, , , , , , ,

This is the next excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:

“I hear that the doctor from St. Louis – Rosenblum is his name – is himself the one who plays the cello. It must be more than a casual avocation with him because he takes it so seriously. I can set my clock by him. He begins his practicing promptly at eight o’clock and continues until ten o’clock. He works another two hours from three to five.

I find myself listening eagerly for those first tentative strokes of the bow across the strings as if he were apprehensive of releasing disharmony, as perhaps he is. Once the instrument is tuned and the danger is past, there follows a moment of silence which makes me think of the brief, suspenseful pause after the conductor raises his baton, a focusing of every ounce of energy and attention. Then the first note sounds as he beings his technical exercises, slowly at first and it seems to me cautiously (but not timidly) and tenderly like a man beginning to make love to a very shy girl. Tempo and confidence increase, however, as the ‘girl’ becomes more responsive.

After an hour spent on technique, he begins working on repertoire. Not being knowledgeable about music, I seldom recognize the composer, let alone the composition, but that doesn’t detract from the cello’s eloquence. Sometimes the notes tumble forth with a bubbling vivacity as if the instrument were laughing. Sometimes they are torn out in anguish, deep and somber, as if it were trying to restrain sobs. It protests, it rages, it rejoices, it consoles. And occasionally it sounds full of self-doubts and questionings without hope of ever finding the answers.

Even when he plays the same phrase over and over in an effort to get it just right, it never gets on my nerves. I like that striving for perfection that characterizes the real artists – the way, for instance, a conductor rehearses his men over and over on one passage until he has ‘moulded’ it to his complete satisfaction.

I suddenly recall that lovely young harpist (I wonder why harpists are usually women and almost always beautiful) from the Indianapolis Symphony years ago telling me how she could not get the exact nuance the conductor wanted in one phrase, and how she went home and thought about it and thought about it until she could hear and feel inside herself the precise way it was meant to be. When she played it at the performance – and here, in telling me about it, she made a very delicate semicircular motion with one hand, a motion that carried through her shoulders and neck and head with a barely perceptible undulation – when she played it at the performance, she and the conductor exchanged Ā fleeting glance that said: ‘That was it.’

…Later. Had my first glimpse of the doctor half an hour ago over in the fish market. I heard someone say ‘Dr. Rosenblum’ and I looked up quickly. He was just leaving and I had only a glimpse of a rather short, stocky man with an abundance of iron-gray hair and brown eyes magnified behind thick lenses.”