Features April 1984
Growing up with old records
On the childhood musical experience of Wagner.
As is the case with most child prodigies, my early musical experience was rich but frightfully narrow. Insofar as I was aware of musical greatness at all, I knew only what could come through the activities of my own childish fingers, modeling themselves as best they might on my piano teacher’s own strengths and weaknesses. Music was for me the piano, and my piano to boot. I don’t think I had heard a live symphony orchestra before I played a concerto with one, at the age of eleven. I did not see an opera until I was well into adolescence. Even the concerts of great touring artists were off limits to me, not just because of my parents’ straitened circumstances but also because of the feeling that a Wunderkind’s job is himself to play, not to listen to others. Indeed, I missed an opportunity to hear Rachmaninoff in a solo recital in 1942 shortly before his death because my teacher felt...
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