BECOME A SPONSOR OF THE WORLD'S MAGAZINE.
WHY should you advertise here? We'll tell you.
VA LOAN INFORMATION and
KATRINA & THE LOST CITY OF NEW ORLEANS by Rod Amis
New Orleans is the Lost City of America.A portion of the proceeds of this book will go to the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Fund. The cooks, servers and restaurant workers of New Orleans have provided fabulous times and memories for millions. Now we must remember them in their time of need.
To read this article in Deutsch, Francaise, Italiano, Portuguese, Espanol, Korean, Japanese, Dutch, Greek, Chinese and Russian, copy and paste the complete URL("http://www.generator21.net/amdream97.html") and enter it in the box after you click through.
G21 AFRICA SPECIAL SECTION
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST. It contains more jokes than not.
HOUSE OF CARDS
MEMOIRS OF THE INFO AGE
NEW YORK STATE
RECOMMENDED DAILY REQUIREMENT
RECOMMENDED DAILY REQUIREMENT ARCHIVES
SMOKE & MIRRORS
LAST WEEK's EDITION
MEET THE G-CREW! These are the people behind this jam-band every week.
TABLE OF CONTENTS & BACK ISSUES
BECOME A SPONSOR OF THE WORLD'S MAGAZINE.
WHY should you advertise here? We'll tell you.
We know you're lazy. Here's a button for a quick translation of this page. Just click on the flag for your country. You're welcome!
TRY THIS GOOGLE TRANSLATION SERVICE.
Los Angeles, CA, USA - AUNT WILLA'S WORLD
I read two of Aunt Willa's greatest and most memorable books, O Pioneers! and Death Comes for the Archbishop when I was in my early teens.
It was when I was much older and I read My Antonia, The Song of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart that I had something of a revelation.
Willa Cather's descriptions of the wilderness of Nebraska and Colorado, and the desert of the Southwest, before cars, electricity, phones or even roads and towns, is more like hearing a symphony than reading a simple narrative. Her prairie was magical and colorful, full of motion and mystery, expressed in melodic prose that swells and falls. Her words are deceptively simple, but they are also haunting and powerful and much more descriptive, in my humble opinion, than the music of Copland, for example.
Cather herself was explicit, believing that "a novel should be like a symphony, developed from one theme, one dominating tone."
The Menuhins became important to her if for no other reason than the force of their youthful energy. By the time she began writing Lucy Gayheart in the '30s, something had gone out of her. Her fellow Midwestern writer, Hamlin Garland, who saw her at that time, wrote that she had aged considerably. She had become a "plain, short, ungraceful, elderly woman ... (who) spoke without force or grace, with awkward gestures." But he noted she still wrote beautiful things.
And that must have been her allure to the Menuhin children. Garland saw the sad and tired side of her, but either she hid that from the children, or took such great delight in their presence that it simply vanished from her face when she was with them.
Hephzibah once remarked that sh e read later that Cather was quite depressed during the period the children spent so much time with her -- about the time she was writing Lucy. But she said Aunt Willa never seemed cross or grumpy when she was with them.
Yaltah's whole understanding of the artist, particularly of the woman artist, came from Aunt Willa, and would affect me dramatically in the young part of my own life.
Just as Thea in The Song of the Lark does not discover who she is until she realizes that her connection with the land is her true source of strength, so that same connection with the land was, by the testimony of all three Menuhins, emphasized in their art as a result of knowing Cather.
You wouldn't think that a sense of place would be so important in music, which is the most abstract of all arts, divorced it would seem from the physical plane of life. But if you think about it, composers always wrote programmatic music about landscapes.
For some reason, I could listen to Smetana's "The Moldau" over and over. I have traveled that river journey more times than I would care to count. When I was 14, Wagner's stormy skies and magnificent meadows and mountains were all that seemed there was of the world when I would walk down the street, forgetting that I was in the city, so filled was my head and heart with his pounding chords and soaring melodies.
Perhaps that had begun with that sense of place Cather gave my mother. Even when Cather hated Nebraska, she knew her attachment to "the shaggy grass country" had gripped her with a passion she was never been able to shake.
