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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 11. 1964.

Authority and the Arts — Salient Interviews Rubinstein..

Authority and the Arts

Salient Interviews Rubinstein...

Artur Rubinstein answered the door himself when Salient called to interview him during his recent visit to Wellington. He was expecting us. "You are the students? Ah, come in."

Smallish and dapper in a grey suit and prominent watch-chain, with the famous head of white hair and grinning a slightly horsey grin, he ushered Salient's reporter and photographer into the lounge of his hotel suite. At once we left the ordinary world of Wellington behind and entered the cosmopolitan world of the international musical set.

He excused himself and turned to a group of formally dressed visitors. He spoke rapidly to them in Russian, then leaving the group he moved quickly across the room to another guest, Australian pianist Maureen Jones. He ushered her out with the words "Goodbye, see you in Trieste."

When he was free at last he showed us to a seat near the piano. He refused the comfort of an armchair, choosing instead the austere hardness of the piano stool because he was "more used to it." He beamed: "Now, what do you want to know?"

We talked for about twenty minutes. Rubinstein was particularly interested in the place of the artist in the welfare state. He commented that in a bureaucratic welfare state, the attitude which people in authority have towards the arts is of great importance in influencing the vigour of cultural life.

He expressed surprise when told New Zealand had no Music Conservatory and said it would be a good thing to establish one despite the small population of this country. If government authorities were indifferent to the arts it could be difficult, he said. He referred to the situation in Great Britain.

"The Queen," he confided, "is unmusical. And I am convinced that for centuries the Lord Mayor of London was elected solely because he was unmusical. Now recently a new musical Lord Mayor was elected, and he arranged many concerts in all the historic old buildings of London. This illustrates how authorities can influence cultural life."

He thought artists should play an active role in society. He ridiculed the image of the modern poet retiring for a year to the mountains in order to absorb atmosphere for a poem. Artists should be as subject to the laws of supply and demand as anyone else. "Why do you think Michelangelo and many others painted so many nude women? Because they got paid more for painting them.

Mr. Rubinstein had had no experience of New Zealand audiences at the time of the interview. However, he said: "I have been told the New Zealand audiences are more musically accessable than in most other places in the world; certainly more so than in Britain." He thought this was due to the good living in this country. "But," he added. "I have only just arrived here: this is my first visit to New Zealand so I cannot yet make generalisations from personal experience."

He remarked that he had visited almost every other country in the world, even (proudly) Tibet and Afghanistan. He described some of his experiences in Asia. "In Asia they have music. In Europe we have the art of music. This is the important difference between the music of Europe and Asia." He thought that European music would eventually overrun Asia but that it would take on very slowly. His memory jumped easily back thirty years: "I remember giving a concert in China in 1935; the audience was almost entirely European."

At this point another knock on the door interrupted the conversation. His concert manager had arrived. The interview ended and we left with a last glimpse at the door of the great pianist's toothy grin.

Artur Rubinstein chats with Salient man George Quinn, fine arts editor.

Artur Rubinstein chats with Salient man George Quinn, fine arts editor.