Arbiter Records 107

Morini plays Mozart

Violin concertos nos. 4 and 5 with Frederic Waldman and Musica Aeterna

  • first publication
  • Released Feb 18, 1997
  • $16.98, free postage within the US
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Track List

"She is blessed." –Leopold Auer (teacher of Jascha Heifetz) 1-3 Mozart Violin Concerto no. 4 in D, K.218 4-6 Mozart Violin Concerto no. 5 in A, K. 219 Frederic Waldman and Musica Aeterna 7 Mozart Violin Concerto no. 4: first movement rehearsal with pianist Max Lanner 8 Mozart- Kross Divertimento K. 334: Menuet Michael Raucheisen, piano (1928 recording)

  1. Mozart Violin Concerto no. 4 in D, K.218: I
  2. Mozart Violin Concerto no. 4 in D, K.218: II
  3. Mozart Violin Concerto no. 4 in D, K.218: III
  4. Mozart Violin Concerto no. 5 in A, K. 219: I
  5. Mozart Violin Concerto no. 5 in A, K. 219: II
  6. Mozart Violin Concerto no. 5 in A, K. 219 III
  7. Mozart Violin Concerto no. 4 in D, K.218: I rehearsal
  8. Mozart- Kross Divertimento K. 334: Menuet

Until the recent passing of violinist Erica Morini (1904-1995), one could have asked her anything about music, her life, her world. Now as a result of the mysterious theft of her entire archive, with nearly all of her recordings out of print and too few published interviews, it seemed that all efforts to retrieve traces of her existence might be doomed.

Arbiter’s first Morini CD (Arbiter 106: Morini plays 19th- century concertos) described the tragic plundering of her priceless Davidoff Stradivarius violin, her scores, letters, and all personal and professional memorabilia. Soon after its publication I had the good fortune to meet the violist Lotte Bamberger, who played with the Busch Quartet in 1943-1944. In Vienna, both Morini and Bamberger were pupils of Rosa Hochmann, a Joachim pupil who knew Brahms and had coached with Max Bruch. At one point, she unexpectedly mentioned having played quartets at Morini’s home on Fifth Avenue in New York. Bamberger admired Morini’s art and fondly recalled her as a deft, remarkable first violinist. Although never performing in public, the Morini Quartet played works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann. Bamberger recalled that the other quartet members were Nanette Levy, second violin, and her husband, William Harry, cello.

Levy and Harry proved to be a vital link: they had interviewed Morini extensively, recording some four hours of her spoken recollections on cassettes, along with nearly five hours of their quartet’s readings. Now Morini, who had seemed a lost, enigmatic figure, suddenly sprang back to life. The following material was compiled from their recorded interviews of the 88-year-old artist, taped in 1992.

Although Morini used to berate herself for being forgetful, William Harry observed that she had always been so. On musical matters and about friends and colleagues, her mind was quite clear. However as she developed from a child prodigy into a mature artist, she shared the destiny of many a wunderkind: The sheltering and protection by family, mentors, and friends during her more than 70 years of music-making resulted in a complex admixture of masterful artistry with a haughty capriciousness and deep-seated innocence.

In her third year, Morini began studying violin. Initially she was set on becoming a pianist: “I was interested in the piano, nothing else.” But her father, violinist Oscar Morini, decided otherwise: “You have too much talent for the piano!” Nevertheless, she became an excellent pianist, capable of playing Strauss waltzes with elegance and sweep.

Morini’s father directed a music school in Vienna which offered lessons in voice, piano, and violin. Erica was initially reluctant to read music, though she later insisted that by age five she could play Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen from the score. Her exceptional progress allowed for a public appearance before her fifth birthday, which occurred, according to Morini, either in Karlsbad or Marienbad.

Oscar Morini had studied with Jakob Grun, a Joachim pupil who taught Carl Flesch and Rosa Hochmann. Erica Morini recalled playing for Grun when she was six or seven years old. Hochmann became her teacher, after Sevcik. Morini recalled: “Hochmann married too soon and stopped her career. She had the most perfect bow arm and tone quality that I ever heard.” It was Hochmann who furthered her musicianship, while Morini acknowledged Sevcik as having helped develop her left-hand technique. Yet she claimed to have learned the most about bowing fromher father: “I think the left hand is easier to learn than the right hand. Today’s playing is flashy, everyone is relaxed, nobody strains, but there is no expression, which comes from the right hand. There is no change; everything is very loud and very fast. They don’t know how to express themselves, probably because there are fewer good teachers today.” Morini believed that pupils could be taught to develop a beautiful tone.

