CELLIST, the autobiography
of Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976)

Chapter Twenty

IT was a busy morning. I made telephone calls and wrote letters of apology, but it was like trying to mend the unmendable. Reciprocating the hospitality of many, I had arranged a dinner for forty many weeks in advance. Food and wine chosen, invitations sent out, caterers and help hired, I had marked the date on my calendar "At Home." Satisfied with my efficiency and feeling that I had been a good host already, I had left for a concert tour.

Shortly after returning I saw "At Home" on the calendar and, delighted to be free, went in the early evening to see a murder movie featuring my friend Peter Lorre. I had a long walk after the show and a sandwich in a Bierstube. Content with the time so pleasantly spent, I unhurriedly approached the street in which I lived. It was a little after ten. The air was calm and there were lights in the windows, and what a joy it was to run so unexpectedly into a group of friends.

"What are you doing in my neighborhood at this hour? How wonderful!" My jovial greeting had a somewhat subdued reception. A little later there were more acquaintances, and when I stopped to greet them I saw more coming toward me. "Ah, Herr Doktor, wie geht's? Ah, Frau Professor! Hans! Frieda!" I was delighted to see so many friends, and the dubiousness of such a series of coincidences did not enter my head until I reached my house and saw the Mayor of Berlin, whom I knew only "officially," stepping out of my apartment.

"Who are you?" demanded a bewildered caterer as I entered the apartment. I explained that I was the host and that I had forgotten all about the dinner. "It's a crazy house-never had such a job. Some dinner party! It's a mess," he grumbled. "There are still four people left who want salad and biscuits." I rushed toward the dining room. There at the table I saw Furtwangler, his secretary Fraulein Geissmar, and a couple of elderly people whose identity I could not recall. With no sign of reproach they greeted me, and I joined them. Furtwangler consulted me about the programs for the next season, Fraulein Geissmar made notes in a book, and the elderly couple ate cheese and crackers. These were the only people to whom I had not to apologize in the morning.

Done with all the excuses but still with an unpleasant after-taste, I waited for a visitor. It was Alexander Merovitch, who had arrived a short time ago from Soviet Russia, together with Vladimir Horowitz, the pianist, and Nathan Milstein, the violinist-all three strangers to me then. Merovitch was a man in his thirties, meticulously dressed and with the overall appearance of a Russian old-guard squire. By way of introduction he unhurriedly went about his autobiographical sketch. He had been a student of music, political scientist, economist, and cultural organizer, and he revealed at length his philosophy of the function of art.

"I took upon myself the responsibility of guiding the careers of two great exponents of their instruments, and I wish you to be the third. I can offer you, as I offered them, my energy, experience, and my very life."

Surprised at such an offer, I said, "It is very nice of you, really, but..."

"I know," he said, smiling. "I must explain. Horowitz and Milstein entrusted their careers to me unconditionally as their personal representative already in Russia. Believing in each other, we arrived abroad with their genius and my managerial capabilities as our only contract and promise. My obligation is to protect their unique gifts from the pitfalls of their profession and to help reveal their art to the world." He took a breath, stood up, and slowly paced the room. "The whole world will share my fanatical belief in them. It won't be long. I hate comparisons, but even if I wanted to-well, what can I say? They are great artists. They are wonderful people, and, as yourself, they are in their twenties. I know our lives will be bound together."

Next day I met Horowitz. Frail and poetic, he resembled the young Chopin, a gravure of whom hung in my room. "I never have been to Germany," he said. "At home, they frightened us with the German profundity. They called them deep-sea divers," he said with a touch of sarcasm. Biting his nails, he listened to Merovitch.

"I wish Nathan were here. He is on his first tour in Spain. His success is enormous. I bet that son-of-a-gun already speaks Spanish." He spoke of Nathan's wit and self-reliance and mentioned Horowitz's sister, Regina, who had been Milstein's accompanist in Russia.

