by Ezra Rachlin
I was thirteen when Josef Hofmann became my pianistic mentor, and I shall never forget his kindness, his great understanding, integrity and his inspiring artistic example. Leopold Godowsky, who had heard my debut recital in Carnegie Hall when I was twelve, wrote to Hofmann recommending me. The audition I had in Hofmanns studio at the Curtis Institute of Music lasted four hours, and he asked me to play an enormous number of pieces.
One of the most important lessons I subsequently had with him helped clarify for me the apparent paradox posed by his profound regard for the composers intent, and his seemingly total spontaneity, which resulted in wonderfully fresh and inventive musical ideas that seemed to flow from him effortlessly in an unending stream. He had just performed the same program in recitals in Philadelphia and New York within a week, and I attended both. The two performances of Beethovens Appassionata Sonata were absolutely different from each other. I thought they were unrelated and willful, and I timidly ventured this opinion. Hofmann immediately became very intense, sat down at the piano and proceeded to take the sonata apart, showing me that in neither performance did he depart from the basic structure of the piece. He said, Within the framework of the composers structure you must be faithful, and you have no leeway at all. You must never tamper with the composers intentions. But in all details that are incidental to the composers structural framework you have great leeway, and what you do with these details makes you an artist. I was to learn that it was Hofmanns great concern for the structure and form of music which led him to devote all the powers of his lively, disciplined and inquiring intelligence to the fullest understanding of music.
Today most people are too young to have heard Hofmann, and can have little or no idea of his powerful and original musical character, his sumptuous tone, his thrilling virtuosity or of the kind of performances he regularly presented of many of the great masterpieces of the piano repertoire. This performance of the Waldstein Sonata accurately reflects Hofmanns extraordinary personality as well as his deep artistic involvement with Beethovens music. The intensity of the grip in which Hofmann regularly held his audiences can be felt even in this technically limited recording, and a close examination of Hofmanns approach is rewarding.
First Movement: Allegro Con Brio
The performance begins with an extremely clear staccato, the tempo held absolutely steady until bar 12, where Hofmann combines the decrescendo with a tiny ritenuto, preparing the fermata in the next measure. Noteworthy here is the insistence of the left hand alteration of G and A flat, beginning in the 9th bar [0:29], which is pointed up in typical Hofmann style. (He always disliked what he chose to call one handed pianists, those who did not perceive and give proper emphasis to certain important occurrences in the left hand.) Resuming the original tempo after the fermata, Hofmann continues with clarity and precision to bar 33 [1:33], where he couples the printed decrescendo with a considerable ritenuto, prior to the entrance of the second subject. While the tempo doesnt really change very much, Hofmann here makes space, as it were, for the lyrical and beautifully articulated second subject in E major which follows. Hofmann shows his tremendous dynamic range and tonal variety through the crescendo leading to the fortissimo at bar 62 [1:51], while emphasizing the counterpoint of the outside voices. A brief pause at the end of bar 65 (a well-known device which has gone out of fashion in our time) prepares the stormy octaves that follow. One should note, in passing, that in all the strongly rhythmical passages, the propulsive eighth notes remain absolutely even and as steady as possible. Now Hofmann offers us a small but delightful surprise in bar 76 [2:10], relaxing the tempo slightly, which permits the plaintive quality of the music to emerge. He resumes the tempo again, and relaxes it once more in bar 80, for the same little musical sigh. This brings us to the end of the exposition. Hofmann plays the repeat just differently enough to intrigue us, without changing the basic approach to the structural elements of the music.
In the development section, Hofmann brings his vast tonal range and dynamic power to bear upon the music, developing those artistic ideas he has presented in the exposition. Logical and coherent, Hofmanns interpretation nevertheless has many personal touches...one example occurs at bars 136 and 137 [5:45], where he makes a point of the counterpoint in the right hand; again, in bars 138 and 139, prior to the decrescendo before the growling sixteenth notes; again in the left hand in bars 152 and 153 [6:07], the chromatic progression (CC#D) is pointed up in the left hand, just before the recapitulation. At the return of the familiar eighth notes, in the parallel passage to the 12th bar, Hofmann holds back the tempo much more than the first time, and makes a considerable pause before the harmonically surprising A flat fermata. Speed, fluency and virtuosity are all combined as Hofmann reaches the great dynamic climaxes and the little stretta which begins at bar 272 [9:07], and the music fairly hurtles forward to the surprising and wonderful fermatas in bars 282 and 283 . Another pause before the final plunge downward at bar 299 [10:04] and Hofmann closes the first movement with authority and brilliance. Throughout the performance of the first movement there is an utter consistency of style, and Hofmanns pedaling is a perfect model of its kind. In short, a compelling and highly personal interpretation.
