The following (unedited) memoir was written by Ornstein's wife, Pauline, when she was in her late eighties or early nineties. It is evocative of the life of a touring pianist in earlier times and of their escape to the romantic setting of a hillside in New Hampshire before the days of automobiles.
Reminiscences From Here, There, and Everywhere
Leo Ornstein and I had been studying with the same piano teacher, Bertha Feiring Tapper, for some months. I knew him, at first, only as one of her many pupils. All of these assembled to play for each other once every month in her small apartment on Riverside Drive.
Leo had won a scholarship at the Institute of Musical Art in New York on his arrival in this country. As he occasionally had his lesson just before mine I realized he certainly differed from all the others studying even from those who played very well. The Institute was then located on Fifth Avenue at Twelfth Street. It occupied a large old brownstone residence with a wide central hall. On one side partitions had been removed to form a good-sized recital hall and lecture facility. The enrollment could not have been very large because the Institute soon had to move to a new building constructed for its use on the upper west side.
At first Leo had been assigned to another teacher but Mrs. Tapper, after having heard him play, had asked to have him transferred to her and the request had been granted. This initiated a long and devoted relationshp. No child of her own could have commanded more dedication than Mrs. Tapper gave to young Leo. He spent summers at her home on the Maine coast near where the Kneisel quartet lived and rehearsed. Because the Quartet constituted the musical Bible of this period, many other musicians assembled there and the place had an atmosphere all its own. In the city, Leo accompanied Mrs. Tapper at concerts and met leading musicians of the day. She was well acquainted with the city's musical scene and she not only provided instruction on the instrument but managed to give a timid small boy, in a strange country, a background and security which he could not have gained, at such an early age, without her help.
Leo lived with his family on the lower east side of the city. There were seven children to be educated, fed, and clothed from a meager salary. Leo's father, who had been a famous cantor in Russian, was little known in this country. He had a few friends who had urged his coming here and who knew his European reputation, but this had to be rebuilt in a new country.
The beginnings were difficult. Leo has suffered all his life from the memories of those early impressionable days. Even his great success in later life has never been able to completely erase his fear of poverty. What he remembers of these early days is mainly the pressure to make headway in his profession, lack of enough sleep, and an occasional treat in the form of a Napolean cut in pieces and divided between the children. Leo worked and practiced until he was a mere shadow.
It was at this time that I first knew him. The future had not yet come to pass or even been indicated. We must have been about twelve or thirteen years old. I am always vague about ages and dates. As pupils of the same teacher we necessarily met in competitive areas. I was inclined to be furious with his ability to outstrip every effort I could make. I remember an ear-training examination in which he got up and handed in his paper the moment the dictation had been finished, while I continued hectically to check and recheck mine. When the piano examination followed, I was prepared with a movement of a Mozart Concerto over which I had labored for weeks. While we were waiting for the examiners to arrive he took my music to look at it. He then proceeded to sit down at the piano and rip it off as if he had studied it longer than I had. This was not bravado, it was quite a matter of course to satisfy his curiosity about the piece. Such experiences were very frustrating, but in spite of them I had decided to invite him to dinner at my home.
It was quite an event for both of us. I, of course, felt that I had a young genius on my hands and for Leo it was probably a first dinner out on his own in a new country. Our backgrounds had been very contrasting. I lived in a large five-story brownstone home on the corner of 74th Street and Madison Avenue. There was a quite imposing set of steps leading up to the front door. It had a landing with a turn about half way up. I had been peering through the curtains of the front window watching for Leo when finally he appeared coming up the steps. I went back into the room, waiting to hear the front door bell ring, but there was not a sound. I went over again to carefully check through the curtains only to see my future guest rushing up the street away from the house as fast as he could go. I was certainly puzzled. I did not inform my family of the strange happening but sat still wondering what could have happened. There was a long anxious wait when suddenly the bell rang and the maid announced our guest. It has taken Leo some time to summon the courage to appear.
I mention this incident because it is typical of certain characteristics. Whenever Leo might see a familiar figure approaching on the street he would manage to get around the corner or at the very least cross to the other side of the street. All our lives one of my most urgent jobs has been to save him from all social functions. If at any time he became unavoidably involved and was expected to appear, I had to manage a reasonable excuse at the last minute.
I have no idea what the instinctive source of all this vanishing may have been. Shyness? A desire not to be interrupted in some thought? There seemed no apparent reason. Leo is a most stimulating conversationalist, thoroughly at ease and extremely articulate. He is always the center of any gathering and what you would call a "social success." But his avoidance of human contacts in general has been very strong ever since I have known him. At concert appearances, my regular function was to have a taxi waiting at the stage door. With the final round of applause, Leo would rush from the stage with its bows and smiles, grab his hat and coat, and off to anywhere — but away, away! Usually our destination was a railroad station as we had to be headed for the next date.
It is perhaps not too difficult, in the light of this description, to uderstand at least one reason why an early withdrawal from public life led to a complete removal from the general musical scene and to the life of a hermit. Leo always has given too much of himself when in cotact with people. They drain him, and as a reaction he blames himself for squandering so much energy on just talk when it could have been devoted to his work. Although he appears quite in his element under such circumstances, unlike most artists I have known, he gets little from such experiences and seems to gather strength from within himself rather than from the external stimulation of social contacts.
I am afraid I have been a very bad environmental influence because instead of helping him to combat these tendencies, I have shared his desire for seclusion. I also had social factors from which I felt the need to escape. My revolt was enormously different from that of Leo. It was a need to be myself rather than a puppet in the social structure, no matter how advantageously placed. I was brought up in a "noblesse oblige" atmosphere. The implied moral obligations, with which I could of course have been happy, were not the only forms which this took. I objected to time and energy comsumed by the required full evening dress every night for informal family dinner, and this even when away on a summer holiday at our camp.
Such and similar formalities involved much more than the simple change of costume. This was a day when ready-made clothes were not possible. Fittings, dressmakers, and shopping for every small item was part of the process. Our dressmaker spent four or five days a week pinning, basting, and cutting the materials we had bought to fit our bodies, and giving them the latest tricks of fashion which had to be studied and incorporated. This meant the scanning of fashion magazines and thought devoted to the proper length of sleeves, skirts, and neck lines.
I had little interest in clothes but they were an essential part of the life of parties, teas, and balls which bored me beyond measure. This sort of occupation was thought of as a duty by many of those around me. I was expected to attend functions both as hostess and guest, and this made the few uninterrupted hours I could devote to music and reading incredibly valuable to me.
All these pressures motivated me rather towards some form of liberation which would provide a greater opportunity for inward life. Certainly they did not incline me, after our marriage, to force Leo to continue a public career which was interfering with the time he needed to devote to his writing. The concert career, for which he had been trained, was, in his case, agonizing due to excessive nervousnesss and also abhorrent in that it was accompanied by a rootless, hotel-type of existence rather than that of a home.
We had fortunately built a small refuge in the New Hampshire woods, on a mountainside facing the Presidential Range and backed by nearly seventy-five miles of government-owned wilderness. It was an unbeatable spot. We had placed our house a mile back from a small country road. There was no habitation in the approximately five hundred acres we controlled, and quiet, with as much isolation as we chose, seemed virtually assured. Even during the most hectic concert years we made it a practice to travel back ridiculous distances to be in our woods, if only for very short intervals.
The effort of opening and shutting the house, which usually involved connecting water and transporting food on foot over the snow for about a mile, was well repaid by forty-eight hours of absolute quiet. Everyone, of course, thought we were completely crazy. We would happily travel back from Chicago only to return there, but for us it was worth while and we eventually found that many eastern concert trips could be made from New Hampshire almost as easily as from New York — except on occasions when the heavy snows complicated matters.
I vividly remember one such occasion when snow did present the hazard that we might not reach the concert hall in time for the concert. Leo was to be soloist with the Boston Symphony in Washington. We left our house on snowshoes. Our parkas were wrapped around the red-checked lumbermen's shirts which we wore. The man who took general care of our place carried the suitcase with the evening clothes for the concert. When we reached the small back highway, there was a sleigh waiting for us. We pulled up the buffalo robes and headed for the railroad station. These were not the days of ploughed roads. Today this route is passable at all times and much used by skiers, but at the period I am speaking of the roads were rolled. The snow was packed tightly by huge and heavy wide wooden drums, and woe unto anyone who stepped beyond the firm area without snow shoes.
It was not long before one of our horses proceeded to do just this, and all but disappeared. Head, ears, and back could be seen struggling above the snow to return to the road. The sleigh narrowly escaped turning over and the driver, cursing and cajoling the horse (in a very unusual voice, given that his mouth had been deprived of its palate), finally got it back on the road. This delayed matters considerably and we had barely time to warm up by the wood stove which the station provided before the train arrived. The connection was much too close for safety because it was the only train which would carry us to Portland where we could take the sleeper to New York, and eventually to Washington.
In the concert hall the next morning, the contrast of the drab back stage of the auditorium with the incredible beauty of sunshine and snow which we had left was very great, but it would be some weeks of hard travelling before we would be able to return again to our haven and sleep in its quiet. Whenever a return was possible, we would try to resume where we had left off, but many manuscripts were abandoned, half finished, because it seemed easier and more exciting to make a fresh start, with all the imaginative stimulation that this implied. When I look at the pages and pages thus left midway, I realize what a great store of finished works could have been achieved had we been able to retire earlier.
