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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dr Shain

On the road in Stockbridge is a pretty house with a sign saying "Guesthouse." I could swear that I was taken there (perhaps with my younger brother) to play with Dr. Shain's granddaughters. I need to find out if Dr Shain did, indeed, own that house at some time.

My great-aunt was widowed in her late 40s (1948). Her husband had been an eminent musician, and my mother, whose family lived with Vicky and Fritzi, occasionally mentioned names that are familiar even today: Leonard Bernstein ("I saw him being made," said my mother), Serge Koussevitsky. When Vicky died, Fritzi lost much of her social standing and social circle.

She was a beautiful woman and--though I don't remember this--an excellent cook. Viennese cooking is very refined, so this is probably true. I have an old Dionne Lucas cookbook with her name in it.

Every now and then, my mother would say "My aunt had an affair with Dr. Shain." Once she added, "when his wife was in a wheelchair."

Fritzi had many guests at her cottage, some for meals, some overnight, and occasionally some paying. She had a long widowhood and even Vicky's generous life insurance proceeds didn't last. 

I have the guestbook from the cottage. In it is this poem. I will scan and post the page at a future date.

1950

A lovely lady by good fortune met me
whose popularity is so great we all must agree
Like a magnet, her charm which she doth possess
Draws everyone to her whether in cheer or distress.

It is Fritzi this or Fritzi that, is all you hear
And to each and everyone she brings joy and cheer.
Here is wishing you all a Very Happy New Year.
With the hope all of us next spring in good health return here.

Arthur I Shain

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fritzi's friends

My great-aunt Fritzi was beloved of many. My grandmother was a prickly, rather dissatisfied woman--I have inherited that temperament. Fritzi, beautiful and even-tempered, was everyone's favorite. 

At least once I got to stay with her after my family went home from the summer house she had in Stockbridge. She was worried that I would be bored without kids my age (perhaps 9 or 10). I told her that I liked old people. It was true.

I accompanied Fritzi on her daily rounds. We visited John and Meredith who had chickens. My aunt went there to buy eggs. They lived in a tiny red house. I was told that John built it himself. They also had a greenhouse and a work shed. Across the road was a duckpond.

I found the house fascinating. It was the smallest house I had ever been in. There was a sleeping loft. To access it, one climbed a few steps, walked on a piano top (which served as a step) and the rest of the steps continued from there. I mentioned this to my mother, wondering if it could be true. She didn't know.

We passed the house on every visit since it is on the road to the cottage. It looked uninhabited for many years. Then a few years ago I noticed a "for sale" sign. The windows of the house were boarded up. A year later the house was torn down. I will never know for sure about that piano step. 

One day, I will post some of the photos we took of the property in its decrepitude, not as it is in my memory. 

My aunt was a famous gardener and people came to admire her plants. One day she took me to see an acquaintance, an eccentric old woman who was a retired school teacher. Her house was decorated with geometric black, red, and gray rugs, which years later I realized were Native American rugs, probably valuable even then. The owner too had a famous garden. She had been to Japan, which seemed to me very exotic. She had created a Japanese garden in her backyard. She had had large and beautiful rocks brought from afar. One, I was told, cost $100. I was amazed at the sum. 

Eventually, my aunt found a young girl for me to play with. We didn't like each other very much. That girl is all grown up. Though I have never seen her again and can't remember her name, she too still visits Stockbridge every year. Her brothers bought her share of their family house, and she remains close to an aunt who also summers there. If we ever visit at the same time, I mean to ask her if she remembers our failed play date.

When we visited Stockbridge last summer, I told my husband Tom that it was the only place in the world where there were still people (very few by now) who knew my great-aunt.  She died in 1969. There are still people who smile when they meet my daughter, because they know that she is named for my grandmother Emma, who spent her summers there as well.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Vicky's Clarinets

My mother sometimes remarked that no one knew what my great-aunt Fritzi had done with Vicky's clarinets. Noodling around the internet last year, I found out--from a blog post by the eventual recipient of the instruments. Their eventual donation to the Boston Symphony is--like so much in life--entirely fortuitous.

I mentioned the article to my mother's cousin Herbert (who died last year). He and his wife had seen the clarinets on display in Boston. He did not seem to know that their whereabouts had been a mystery to our family. This is perhaps because my mother Renee and her parents lived with Vicky and Fritzi. My grandparents continued living with Fritzi even after Vicky's death.