Second Movement: Introduzione, Adagio Molto
Beginning in a rather flowing tempo, Hofmann establishes the important musical ingredients of the movement within the first nine measures: the alternating tension and relaxation of each measure, with that wonderfully velvety, veiled pianissimo which was the admiration and despair of other pianists. Then Hofmann shows how beautifully the music is made, how it hangs together, when he stresses the sonority of the 10th bar [0:51] and the gentleness of the interruption of the 11th bar, and so on as the idea is repeated. It is wonderfully sensible and logical. Then, in the 21st bar [2:02] Hofmann begins to prepare us in feeling and mood for the introduction of the Rondo...it is as though Hofmann is showing us Beethovens reluctance to leave the atmosphere of suspense and mystery he has created in that marvelously shifting, almost improvisational sonority which yields slowly, gently to the questioning and answering voices of the 26th, 27th and 28th measures [2:23], finally holding us aloft, breathless on that final G (played in a kind of pianosforzato that must be unique) before the glittering pianissimo beginning the Rondo. Noteworthy again, the way Hofmann uses the pedal freely, yet with the utmost discretion, enhancing the long interlacings of arpeggios, sustaining the musics deeply moving harmonic progressions.
Third Movement: Rondo, Allegretto Moderato
Hofmann presents the subject at a tremendous clip, in a dazzling setting of dexterity and fleetness of finger, a marvelously effective pianissimo played with an astonishing evenness of tone. How exciting the incredible clarity and precision of the left hand in bar 31 [0:23], how memorable are Hofmanns trills, which were always brilliant and expressive, no matter where they might fall, in left hand or right, in comfortable or difficult positions. In bar 45 [0:34], Hofmann once again points up the contrapuntal contrary motion in the left hand, and treats us to a dazzling display of technical brilliance in the left hand, beginning at measure 55 [0:42]. This hurtles us into the steady arpeggios with their accompanying syncopations of the left hand in bar 62 [0:50]. Hofmann treats us to a wonderful show of the Turkish characteristics of the passage which begins at bar 70 [0:58], plays with the counterpoint, precedes the sforzati with marvelously contrasting pianissimi, and presents us with a new and highly personal touch in bar 163 [2:24]. Here Hofmann alerts us by accenting the Gs in the right hand two bars later, leading us dramatically into the great C minor section, which he performs with terrific vitality and intensity. Glittering, burning with rhythmic impetus, power and speed, Hofmann continues, bringing once again that particularly breathless suspension to the decrescendo beginning in bar 386 [5:51], and lets us draw a long breath at the fermata which precedes the Coda. Hofmann now takes this prestissimo at a tempo which is nothing short of miraculous in its urgency and clarity, yet manages to fill it with grace and beauty of tone as well. The few cantabile moments are cherished (witness the minor section beginning in bar 493 [7:31]), and then we are plunged into the last compelling bars, bringing us to the close of an important and magnificent experience.
This recording presents an inspiring performance by a supreme and thoughtful artist, whose gigantic powers of understanding and interpretive forces are concentrated into a white-hot, immediate and impressive document. I do not wish to discuss questions of musical style here, nor to give the impression that this is the only authoritative view of the Waldstein Sonata. There are and always will be others. But we must be grateful, I think, that this recording has survived and makes available to us Hofmanns intensely felt, deeply personal performance. To hear his unique interpretation of one of Beethovens greatest sonatas is, at the very least, enjoyable and instructive, for the recording captured a great artist in a compelling and personal moment of recreative genius. I would ask those listeners who are not so fortunate as I am to remember the living sound of Hofmann, to join me in an easily imagined refurbishing of the sound reproduced on this recording, to imagine a tonal and dynamic range that so far as I know has never been surpassed, coupled to a technique that was nearly faultless. But it was Hofmanns overwhelming personal involvement and commitment to the music he is playing with such love and passion, I feel, that is the most important example to all of us. This is the unanswerable, irresistible force that this great pianist brought to his memorable performances. This is what can still be felt and understood by those who open their ears, but most of all, their hearts, to this supreme artist.
(All track locations are approximated)
EZRA RACHLIN (1915 -1995) began his career as a pianist at the age of three. During four years of intensive study with Hofmann at the Curtis Institute of Music, he toured the USA and was chosen to be the first soloist under Leopold Stokowski in the Philadelphia Orchestra Youth Concerts. He began studies in conducting under Fritz Reiner in 1935 and by 1937 had decided to devote all his time to conducting. He subsequently became the Musical Director of the Philadelphia Opera Company, then Conductor of the Austin, Texas Symphony Orchestra and finally the Queensland, Australia Symphony Orchestra, after which he worked as a guest conductor for various orchestras while based in London. This is a slightly revised version of the article he wrote in 1974 for the initial LP release of Hofmanns Casimir Hall Recital.
JOSEF HOFMANN AND THE 7 APRIL 1938 CASIMIR HALL RECITAL
by Gregor Benko and Terry McNeill
Louisa Knapp Curtis, wife of magazine mogul and The Ladies Home Journal founder Cyrus Curtis, died in 1910 and bequeathed her own considerable fortune to her husband. Cyrus gave the inheritance to their only child, Mary Louise, who was married to Edward Bok, the Journals Editor and later a substantial supporter of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mary Louise Curtis Bok had always been a somewhat shy person, and Edward Bok encouraged her to use her now-substantial means to become more active in civic and cultural philanthropies in their home city of Philadelphia.
