They Shall Have Music


Three men figure in this account. One is a bearded and aquiline orchestra conductor who lives in a white house with blue shutters in Scarsdale, New York. One was a Kapellmeister who lived mostly in Eisenstadt, Austria. The third was a red-haired priest who spent most of his very good life in Venice, though he died in Vienna. It was he who came first, so we shall begin with him.

Now, here is a conjecture — but I think a safe one — that in the forepart of this millennium, in Venice, illegitimate or deformed babies, especially girls, sometimes were disposed of by the most obvious and convenient method, that is, dropping them from windows into the canals. The churchly orders thought ill of this procedure, and so there came into being the Hospital of Mercy, where foundling girls were reared by monks and nuns, trained to some service, and then placed with good families.

In 1676, in the sea-girt city, was born a boy named Antonio Vivaldi. He became a priest, but soon had to ask a special dispensation, because he was physically unable to say Mass. His associates recorded his symptoms, choking and gasping, and I should guess these indicated too much histamine in his system and too much incense at the altar. Anyway, he became music master at the Hospital of Mercy. Apart from a few tours, after his fame spread, he spent nearly his whole life there, caring for and teaching his beloved girls. He did love them, and they him. They became a constantly renewed orchestra and chorus. Vivaldi wrote about five hundred works, almost all for them. When he had an especially talented girl he would write a concerto for her instrument, whatever it was. His own instrument was the violin, and he served as principal violinist at St. Mark’s Cathedral.

The second man in this chronicle I have written about so much in these pages at other times that I will be brief about him now. He was Franz Josef Haydn, born in the same year George Washington was, one of the hardiest, most equable, and most genial composers. In the same way that Washington was father of his country, Haydn was father of the symphony. He wrote 104 works in this form, together with six Masses, which are almost choral symphonies.

It would be wrong to say that Haydn’s and Vivaldi’s works sound alike. Sixty years of change separated them. But there is certainly a kindred temperament in them, or perhaps I should call it similar emotional content. It is hard to describe, for the reason that some great men write music is to say things words cannot. And the element that Vivaldi and Haydn have in common is a mixture itself. There is wondrous joviality, too big and courageous to be called lighthearted, though sometimes it is playful. There is a tenderness that can only be made and conveyed by men strong enough to be at peace with themselves and fearless of the world. There is also the dancing vigor that proves alertness.

Vivaldi was a colorist, as a Venetian should be. Any of his solo concertos, or concerti grossi, are in chiaroscuro, brilliancy against solid background. Haydn was master of form in motion, as Da Vinci and Rembrandt were in their line drawings. Despite his almost everlasting good humor, he knew how to use tension within constraining form, and he did. Everybody learned from him. Beethoven used Haydn’s devices to make bombshells — the terse, explosive phrases. Mozart and Schubert used them to make song into symphonies. Brahms employed them to construct philosophical sermons. But Haydn came first, with dances and hymnody. Mozart called him best friend; Beethoven kissed his hands at his last public appearance. Oddly, we have ignored this lesson and conferred neglect, as we have done also to Vivaldi. Vivaldi, too, had an admirer whose opinion should carry weight. He was a Leipzig choirmaster named Johann Sebastian Bach.

Now to the third man. Two years ago Max Goberman, of Broadway and Westchester, decided he was going to enlarge the listening public for Vivaldi and Haydn. At the time Mr. Goberman was in his very successful job as musical director of West Side Story, and had some money in the bank. Any acquaintance of his would know the money would not long be idle if there were some good work to be done. He has loved Vivaldi and Haydn since he met their music in his youth.

Born in Philadelphia, Goberman, now turning fifty, was a prodigious boy violinist. He won two successive scholarships to study with Leopold Auer. He attended Curtis Institute and then made, he says, two very important discoveries. One was the overpowering delight of the sound of a great orchestra. The Philadelphia was in its very finest days at that time, set afire by Stokowski. The other joy was that of playing chamber music. “This remains my passion,” Goberman says. He played in various chamber groups, and in the Philadelphia second violins for five years. (He began at eighteen.) He left Philadelphia for New York when Stokowski quit but went back briefly when Fritz Reiner took over, out of fascination with Reiner’s baton technique. The urge to conduct had struck him.

