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This Day in UMS History: Artur Rubinstein (March 12, 1953)

March 12, 1953
Hill Auditorium

Artur Rubinstein, pianist

There are a few musicians with whom I’d love to sit down and have a conversation.  Bach, certainly, to ask him how he wrote such incredible counterpoint.  Mozart, just to joke around with (although I also have a bone to pick with one of his doublings in the last movement of the D major K. 499 string quartet).  Some I’d just be content to hear play: Paganini, for instance, or Joseph Joachim.  Rubinstein fits into both categories: by all accounts his playing was arresting (certainly the recordings I’ve heard are), and, judging by his memoirs My Young Years, quite an entertaining companion as well.

The Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society has this to say about Rubinstein:

“Arthur Rubinstein represented in both his life and his music-making a unique joie de vivre.  That alone would set him apart in this serious musical age, where there is a high degree of skill but very little charm or poetry.  Arthur Rubinstein was able to communicate joy in his playing.  He loved the piano, he loved the music he played, and he was always able to charm audiences all over the world with one of the most extraordinary personalities that this century has seen.

In his long life he saw interpretation pass from Romanticism to the percussionism of Bartók and Prokofiev, and then to the literalism brought in by the anti-Romantic movement, in which young pianists were trained to observe only the printed note, keeping themselves out of music.  Rubinstein did not like what he heard.  He realized, as all great artists do, that music means nothing until brought to life by an imaginative, sympathetic player.  He knew that it was the function of the interpreter to refract the message of the composer through the prism of his own mind.  Otherwise a robot could do the job as well.

Perhaps the example of his own life, and of the many great recordings he left, will spur young artists…to be their own masters, to realize that there is more to music than merely playing the notes correctly, to make music with a big mind and a big conception that not only reproduces the notes but also transcends them.”

I highly recommend reading their entire bio of Rubinstein.

Here’s the program from 1953:
Franck: Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
Chopin: Sonata in b minor, Op. 58
Debussy: Prelude in a minor; Poissons d’or; La Fille aux cheveux de lin
Ravel: Ondine
Villa-Lobos: Prole do Bebe (The Doll’s Family)
Liszt: Valse oubliée
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor

“This day in UMS History” is an occasional series of vignettes drawn from UMS’s historical archive.   If you have a personal story or particular memory from attending the performance featured here, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.