A Settlement Music House, with the goal of Americanization among the foreign population of Philadelphia, had been founded, and Mary Bok became actively involved. The Settlement lacked its own home, and Mary Bok made her first public gift to music in 1917 by donating $150,000 for a building. The Boks friend Josef Hofmann played a recital at the schools dedication on 28 January 1917, which was attended by members of several of Philadelphias leading families as well as two hundred selected neighborhood children of different nationalities. A former violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, John Grolle, was selected as Headworker.
Within a few years Mary Bok began to feel that something more was wanted in Philadelphia to serve the needs of music students. Foremost among the many friends and associates who had influence, and advised her in this matter, were Josef Hofmann and his close friend, Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1912. In that intimate group Stokowski was known as Prince and Mary Bok as Marussia.
Hofmanns entire musical life and outlook had been shaped by his connection to the great pianist/composer Anton Rubinstein, who had founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1862. Rubinsteins ideas about music education were revolutionary. Hofmann and Stokowski both had very developed ideas about music education and each was eager to have a venue at which he could express these ideas. While neither had any intention of devoting more than a portion of their musical lives to teaching or developing a conservatory, both wanted to have a connection to such a conservatory, and they steered Mary Bok toward the founding of an elite music school in Philadelphia.
Edward Bok was delighted with the project and the fact that it was to be entirely Marys creation; he encouraged his wife in planning such a music school, and helped in small ways, advising her about financial and administrative matters. The two of them discussed possible candidates for the conservatorys staff. There is little question that they had Hofmann in mind for the job of Director, for Edward Bok wrote the pianist in the summer of 1924: I dont like to think of you in Pullmans for the rest of your life, or touring Russia or anything else but making yourself very desirable by playing only a few times, and then filling in your time with composing...and at the head of a great piano conservatory...
Hofmann was involved at that moment in the bizarre twists and turns of a secret love affair with a very much younger woman, and had little time to spare to run the Curtis Institute, but still wanted to be very much a part of the planned school. He helped to convince Mrs. Bok to design the school for all music students, not just pianists, and when The Curtis Institute of Music opened in October, 1924, Hofmann was installed as head of the piano department. The Director of the school was John Grolle.
Mrs. Bok had purchased three mansions in the exclusive Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia and donated them along with an endowment of half a million dollars. Not surprisingly, she was not completely sure of herself concerning the Institutes artistic goals and relied heavily on Hofmann and Stokowskis counsel in the selection of faculty and the development of administrative policies. Mrs. Bok wanted the conservatory to be small, but of the highest qualityit was to represent the cream of the cream, a phrase she often repeated to her friends in describing her plans.
Except for a few lessons given to society ladies in Russia and some summer classes he had taught for local girls on the Aiken, South Carolina estate belonging to his first wife, Hofmann had no experience in teaching. Mary Boks cream of the cream idea, however, fit right in with Hofmanns innovative ideas, some of which were incorporated in the Institutes first curriculum. Upon the advice of Hofmann and Stokowski, the school hired Madame Charles Cahier, Carl Flesch, Carlos Salzedo, David Saperton, Rosario Scalero, Marcella Sembrich and Isabella Vengerova as faculty. Stokowski was engaged to direct the Department of Orchestral Training.
It was Mrs. Boks own idea that the only qualification for students be their talent; prospective students of any age were encouraged to applyto be admitted applicants needed only to successfully complete their audition and pay their tuition fees of $500 per year. No talented students were turned away for want of tuition or expense money, and of the first 210 students, forty-six received full and sixty-five partial scholarships.
The first years functions were limited, but operations began in full force the following year. Grolle was replaced as Director in the 1925/26 term by William Walter, formerly the manager of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. To the faculty were added Wilhelm Backhaus, Louis Bailly, Emilio de Gogorza, Felix Salmond, and Wanda Landowska who taught a special series of courses in 17th and 18th century music. A year later Benno Moiseiwitsch and Moriz Rosenthal were engaged, both great pianists whose artistry Hofmann admired very much. Languages, diction, psychology and comparative arts were offered in addition to the music courses, and the well-known critic Olin Downes taught classes on Modern French and Russian Schools.
The fantastic difficulties engendered by Hofmanns illicit love affair were somewhat resolved when his first wife finally agreed to a divorce and he was free to marry Elizabeth Short, and to join Mary Bok in building a great conservatory. Hofmann had been acting unofficially in the Directors capacity since late 1925, making important decisions after consulting with Mary Bok. His position of influence over her had evolved and solidified to an unassailable stature. She told her intimates that he was Beethoven walking the earth.
Although Walter had proved to be a competent administrator, Hofmann officially replaced him as the Institutes Director in 1927. Hofmann found it necessary to make Philadelphia his home and he lived in the Bok mansion in Merion with Mary and Edward until 1928, when his own luxe Merion house, East and West, was ready.
When Mrs. Bok announced his appointment as Director in March, 1927, she also did something astounding, something surely the direct result of Hofmanns influence. She announced that she had substantially increased the Curtis Institutes endowment. Previously the yearly expenses had been met with the income from the initial $500,000 endowment and further personal donations from Mrs. Bok totaling approximately the same amount yearly. The capital assets she now gave the school, eighty-thousand shares of Curtis Publishing Company stock, were worth twelve million dollars.