This was not possible because we had family obligations and enough money to meet these could only be earned by playing. Leo's father and mother were still living and needed help, and the crash of 1929 had eaten heavily into our savings. The recent arrival of radio was beginning to shake the concert field, making it uncertain how long it would last. And by this time we also had two children.
It was at this jucture that we began teaching in Philadelphia. Leo had been asked to take charge of the piano department of the Zeckwer-Hahn Philadelphia Musical Academy, and this looked to us like an enormous improvement over the concert field in point of permanence of residence, and contact with our children as they were growing. We could set teaching hours in such a way that writing need not be subject to the continual interruptions we had been experiencing. Concerts still took an occasional toll because they necessitated continuing hours of practice to keep muscles in shape, but the teaching gave us something else to fall back on and we could and did limit, and finally discontinue, travelling.
There was a period when a quite acceptable balance was achieved between the routine work of teaching and the time devoted to composing, but as the piano department began suddenly to grow out of all proportion, we were again faced with the problem of obtaining uninterrupted time for writing. In the midst of all this, my own training and concert experience were of use. I was able to take care of all preparatory teaching and of the administration of a school of our own, which by this time we had established. I had also become well acquainted with all the short cuts which could be used in taking dictation of Leo's manuscripts. Complete retirement was, nevertheless, finally the only answer to a very overcrowded existence. This we were able to achieve when our children finished college and were on their own.
In these years, seclusion was valued more than any other commodity. Our books were our only companions and these, and outdoor life of one kind or another, absorbed what hours we could steal from work. Our woods were a source of revitalization and tremendous enjoyment. Winter, spring, summer, and fall competed with each other to bring us fresh contacts with nature. Each had its individual fascination, and only as age began to make snowshoes and isolation less possible have we turned southward for warmth and freedom from slippery paths and subzero weather.
As for companionship, we both have needed little beyond each other's company. We are both apparently hermits by temperament. Our children have been in close touch with us and now there are grandchildren. They have all together formed our circle of human contacts. When our own two were in college, our by this time much enlarged house was so full at holiday times that we frequently took refuge in a small cottage which had been occupied by the chauffeur but was now vacant. Sometimes as many as twenty or twenty-five house guests enjoyed our children's hospitality, sprawling in sleeping bags all over the livingroom and library. This confusion we could not appreciate, although we valued the fun for our young people. We also built a studio a mile further into the woods beyond our house where no one was allowed to follow us, and this was a last perfect refuge.
We had built our house originally during a period when our toddlers were very young and were creating the normal confusion all children are entitled to. At the risk of immediate destruction, we had had a grand piano pulled up through the forest over stumps and stones, but it reached the studio intact and served there for many years until our house was again empty — our children, now grown, living in their own homes. After they left, we returned to work at our house, which was still sufficiently distant from outside disturbance but by now far too big for just the two of us. We were beginning to think about how to reduce the area and the many demands that it made.
We had a lawn that was nearly two acres in extent and even with our riding lawn mower it was necessary to find a rider, and often to fetch and return any workers we could find. Domestic help from the city would not remain longer than one week, the loneliness was too great. The local population was sparse in those days and the nearest houses some miles away in all directions. Finally, with much sorrow, we abandoned the big house in which so many memorable years had been spent and remodelled the little cottage, whose size just suited our simple needs.
For a while we continued making two trips a month to Philadelphia. But it meant a trip of over four hundred miles by car each way (we have never flown) and at least ten hours a day of teaching while we were there. So much time was needed for recovery when we returned home that we finally discontinued this practice.
Many may wonder why, at 83 and with no experience in writing anything but music manuscripts, I have been tempted to write these reminiscences. It is because I know that there is no one else who has ever had access to many aspects of Mr. Ornstein's life and the record should exist. Our isolation from the musical life of the city, not only in retirement but from the very beginning, has been very great. I venture to say that no perfroming artist has ever more studiously avoided all promotional and personal contacts. Newspaper interviews were granted only when they could not possibly be avoided. I was the one always to answer the phone and I became extremely expert in using all the devices needed to avoid entangling Mr. Ornstein This was what we wanted and my technique improved with constant practice. The ordinary green room experience of congratulations and pleasantries did not exist at all for us. Those who came backstage to get an autograph or a handshake were greeted by an empty room — we had left.
I think it is also customary for teachers to extend their contact with pupils in some form of social activity. In our case there was absolutely none of this. During lesson time the pupils had every imaginable attention but after the lesson there was nothing until the next time. Once a year we gave a large party for all our teachers and graduates, and that was it. The puplis seemed to understand. At least they flocked to the registrar's office and put up with whatever schedules we were willing to supply.
I am sure that one reason Mr. Ornstein has always avoided the social-promotional part of the music business is that the whole package is entirely distasteful. The thought of using personal connections or friends to obtain business in any area of teaching or concertizing was contrary to both our temperaments. We knew well that it could increase bank accounts but it could provide little else. I am sure our behavior has often been misunderstood and that we have made many enemies by our disregard of more or less established conventions, and by our unwillingness, so to speak, to play the game. Mr. Ornstein has quite simply felt that he wanted to have nothing to do with a success based on anything but his musical achievement. He now has the satisfaction of knowing that his reputation, from first to last, has been based entirely on his musical ability, and this is a deeply rewarding feeling which he has earned every step of the way.
After we retired to our New Hampshire woods, human contacts were even fewer. The native woodsmen and those who worked for us in various capacities knew Mr. Ornstein better than most other people ever had a chance to. Of course they knew only the part of him that was involved with music, and intercourse was of a different nature altogether from that of the more sophisticated and not necessarily more mature conventional city contacts.
In the woods, aesthetics were not subjects of discussion. There was no need to try to tolerate half-baked and stuffy thinking that could not be ignored and was still not worth combatting. Too often we had found that city culture and affluence could harbor prejudice and limitations equally with uninformed virginal minds, but with the power of position it could become arrogance. The outdoors was free of all this and its people could be taken for what they were. They in turn grew to love Mr. Ornstein even when he was "kind of waspish."
He enjoyed joining in the outdoor work enormously. He could pull a crosscut saw for hours without tiring. None of this sort of thing involved the one thing he could not endure and that was being bored. His ability to tolerate this has always been very weak indeed and at the first hint of it he would feel very exhausted. This had nothing to do with physical strength, of which he had a large share. Even today at 82 he enjoys long walks of several miles with which I cannot compete because I cannot keep up his tempo. When I was younger, I almost died trying to catch up with his leaping from rock to rock going up Mt. Washington. I never could get within shouting distance to ask him to slow down, and he did not even realize that he was going fast. He was terrified when he found me puffing and just able to catch my breath. Even today, I can locate him at a distance in any crowd. All I have to do is to look for a streak of motion moving through it at a terrible pace.
Reading is one of his favorite pastimes. His knowledge of classical literature is very extensive. He is even rereading some things read many years ago. This week, for instance, he took out of the library Clarissa Harlow (Richardson) to reread, a book on China, a history of the Atomic Energy Commission, and books on ecology and literature. This is a fairly typical week's reading. As our work hours are shorter now, more time is available to enjoy more books.
Our children have been our main source of contact with people. When they were in college they brought friends to the house and many of these young people we found delightful. They were alive and full of enthusiasm, all living in and for the future. Comparing them with the young people of my own generation they were of a different calibre altogether, infinitely more developed. Thier interests were extremely diverse and they were able to bring to Mr. Ornstein information from many fields with which he'd had no previous contact.
Our son is a scientist, at first a petrologist and subsequently a computer designer and communications expert. He was also an enthusiastic mountain climber, having made a number of first ascents. He brought to the house many members of the Harvard Mountaineering Club bearing photographs and stories of extraordinary exploits, sometimes even bringing motion pictures we could view. Mr. Ornstein had himself been a great lover of climbing and had done a good deal of it many years before in Norway and Austria. These young people, many of whom are now doing research in advanced chemistry, biology, upper atmosphere physics, and medicine, were at that time all in the early stages of subjects we had never had an opportunity to study, and we found their visits stimulating and delightful.
Our daughter's work lay in another vital field, that of anthropology. She spent a year in New Guinea living with the natives, and subsequently earned her M.A. at a mental hospital run by the Menningers in Kansas. Her friends also brought us new experiences and the freshness of young minds. These college students all brought outside and diverse interests into our lives. Here were social contacts that could be enjoyed, even granting that at the time all these young people were only in the budding stage of their development..
It can be seen from all I have been describing how varied Mr. Ornstein's interests and activities have been. He has always read extensively about almost every known area of human thought. Over a lifetime I would estimate that he has read at least three or four books a week, in addition to many special articles and papers. Long hours of practice and the need to earn his living at an impossibly early age had limited his study during normal school years. With a little more time free for reading, new worlds opened rapidly.
