Tremendously popular from the 1930s through the 1970s, Arthur Rubinstein enjoyed a performing and recording career that lasted over 75 years. Yet were it not for RCA’s having reissued his recordings in the 1980s, those born past the mid-’60s might never have heard of him. This can be largely attributed to the perception that Rubinstein’s pianism was of the Romantic school of the first half of the 20th century, a style that infused music with drama and emotion and one that eventually fell out of favor. Nonetheless, Rubinstein was in a class by himself. He performed most of the repertory popular in mid-century: the music of Chopin—whose work was his specialty—Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and Brahms. But he was also the first performer to champion Spanish music: his interpretations of Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albéniz, and Enrique Granados are of genuine historic importance. And though, indeed, Rubinstein did not demonstrate the intellectual asceticism of some of his successors, neither did he sentimentalize his playing or take liberties with the musical text, as did many of his contemporaries.
Music critic Harold C. Schonberg attested in the New York Times in 1964: “Vladimir Horowitz may have a more glittering technique, Rudolf Serkin may have a better way with German music, Rosalyn Tureck more of an affinity for Bach, Sviatoslav Richter for Prokofieff and Scriabin, and Claudio Arrau may have a bigger repertory. But no pianist has put everything together the way Rubinstein has. Others may be superior in specific things, but Rubinstein is the complete pianist.”
Rubinstein was born in 1886 in Lodz, Poland, and at the age of eight began studying piano in Berlin. He made his debut in Berlin in 1898 and his official U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall in 1906. Critical notices, though, were discouraging, focusing on his underdeveloped sense of tone and expression. Rubinstein then took four years off from performing, spending the years 1906-10 honing his skills and enjoying life in Paris; the many love affairs he maintained during these years became notorious when he recalled them unabashedly in his 1980 autobiography My Many Years.
Rubinstein reemerged in 1910 with a concert in Berlin and spent the next six years touring Europe. During World War I, his facility with language kept him busy as an interpreter at Allied Headquarters in London. He continued to play throughout the Continent, most notably in Spain, where a four-concert agenda in 1916 was drawn out to 120 additional performances. His Cross of Alfonso XII from the Spanish government was one of his most valued possessions.
From then on, Rubinstein’s career was devoted to performing and recording, both of which nurtured the
Born Artur Rubinstein, April 28, 1886, in Lodz, Poland; became U.S. citizen, 1946; died December 20, 1982, in Geneva, Switzerland; son of Ignace (a factory owner) and Felicia Heyman Rubinstein; married Aniela (Nela) Mlynarski, 1932; children: Eva, Paul, Alina, John. Education: Studied piano with Karl Heinrich Barth and music theory and composition with Max Bruch and Robert Kahn, Berlin, beginning c. 1894.
(With Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) made debut, Berlin, 1898; made first U.S. appearance, Philadelphia, 1906; made official U.S. debut, Carnegie Hall, New York City, 1906; gave concerts in Europe, 1910-16; made numerous recordings, 1928-1976. Recorded piano music for films I’ve Always Loved You, 1946, and Song of Love, Night Song, and Carnegie Hall, all 1947; appeared in Of Men and Music, 1950. Author of autobiographies My Young Years, 1973, and My Many Years, 1980.
Selected awards: Légion d’honneur (France), Cross of Alfonso XII (Spain), Commander of Arts and Letters (Chile), Order of Santiago (Portugal), Polonia Restituta (Poland), Commander of the Crown and Officer, Order of Leopold I (Belgium); National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994.
zest for life that was long his callling card. And his great joy in living, in turn, extended to his playing; in a 1966 Time profile, he was quoted as saying: “I’m passionately involved in life; I love its change, its color, its movement. To be alive, to be able to speak, to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings—it’s all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life from miracle to miracle. Music is not a hobby, not even a passion with me. Music is me. I feel what people get out of me is this outlook on life, which comes out in my music. My music is the last expression of all that.”
Bach: Chaccone; Franck: Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue; Liszt: Sonata in B Minor, RCA.
Chopin: Ballades and Scherzos, RCA.
Chopin: Nocturnes, RCA.
Chopin: Polonaises, RCA.
Schubert: “Wanderer” Fantasy; Sonata in B-flat Major; Impromptus, RCA.
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12; Prophet Bird; Romance, Op. 28 No. 2; Carnaval, RCA.
Schumann: Kreisleriana; Fantasy in C, Op. 17, RCA.
