Suzette Forgues Halasz studied with Feuermann from his arrival in America in 1938 until his death in 1942, in both New York and California. She is married to the conductor Laszlo Halasz, but is herein referred to by her maiden name for ease of reference.
Q: Nobody ever talks about how, or why, or the whole approach to the music...
A: The last when he was very sick, I was the last one to go to his house in Rye, but he wrote to his wife. He said "this has to stop. I'm too far away from everything, I'm always on tour, one after the other. I hear all these cellists and they don't know anything-they're supposed to be top cellists-they're first cellists-they don't know anything." He said "I think I have to stop this and I will teach". Now that would have been great for everybody. He did teach for one year I think, at Curtis. I remember that he had said, when I was I think 16 and I was in awe -I was playing on the radio little things just to make money and so on and I came directly to go hear him in the afternoon there was called the Ladies Morning Musical club and he had been in the papers and I thought 'Oh well I was auxiliary so that means you didn't pay as much because you were young' -you could go and hear him. But I had the cello with me -I didn't know where to leave it- so I was in the back and then I started listening to him and I never heard -and not knowing so much about cello- I was too young in a way- but I was so fascinated that even if I was shy I went in backstage, I waited. It was crowded, I waited and waited till my turn. Finally he sees me there with the cello says "So you're a cellist...would you like to play for me". I almost dropped the cello and I said "well, yes, I would like to". He said "well why don't you come tomorrow at my hotel and you play for me" So I went home practically flying -I was so excited and I told my mother and she said "Now don't get so excited-these great people they forget things, they say things, you haven't got a chance probably" She didn't want me to be hurt. The next day comes, and of course she comes with me -she is my chaperone...and then I played the Tarantella -Popper. He stopped me -two bars or three bars and I was showing off. I thought I was good -you know- fast. And he said -he couldn't speak English too much and he said "You play like a pig" and I -my breath left me- and I thought 'Oh my goodness' you know, and he said "I don't speak English good so that means -you know that a pig is not clean, right?" and I said "Yes of course." "You don't play clean. There is a difference between your fourth and first finger in first position (of course I know that by now) then in fourth [Sings opening of Popper Tarantella], so the interval is smaller because you are in fourth position." Nobody ever told me that. You think of fingerings and you go like mad and your teacher thinks you are great. You don't know anything. Then he says to my mother after I played some more "Why isn't this child in Europe? She should be in Paris" ...My mother, she said "She's only 16 -it's not possible. She can not be there alone" and all this. "Did these people hear her, where I played yesterday?" My mother said no. "Well why not?" "Well, Nobody asked her." He said " I will tell them to hear her. Then they will hear her and then they will give her a scholarship and then I will give her a scholarship. She can come to New York". Well, you could open the floor, I would go right through it. I couldn't believe this, you know. Yes -the next day the ladies call me- "Would you come and play for us?" So I played and I got $400, which in those days was a lot of money, of course. Then I got very excited and very happy. I come to New York, he is not there. I didn't know what to do. So I heard that Felix Salmond was a very fine teacher. I went to Juilliard and asked to play for him. I played but I had no money, because there was $30 a lesson and I had only $400. I want to be very careful. He said "All right...you can come to me but it will be an audition every time" So I didn't have to pay, but he didn't want to say it that -you know. So for a few months, that's what I did. Feuermann came back from Japan -somewhere- so obviously I went to play for him and he said "What have you been doing?" "Well," I said "Mr. Feuermann, you weren't here, so I didn't know what to do. I went to play for Felix Salmond." "You should have stayed home and practiced. You would have done better." He didn't like him. I was crushed, but I didn't know what to do. He said "Well, we'll see about that. You start coming next week" So that's how I started, and one thing led to another and then I ran out of money, of course. I got another scholarship, came back again, ran out of money again. So the third scholarship -after that they told me "You can't try again because you always win, it's not fair for the others" So Feuermann came to Canada again, so I told him I don't have the money to go back. "Don't worry about it. I'll write to the government" -Oh I forgot to tell you- there was only one scholarship left and that was a government scholarship -everybody under 21 could try. Every year just only one. But it's not only for cellists-it's for everybody... And that's how I could get back to New York, you see. And then with Feuermann -I'm told by the Ohio Feuermann society that I was the only scholarship pupil, but I don't know how true that is- but anyway, the fact that I had the chance to play for him. You know he was my god, I mean he was the greatest and the Feuermann pupils -I don't know about others, but if you'd play somewhere, somebody was coming backstage and saying "You must be a Feuermann pupil. You play differently." I don't know what it was. They recognized it every time. So you know you sort of felt pretty smart. That on your shoulder you felt rather big shot, but you tried very hard and he was a very difficult, demanding teacher. He would... I remember for one hour I had the three first notes of the second movement of Haydn [D major Concerto]. "No!" And you're scared so you try again. "No!" He would hit your bow. "No!" But he never told you how, so you try again. You try to think 'what does he want?' and you try again. Finally he said "Go home and practice." After three notes. I felt like going up on the Empire State, throwing the cello and jumping after it. I felt that bad. But then I woke up very angry with myself -if you can't take it, don't go. And I practiced and I practiced and I finally went there back again. He almost threw me out, because I was so scared and when I start my bow just jumped on the string. He said "Do it again." And I thought 'If I don't do it, I give up'. Then it went, and he said "So..." So why couldn't he explain it to me first? I wouldn't have gone into so much anxiety. But you know one thing? Since years and years, I know why. He made you think. I remember one lesson in California. We had had lunch, I was sort of a favored youngsters and he said "Now it's time for a siesta." I said " I don't take siestas." "You take siesta. You go up a take a siesta." I mean you know you don't say no. Then after that I had the lesson he said " Now you go up in my other studio up there and you write everything I said, and don't come down until it's all there." So I...you know it was a long lesson and you had everything to write. He'd come and open so -"Well?" "No, I'm not ready yet." And then I really worked over this and I wrote everything I could remember and it was OK with him, but then, again -he made me think. And I thought it was plain torture in those days. I thought he was doing it out of meanness, because he was a very sarcastic man and if you couldn't take it you shouldn't be there. One day I came and I was the second one in the morning and there was a young man playing -first cellist, I don't know where in San Francisco, but from there. And there was a lot of yelling from Feuermann and I thought 'Ooh' you know, 'he's in a bad mood' and I sneaked in the entrance and he heard. He said "Suzette." I said "Yes." He said "Come in." I said "Maybe I should wait out here." "Come in" and I though I'd be embarrassing this fellow so I didn't want to. I went in and I sat in the back as far as the living room permitted and he was continuing. He said "All you know is schmaltz, schmaltz, schmaltz! That's all you know. If you come in the morning, you ruin my day. If you come in the evening, you ruin my night." He said "That's all you know, schmaltz" He said, "Get out of here! Go back to San Francisco. Good enough for you. Get Out. Out, Out, Out!" Then he turned around and he said "Come. Play" and I thought 'after this?' But I'd been to good school. I had a teacher -Belgian- in Canada who was very difficult. When he was yelling I thought the windows were shaking. Red with the white hair -I thought he'd die of apoplexy...But that's the way it was. So I sit there and I didn't know what's coming to me. He said "So. Can you schmaltz too?" I said "Of course, Mr. Feuermann, if that's what you wish" Then he sort of half-smiled and he said "All right. Play" ... It hurt very much when there was a group, because he was sarcastic. He was tense, and he'd do it not out of meanness -because he was right in many ways- but he sort of made it difficult to accept, especially when you didn't play his way. And I remember one day -I don't know, but it wasn't my day and he was not happy with me and there were four other cellists, unfortunately, waiting for their turn and also and they didn't like that I get this hell from him and they'd understand everything, so I switched to French and he switched to French -he didn't notice. And the others were stuck -they couldn't hear a thing he said. Then there was [Jens Guslebas?] -and she became assistant 1st of Chicago afterwards- and it was her turn. She was also rather tense. She didn't know what to expect. No one ever did anyway. And she got into trouble too. He was showing off for the others. So she figured out a way -she spoke Dutch to him. To my amazement, he answered in Dutch and he went on like this and here we were -we didn't understand a thing what's going on. You see? It was very strange and if you were alone or if you were in very few people that was fine, but a larger gathering he became sarcastic. It was difficult to accept. I remember one thing. I was a very good ping-pong player in those days and I remember his sarcasm. One day I was having a lesson and Schuster -a cello teacher rather well known in those days -an older gentleman- came to visit and he said "Come, I want you to hear one of my pupils" and that was the opening of the Boellman Variations, it's in the same bow and he wanted to show how I could do that and how fast I could trill -this sort of thing. He was, again, showing what his student could do. And he said "You know, she's very good... She's a very good ping-pong player." ...So one day he said "Heifetz plays fantastic" he said "plays fantastic ping-pong. You teach me." He said "After the lesson, we go to the ping-pong table. You teach me how do you smash these balls?" And I remember that I being so excitable person, when I played for him he said "Don't get so excited. Wait. Wait before the glissando. You're too excited. Just wait." All right. So one day, he wanted to smash a ball and I said "All right, Mr. Feuermann, this is you turn your body this way." and I was showing how to do it and then it hits the corner. "I know, I know, I know" he says. He wants to try. "Fine. I will throw you a very easy one and you just turn and do this." So I do that and he hits the ball at full speed in the net, of course and I couldn't help it -it was the first time that I did this- I said "Tch,tch,tch Mr. Feuermann, you mustn't get so excited. You must wait before you hit the ball" He chased me out of the house all the way down to my place. We had a great time. It was the best summer I ever, ever had in my life because of him.
