I recently posted a review of the music of Herman Finck. Apart from being a good composer he is quite definitely one of the greatest musical wits to have lived in the Twentieth Century. Ok. I accept that his humour may not appeal to the sophisticated audiences of today who idolise Jimmy Carr or Peter Kay. Furthermore, his wit is not caustic like Sir Thomas Beecham – I guess that Finck rarely offended anyone. However, some of his anecdotes are funny, entertaining and educative. I give two for your delight. Over the next couple of posts I will try to give a little more detail about these stories.
The first concerns a well-known Russian pianist and composer:-
‘When I was on tour with [Edward German’s] Merrie England in Glasgow, I went upstairs [to my hotel bedroom] to hear brilliant pianoforte playing. Someone was playing Chopin, then dropping into the Midsummer’s Night Dream scherzo. A part of the scherzo would be played so very slowly, then more Chopin would follow. I was so fascinated by the playing that I begun to undress in the corridor [I do not believe this is meant to be taken in anything other than in good faith! Ed.] outside my bedroom door to listen.
‘Who is that playing?’ I asked the chambermaid.
‘Oh, I cannot pronounce his name,’ she replied.
‘Rachmaninov?’ I asked.
‘Yes, that’s it.’
Rachmaninov was giving a recital in Glasgow that night, but as I stood in the corridor wrestling with a white tie I could not for the life of me think why he should be playing Mendelssohn at that dirge-like tempo. Months later, I heard that Rachmaninov had prepared an elaborate piano arrangement of the ‘Scherzo’[from the Midsummer’s Night Dream]. So I was the first person to hear it; he had been going through it slowly that night in Glasgow.’
Apparently, there are many anecdotes about corridors, music, hotels and Rachmaninoff in the musical literature.
The other tale concerns Maurice Ravel. Herman Finck wrote that:- ‘The French composer [had] orchestrated some of the etudes of Chopin for a Nijinsky ballet season at the Palace and his orchestrations were sent to me. I found out that one was incomplete, and I was trying to sort the matter out, when Philip Page came into the theatre.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
‘Trying to unravel Ravel,’ I replied.
My Melodious Memories Herman Finck Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1937 (with minor edits)