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Toscha Seidel, "The Sound of Tinseltown" by Adam Baer, The American Scholar (Magazine version)

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Toscha Seidel, "The Sound of Tinseltown" by Adam Baer, The American Scholar (Magazine version)

"Toscha Seidel made a nation fall in love with the violin" -- Article from The American Scholar by Adam Baer about the storied violinist who was also a soloist in early Hollywood and a member of the first studio orchestras. He played his Stradivarius (now, the "da Vinci, ex-Seidel") for films such as Intermezzo, The Wizard of Oz, and Melody for Three, among other movies. He was friends and a collaborator with many of the Jewish emigré composers and musicians who arrived in Los Angeles after fleeing Nazism. He taught Albert Einstein, played with Charlie Chaplin, and was one of the violinist subjects in a song by George Gershwin. Copyright, Adam Baer, 2018.
https://theamericanscholar.org/the-sound-of-tinseltown/

"Toscha Seidel made a nation fall in love with the violin" -- Article from The American Scholar by Adam Baer about the storied violinist who was also a soloist in early Hollywood and a member of the first studio orchestras. He played his Stradivarius (now, the "da Vinci, ex-Seidel") for films such as Intermezzo, The Wizard of Oz, and Melody for Three, among other movies. He was friends and a collaborator with many of the Jewish emigré composers and musicians who arrived in Los Angeles after fleeing Nazism. He taught Albert Einstein, played with Charlie Chaplin, and was one of the violinist subjects in a song by George Gershwin. Copyright, Adam Baer, 2018.
https://theamericanscholar.org/the-sound-of-tinseltown/

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Toscha Seidel, "The Sound of Tinseltown" by Adam Baer, The American Scholar (Magazine version)

