Q: You invoked the name earlier this afternoon and that is Julius Herford. How would you place him and evaluate him in your own musical development?
RS: Well, absolutely central to it. This is the greatest musical influence that I have had. I’ve had three significant influences. The two performing influences were in certain respects Toscanini and Szell, and we can talk about them some other time, too. But Julius was my principal thinking influence.
Julius came to the United States and was of a sufficient musical stature to be helped out, as I understand it, by Goebbels, I think. He performed Bach Cantatas in Pastor Niemöller’s Church and he was in the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin, he was a teacher of Lucas Foss in keyboard both in Berlin and Paris, and a little bit in composition. He came to the United States through the intervention, with help finally after he reached Cuba, I think, of Judge Rosenman (Samuel Irving) who was a personal friend of Franklin Roosevelt.
Then he was sent here to starve because he didn’t have a lot of English and he was teaching a little bit at Henry Street Settlement School for Music, but Lucas had arrived in the United States and Lucas introduced me to him at a time when two things happened: the first was that I needed desperately a musical education because I hadn’t taken but one course in harmony through college, and I’d just received what in those days was a significant grant from the Guggenheim Foundation to write a book on choral conducting – which had never been written but is still in the works. I turned that over to Julius which allowed him to live for a year and he turned over his household to me, I substantially slept there and I was with him 50-60 hours a week. I am still the closest of friends with his wife who is still living at the age of 92 or 93 and driving her car around town to drive the older people to market and such. Wonderful, wonderful woman. I became a little bit of a son to them and also a guide into the vagaries of life in the big city.
Julius had two wonderful things he was willing to impart to everybody. The first is that he considered the structure of music - we’re talking the simple analytical structure - harmonic structure, metric structure, so on, the analysis of Composer’s styles. He considered that the lifeblood and the heart of music, rather than its cold bones. And he was able to impart that enthusiasm to many of his students.
I think principally myself we began teaching together within a year or two. I doing the conducting and practical building of the chorus and he doing the analysis of the work for the people who might take it back to their church choirs or their community choruses or school choruses and do it there. The other thing he had which I had no concept of at that time, was a knowledge of performance practices, which means stylistic practices of various periods, and/or the way to get to them - the books and the sources. His analysis, I’ve been told, had its background in Schenker analysis and most musicians know something about it, at least the name.
Since I came in through the instrument I was woefully ignorant of any ivory tower study of music. The unique thing that happened in my particular case was that I never had a chance to study a piece of music that I wasn’t working on and wasn’t performing. So I went from rehearsal to study to rehearsal to study. In some respects it might be called a disadvantage but, since my instruments were so good and I was in a position to hire the best people that were available, in addition to building the large amateur groups, too, it was an incredible learning experience and enormously speedy. It took me a long time to discover that Bach was more exciting with 24 good voices than it was with 240. I couldn’t believe it. The Magnificat – as I will magnify the Lord – well, the more magnification the better, you know? And 24 voices don’t magnify that loud.
I’d mixed up my cultural and even my religious enthusiasms and symbolisms with cheerleading. And I could lead yells wonderfully! And he had never met an American yell leader before so that must have fascinated him, too. It was a loving, wonderful relationship. I was desperately in need and he was desperately anxious to establish a new family in this country, an intellectual family, and it just worked greatly. He ended his career teaching these analytical studies to Doctoral candidates at I.U., Indiana University, which is the largest School of Music in this hemisphere. It doesn’t mean the best but it certainly is the largest and it has had, through the years, a most distinguished faculty; violinists like Joel Gingold (Josef Gingold). The world’s classiest artists who want to teach, if they couldn’t find anyplace else that made a home for them, Indiana University did. A man by the name of Wilfred Bain built it and did a wonderful thing for American music.
So, he ended his years there and he passed away, I suppose, 7 to 10 years ago by now. He had many students who came to him from Canada. He also taught at Westminster Choir College so he met some of them there and many of them at the University of Indiana. I think he has had a very significant influence in the development of choral music in the United States largely through students like myself. I was in a position to influence others more than some of the others are, but he had influenced performance practices and styles and a commitment to more than the love and enthusiasms of choral singing, which we must talk about at some time and which are so important. Until the point now where you can get a degree in Choral Conducting in the United States probably at a half a dozen places that are superior to any degree that is offered in instrumental conducting because the musicological amount of information; they have another 300 centuries of music and, as Hindemith says “The best music that has been written in the history of civilization is century 15, 16, and 17." And he wipes out all of 18, 19, and 20th century music …including mine.
You’ve got a degree that offers a choral conductor the richness of intellectual discovery that is just staggering, particularly with communications. The manuscripts don’t exist only in Metropolitan Library or Metropolitan Museum or the British Museum. You can thermofax them all over the world or microfilm them. Any library that is worth anything can get you almost any piece of music that exists in the handwritten manuscript of the composer. And he helped create this hunger for this kind of information.
Church music, in one respect, is in terrible, terrible shape with terrible tastes. But, on the other hand, there are few people who are using these materials too. There must be a dozen churches in a town like Atlanta that, at least three to four times a year, have serious programs with orchestral forces and fine choirs. They are done with various degrees of talent but that didn’t exist when I was growing up.