Fritzi, who had no children, was like a mother to my mother, and like a grandmother to me. Herbert and his parents moved to a house of their own. In a flash of memory, my mother mentioned that Herbert's father Hans had thrown a chair at Vicky. Eight people in one apartment was perhaps too much.

The Long and (Wood)Winding Road of Two Clarinets


This essay is a research document that accompanied  my donation of Viktor Polatschek's two Albert/Muller/Oehler system clarinets, an A clarinet and a Bb clarinet,  to the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), on Sunday, August 12, 2012, under The Koussevitsky Music Shed at Tanglewood. The clarinets have been shown publicly at Symphony Hall in Boston since the fall of 2012 as a highlight of a feature display on the current clarinet section of the BSO. I am indebted to Ms. Bridget Carr, senior archivist of the BSO, and to Ms. Jill Ng, senior major gift officer of the BSO, for their assistance with this project.
Viktor  Polatchek's two Albert/Muller/Oehler system clarinets
Manufactured c. 1909 by F.Koktan and Sons, Vienna


This is a story about three musicians, two of whom never met and the third the link between the two, about the richly resonant and textured woodwind instrument that has defined their lives, and about the love they each have had for their chosen instrument and its craft. It is also a story about mentorship, heritage, stewardship and legacy, connecting episodes in the lives of these three musicians, with the clarinet epicentric as their muse, and with clarinetistry as the roadmap. It is an interesting story which fills in some holes and closes some loops along the way, much as pressing the many rings and closing the many holes of the clarinet help to make its sound so unique, elegant, tonally even and seamless through the diatonic scales.

There are three interconnected strands to the circuitous journey of two clarinets, from their manufacture in the early 1900s in the workshop of the pre-eminent woodwind maker in Vienna, Austria, Franz Koktan and Sons, to their purchase by the then principal clarinetist of the Vienna Philharmonic, Mr. Viktor Polatschek, to his crossing the Atlantic in 1930 to become principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), to their being given to Mr. Eric Simon by the Polatschek family sometime after Polatschek's death in July, 1948, to their being given by Mr. Simon to me in June, 1994, to my donating them to the Boston Symphony Orchestra on August 12, 2012. 


Viktor Polatschek (1889 - 1948)

Viktor (Victor) Polatschek was born January 29, 1889 in Chotzen (Choceň in Czech) Bohemia, in what is today the Czech Republic. He began to study the clarinet in 1903, at age 14, in Vienna, at theKonservatorium fur Musik (later named the Akademie fur Musik),the Vienna State Music Academy. He studied with Professor Franz Bartolomey from 1903 to 1907, graduating with highest honors, and then re-enrolled in 1909 to study with Professor Hermann Gradener. He began teaching at the Vienna Music Academy in 1921 while playing at the Vienna State Opera. He kept his academic post until September 30, 1932. His students included Alfred Boskowsky, Viktor Korda, Hans Kremsberger and Eric Simon. 

In 1910, at the age of 21, Polatschek was appointed as one of the two clarinetists of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) and at theWiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera(VSO)) in 1912,. He was named principal clarinet of both VPO and VSO in 1921, and held those positions until 1930.
Viktor Polatschek in 1930, at age 41,
when he joined the BSO
(courtesy BSO Archives)
Polatschek was also active in clarinet pedagogy at the Vienna Music Academy, and composed several works for clarinet which also have a teaching function. Notable are his etudes based on themes from famous works, including one based on Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, as well as  two important and challenging clarinet primers, the 12 Etudesfor Clarinet, and Advanced Studies for Clarinet. Polatschek was also a musical adviser to the Edward B. Marks Music Corporation. 


In 1930, at the urging of Maestro Serge Koussevitsky, Polatschek emigrated to the U.S. to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra(BSO), and shortly thereafter was named principal clarinet of the Orchestra. During his 18 years with the BSO, Polatschek played the lead parts of the wondrous clarinet literature for symphonic ensembles. He soloed in the Mozart Concerto K.V. 622 on November 14 and 15, 1930, and the Brahms Quintet for clarinet and strings, Op 115, on April 27, 1933. 
Polatschek continued teaching at Tanglewood at the Berkshire Music Festival during the 1930s and 1940s. He was said by one of his students, Professor Henry Gulick of Indiana University, to be “an impeccable musician, with great taste in music, with a very courtly and refined personality.”

On July 27, 1948, while rehearsing the Bach-Mozart series of concerts with the BSO at the Berkshire Music festival at Tanglewood, Polatschek sustained what was presumed to a massive heart attack, was moved to  nearby Stockbridge, Massachusetts for treatment,  and died. He was 60 years of age. His widow and sister survived him.


