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Up Beat Down South "Hot Music on the Half-SheU For Two" Anton Rubinstein's Southern Fan GAVIN JAMES CAMPBELL With that, some severalp'licemen run up, andIhad to simmer down. ButIwouldafit anyfoolthat laidhands on me,forIwas boundto hearRuby out ordie. — George William Bagby In 191 3 a stalwart group ofmusic lovers in Adanta braved aJanuary evening and made dieir way downtown to Taft Hall. They had no trouble finding seats. Only weeks before, their evening's entertainment had unceremoniously evaporated when lackluster ticket sales convinced die featured soprano to cancel her performance . The city's embarrassment momentarily subsided, however, on this winter night. The work of Smetana and Chopin soothed die enraptured, if somewhat sparse, audience, and generaUy drowned out the duU thuds ofmen exercising on the gym floor directiy above the recital haU. Having effectively rendered die touching "Bedouin Love Song," die featured basso, Myron W Whitney, began "Ah, Love But a Day." Only a few short measures into the piece, however, a resounding crash on the upper floor sent a large chunk of ceiling plaster plummeting onto the stage, barely missing the soloist. Whitney manfuUy continued, but the speU was broken. After a few minutes, the concert's organizers caUed a halt to die remaining program before additional plaster missUes caused greater harm than merely crushing the audience's dignity. The South has long suffered under the perception that it could not appreciate music. For Adantans, the Taft HaU debacle sadly symboHzed dieir vaHant but futile attempt to counter this image. Ofcourse, southerners have always Hked good no music, but concert-going Adantans saw a difference between Music Appreciation and appreciating music. Rarely has the clash between the two been explored widi more loving glee than in George WilHam Bagby's humorous sketch, "How Rubenstein [sic] Played." Bagby was born in 1 828 halfway between CharlottesvUle and Lynchburg, and initiaUy trained in medicine before taking up the pen. Over the years he edited a number ofVirginia newspapers including die Southern LiteraryMessenger , and he gained renown, particularlyin his native state, for his lectures and comical writings. "How Rubenstein Played" originaUy appeared in the Richmond Sunday Transcript and, Bagby later recalled, "proved to be the most popular piece I ever wrote." It aUowed die characterJud Brownin to describe in his own rip-snorting manner what he saw, heard, and did whüe Hstening to the pianist Anton Rubinstein in New York City. Rubinstein was forty-three years old when, in 1 872, he launched his American tour. Brought by the Steinway family to endorse their pianos, the flamboyant Russian agreed to come largely because the princely sum he commanded helped keep pace with his wife's spending. He was uncertain of what he'd find, and his contract had a stipulation protecting him against "Savage Indians," and also stated that the management had "no right to take me to the Southern States." By 1873, however, he made it as far as New Orleans. In aU, Rubinstein played 215 concerts in 239 days. In die tradition of Franz Liszt, he mesmerized audiences widi his flowing mane, his huge hands, and his commanding presence. He attacked the piano with enormous strength, not aUowing frequently wrong or missed notes to hamper the composition's overall mood. Each performance was an aural marathon; it was not unusual for a recital to last up to four hours. His music left audiences ecstatic but drained, and left piano repairers with hours of work to replace broken strings. Jud Brownin's account demonstrates that— Rubinstein's initial fears to the contrary—southerners may not have observed the rules governing concert-haU decorum, but they certainly appreciated the music. Up BeatDown South in How Rubenstein Played from The Old Virginia Gentleman and OtherSketches BY GEORGE WILLIAM BAGBY "JUD, they say you heard Rubenstein play when you were in New York." "I did, in the cool." "WeU, tell us about it." "What! me? I might's well tell you about the creation of the world." "Come, now; no mock modesty. Go ahead." "Well, sir, he had the blamedest, biggest, catty-cornedest planner you ever laid eyes on; somethin' like a distractid billiard table on three legs. The lid...


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