Q: That was in California?
A: Everybody went to California, I mean the ones he accepted. But there was Bobby LaMarchina...Fantastic youngster. He was the youngest. We were in awe how he played. Really very well...
Q: What were the things he would most often criticize in lessons?
A: Bow and finger together.
Q: The coordination?
A: It has to be coordinated. It has to be synchronized. He didn't have words to explain so he made you search for everything, which I think in a way was hard, but as you became a teacher, you're able to think more and I've that big mirror downstairs and...when I had a chance to play by myself I'd watch and say 'Why does this sound so good? What am I doing?' I do it over again -'ahh' and I'd find out. Then I would be able to translate what I did to the next student. And I sort of learned by myself what to do with what he wanted and what he expected, because it had to be his way. When you did very well, you know, his left hand -he never knew and I never told him- his left hand would start to vibrato on his thigh and I would think 'Oh, he really likes it. This is what he wants', so you felt wonderful. In those days you flew out of there and you could be on a cloud of happiness. But he was very demanding and he wouldn't let one thing go by. The shifts had to be perfect. Again, the bow and the movement of the body going into it. He would not explain, but I know very well from teaching that if you're a little bit tense here or here -that's why he was playing this way [sucks in cheeks]. We all imitated him when he didn't look, but he'd bring his cheeks in. He couldn't play any other way. I don't why, but maybe it opened his jaw. I don't know because I never dared to ask him, but I know from experience teaching from young to older that the moment you tense either there or here your sound is not the same. He has the most beautiful sound. Even though with the bad records, you still hear it. Alive, you know, singing. You know what he liked? Caruso records. He was collecting them. And I remember whenever I had the chance to go in a little old shop. I'd look, hunt for one that he might not have and bring him one. That was my pleasure. The bel canto that you hear in a top tenor like him, he listened and I'm sure he applied it. People say that he -as you probably heard- that he never practiced. I never heard him practice either. I know for a fact in those trios of Rubinstein, Heifetz...Well, they were in California at that summer and I remember one day he insisted on the ping-pong teaching. You know I got even with him a few times. It was a pleasure. So Eva came out the door and she said "Suzette, let him go, let him go. He has to make recordings. He's going to be late." I said "Let him go? He does what he wants." He said "Leave us alone. I'm studying this. I have to learn what she's doing." "But Munio, please! Heifetz and Rubinstein... They are waiting!" "OK, I'll be there soon." " Play, play, play some more" he would say to me. I remember one boy, his name was Kramer, I don't know if he is alive, I haven't heard from him...He might come in the same suit every lesson and he practiced very -we all did. If you walked in Santa Monica above where we lived in Pacific Palisades -I found a places for everybody- so you walk at night, everybody's practicing like crazy. I remember that I lived with this old lady, and she had given me a room on the second floor and there was a balcony. And one day I was practicing as much as I could and I had a strange feeling. I stopped practicing, I went on the balcony. Feuermann, who loved his Buick...convertible. He was sitting in there listening to me practice. And then he saw me and he said "Come. I've decided you have a lesson today" "But Mr. Feuermann I'm not ready" "I don't care. Just come. Right now" ...So ready or not he expected you to play when he was ready to hear you like this. Otherwise you had your lesson pretty much, except if he went away. So you had to practice those few weeks he was on tour. An extraordinary man. I remember at lunch once he was trying to be very correct about his English pronunciation and I said something about 20 hours he says "twenty, not twony." My English wasn't great either, but he was right. He liked to be right...What a wonderful person. What a great artist... [Talking about Feuermann's appointment at 16 as professor] Well he could teach almost anyone. You know people, violinists, violists, bass players went to him. It was all the same idea, no matter if it was this or if it was this position, they learned from him. Who was this well known violist who used to go to him?...Katims. He went, and then there was another one. But, anyone could learn music from him, as you probably heard on the tapes. They had discussions about musical problems and he always won out because he was always right. [referring to a Szymon Goldberg quote from an interview by Monica Feuermann] I think there's no other genius. Everybody plays beautiful cello, but not like him. Do you know anybody who plays like that? No.
Q: It's headed in the opposite direction, I think
A: That's why he wanted to teach so badly, and he died...
Q: What do you think people do differently than his style of playing now?
A; Well, first of all, nobody's learning anything from anyone. As long as they play fast, as long as they play all the notes they're not... He made music as well. Now, he always picked the strings when he...You see there was bravura in Feuermann's playing and this picking of string...[when she was talking to a student of hers, she said] "I never showed you that you go back with the fourth finger and you slide back. Why do you do that? I told you, every note is like piano. You don't want this schmaltz in between"-that's the word he was using. So it was like pearls, it has to be every note going up or down has to sound the same, besides the point. If you have to shift , that's different. If you have a big glissando, you sit on that note before. Sit there. Don't anticipate. Relax...Little details like this which I picked up and I remember everything quite well even though I didn't write everything, except that day -but it has to be clean playing. It has to sing. The bow has to be changing together with the finger. Like you know the sports car when you change? If not you have this 'crccchht' kind of sound. He loved cars, by the way, but he didn't have a shift. He used to take me back to the station showing off a little bit in his ...convertible. And coming down from his home there was this big 'S' going downwards and he was going wildly and I would say 'please god, I hope I make it'. He drove from here with his car to California and he proudly showed me that he burned his arm because he had it on the side all the way. Great, great man... I still dream of his playing, of that summer, of the places. Last time I went up to his house in -well before that he had planned to build a house in Rye... and so I went up there with him and Eva, and in the fields he was showing where his house would be and where the studio would be and over the garage he had a studio for the ones who came out of town could sleep there, and he had this idea he was going to make a little stage with two steps so he could play the quartets there, and he had an apartment just for Oma -for his mother in law- everything was so perfect, but I saw pictures of him that were taken during the last tour. Could see his hand becoming very thin, very bony and looking very sick. He wrote to his pianist saying "I think I'm getting better because the pains come now instead of every three minutes, every five minutes." How can you play every night, practically, on tour, having this terrible pain, you know? And I don't know actually what happened. I went there on a Saturday. Monica, the little one was five... He built that beautiful house and it was a nice place to go for lessons and I went there Saturday ready to play and all that and Monica a little thing "Daddy's not here" and I said "Monica, I have a lesson today. I'm sure" She said "No, no, no, he's not here." So I went into the house, I see Mrs. Reifenberg in tears. I said "What's the matter?" and she said "Well Munio is in the hospital." I said "What's wrong?" "We don't know." And I went to Eva's...she was in bed because she was expecting a second child, not allowed to move out from the bed, and she got a phone call from Feuermann from the hospital and she said "Don't go" and I sat there and he talked about how he loved Switzerland and how wonderful it was to go in the mountains and pick out the small strawberries. He was talking about all this. He was...probably under sedation or something. And then after she hung up I said "Eva, I don't know but maybe your mother would like me to drive her back to the city. I gladly do that. She could go to the hospital. I'll ask her." She said "Yes, good idea." I said "Mrs. Reifenberg would you like..." She says "Oh yes, would you take me?" I said "Of course." So I took her there, and on Sunday I telephoned practically -I made a pest of myself. I was crazy because I'd call the hospital "How ?" "Well he's as well as can be expected." This is not what I wanted to hear. And I say "Well, does he need any extra blood? Maybe my type is the same and I can come..." I didn't know what to do. I was so absolutely devastated. So the next morning -it was a Monday morning, 9:00 rehearsal with Barzin. Went to the rehearsal and when I came back, I turned on the radio and right there they said Feuermann just died. So I was crying three days in a row, and I called my mother in Montreal, and she was trying to calm me down. It was very hard, for everybody of course, not just for ...I went to the -wake? Everybody who were musicians were there. Schnabel played one of the Beethoven...very sad, one of the movement, then Toscanini stood up and he started talking. He said "He was like my son." He said "That was the greatest loss I've ever felt" and he tried to talk about him and then he broke down. He couldn't do it...[Discussing a later time when she had the chance to meet Toscanini] I said [to Toscanini] "I want to ask your advice. I' m lost, I'm disoriented. I lost Feuermann, as you know. I don't know what to do, I don't know where to go, who to go with to study some more" and he said this "You are the most fortunate to have the greatest teacher in the world. The best" He said "You were the most unfortunate also, because after him there is no one" ...Of course that didn't help me, but I never forgot what he said. So I tried. Everybody I went to only wanted to know what did Feuermann make me play, to see what Feuermann wanted -how, you know... But I thank Feuermann to this day for what I learned because without him, it wouldn't be the same life.
Q: Did he ever talk about the 'approach' when you come to a new piece of music?