According to Pamela Weston, in her book More Clarinet Virtuosi of the Past, also referenced in the FSU PhD thesis of TL Paddock in 2011, “A Biographical Dictionary of American clarinetists,” Vienna’s clarinetists, including Polatschek and Wlach, played a German-made clarinet, the Oehler-Albert system clarinet, which is also called the “German ‘simple system’ clarinet.”





A short the history of the clarinet

The clarinet, a single reed instrument developed from the ancient chalumeau, was largely the work of the workshop of Johann Christoph Denner of Nuremberg. By 1707, Denner had perfected an instrument which we would recognize today as a primitive clarinet, with few holes and minimal keys. Over the next century, various design modifications took place to allow the still evolving clarinet to play several octaves, with all notes largely in tune.



A modern day clarinet


Two Denner clarinets from the early 1700s.
Note the minimal use of keys.













In  1810, Iwan Müller (Ivan Mueller) developed a clarinetmechanism that he called the “German simple system” which included two “brille” (spectacle-looking metal rings) on the upper joint. It was Müller who had the clever idea to add pads of kid leather stuffed with felt to the keys, and countersink the holes, creating air-tight seals, and thus improving the clarinet’s chromatics dramatically.


Oskar Oehler (1858-1936) combined the so-called Albert clarinet system of Belgium (1844) with Muller’s German “simple system,” and added his own modifications, to create the Albert/Muller/Oehler clarinet system.
The Oehler system "adds tone holes to correct intonation and acoustic deficiencies, notably of the forked notes (B and F). The system has more keys than the Boehm system,up to 27 in the Voll-Oehler system (full Oehler system). It also has a narrower bore and a longer, narrower mouthpiece leading to a slightly different sound. It is used mostly in Germany and Austria. Major developments include the patent C, low E-F correction, fork-F/B correction and fork B♭."
Franz Koktan was a Viennese maker of Oehler-system clarinets (Anthony Baines, Woodwind Instruments). Viktor Polatschek and Leopold Wlach, Polatschek’s student and another prominent clarinetist, played Oehler clarinets. Wlach succeeded Polatschek as principal clarinet of the VPO and VSO after Polatschek moved to Boston.
The clarinets that Polatschek and Wlach played were crafted by Franz Koktan and his son, Franz II (Franz junior), who continued his father’s clarinet workshop from 1907 to 1945. The following data about the Franz Koktan clarinet manufacturing family was obtained from The New Langwill Index:
Koktan, (1) Franz (b) Klein Oreschowitz / Bohemia 12 July 1842; (d) Wien (Vienna)  3 September 1901) WWI ; fl Wien  (Vienna), 1880-1901. From the same village as Bradka, he is first listed in Wien in 1880 as a specialist in clarinet.
EXHIBITION:
Wien 1888, 1892 (flute, clarinet, bassoon).
Koktan, (2) Franz, junior (b) Wien 29 January 1881; (d) ibidOctober 1971) WWI fl Wien 1907-1945. Son of (1), he worked in the shop after his father’s death; 1907 successor; 1924 admitted master. Clarinet specialist; reported to have attempted between the wars to manufacture the Heckel-model bassoon in Vienna.
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Eric Simon
(N.B. I have researched Eric Simon's life from his memoirs and papers, which reside in an archive that his family donated to Yale, and which is now accessible as:  The Eric Simon Papers in the Irving S Gilmore Music Library at Yale University, New Haven, CT.)


