HerrMaestro Guenther Schmidt had chosen the Schubert Rondo in B-Minor for the recital. Perfect for Ingrid’s strong bass hand and her overall pianistic vigor. Perfect for Gretchen’s energy and touch on the violin. Perfect for time—the piece would take about fifteen minutes. Perfect for the place—the roof garden at the Metropolis Theatre was dramatic, lovely space, but it could be noisy from the rattle of the evening traffic below and the El running a half block away. So an energetic piece was needed. So the Rondo was ideal requiring strength, energy, delicacy, patience, and a little dreaminess. And the two players, Gretchen and Ingrid were perfect for it. The piece was a tangle of argument, discussion, and assertion, resolving grandly in a powerful finishing coda. And how we need resolution to our arguments, thought Herr Schmidt, even the musical ones. It should be a grand time for the two girls, and for us all.
Sonata in B-Minor for violin and piano (Rondeau Brillant), D. 895 (Op. 70), Franz Schubert
They commenced on Herr Schmidt’s cue. DUM!...DAH-DUM...DAH-DUM...DAH-DUM…DUM !
Ingrid’s piano sounded the triumphal entrance, the violin silent until beneath the last note came Gretchen adding an ornamentation that subtlety underscored Ingrid’s subject. Oh, good, thought Gretchen, her wrist seems fine.
Herr Schmidt kept time with a yellow pencil, eyes on the score, though he knew Schubert’s notation as he knew himself. He sang along softly, nodding to the rhythm, affirming Gretchen’s entry. Then he looked up into the dusty sunlight and frowned, sampling a taste of the air.
“Halt! Please, ladies.” His hand fell to the table.
“Lovely…but you are friends still, yes?”
The girls shrugged, then agreed tacitly. Friends? Of course, we are friends. But they knew Herr Schmidt meant something else.
“Well a friend…” And he looked directly at Gretchen, her face quickly serious, adjusting to his manner. “…a friend would not show off so.”
“Me?” She worked the fingers of her left hand in midair, an afterthought of a vibrato, the violin held solely by her tucked-in chin.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to…”
She looked at Ingrid puzzled. “I’m sorry, Ingie, I didn’t…”
Ingrid waved her off, shrugging, smiling. Herr Schmidt held an upraised finger to Gretchen, and then to Ingrid. He wagged it at them diligently.
“Think of it this way, my dears. Imagine you friends are entering a magnificent ballroom. Ingrid has announced you both. Mein Herrren und meine Damen…we are Ingrid and Gretchen... DUM! DAH-DUM! Like that. Yes, yes, I know, it could have been you Gretchen to do the talking on the violin but Maestro Schubert wrote the piece and decided...let me see...”
Herr Schmidt ran his finger along the top of the score.
“Yes, eighteen-twenty-six. That’s seventy-four years, and we are now 1917...that makes ninety-one years ago. Ach, is older than even I am!”
He looked at the two girls. They are so very serious, he thought, nervous about next week. Good.
“You may laugh, my dears. That is joke, about my age.”
He swept his hands before him as in a great embrace.
“You see we must trust the great geniuses that write such music. Maestro Schubert decided that the piano will introduce the work for him. Yes, Gretchen, I can already see by your expression that you understand my rather elaborate point. Piano, my darling, play your underscoring of Ingrid, softly, yes? Piano, piano. Like you are stroking the thinnest shell of an egg with a hammer. Your ornamentation was lovely, but it must be softly, softly. Then the end of the measure can be strong without being loud. Anyone can play loud. Listen my Gretchen, you and your violin must be the shy ones now. But here only. Only upon entering our imaginary grand ballroom. You must trust Maestro Schubert. He wrote the piece and he will give you your say, but not now. But of course, you know that. I am just here today reminding you of the many things you already know.”
And he indicated to begin the piece anew.
Metropolis Theatre, The Bronx, New York (circa 1916)