Few were surprised when Hofmann was named Director, but the astonishing announcement of the twelve-million dollar donation, an unheard of act of generosity by a single individual, was received with both wonder and gratitude. Hofmann had urged her to fully fund the endowment, rather than continue to make large contributions each year to meet operating expenses. Income from the enlarged endowment, they both felt, would always be sufficient to cover all of the Institutes yearly operating expenses.
As Director, Hofmann immediately made several changes, bringing into focus the artistic bias which had previously been only vaguely evident in the Institutes policies. He rewrote the original statement of purpose, making it a strong affirmation of his faith in tradition: To hand down through contemporary masters the great traditions of the past; to teach students to build on this heritage for the future. Fine instruments were loaned rent-free to any student who had need for them; free tickets to concerts were provided, and students were required to attend as part of their general musical education; deserving pupils were given financial assistance that enabled them to continue their studies during the summer recess in Europe, Maine or wherever their teachers were spending the season; graduates were given assistance to help them start their professional careers and the most needy students were now offered a stipend to defray all living expenses.
Violinist Leah Luboshutz, pupil of Eugene Ysaye, petitioned Hofmann for a position at the Institute. Hofmann had played a series of recitals with Mme. Luboshutz and hired her over the objection of Carl Flesch, head of the violin department. Flesch found that there were irreconcilable differences between himself and Director Hofmann, and resigned at the end of the 1927/28 school year. He wrote later in his autobiography: It is not surprising...that Hofmann showed little understanding for my teaching methods. I have always tended to occupy myself even more intensively with the average pupil than with the elite. Flesch apparently didnt care that his Directors vision of the Institute left little room for the merely average student. Hofmann was not interested in Flesch the pedant, but Flesch the artist, who could guide and inspire younger artists. Hofmann wanted the most talented students to be taught by great artists in order to turn out artists and musicians, rather than competent performers. Hofmanns goal was to create at Curtis a unique environment in which each pupil would grow with a healthy and practical idealism, a school at which the most promising students would be provided with every advantage of the material world, and where a solidarity and seriousness of purpose would prevail. He regarded his new job as one of the most serious musical responsibilities he could undertake: to achieve Mary Boks (and his own) dream of creating a music school of unprecedented excellence.
Hofmann engaged Efrem Zimbalist, a pupil of Leopold Auer, and was able to induce old Auer himself to direct the violin department. The eighty-two year old violinist had spent most of his life teaching at the St. Petersburg Conservatory where his pupils included Elman, Heifetz, Menges, and Seidel, and where he often performed chamber music with the Conservatorys Director, his intimate friend Anton Rubinstein. Auer personified Rubinsteins unique musical heritage and Hofmann revered him.
Hofmann also introduced into the Curtis curriculum many of the practical innovations his master Rubinstein had instituted at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. His personal association with Anton Rubinstein had provided him, as he later wrote in his own unpublished autobiographical fragment, with the insight to realize the divine spiritual and emotional message which music has to convey to those who understandand care. This is the insight he sought to awaken in his own students.
Later he added Fritz Reiner and Arthur Rodzinski to what was already the finest faculty of any conservatory in the world. Hofmann felt artists of such standards deserved equally high remuneration, and they were paid accordingly. In the 1926/27 year Mme. Sembrich was given a salary of $40,000, and Carl Flesch $24,000, while Hofmann earned a total of $72,500. His own salary was based on a formula by which he was paid a yearly amount as Director as well as head of the piano department, plus an hourly fee for time spent teaching. Some years his total salary was high, as in 1926/27, but in the eight years after 1930 it averaged $42,000 annually, reflecting both necessary economies and a much-reduced amount of time devoted to teaching. These salaries appear quite generous today; they seemed even more so at the time they were paid. Edward Bok must have approved, for he had written (in his book, Twice Thirty): There is no more profitable asset in a business than a $100,000 salaried man...these men are paid not for what they actually do, but for what they see ahead and for planning to meet the conditions which their vision reveals.
When Hofmann became Director and was made party to the Institutes financial details, he discovered that the Institute would almost certainly end the year with an unexpected deficit, and he revised the budget, deducting $15,000 from his own salary. This would make it possible, he hoped, to end the year with a $9,700 profit, although further unforeseen expenses accrued and the Institute did sustain a $4,400 loss. Subsequent budgets were supervised by the new Director personally, and by 1930/31 the school showed a $9,600 profit.
Curtiss physical plant lacked space for an auditorium where student and faculty recitals could be presented. Another donation of slightly more than $300,000 from Mary Bok built the necessary theater, which was dedicated with a recital by Hofmann on 3 December 1927. The auditorium was named Casimir Hall for Hofmanns first teacher, his adored father Casimir Hofmann. (Later, after Hofmann left the school, the name was changed to the present Curtis Hall.) It is an elegant but smallcapacity 350recital hall that has been the site of many of the most distinguished faculty recitals ever offered to students.