When he was studying in St. Petersburg, Russia, he contributed to his living expenses by teaching their roles to some of the singers of the Russian Imperial Opera. He was eight years old at the time and very lonely in a very big city far from his family. The early loneliness is still a vivid reollection. He remembers being called in from a game of marbles in the back yard. An emormous basso had been enquiring for Mr. Ornstein to help him with his new part. When Mr. Ornstein came into the room he was a tiny wisp of a boy, small even for his eight years. His childhood career as opera coach helped keep him alive in St. Petersburg while he took advantage of the scholarship which had been awarded to him at the Royal Academy there.
When the famly decided to come to America and reached this country they had many problems. All the children had to do whatever they could. Some had not finished school and Leo, the youngest, actually entered the concert field and left school at about fourteen. Between the time of his arrival in this country until his professional debut, little was added to his education. The language had had to be mastered at first and by the time that he might have profitted by educational opportunities, he was spending the entire day practicing and beginning to concertize.
That he has beome one of the most educated people one can meet is due entirely to his unceasing efforts to find out about everything. The habit of reading in subways, trains, and even taxicabs has been a large factor. He always carries a book under his arm. Recently he has become interested in many of the sciences. Here both of us have run into shortages in mathematics, but we managed to get at least a picture of many of the fascinating things that are happening today. History is, of course, wide open for study with no special technical training, and so are the many social and political sciences whose problems beset us everywhere. Travel experiences are plentifully explored in current books, and reading about all these things is the way we have spent, and still do spend, many of our leisure hours.
It may be possible, by trying to visualize the general lifestyle I have been describing, to see why I have been led to try to recall past years. Their contents will otherwise be inaccessible for history. Only our children have had more or less continuous contact with us. However, since they are both incredibly busy in diffferent cities, most of our contact has been through letters which deal most often with their highly personal problems, little related to Mr. Ornstein's life, professional or otherwise.
Our son is deeply musical and understands what his father is doing, but he has achieved a noteworthy reputation in his own field and, as is the case of all who are successful today, he is completely overwhelmed with work and activities. He was singled out, not long ago, to be the leader of a group of six American computer scientists who are to be guests of the Chinese government for three weeks. This group will be the first set of scientists to enter China since the Cultural Revolution, and this, for a very young man, is a distinction which also places many obligations upon him. He could write a stunning biography of his father, but his energies are inevitably absorbed elsewhere. Our daughter writes with much ability, but her interests have been far from music. I am therefore left as really the only source that the future would be able to use for reference.
I began early to write all of Mr. Ornstein's manuscripts at his dictation, so I have spent all working hours with him as well as hours of recreation or study. The dictation of his writing began as a timesaving measure and soon became a habit. The process might not apply to some forms of the musical idiom, but within his use of the language there are many notes which can be indicated by signs which we have systematized, so I have been able to save him hours of pencil work. I will try to describe the process of notation in a subsequent chapter, but it is a system that has been developed to fit a particular type of musical thinking and probably could not be standardized.
This helter-skelter review of many experiences must end somewhere. Eighty-two years provide plenty of memories and my mind has wandered hither and yon trying to recall a life of seventy years ago. In country areas then we had to manufacture our own electricity, and the telephone and horseless carriages (later known as automobiles) were just coming onto the scene. Today changes move faster and faster but I am not at all sure how much this has contributed. In any event, time cannot be argued with and we have tried to extract the most we could from its passage. From our point of view, we have been successful in this.
Our lives have been full to the brim. I realize, however, that any contribution we may have made will only be fully realized in the distant future. We have, quite consciously, sacrificed much contemporaneous réclame which might have been ours. The general public has known little about Mr. Ornstein in recent years and a new generation has grown up. The musically aware were always conscious of the significance of his writing and of his great gift, but as almost all manuscripts have been withheld for many years, there has been little possibility for anyone to know what he has been producing. As a virtuoso he has had fame and appreciation, and the writng, which was earlier a source of both controversy and enthusiasm, will have to be taken care of by time and the future.
The train was due at 6 AM to pass through the town where Mr. Ornstein was to play. This meant that the Pullman porter had been told to awaken us in time to be dressed and packed. It was not one of the big cities. These were usually made more convenient for the passengers who were often allowed to sleep in their berths until eight o'clock. The station at X could boast a taxicab and there was an antique but quite respectable hotel. We had made reservations in advance, but as all the rooms had been filled for the night we had to wait until someone checked out and the place could be prepared for new occupants. We took advantage of this period to get a cup of coffee and to find out where the concert hall was located.
Our tuner Gabby, who always travelled with us, was already checking to see which of the pianos that were being moved around ahead of us was the one that he would have to work on. Apparently it had arrived intact the day before, so that was one worry out of the way. After breakfast we debated whether to go to the hall directly or to see if our room at the hotel might be ready. It was still early so we thought it best to take a look at the auditorium.
The piano was already on the stage and Mr. Ornstein began to test its action and the acoustics of the hall. He would have to tell Gabby how to treat the hammers, and after exercising his muscles a little would have to relinquish the instrument long enough for the tuning and regulating. Gabby never put pressure on us. He was extremely competent and could do his work in a very short time. He was also an irrepressible spirit, always cheery and with no respect for anyone or anything. He boasted of the time that he had had words with Paderewski, and he called Mr. Ornstein "Peepsy." He adored Mr. Ornstein and was a help to us in many ways that were beyond his professional duty, such as getting tickets, hotel reservations, etc.
His happy-go-lucky personality contributed a kind of relaxation in the midst of nerves tensed to extremes. It was impossible not to laugh with and at him. He had some sort of horse sense about stage fright and its reactions on the nervous system, and could laugh off the dissatisfactions with the pianos which came from anxiety. Fault finding with the instruments was more or less constant. They had their shortcomings, but much of this lay beyond Gabby's control. He knew this and it did not upset him in the least. Mr. Ornstein always wanted the piano to be more responsive and urged Gabby to increase its potential. He could, of course, sharpen the tone but could not give it depth, and often the acoustics badly needed help, as for instance when playing in an armory with the piano in the position of the prize fighters in the middle of wide spaces.
By this time Mr. Ornstein had started his day's practice but this did not consist of the usual review of works on the anticipated program. It represented a battle against two things: a small, tight-knit hand and incredible nervousness. Some passage or section would be chosen from some composition which had nothing to do with the programme, but which presented difficulty for a small hand. This passage would be repeated endless times, which could run to several thousand.
In order to keep track of the repetitions, a set of matches was placed at the left side of the piano. One match would be moved over to the right after ten repeats, and this would continue for hours. For a long time I could not understand what was accomplished by all the repetitions. The first playing of a passage was as perfect as the hundredth. Finally I understood that there was a hazard which could not be heard but which Mr. Ornstein felt. This sense of insecurity was increased by the fact that his hand was not only tight but his fingers were fairly wide at the tips. This left little leeway between the keys and he evidently felt that the repetitions increased the precision by a hair which was important enough to be the object of practice.
Actually there was little else to practice for. Memory did not exist as a problem. After reading any new work a few times, it was simply absorbed in some way and fixed seemingly forever in his mind. Of course muscles were exercised and this was needed. The practice was also a kind of sedative because the apprehension and dread of a performance increased whenever he was away from a piano.
The only thing that seemingly worried him was the structure of his hand with its limited reach. This made many situations extremely difficult, which would have been entirely easy for a larger, more pliable hand. Some reaches that he could barely stretch I found possible, even with my much smaller hand. The eternal repetitions, he must have felt, reduced the danger which his particular combination of handicaps presented. Those things which are usually the cause of worry and apprehension to most pianists simply did not exist for him.
I recall vividly one occasion in Boston when we were at the end of a long tour and the same programme had been repeated a good many times. Mr. Ornstein said to me as he went out on the stage that he thought he would play something else. This he proceeded to do, leaving me utterly aghast. For everything on the programme he substituted another work of similar character by the same composer. The Chopin Ballade was a different one and instead of the Beethoven Appassionata he played a different Beethoven Sonata and so on through the entire programme. What left me holding my breath was that I knew that he hadn't played any of these pieces even once during the entire past year.
This did not concern him in the least and had nothing to do with the monumental nervousness that accompanied every performance, even in the smallest towns and the least forbidding environments. Such agonizing stage fright turned him a livid white and it was often a problem of real proportions for him to avoid taking a train to escape. This excessive and really inhuman nervousness was also a large factor in his discontinuing the concert field. No human body could have continued when subjected to such experiences frequently. It was far beyond the normal stage fright and actually caused considerable illness.
His repertoire by this time was large indeed. It included the bulk of all material of importance from recent years, added to a fairly complete knowledge of the classics. Since these things apparently needed no review to keep them fresh, the concentration on a few difficult passages which presented a challenge to his hand was reasonable. In order to keep track of the number of repetitions and relieve the boredom, he found the moving of the matches from one side to the other a slight interruption and variation. His mind must have been elsewhere most of the time because in the middle he would break off and improvise things which I would have given worlds to preserve. When I begged time to get them on paper, he would reply that he could not take the time in the middle of a concert season. He did very occasionally do it, but priceless hours of music which I was privileged to hear will never recur and nothing can be done about it.