Horowitz looked at the piano. He moved toward it and apologetically asked, "Can I?" It's a curious phenomenon with some performers that even before they touch their instrument one instantly expects a miracle to be revealed. Horowitz was such an artist. He tried the piano hesitatingly at first, but hours later I still listened to his playing of unequaled force and poetry.

The next day and the next we saw each other. I listened to him and we played together and we spoke of music, of its many facets, and of its problems, which we agreed could not be solved in words or in theories, but only experienced.

Horowitz, or Bolodja, as we called him, left for Hamburg, and Milstein arrived. In two seconds he was calling me Grisha and I was calling him Nathanchik. His quick movements, lively eyes and shiny black hair, and his strong, medium-sized frame suggested youth that would stay with him forever. It didn't take long to realize that he stood squarely on the ground and was equal to any situation he might encounter.

Unlike Volodja, who when not practicing would play a piece from the beginning to the end, Nathan ran through the violin repertoire, playing bits from every piece and demonstrating his clever solution to every difficulty. In between, he spoke of the economics of Spain, enforcing his opinion with a sentence or two in Spanish. Tomorrow, I was sure, he would start speaking German, but meanwhile, he disapproved of German pedantry and approved of all things Latin. So spontaneous and harmless was he that one hated to be critical of anything he said. His extraordinary violinistic capacity, of course, could not be doubted. His violin belonged to his body no less than his eyes and legs. There are violinists who could have been flutists and cellists, and pianists who could as easily function as musicologists or conductors, and so on, but Nathan could only be what he was, a marvelous violinist.

Presided over by Merovitch, who was called Sascha, we all became fast friends, and I joined Horowitz and Milstein in what was to be known as "The Three Musketeers." The long meetings with Sascha revealed the drastic change I was to expect in my professional life. There would not be a head-quarters, no salary, no guarantee, no concentration of activity in one given city or land. I had to be available for concert engagements everywhere. I had to acquire my almost-forgotten uprootedness all over again and to make the wide world my home.

And yet Sascha's gift for outlining the strategy for my future turned the vagueness and insecurity into an exciting daring and a sense of rightness. He spoke of the urgency of humanizing managers, of changing the unhealthy pattern of the concert "business," and of finding the methods of achieving more creativity in the performer's life. Before leaving Berlin he said that there were pending engagements in Europe, and he mentioned the possibility of concerts in South America, Africa, and the United States.

Merovitch concentrated Milstein's activity in Spanish-speaking countries, which would bring him as far as Havana without touching the United States. Sascha explained that it would ripen Nathan for other countries and keep him in good financial shape and spirit meanwhile. Merovitch traveled with Volodja in Europe and accompanied him on his first tour to America.

In his letters he gave glowing accounts of America and of Volodja's conquests. Sir Thomas Beecham, he wrote, had embarked on conducting the Tchaikovsky Concerto from memory. Despite the fact that Beecham lost his soloist, Volodja's debut in New York was a spectacular success.

I spent much time with my friends, fellow cellists. We met privately, played together, discussed music, and attended each other's concerts. Cassado, Eisenberg, Feuermann, Foldesy, Garbousova, Mainardi, Marechal-all had qualities to generate my enthusiasm. Cassado and Mainardi composed prolifically for their instrument and dedicated some of their pieces to me.

At one time I saw a great deal of Arnold Foldesy, the Hungarian cellist. Unreliable and exuberant, and not very scholarly, he had a peasant-like directness, and his mastery of his instrument attracted me. His very appearance, with his one glass eye and worn face, his princely largesse, and his cello, which rested on a pin about only half an inch from the floor, was as unusual as his artistry.

"Come in, don't be bashful," he shouted when I found him with his cello, practicing naked while his wife massaged his head. She brought in a basin of hot water for his foot bath, and he handed his cello to me. I loved his instrument. He said it was an early Stradivari, but then again, he said, it might be an Amati. He indicated a bad soundpost crack on the back and said it was the worst of cancers, but I still liked the sound and looks of the cello, and the "cancer" only made me feel the more tender toward it.