"It has been the happiness and curse of my life," Cather wrote.
"There was nothing but land; not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made ... I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction," Cather's protagonist says in My Antonia.
Cather was that "real American" the Menuhin children had to know. Whether her heroines escaped or stayed on the land, it was always the land that was primal. Then came the towns and cities that sprang from the land. And her characters had typically come from other lands as well, to which they had primal attachments. That, too, was a classic theme of Cather's.
For Cather, the Menuhin children represented the European sophistication she had always sought. Although she was so intensely an American writer, Cather was also an expatriate. She wrote about Europe, but always through the prism of America.
The Song of the Lark was published in 1915, more than fifteen years before its author met the Menuhins.
In a copy of The Song of the Lark that Yaltah gave Joel, her third and last husband, she wrote an inscription saying it was from "his skylark."
There is no doubt that Yaltah related to Willa's characters. As Willa wrote, she discussed what she was writing with Yaltah. What is for sure -- Thea in The Song of the Lark is a much different musician than Lucy Gayheart.
Might she have borrowed part of the Menuhin personalities for Lucy? -- and Yaltah's in particular?
Edith Lewis notes this could have been true. For one thing, having the Menuhin children around all the time plunged Cather back into the world of classical music in which she thrived.
"It could be that her meetings with Yehudi during 1930 and 1931 and her return to Red Cloud after her mother Virginia Cather's death combined to produce the idea for Lucy Gayheart (1935)," Lewis said. But she added there had been at least two other prototypes for Lucy as well.
In my view all the factors -- including the Menuhin kids -- contributed.
So it was not surprising that Lewis herself admitted that it may have been the atmosphere of music the Menuhin children had brought into her life that may have inspired Cather to write Lucy Gayheart, which is about a pianist who is a practice accompanist to a great singer. Lucy, of course, falls in love with the singer. It was inevitable she would have fallen in love with a singer.
Cather's first major musical character was Thea from The Song of the Lark. If anyone would have been fascinated by the children, Cather was one who most particularly would have been drawn to them. After all, here were three prodigies, the eldest was a boy with immense talent. But the sisters were also nearly as prodigious.
Lucy, written some years later, was the second major musical protagonist Cather created. Lucy had elements of Yaltah or Hephzibah in her characterization, but certainly not of Yehudi. Thea was more like Yehudi -- but again, Cather wouldn't have known that because he was born a year after the novel was published.
According to differing accounts, Cather was also thinking of dedicating Shadows on the Rocks, published in 1931, to the Menuhins because the book came out shortly after she first met them in Paris. But she was talked out of it twice by family friend Sammy Marantz, who convinced her that doing so would be considered a great transgression by Moshe and Marutha -- especially Marutha.
She had already written the intended dedication: "For Yehudi, Hephzibah and Yaltah." She later added a stern reminder to the printer, "This is off, understand." She didn't want the dedication inadvertently included.
Could Cather have subconsciously borrowed from Yaltah in her Lucy Gayheart character?
Lucy was not a great artist. Rather, she was an accompanist to a great opera singer and appeared to be content to remain so.
She just wanted to be in his presence. Cather wrote about people who were not necessarily performers, but just wanted to be in the presence of artists. Her 1903 story "Paul's Case" was an extreme example of this. One felt that she heavily identified with Paul.
Perhaps Willa felt some kinship with Yaltah in all this, for although Yaltah played, it was mostly chamber music with other musicians -- and not her own public engagements as her brother and sister were doing.
But she always retained her love for chamber music.
Did Willa see the depth of Yaltah early on? Perhaps the frustration she had with Lucy as a character was a sense that she was a silly girl, but also a suspicion that she was more than a mere talent, she was the life force itself.
Maybe this made it possible for Willa to borrow a bit of Yaltah for Lucy -- I know that sometimes as I read Lucy Gayheart I almost felt the presence of my mother as a young woman.
I know that I had a somewhat similar experience when I researched and wrote about Thomas Mann, who was finishing Doctor Faustus shortly before my mother began touring with Michael, Thomas' violist son.