There are not many opportunities to conduct for a young man, not if he takes himself seriously. Goberman found one way. He formed an orchestra — this was in the days before LPs—and made recordings of things no one else wanted to record. There were the eight little symphonies of William Boyce, cut for Timely Records, now defunct. There were the two octets of Shostakovich. There were suites of Pcrgolesi and Stamitz. None of these made any money, needless to say, but Goberman got his hand in, like a pitcher being brought up in Toronto. He also found another kind of podium, not initially remunerative, but instructive, with the original Ballet Russe. He then conducted for the New York Ballet Theatre from 1946 to 1952, partly just because he wanted to.

The ballet experience led him naturally and resistlessly into musical comedy conducting. He does not like to talk about this, though I do not see why. I heard him go through the Bernstein score of West Side Story, and I thought it was hair-raising. However, his heart is firmly planted in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and will not be uprooted.

It was Vivaldi who really inspired Goberman’s founding of the Library of Recorded Masterpieces. But credit must also go to the Milanese firm, G. Ricordi, which decided to publish the Vivaldi literature in its original shape. Goberman secured rights to the scores. Ricordi is an organization, I have the impression, with a certain feeling of cultural duty. Goberman was able to promise he would record all of Vivaldi’s works, and his cooperation was welcomed. He formed, with his own string quartet as nucleus, the chamber orchestra he calls the New York Sinfonietta.

As this is written, he has brought out thirteen Vivaldi records. One of them, by the way, is the best Four Seasons I have heard on discs. And one of them is an index record, with theme identifications of the other twelve. The whole array is, and will continue to be, something for the connoisseur, not for everyman. Each album contains a bound-in miniature reproduction of the authentic score. The price is right, considering the quality. Records put forth by the Library of Recorded Masterpieces are not on sale at your neighborhood dealer’s. They must be bought by mail from the company, at 150 West 82nd Street, New York 24. For regular subscribers, meaning people who order and pay for at least six records at a time, the album price is $8.50, but they get every fourth record free, so really the cost is only $6.50. For people who order works singly, on impulse, the price of an album is $10.00.

It happens that I have some experience with perfectionist record making, and I can say with assurance that a stereo disc, with score, meeting the standards of all participants, is very likely to cost the makers 85 per cent of the sales price. These records are collectors’ items. Goberman says he is not being commercial, and he isn’t. Maybe he does not want this publicized, but if a subscriber receives a damaged record, or quickly damages one himself, he can get a replacement at a price that surely represents a loss to the company. He cannot cheat, though. He has to turn in the injured record. The idea is to present to those who wish it the product of a wonderfully confident musical era when, to use the terminology of Oswald Spengler, our culture had not yet degenerated into a civilization. When the Vivaldi writings and the Haydn symphonies are well into the making, LRM intends to add to its productions the complete works of Corelli and the Brandenburg Concertos of Bach, which Goberman thinks have never been properly recorded.

Goberman, as befits a man on a labor of love, is insistent on the matters of performing and recording rightly. To make the Haydn symphonies, of which Numbers 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 21, 22, 23, 24, 40, 41, 51, 56, 60, 96, and 98 are already on tape, he sought the assistance of the world’s leading Haydn expert, of whom I have written before. This is the redoubtable H. C. Robbins Landon, who founded and ran the Haydn Society during its life and wrote the monumental Symphonies of Joseph Haydn. Goberman telephoned him. New York to Vienna, and Landon went out and hired the State Opera Orchestra. Goberman flew over to conduct; Landon supervised the sessions. Before each session, the two men went through the authenticated scores note by note. “Number 98,”says Goberman, “has the harpsichord part, omitted probably since Haydn himself played it. And Number 96 we have played with the original orchestration, which was not rewritten in Germany; I don’t know that anyone else has done this.

“We loved making these symphonies. Nobody ever was satisfied. Once Rob came out of the control room, and I said, desperately, ‘Tell them I can’t keep time.’ He said, ‘Confidentially, neither can they.’ But at the end of each session, the chief engineer would come and say, This is the way to make records.’ I will say this: by the time we were halfway through, these jokers knew I was a musician and I knew they were musicians. We never had any trouble but getting the music right. Anyone who thinks Haydn is easy doesn’t know Haydn.

“Whenever I dream at night about conducting something, it is a Haydn symphony. Some conductors play him as a sort of hors d’oeuvre. He isn’t an hors d’oeuvre. He’s the main course.”

I suggested that, if I might order my entree, I would like Number 39 in G Minor, with harpsichord on the side. Mr. Goberman, jutting his beard and favoring me with a Mephistophelean grin, said, “Wait a while; it will be coming up.” I think he will be as good as his word.