Only in the summer holiday could we undertake and finish larger works. Also only because he could write so fast did anything get done in the midst of concerts. The Cello Sonata, which is about 70 pages long, was written in five days. He now takes much longer to finish a work because there are altogether too many alternatives he can think of as a result of so much experience. He has become terribly over critical and discards lots more than he is willing to put on paper. Much of what he refuses to use is every bit as important as what he chooses. We have often discussed this and he admits that he does not know why he selects what he does. This is music and there are no finalities possible, of course. Perhaps I am right or perhaps he senses something which I miss. His decision is of course final, but his increased choosiness as he gets older has slowed us down considerably.
Over the years, practicing and writing have occupied about eight or nine hours of every day. He would sometimes reduce this to five or six on a Sunday, to allow for a walk or a change of some sort. Our day begins early. Since we no longer live in hotels where neighbors must be considered, we have breakfast anywhere from six to seven o'clock and go to bed between seven-thirty and eight in the evening. We now take a siesta in the afternoon, but such a thing would never have been thought of until we were nearly eighty years old. The routine for the day of a concert was virtually the same as any other day except that we ate dinner such as we could find late at night after the concert was over. Usually the railroad station was the most likely place, or a diner near the train, or sometimes only a slot machine with sandwiches.
When on tour we had a piano put in our hotel room if we were to remain more than a few hours in a town. On the day of the concert, we spent the day in the hall getting the feel of the particular instrument. On the trains between dates we carried a dummy piano of three octaves. The keys were weighted and were almost impossible to push down so that a short amount of practice provided plenty of exercise. We could only use this when we were able to get a stateroom. On one occasion the porter who entered cried out in terror, "That thing don' make no noise, do it?" He thought he had suddenly lost his hearing.
Sometimes there were as many as twenty-five concerts in about thirty days. In these cases there were a good many pianos travelling around ahead of us by truck. There were occasional accidents and funny happenings. Once they dropped the piano at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Mr. Ornstein was to be soloist with the orchestra there and Olga Samaroff had to lend us her baby grand for the occasion. It looked awfully fnny on the big stage and had to be tuned while the audience was assembling. Gabby didn't mind a bit. He just went on tuning it until the orchestral musicians walked out on the stage.
His lack of self-consciousness was in strong contrast to that of a Canadian tuner we had had to use because during the war some papers had not been properly cleared. A string had been broken during the second group on the programme. The local tuner had to go out on the stage to put on a new string, but he got stage fright. Finally, when persuasion failed, he was pushed out to the middle of the stage where he became rooted to the spot. He could not move in any direction. The curtain had to be rung down after which the ping ping of tuning was heard and heartily applauded by the audience.
Accidents were not too frequent, but they sometimes created odd situations. Occasionally something went wrong in connection with the pianos moving ahead of us by truck. In one case the legs of the piano had been left behind, so for the concert it had to be mounted on two wooden sawhorses. In another we found ourselves locked in when our early morning taxi arrived to take us to our train. We had spent the night at a visitors house on the campus of a college where Mr. Ornstein had given a recital, and apparently it was their practice to lock up at night. We were obliged to climb out of a window, throwing our suitcases before us to the taxi driver. We did make the train but only by a narrow margin. All of these episodes were just part and parcel of that kind of life and we got more amusement out of them than inconvenience.
To return to the concert hall on the day of a performance. Practicing would continue for at least several hours. There was competition from the carpenters hammering back stage on some prop which was to be used by a high school group the following night, and the cleaning team was likely to be running vacuums up and down the aisles. Mr. Ornstein interrupted his playing to ask me to go to the piano and play something so that he could listen from various locations in the hall. Acoustics of every auditorium are different and there was always the question of how much pedal was advisable.
Finally it was time to let Gabby get to the piano, so we went for a bite of lunch and finally to our hotel room where we found a note waiting for us from the local newspaper, asking us to call a given number. In order not to offend, a call had to be made. This time, fortunately, the interviewer was out so we simply left word that we had anwered their message. When their call was later repeated, it was late enough to plead the necessity for some rest, but this only meant that a curtailed interview would be given at the hall at the last minute.
Meanwhile we returned to the theatre to check the piano and for more practice; no rest, of course, was really possible. There would be no dinner until after the concert and it looked as if there would be a problem to find any place open late at night. Often only sandwiches could be picked up from a coin machine. Sometimes a diner could be found and sometimes nothing, because it would be after eleven before we could think about food.
By that time the sense of escape provided by the railroad was poisoned by all the things Mr. Ornstein could think of that he would have liked to have done differently. An artist's dream of the ideal, I suppose, is never realized, but the after-performance hours running well into the night were spent in comparing what he felt had happened with what his dream might have pictured for him. That the audience had recalled him again and again and risen to its feet meant nothing. Also there would be no reviews to counteract his self-criticism because he would never look at one. Neither would he permit me to arrange to have a paper sent to us. Our manager often sent me newspaper clippings containing wild praise, but there was no use even trying to get Mr. Ornstein to read them. There was a real stone wall there that could not be penetrated. I never kept the clippings. This was stupid on my part for they would have had historic interest and could have provided exact dates for things which have become vague in my mind. A few got mixed up with other papers and have gone to Yale with the manuscripts, but I have had trouble giving dates with any degree of accuracy.
Tours were only repetitions of the routine I have indicated. There were times when as many as twenty-five performances took place in one month. This meant travelling every night, sometimes changing trains at odd hours so food and sleep were at a minimum. I remember one such session when I fell asleep on a table in the green room while Mr. Ornstein was out on the stage. It is a life full of glamour for those who are temperamentally fitted to enjoy it. They need a carefree approach and an ability to enjoy the after-concert social applause, late hours, parties, etc. This had no appeal for either of us, and the terrible nervousness had really nothing to balance it that had meaning for us. The whole thing was taking time from Mr. Ornstein's writing, and was beginning to break down his naturally strong constitution. I am certain that the craving for complete isolation was a reaction from the early life of such publicity, which was contrary to his interests.
Living in the wild woods offered many new experiences. Mr. Ornstein had been a city dweller all his life except for parts of summers spent with his teacher in the Blue Hill environment, which was only an extension of the city with a little extra fresh air around it. The Kneisel Quartette spent its summers nearby and there were constant musical events interspersed with many hours of practice. But our New Hampshire woods were very different. We learned at first hand about lumber, and the ways of the forest, and tramping through the wilderness. This was all new and exciting, and much that I will describe has little so to do with msic. Of course the hours of practice and writing never ceased. Even on Sundays, work usually occupied at least five or six hours of every day. But life at this period was full of contrast and much discovery.
Gardens, Maple Sugar, and Cows
We had taken a cottage for the summer on a New Hampshire mountainside and put a piano in one of the outbuildings. For Mr. Ornstein, this was an experiment in inland country living. Before building a house of our own in New Hampshire, we wanted to see if he would be happy away from the ocean. Up to this point, his vacations had been spent in Maine; in the early years with the musical environment provided by his teacher Mrs. Tapper and, after her death, by himself in Deer Isle. In these later years, most of his recreational activity had taken the form of joining the fishermen in their work. Getting up before dawn did not bother him at all and he had learned a good deal about lobstering, digging clams, and fishing in general. All these activities would be unavailable away from the coast, so if he was to be content there substitutes would have to be discovered.
We planted a vegetable garden.Mr. Ornstein had a good deal to say about my lack of precision because the instructions on the package of seeds were to cover with 1/4 inch of soil and I just threw the dirt over the seeds. Depths certainly varied considerably, but I had had some experience with planting. He was convinced that nothing would come up because of my great inaccuracy.
When little green things began to appear, and our peas and lettuce began to grow, we had an exciting time. The tape measure was taken out every day to see how much things had grown, and our garden really prospered as a result of complete weedlessness and intensive hoeing. We had so many fresh vegetables that we did not know what to do with them, and we learned to can and preserve many varieties of food. This was a completely untried field and exploration was relaxing and fun.
There were also berries of many kinds to be picked. The mountain sides were covered with blueberries and huckleberries and these found their way into pies and shortcakes. They were joined by strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries when in season. Thus the mountains seemed to be able to hold their own and to compete successfully with the sea. We were also only fifty miles from Portland. Occasional trips there provided additional activities, with lobster increasingly appreciated since it was removed from the daily diet.
The little cottage had been an old farm house. It provided all the charm of New England primitive life with old wood stoves and pine floors. There were lots of apple trees and the ground all around had the best crop of stones that New England could produce. We spent the summer in these surroundings and by fall it was clear that we would build. We had tentatively put up a studio far back in the woods near the government wilderness line, and Mr. Ornstein began to work there every day. He took an axe with him to frighten away the bears, who were actually far more afraid of human beings than any of the natives were of them. But there other kinds of wild life, including wildcats, whose screams could chill your blood in the middle of the night.
By the time the fall concert season was getting under way we had also closed in the frame of a small house which provided shelter enough for occupancy on our occasional visits. I remember the thrill we both got when we sat down in front of our very own fireplace and toasted ourselves to a crisp before the blazing logs. This was quite different from living in hotels or even a rented city apartment. These might offer luxuries we had not yet had time to incorporate into our small refuge, but they lacked everything that we were revelling in, in spite of little furniture and only kerosene lamps and candles. There was no phone to disturb, and outside only the sounds of the woods and the wind. Then the snow began falling and we could see only a limited distance. With the knowledge that even the main road would be closed at least for a while, we felt like true pioneers at no less than one of the poles.