Eric Simon (1907-1994) was a clarinetist, composer, music editor, and one of the great clarinet pedagogues of the 20th century. He and his good friend and colleague Leon Russianoff trained many of the world's greatest clarinetists in the mid-twentieth century.
 Eric Simon was born in Vienna in 1907 and began to play piano at age 8. In 1921, at age 14, he switched to clarinet, and began taking clarinet lessons from Viktor Polatschek in Vienna, at which time Polatschek was principal clarinetist of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Staatsoper. After Polatschek came to America to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra as its principal clarinet, Simon continued to study with Polatschek's successor at the Vienna Philharmonic, Leopold Wlach. Polatscek and Wlach both played German-system clarinets - the Albert/Muller/Oehler clarinets.
Simon moved to Sherman CT in 1949 where he lived for the rest of his life. From there, he traveled into NYC to teach at Mannes College of Music, to give clarinet lessons and to edit, transpose and transcribe a significant amount of the clarinet literature, for several music publishing houses.  Many of today’s most popular clarinet music scores, from Schirmer’s Music Publications and International Music, bear the name of Eric Simon in the top left corner, right under the name of the composer.
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My own musical journey began in elementary school when I sang in the chorus in a 1960 performance H.M.S. Pinafore. Our family moved to Garden City in 1961, where I began fifth grade. It was the afternoon of October 3rd of 1961, during the New York Yankees-Cincinnati Reds World Series, that my father, who was not a baseball fan at all (he, being Italian, much preferred soccer to baseball), came home carrying three musical instruments, a flute, a trumpet and a clarinet, to see if I might want to take music lessons. He asked me to try them, which I did (after the Yankee-Reds game, of course, which the Yanks won), and, for some still inexplicable reason, liking the sound and feel of the clarinet the best, I chose that instrument and never looked back
Fifth and sixth grade were a joyous musical time. Our music teacher and conductor, Mr. Thomas E. Wagner, was legendary throughout not only Nassau County but all of New York State (NYS Teacher of the Year) as a music instructor and pedagogue, and somewhat of a "pied piper" to his music students, as he too was a clarinetist. Several of my classmates and schoolmates who also played under him as their band director have gone on to professional music careers (Douglas Hedwig at the Met Opera Orchestra on trumpet, Mark De Turk as a professional clarinetist and university musicologist, and pianist and organist John Tesh, ofEntertainment Tonight and "The Red Rocks").
Although middle school music was a blur of squeaks and squawks, I stuck with the clarinet, to the consternation of my sisters in the next bedroom, but in high school things took off. Our high school band and orchestra conductor was the disciplinarian and perfectionist, Mr. John Chadderdon, himself also a clarinetist. Those of us who were serious about our instruments were expected to audition for both. Mr. Chadderdon expected, and received, nothing less than excellence at all times. He rehearsed us intensely, and took us to the NYSMA (New York State Music Association) competitions each year, where we played the highest (6A) level compositions, and won each of the three years I was in high school. Indeed, senior year, our concert band played the band transcriptions of the complete Borodin second symphony and the Dvorak ninth symphony in concert !
In high school, I studied with Paul Doty, who was a clarinetist with both the New York City Ballet and New York City Opera. In my senior year, as was the custom for first desk players, I got to choose a solo piece to play with the symphonic band. I wanted to perform the Weber Concertino or the Mozart Concerto, but the latter was too long, and (Mark) DeTurk, one year ahead of me, had played the Weber the year before. So I chose the Ernesto CavalliniIntroduction, Theme and Variations. It thankfully went well, in late December of 1968, despite the fact that I had a 100 degree fever that night. I crashed at home through the week of winter break, too feverish and weak to attend my grandfather's funeral three days later.
I also was invited to play saxophone in a rock band, the All-American Band (which included Hedwig and Tesh, as well as Bob Eggers, a superb vocalist and guitarist, who went on to Yale and became pitchpipe of Yale's Whiffenpoofs, America's oldest a cappella singing group, and is the currently active as the group's archivist). This rock band was a great escape from academic work and gave me a taste of the great pleasure and great challenges of learning to play improvisationally.
I went on to Princeton University the following fall, and stayed with the clarinet, joining the infamous Princeton University Band, where I helped to write those hilarious and very off-color half-time shows for which certain Ivy schools (Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Columbia) are well-known. In the fall of 1972, as Band president my senior year, I remember being in One Nassau Hall (once the capital of the United States during the Revolutionary War) on more than one occasion, in then President Robert Goheen's office, trying to explain why Princeton's alumni shouldn't be that upset in their numerous phone calls and letters they sent President Goheen about the salacious double entendres we were announcing and playing on the football field ! That is when Princeton University first initiated a censorship board to "help out" the Band with its half-time shows.
Off the football field, the Symphonic Band was led by the beloved Dr. David Uber, principal trombone of the New York City Ballet, and a fine interpreter of the music of William Schumann, Gustav Holst and Percy Grainger. The Princeton University Symphonic Band joined forces with Harvard's Symphonic Band to perform at Avery Fisher Hall in the spring of 1972, which we recorded on vinyl LP, essaying Holst's Planets, and Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posey.
During medical school at Weill Cornell Medical College, I continued with the clarinet, playing occasionally with the Doctors' Symphony, which back then met at the 92nd street Y or at Mount Sinai. As an intern and fellow in San Francisco, I had just enough extra money to take lessons with David Breeden, then the principal clarinet of the San Francisco Symphony, and during ophthalmology residency at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, I studied with William Klinger, the principal clarinet of the Florida Philharmonic. While in Miami, I got to meet a former violinist of the Budapest String Quartet, a Mr. Polyatkin, who had retired to Miami Beach, and spent several remarkable evenings with him and his new string quartet, playing the Mozart and the Brahms quintets. On one memorable night, Mr. Polyatkin and his wife invited me to accompany them to hear the Beaux Arts Trio at the Dade County Auditorium. After the performance I spent that evening in the Green Room with the Polyatkins and the Beaux Arts’ great musicians, Isidore Cohen, Bernard Greenhouse and Menaheim Pressler, listening to their marvelous stories about the glories of chamber music before and after the Great War.