By the end of 1928 it was obvious that the enlarged endowment income would not completely fund the costs of Hofmanns new policies. He reduced costs by cutting staff and students, retaining only the most talented. A majority of the student body was already receiving aid that year when Hofmann expanded the amount of subsidy available by announcing a bold, idealistic change. Beginning with the next school year, all students accepted by the Institute would be provided with a full scholarship covering tuition and every necessary expense. The added burden on the budget would be reduced by further cutting the number of pupils while the quality of the school would be raised by making talent truly the sole requirement. The practical wisdom of this brave step was proven during the next years. Considerable managerial skill was required to incorporate both saving cutbacks and expanded student aid in Curtis budget, but Hofmann had long ago become a master of finance. Although an annual $70,000 in tuition fees was lost, the Institute was able to live within its means each year.
Edward Bok was as certain of Hofmanns fiscal responsibility as he was of his artistic stature. On one occasion Boks chief financial assistant, impressed with Hofmanns acumen, told Bok that Hofmann made decisions exactly as he or any other financier would have made them. Bok related the incident to Hofmann in a letter praising his good friends financial abilities. When Bok died in January, 1930, Hofmann wrote, in an article which appeared in the Institutes magazine, Overtones, I have lost my best friend and advisor.
The effects of the Great Depression were first felt at Curtis in 1931, and Hofmann responded by reducing the budget by $63,000, cutting the number of students again. Further economies proved necessary and in 1932/33; Hofmann considered introducing a general salary cut but eventually reduced only his own salary. Public concerts by the students, previously presented in expensive halls outside the school, were eliminated, as was the advertising budget. The Institute was able to withstand the pressures of the depressed economic climate, and carry on its own operations with only slight curtailments.
The first formal commencement ceremonies and conferring of degrees at Curtis took place on 22 May 1934 when Marcella Sembrich and Leopold Godowsky were awarded honorary degrees. Hofmann was proud that the school honored the two great Polish artists, his colleagues and close friends. Both died not long afterSembrich in just seven months.
Hofmann had curtailed his very active and far-ranging concert career and limited his appearances to the United States when he agreed to become the Institutes Director. In the first years of his tenure he was regularly on hand at the school, but as the years progressed he taught less and less. In 1933 he resumed his annual tours abroad, after which he began to attend to the business of the Institute while traveling, and was seen only infrequently in his studio and office at Curtis. His personal life was deteriorating because of his relationship with his unstable wife and his progressive addiction to alcohol. Mary Bok was beginning to change her attitude toward him, for despite the fact that she was now free, Hofmanns marriage to Elizabeth Short was showing no signs of ending, and had produced three children.
Richard Copley, Hofmanns manager of many years, suggested early in 1937 that the artist might wish to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his American concert debut with a Golden Jubilee tour. Family and friends soon convinced him to go ahead with the plan. Mary Bok stressed the value such a tour would have for the Institutethe Director would be certain to receive abundant press coverage that could only reflect favorably on the school. The highlight of the series of Jubilee concerts was a gala program presented at the Metropolitan Opera House on 28 November 1937, where just one day less than fifty years earlier Hofmann had been presented in his American debut. Many Curtis students, alumni and faculty participated in the concert (a recording of which is available on CDs on the VAI label, catalogue number VAIA/IPA 1020).
Absent from the Institute during the tour, Hofmann returned to Philadelphia at the end of March, and on 4 April 1938, the Philadelphia Orchestra celebrated his Golden Jubilee with a special broadcast concert at which he played solos and the Beethoven 4th Concerto conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
The Institute had been deprived of the Directors guidance for most of the year, and Mary Bok and the other Board members managed the school while he was away. Her annual Presidents report dated 13 June 1938 stated that it became evident in early spring that a drastic curtailment of our expenditures would have to be made. She reported that she decided to make several changes, among them the reduction of the number of weeks in the school year, the reorganization of some departments and the dropping of others entirely as well as a minimal salary cut for non-faculty staff members, and a much higher cut for the faculty, and the introduction of a new policy that provided little or no financial aid for students.
The report was apparently a sham, insinuating as it did that there had been fiscal mismanagement and shoddy executive planning. The Institutes income of $293,000 for 1937/38 was less than half of what it had been previous to the Depression, but the school had managed to operate with Hofmanns artistic policies intact and show a $2,000 profit. Now, Mrs. Bok wrote in her report, We estimate the cost of running the school for the next year at $192,431.20, not including the Directors salary, and our income at $124,731.00. She gave no reason for assuming that the anticipated income would be so low.
Hofmann was greeted with a crisis when he returned to Curtis. What had happened behind the scenes during his absence was unexpected and brutal: Mrs. Bok had always been dependent on the advice of trusted advisors, including her husband and her elder son, Curtis Bok, an eminent jurist. Curtis Bok was, like his father, a dear friend and staunch ally of Hofmann, but during Hofmanns tour he had been supplanted by his younger brother, Cary Bok, as his mothers chief advisor.
Cary had always lived in his brothers shadow. A bitter, envious man, Cary resented his brother, resented Hofmann and others who had so occupied his mother and had influence over her. He convinced Mary Bok that it was ridiculous to pay the Institutes faculty such princely salaries when other music schools like New Yorks Juilliard were infamous for the low salaries they paid their teachers, and that Hofmann and his friends had been on a gravy train which should be stopped.
