into two sections: life and legacy. Generally, I have tried to allow Feuermann to tell his own story through quoting from his own letters. Interviews with his students, members of his family, colleagues and admirers, and contemporary reviews of his concerts and recordings drawn world-wide round out the book. His own writings, opinions from students (Claus Adam, Bernhard Greenhouse, George Neikrug, and others) on how he played and taught, and two chapters devoted to his recordings, are also included. Three appendices are devoted to his fees, instruments and a comprehensive discography. And there is a 75-minute CD with first releases of such recordings as Popper's 'Papillon' (1932), Sarasate/Feuermann 'Zigeunerweisen' in two versions (1922 and 1927), and a 1939 encore where Feuermann plays two movements of Bach's C major Unaccompanied Suite -- the only aural evidence we have of him playing Bach.

Feuermann was one of music's greatest triumphs: he made the first complete recording of Dvorak's B minor Cello Concerto years before Casals; he 'rescued' the original version of Haydn's D major Cello Concerto recording it long before the manuscript came to light after the Second World War; he gave the world premiere of Schoenberg's Cello Concerto; he gave the first cello marathon -- 13 works for solo cello and orchestra. And his end was one of music's greatest tragedies: he died aged 39, the result of a botched operation for a trivial complaint.

I hope that my biography will 're-position' Feuermann. As Heifetz once remarked: 'a talent like Feuermann's comes around once in a 100 years.'

'Emanuel Feuermann' Yale University Press ISBN 0300 09684 + CD. 25 (UK)/$39.95 (US)

Annette Morreau, 2 December 2002


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