During my thirty-year career as a clinical ophthalmologist, I stayed close to the clarinet and classical music. I began to delve deeper into the clarinet chamber literature, with piano or strings, giving a number of lecture-recitals on Mozart, Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, interpolating the backstory of their musical lives and medical illnesses with performances of their ineffable chamber works for clarinet.
In 1991, I organized and lectured at The Connecticut Mozart Festival, a thirteen-concert Festschrift of Mozart and his music, to honor the bicentenary of the composer's death (and finally got to play that Mozart Concerto, dressed up as Anton Stadler, to boot). Earlier, in 1987, I collaborated with Jonathan Lass M.D., a fine cellist, professor and chair of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, in founding the annual classical music recital that took place annually for twenty years, during the meetings of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. A remarkable number of ophthalmologists are also outstanding instrumentalists and vocalists, and the orchestra was of the highest caliber given that these musicians were not music professionals.
Six years into my career as an ophthalmologist, in 1988, I began to care for a patient, Mrs G.L. Born in Vienna, she was a Mozart lover, and having found out about my own love of Mozart and the clarinet, began to help translate some of the German primary sources I showed her of Mozart's life and medical problems. She invited me to lecture and perform in recital at Heritage Village, the retirement community in which she lived, and told me in passing that she happened to be the first cousin of a certain Mr Eric Simon, and whether I had heard of him.
I was elated to hear of this coincidence, because, as every clarinetist knew, Eric Simon was the pre-eminent clarinet pedagogue and musical editor for our instrument. "Edited by Eric Simon" or "Transcribed and Transposed by Eric Simon" was a common finding in many Schirmer editions and International Music editions for the clarinet. In fact, the edition of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto KV 622, published by Schirmer, in the reduction from A clarinet and orchestra to Bb clarinet and piano, was the product of Eric Simon's editing and transposition. It remains a classic edition and is still one of Schirmer's best sellers.
Over the ensuing years, Mrs. L. kept asking me if I wanted to meet Mr. Simon, and of course, I said yes each time. But, for some reason, I didn’t get  around to it for another five years. During that time, Mr. Simon would call me at home or on my cell phone (quite new then), often at odd times of day, in that quiet, mysterious, Yoda-like voice of his : "Vincent, this is Ehreek Sigh-Mohn" and we would talk, often for hours, about the clarinet, its textures and nuances, about various interpretations of the clarinet literature, about which was the best clarinet book I had read (a tie between Jack Brymer’s and Keith Wilson's), about whether I liked Reginall Kell more than Frederick Thurston (I liked Kell more), about what I thought of Richard Stoltzman's vibrato (I liked it because it was Dick Stoltzman’s after all, and I didnt think it was overdone) and about how amazing it was that there had finally been a female member of the Berlin Philharmonic, (and this under von Karajan!), and it was a clarinetist, the brilliant Sabine Meyer. Often, on these phone calls, he would ask me to visit him, but I always demurred, what with patients the next day, or surgery to do, soccer or swim practice with the kids, vacations and all of the rest of life that took precedence.
In June, 1994, during one of Mr. Simon's phone calls to me, he at one point in the conversation casually asked once again for me to come visit him at his home. This time, out of a combination of respect for him and sheer exhaustion, I agreed. He asked me to bring my Bb clarinet, to prepare the first Brahms clarinet sonata, the f minor, Op. 120 No.1, with its difficult opening measures of vast and exposed intervals, and to bring the score that he had edited from Schirmer's.
How did he know I had that particular score?  I guess becauseeverybody who played the clarinet at the time had that score, which Simon edited, in the volume “Masterworks for Clarinet and Piano;” that was the score from which we all learned the Brahms sonatas. The original 1896 Simrock edition (Simrock was Brahms' publisher in Leipzig) was too difficult for us American clarinetists to obtain.
I practiced the Brahms for about a week, and called Mr Simon back that I was ready to come to see him. It was to be the following Saturday. It turned out that he lived in Sherman, Connecticut, only about forty minutes away from my home, another curious coincidence.
I got there around 11 am, to see a lovely, tidy, one-story steel and glass house not dissimilar from the famous Philip Johnson "Glass House" in New Canaan, set back from a pond on a verdant piece of land, forested with enough trees to create a dappled effect on it.
I entered through an open door into a small vestibule which opened onto a large living room. A Steinway grand piano was in one corner, near the only bank of windows, which faced the pond, but every other space- wall and floor, and cabinet- was covered with sheet music!
There was no place to sit, because the couch and all the chairs also had sheet music on them. Mr. Simon was in the corner near the piano, hunched over gnome-like, and greeted me enthusiastically. He asked me to take out my clarinet, put the Brahms score on the music stand that was already set up, and begin the f minor sonata, he accompanying on piano.
After the eighth measure, he stopped me. I shuddered, expecting the worse. And it came. He paused, and then for the next thirty minutes, he critiqued my playing, the quality of my tone, the tightness of my embouchure, my tonguing, my legato, my phrasing. I was so embarrassed and angry at myself that I had actually driven up there just to be humiliated like that, that I wanted to leave. He sensed my frustration because at that moment he said: "Vincent, don’t worry. Last Saturday morning, Richard Stoltzman was standing right where you are standing, and I critiqued him just as severely!"