A: Not to me, and not to the others I remember in California or the few I took sometimes to Westchester to ride. He'd say for instance "So, what do you want to play next week" He didn't tell you what to do. So I remember one day I said "Well, Schelomo." He said "That's very difficult." I said "I know." "Why do you want to play this?" and I said "Because I like it." "All right, bring it next week." One week to learn Schelomo! And then I remember one of the passages was very difficult and he didn't really truly understand what was difficult about anything on the cello. He didn't truly. He was sincere about it. "Look at me. What's the matter with you that -I don't see -there's nothing difficult about this" and he had his own cello hanging on his shoulder walking around playing this thing -perfect, and I felt like a worm because I thought if he can walk around with it and play it this way and I'm sitting and I can't do it today -it makes you feel like nothing. I mean you never get there. Of course you work for it and then you get there finally and whenever he said "So..." you were very happy. But he didn't ever say anything about any approach...
Q: Was he mostly concerned with technical details when he would criticize things?
A: No, but I mean a quarter note had to be a quarter note and an eighth had to be the value of two sixteenths. You finish sometimes and because there was a bar, some students would stop "What about that last note? One, two, there, four, five. Get off on five." "Why?" "Because otherwise you're cutting off ..." and nobody's teaching solfege here...
Q: You talked a little bit about the 'plucking'
A: One day I asked Heifetz "How did Nelsova play?" and he's thinking (cause he went to recital and I didn't go) and he said "Well, pizzicato all the way."... He meant she overdid this. First of all, when you teach scales, you hit hard, first because it helps your fingers. You play scales because you want to -the intonation to be perfect as you go up and down and you know it's not the piano, of course. But coming down, for instance, you pick the string instead of sliding back like a lot of cellists do... So if you don't have the clarity level like a pianist. There always a shift somewhere which shouldn't be there. You shouldn't hear that shift, unless you want a very special, for some musical reason. Otherwise...
Q: In Feuermann's recordings there's lots of glissandi...
A: Yeah, when he was younger. His glissandi are so beautiful. Why? Because he is taking his time, he has a complete master[y] of the instrument. He doesn't go [sings a slide in which the first note is left immediately] and miss it. I heard him miss it only once. [sings slide-slightly delayed ala Feuermann] It's in tempo, it's together with the strength of the bow, it's all into the cello. It gets me very excited. There was a story I have to tell you in Carnegie Hall when he said go and do the rehearsals. There is a place in the Schelomo then you go from [sings] Db from a C, so it's on the G string -not so easy. So most people think 'Well if you're lucky, you get it', but he never missed it. Not that I ever heard it, but when I got there, having studied quite a bit, I didn't have any problem -got the Db very easily. So he comes to the rehearsal and he was very nervous, he had been traveling a great deal. And I hadn't seen the orchestra part yet cause I was doing the rehearsals so I was practically under his nose and he was watching -you know it's very difficult- so he gets to that part -he missed it, and he gets up with his cello and he looks all over the place- said "Where did it go? Where did it go?" Being young and all, we were trying not to laugh too much, but it was rather funny, so of course at the performance he didn't miss it, but it was the first time I think and I said to myself 'At least he's human'. But the second thing was, he's playing on the podium and there's Barzin next to him. Barzin was not pleased with the brass section and Barzin continues conducting and away, but he couldn't be seen any more because he went in the back to the brass. So Feuermann's playing and all of the sudden he sees he has no conductor. So he gets up, he doesn't stop playing. he gets up and he conducts and he plays and he has it hanging here [indicates neck] and he plays. We were in hysterics by that time. Barzin turns around and he comes over "Mr. Feuermann, please, let's be serious. This is a rehearsal." But by that time he had us in such stitches that we weren't very serious. But he was doing these things and he enjoyed...getting the goat out of somebody. He did that so much. Sometimes he went a little overboard, but I would forgive anything because I was so lucky, you know. I mean this picking of things you can overdo it, but the little ones I say "I want to hear -play without the bow. Let me hear. Pick the C string for instance. [Sings C-D-E-F] Don't take it off. Take the G and then hit the A." And then after that you put the bow together.
Q: So you have the students actually pizz with the fingers as they come down?
A: When you come down, yes. You can overdo it, but when you teach the beginners and all that, or even this youngster who is now today 17, he forgets his fourth finger -he thinks of the next note and he slides back. Can't do that. [sings descending scale] It's this finger that goes back and this one hits it [Indicating first and fourth respectively] but each note has to sound the same as the note before, don't you think?
Q: Do you remember any ...types of exercises? Did he teach that way?
A: He wouldn't, no. He'd say "So, play some studies that you picked up -the Popper. Let's see" and of course he would destroy you in a few minutes. But you practice like never before. One day he said "How many hours do you practice a day?" and I was so proud, I say "Five hours, maestro". "Mm, hmm. Tell you what we do. You practice two hours my way -I don't care what you do with the rest of the hours" Smart. That is true. Don't play-practice. It's different. You can play hours and hours a day and still not learn anything-just get over the notes and everything. You should think 'Why suddenly this doesn't sound right?' Or, if it sounds good, 'Why did it sound good?' Then you analyze it, and you say 'Oh, now I know.' Not to go over is good enough. So it takes a lot of patience and a lot of work, but it's a different approach. When I played Schelomo somebody came backstage and said "You must be a Feuermann pupil." I say "How do you know?" "Well nobody plays like this" and he said "Are you Jewish?" I said " No." "How can you play this that way?" I said "Well I didn't know there was another way. This is the way I feel and I enjoy it." I don't know. You can't imitate anyone, but you certainly learn a lot -even from the recordings you can.
Q: The vibrato is so intense...
A: If he plays, even a fast passage, his vibrato is on every note. That's probably why when you played well, his hand just went with you -he didn't notice...You should see his staccato. Beautiful. He could do it just as well, either way. That boy Kramer worked three weeks on a very complicated bow that he was so proud, he could hardly wait to show off. And he comes to Feuermann's lesson and I was there, like a few others, and he's proudly playing this. Feuermann said "Mm, hmm. Quite good. (And he's walking around) Have you ever tried it this way?" Upside down, completely. This boy was so shattered -he'd worked so hard on this. It was nothing for Feuermann. Nothing was complicated or difficult. He would play quartet, let's say with Primrose, who would miss some passage and Feuermann would say "You mean this?" and he would play it on his cello, but he would play that part without looking at it. A genius.
[After a brief pause]
Q: I'm just going to repeat for the benefit of the tape, which had stopped -you were talking about the shifts, and you talked about the spacing [the '//' indications in the performing editions]...being more to demarcate the phrase, and then you talked about the bow speed remaining consistent on both sides to avoid an accent. You talked about the evenness in the [sings running passage from the opening of the Boccherini A major Sonata]. Playing as a piano...
A: Sometimes like yesterday [referring to her student], the third finger when he was trying to play -he just learning the A major Beethoven -his third finger is not strong enough to have the same sound, the same balance, so I was telling "You'd better work on this because you're not even. The sound has to be exactly the same." But the change of the bow, if you change faster than where you left before, most of the time you make an accent. Accents are in the wrong place usually, anyway...
Q: Did you ever go out to California for those summers with Feuermann?
A: No. I knew him only when I was -at the time that I knew him I was playing at CBS. I was first cellist for the Chamber Orchestra and I had the Dorian string Quartet, which broadcast Sunday mornings every week for a long, long period of time, and it was at a time after I had finished my studies at the Juilliard. I was busy working, but I felt the need of some more training, more help and advice, and so I started working with him. I drove up to Scarsdale, when he lived in Scarsdale. Once every two weeks, I'd go up and have a lesson with him. Sometimes, I didn't have a lesson with him -I was a car buff at the time and I had a gorgeous Packard convertible ...It was a very beautiful car, and new, and I'd drive up to Scarsdale and he'd come out the door and say "No lesson today. Let's go for a drive" and he'd get behind the wheel and we'd drive for about 45 minutes or an hour and then come back and do some playing. But it was always a wonderful experience because he played a lot for me at that time.
Q: In the lessons?
A: In the lessons, yes. He always had a cello next to him and played a great deal and, of course, just watching him was an enormously exciting experience. Up close, you know. And he would explain many of his theories about left hand and bow technique. Actually, the left hand was the thing that really amazed me, and I think I have at least caught the basis for his left hand technique.
[After a brief pause]
Q: So you were talking about left hand technique..
A: Well, it was -I can tell you basically, he didn't believe in extensions at all. His hand was always in the natural position, never extended in any direction. Everything he did was in this -and he used fast motion of the wrist and of the elbow in order to move on the fingerboard. It was [Demonstrates on the cello, playing B-C, B-C#, B-D, B-D#, B-E on the A string. The left hand remains closed (without extension). The reaches are accomplished by shifting the left hand and quickly turning the wrist (in the same way as is described in the Havivi notes.) And the hand was always like this [Indicates closed ('natural') position] [plays E-D#, E-D, E-C#, E-C, E-B on A string, demonstrating the same motion (with the wrist motion direction reversed, obviously) in descent] It was always that motion with the wrist, and with the elbow helping so that the hand never had to use extension. It was this motion [Plays an A major scale starting on the G string, ending on E on the A string, keeping the left hand in closed position] instead of [plays the same scale using extensions] that, which he thought was quite clumsy. That was basically one of the things which I caught onto and helped me a great deal in my own left hand... That was basically one of the most important aspects of his left hand.