Hofmann found all this out just prior to his performance presented on these records. The recital took place on 7 April 1938 in Casimir Hallit had to be one of the most emotion laden recitals he ever played. He apparently knew it was to be his last at Curtis. A review appeared in the Philadelphia Bulletin the next day, written by Curtis alumnus Henry Pleasants, who was of course unaware of the background against which Hofmann had played:
Josef Hofmann was playing to the family circle, so to speak, when he gave his annual faculty recital at the Curtis Institute last night. This was just as much an occasion for the faculty, students and guests of the school as the Golden Jubilee concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra had been for a wider public Monday evening. Mr. Hofmanns pupils acted as ushers. The recital was recorded and broadcast from Casimir Hall to an overflow audience in the entrance hall of the main building. The audience rose when the great pianist entered.
Mr. Hofmann relaxed somewhat in the familiar surroundings, and before the evening was over relations between recitalist and audience were cordial and even jovial. At one time when the pianist was indulging in his manner of playing random chords between selections he landed on the piano with a resounding thwack, which prompted immediate laughter, and Mr. Hofmann himself grinned a little sheepishly. Later, when he played the Minute Waltz as an encore after the Chopin selections, he took the repeat in thirds, prompting a gasp of astonishment which for the moment quite obscured the music.
At the end of the program he played his own Penguine as an encore, then shut the piano. The audience declined to take the hint and clamored for more. Mr. Hofmann finally acquiesced to a point. He opened the piano and launched into the Star Spangled Banner. The audience rose, a bit embarrassed, and was left standing when the pianist broke off after a few measures. There was nothing to do then but go home.
The event of the evening was Mr. Hofmanns performance of Beethovens Waldstein Sonata. This was an example of piano playing in the grand manner at its best. The work is exceptionally well suited to the pianists style and temperament, and the music fairly blazed with the combined virtuosity of composer and executant....
Few at this historic concert, to the audience a jubilant homecoming, could have known what intense emotions the pianist was feeling, for he was being forced to resign from the Institute. The device the Boks used was an offer for him to continue as Director, but with most of his artistic policies dismantled and his salary less than half of the previous year. His work at Curtis was among the proudest achievements of his life, and had been extremely successfulAmericas musical scene would have been wildly poorer for decades without the musicians trained by Hofmanns Curtis, musicians who became the artist first chairs of the finest orchestras, as well as soloists. A list of the well-known names of these artists would take paragraphs.
Hofmann spent several months preparing for his departurethere were furtive attempts to come to a compromise, and he offered to waive his fee for teaching if any way could be found to prevent the schools policies from changing. No solutions could be found which were satisfactory, and on 26 September he tendered his resignation. Mary Bok, apparently unaware of the humiliation she had helped visit on him, tried to convince him to remain at the Institute as the head of the piano department, but in a letter dated 31 October 1938, he demurred: I would not be happy holding a position of a mere piano teacherhired by the hourregardless of the fee per hour. My artistic standing and artistic ambitions would demand that I shape the destiny of the department I am active in.
Hofmann moved his family to California in 1939, where he hoped to devote some of his time to the making of recordings, and wrote David Saperton: There is a tangible record of my ideas on music education, but there is no tangible record of the tradition I inherited from Rubinstein. Unfortunately, the recordings never materialized. He suffered a nervous breakdown, fed also by a deteriorating situation with his wife.
Mary Bok acted as Director of Curtis until the distinguished American composer Randall Thompson was appointed to the post a year later. In the interim the de-Hofmannization of the premises was institutedCasimir Hall was renamed, all photos and portraits and even any reference to Hofmann were removed (reminiscent of the removal of the name and images of the Pharaoh Akhnaten from all historical records by subsequent Pharaohs), and before long almost all faculty members who had been hired by Hofmann were fired. The last mention of Hofmann at Curtis for decades appeared in the schools December, 1938 publication Overtones as the voice of The Curtis Institute extends to Dr. Josef Hofmann, inspired Director of our school 19271938, warmest good wishes for the years to come...
Randall Thompson, not understanding the process that was taking place, prevailed upon Mary Bok to institute a special Josef Hofmann award, to be given periodically to that alumnus of the Curtis piano department who, over and above his technical proficiency, has, in the practice of his art, arrived at spiritual and artistic maturity. Such an award is deemed worthy of the master whose name it is to bear. With those words Thompson presented the first Hofmann award to Jorge Bolet at the Curtis commencement exercises on 10 May 1940. But that was the end of Hofmann at Curtis for years. The award has never been proposed or given again, and the pall which hung over any mention of the name Hofmann continued for decades.
Hofmann continued to perform in public for eight years after leaving the Institute, but he played only two more concerts in Philadelphia, where his last recital took place on 28 February 1946 at the Academy of Music. Under his guiding hand the Curtis Institute of Music had entered an unparalleled golden age. The caliber of the small group of students he directed, the eminence of the great faculty he engaged and the progressiveness of the artistic environment he fostered remain unmatched by any other conservatory.