What ??!! 
Things went better from there, and I got through the first movement reasonably unscathed. I really wanted to go on and play the autumnal, elegiac and poignant second movement with him, but we never did.
Instead, he began to talk to me about the clarinet and its history, and he  started to show me some musical scores; first editions dating back to the 1890s, of the two Brahms sonatas and the quintet and trio, of the original 1920 Durand edition of the Saint-Saens sonata, of the first edition of the Poulenc sonata, of an early edition of the sinfonia concertante for winds and orchestra (KV 297b, Anhang 14.01) that may or may not have been one of Mozart’s compositions, of his (Simon's) correspondences with his friend Leon Russianoff, and of letters from and to Benny Goodman.
It was amazing.
I was witnessing music history.
Here was a master teacher of the clarinet, of my chosen instrument, one of the last living links between the great 19th century and early 20th century clarinetists of Vienna, Germany and France, of Langenus and Bellison and Bonade, and the present day. I was at once astonished and mesmerized. I didn’t realize that four hours had already passed by that point, and I told Mr. Simon I really had to go.
As I left his home and was walking to my car, he called me back and said that he wanted to give me something. So I went back to the front door and he handed me a large and heavy cardboard box, and told me to look inside.
In it were dozens of scores.! And what wonders were contained therein !
I had a glimpse of the Simrock first edition of the great b minor Brahms clarinet quintet and the Simock edition of the two Brahms clarinet sonatas as well ! There was the Saint-Saens sonata,  one of the Weber concertos, the Poulenc sonata and the d’Indy trio, and a number of chamber works by composers I had never heard of (and I thought I knew the clarinet chamber literature).
Beneath the scores, there was also a black music case. Mr. Simon asked me to open it, which I did, and he said, "Vincent, these are Viktor Polatschek's clarinets. You know the name. He was the principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony for many years." Actually, at that time, I didn’t know that name at all. And, I also didn’t know what to say.
What I did notice was that the clarinets in that music case weren't Boehm-system instruments; that is, they weren't the French-made Klose/Buffet Boehm system, which is what most of us play in the US.
I assumed that they were German clarinets, with the Albert/Oehler system, to which  Mr. Simon concurred, and I told him that I probably couldn’t get a good sound from them. He responded that I needn't worry, and that I should just take care of them. I thanked him profusely for these gifts and I left. 
There were a few more phone calls with him over the summer, mostly of me thanking him for his largesse, but those phone calls came to an end too.
Mr. Simon passed away four months later, in October 1994, at the age of 87. I had given him my word that I would take care of the clarinets, and indeed, the clarinets have laid safely in my library for the last eighteen years. The scores still do as well, and when I play the Brahms sonatas, the Saint-Saens, the Mozart, I only play from the editions which he gave me. For some reason, I feel closer to the composers and to their music when I do.

