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Joseph Szigeti


By William A. Weber

(Reprinted from the Harvard Crimson, Feb. 22, 1963. Mr. Szigeti will lecture on his recordings with Bartok in Paine Hall Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.)

In Hungarian, szigeti means "insular." All too often that precisely describes the life of the professional performing musician--no more extensive than the routine of performance. But Joseph Szigeti's life takes in the whole sea of adventure in and out of music. And his treasure ship is the violin.

And Szigeti feels he is master of the ship and the institutions that go with it. He is no traditional romantic virtuoso and certainly makes no pretensions to be. He relates that Shaw once told him, "You fiddlers no longer look the part. The only one who does look the parts is--Einstein."

The ship itself is a challenge. The strength of the violin cannot be power, and hence must be imaginative use of its resources. Music for the violin, he feels, is far more challenging than any other kind he knows.

Szigeti's reason for choosing the violin as his vessel is "the irrational pleasure that communication gives: communication that transcends the barriers of language, of nationality, of race." And he feels that other performers are attracted to the arduous profession for the same reason. Szigeti was made conscious of the rigors of communication because he had to translate everything from the relatively useless Hungarian of his youth. For him, the translation from written notes to sounds is entirely analogous. And it allows him to communicate with whomever he encounters en chemin.

For example, last week he participated in a symposium at the University of San Francisco on "Men and Civilization: Control of the Mind." Playing the six Bach sonatas for solo violin opened communication, and he spoke on the relations between performer, audience, and composer.

His reminiscences, With Strings Attached, go further into the problems of these relations. What discourages him most about American audiences is that "they allow themselves to be led, and then listen with only half an ear." While a significant minority has advanced beyond listening to music passively, the majority, has not. To this minority, and away from the "dicta" of concert management, Szigeti has turned. Although he wants to slow the pace of his adventures, he performs gladly for colleges, museums, and music groups. He will soon play the Beethoven concerto in Athens, and then serve as a judge at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Szigeti measures an artist in large part by his catholicity. The artist is valuable who is "constantly reaching out for challenges ever farther from his original field or medium." The artist who is szigeti he dislikes.

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