Rubinstein, Arthur, My Young Years, Knopf, 1973.
Rubinstein, Arthur, My Many Years, Knopf, 1980.
Schonberg, Harold C., The Great Pianists: From Mozart to the Present, Simon & Schuster, 1963.
Life, April 5, 1948.
New Yorker, November 1, 1958.
New York Times, January 26, 1964; December 21, 1982.
Time, February 25, 1966.
Polish-born American pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982) was one of the foremost pianists of the twentieth century. His remarkable career spanned over 75 years and included more than 6,000 perfor mances and myriad recordings. The work of com poser Frederic Chopin was a specialty, but his repertoire was broad and the pianist was among the first to champion the music of Spain. A bon vivant and unrepentant ladies' man, Rubinstein lived his long life to the fullest. And music was his greatest expression of that passion for living.
Rubinstein was born on January 28, 1887, in Lodz, Poland, the youngest of Isaak Rubinstein and Felicia Heyman's seven children. His father owned a small textile factory and the family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle in the middle of town. Rubinstein did not begin to speak until he was about three years old, but his interest in the piano quickly outweighed any perceived deficits in other areas. He started studying piano around the same time that he learned to talk, and made his performance debut on December 14, 1894, at the age of seven. Three years later, the young prodigy's mother took him to Berlin to audition for noted violinist Joseph Joachim. Joachim was sufficiently impressed that he agreed to assume responsibility for Rubinstein's musical and general education. Apparently satisfied, Rubinstein's mother returned to Lodz alone, leaving her tenyear-old son in Joachim's hands. The talented little boy never lived with his family again.
Joachim arranged for his charge to study under the demanding eye of Karl Heinrich Barth, who is credited with shaping Rubinstein's singular sound. Rubinstein chafed under Barth's exactitude, but his playing thrived nonetheless. His professional debut took place on December 1, 1900, at Berlin's Beethoven Saal. Only 13 years old at the time, he took the critics by storm with his renditions of such works as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto in A Major and Camille Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto in G Minor (the latter became a signature piece for the pianist). He followed up this initial triumph with other successful concerts, which buoyed his confidence enough that he decided to leave Barth's tutelage and make his own way in 1903.
Rubinstein moved to Paris to continue his studies in 1904. There he met Maurice Ravel and Saint-Saens, as well as the impresario Gabriel Astruc, with whom he signed his first contract. More highly acclaimed European concerts ensued. Then, in 1906, a much-anticipated tour of the United States was booked. Seventy-five concerts were planned, the most important of which was to be performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. New York, however, did not prove to be as awed by the 19-year-old sensation as Europe had been. The critics found Rubinstein's playing immature and technique lacking. Sorely disappointed and unused to criticism, the young pianist finished the tour and sailed back to Paris, broke and disheartened. It would be four years before Rubinstein gave another public performance.
Rubinstein's self-imposed professional exile led to financial troubles and depression that culminated in a failed suicide attempt at the age of 21. Happily, that nadir brought about a renewed joy in life that he never relinquished again. The monetary ups and downs continued, but he was famously able to console himself with female companionship and a good party. The latter two were also traits he never outgrew.
In 1910 Rubinstein resumed his career with a wellreceived concert in Berlin. He toured Europe until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when he settled in London and was kept occupied at Allied Headquarters as an interpreter (he was fluent in eight languages). His wartime duties did not prevent his continuing to perform, however. In fact, Rubenstein's career was jump-started by a 1914 booking in Spain. Spanish audiences enthusiastically applauded his passionate style, prompting Rubinstein to apply himself immediately to the major composers of that nation. He was soon being saluted as the premier interpreter of such composers as Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados, and in turn, he became an early ambassador for the merits of Spanish music. His relationship with Spain was cemented by a return tour in 1916 that began as a four-concert booking but was extended to over 100 performances by popular demand. The triumph in Spain was followed by an equally hailed tour of South America, and the two immense successes gave Rubinstein the financial security and peace of mind to enable him to pursue his career with a newfound sense of certainty.
Back in Paris in the 1920s, Rubenstein was solidly established as one of the most admired pianists of his time. He began to record, kept an active performance schedule, and resumed his fast-paced lifestyle of wine, women, and song. As he approached 40, however, he began to reevaluate his situation. First, he decided to settle down with a wife and family, so started courting Aniela (“Nela”) Mlynarski, the daughter of famed conductor Emil Mlynarski. He married her on July 27, 1932, in London, and the first of their four children was born the following year, when Rubinstein was 46. It was the responsibility of a family that caused the new father to take honest stock of his artistic achievements.