Q: So what about the elbow? You said wrist and elbow?
A: Well it's this [Demonstrates the arm movement] It's a combination of -it comes from the body, elbow and the wrist....
Q: When you went in for a lesson, you'd play for him and...
A: Very often -he was difficult. He was not an easy teacher. He couldn't understand that technique for him was a problem. It was so natural -his way of performing was so natural that he couldn't understand how someone like myself would have the difficulty which I had. It became easier for me, fortunately, because of my work with him, but at the time it was -he said to me at one time, he said "Well, if you practice for six hours a day, maybe for a few years, maybe you'll learn how to play the cello" and I was already a very successful young cellist, not doing solo work at that time. I was doing a lot of chamber music and I was also a professional, because I was first cellist of the chamber orchestra at CBS. But, he was very sarcastic about my ability. The nice thing though, was that even though he was very rough with me, it would come back to me from other people that he admired my talent, at least. So I didn't feel so badly because he spoke well about me, to other people. And to his wife, Eva.
Q: I remember a quote from Claus Adam who said " A compliment from Feuermann was something along the lines of 'Well, it's beginning to sound like a cello, almost!' "
A: That was his sarcasm. I once became very enthusiastic -I must have been about 22 years old, 23 years old- and I decided it was time to play a debut recital in New York and (Rory and I were not married at this time, but we were friends) and we drove up together to consult with Feuermann about doing a recital in New York and I thought well certainly he would give me some help with programming and then listen to me play. And we arrived in Scarsdale and we sat down and told him about this great plan I had to have my debut recital at Town Hall and he listened for a while and scratched his head and he said "You know, I have 12 concerts next year in the United States. Why do you think that you are going to have a career on the cello? I think it's a mistake for you to even do a recital in New York, because there's no chance for you to have a career. They don't like the cello in this country. What are you going to do?" He said "There are only two cellists playing in this country and we have a struggle, and one is Grisha and the other is myself. And I only have 12 concerts" This was the kind of sarcasm -but it took me a while till I made up my mind that I was going to try anyway and I had my debut recital a little bit later and then played almost every year. But he was a great influence, up to a point. Not a great influence musically. I think that he was a fine musician and played magnificently, but there was something else I was looking for at the time and after he died, I decided to go on and do some further work and wound up with Alexanian for about a year -a year and a half. He was a great mentor, a great pedagogue. A terrible cellist .
A: Oh, he couldn't play the cello
Q: I heard that Feuermann actually used to go and play for Alexanian?
A: Yes, he did. He never played a recital without coming to play for him. And that's one reason why I went to Alexanian, because he had an enormous admiration for Alexanian as a musician, and he respected his musical judgment enormously. How it came about that I got to Alexanian -I had been drafted in to the service and I was in the Navy, I signed up in the Navy and they finally put me into the Washington Symphony and Navy band... But I had a pass -three day pass to come up to New York for the weekend, and on the train I met Mischa Schneider who was in the Budapest Quartet and playing at the Library of Congress, and he was on his way to New York to have a lesson on the sixth suite of Bach, and he invited me to come along and listen. And I did go with him and I enjoyed tremendously the work that he did with Alexanian, so I started coaching with Alex[anian] and I did so for a year until finally the war was over and Alexanian suggested that I go to work with Casals. That's a long story -that's how I got to Casals. He wrote to Casals, asked whether he would teach me and Casals wrote back and said "No." So I took the next troop transport to France and wrote again. I was in Paris, I had to get a visa through the American School at Fontainebleau. I registered there to study with Ecking[?], but that lasted just one lesson. And I had written to Casals asking whether he wouldn't just listen to me play once and he wrote back and said "Well if you come on such and such a date and if you donate $100 to Spanish charities, I'll listen to you play". So I left the Fontainebleau school, took a train down to the south of France, to the Pyrenees -and that's a long story too, how I got him to agree to teach me- but I stayed for two years there. So it was the combination of work with Feuermann on just the amazing facility which he had on the instrument, the musical advice from Alexanian and then the final touching off of the enormous creative gift of Casals.
Q: What differences did you notice in Casals approach to the instrument and Feuermann's?
A: I think that Feuermann was a naturally gifted instrumentalist. He was not a great creative talent in the same sense as Casals. Casals was innovative, creative in his musical ideas. There was nothing unmusical about Feuermann's playing. Absolutely nothing -I mean he was a wonderful musician, but there's a dividing line between a wonderful musician and a creative performer, whether it be on the cello or the piano or any instrument. There is one point where you listen and you hear something which is a great work of art. That you heard when Casals performed. When you listened to Feuermann, it was spectacular. It was fine musicianship -everything was there except he didn't produce anything in the way of phrasing which touched the very depth of your soul. It wasn't there. But he was to be admired for what he was. You don't compare -you can't compare Feuermann and Piatigorsky and Casals
Q: I was just wondering if you noticed differences in the technical side of the approach?
A: Well Casals had, by far, not the technical perfection of Feuermann. He had a struggle playing the cello. Everything that he did, which finally turned out to be very natural and very beautiful, was work for Casals. He was not that much of a naturally gifted instrumentalist. He had to work hard, and his playing was not as exact as Feuermann's. He had difficulty sometimes with his memory, sometimes with his performance, and he was a completely different kind of talent.
Q: Zara [Nelsova] told me that Casals' recordings are not that representative of his playing...
A: Definitely not. I have some old wax discs here of Casals which are representative, but for the most part I don't think that they represent the best of his playing. Even the Dvorak concerto which he did later during the Prades festivals -they're not representative. You see, when I studied with Casals, he played a great deal. He played the Suites for me endlessly. I'd have two or three lessons a week -I was his only student the first year. The second year Zara came down for a month or so, but I was there. I was his student, his protégé for two years. My lessons sometimes were three or four hours. My lessons were long and exciting. So I got a chance to hear him relaxed, still in his great condition. He was 70 years old at the time and still had great, great command -it was before the festivals started. So I was fortunate enough to be able to hear Casals at his best. So when you talk about the difference in objective, I think that one can't really place them on different levels because the level which Feuermann reached in his own way was higher than the one which Casals could have reached and it was vice versa. The level which Casals reached in his musical conceptions, Feuermann could never reach, and as a matter of fact, in my lifetime, nobody has reached. I have tried, but it doesn't work. If anyone were to be able to, I should be able to, and I can't. It was so natural and so surprising -the sense of beauty which he created with a phrase, and always surprising because it was something which you hadn't been able to think of yourself, and that's such a wonderful thing to be able to hear the workings of a genius.
Q: Did Feuermann talk specifically about vibrato?
A: Not particularly. But of course it was something that one could get into one's ear and emulate after a while. That's the Feuermann sound. There were many things which I learned from him. There were techniques of making music. Techniques of glissandi which could be very exciting. The use of the bow and the left hand at the same time in doing long glissandi to really take you right out of your seat with the impact and strength
of the playing. Things like that
Q: Timing the arrival of the glissando?
A: In the Schelomo when he did [Demonstrates]
it was the left hand and the bow together -things like that which he showed me which were... The movement of the entire body creating this enormous drive. Those were wonderful things that he showed me. And also the relaxation in the left hand, the ability to do very beautiful, beautiful musical glissandi by relaxing the hand in between. Lovely things which have stayed with me. Casals couldn't express his musical ideas. He could show you, he could demonstrate. Feuermann could talk. Casals didn't talk. If you played a phrase for him he'd say "No, no. Not like that" and then he'd sit down at the cello and show you what he wanted. But Feuermann explained to a greater extent what he wanted.
Q: You were talking about relaxing in between the shifts...
A: For instance in the Polonaise [Chopin, Op.3] if you were doing [Plays the first two phrases (i.e. the first two cello entrances) in the Polonaise. Demonstrates a relaxed glissando from the top G of the first phrase down to the C, and then another in the second phrase from the D(edc#d) up to the F#]
Q: So it's letting up of...
A: Yes, letting all the tension out. Things like that can be so helpful in phrasing.
Q: It seems on the film that his left hand is very 'active', very tight in a way when it's moving...
A: No, I don't think it was much different than [Demonstrates playing all four fingers rapidly in a relaxed motion in scale passages] It's that ease of motion which he had which was so wonderful and my hand, I think, is very close. As a matter of fact, when I was in great shape, 6o years ago, they compared my playing at that time -in the Times- to Feuermann's because my left hand was very much like his.
Q: You have a little bit of angle [in your left hand], kind of like a violinists approach... [His left hand angles slightly back towards the pegs, as seen from straight on]
A: Yes. It's the ease of motion and never the extensions, just the movement of the body, moving with the hand, and also a little bit of the wrist for this [moves wrist so fingers strike string] -for the enunciation.
Q: Did he have the enunciation of every note, so that you can hear every finger on the fingerboard?
A: Yes he did. Casals even more than Feuermann. Every time he started it was [demonstrates finger hitting string]. That kind of thing. He wanted the beginning of every note. He wanted to hear it just like the piano. It had to be crisp -even in pianissimo.
Q: And I notice you do sometimes the plucking he talked about?
A: Yeah. [Demonstrates with the 'plucking'] That's the Feuermann left hand.
Q: It's always in this position. [Closed, angled slightly back]
A: And always with great simplicity and ease. It' s not a struggle.