“Sevcik was great for [teaching] technique but he was not really musical. He would skip the second movements in concertos, saying ‘You don’t need to play that with me. You know it.’ I had to know difficult scales backwards. He gave you fingerings but was very free: ‘Try another fingering’, but his was [usually] right. . . Jan Kubelik gave him his reputation.”

Morini spent at least one summer in Pisek, Bohemia, where Sevcik received pupils from many countries, among whom she recalled the Polish violinist Paul Kochanski. For the young Morini it was an idyllic place, where she also delighted in swiping cookies from a local bakery. She recalled how everyone was “playing for each other in classes and already flirting. But I was hardly practicing. Sevcik asked me to learn and memorize Ernst’s Erlkonig [transcription] in two weeks, saying ‘it better be good.’ He knew I was having a wonderful time. I got the music and thought, ‘I could never play it in two weeks.’ I really practiced, three hours in the morning and in the afternoon – the others practiced eight hours a day. I learned it by heart and was very nervous. I did the best job in my life, for I had to come through because he was very angry.” After the ordeal of playing Erlkonig for Sevcik and her colleagues, the professor opined: “Now you can study something else.” Morini added: “He was quite proud. I only played it once.” She was then assigned other difficult works. “Already as a youngster I knew what I liked. With Sevcik I studied Paganini’s Hexameron, the Campanella and Caprices. When you’re young you are afraid of nothing! At my Vienna debut [age eight] I played a Paganini concerto – and the 24th Caprice as an encore. It was a sensation.”

Sensational it was, as Morini gave four more sold-out concerts with the conductor Oskar Nedbal. She soon played the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with Anton Ruzicka, the Rose Quartet’s violist and, with Arnold Rose, Bach’s Double Concerto. Rose impressed her as “the real professor type.” Morini began appearing with all the leading conductors, such as Arthur Nikisch (in both Leipzig and Berlin), and her career took her throughout Europe; in 1920 she made her debut in the United States. Morini played with Willem Mengelberg in Holland and New York, recalling, “We did not click.”

A Russian tour with conductor Erich Kleiber around 1930 was a sad experience. “We were feted with caviar afterwards; and they told me that I could not take my fee out of the country but could buy furs, rugs,… It was a swindle: we could only buy those things with dollars. After I saw how the people looked, I couldn’t wear my evening dress to the concerts, so I wore afternoon dresses. Outside the hotel window was a bread line with hundreds of people; the bread ran out and they gave us such wonderful dinners. I was very depressed.”

Emanuel Feuermann became a close friend, as the two artists met at the home of Cux, their Viennese patron. “We were always fighting. When we had to play the Brahms Double Concerto with [Eugene] Ormandy in Philadelphia, Feuermann said to me ‘Listen, please, let’s not fight in front of Ormandy!’ He would usually say to me ‘Let’s do it quicker.'” At Feuermann’s funeral in 1942, Morini played the Cavatina from Beethoven’s Quartet, op.130.

Occasionally, Morini played chamber music. Once in Budapest she covered much of the literature with an ensemble organized and coached by the composer Leo Weiner. In her later years, she played with her quartet at home, even for three years following her farewell recital (Hunter College, New York, 1976, with pianist Leon Pommers). For these evenings, Morini’s husband, Felice Siracusano – a tall, dapper gray-haired diamond trader from Messina, Sicily, who married Morini in 1932 – served coffee and baked a kuglhoff, which delighted his sweet-toothed wife. Felice and William Harry often tape-recorded the quartet. Sometimes Morini would ask them not to do so, and then would be disappointed if all had gone well.

During these sessions, Morini had her first encounters with Beethoven’s late quartets, which Levy and Harry had persuaded her to try. The first time they began op. 127 she was cautious: “What tempo should it be?” At first she played hesitantly, by the end exclaiming “This is more difficult than his violin concerto!” But during their second reading, Morini’s stylistic instinct gave the impression that she had at least ten years’ experience with this monumental work.

Morini and Felice would host musical soirees, inviting clarinetist David Glazer and the pianists Leon Pommers and Nadia Reisenberg to participate. Morini’s informal quartet rarely ventured into the 20th century, as she seldom programmed this literature at her recitals. They once read through the first movement of Bartok’s First Quartet; as Morini didn’t like it, the piece was dropped. She considered Ravel’s Quartet difficult, yet preferred it to Debussy’s.