Rubinstein's great gift as a musician also gave rise to his great failing. From childhood, he had possessed an innate ability to absorb scores by simply reading them and to memorize complicated pieces after hearing them just once. This prodigious memory and natural virtuosity gave him a huge advantage over other musicians, both in his ease of learning and in the facility with which he could retain a large repertoire in his head. However, such talents also made him lazy and complacent. He saw no need for practice or proper technique when he could simply coast through a concert, the audience none the wiser about a missed or wrong note, or a muddled phrase. His success in Spain and Latin America, where audiences focused more on temperament and feeling than on technical accuracy, were excellent examples of this phenomenon, but it was by no means limited to those places. Audiences everywhere succumbed to an overall impression of great playing. Rubinstein, however, knew the difference. As did his fellow pianists and, apparently, the critics in New York City. But it was still a few years after he finally conceded his weakness that he at long last began to shore up his technique and become the pianist he was meant to be.
After his marriage, Rubinstein's artistic epiphany gave rise to a new regimen and sense of purpose. He moved his family to a rental property in France and installed a piano in a neighboring stable. There, he spent twelve to sixteen hours a day practicing and honing his technique. Such singlemindedness may have been a bit late, but it was most assuredly not too late. Critics and audiences were thrilled with Rubinstein's masterful playing. Even in New York. More than 30 years after his first performance there, the pianist's 1937 Carnegie Hall concert was an unmitigated success.
As World War II loomed, Rubinstein recognized the potential threat of Nazi Germany and moved his family from Paris to the United States in October of 1939. (The entire contents of his house were confiscated by the Nazis, although the pianist's collection of musical manuscripts was returned to his children by the German government in 2006. The children donated the collection to the Juilliard School of Music in October of the following year.) The family first settled in New York City, and then bought a home in Brentwood, California, in 1941. Rubinstein became a U.S. citizen in 1946, although he primarily lived abroad after the war, and continued to record and perform, adding television to his stable of performance venues. He became an avid supporter of the new State of Israel, having lost all his Polish relatives to the Nazis. By the late 1950s, Rubinstein had become an international musical icon.
The tokens and accolades in tribute to Rubenstein were legion. Among many other honors, he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom in 1976 and made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire in 1977. Other honors included citations as a Commander of the Legion of Honor, the Gold Medal of London's Royal Philharmonic Society, and Spain's Cross of Alfonso XII. He also won ten Grammy Awards over the course of his career, in addition to one for Lifetime Achievement in 1994. In 1973 his first autobiography, My Young Years, was published. Another, My Many Years, appeared in 1980.
Despite a macular disorder that was discovered in 1969, Rubinstein maintained a pace that would give pause to a much younger person. He performed for such pet charities as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Musicians' Emergency Fund, and the United Jewish Appeal, while continuing to record well into the 1970s. Blindness forced him to retire from performing in 1976. He gave his final Carnegie Hall performance in March and his farewell performance at London's Wigmore Hall that year. Yet he hardly slowed down. Guest appearances, lectures, and world travel remained on his schedule. And, as true to Rubenstein's indomitable spirit as anything else, he left his wife in 1977 for another woman. He was 90 years old at the time.
Rubenstein passed away in his sleep on December 20, 1982, in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 95. His extraordinary career encompassed over 75 years, more than 6,000 live performances, and numerous recordings. Musician Guide's Joyce Harrison quoted music critic Harold C. Schonberg's comments from the New York Times in 1964: “Vladimir Horowitz may have a more glittering technique, Rudolf Serkin may have a better way with German music, Rosalyn Tureck more of an affinity for Bach, Sviatoslav Richter for Prokofieff and Scriabin, and Claudio Arrau may have a bigger repertory. But no pianist has put everything together the way Rubinstein has. Others may be superior in specific things, but Rubinstein is the complete pianist.” Nor can one properly contemplate the illustrious pianist's work without recalling his real passion for music and performing. PBS cited Rubinstein's own words, “On stage, I will take a chance. There has to be an element of daring in great musicmaking. These younger ones, they are too cautious. They take the music out of their pockets instead of their hearts.” Indeed, the manner in which Rubenstein approached music matched the way he lived his life—with no holds barred.
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