There were no freezers in those days but we bought a quarter of beeef and, after struggling to cut it into sections, we froze each piece in a barrel of snow and left it for the winter to be there whenever we could return. At first we did not have water buried deeply enough to save it from freezing, but there was any amount of snow which could be melted and which was as pure as any spring or well water. All this was full of novelty for two city-reared young people, and our experiences were of the once-in-a-lifetime variety. Later, when we enlarged our house and everything was quite up to date, something quite indescribable was lost — but its earlier incarnation will remain forever in our memories.
By the time spring arrived, the interior of the house had been nearly completed and there were new experiences to be had outdoors. We discovered that throughout our woodland there were many sugar maple trees. We gathered both information about sugaring and equipment. We found a farmer who had a large old-fashioned boiler that could be used outdoors, and we bought endless pails and spikes. Trees were punctured and buckets hung, then we waited for the warm days and cold nights that send the sap shooting up and down, filling buckets and taxing any equipment that is less efficient than an evaporator.
Gathering the sap requires quite a technique of balance, and I spilled many bucketfuls. The snow must be deep and softly melting underneath, leaving a deceptively crusty surface. The feeling that you are on top is rudely shaken when you suddenly break through and find yourself near the bottom, often a slump of two or three feet. This happens when you are carrying a bucket full of sap, and sometimes two, to the nearest large container. We had rigged up a barrel on a sled that could be pulled over the snow through the woods. Mr. Ornstein was very successful in reaching this with his buckets full. His quick physical reactions gave him great superiority when it came to adjusting his balance.
The problem becamse serious when all containers were full and the sap continued to pour out of the trees. This meant long hours of boiling with the primitive equipment that we had. We took turns at stoking the fire, and its glow at night over the snow made a picture one could never forget. The terrific volume of steam from the boiling sap reflected the fire's color, and we found ourselves pressured by forces that were entirely new to us. Fortunately it was spring and the concerts had dwindled to nearly zero, so we could pitch in and imagine ourselves as natives, dependent on this source of sweet for the coming year with the need to treasure every drop of sap.
I very much doubt if many people have experienced the terrific contrasts that we have within one lifetime. From New York City at Broadway and Forty-Second St. to the New Hampshire woods in 1919 in mid-winter and early spring, a mile back from a little-used country road, was a physical contrast of real proportions, but the cultural contrast was even greater. Mr. Ornstein at this period was the center of a most violent controversy between the powers that be and the youth of the early twenties in its most sophisticated manifestations. When in New York he moved among the writers of the Seven Arts, the painters, sculptors, and photographers of the art set represented by Stieglitz, Georgie O'Keefe, and John Marin, and commentators such as Edmund Wilson, Waldo Frank, and Walter Lippman. Hans Kindler was one of the few musicians he was close to. For whatever reason, Mr. Ornstein apparently gravitated towards those in spheres other than music. I cannot account for this except that perhaps there was not too much new in the musical field that he had not already experienced, and he found a variety of activities more stimulating.
The contrast between the advanced elements of New York and the utterly primitive basics of a New Hampshire winter in 1919 was in itself something of a thrill. In New Hampshire we had graduated, little by little, from kerosene lamps and candles to manufacturing our own electricity with the help of storage batteries and a small stream; Finally we were able to get commercial power service.
We also moved from horse-drawn sleighs and wagons to motor transport. When we first built, we had to have nearly a mile of water pipe laid four feet underground to protect it against frost. The trench was dug with hand shovels and mattocks. No trench-digging machinery existed in those days. The huge boulders that the picks uncovered had to be either dynamited or split with a series of wedges, hammered in by hand and then pulled away.
Much the same procedure had to be used as we cleared about an acre and a half which became lawn and a terrace, with a marvelous view of the Presidentials over the tops of the hemlock forest below. All this was done in truly pioneer fashion. A stone boat drawn by horses pulled off the huge roots and boulders. Even getting these on the stone boat involved the use of a large tripod with a chain and lever, and the assistance of several crowbars. We learned how land had been cleared in the early days and were experiencing a phase of history. The bears did, in reality, come down at night to rattle our garbage cans. Our ice box was replenished every day with large blocks of ice from our ice house. These, in turn, had been cut during the previous winter from our reservoir further up the mountain. They were packed in sawdust, which would preserve them during the heat of the summer.
In the midst of all these primitive settings, Mr. Ornstein was writing every day the music of a long distant future, and still practicing many hours as fall approached and the concert season was nearing.
It was at this time, around 1935, that he decided to accept an offer to become head of the piano department of the Zeckwer Hahn Musical Academy in Philadelphia. Our children were approaching school age and we began to spend our winters in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, about thirty miles out of the city. Mr. Ornstein felt that he wanted the children to experience country living. As we ourselves preferred it to the city, we began looking for some place to build. We settled upon a ridge with a lovely view of farm land outside of Doylestown. Again we began by putting up a small house, which later became the central section of a larger building as our children grew.
Our help at this period consisted of an old country woman who served as Nana for the children, and a young country boy whom we had brought down from New Hampshire. He functioned as butler and general factotum. We also built a small barn and acquired a cow. We had been accustomed to having our own butter made on the place without salt, and our own milk and cream. We found the store-bottled varieties to be a very poor substitute.
Of course it wasn't long before a calf arrived, then chickens and pigs were added, at which time we found it necessary to acquire real farm buildings and more land. A tractor followed, and then a silo, and eventally more and more cows until we needed a new up-to-date barn for forty or fifty animals. Then the war came and help was almost impossible to get. We had a procession of drunks and discards, which meant that everything had to be supervised and there were occasional emergencies when we had to take entire charge. I even learned to milk, although we had machines which did most of the work.
Mr. Ornstein was increasingly insisting that we could not continue farming and carry on a full-time schedule of musical life. So we reluctantly decided to sell everything and move closer to town in Merion, which would make school transportation easier and simplify our lives.
The farm experience had been another glimpse into other ways of living. We were in a deeply Mennonite district, which is a world all to itself — and we were right in the middle of it. Our excellent little waitress found a deck of cards in the livingroom and was taken away by her family from serving such followers of the devil. One excellent farm hand went to a movie with our son and even enjoyed it. He was thereafter made to stand up in church and confess to his evil deed.
We came to realize the importance of the weather and its problems for the farmer. I well remember watching the clouds gather when we had a large crop of hay lying out in the field, all ready to put into the barn for the winter. It was to supply the winter's feed for our animals. We could not get help to load it onto the wagon and get it under cover, so we watched the rain soak it through and through. We tried to picture what it would have been like if we could not have bought nice dry hay elsewhere. The difficulties of dairying were things that we did not have to read about. We experienced them and every such situation increased our understanding of many things city folk know too little about.
The day of the auction, when all of our animals, machinery, etc., were to be disposed of, was a day of relief and yet of sadness, for it was to be the end of a complete form of living. We had produced almost all of our food ourselves, and were surrounded by our own peaceful fields and the animals we had raised from birth. Everything had been necessary and directly basic to existence, except for the fact that we could escape at any time, an alternative that does not exist for the true farmer. We were able, however, to get a pretty good picture of his view of life, and this is something that people who live only in the city never have the chance to feel. Milk for us came from the cow not from a bottle, and the pigs throve on the garbage that for the city dweller is a nasty headache. It is a past period for us, but neither of us will ever forget it; nor would we have missed it for worlds.
The period of our lives which followed this was slightly less hectic. Being in a nearby suburb brought us closer to the children's schools. Our daughter had by this time begun to attend Bryn Mawr, which was nearby. Our active day began around seven in the morning instead of at four, as had been the wartime hour at the farm. But there were increased teaching pressures which later led to central city living, then a final escape to years of greater calm and retirement in the shelter of our woods and mountains.
Where to live is always a problem for any active musician. In the city there can be neighbors with apartments above and below and at least on two sides. Practicing can be extremely disturbing with only the protection of the thin walls that present day construction provides. Sound travels even in old buildings, and the musician suffers from the radios and TVs of people who often turn them on in the morning and never shut them off. There are those who put themselves to sleep with canned and mechanical music, and it continues ot play with only the sleepless occupants of next door as audience.
Even my fairly modest hours of practice before my marriage caused my family to have to move at the termination of each lease because of complaints from the occupants of adjacent apartments. When Mr. Ornstein and I lived in a hotel, we were constantly shifted from one floor to another for the same reason.
Both our mountain house and the Pennsylvania farm took care of all of this as we were far from neighbors, but when we retired we had to make up our minds if we could deal with the snow and ice of a long New Hampshire winter. At this time skiing had not yet completely altered conditions, yet as we got older we hesitated. We tried Florida. We found it far too crowded, and the lovely beaches were ruined by the automobiles that were allowed to absorb most of the expanse of sand. It did not take us long to decide that this was not what we wanted. We wandered around trying Georgia, which had a really gorgeous beach at Jaekel Island, but the weather was not really warm enough there to justify the long trip south.
