Three Major Influences: Toscanini, Herford and Szell
GP: In your book that has been written about you, ‘Dear People’ by Joseph A. Mussulman, he says in the book you had three people that really influenced your life early on: Arturo Toscanini, and a gentleman, Julius Herford, if that’s the correct pronunciation. Tell us about Julius.
RS: Well now those are people who came along after I had begun to work with Fred Waring and certainly they were. We ought to add that third name and the third one probably would be George Szell. I think those are the ones that at least I feel are the most important, Toscanini and Szell and Herford.
[Julius] Herford was a refugee from Hitler's Germany and came to the United States, escaped through France and then through some of the Caribbean Islands and found his way up into New York. And I met him because Lukas Foss, who was a young, brilliant young composer at that time, had studied piano with Julius, if my information is correct, both in Berlin and in Paris for a short while. And Lukas brought him to my attention, and he had almost nothing else to do at that time, and I'd just won a Guggenheim Fellowship which had some significant dollars attached to it. And I was able substantially just to say, Julius, come teach me. Here’s the prize money. And I substantially lived in his house. I used to sleep overnight more frequently than not, and studied with him some 60 or 70 hours a week, because I simply had had very little music education at that time. The great thing about it - there were two wonderful things about it.
The first was his particular genius, and that was that he understood form in music. Music is analyzable and it’s constructed, and it has rules and regulations. But he understood form in music as really the sort of - instead of the sort of dry bones - the heartbeat and the blood of music. And he was able to teach that in a fashion that I don’t think anybody else in his time taught. So that it was not dry musicological research and analysis, but it was just warm living music.
And the second fortuitous thing was that I was - by that time I had started the Collegiate Chorale, and I was engaged in performing the major choral orchestral repertoire: the Missa Solemnis, and theB Minor Mass, and the St. Matthew Passion andthe St. John Passion, and Christmas Oratorio and such, and so in a sense, these were the scoresthat I was studying. And during those years, I never studied a piece of music which I wasn't performing. So It was hours and hours of study at night and hours and hours of rehearsal or performance in the day. And it was so completely removed from the sort of conservatory situation which substantially gives you all study and no time for performance. And so, by the unique combination of his genius and my lack of education, but my being placed in positions where I had to be performing, it was a very, very practical and very quick education.
GP: The two people that really, I guess, put you in the spotlight were Arturo Toscanini and George Szell. What are some of the memories of the legendary Toscanini?
RS: I suppose they didn’t put me so much in the spot light, as they dragged me into theirs, because the light was obviously on them. The thing about Toscanini is I guess that the stories of his temper are not so exactly exaggerated but they seldom take into consideration that the saving factor was always that he never felt sorry for himself. That is to say, he never felt betrayed by his musicians. He felt that the composer was betrayed. And the second part of that was that his anger was childlike and soon gone and quickly gone. And so people never really felt sort of bitter about him but they loved him either for or in spite of it and forgave him almost immediately.
GP: Was he a hard person to work with?
RS: An absolutely simple and sweet person to work for, at least in our experience with him. I can remember the first time I went to study - I was performing the B - the Ninth Symphony with him, of Beethoven, and I was preparing the chorus, that is, and I went to him to ask him about what tempi was he going to use here and what sort of dynamics did he want there about how was this transition going to be made. And he said, You know, Mr. Shaw. And here I was 22 or 23 at the time. And he said, You know, I’ve never had a good performance of this work. He says , frequently the chorus doesn’t’ get it right, and the soloists are almost - cause It’s so tough for the soloists - the soloists are almost always bad, and the orchestra is frequently sort of scrappyand scattered, and he says, and I've never been able to conduct this piece. And so he was extraordinarily modest. He certainly was an authority, authoritative figure. And when he stepped in front of the orchestra, he had it so thoroughly in his head that it was difficult for him to brook any interference whatsoever.
The other sort of sad thing about it was in the later years, it was so thoroughly in his head that frequently, I felt that he didn't hear quite what was going on, not because he’d lost his hearing, but because his attention – I mean I’m talking about the last very last sort of months of his conducting life - his attention was so thoroughly upon the dream in his mind that he actually didn’t hear what was going on so much in the orchestra anymore.
GP: You have one of the associates with the late George Szell here with you now in Atlanta, Louis Lane.
GP: Take us back to those days, cause I’m a native of Ohio and when I growing up, that was the orchestra everybody talked about in Ohio, even though Cincinnati had a modest orchestra at the time with Max Rudolph and people like that. But George Szell was a legend, and you were involved with him in the early 50s and you actually were in Cleveland.
RS: He asked me to come there. I suppose it was 52 or 53 and I was with him for 13 years. And the first year, Greg, I actually conducted - though a good many of them were youth concerts and such - I actually conducted 80 concerts with the Cleveland orchestra. Szell - I guess I met George Szell actually at a Toscanini rehearsal. Szell admired Toscanini enormously and admired his adherence to the score rather than to his own personal feeling about the score and Toscanini’s trying to get out of the way of the music instead of have the music sort of filtered through his own personality and sohe shared that with Szell. But Szell - I guess the differences were, while Toscanini would sort of see the light at the end of the tunnel and just sort of run towards it, Szell would pick things apart, and he found his interpretative qualities in the most detailed analysis of balances. I mean, this particular chord would have one instrument playing forte and another one piano and third one playing mezzo piano and so on. And so Szell found his, sort of built up the piece, little block by block. And Toscanini just sort of shined - shone a light on it and there it was.
GP: Was Cleveland, Ohio, an unnatural place to have a cultural center like that, did you feel?
RS: No, no, because you see Cleveland already had. For instance, any place in the United States where there’s been great wealth for a long time - Cleveland had a great museum as Chicago has a fabulous - I mean the greatest collection of French painting in the world. And so Cleveland already had a reasonably good tradition before Szell crowned it with his own musical discipline. And there was no doubt that Szell also was a tyrant, and the thing that saved him was that he was harder on himself than he was on anybody else. And also, he was not interested in it, that is to say, for his own glory. He was interested in discipline because that was the way music should be played.