[Adapted with additions from a longer article which accompanied the LPs Josef Hofmann Casimir Hall RecitalIPA 5007/8]
HOFMANNS BEETHOVEN, AND ITS CRITICS
by Gregor Benko
Few other historic recordings have ever elicited the depth of feeling expressed by multitudes of music lovers as when Hofmanns performance of the Waldstein Sonata was first issued. Most reacted to it with astonished gratitude, but a few were horrified and even disgusted. In a 1976 article, Bryce Morrison called attention to Hofmanns ...arrogant refusal to acknowledge even the most basic directions...and the way Hofmanns legendary virtuosity collapses so quickly into so much uncontrolled gibberish. And Harris Goldsmith wrote in 1976 to chastise ...this astonishing virtuoso technician for his artistically irresponsible and cynical exploitation of Beethoven, and again in 1978, citing Hofmanns ... attitude toward the phrasing of the music in which using the music to play the piano was more important than using the piano to play the music.
How could Hofmanns performances, universally lauded in their day, be received in our time with such scorn by individuals who regularly scribble reams about piano playing in the best magazines? Was Hofmann really an artistic outlaw, and were his performances the lowest debasement conceivable of a noble and aristocratic art, as Arthur Hedley wrote in 1968? No! There is enough historical evidence now to show that the kind of piano playing Hofmann brought to these works is exactly the kind Beethoven himself exhibitedand expected from others.
To answer the question of how Morrison and Goldsmith can have thought Hofmanns performances to be so artistically meaningless, when Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, James Gibbons Huneker and W. J. Henderson thought Hofmanns interpretations works of genius, we must get to that fine point where scholarship fails to encompass art because of emotion. Many of todays scholars desperately want musical performance to uphold certain ideals of our own time...but this is a fallacy, for todays ideals are quite different from Beethovens and Chopins.
For Beethoven and the other romantic composers, it was the message of the musicthe emotion of it, that counted. But emotion cannot be measured, analyzed or taught, and widespread recognition of its primacy in musical compositions might lead to dire consequences, such as unemployment among academics. Some hearers just cant get this point (Ive always surmised that these people must be terrible lovers) and when working as critics, apparently they find no shame in distorting verifiable history, bending it to suit their emotional needs, as when Mssrs. Morrison and Goldsmith arrogantly tell us that Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Huneker and Henderson were wrong about Hofmann. I submit they are satisfying a lack of their own, not serving Beethoven.
Modern fallacies about Beethoven performance are widespread. First among them is (a) that a proper reading should sound like the well-worn, traditional performances established by Arrau, Backhaus, Serkin and other Extremely Serious Artists. Then follows the holy litany, (b) nothing explicitly stated in a score should be omitted, and nothing which is not stated can be added to a performance. Also, in hushed, devotional tones, (c) that a successful performance is one in which the performer has effaced him or herself...in other words, it is one in which there is no personal interpretation. The first fallacythat Beethovens piano music must be played in the doggedly serious, reverent manner to which weve grown accustomedis easily disproved by both the voluminous written literature, and historic recordings. I commend the reader to hear the 1930 recording of the Emperor Concerto first movement with Eugen dAlbert, as well as to read the literature about dAlberts relationship to Beethovens piano music, to help dispel that fallacy. As for faithfulness to the score, Hofmann told his pupils that no one, himself included, could ever bring out all the indications implicit in any score in any one performance.
Armed with this kind of historical knowledge, a seeker of musical truth might come to the conclusion that the modern performance revisionists dont really want performances to sound like Beethovens original intentthey want affirmation of the 1990s idea of impersonal literalness imposed on Beethovens revolutionary ideal of bold individualityan artistic lie. Today there is a similarity in the way the composers original intention is often interpreted, to the way some schools of thought treat the idea of the original intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution, and the inerrancy of the Bible. It is an area of psychology where scholarship is often defeatedthe facts be damned, for we have a case to prove which is absolute!
These Hofmann performances took place sixty years ago, and judgments about them must be made in terms of the musical ethos of the 1930s. There is a great deal of evidence that Hofmanns musical ideas are authenticfor instance, the humorous, musical nose-tweaking he gives us with his unique interpretation, at measure 403, in the third movement coda, with the two repeated high Gs (3rd movement, 6:08). All that massive build up leads to...a joke! How like the contemporary descriptions of Beethovens own playing. Heres what Beethovens pupil Carl Czerny had to say about interpreting his masters piano music: The conception of each performer will differ in various details from that of all the rest...each may be wholly satisfactory in its kind, if only the main idea be correct...Much depends upon the individuality of the player. In all cases we take for granted a certain degree of virtuosity, for a bungler can never dream of intellectual conception. Thus one may lay stress on humor, a second on seriousness, a third on emotion, and a fourth on bravura, but he who unites them all is assuredly the best.
