Henryk Szeryng plays Bela Bartok.
Romanian Folk Dances is a good soundtrack for a Maine winter. Not sure why –although hurrying through the Borgo Pass while the wolves howl in the shadow of Castle Dracul is a lot like going to South Paris, Maine in December to drop off a package at the Going Postal shipping store. There are more Pitbulls roaming around South Paris, so it edges out Wallachia for danger, I think.
Henryk Szeryng was born in Poland in 1918. He was Jewish. Even a casual reader of European history would immediately see what sort of future a baby born there and then might be in for. A Greek playwright couldn’t come up with a sword big enough to hang over your head in Act I. We can’t blame him for not amounting to much. No, really; we can’t.
He started in on piano when he was five, taught by his mother. Oh, dear; a homeschooler. When he was seven, he took up violin. Piano must have been too hard for him. Well, it’s too hard for everyone else; I don’t see why it would be easy for him. It sounds like he was well-to-do; he eventually studied in Paris and Berlin, and was a notable player before he was twenty. He played with the Warsaw Philharmonic, playing Brahms, when he was only fifteen years old. I don’t know about you, but I was still building model airplanes when I was fifteen. I don’t want to cast aspersions; you may have been building real airplanes when you were fifteen for all I know.
Later on, when things got very unpleasant indeed in Europe, a certain General Sikorski, who was the head of the Polish government in exile, noticed the young fiddle player spoke seven languages besides being able to play Bach. When I was in my early twenties, I could make myself misunderstood in about three languages, if you include English, so there’s that. I also knew the bass line to Jump Into The Fire by Harry Nilsson, so I had the musical waterfront covered as well. You may have been less accomplished than I was. I don’t judge.
In 1941, Sikorski went to Mexico to beg them to let 4000 Polish refugees, ie, Jews, settle there. Szeryng went with him, had an epiphany, and decided to become Mexican himself, and eventually taught at the National University of Mexico. I don’t think he taught animal husbandry.
In the fifties, Arthur Rubinstein dropped by Mexico City, went to see Szeryng, and after hearing him play, convinced him to start playing concerts again. I don’t hear from you as often as I’d like, so I’m unsure how many times Arthur Rubinstein came over to your place and asked you to do things internationally, but the only time I spoke to old Art, he only asked me to paint his fence. I may be misremembering this; it’s a while ago. It may have been a housewife name Agnes Morgenstern that had the fence that needed painting. At any rate, I’m sure Arthur Rubinstein would have had some sort of use for you; you’re likely a lot sweller than I am. Most people are.
So our friend Szeryng made recordings and traveled the world giving concerts, sawing away at a Stradivarius violin when his good violin, a Guarnieri del Gesu, was in the shop having its bolts tightened or something. I don’t think he liked the Stradivarius all that much; he gave it to the State of Israel in the seventies, hoping they’d loan it out to some underachievers like him from time to time to bang away on.
He couldn’t sit still, that guy. I am loath to call him a drifter, but I can’t find out if he moved around a lot over unpaid gas bills or too many parking tickets or what. He lived in Paris, and eventually died in 1988 in Monaco, flying back and forth from both to Mexico on a diplomatic passport because he was Mexico’s official cultural ambassador. I don’t know about you, but I once rode in an AMC Ambassador, which is a comparable thrill, I’m telling you. You may have only ridden in a Pacer, so I won’t mention it again. I don’t want to make you feel like an underachiever.