Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blissfully Ignoring the People

Think you love music? Then you can relate to William Kapell:

"The only moments I have when I play that are worth anything to me are when I can blissfully ignore the people I am supposed to be entertaining," wrote the American pianist William Kapell to a friend, the pianist Shirley Rhoads, from Australia, where he was unhappily on tour in 1953.

No me; no silly public to amuse; only the heart and the soul, the world, the birds, storms, dreams, sadness, heavenly serenity. Then I am an artist worthy of the name.... Until it happens, or if it doesn't happen, I am miserable....


Three years after making that album with Heifetz, Kapell wrote to Shirley Rhoads from Australia, where he found audiences listless and critics uninformed:

I think greatness in art is something you come upon after only yearning and pain, and a deep sense of being in a dark tunnel. Greatness in art is not something you tell yourself you have. It is the oasis, the greatness, the vision, or whatever you want to call it, after travelling the vast desert of lonely and parched feelings. After this, the oasis. And the older a musician gets who has once seen this oasis, the more he wants to live there all the time, so the more frequent are his attainments of greatness and vision.

He added:

Any true artist at bottom must be an escapist. Because look to where he or she escapes! Schubert Impromptus, Chopin Barcarolle, Beethoven Op. 111, Bach, Mozart, Schumann, the last movement of the Copland Sonata. Was life ever like that? Of course, children give an emotion similar, and in a way even stronger than any piece of music. But life itself is a hideous mess, and aside from a few loved ones, and dear friends one loves, it is best to steer clear of the hatred and evil of most present-day occupations. And music, as a profession, is one of the worst in this sense.

- From The Undefeated, a review of William Kapell Edition (9 CDs), in the NY Review of Books

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