There was a character named Nepomuk, or Echo, an angelic child who appears in the last part of Doctor Faustus. I told my mother that I had an odd feeling I knew Nepomuk.
"You did know him," she said. "You remember Michael's son, who gave me the mumps that time, don't you?" my mother asked. "He was such a nice, quiet boy; today he is a theologian in Germany. I saw him not long ago in Zurich."
Similarly, as I read Lucy, I felt as if there was something incredibly familiar about her.
I think now I was feeling my mother's presence.
Even if a strong musical consciousness had not been present in Willa's writings, there were other elemental themes in Willa's writing that would have fascinated Yaltah and the other two children.
At the heart of the Menuhin legend was that of a strangely European musical phenomenon blossoming out of the Wild West. There was a lot of the Wild West left in San Francisco in the 1920s. Louis Persinger, Yehudi's first important teacher, had played for Colorado miners in the late 19th century.
But when Yehudi needed to progress in his career, Europe was the only choice.
Still , the friendship was renewed in New York and it deepened.
Willa was Yaltah's main inspiration throughout her life, consciously so as she struggled to continue her art, chafing under what she considered an oppressive and jealous husband, my father, as well as overbearing parents.
At the time I shared my mother's vision both of what an artist is and of her own particular situation. Willa wrote about strong women, weak women, women who were farmers as well as great musicians. I don't think I realized then whose ideas my mother was promulgating.
Aunt Willa is generally credited as being one of the first novelists to write about women who follow their own muse -- women as artists rather than as mothers and wives.
Thea is the best example of this. She knew there was no room for a significant other if she was "married" to her muse. Before that, women were characters only insofar as they were mothers, lovers and wives.
When my mother left, I remained behind with my father. Our relations were strained because he blamed me for siding with her.
At that point, I did not understand the effect "Aunt Willa" had on me through my mother. Perhaps I thought I was just siding with my mother -- but in retrospect I think I was siding with Willa through my mother.
My mother always expressed her gratitude that I had saved her Willa Cather letters and books and gave them to her when my parents broke up their household.
Yet I suffered because of my mother's career aspirations, just as Thea's lover Fred did because of Thea's career in The Song of the Lark.
I lost a mother. I might have lived a fairly privileged life if my parents had stayed together. Even then, I felt as if I was stepping aside so my mother could grow.
As time went on, I came to see my dad's concerns as well.
Which is not to say that what she did was wrong, even if it caused a great deal of pain.
In The Song of the Lark Thea's parents decide they have to discuss how to raise their daughter. They have to weigh the development of her gifts against the needs of the rest of the family.
Thea is about to embark on her last year of school when her beloved first piano teacher departs. Thea is a good teacher, and she debates quitting school and making a living teaching her piano teacher's students.
Her father, a minister, says she could make a better, more reliable living giving music lessons than teaching in a country school.
Both parents realize that Thea was too serious ever to have a childhood, that she was destined to be independent and was not the "marrying kind."
"If you don't want her to marry Ray, let her do something to make herself independent," her father tells the mother in arguing that she should become a piano teacher, and he offers to build an extra room onto the house for her.
The only objection from her mother is that Thea should have some time to contemplate her future without taking on great responsibilities, of whatever kind. She'll be tied down soon enough whatever happens, her mother points out.
But the logic of the father's suggestions prevails, and Thea is glad to quit school anyway.
In a very real sense Moshe and Marutha with Yehudi were like Thea's parents were with their daughter, whose talent, they knew, was literally out of their world. Thea's parents knew she was more special than they probably could appreciate. And while they loved all their children, they knew that Thea was unusually intelligent and special.
They knew someday she would go far.
The world of the plains was a world of railroads and farms, not art and great music. There were a couple of people in the town who had a glimmer of art, but a limited one. One was Thea's old German music teacher (Willa had had just such a teacher and mentor, whom we'll talk about later), and the other was Doctor Archie, who believed in Thea but didn't quite understand what he was believing in.