We had known New Mexico, as our son had been stationed there at one time, and we considered Taos and Santa Fe. Each had advantages and disadvantages. We wandered further on to Arizona, and fell quite in love with it. The winter weather was perfect and we became enormously interested in the desert plants and wild life. In the apartments there, however, there was almost no privacy to be had. All were planned around a central swimming pool, and tenants from surrounding living accomodations sat around, intermittently swimming and gossiping and ready to gobble up anyone who looked like a new potential listener.
When away in our car on a mountain road, however, it was marvelous and we loved the colors of the rocks and the queer ocotillos and cacti of many kinds. We decided that a house there would be very nice, and we finally found one that satisfied practically every wish. The architecture was an artistic triumph. It was really a pleasure to look from one room to another, and to feel the proportions and the distribution of light and shade. The convenience of living was not be be excelled.
It had an acre of land and the area had not been built up much as yet. As it did build up, we found out to our distress what "horse privileges" meant. We had felt that although an acre of land was not very much it should be enough for our needs, but the added aroma and abundant flies we had not figure on. Sitting outdoors in warm weather was almost impossible, and that was what the warm weather in winter was for. We had travelled a long way to get this and had no intention of staying indoors because of flies. Also when we began to think of the length of the trip from our home in New Hampshire, it looked much longer than we had visualized at first because we would have to make it by car. We have never flown. We began to think that there must be something nearer home to be found.
We had always like San Antonio and we came very close to settling in there, but a trip to the gulf coast proved to us that once we had travelled as far as San Antonio it was worth the extra two-hundred miles to get to Padre Island, wich has one of the world's most marvelous beaches. We tentatively rented a cottage there and loved it — until one might Mr. Ornstein had an attack of pain late at night and I tried to find a doctor.
It was hard to believe, but the nearest doctor was in a hospital about forty miles away. There was a terrific fog outside and I was afraid to try to drive. I finally got to the local police station and after pounding on doors on all sides of it I finally aroused a traffic policeman who offered to drive us to the hospital. Fortunately the attack was not serious and the next day we were out, but it gave us a terrible fright and we decided that, as we were now pretty old, this was not the place to live.
To make a long story short, we spent the rest of that winter in the town of Harlingen, where there were medical facilities, and from there we made frequent trips to the beach. As we became familiar with the area, we discovered that Brownsville was slightly closer to the water and being just across the river from Mexico, we could go to the colorful town of Matamoros whenever we wanted tacos and enchiladas. For the moment, it seem that this was to be it.
The question then was to choose living arrangements. An apartment was out of the question. We had had experience with apartment living. Motels in Texas did not provide very good eating facilities or solve piano problems. Available houses were either too big or when small they were too close together, and hotels did not appeal for many reasons. The warm climate with the desirability of outdoor living exposes one anywhere to lack of privacy, and with the need to use a piano there was the reverse fear of disturbing others when we were working. The self-consciousness that would accompany any of these arrangements made all of them impossible. There seemed only one thing we had not tried and that was a mobile home. We were thinking only in terms of a place to spend the few coldest winter months, but before making any final decision we decided to try a complete winter in the mountains in New Hampshire. We had heard that the roads were now ploughed and kept open in all sorts of weather....
We spent one glorious winter in our little cottage and it was warm and comfortable, and even more beautiful than in summer. It was quite possible to get around, but by now we had reached the age of 80 and even shovelled-out paths were slippery. We realized that if we stayed alive there were safer conditions that could be found. Old people can fall and spend time mending broken bones in hospitals, and we saw no need for this. Also one thing was certain and that was that we were not going to get younger.
The following winter we found a nice park outside of Brownsville. We had to choose very carefully. The fanciest parks had many objectionable features, such as "Welcome Wagons," shuffle boards, and organized social activities. One look at these was enough. They were filled with people who had money but nothing to do. The retirees were trying hard to kill time while waiting to die. It was a deadly atmosphere and fortunately we were still able to work. We had been attracted to the idea of a moveable home as we felt if one set of neighbors proved unacceptable, we could be rolled over to another. Also a park would provide care for our things when we were absent.
But we needed an environment not of retirees but of people who were active with their own affairs and of working age. We found just this and it has been a great success. Of course the idea of Mr. Ornstein living in a mobile home in Texas outside of a small town has a truly ludicrous side. If we depended at all on contact with the human environment, it would have been completely impossible.But we are such weirdies that we are in bliss when everyone has left for the day and we are undisturbed and alone. The working people come home tired at night and go to sleep early, and the place is as utterly silent as our woods.
We have to keep pinching ourselves to believe that it is really true. We are near all facilities and yet not bothered, and this combination is incredibly hard to find. The mobile home has no problem of shared walls. There is a wide space between the trailers where we have protective shrubbery and a patio that we can use without fear of neighborly intrusion. We do not hear our neighbors and they do not hear us. Of course the convenience of these things is utterly unbelievable. Everything one can think of is taken care of and we have found a Mexican woman who can take care of all necessary chores, such as cleaning, etc.
We had had a limited experience with this sort of thing when we installed one in Kansas, near our daughter, for use as a way station while visiting her when we were en route back and forth from New Hampshire. How long we will be able to continue that long trip is unknown, but a summer here presents no problem. With air conditioning in house and car, and the Gulf waters within reach in less than half an hour, one is barely conscious of the heat which, as a matter of fact, is less here near the coast than over much of the country inland.
This brings the problem of year-round living in one place into real possibility and it is the only place so far that we have found to provide this for our peculiar needs. The trailer idea has not bothered us. We made our trip to Georgia in a pull- trailer some years ago and enjoyed the experience — but it was, of course, too restricted for long duration. We could not get a piano into it, so that put an end to the thought of just bummelling around. So far this has satisfied our immediate needs and what more can one ask? Our future becomes shorter with every passing day, and we try desperately to live in the present and enjoy every minute.
Reviewing a lifetime as I have been doing is a strange experience. I seem to have been many different people with many objectives which have changed their exteriors from year to year while keeping intact the single trend of music. On the whole I imagine Mr. Ornstein and I have had more continuity than most people today are able to achieve. We have shared 57 years of extremely contrasting experiences and it is even difficult to separate our thoughts. The great unbridgeable difference is that Mr. Ornstein's imagination can conceive that which I can only appreciate but never duplicate. Perhaps even in this there is a unit, since expression must have a listener who can understand.
I have spoken mostly so far about facts and events, and little about emotional reactions except in the case of concert nervousness. This is not the kind of emotion I am now speaking of. Mr. Ornstein's reactions to problems of society in general, which do not touch him personally, are so strong that at times they have even affected his health.
One thing which he finds very difficult to accept is injustice of any kind. We will lie awake at night resenting the fate of some child he has heard of that was born with some defect and has been handicapped all its life. He has often said that finding it difficult to live in close personal relations with other human beings does not mean that one is without a deep social sense. Here he is speaking of himself. He recognizes that the reverse can be the case. There are people with great personal responsiveness who are capable of many deep personal attachments and yet lack a social consciousness almost entirely. In Mr. Ornstein's case he can take a social injustice to heart so violently that at times the news becomes difficult to listen to. When blacks were being denied their civil rights, and some colleges were closed to them, his whole life was poisoned. The daily news reports brought on an attack of diverticulitis, and other disturbances of various kinds were almost entirely precipitated by emotional upsets.
The same thing happened with relation to the war in Viet Nam. Had he been younger, I am sure he would have taken part in active resistance of some sort. We did spend hours writing hundreds of letters to Senators and Congressmen, and he developed headaches and pains which were not from true physical causes. At times there have been family problems regarding our children which have always affected him physically. His nervous system, always extremely sensitive and which had been mercilessly tortured by the concert years, is so over responsive to the distress of others that it reacts as though the experiences were his own. He is almost constantly in turmoil these days with the stresses and strains of situations far removed from his personal life.
Emotional reactions of all kinds tend to be very intense. He has a terrific temper and a very great sense of enjoyment. Paul Rosenfeld always remarked that the melancholy and agony of his music were somewhat contrary to his general temperament, which is inclined to be gay and contented when not under the external pressure of the the distress of others. He is not at all what one would call "moody." He wakes up in the morning full of enterprise, and enjoys simple activities. He seems to feel no need for stimulants, but is just overbrimming with life. He works best between the hours of seven in the morning and noon. He never works at night. After dinner he likes to relax and go to sleep early. He needs a great deal of sleep, I suppose, because he burns up energy at a terrific rate all day long. He likes to sleep nine or ten hours to refresh himself for the next day.
In the early days we used to take a walk after dinner. He would have worked until at least seven o'clock and the walk was a form of relaxation. We would window shop and perhaps pick up a sandwich, but rarely did this keep us out past nine. He likes to regard himself as a workman. He claims that the difference is only that he works in a different medium, and he dislikes all "arty" attitudes and theatricalisms.
This may be a strange picture that I am drawing, but it would seem that the imagination of an artist within his chosen medium is an aesthetic experience in many ways removed from his actual life. When we think of the spiritual heights of Parcifal, we find a good deal of the opposite in Wagner's life and there have been many philosophers and great painters of the past whose lives were at variance with their writings and creations.
