GENEVA, November 1.
Compared to the other nations of the world--America included--which are still nursing their war wounds or fretting about resulting economic havoc, Switzerland is heaven. Here pilgrims form all over Europe come for their vacations, run hog-wild through richly-laden patisseries, and return home with a watch and a pair of shoes.
Because of its unique situation, Switzerland is also the musical Mecca of Europe. On one hand are the ex-collaborationists such as Alfred Cortot and Willem Mengelberg, who were chased out of their native countries and took refuge in Switzerland. On the other, there are the already successful artists who would prefer to stay in Switzerland and make less money. The result is a country filled mountain high with the world's greatest musical talent.
While the revival of Salzburg's famous Mozart festival proved to be a pathetic imitation of prewar splendor, Switzerland's Semaines Musicales at Lucerne were entirely successful. The festival depended on atmosphere; two flawless performances of Mozart's Requiem Mass in the same candle-lit cathedral which had formerly resounded to Verdi's Requiem and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. And Lucerne itself, a small town of cobbled streets, hand painted wooden-covered bridges, and a lake on the edge of the alps, is no minor stage setting.
During the two weeks at Lucerne the parade of participating talent was like an all-star game: Menuhin, Casadesus, Sargent, Francescatti, Ansermet, and Kletski. But above all these towered the stumpy, leonine figure of Edwin Fischer. Known to Americans mainly for his recordings of Bach, the sixty-year-old master branched out into other types of music. One evening, he played trios of Beethoven, Brahms, and Tehaikovsky. On two other occasions he played the last sonatas of Beethoven as they have seldom been played before. The greatest of all, however, was his performance of the Emperor Concerto a performance which by its slower pace and ponderous force gave the piece a grandeur it could never achieve under the bombastic glitter of a Serkin or a Schuabel. Fischer's technique was at times appalling and his mistakes glaring, but the immense force strength and delicacy such as is almost non-existent today.
But Fischer is not the only pianist who is content to stay where he is. Alfred Cortot, well over seventy and in semi-retirement, gave a recital of the twenty-four precludes and twenty-four etudes of Chopin. During the Rencontres Internationales at Geneva in September, at which Europe's leading intellectuals met to try to bring some unity to the post-war's ideological tangle, Wilhelm Bachaus appeared to give a recital of Beethoven sonatas and another of piano quintets with the redoubtable French Lowenguth quartet.
The situation in Switzerland is the outgrowth of a musical heritage totally lacking in America. Every small city has a conservatory and a symphony orchestra, every house has a piano, and every piano is playing what is still Europe's musical staff of life--Bach.