In her living room, a signed photo of Stravinsky (Morini had played his Duo Concertante in recital) hung alongside inscribed pictures of Casals, Feuermann, Sevcik, Bruno Walter, and Huberman. On her piano (a gift from Steinway) was a photo from Toscanini, who had known her since her wunderkind days, and one from Nikisch.

Among these legendary interpreters, Georg Szell remained her favorite. Morini was also one of Szell’s preferred musicians: “I knew how to take him. I always complimented him when we rehearsed at the piano and he played with more heart. He never told me ‘Go to Hell!’ He had respect for me: We felt music the same way. In the second movement of the Beethoven Concerto it was like out of another world – I never had that feeling with anyone else. I always wanted to record it with him, but the financial offer was too small and I had my pride. I regret it.”

In the earlier part of her career, Morini had been criticized for a spare vibrato; she later “warmed up” by applying it more often. At times she continued the old style of portamento (sliding). This habit of hers nearly ended for good when Szell once commented: “You sound like a cat today, Erica.” When she played Brahms’s Double Concerto with Leonard Rose and Szell at the Ravinia Festival, Rose begged her to placate Szell: “To you he listens, but not to me.” Morini habitually closed her eyes while playing, obliging every conductor or pianist to follow her.

Morini recalled an evening when a fierce snowstorm made it difficult to reach Carnegie Hall for her concert appearance with Szell conducting. Unexpectedly, Szell arrived at her apartment via the subway; he had come to escort her. Upper Fifth Avenue was deserted, but as they waited, a meat delivery truck was espied; the driver offered to transport the musicians downtown, braving the blizzard. Szell tightly held on to Morini’s Stradivarius as she sat astride a cow’s carcass, while Szell was placed atop several slaughtered sheep.

Morini had great respect for Jascha Heifetz, about whom Erica’s brother Frank relates the following anecdote. On one of Heifetz’s visits to the Morini family during the 1920s while they lived in Vienna, he missed the last stone step to their landing. The Morinis saw Heifetz stumble on the dark stairway, instantly retracting his arms to land on his forehead and avoid harming his fingers. Morini once told a writer that she had coached an unnamed, well-known colleague’s staccato-playing: Her taped interview reveals that it had been Heifetz.

Erica Morini and Fritz Kreisler admired each other’s art. The aging Kreisler was approached by friends concerned that after his retirement no one would do justice to his original compositions. Kreisler assured them that Morini played his music even better than he had.

Her father’s bow, a Nurnberger, was Erica’s favorite, and she used it for important concerts and at recording sessions. (Kreisler also preferred Nurnberger bows.) Like Morini’s Stradivarius (heard on all her recordings), the Bergonzi violin used at her 1920 American debut had been procured for her by her father, who was a shrewd violin expert and trader.

In describing the circumstances of her recording of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto with Desire Defauw and the Chicago Symphony, Morini recalled how on the morning after their public appearance, she had dragged herself, half-asleep, to an 8 a.m. recording session: “Believe it or not, I played it straight through without a stop.” At sessions, Morini preferred to continue as long as possible, to avoid editing or retakes which could impede the musical flow.

Mozart’s A major Concerto was Morini’s favorite work. The discs containing it and the D major Concerto, in which Morini performs with the Musica Aeterna Orchestra, were recorded privately for Dr. Frederic Waldman, the orchestra’s founder and conductor. Another rarity heard here is derived from a tape which Morini’s husband gave to Levy and Harry of Mozart’s D major Concerto, when she rehearsed the work at home prior to a concert appearance. (It was once a common occurrence to hear a violinist play concertos publicly with piano accompaniment.) This invaluable document provides a close-up of Morini’s tone quality, her bowing, phrasing and shading, qualities which can otherwise blend with an orchestra. A performance with Rudolf Firkusny of the Sonata in C major, K.296, originates from a radio broadcast in 1959.

We may now listen to Morini playing Mozart under the best of conditions, as the presence of an audience, or playing at home reflects her artistry in a way that no studio atmosphere could have captured. Had it not been for the foresight and individual efforts of Dr. Frederic Waldman, William Harry, and Kenneth Cooper in preserving these unique performances, this essential portrait of Erica Morini would otherwise have been lost. We thank Frank Morini and Dr. Rachel Aubrey Waldman for their kind permission to publish these performances. What were once archival recordings may now be enjoyed by all. Allan Evans C1997.

