Earlier this month, I had two posts on composers who are “minor” but worthy: Moritz Moszkowski and Max Reger. About Reger, some readers wrote to say, “You forgot the famous story!” Do you know the famous story? You will now. It’s a little vulgar.
Reger was responding to a critic, who had written a negative review. Said the composer in a letter, “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment, it will be behind me.”
Turning to higher matters, you may recall that I wrote about Reger’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor. It has been recorded by Nina Kotova. Reger wrote three suites for solo cello, inspired by Bach’s suites for the same.
I received a note from a cellist friend: Brinton Smith, who is the principal player in the Houston Symphony, as well as a soloist and chamber musician. He says,
Feuermann believed in the Reger suites and insisted Columbia let him record Suite No. 1 in exchange for recording so many “dirty little pieces,” as he called them. He meant the short encore works that sold records. Zara Nelsova, my teacher, made her New York debut in what might have been the first all-solo program of modern times, playing Bach 6, Reger 2, and Kodály [the Sonata in B minor, Op. 8]. A crazy feat of stamina and technique. She told me she prepared by playing the entire program end to end three times in a row each day leading up to the recital!
Though Kodály was the one who inspired the deluge of twentieth-century music for solo cello, the earliest concert piece by a major composer that I know of is by Sibelius. He wrote it for his cellist brother in 1887, when the composer was still a young man. (Maazel used to insist that it was losing his hair that made Sibelius abandon his hope of being a violin soloist, and instead become a hermitish composer, but I’ve never read this anywhere!) By some luck I was able to find the then-unpublished score from a Scandinavian friend and gave the North American premiere. It’s not a “great” piece, but you can hear some incubating Sibelius greatness in it.
To hear Brinton Smith in this rarity, by this master, go here.
Brinton also had some things to say about Moritz Moszkowski—beginning with, “I love Moszkowski.” He continues,
Do you know the arrangement of his Guitarre by Sarasate? Violinists play it, along with some ambitious cellists. Just perfect music, comfortable in its own skin. Here is Gendron [meaning Maurice Gendron, the French cellist who lived from 1920 to 1970].
Why must everything be steak? Moszkowski is dessert, and I wouldn’t shun him any more than I would shun ice cream!
Brinton went on to tell two stories about Moszkowski—ones that exhibit the composer’s wit and modesty.
Moszkowski once signed an autograph book that had previously been signed by Hans von Bülow, the famed German conductor. Von Bülow had written, “Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms: tous les autres sont des crétins” (“all the others are cretins”). Underneath that, Moszkowski penned, “Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, and Moszkowski: tous les autres sont des chrétiens” (“all the others are Christians”).
And the other tale? Ernst Perabo, a German-born American composer, asked to see Moszkowski’s piano concerto. In reply, Moszkowski wrote, “I should be happy to send you my piano concerto, but for two reasons: First, it is worthless. Second, it is most convenient, the score being 400 pages long, for making my piano stool higher when I am engaged in studying better works.”
The next episode of my podcast, Music for a While, will feature some of this concerto. Along with some inarguably worthwhile Moszkowski pieces.