Q: And it seems in control because it's not extending...
A: And also it helps for intonation, because your fingers find the right place if they're relaxed. If they're tense, you lose some of your sensitivity and the fact that your hand is relaxed also helps to play in tune.
Q: It's a relaxed hand but at the same time you have a hammering action from the fingers?
A: Oh yes, but that doesn't take strength. That's just a question of tendon striking, not muscle.
Q: Did he ever talk about exercises for trills?
Q: Or did he recommend any kind of exercises in general?
A: No. I studied only major pieces in the repertoire. I remember I did the Dvorak concerto with him, I did the Brahms F major sonata, I did the Locatelli sonata with him- these were the works that I had with him. I must say that I had to go into the service and that was he reason that I stopped working with him, but it was not enough for me. I felt that I would have loved to continue working with him. It wasn't as intensive a period of time as I had with Casals. It was the same period of time, but with Casals it was much more concentrated work. I was living in the village and working three times a week with him, and with Feuermann it was once every two weeks. I even remember a card he sent me because I was late arranging for a lesson. Two weeks went by and I hadn't gotten in touch with him and he wrote me a card and said "Was your last lesson the finish of your study with me?"...Made me sit up.
Q: In terms of bowing, was there anything you took from him?
A: It was very difficult to capture anything on his bowing because it was the most beautiful bow arm I've ever seen and, while I've tried to hold the bow the way he did, things didn't come out the same way.
Q: How did he hold the bow?
A: It was a very natural -it was a little bit more like a violin bow than a cello bow. He had a little bit of an angle to it, like this [Demonstrates. His hand is angled towards the tip. His second finger is placed near the metal band on the frog] with the little finger up on top of the bow. Casals position was this [Demonstrates. His hand is more squared (vertical), with his third finger on metal]. Rostropovich's is like this [Demonstrates. His wrist is lowered and his fingers are higher on frog. It looks 'grabbed'] ...
A: So that would explain why in the video, whereas most cellists have their third finger on the metal, he had his second finger near the metal.
A: Well it would pull down this one, yes. This was his position. But mine eventually was changed to this [indicates Casals type position] But his bow arm was as great as any violinists'. I think even greater than Heifetz. Incredible bow arm, he could do anything. You know that Toscanini had his eightieth birthday party and the NBC orchestra had arranged for a birthday party for him at one of the auditoriums and the orchestra came in short pants -with velvet pants, like prodigies. And Heifetz came and Feuermann came with his short velvet pants, and one of the things on the program was Feuermann playing the Mendelssohn violin concerto, the last movement with the cello [ed.-he means violin] between his legs. And it was a sensation, I mean the way he handled the bow, it was just incredible. He played a beautiful performance of the last movement of the violin concerto.
Q: Someone told me that if you watch Heifetz, you'll notice that he plays a lot in the upper half of the bow...and they were thinking that Feuermann was along the same lines.
A: I don't think so.
Q: One thing I did notice on the video is very conscientious usage of the bow in terms of spacing...
A: Yes. Well the tremendous control of the bow...
Q: About glissandi -you talked about the releasing in between [notes], the coordination...
A: And the use of speed of the bow also, in ...the Feuermann slide. It's [Demonstrates-the same passage as before in Schelomo] The use of the bow and the finger together. That punch that he had [In the demonstration, Mr. Greenhouse makes an accent with the bow, partly with bow speed, to coincide with the arrival of the left hand] Enormous projection with the use of the speed of the bow and the left hand.
Q: Did he talk about waiting before the shift?
A: Well there was always the [Demonstrates a small hesitation] There's that little wait before the -two hands work together. With my students, I always talk about that particular kind of glissando, which was enormously helpful in bringing out the climax ...
One comment that I think I would like to make. When I knew Feuermann, he was unique. He was absolutely unique. There was no one. I had heard Cassado and I had heard Garbousova at that time, they were contemporaries, and I had heard Mainardi and some of the French people -Maréchal, and that was an era. I don't think today that we would have been quite as astounded with his technique, because I think he was a forerunner of a new way, a possibilities of playing the instrument which has caught on. And now when I'm on the jury for competition, as happens very often, I find an enormous degree of expertise on the instrument which we never had in the days when I was a young student. This is all new. When I listen to a thirteen year old...Hanna Chang. When I listen to a little kid like that play with a technique which is incredible for that age, thirteen year old. We had nothing like that. We didn't have any Menuhins playing the cello at that time. We had Felix Salmond, who was a fine musician and a wonderful artist. Had a very beautiful sound, but couldn't play the cello as well as most cellists play today. Had difficulty with the instrument. And when Feuermann came along, we didn't even have a knowledge of Casals playing, because he hadn't come to the United States and I hadn't heard him in person as a youngster. ...I'm talking about those years from 1925 to 1935 when I started to become serious about the cello and there was no opportunity of hearing Casals. I heard only Willem Willeke and [Janos] Sholz and Alfred Wallenstein ...the first cellist of the Philharmonic. These were the cellists, and they were not great instrumentalists, none of them. And when Feuermann came along, it was a shock that the cello could be played the way it was, the way he played it. So he was the one who showed us what the horizons could be on the instrument. More so than Casals because, while everyone loved Casals playing in Europe -he was revered in Europe- in America he was not known. He had sparse audiences. He had 75 people in Philadelphia when he played at Orchestra Hall. So he was not the model. It was later, when Feuermann started building his reputation, and Piatigorsky also, that we began to discover what was possible on the cello. Feuermann more than Piatigorsky, but Piatigorsky also was wonderful artist, very sensitive, and so he made his mark in this country as well as Feuermann. There was great competition between the two.
Q: Did you ever have the chance to play to Piatigorsky?
A: Yes, I did...I always had a new Packard convertible, right up until the time I went into the Navy, and I used to drive him up to Tanglewood when he had a performance with Koussevitzky. I was the one to take him from New York to Tanglewood and always had a chance to play for him and lots of talk with him. I had a nice friendship with Piatigorsky, but no real study with him. He resented the fact that I was working with Feuermann. Said so too. They were not great friends.
Q: You talked about the general technical level having risen. What about stylistically?
A: Well there's been an enormous influence today with Rostropovich. He has become the major influence in the cello world today. Everyone wants to be either a Yo-Yo Ma or a Rostropovich, because naturally young people want success with their work and so they emulate the people who are successful. I think that they are both not quite in the Piatigorsky mold. I think that Yo-Yo would be closer to have followed in the footsteps of a Feuermann than Rostropovich. I don't know whether the principles of Feuermann have rubbed off on Yo-Yo. I would say that he has the advantage of being as natural a gift as Feuermann on the instrument. I don't think that there's anyone who's been able to communicate musically on the cello as well as Casals. There is no one today, and there is no one at the time when he was playing either, who came up to that standard of musicality and artistic height. I admire Yo-Yo's playing. I think he's a wonderful, probably an enormous gift on the cello in every respect and certainly Rostropovich is a genius in many respects. His knowledge of the instrument is formidable and his work with new compositions of great difficulty -being able to analyze and work on new pieces is spectacular. Nobody else has the same ability. But these are all different, various aspects of talent, and one has to pick in his own way what he's looking for. Some people will react to the playing of a great player like Fournier and another one to Tortellier or to Navarra. Each one has a stamp and I personally found my own horizon to be as close as I could get to the musical inspiration of Casals. With the help or the technique which I learned from Feuermann and the musicianship which I got from Felix Salmond. They were all helpful in building something which I eventually felt was my own way of playing the instrument. And I've used all of their ideas in order to make my life a beautiful one, doing what I wanted to do, which was for the main playing chamber music, interspersed with orchestra performances and solo recitals, but for the most part a diversified career which gave me the pleasure of making music. And using all of the ideas which I've gotten from many teachers.
Q: It seems a happy combination of teaching...
A: I think it's essential. I feel sorry for the young gifted people who stop studying too soon, because there's wisdom in age and there's guidance also from the older people. And just because you start on a career, of any kind, and you might be twenty five years old or twenty eight years old and you think 'Well it's time to stop studying now. It's up to me' No, but there's so much to be learned when you're thirty years old. And that's how old I was when I went to Casals. I was thirty and I still had the desire to learn from a great master. I wouldn't have gone to anybody else at that point, but I knew there was one man who could still lead the way for me to open up new vistas of musical ideas.
Q: That seems like a much healthier attitude than this attitude running rampant right now that if you're not touring the world by 18 [years old] you should be out of music.