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Three years ago, I began to correspond with Dr Nick Zervas, a prominent neurosurgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a board member of the BSO, about the possibility of donating the two Albert/Oehler system clarinets to the Orchestra, for them to archive, house and display in Symphony Hall.  I had never played the two instruments that Mr Simon had kindly given me, but I felt over the years that they should eventually be donated to a musical institution, and returning them to the BSO was the right thing to do.
There were issues with provenance, and I just gave up for a while. At the time, I didn’t have any documentation, besides Mr. Simon's parting words to me, that they were Polatschek’s.

Now, after examining the clarinets under high magnification, identifying the etched inscriptions of "F. Koktan, Wien" on the upper and lower joints of both instruments, identifying numerical codes on the upper and lower joints of both clarinets, noting the Albert/Oehler mechanisms in both instruments, marveling at the fine condition of the East African hardwood (Melanoxylon dahlbergii) of which they are composed, and researching and piecing together the three interdigitated stories, there is no doubt that the two musical instruments that Eric Simon gave me that day in the summer of 1994 are indeed the very clarinets of his teacher, Viktor Polatschek, of the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna Staatsoper and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I sent detailed photographs of both clarinets to a music instrument appraiser who specializes in woodwinds, who concurred. He  documented the serial numbers on the upper and lower joints of both instruments and confirmed with Viennese archives that  the clarinets were made sometime between 1905 and 1910.

On August 12, 2012, under the Koussevitsky Music Shed at Tanglewood, during the intermission between the Beethoven Fourth Symphony and the Mozart Piano Concerto No, 23, in A, KV 488, with the help of Bridget Carr and Jill Ng at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I donated these two splendid, Viennese clarinets to the Orchestra. The donation took place at a sacred source of classical music, at one of its epicenters, Tanglewood, in Lenox Massachusetts, where Viktor Polatschek played those clarinets each summer from 1930 to 1948. 
  BSO Archivist Bridget Carr receiving the
  Polatschek clarinets from me at Tanglewood
Aug 12, 2012

I have helped ensure that these two historical instruments have been brought back to their last musical home, to Symphony Hall in Boston, where, under the baton of Maestro Serge Koussevitsky, the clarinetist Viktor Polatschek played them so marvelously those many years ago.

Sic transit gloria mundi


At Symphony Hall in Boston on Saturday, May 5, 2013
with the Polatschek clarinets on display.

   Polatschek clarinet mouthpiece .
   Note the multicolored sock swab

The Polatschek clarinets on display
 at Symphony Hall









@ Vincent P. de Luise MD, A Musical Vision, 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Uncle Vicky

Victor Polatschek, an eminent clarinetist, died before I was born. He married my grandmother's sister, my great-aunt Fritzi. They left Vienna for Boston, where he was a member of the Boston Symphony.  Their apartment served as the endpoint of my family's escape from Vienna in 1938. Fritzi died in 1969, before I thought to ask her much about her earlier life. I have found records of frequent ocean crossings between Boston and Vienna in the years before the war.

Vicky and Fritzi sponsored six members of Fritzi's family in their journey from Vienna to Belgrade to Boston. Two families survived the war thanks to their efforts: my grandparents Leo and Emma, my mother Renee; my great-uncle and aunt Hans and Anna and their son Herbert. I have learned a bit about Vicky thanks to the research of Jesse Krebs, a clarinet player, who wrote an article about the legacy of Vicky.

Note: the picture of the article sometimes appears, sometimes not. I will find a better way to "preserve" it here when time permits.

Inline image 1

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lost Pictures

Note: This is no longer a blog on frugality. It is a place for other things I'm writing about. I'm hoping I will continue with my project, but who knows?  It is meant for my children.

Thanks to all my past readers.  FS/EG

Last fall, I received a small envelope from Susi. In it were a few photographs of my mother's family from the 1930s. One--a postcard with a picture of my most beloved great aunt Fritzi--is from the 1920s and had been sent to Susi's mother. I can't read the faded words: it is in German. My encounter with Susi--in a parking lot in Great Barrington Massachusetts-- was entirely fortuitous. I was with my mother, who has known Susi since childhood. As far as I know, I never met her before. We would have passed each other with no recognition.  And perhaps we had, several times.

I have a handful of old pictures of my mother's family. Most (along with all pictures of my own family, childhood, etc) were lost when my parents moved to Florida almost 30 years ago. I look at them from time to time. I want to write about them. But I do not have much confidence in my writing. Or about the discipline to stick with such a task.

