Huberman on America, 1923

Huberman discusses America in this article published in the New York Times on 27 May 1923.

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Huberman on America

Bronislaw Huberman spoke with a representative of the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna about his experiences in America. He reached conclusions quite different from many that have been taken back to Europe, says that journal. For instance, people always say that a great European reputation and advertising are enough to bring success in America. “This incorrect notion,” Mr. Huberman declared, “has already brought bitter disappointment to many, many European artists. The American public, especially that in the larger cities, must not be underestimated. It has an independent judgment of its own and, especially now, is accustomed to hear the best from everybody. Thus it has gained fine feeling and is exacting. The power of the dollar, especially, has an effect on culture. It is like the victorious sword of ancient Rome and the culture of Greece. This victorious sword is now the dollar and the Greeks are the Europeans, their art and culture, which America is making its slaves. It is erecting, so to speak, its own culture on the remains of Europe. For this reason celebrity is not enough. It makes the first engagement easier; but then comes the inexorable sifting. The first appearance in New York is before most exacting, highly trained audiences, before independent critics, conscious of their responsibility. He who stands this test has passed his great examination, not only for America but for the whole world.

“The American concert public naturally has not the old traditions of the Viennese public. But the concertgoer of New York is very musical, though in a different way. It must be remembered that the American musical culture has been nourished from entirely different sources from the European. There there are comparatively few amateurs who make music themselves; there is little ‘house music.’ You will perhaps be surprised when I tell you upon what basis the American musical culture, especially in the country, rests; it is on the gramophone. There is a gramophone in the poorest houses, in every farmhouse. The records are better; there are many of serious music. And this ‘canned music,’ as they call it there, has aroused the first musical hunger in many a man. They wish to hear the artists whom they have heard on the gramophone; and so they become zealous concertgoers. But only the true artistic personality is valued there and has success, plainly because the average American feels a strong need of strong personalities. But the American is a working man whose evening’s artistic pleasure must be served up, in a certain manner, ready made. He likes to hear classical pieces which he already knows, listening to which is no effort to him. This is true especially of the smaller cities. Nevertheless, I have made it a rule to begin every program with a sonata. To play two or three sonatas in an evening, however, as Artur Schnabel does, is not advisable. But in these last years the understanding for the deeper, more complicated and modern music has increased with a rapidity conceivable only in America. But in general the American comes to a concert unprepared, not ready for co-operation with the artist, as in Vienna, but only for enjoyment.”

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