One night, after his appearance with the Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he had preceded me as first cellist, I attended a reception in his honor. He was the last to arrive. The moment he entered the exauistite parlor, the hostess and her guests watched him look around and walk directly toward me.

"What a conglomertaion!" he boomed. "Let's leave these bores and go have beer and something to eat." He grabbed me by the hand and led me out.

"You shouldn't have done that."

"Oh hell, I didn't fit there anyway, and besides, my wife was not even invited. She would rather stay home and prepare paprika goulash. You never tasted anything like it."

He was right. It was a dream of a goulash. We ate and talked for many hours.

"Arnold thinks he is Kaiser Franz Josef, or something," Mrs. Foldesy said the instant he left the room. "He bestowed a piano upon one stranger, gave my earrings to someone's bride, and his tail suit to a Hungarian headwaiter. He would give away-" She stopped as Arnold returned.

He often complained about his cello and couldn't understand why I liked it so much. One day he announced that he had finally found a satisfactory instrument and had decided to get rid of his. It was for sale at the violin dealer Emil Hermann, he said. I acquired it and concertized with it for years. Even after Foldesy retired and went back to Budapest, the thought that he had maligned his instrument to make it easier for me to acauire haunted me for a long time.

With his cello I went to Vienna to commence my long affair with the Double Concerto by Brahms. There I played it with Erica Morini, then with Bronislaw Hubermann in Budapest, Kulenkamph in Mannheim, Henry Holst in Berlin, in between rehearsed it with Thibaud and Szigeti, and performed it in Gorlitz with Carl Flesch. This was at a music festival conducted by Furtwangler, where Flesch gave a remarkable example of his humility. At the public rehearsal, after I had concluded the cadenza at the beginning of the first movement and Flesch had begun his, Furtwangler stopped him. "Please start softer." Flesch began again.

"It's too slow," said Furtwangler, loud enough for a great part of the audience to hear. Flesch remained unperturbed, always beginning anew, only to be interrupted. He tried to comply, until finally, with a shrug, Furtwangler went on with the concerto.

After the exceptionally successful performance Furtwangler apologized and Flesch said, "It doesn't matter. One can always learn, be it from a genius or an impudent man."

I continued the tour with a series of recitals in London and played with the orchestra in the huge Royal Albert Hall, where I discovered that the massive sound of the orchestra could not "fill" the hall, while the pianissimos, light and transparent, soared effortlessly through the vast space.

From London I went to Paris, where I was to have my first concert with Horowitz. A hero in Paris, he attracted enormous audiences. We spent much time rehearsing, saw Prokofieff, Igor Markevitch, Nicholas Nabokov, and other musicians, and met an array of interesting people in the almost Proustian salons of Princess de Polignac and Countess de Noailles.

One afternoon we had an unexpected visitor. As if from nowhere, Francis Poulenc appeared with "Allo, allo, allo," trotted straight to the piano, played a witty, short piece, and then, waving his hands and throwing kisses at us, ran out, leaving us chuckling over such a brief appearance, performance, and disappearance.

Our concert program consisted of Brahms and Beethoven piano and cello sonatas, a cello suite by Bach, and a piano sonata by Mozart. Though of the highest artistic level, in chamber music he was a different Horowitz from what his clamoring audience expected.

After the dellicate Mozart piano sonata there were demands for an encore. "What shall I do? What shall I do? It's a chamber music concert," he said between taking bows.

"Hell, give them what they want," I said, clapping his shoulder.

He certainly did. Chopin mazurkas and polonaises, some Liszt and Dohnanyi made Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart forgotten preliminaries.

Apropos of encores, at his Paris recital a few years later he responded to the public demand with an exhibition of his extraordinary Carmen Fantasy. As he moved forward to acknowledge the applause, there was a voice from the gallery: "Monsieu Horowitz, un peu de Tosca, sil vous plait!"

Presented by

Cello Heaven