One special night Doctor Archie and the very young Thea get in a conversation while watching some rabbits running in the moonlight. It was a hauntingly beautiful moment as the doctor talked to her of a larger world. He was as high minded a man as there was in Moonstone (Willa's hometown of Red Cloud), but he knew Thea was of an entirely different level than he was. He didn't know what Thea would one day become, but he was sure she would one day make her mark in the larger world out there.
Thea's father was a minister and her mother a minister's wife. Moshe ran several Hebrew School campuses in San Francisco, so appearances were important to both.
Thea's parents' decision to arrange for her to quit school and become a full time music teacher was similar to Moshe's contemplations about the difficulties of keeping his own career in light of his peculiarly talented offspring. Taking his family to Europe so that Yehudi, and his daughters, whether by design or not, would get a first rate musical education, was the necessary first step.
For the minister, he had only to rearrange his house, which was not a simple task, but one he plainly was capable of. Also, while Thea's sisters and brothers had no talents to match hers, that most certainly was not the case with the Menuhins.
Moshe and Marutha proudly proclaimed that only one of their children was destined for the concert stage, yet even Yaltah was not denied music and piano lessons.
If Yaltah affected Willa's Lucy Gayheart, Thea Kronberg was probably the Willa Cather character who most affected my mother.
Toward the end of The Song of the Lark, Thea talks about the essential loneliness of the touring life. As the art develops, the inner life wilts.
The artist in Thea who has risen to great heights and found that she has sacrificed her personal life, makes another terrible discovery.
She was more the all-consumed artist when she was a child than she is as a mature woman. She tells Doctor Archie, who accompanied her on her first trip to Chicago when she was a child looking for musical guidance, that she had had a rich romantic past at that point. "I had lived a long, eventful life, and an artist's life, every hour of it."
Now she's not so sure she lives that full artist's life anymore. She feels a terrible emptiness in her personal life -- even though that can be lost by focusing on her current artistic strivings, she admits to Archie.
I found a marked up copy of Willa Cather: A Critical Biography by E.K. Brown among my mother's belongings which were sent to me after her death.
In particular she noted the passages about how Willa always sought out the dreamers and nonconformists in Red Cloud in defiance of the "tight" and "mean" ways of the American early pioneer stock that predominated in Nebraska in the 1880s. Her work was dominated by the dichotomy she saw between the pioneers and artists, and the similarities thereof, which was why the Menuhins came to love her and she, them.
Also, Cather was drawn to artists, the unconventional and even the rebels (the soft spot she had for Emma Goldman, the "red" anarchist, illustrates this), but a major part of her life, as she saw it, was promulgating traditional values as well 00 in music, in politics and in religion.
Yaltah underlined this passage from The Song of the Lark:"What was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself ... ?"?
Willa struggled with that part of her which was a pioneer, and it was a considerable part, and with her more worldly self. Antonia in My Antonia may have struggled to become a pioneer farmer, but Willa credited her struggle as much as she did Thea's struggle, which was to leave the plains and go to the city where culture is created and conquer it.
Antonia was as creative as Thea. She is creating something -- a farm, which can be as difficult to do as to sing an opera. In a very real way, she was writing about claustrophobia and release.
Willa wrote about the plains, and then she wrote about America a nd Europe and European exiles, of which she was one. Yaltah underlined a part in Brown's book in which it is noted that Willa first went to Paris in 1902.
Yaltah also underlined a part in the Brown book that talks about Willa consoling Jan Hambourg for the loss of their beloved mutual friend, his wife Isabelle, in 1938 by saying that for people like them, their time had come and gone and there is "no future at all for people of my generation." Willa wrote then with intensity to record "her memories while there was yet a little time."
The crux of Willa's work was that it looked backward. She was not an observer of contemporary political or cultural doings, and it was just as well, because her politics were quite conservative.
This was an excerpt from Lionel Rolfe's The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin & Willa Cather. The book is available from amazon.com, barnes and noble and american legends.com.
© 2005 - GENERATOR 21.E-mail your comments. We always like to hear from you. Send your kudos, brickbats and suggestions to email@example.com.