A: It's almost sad to see the lack of development in the people who have great careers. They have great careers -they're playing all over the place with fantastic fees, and you hear them play and it's a little bit deteriorating from what you heard ten years earlier when they were just starting out. It doesn't improve, it gets worse as they go along. And I'm talking about string players now, with big reputations. And the mistake is that they stop studying, they say 'Well, I have everything that a musician could want. Why should I go study now?' The mistake is that they can never really achieve any great satisfaction for themselves because...learning is something that goes on your whole lifetime and if you don't continue and if you're not willing to subject yourself to teaching, at some point, you miss out on the great pleasure of making music, because even today -I don't want to play any more. I mean I can play, but I have stopped performing except for an occasional sonata which is not demanding, but I've stopped playing because I don't want to spoil anything that I've done in 50 years of a career and I don't trust, physically, I don't trust myself to do things on the same height as I used to. But I'm still learning. I'm still willing to try something new on the instrument. If I see a student who can do something that I can't do, I take it from him. And I'm not ashamed to. So it's this attitude which I feel so sad about when I hear great performers who not only stay on a level, but come down lower than their own standards, simply because they're not learning as they have their careers. I can bet that there are things which just in discussing with Yo-Yo, talking with Slava, who's a friend of mine, that would give them some ideas, and of course I could get some too. But the interchange of ideas at a high level is so important. That's why someone like [Louis] Claret, who is having a big career now in Europe, came for a week. I've had lots of people, like Frans Helmerson, people like that who I can talk music with and show them some of the ideas which have passed on through Feuermann, through Casals. Give them some ideas too of which way they want to go.
Mosa Havivi studied with Feuermann in Berlin from 1930-35, and continued a friendship with him for the remainder of his life.
(paraphrased from interview notes)
Mr. Havivi spoke of a 'rocking' motion when moving the left hand up or down the fingerboard. When going up the fingerboard, the left hand begins inclined towards the scroll of the cello and rotates forward as the distance is traveled ending with [what appears to be] a quick finish to the rocking motion -that is to say a large part of the 'rocking' is accomplished during the final stage of the position change yielding an attack from above. The procedure for going down the fingerboard is exactly the reverse-'rocking' backwards, as it were. He said that by utilizing this procedure Feuermann was able make distance traveled on the fingerboard irrelevant and was therefore unafraid of leaps of any distance.
Mr. Havivi spoke of Heifetz's use of the upper half of the bow, a region which he believes Heifetz utilized for his best playing. He stated that it was both easier to play slowly in the upper half -contrary to one's instinct- and easier to control fast speeds. He implied that Feuermann was aware of this, and like Heifetz utilized the upper half to great effect.
Havivi said that Feuermann believed that each finger had its own type (sound) of vibrato and sometimes choose fingerings based on the type of vibrato sound dictated by the music. He said that Feuermann frequently used different bowings and fingerings but produced the identical musical effect regardless. He related a story of Feuermann performing a fingering in the Haydn D major concerto that Havivi suggested to him during the dress rehearsal. Havivi also said that Feuermann made an effort to put changes of position on half steps. Speaking about thumb position, Havivi said that the thumb was always to place firm pressure on the string, and remain as such while the other fingers moved freely. He demonstrated a fingering taught by Feuermann in the Beethoven A major sonata which illustrates a usage of the thumb that is quite unusual:
He said that Feuermann used this fingering in this instance because the diminuendo implied in the phrase allowed it.
Havivi talked of Feuermann's absolute coordination of the right and left hands and the clean style that resulted, saying that Feuermann never produced a glissando unless he choose to do so. Havivi believes that the right hand is much more difficult to master. Speaking of Feuermann's performing editions, he stated his belief that Feuermann choose for them easier bowings and fingerings than he might use in performance, for the sake of the students. Specifically, he discussed the A minor scale in the opening of the Schumann concerto which Havivi remembered Feuermann playing in one bow, but which is separated into two in his edition.
Talking about Feuermann's consistent choice of fingerings to conform to the dictates of the musical line, he compared his fingering for the opening of the Boccherini A major sonata to that in the Stutschewsky and Piatti-Forino editions. While Feuermann plays 1-2(4212)-4-2, the other editions choose 1-2(4212)-1-2 resulting in an unmusical accent on the G#. Feuermann's shift is on a half step and on a major beat, avoiding an accent on the musically weak G# 16th note:
Havivi believes that pure technique should be learned by playing Bach and reminisced on Feuermann's performances of the G Major suite, the prelude of which he said Feuermann played non-legato so as to deliberately distinguish his performance from Casals, and the C Major suite, which he said Feuermann played in fast tempo but beautifully sustained much, he said, in the same manner as his recording of the Reger suite.
Asked to speak about the differences in contemporary cello playing compared to Feuermann's, Mr. Havivi spoke of the impact of steel strings [Feuermann used a steel A string when it became available, but his lower strings remained gut] and the impossibility of obtaining quality gut strings today. He correlated this with the modern obsession with producing a gigantic sound. He also spoke of musicians not understanding how to produce what the music dictates. He gave the example of an actor speaking the phrase " I want to go with you". Depending on whether the emphasis is placed on "I", "want", "go" or "you", the meaning of the utterance changes drastically. It is the same in music, and musicians ought to be aware of the same musical 'grammar' when creating a phrase, he argued.
Speaking about Feuermann as a teacher, Mr. Havivi said that Feuermann had a 'god given' technique and that he didn't tell his students how to correct their flaws. That, Havivi said, you had to learn for yourself. Feuermann would say only "Can't you hear that you lose that note?", or "...that you accent that note?" or whatever the complaint was.
Asked about Feuermann's apparent favoring of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers and less frequent usage of the 4th finger in fingering, as observed in his film, Havivi said that Feuermann learned from violin technique. In comparison to other cellists who believed in extending a whole step between each of the four fingers, Feuermann understood that the second and third finger were connected, he said. He also discussed Feuermann's practice of extending the third finger straight while trilling between the second and fourth fingers, which he said relaxed the hand.
Mr. Havivi composed a set of Seven Caprices, published by Carl Fischer in 1939, which are designed to develop the cellist's technique in accordance with technical principles discussed here.
Q: When did you first study with Feuermann?
Q: And you first met him?
A: I met him when I was on tour with Leopold Stokowski with the All American Youth Orchestra...In that orchestra was a cellist ...[Irving] Klein, and Klein was a student of Feuermann and he was dying to bring me to play for him, so when we got to Los Angeles...that was when I went up to Feuermann's home and played for him, and then I decided I wanted to come and study with him. So when I got back to... Toronto, I commuted to New York for the lessons with him. But I didn't have so many. I was with him maybe five weeks, that's all. And then he died...I can't even tell you how we got along, because there was no problem and I used to hear that he was miserable to all of his students -absolutely awful- but ...George Neikrug said that he never -when I came for my lessons- did he ever say anything that was nasty. He was not nasty to me at all.
Q: David Soyer told me also that Feuermann was very fond of you...
A: I wouldn't know that. But it was wonderful to play for him. I didn't have that much time, but the real impression came after his death, with the remembering of his playing and the few records that he left, and everything about his way of execution was so effortless. Not that I had any problems with technique, but I do remember a wonderful...incident when I was playing -I've forgotten where it was- when a man came backstage and introduced himself. He said "You don't know me, but I was a very close friend of Feuermann" and said "I got a letter from Feuermann in which he said 'Today I heard a young Canadian girl who plays better than I do.' " Can you imagine being told that from somebody who died years and years and years ago? That really did have a tremendous effect on me. But, you know, he didn't say anything to me about my playing. They never do. Neither did Casals...There is something about teachers when they do have a talent -they are so honest and interested in what that student does, and what they're going to do with their future, that it's automatically taken for granted that the student knows how the teacher feels about them. But I realize it' s not so and I do think a teacher should never hold back, and I do feel it's wrong not to tell a player how you really feel about their playing because everybody needs that. Not false praise but honest opinion, which is what we're looking for...
Q: What would you say you got [from Feuermann] in terms of approaching the instrument?
A: As I said, very little -while I was with him. I think the only work we had time to work on was the Rococo Variations. And that I played when I was thirteen already. He was -I remember one of the things he stressed very much was the perfect coordination of the bow and the left hand when you go to take a glissando, and if you listen to some of his records, a lot of his glissandi have that perfect coordinated sound of the bow and the left hand, but one doesn't always want to make that kind of a glissando. There are many different kinds of glissando. But he didn't have too many. But it was his effortless way of playing...but it was effortless playing which made great sense. I mean you can't get carried away because somebody plays effortlessly, but it's what they do with it, and it was what he did with it that was so wonderful, even with the few recordings that we have left. But he had great purity of sound, which was wonderful. It was a very special sound. As I say, I only heard him once in public.
Q: [Are there] any specific types of things that you remember him criticizing in the lessons?
A: That's the only thing I can remember in my case. I sat in on one or two of his lessons but I can't remember what he told them except that he was always bawling them out...
Q: Did he talk ever about things to practice -scales, anything like that?
A: No. Not with me, no. Those that came to him, I think, had a pretty well established technique. Otherwise I don't think he would have bothered with them. I remember he was moving into his new house, which was not yet ready, in Scarsdale, and the lessons took place once at the home of one of his students, here in... Manhattan and I can't remember the name of one of his students, who lived at home, and so he would come in from Scarsdale or once we went out there...
Q: After he died, you said you found influence in his playing?
A: Well, after he died, I listened a lot to his recordings and remembered the one and only time I heard him play in public, and that was when I really began to understand his way of playing.
Q: Did he have a big sound?
A: He had a big enough sound. I heard him at Town Hall. That was where he did the Mozart [trans. Szell] concerto.
Q: How would you compare Feuermann's approach to the instrument with Casals?