In Mr. Ornstein's case, his imagination functions best when he is himself in the best condition. There is no way of predicting when and how an idea will appear. The opening theme of the Quintette was written on a brown paper bag outside of a supermarket where we had just finished shopping. I have mentioned before how, in the midst of hundreds of repetitions of some technically difficult passage, he would suddenly drop it and play the nost unbelievable things which apparently come into his head in complete form and with no advance notice. I have jokingly told him I think it is spooks, or that he is an unconscious medium, but it is truly one of the most strange experiences to witness and an almost everyday occurrence.
On the reverse side, there have been times when for days nothing could be summoned. In one large work, I remember, he was stuck so hopelessly that in midsummer we decided to leave our woods and rushed to New York, hoping that the change of scene might help. When we arrived there amid the dirt and heat and noise, the miracle happened. He sat down at the piano and just what he had wanted came out of his head and into his fingers. Volition had been powerless. He had tried for days to make a satisfactory connection at a certain point in the composition. Everything he had been able to think of he had felt was manufactured from skill and experience, but not from some inward sense. He will write down only that which comes from some inevitable feeling of authenticity and rightness which he cannot describe and which I, as a listener, often cannot distinguish from what is later chosen. I bow to his decisions but often wonder why so much that for me is beautiful he will still not use. If I were to try to explain his ultimate choice, I believe it is based on some subjective experience which prompts the selection rather than on any objective appraisal of the music itself. Perhaps this is as it should be. Who knows?
LEAVE THE PAST ALONE, WE LIVE TODAY
The moment a new work is finished it is put away as fast and as far as possible. The problem is that it tends to haunt Mr. Ornstein as much as it does me and then new concepts can be influenced. It is difficult even to persuade Mr. Ornstein to proofread any manuscripts. I shudder to think of the many inaccuracies that certainly must exist in nearly every composition. When he feels it is on paper he wants to forget it as as soon and as completely as possible. In fact he frequently thinks it is enough when he has made a few notes which only he could read since they depend ninety percent on what he remembers to fill them in. These notes apparently provide enough satisfaction for him and I have to insist to get him to give them to me in full form.
Of course when he was playing the things himself he learned to make some kind of adjustment, but then many of the things were never written down. One complete Sonata which he played all over the country was never notated and he has forgotten it so it will never again be heard. The same fate might well have happened to the Three Moods. These were among the most known and striking works of the 1914 period. They were extensively played but never written down. Nearly forty years later there was a request to have them on a programme in memory of Paul Rosenfeld. Miraculously Mr. Ornstein still remembered them and he did then write them down. They would have been lost with many other things if this request had not been made.
Today it is still necessary to put away manuscripts as soon as they are completed. He will be started on something new and wants to be able to concentrate completely on it. This lack of interest in anything past extends beyond completed works. He finds it very tedious to complete any unfinished material. There are works where perhaps twenty-five pages may have been copied and only a page or two remains to finish them, but it is almost impossible to rekindle his interest enough to get them completed. He speaks of them as having become cold. This is some inner reaction which he cannot explain and I do not fully understand. I can only record the fact. He claims he can write something new so much more easily that it could be finished before he could recapture the past work and its impetus, which would be necessary to complete it. An incredible amount of material has been abandoned over our lifetitme. Interruptions of over a few weeks almost certainly mean that the interruption will be permanent. There have been rare instances when this has not been true, but clearly continuity in point of time is extremely important.
When he has a flow of ideas there are so many that he will have the opening pages of a dozen things written and only the few that intrigue him most will be completed into finished works. He nearly always has several pieces under way at the same time. In a sonata, all the movements will proceed coexistently and he will work on first one and then another. Often additional thematic material will occur to him which he hates to lose, so he will note it down somewhere hoping to subsequently use it — but this rarely happens. Too often it joins the heap of pages that will remain forever in mid air. He is apparently never able to use such random ideas when he becomes stuck. He feels that nothing from an outside source will fit and the music must grow out of itself in some inevitable relationship which has an overwhelming importance for him. These are the mysterious aspects of the aesthetic sense which cannot be rationally explained but which to the artist are of the greatest moment.
VIGNETTES. Odds and Ends. Characteristic and Isolated Incidents
This morning I have been carving up the remains of our Thanksgiving turkey. I have been making packages to put in the freezer.
Mr. Ornstein loves nothing more than to supervise. He can always see at a glance better ways to do whatever is being done. He is nearly always right and he suffers intensely when he is not allowed to make a contribution — for instance as to which knife would be best to use, the size of paper needed, and the best way to cut it. Every detail he will observe and try to help, even if nerves are shattered in the process.
Ous son claims that while Mr. Ornstein is being buried he will rise up and tell the people who are doing the business how best to handle their tools and throw the earth over him.
PLAYING THE STOCK MARKET
We were visiting my parents in New York and had about two thousand dollars to invest. Leo and my father had been discussing investment alternatives when Leo said, "I'd like to see how the whole thing works." He set out with his large fortune to discover what effect he could have on Wall Street. He had noticed from newspaper figures that the most respectable stocks usually moved up and down a few points each day. He ordered the purchase of a few shares in a reliable company. When the price went up he sold and a little later rebought the shares which had dropped in the meantime. He repeated this procedure several times. Soon all the old pros who were sitting around watching the board began to be very friendly. They started pumping him to get his opinion as to when and what to buy and sell. Of such stuff is business success made.
SHORTCUTS IN TAKING DICTATION
In order to understand the shorthand Mr. Ornstein uses in dictating his manuscripts it would be necessary to be familiar with his use of the musical language. Unlike a good deal of contemporary writing, and in spite of exteriors that are at times even more extreme than most, there is a large amount of symmetry throughout all his different styles. Even in the wildest departures from conventions of all sorts, there will be some areas of similarity or unity. It is often these which succeed in tying together otherwise distantly related factors.
We have found that anything which remotely repeats can be indicated by a sign, a letter, or a number. The conventional repeat sign ./. can be used for a whole measure. But if, for instance, four measures repeat they can be numbered from one to four and any irregularities noted with exact elements that repeat left out. Space naturally has to be left to fill these in during any pause. A note or chord which repeats can be indicated by a stem only, and the notes can be filled in later. If it is the rhythmic pattern which repeats, the notes can be written in with the approximate spacing allowed, and a sign can indicate which rhythmic pattern is to be used.
There are often arpeggios which move up or down a specific set of notes and then reverse. The pitches can be written out in one direction and a sign can indicate where to stop on the return trip when the order will be reversed. Also a change of register can be indicated either above or below some previous set of notes.
When anything moves in octaves it is necessary only to write either the top or bottom note for the whole passage. I depend somewhat on my memory without even entering signs to indicate many things. I usually fill in the detail of all that has been left out almost immediately. It takes Mr. Ornstein time to determine how to put many of the rhythmically complex situations we run across into musical notation. While he is planning what next to tell me, I do the filling in and I can keep pretty well up to him because of the time he needs to figure things out. The location of bar lines and how to sub-divide beats is often a very debatable matter with material that is an improvisational as his writing tends to be.
The usefulness of such a technique would depend on the degree of any sort of repetition existing. Mr. Ornstein does not try to avoid traditional forms when they enter his head. He has never sought eccentricity consciously and a good deal of symmetry seems to make other extreme elements more potent and direct. There are also occasional transpositions of sections or fractions of phrases; all such things can be filled in later.
Unfortunately many of the manuscripts exist only in the rough pencil copies which I make under such pressure that they are untidy and difficult to read. Spacings cannot be neatly made and whenever possible I try to make a clear ink copy as soon as possible — but often this never gets done.
COMPENSATING FOR EDUCATIONAL OMISSIONS
Astronomy has always been a hobby of mine and we had been talking about the size of the moon as it appears to our eyes. Mr. Onstein had made the statement that it looked to him the size of an orange. I had challenged this as having no meaning. The argument really became hot. We have had many debates on matters of science because the school years when we should have learned about such things were spent in practicing and concertizing.
Mr. Ornstein had entered the professional arena well before the age of fourteen, and prior to this there had been a considerable language barrier which he had had to overcome before he could profit from what little schooling he had obtained. I had also left school at fourteen or fifeen, so I had only partial self-taught knowledge of angles and measurements to fall back on. I had difficulty in expressing what was not too clear in my own mind concerning matters pertaining to physics. We had previously had a discussion about the banking of roads when a sharp turn existed and, as we tried to understand all these things, very lively debates occurred. All in all we have tried to make up for the wide gaps in both our educations which were the result of our activities in music, and also of the absence of these courses in even the best schools of the period.
Sometimes I am a bit floored by Mr. Ornstein's challenging attitude. This applies to everything. He has a particular dislike for flat statements and refuses to accept even axioms at face value. He once said to me, "How do you know that twice two is four?"
FIRST NEW HAMPSHIRE SNOWS
We had barely reached our New Hampshire refuge after a long concert tour when the snow began falling at a terrific rate. We snuggled into our newly-built house and watched the beauty that was piling up in white mounds on every tree branch. We city young ones had really never seen anything like it.
Finally Mr. Ornstein could no longer resist the temptation to go out and feel the storm in his face. I am less combative by termperament and decided to remain indoors while he ploughed along the road, which had been opened up when our house was under construction. It was quite a long time before he returned and I had become very anxious. Now, as we think of this incident, we shudder a bit. He had, of course, lost his way and could not find either the road back or the house. Drifts were forming in a matter of minutes and in no time at all tracks were obliterated completely. He could not possibly retrace his footsteps and he wandered about trying to find out where he was.
