- Moriz Rosenthal in Word and Music: A Legacy of the Nineteenth Century
As one of the foremost representatives of the so-called "golden age" of pianism, Moriz Rosenthal (1862–1946) earned esteem as much for his intellectual erudition and rapier wit as for the virtuosity and sensitivity of his playing. Born in what was then Poland, Rosenthal pursued studies with Chopin's pupil Karol Mikuli, then with Liszt's pupil Rafael Joseffy, and finally with Liszt himself at Weimar. He divided his performing career between Europe and the United States, but did not settle in this country until 1938, after which Rosenthal and his wife Hedwig Kanner devoted much time to teaching; their best-known pupil is Charles Rosen. (The book's preface contains Rosen's vivid personal recollections of Rosenthal.)
Until now there has been no single or substantial source of information concerning Rosenthal's background and career or his attitudes toward music and piano playing. The present volume attempts to gather a selection of his more important writings, supplemented by additional material. Much appears in print, or in English translation, for the first time. Of the book's thirty-one chapters, eighteen are devoted to Rosenthal's own words, while the remaining thirteen contain reviews and observations by others, among them Eduard Hanslick, James Gibbons Huneker, and Kaikhosru Sorabji. (Disclosure: a copy of the original text of Rosenthal's "Mahleriana" chapter was furnished by the undersigned to co-editor Allan Evans in 2001 at his request.)
Of prime interest is Rosenthal's unpublished autobiography, which unfortunately covers only the first fourteen years of his life. Later portions of the book offer the pianist's descriptions of his encounters with such notables as Anton Rubinstein, Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss II, Gustav Mahler, and Ferruccio Busoni. Rosenthal's keen eye and ear for their individual peculiarities make these chapters particularly valuable. One of Rosenthal's own less-endearing qualities was his extreme sensitivity to criticism. Included is a caustic letter he sent to a critic who gave him a negative review, as well as the critic's published response to Rosenthal's letter.
In 1922 Rosenthal became embroiled in an especially acrimonious situation that reflected Viennese musico-political intrigue at its zenith. Among the other players were critic Julius Korngold and his son, composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, then in his mid-20s. The dispute had been festering for a number of years and involved the elder Korngold's shameless promotion of his son's music. The present volume confines the matter to a single attack on Julius Korngold in a Viennese newspaper, incorporating a sworn statement from Rosenthal. Unfortunately the co-editors have failed to provide the full context of the scandal, which reveals considerably more detail, not all of it flattering to Rosenthal. This information is readily available in Brendan G. Carroll's The Last Prodigy: A Biography of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1997), pp. 72–75 and 150.
A four-page chronology gives the reader further biographical data on Rosenthal, but it is not supported by any specific references or documentation of sources. Some entries are questionable: in 1888, for example, Rosenthal is said to have played in New York on 13 November, "during the Great Blizzard." Unfortunately it is an established fact that the Great Blizzard occurred between 11 and 14 March of that year. In general, source citations are hit-or-miss throughout the book, and the lack of a bibliography is a further liability. (Even the subject of the book is denied any listing of his published articles.) Endnotes for all chapters are gathered at the rear of the volume, and these provide, among other things, identification of most of the names mentioned in the text. Here we find fellow pianists such as Josef Hofmann, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, and Artur Schnabel, although it is difficult to imagine any reader of the book who is...