It seems that it is the rhythmic freedom in the interpretations of the Paderewskis and Hofmanns, wherein the most subtle rhythmic devices are coupled with dynamic effects to produce emotions, that most upsets the naysayers. I leave it to others to determine whether Hofmanns rhythmic scheme in the first movement of the 1936 Moonlight Sonata performance is rubato raised to genius level, cumulatively producing an overwhelming musical and emotional effect, or just wayward and meaningless. Arnold Schoenberg, writing in his Style and Idea, identified the change which took us to todays arid place, so far afield from Beethovens intent: Todays manner of performing classical music of the so-called romantic type, suppressing all emotional qualities and all unnotated changes of tempo and expression, derives from the style of playing primitive dance music. This style came to Europe by way of America, where no old culture regulated presentation, but where a certain frigidity of feeling reduced all musical expression. Thus almost everywhere in Europe music is played in a stiff, inflexible metre - not in a tempo, i.e. according to a yardstick of freely measured quantities. Astonishingly enough, almost all European conductors and instrumentalists bowed to this dictate without resistance. All were suddenly afraid to be called romantic, ashamed of being called sentimental...Why is music written at all? Is it not a romantic feeling which makes you listen to it? Why do you play the piano when you could show the same skill on a typewriter?
Pianist Harold Bauer, writing in his autobiography, included a valuable chapter on interpretation, in which he recounts being present on an occasion in the 1880s when Paderewski was playing a Brahms trio with some colleagues. The score called for a diminuendo in a certain spot, and the great Pole wanted to play a crescendo. The others objected, to which Paderewski replied, The point is not what is written but what the musical effect should be. Bauer commented: ...it was quite proper for a genius such as he was to take liberties which must be denied to the ordinary man. Later on I came to feel that the ordinary man who fails to realize what lies in the music beyond the printed indication is just...an ordinary man.
About these Recordings
With Volume Six we reach the three-quarter mark in the ongoing series, The Complete Josef Hofmann. Here we have primarily concert appearances, recorded for various reasons but not originally thought of as items suitable for commercial release. It is a bit of a miracle that these performances were captured at all, and that they have been carefully preserved for more than sixty years.
The first group stems from a 1936 broadcast. The newspaper listings for the broadcast concert stated that Hofmann was originally slated to play Liszts Polonaise in E and Twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody, and it is not known why Beethovens Moonlight Sonata was substitutedwould that we could hear all three! The records preserving the broadcast were found among the pianists possessions after the death of his widow; the recording made on three twelve-inch acetate discs, recorded from the center out at 78 rpm. The sound is quite good for its time and only one technical defect needs be mentioned: at the conclusion of the first side, some of the acetate material has disintegrated, causing a loud scraping sound for five revolutions, heard at four minutes and thirty seconds into the broadcast. Nothing can be done to repair this, unfortunately, and no other recording of this broadcast is known.
The unique recording which captured Josef Hofmanns final Casimir Hall recital of 7 April 1938 first became publicly available in its entirety in 1975, on a two LP set issued by the International Piano Archives (IPA 5007/8). Since then, the recording has achieved legendary status among most piano enthusiasts (and a certain outlaw notoriety among others). We have received more requests over the years to reissue this recital than any other single recording. Because of the tremendous importance of this historic performance, the details concerning the original circumstances of the recording are of interest.
Casimir Hall (now Curtis Hall) is a small auditorium. An overflow audience was accommodated by having the performance piped into another building through a public address system. The microphone was placed very close to, or perhaps even underneath the piano. Curtiss librarian, Gordon Mapes, connected a brand new disc recorder to the system to preserve the momentous occasion. The first half of the recital was recorded on two sixteen-inch discs, from the center out at 33 & 1/3 rpm. The remainder of the concert was recorded on five twelve-inch discs, from the center out at 78 rpm. Unfortunately there seems to have been a loose electrical connection somewhere in the system, which caused the sound level to fluctuate precipitously. It is impossible to correct this problem, but considerable effort has been made, however, to soften the jarring effect of the changes in recording level. Another recording flaw occurs during Kreisleriana. In the course of the performance it was necessary for Mapes (acting as a recording engineer for the first time in his life) to start a new acetate side in the middle of bar eleven of piece number six. He was slow and lost one and a half bars. Therefore we have spliced the middle of bar eleven to the middle of bar thirteen in an attempt to provide continuity in the recorded performance. Even with these defects, we must consider ourselves blessed that this recording exists, for it contains some of the most titanic pianism ever recordedand some of the supreme interpretations to spring from the mind and heart of man.
Several Hofmann performances of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto survive in off-the-air acetate recordings, the one presented here also taken from discs preserved in the pianists personal collection. At the end of the first side ten seconds of music were missing and it was necessary to splice in the missing bars from another, inferior sounding set of acetates of the same broadcast.
Three extra performances of the first movement of Beethovens Moonlight Sonata are presented, the first two from unissued 1916 acoustic Columbia recordings and the last from Hofmanns fourth Bell Telephone Hour radio broadcast. The Columbia recording bearing take number 4 was obviously not issued because the long performance caused the grooves to go too close to the center of the record, allowing no room for a label (this take was issued on The Complete Josef Hofmann Volume 3). The subsequent take 5 was not as long and left room for a label, but was also not issued, and is presented here for the first time.
© Gregor Benko, Ward Marston, 1998