At last he recognized a familiar fence post near a large boulder. He was about a mile from the house and there was nothing but snow everywhere. No other house was near for help. He decided to strike out for what he hoped would be the right general direction. I am sure that never again was our house to be such a beautiful sight as when it became visible through the blizzard, sitting up on its hill with lights now burning and a warm fire inside.
I don't believe either of us realized, at the time, the dangers we had just escaped. There was no phone to call for help and survival in the storm would have been unlikely. We had been the typical city fools who take chances that no well-trained woodsman would ever willlingly undertake.
NEW HAMPSHIRE LOOKS AT MARIN
The old carpenter, who had built the first small part of our house and studio, was quite a character. He lived alone, twice as far into the woods as we did, on the other side of the river. He had two pets to keep him company, a horse named Dinah and an old Ford from the year one. Either of these could have provided transportation to work for him, but he preferred to have them rest while he walked four miles in the morning and four miles back at night. He then fed Dinah and polished the Ford while he ate his own "riz bread." He lived to be nearly 100 years old and I never heard of his being sick a day, although where he lived was little more than a shack and the temperature often reached thirty degress below zero.
One day when he was working at our house I saw him standing for a long while in front of a painting by John Marin which Paul Rosenfeld had given us for a wedding present. I was curious to know what was going on inside his head. Finally he let me know:: "Hand painted, ain't it?"
I made the mistake once of telling this tory to Marin, thinking that his familiarity with the Maine coast might have provided contact with some of the natives there and that he would enjoy the comment. He didn't — and I found that funnier than the whole story.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE HEARING
I think I should make note of a strange difference of ear function which exists in Mr. Ornstein. It is undoubtedly due to a shift of language from Russian to English at an early age. It is probably also due to the lack of school experience in which teachers usually dictate instructions to a listening class. However, in the light of Mr. Ornstein's extraordinary ears in other respects, his difficulty in receiving certain impressions through his ears is worth comment.
The free flow existing between what he hears internally and the piano keyboard, that which causes his fingers to execute technical feats that would normally require hours of practice, is completely reversed when he is given someone's telephone number to remember. The number must be repeated for him one digit at a time slowly, and preferably should be accompanied by a pencil and paper so that he can write it down.
When our children were very young, he had the greatest difficulty in remembering the nursery rhymes they asked for. Mary's little lamb — with its rhme of "snow" and "go" — simply would not stick in his mind. All such things I am sure most people remember by the sound, but they never seemed to reach his ears and certainly never made connections with his remarkable capacity to retain sound impressions in other fields.
As regards memory, some rather surprising things are emerging as our age advances. It used to be true that twenty or thirty pages of some new work could be clearly retained in every detail for a matter of days of even weeks. Many large works, played in concert all over the country, were never written down but simply remembered as they were conceived. One major sonata has been lost forever because of this. I may have already mentioned that only by a miracle were the Three Moods rescued from this same fate. They were never written down until the request to have them on a programme in memory of Paul Rosenfeld forced Mr. Ornstein to put them on paper so that Grant Johanessen could learn to play them. This was many, many years after thay had last been performed by Mr. Ornstein and that he was able to remember them at all was a real miracle. Apparently memories dating back many years are retained far more clearly than recent impressions. Much of our present day delay is caused by memory gaps in the details of connections. In order to recall these in exactly their original shapes, Mr. Ornstein spends much time and effort.
Two other happenings a few days ago quite stunned me. He had been wriiting at the piano and suddenly began playing a movement of a lesser-known Beethoven Sonata. This Sonata, I can say with absolute certainty (since we are seldom apart for as much as an hour), he had never practiced at any period. It was one that I had played some fifty years ago and at that time I recall he read through it a few times very casually. It must have just popped up in his head but now, in spite of the long period of never thinking of it, he was able to remember every single note.
On the same day as the Beethoven episode, he quite stumblingly read through what he had notated a few days earlier, a portion of a recent composition. His memory of it was evidently less vivid and he struggled with the reading of it as if it had not belonged to him, and much as anyone else would have had to struggle with the difficult text. Such a thing had never before happened and suddenly I realized what a tremendous role his memory has always played. Of course one must realize that this recent work presented complexities which simply did not exist in the Beethoven, where the structure was ninety percent tonic, subdominant and dominant harmonies. The recent piece would patently be difficult for anyone to remember, and we had written it down rather quickly and then proceeded further on. Nevertheless, it came as a surprise to me to learn that part of what I had assumed was reading skill had, in reality, always included a considerable amount of memory.
This is where we both feel our age most. Mr. Ornstein's fingers are as nimble and fluent as ever, and his imagination musically is, I would say, at its highest point. But our memories are less retentive by far, especially in the area of current impressions. Unfortunately, playing into tapes never helped at all when we tried it as a means of holding onto more when there was a real flow of ideas. I think there must be, in some way, the same blockage as with telephone numbers. In both cases it was like travelling upstream against some currrent. It seemed that sound impressions received from the outside penetrated only very slightly, and if they were to be retained he must make them his own through some transfer to an internal memory either through wirting or reading, in which case they would stay almost forever. What a strange thing a brain is!
NEW WAYS OF LIVING AND SOME EARLY CAR RIDES
Until we were married, I had never gone out on the street alone. My mother had a phobia about children being kidnapped and my maid accompanied me wherever I went. Mr. Ornstein loves to tell of the first time he took me out to lunch, when afterwards he found the maid waiting in the hotel lobby to take me home. I had really had a pampered life, being virtually dressed much like royalty of the past, and tended far beyond the usual service accorded most of my schoolmates.
For some reason, none of this seemed to take. I was only relieved when I was free to be on my own. According to Mr. Ornstein, I ate nothing but lamb chops and baked potatoes. He describes his reaction to my uniform diet, and with a sense of pride and triumph tells how he introduced me to cole slaw, onions, and pizza. He cured me of my fear of traffic by abandoning me in the middle of Broadway and Forty-Second St. I found I could reach the curb alone and I was never again afraid to cross a crowded street, except when trying to intercept traffic circling around the Coliseum in Rome. The policeman there beckoned me to go forward, but he himself remained on the edge, safely out of the line of fire.
Initially I had a slow tempo of change. Visits and plans made by my family were always arranged well in advance and Mr. Ornstein's sudden decisions, always on the spot improvisational actions, were something I had never encountered. We had been living in a New York hotel, the Cumberland, for quite a few months and, in spite of the expected interruptions of concert trips, the hotel as a headquarters had seemed quite settled. One morning towards spring Mr. Ornstein said, "Why don't we go to the mountains as the season is almost over." We had rented a small farm house which was to be modernized for our use. I had just begun to think about packing and planning when he said, "How early can we get off?" Suddenly it dawned on me that he meant to leave that same afternoon! Such a thought left me breathless and bewildered. Nevertheless we managed it and by three o'clock that afternoon we were all in, suitcases neatly packed in our car, and ready to go when the classic thing happened. He couldn't find the car keys. They were nowhere to be found. Every pocket was emptied, the room was searched, and we had about reached the point where we were thinking of returning to the hotel when suddenly the keys appeared.
That night we got as far as New Rochelle and we took three days in all to reach New Hampshire. On that trip we actually learned to drive the car. If I remember correctly, if you owned a car in those days there was no examination to get a license, it was automatic. Certainly we could never have passed any examination as we started out. Prior to that trip, the car had spent most of its life in a city garage while we tried to recover after our first ride in it. This had been a memorable occasion.
We were to dine with Paul Rosenfeld, who lived just below Grammercy Park, and we had had a few most inadequate lessons on how to drive. When it was time to hail a taxi, Mr. Ornstein said, "Why not go in our car?" We persuaded the garageman to get it out on the street for us and off we went. The lamp post on the corner of Fifth Avenue had a very narrow escape, but we rounded the corner without stopping. The big Fifth Avenue busses were the worst things. They kept bearing down on us and making us want to get up on the sidewalk.
Finally the traffic was stopped at one of the cross streets and of course we stalled. We tried pushing and pulling almost everything in sight, with horns blaring at us from all directions, but nothing worked. The engine simply would not start. Finally a kind soul who had noticed our plight came over and told us very quietly just to begin all over. This was the advice we needed and we started off again, but this time with the firm conviction that we had stalled because we used the brakes when we should have done somethig else. Undoubtedly, we had actually failed to shift gears into neutral. These were days when gear shifts were far from automatic. The result of all this doubt was that we drove the rest of the way downtown by measuring momentum and without touching the brakes. Our dinner was made definitely less digestible by the thought that we had to drive back to our garage. We debated whether to take a taxi and abandon the car, but decided that we had to learn and this was as good a time as any.
Before venturing out again we did get some more adequate instruction, but it was really on the three-day trip to New Hampshire that we mastered the great art of automobile driving. I think I remember that we set our speed limit at twenty miles an hour, as we began to feel more confident. This speed felt very risky and it w as a long time before we raised it to twenty-five miles an hour.