The following are the original program notes written by the late scholar Dr. Joseph Braunstein, for the performances given by Morini. Concerto for Violin No.4 in D major, K.218 Allegro; Andante cantabile; Rondeau: Andante grazioso Mozart’s great talent for the violin became evident when he was seven years old and his father, the author of the famous Violinschule, did not fail to develop it. Thus the violin became the second medium of Mozart’s career as a virtuoso. It was chiefly in his capacity as a violinist that he was appointed a member of the musical establishment of the archbishopric of Salzburg. He served as concertmaster and also as organist. The Concerto for violin in D major was composed in October 1775 in Salzburg. The first Allegro discloses the basic elements of the sonata form with its three-sectional design. Songfulness and grace are the characteristics of the Andante cantabile in A major. Mozart entitled the finale Rondeau; using this term the composer alludes to French models. Here he offers a variety of pictures: first an Andante grazioso which introduces the rondo theme, and then an Allegro section (6/8). Alternating constantly, these two ideas frame an episode which commencing with a simple gavotte-like melody continues with a Musette passage. Mozart coupled the bagpipe effect with a melody of folklike quality. After this episode we hear twice the alternating play of the Andante grazioso and sparkling Allegro. There is no bright and animated coda- on the contrary, the movement fades away into a whispering pianissimo. In a letter to his father written from Augsburg in October 1777, Mozart referred to this work as the “Strassburger-Concert.” This was explained by the similarity of the Musette theme, with the Musette designated as “Ballo Strasburghese,” in a symphony by Mozart’s successful contemporary Carl von Dittersdorf (1739-1799). Obviously, Mozart availed himself of a folklike tune of Alsatian origin in the concerto and also used it in a series of dances (K. 269b) probably written in January 1777.

Concerto for Violin in A major, K. 219 Allegro aperto; Adagio; Tempo di Minuetto The violin concerto in A major, dated Salzburg, December 20, 1775, is the last in a series of five that Mozart composed in comparatively quick succession during that year. The autograph of our concerto, once in the possession of Joseph Joachim, is now preserved in the Library of Congress. The first movement displays some unusual features. The opening entrance of the solo violin occurs in a somewhat improvisatory passage which has no thematic connection with the preceding statement of the orchestra. Only after this interposed episode does the sonata design with exposition, development, and recapitulation definitely unfold. Although the composer offers the soloist a good chance to show his proficiency in runs and broken chords, he also stresses the singing element: witness the Adagio in E major, which is akin to those appealing pieces that Culberth Girdleston in his fine book on Mozart’s clavier concertos characterized as “dream andantes.” The solo part displays no brilliancy, but rather an enchanting melodic richness and depth of feeling. Although bearing the heading Tempo di Minuetto, the finale is by no means a minuet. It shows a clearly defined three-sectional structure whose opening portion (6/8, A major) is followed by, and markedly contrasted with, an Allegro in A minor, whereupon the first section returns. The whole is a mosaic of attractive musical ideas. The most interesting features of the finale are disclosed in the middle section, which contrasts with the preceding passage in key (A minor), tempo (Allegro), meter and rhythm (2/4), dynamics (note the frequent use of the fp), and chromaticism. It is music alla turca, anticipating the rondo of the well-known piano sonata in A major (1778, K.331) and, of course, the Turkish flavor of The Abduction from the Seraglio. The “Turkish” episode in the finale of our A major concerto became a problem of Mozart research. Mozart took the melodic material from sketches of an intended ballet Le Gelosie del seraglio, supposedly contemplated for his opera Lucio Silla (Milan, 1772-1773). The sketches (autograph) are preserved in the Mozarteum in Salzburg and are duly listed as No. 135a in Kochel’s catalogue. Yet most recent researches established a surprising and at the same time puzzling fact. Some of the pieces of this ballet were identified as compositions of the once very popular Viennese ballet composer Josef Starzer (1726-1787), and Mozart’s authorship of others appears questionable. Be that as it may, the effect Mozart obtained with this “Turkish” episode is extraordinary. The audiences of the 1770s must have grown uneasy listening to this “gruesome sounding gypsy music” but Mozart was gracious enough to provide for a happy end by the return of the gallant rococo music of the beginning.