Friday, July 10, 2009

When Eddy Interviewed Ruth Slenczynska:

I think about Ruth Slenczynska every year. She was born in 1925 and (I believe) is still alive. In 1957, she was about as famous as she could get. She was recording and concertizing, and her (ghost-written?) autobiography, Forbidden Childhood, was much talked about. You can listen to some fragments of her marvelous playing here (but be sure to read the terms and conditions on that page; I have no idea whether they state the law accurately).
She had been an awesome child prodigy pianist, and she developed into a very mature pianist. The pressures of being a child prodigy got to her, and she did not perform between (according to Wikipedia) 1940 and 1954.

Her autobiography told the familiar story of a father driving her much too hard to succeed, and a family giving all its love to their other children while expecting her to practice and perform. For me, the most memorable anecdote in her book concerns her father's parsimoniousness: when the two of them traveled to her concerts, he always shared a hotel room with her. But one day the clerk listened to her father order a single room; and then the clerk said, "the young lady will require her own room." And after that she always had her own room.

I can't remember Eddy's last name. He was a friendly, middle-aged fellow with some knowledge of classical music, and he talked his way into running an interview show on one of New York's classical radio stations. My (pianist) aunt Lucy knew him and regarded Eddy as a bit of a confidence man. Of course, in 1957, there had to be an interview with Ruth Slenczynska. I believe her recording of all 24 of the Chopin Peludes Op. 28 had recently been issued to acclaim. In the interview, Eddy asked Ruth which prelude was her favorite. She replied that she had no favorite. Surely, he said, she must prefer one of them. She replied that they were her little children, and she was their mother. And like any parent, she loved them equally. Eddy could see where this was going, and he gently commented that a parent might prefer one child to another. "No," she said, "a parent always loves all the children the same."

Thinking most definitely of Slenczynska's autobiography -- most of his radio listeners were doing the same, I'm sure -- Eddy said, "I've heard of cases where a parent might love one child more than another." Ruth Slenczynska went right on denying that such a thing could ever happen, throwing the accuracy of her own book into doubt.

By the way, I'm older and wiser now, and I can see how Ruth Slenczynska could have ignored her own painful family experience while insisting that any mother will love her children all the same. What seemed embarrassing to me then, now seems poignant.
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