The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2023

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JUNE 2023 Issue



Two of the greatest musicians who ever lived couldn’t record together.

They worked for competing companies.

But they admired each other and occasionally played together in public.

One concert took place at the Frick Collection—the most refined museum in New York.

Just outside the concert room hang some of the masterpieces of Western art: Bellini’s Saint
Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, Titians, a Velazquez, three Vermeers…

It seems right.

That concert must have been broadcast on the radio—someone must have recorded it.

I didn’t know it existed until a friend surprised me with a copy for my birthday.

One of my most cherished gifts.

The greatest pianist and the greatest violinist of the century—I had never heard them perform

I couldn’t imagine it.

Schnabel’s uncanny delicacy, his sense of tragedy, a trill that suddenly sees into the abyss.

Szigeti’s visceral touch, his heartbreaking soulfulness, his “speaking” inflections.

Could they really play together?

If anything, they are more intimately responsive to each other, to each other’s odd, individual
voice, than almost any other musical collaborators I’ve ever heard.

Ella and Louie—her heavenly sweetness, his earthy growl.

More immediately—intuitively—responsive to each other than almost any pair of musicians I’ve
ever heard.


Mozart’s Sonata in E-flat—K. 481, as it’s usually referred to—one of the wondrous later pieces
he wrote in Vienna.

He was nearly 30—in less than six years he’d be dead.

He was one of the inventors—one of the masters—of the kind of music-making in which the
players are equal partners.

Not just a soloist with an accompanist.



In K. 481 the players are equals.

Not identical, but equal—a partnership in which both partners can maintain their own
personality, their own individuality.

Not identical—but equal.


Schnabel begins with an annunciation: three firm notes; then Szigeti puts the period on
Schnabel’s brief sentence.

Or is it an exclamation point?

Then Schnabel relaxes, almost whistling a little tune (Szigeti gives him room).

Szigeti softens too—their first moment of equal tenderness—not exactly toward each other, but a
sudden easy acceptance of the possibility of goodness, of kindness in the world.

They’re mutually content.

In accord.

They share their accord.


In the slow movement, Schnabel is singing a lullaby—or is it a love duet? (lovers parting?)—and
Szigeti is humming along.

Then suddenly it’s the violin singing—a quiet lament, Szigeti trying to hide at least some part of
his grief, while Schnabel insists—gently insists—on getting past this.

When the opening melody returns, Schnabel incorporates Szigeti’s lament, and Szigeti extends

Near the end of the movement, the violin suddenly, urgently leaps into another register, another
world, as if staying on the earth were just too hard.

In fact, intolerable.

Schnabel’s piano flutters in agitation, then resigns itself to allow Szigeti to pour his heart out.

Schnabel lets him, waiting for Szigeti to return to the ground—which he finally, though with
some apparent reluctance, does.

And once again they are both part of the same world—where crying out against grief

and accepting it are inseparable.


Can there be a happy ending?

Szigeti, maybe reluctantly, seems finally to have passed from—passed through—lament, into
something close to joy… bringing Schnabel along with him.

Or is this joy exactly where Schnabel was heading from the very beginning?

They are soon not just resigned but happy—equally, if not identically happy—increasingly
exuberant, playful, teasing.

Increasingly a couple.

Is that a tear about to fall (whose?)—but no, they continue their game.

Yes, they say—yes, we’re all right, it’s all right.

Mozart says it’s all right.

Mozart says “yes.”

In a concert at the Frick Collection, in 1948, Artur Schnabel and Joseph Szigeti played Mozart’s


Lloyd Schwartz

Lloyd Schwartz is the Poet Laureate of Somerville, MA, the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English Emeritus at UMass Boston, the longtime music and art critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and WBUR, and an editor of the poetry and prose of Elizabeth Bishop. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and Guggenheim Foundation, NEA, and Academy of American Poets fellowships in poetry. His poems have been chosen for the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Poetry, and The Best of the Best American Poetry. His latest collection is Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems (University of Chicago Press). He was born in Williamsburg.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2023

All Issues