When I came back from our trip to Berlin last summer, I scanned the bookshelves looking for something to read. I picked up Emigrants by WG Sebald, a powerful book interspersed with old photographs (this is a book of fiction; the status of the photos is unclear). The right book at the right time (fortuitous again): all the stories led to the Holocaust in ways not immediately clear. (This experience was very like going through the Jewish Museum in Berlin, where one follows the designated paths--nearly all of all of which lead to death).

Recently, I got a message from the library: M Train by Patti Smith was on hold for me. Another book filled with photographs. I pretty much only know of Smith as an icon. I missed much of her music while I was immersed in grad school and listening to Tom's music of choice: high brow jazz. The pull of the icon is nevertheless powerful and palpable. Smith spends a lot of time searching out the graves of poets, reading poetry, and drinking coffee. I could be happy doing all those things. Like me, Smith is a lover of the forlorn and rejected: she buys a decrepit house on Rockaway Beach. Like me, she loves things with holes, though in her case, she loves a Comme Des Garcons coat that she receives as a gift. (I assume the holes are part of the design). She loses that coat. And laments its loss several times through the book.

Emigrants
M Train
Memory

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Karmic Bank Accounts and Thoughts on Retirement Living



My frugality is so deeply ingrained that I get a thrill not only from saving myself money but also from saving other people money. In fact, I started this blog when Friend-of-Frugal-Son asked me to help him save money on groceries. Well, said friend was premed and didn't have time to read the blog. He's a doctor now, by the way, and working at Walter Reed in Washington DC.


We recently hosted a Roommate-of-Frugal-Son. He was a guest at a wedding in our town. I suppose he lamented the $200 a night hotel rate and Frugal Son offered up our house. Happy to do it! I told him that in addition to saving him (a young fellow in his 20s) $400 for the two nights, I had made a deposit of $400 into my karmic savings account.


We enjoyed having our guest. He was not around very much for one thing. It was nice to chat now and again and to hear about his adventures at the wedding events.


It occurred to me that a young guest--or even roommate--would be a cure for some of what ails many of the elderly. My own mother --an extreme extrovert without a lot of "alone" interests--has been miserable in her widowhood. She lives in a large community in Florida with many activities, but the activities are skewed to those in their early 60s--the age of my parents when they moved there. She is thinking of moving to an independent living community near my brother and his family. That is probably what she will do. However, that involves leaving her Florida cohort, which is, perforce, growing smaller.


I suggested that she think of moving in with one of her children (with the houses modified for separate quarters). She was horrified. A roommate? That would be even more out of the question. I think these things are coded "poor" for members of that generation. 

Of course, if you present the issue of a lonely elder to someone of Asian, Serbian, or XX (the list goes on) descent, he or she looks at you in astonishment.  Of course! 

And of course when we told our guest that fancy weddings (rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, service, shuttle buses to reception, with various luncheons in the interim spaces) were a relatively recent "tradition," he was shocked. 

Like many people my age, I'm thinking about retirement living in all its senses. What the new "traditions" will be. At the moment, it seems easier to keep working.




Monday, December 14, 2015

Acts of Kindness in the Frugal Life



Frugality is so much a part of my life that I . . .just do it. I always tell people that I am the "cheapest person who ever lived," which is not really true, but good for a laugh. I am always amazed by the gifts of kindness that come my way on my frugal adventures.


Here are a few.


1. Sephora. Miss Em has had a gift card from Sephora. She got the card when she returned an unwanted gift before she went to Serbia two years ago (did you know that Sephora will take ANYTHING back? Good to know). Although we pass a mall with a Sephora every time we go to New Orleans, we are mallophobic, so we have to make a concerted effort. We pored over the website and decided to get a sampler of perfumes from Atelier Cologne. Sephora was crowded. Mr FS was waiting in the car (mallophobia). The salesperson checked and checked and they were all out. Finally, he found one that had been used as a sampler. It was mostly full. HE GAVE IT TO US FOR FREE. We hugged (note: if you visit New Orleans it is ok to hug pretty much anyone you encounter.)


2. At a thrift store not to be named. The employee gave me a holiday discount on some stuff. He did the same for everyone. SHHHHHH.


3. Big Lots. I got a coveted dollars off coupon in my email. When I got to Big Lots I discovered I had forgotten it. The assistant manager (who, along with the manager, has been very nice to me) said that I could get the discount even without the coupon.


Who needs holiday presents?