A: You can't compare. It's impossible... Casals was something in his own class. You couldn't compare anybody to him. Feuermann had yet to arrive at that stage... They all tried to get to him... Cassado when he was a young man came close, but later it was not the same thing. Cassado was the only real student that Casals had...the others spent time with him, but it was really Cassado that you can really say was his real student, and [also] probably Suggia, who studied with him when she was very young. You can't compare anybody that I know with Casals. I don't speak about his recordings that he left, because they are not Casals at his best. They're very much exaggerated in many instances because he was a very nervous recording artist...His way of overcoming his nerves was to exaggerate sometimes and you can hear that in some of his recordings. But I worked with him and I know how he plays. ...When I first went to study with him and I took the Bach suites and I listened to the sixth Bach suite and copied every single little thing that I could hear. And then when I went to study with him for the first time in Prades, and the last lesson was the sixth suite and I played it for him -he nearly threw me out. He said "Why do you do this?" and "Why do you do that?" and I didn't want to say 'Because you do it on your record.' And then he sat down and played it for me. It was completely different. So I know the way he plays...
Q: How would you describe his playing?
A: It was as close to pure music as you can ever get. His playing was reaching into what the composer was trying to say first. Not, as one hears so often today, the opposite way -doing something because you're not sure of what to do musically. That wasn't his way and that's what made him a very, very great artist. He had a magnificent sound. It was not what I would call an earthy sound, but a very pure sound and expressed his musical ideas like no one I ever heard.
Q: Did you work with Piatigorsky?
A: Yes, for about three summers.
Q: What about Feuermann's approach to the instrument versus Piatigorsky's?
A: Piatigorsky did not have the natural technique. He got around, and when he was much younger he got around extremely well, but as he grew older he stopped being as careful or caring as much. Music probably didn't mean as much to him as it did to Casals. Or to Feuermann. So you find a lot of his early playing was full of 'little tricks'. But I don't like to say that because he was really a great artist. But I think of him in the beginning, because I heard him when he first came out of Germany, in London and -one of his early performances- and he walked on and played Dvorak and Don Quixote in one evening. It was magnificent. And then I would go and hear him every time he came to play in London until I left. Then he moved to this country...There really are no artists that I would put in their category. There is one and he is about the closest I think to what I feel is great playing...Miklos Perenyi. He's a lovely artist, but you know this country is not interested in anybody else except Yo-Yo. I mean I'm very fond of Yo-Yo, but that's a different planet.
Q: What do you think is different in the modern style of playing -in general?
A: It's like a beautiful Iris that has a different color put over it and you call it an Iris. It's not real. And the unfortunate part is that a tiny percentage of an audience that goes to a performance today knows any different...and the managements. Forget about them. They really don't know anything, and if you're over the age of about fourteen you're over the hill.
(Paraphrased from notes taken during conversation)
American cellist David Soyer studied with Feuermann during the year prior to his Feuermann's death (1941).
Mr. Soyer discussed an instance when he, being too young to know any better, asked Feuermann "Why do you slide so much?" Feuermann responded that "The cello is not a clarinet. You don't just cover the holes with your fingers" and explained to him his philosophy that cello playing should have a fluidity much the same as the human voice, and that the glissandi he employed helped to make it sound so. Mr. Soyer said that Feuermann held the opinion of the cellist Diran Alexanian, whom Soyer classified as a disciple of Casals, in high regard and frequently consulted with him. Soyer states that Alexanian particularly emphasized articulation. Mr. Soyer also stated that he believed Feuermann's bow arm technique was related more to that of violinists more than to traditional cello technique.
As at teacher, Mr. Soyer found Feuermann harsh and demanding, not beyond hitting the student with his bow or breaking out into peals of laughter at their attempts. He believes, however, that Feuermann's playing represents the most highly developed style of cello playing to date and considers him to be more 'modern' than contemporary players. Mr. Soyer identified Alexanian, Casals, Feuermann and Janigro as practitioners of a 'modern' style of cello playing, while the schools of Leonard Rose and Orlando Cole were named as examples, among many, of a contemporary style which Soyer considers to have returned to pre-Casals practices.
In The Strad , Mr. Soyer is also quoted, from an interview by John Samuels, as saying "Feuermann was a happy combination of much good schooling. He was a pupil of Julius Klengel...and also had the schooling of Diran Alexanian and hence that of Casals. The result was a very highly developed way of playing the cello; very efficient and amazingly accurate and facile. At the same time his playing had a tremendous elegance. Rudolf Serkin once said 'Feuermann had a great deal of Viennese charm in his playing.' "
1 As They Knew Him The Strad, 99 (April 1988): 315
Sophie Feuermann, the youngest of the Feuermann children, became an accomplished pianist. She began performing with her brother in 1927, and continued to collaborate with him through 1938.
[Prior to the tape recorder being turned on, Ms. Feuermann explained that the name 'Munio' was a version of Mendel, which was Feuermann's birth name, honoring his recently deceased maternal grandfather. She said that the name Emanuel was suggested as a stage name by an agent, who thought that it created the correct association for a prodigy, when he first began playing before the public ]
SF: Wherever I give speeches...I always start with explaining 'Munio'. Because Munio is not a pet name. In our background, there was no room for pet names, you know, we just were improving. Our whole background is improving, which is very important.
...I can't stand biographies. Everything turns out always wrong. I don't know why. For instance... Munio started cello when he was seven years old. Two years later, nine years old, he gave his first concert, the debut, and the next day -morning, people came -I mean very important people found out where my parents lived and wanted to meet the wonder. And that is very interesting because he played football, and so my mother sent my oldest sister to football place and get him back. He didn't come. He wants to play football, which is wonderful, because we were absolutely never brought up as something special. And that trait you hear in our playing, you know what I mean? This clear way, and not fuss and just the music and musicianship, you know? This is the way. But what is on the tapes? [Referring to a radio documentary] That his debut was 14 years old with the Philharmonic in Vienna.
Q: How would you say that your musical thought, and his musical thought -your way of approaching pieces -is different from the way people approach pieces now?
A: If you read my script [Referring to a script for an educational video tape which has not as yet been produced, entitled "Conversations with Sophie Feuermann on Musicianship and Artistry"] you have all the answers, but I can tell you just basically what I call- you have to live in the skin of the composer, and the difference between my time and today is when you hear today, everything sounds alike because it just -Mozart's father, Leopold, 250 years ago- I read only these originals. You see these? These are in own words. Beethoven, Mozart...-said that "Teachers are the worst because they don't think that one should learn, they only think of themselves, and they don't teach anything." You see, when I start, when I did teach beginners, I never had trouble -from scratch. It's like upbringing of children. You can not really tell the children what to do, but you give them the basis, the value, and then they have to do with it whatever they do -it's their development. And this is what is entirely lost, in everything -everything, you see? And look at the culture. Look at the youngsters, how they look. Look how dirty they look, how torn pants, everything, you see? The same thing is in music. I turned on -it was in my speech actually- I turned on by chance -I'm not a television person- however, I turned on the educational [channel] 13, you see, and here was a replay of Rubinstein and Isaac Stern gave a master class in Jerusalem, and as I turned on the television he was sitting there on the left side and the young girl -she must have played, which I didn't hear- and I hear him say (you know many pupils and friends called me afterwards, after this) [he] said "I don't know what has been going on for the last 50-60 years" -he was already very old. He said "When I went at my age, when I was young, we made music. We played because we loved it, in music. Today, it's only fast" And this is the answer to your question, you know what I mean? Then comes Isaac Stern, and a young violinist stands up and starts a Bach Partita, and after a few bars -the way I do it, you see- he stops him and he says "I don't know what has been going on for many, many years"- he wasn't that old yet. So he said "I have the feeling what the violinists -the instrumentalists- cannot get out of the instrument, they want to get out of their body. That's why they move around." And I added to it 'I pity them when there's a double mordent!' You know with their neck, you understand? It is disgusting. I cannot go to concert anymore, nothing. And this is the difference, that they don't live in the skin of the composer. Each composer is a different individual, and not every artist should play every composer. When Horowitz plays Mozart or Schubert it's a disaster, you know? But there will be one Horowitz in this -you know, and he plays other things, you know what I mean? And this is very important. This is the answer to this. And when you live in the skin of the composer, where does it start? With your eyes. And you see from the eyes, you have to see what the composer writes, and from the eyes it goes into the head, and from the head it goes into the heart, and from the heart -Rubinstein said the same thing- from the heart it goes into the arm and the main thing are the tips, you know what I mean? And that creates out of reading, musicianship. Then you develop artistry, and there are maybe a handful of artists in the whole world, but you have to live in the skin of the composer.
Q: I also read what he [Feuermann] was saying, talking about the first approach to a piece being to analyze it by sight... and understand it. So when you would come to rehearse together, how would you approach it?
A: We rehearsed very little. You know, I remember, because it's the same approach. I remember in big cities...we had a big concert in Vienna, and it was on a Monday -I remember like today- and he sent me one week before, on Monday, the whole music and ... was the first performance of the Stravinsky, the Italian Suite...Then he arrived Sunday evening, before Monday, the concert. And as we are sitting having dinner -I was married and he stayed in my house- so he turns to me -you know I'm the kid sister and we had a special relationship which Eva's mother and everyone was so jealous. They all had one thing in mind. To break it, because they were jealous. You have no idea about my suffering. And Munio's suffering. He would never have died if I had been there. Never. So he says to me "Now what about tempos?" The Suite -the other things I knew...Beethoven and Chopin sonata, everything. So I said "I'll tell you something. I sped it up to the metronome numbers, so you have freedom. You do what you want." Oh , he was delighted. And then it got to be the next day of the concert around five o'clock. He said "I'm tired. No more" So I said ''but what about the encores?" and he said "You will do it." So when we -there were of course terrific applause, etc and -you know my reviews were very often much better than his, even, but I don't...there is no one like Munio, this cellist, you see. But as we walked on the stage to bow and he had some music in his hand, so I say "What is it?" So, I'm not sure -I have a feeling it must have been the [Faure] Apres un Reve, because all he gave -I said "Give me the tempo!"- so on the door... he knocked like this. "This is the tempo." And it went off wonderful, because we had...we understood in the musical level. But the main thing is that you have to live in the skin of the composer and not play each composer the same way. Because then you play only yourself, you don't play the composer.
...[speaking about Feuermann's teaching] he was by nature a phenomenal teacher, by nature. It's always in our house, improvement, improvement. Not correcting, but improvement, and that is very important, because it doesn't hurt the student. When you say you have to improve, it's different from when you just hit him. You get the difference? He was a very, very, very all round wonderful person.
Q: Compared to people in his time, what was the difference?
A: I mean the cello had not developed that much yet. Casals was the first one, and he [Feuermann], when he was 16 years old, he became professor in Cologne and the Gürzenich Orchestra, he became the first in, and the Gürzenich conservatory. And he walked into the office. The secretary-[Feuermann was] 16 years old- said "Get out of here! We're expecting Professor Feuermann." But of course at that time, he didn't what you call teach the way he taught later. Nothing wrong that he did, but it was not that strength -inner strength. If you want to know that he studied for two years in Leipzig with Klengel. When he left Vienna, there came people to wish him well, you know the Feuermann family, so one of the old ladies that came said to him "You know Munio, when you come back, I hope you will be a second Casals." He said, "Oh no. I want to be a first Feuermann." You know, not copying, not imitating others. Has to come from you yourself. With the basis that I explained to you, and this is decisive.
Q: Is there anything you noticed technically..
A: Havivi has his playing...Havivi is the one who has his tone, who has his really mental level, everything. Marion Davis had exactly the same kind...You know what the trick of Munio's -not trick, but the control, how he never -he practiced only the two years in Leipzig. He learned in one week all six partitas [Bach Suites] by heart. That's when he studied and when he played you never hear ...a change of bow. Never. And everyone says, of course, he is. I respect Casals, but he doesn't want to be- first of all, he say...It is a different world. But he only practiced, when we played together in the artist room, only the beginning of the A major-legato [Sings the opening notes of the Beethoven sonata, Op.69] You see? That was the only thing I heard him always play in the artists' room. And then he had an exercise...You see, his control was only came from the index finger. When I got married, my husband was play the piano very well. However, when people came, we play chamber music they wanted to play with me. And that's not good in an -especially- young marriage, you know what I mean? So I really suggested, and he did it, and he was very intelligent and so and he switched to cello -started cello. When Munio came to Vienna, and stayed in my house he studied for two months -had studied. So I felt it's good to switch to cello because you can play Haydn trios -bim, bom, boom- you know what I mean, and so on and so forth. Munio gave my husband his bow that disappeared. If I had that bow, you know, which was, where you hold it, completely bent, like this [indicates the area on the stick of the bow where the index finger would rest] from his control of the index finger...That is the way he controlled the change of bow. And this bow proves what I am saying. His control was completely in the index finger, and when we were in the artists' room, all he did is the one exercise, and I show it to violins, I show it to cellists, to everything. You see you hold the bow and [sings the beginning of a note] relax. Hold the bow, go back. But not pushing. Just starting, you know? Relax. and have the control completely here... Not like this. You play like this never...There's no control, you see. One hears every change and everything is the same. but never like this, you see? That what we called in out family...'watscheln' is like a dog that watschels. And that's what we call when came home and, for instance, my father asked "How was it?" "Oh he watscheld." Then we knew what it meant. You see you don't play like this. Don't do that, please, don't do that. I know it's wrong. Because a legato can not be if you don't control by playing like this. Munio changed this playing 150 percent. This is when you say before Munio and then when Munio played, changed the cello playing, the bowing completely.
Q: Except that it sometimes seems that nobody pays attention to what he did...
A: See that's terrible. Terrible. That was, before Munio's time, we know there was a very good -it was the Rose quartet- and there was the cellist, he was a nice and good...and all, you see, but he played like this. This is not controlled. I teach on the piano the same thing. You see you have to control Then I tell you another trick -secret of Munio's. Trill-you know the trill, when you listen to his trills, you see when it is -you know how. I do the same thing on the piano always, this is why we could play hardly rehearsing. When a trill comes, he puts his hand underneath the neck so that the fingers have the same distance control, and not like this and not like this...but not stiff, that you control...but the trill, and this is when you control it...not to trill like this [demonstrates the traditional type trill where the lower finger stay fixed and the higher finger oscillates up and down], but to trill like this, that the distance of both fingers, whatever finger you take, is the same to the piano, you know? ...
[SF:] ...the main thing is if you look at it, that you see what the composer wants. I do always, I tell pupils when they go home on the bus "look at the music and hear it." I know once in my young years I studied a fugue, and at I night I woke up -I could not see one bar. And in the morning, when I went to the piano, that bar I didn't know. You know what I mean? You have to really see it. So, what happened was, Munio was supposed to play, to give a concert in Mainz, Germany, and when he arrived at the railroad station at that time, he collapsed an had a sciatica attack. So he had no concert. He had to go to the hospital and stay, lie in bed absolutely flat, not moving three weeks. No wait -what comes you will be surprised, because it's based on looking. So, then told me all this, I mean I happened to be in Cologne, which is on the way. He had to play a first performance in three weeks, just -and he had to stay in bed- but in three weeks, in Paris. On his way to Paris, he had to change the train in Cologne, so I went to the railroad station and he said to me "You know, Sophie, I haven't touched that concerto, not once. I only learned it lying down."
Q: Which concerto?
A: Oh no -I don't know. It was awful...so he said "I only learned it lying down and looking at it. Learned it, but that my fingers have not touched one tone on the cello" On his way back, I saw him again, and he said "You know what happened? I played it. The next day. And the composer came in-now listen to that stupy -came in and embraced me" he said, "and said 'Feuermann, this is the way I dreamt it should be played, should sound.'" And Munio, in his honesty -he was very straight, the way we are. Straight, that you hear in his playing. Very straight- said "And you know, that was the first time I played it on the cello. I only learned it lying down." That composer was hurt...and that was the end of the friendship...The main thing is that you see and look. Musicianship starts with the eyes. And you have to hear it. That's training. I train them from the beginning like this.
Q: I guess it's a tendency nowadays, when someone sees something, the first thing they do is try to put the bow on the strings...
A: I mean there's no comparison, the way they study today, because the playing is...they play better, I mean purely everything faster. I mean the technique is perfect, but technique is like accomplishment, but it is not musicianship. I'm not out for accomplishment only. And that's it.
Q: But Feuermann's tempos were fast...
A: Not fast. You have to give time. Have you the Don Quixote?...I like the Toscanini better. Some people like the Ormandy better. I like the Toscanini. I think this is really unique. I don't think that he played ever what you call faster. It wasn't his nature.
Q: Somehow it's more fluid...
A: It's more organic. Call it organic. You see, that's the legato. It goes from one into -you know what Michelangelo said? The same thing that has to do with artistry, you see, musicianship. "When a sculpture rolls down a rock, and a piece falls off, that piece was too much." And that is artistry. It has to be rounded out. This is like modern music. I listen to everything, but it'll never succeed because there is no rounded out beginning and endings that closes. Nothing. It's one next to -twelve tone music is one next to the other, but not into the other. Isn't that interesting? To me it's fascinating...Absolutely different approach -it doesn't come from scratch. It's like upbringing of children...
...And Starker just runs on the cello, but he respected Munio. He said he was the king of the cellists. And who knows how Munio would have developed, what he would have done, because he was a brilliant man and very much for learning, you know, improvement. That's our background, improvement. Maybe it has to do with ghetto, you know? Whatever it has to do with, it's right.
Q: Everyone says 'No one will ever play like that again' but it seems that nobody tries to...
A: To find out. I'm trying to tell you -and read my script too, and try to follow it. Of course it's a question a talent. You can not learn talent, but you can improve immensely.
Q: I read in what he wrote, where he said that he thinks it's as easy to play well as it is to play badly...
A: Yes, I mean in an exaggerated way. It's like it's just as easy not to be a murderer than to be a murderer. You know it is the same. You have to know, and when I teach it's the same thing. I compare every thing with life. When you make a crescendo -who is the best one? The best conductor ever was Furtwängler. And Munio and I, we were just excited when we hear Furtwängler. We learned most from him. When you make a crescendo, what it is tragedy today people do it, they start already loud. But the end, that's -the end is the very thing. When you make a diminuendo -I fight it like anything, because it's wrong- they start already soft. But you have to know how many bars to you have to get there, you follow? They take everything much too superficially.
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