  1. 1. ARTS 108 M u s i c TheSoundofTinseltown Toscha Seidel made a nation fall in love with the violin ADAM BAER The American Scholar, Winter 2018 Adam Baer has written about music for NPR, theLos AngelesTimes,andmanyotherpublications. As I imagine it, the story goes like this: it’s 1938, and Albert Einstein’s finishing a talk at UCLA. He rushes from the auditorium past throngs of fawning students, his violin case and a rolled- up poster in hand. His driver shuttles him down blocks lined with palm trees, eventually letting him off on MGM’s Culver Citylot.Thegreatphysicist scurriesfromthecaronto the scoring stage used for TheWizardofOzandinter- rupts a short, stocky man withwoollyblackhairplay- ing “Over the Rainbow” with heated intensity on a Stradivarius. The musi- cian is Toscha Seidel, a Jewish virtuoso born in Odessain1899andthemercurialcharacterlead- ing Hollywood’s nascent studio orchestra scene. SeidelandEinsteinnextenteraroomwhereEin- stein receives an invigorating if impatient les- son on the Bach Double Violin Concerto, which teacher and student then play. When the lesson ends, Einstein unrolls the poster he’s brought Toschaaspayment—onitisadepictionofthetheory ofrelativity.Seidel’svexed.Thisislegaltender? Now,aconfession:thestoryneverhappened. Not this way. The true meeting of Einstein and Seidel really took place in 1934, when Seidel was living, along with his spouse, Estelle, and their Great Dane, in a stately house in Pelham, New York. At that time, Seidel was widely known asaconcertartistandfrom his weekly radio show on CBS, The Toscha Seidel Program. (He was also CBS’s musical director.) He did give Einstein les- sons—in exchange for which Einstein gave him a hand-drawn pencil sketch depicting the phe- nomenon of length contraction in the theory of relativity. (Seidel’s widow presented it to UC– Berkeley’sJudahL.MagnesMuseumin1970.)As for the Bach Double Concerto, the two did per- form the work together, at a fundraiser for Ger- man-JewishscientistsendangeredbytheNazis. Seideldoes,however,deserveacinematictreat- ment: violinists have been telling all kinds of sto- riesabouthimsincehefirstappearedinAmerica about a century ago. He studied with the legend- Seidel deserves a cine- matic treatment: violinists have been telling stories about him since he first appeared in America about a century ago.
  2. 2. Arts 109 aryLeopoldAuer,whose pupils included Nathan Milstein,EfremZimbal- ist, Mischa Elman, and arguably the 20th cen- tury’s most famous vio- linist, Jascha Heifetz. It was rumored that Auer (unfairly) called Seidel the “devil” of the violin, a foil to Heifetz, his blond “angel.” Both emigrated to the United States, and although the two were competitive, they were colleagues, even if Seidel (andallleadingviolinists)livedinHeifetz’suniverse. Unfortunately for Seidel, his American debut at CarnegieHall,in1918,camelessthaneightmonths afterHeifetz’s.Auerhadreportedly decidedthatHeifetzshouldappear in America first, and that perfor- mance, which wowed audience andcriticsalike,launchedarock- etlikecareerpropelledbytechnical perfection,astoundingclarity,and asenseofhyperintenseprofession- alismthatmadehimahousehold name.Askids,ToschaandJascha hadperformedtogetherfortheking andqueenofNorway.Asadultsin NewYork,theyplayedPing-Pong inSeidel’sPelhamhouse—Heifetz wonatthat,too. Seidel moved west to play for Hollywood, then, after a stint in the United States Navy Band, returned to a job as solo- ist and concertmaster with Par- amount’s studio orchestra. He was the uncredited violin solo- ist for The Wizard of Oz, even if muchofhisplayingendedupon the cutting-room floor. He pro- videdsimilarservicesfornumer- ous films, including David O. Selznick’s Intermezzo, Ingrid Bergman’sfirstmajorAmerican movie,forwhichherecordedthe famoustheme.(Hewasalsoone of the violinists Charlie Chaplin would invite over to play duets.) Seidel’s Hollywood career, however, slowly eroded as contract orchestras became freelance, requiring musicians to flex theirentrepreneurialmuscles.AccordingtoRoy Malaninhis2004bookZimbalist:ALife,Heiftez evenrequestedthatSeidelplayconcertmasterfor “themaster’smostspectacularconcertorecord- ings.” That must have hurt. It’s pretty clear that Seidel knew his own limitations. He and Estelle lived in a sizable Tudor in the BeverlyHillsflats(hometotheeverydaywealthy). Inthelate1940s,Heifetzmovedabovehimtothe hillsofBeverlyCrest,practicinginadetachedstudio Seidel, c. 1920: “He was a natural talent who could turn you on to his instru- ment in an instant, as soon as the hair of his bow touched the strings.” LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
  3. 3. The American Scholar, Winter 2018 110 designedbyLloydWright(FrankLloydWright’s son).Idon’tknowifSeidelfelttheloomingpres- ence of his more successful rival looking down on him, but it seems likely that he had a sense of impendingdoombeforehehit30—whenhebegan hidingthefactthathewastheunnamedviolinist inradiocommercialsformaizeproducts. Violinists like to track their pedagogical lin- eage—which luminary their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, studied with. I am drawn to Seidel, have been researching him since I was a kid, partly because of my own violin genealogy (Istudiedwithpedagogicaldescendantsofboth HeifetzandSeidel).HeifetzmayhavebeenAmer- ica’sviolincelebrity,butitwouldbeamistaketo discountSeidel’simportance.WhenSeidelper- formed a Brahms sonata or the Dvořák Humor- esque, whether he was playing a virtuoso work suchasErnestChausson’sPoèmeortheHebrew MelodyofJosephAchron,hesomehowsounded moregenuinethananyoneelse—evenifhistempos wereslowerbycontemporarystandards,evenif heplayedwithtoomuchschmaltz,usingplenty ofold-fashionedportamentowhenshiftingfrom onepositiontoanother.AndalthoughSeidelper- hapsdidn’trecordthemostintellectuallyrigorous music—he was a singing violinist, influenced by thecantorialtradition—heplayedwithasmuch depthoftoneandemotionalintensityasanyone I’ve heard on disk. ArnoldSteinhardt,aformerstudentofSeidel who wrote about his teacher in a 2006 memoir, ViolinDreams,oncetoldmethatSeidel’ssound, stirring and singular, was considered “hot” by both violinists and Hollywood producers. That welargelyassociatelovescenesordepictionsof thelessfortunateinfilms—oranysceneevoking tearsorstrongemotions—withthesoundofthe violin is largely due to Seidel. He was a natural talentwhocouldturnyouontohisinstrumentin aninstant,assoonasthehairofhisbowtouched thestrings.Thiswastheessenceofhislegacy—he laidthegroundworkformainstreamAmericato deepen its love affair with the violin. There was something naïve about Seidel, though—something socially amiss. Steinhardt recalledthathewaspronetotiradesduringles- sons. He was more of a demonstrator than an explainer. He didn’t seem confident in negoti- ating or planning his career: if a well-paying gig came along, he took it. He was also somewhat immature, short tempered, and gullible, and he had trouble staying rhythmically consistent while he played—all of which could have been symptoms of the early-onset neurodegenera- tive disorder that eventually led to his death. Teased by rivals who eventually edged him out of the best Hollywood gigs, he was coddled by Estelle, as much a caregiver to him as a spouse. Bycontrast,Heifetzwasstoic,self-sufficient,far lessneedy.Everindependent,Heifetzendedup divorcing both of his spouses and leaving noth- ing to his children in his will, not his homes in BeverlyCrestorMalibu,nothispricelessviolins. TheJewishémigréswhofledtheNazi-occupied countriesandsettledinSouthernCalifornia,rein- ventingthemselvesasfilmcomposers,recognized Seidel’stalentandcherishedhisbrandofinstant sonic heat; to wit, he recorded Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing suite with the composer at the piano. When Seidel asked Louis Kaufman, the studio violinist who played the scene-work in Intermezzo, why he gigged in Hollywood,Kaufmanreplied,“Nooneeverasked metoplaybadly,Toscha,andthechecksarealways good.” On Intermezzo, Kaufman (no slouch of a violinist,whomadeanearlylandmarkrecording ofVivaldi’sFourSeasons)hadthesupremechal- lenge of trying to emulate Seidel. As Kaufman recalled in his 2003 memoir,  A Fiddler’s Tale, “Miss [Ingrid] Bergman was shown listening to [Intermezzo’s]themeinanemotionallycharged scene. What a challenge for me to try to match Toscha’s unusually beautiful sound!” It’s hard to imagine today, but Toscha Seidel and his fellow Russian-Jewish violinists were enduringlypopularinearly-20th-centuryAmeri- canculture.GeorgeandIraGershwinevenmemo-
  4. 4. Arts 111 rializedfouroftheminapopularsongfrom1922, “Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha.” In the Roar- ingTwenties,GeorgeGershwinplayedthesong at parties to great laughter, singing about those four“temperamentalOrientals”:MischaElman, JaschaHeifetz,ToschaSeidel,andSaschaJacob- sen. All four were stellar violinists, but none had as dark a story—and perhaps as tortured an innerstruggle—asSeideldid.Heifetzfinishedhis distinguished career as an elite teacher at USC. Seidel concluded his in a Las Vegas show band before ending up in a nursing home. He died in 1962, at the age of 62. It’s ultimately not important if a real rivalry existed between Seidel and Heifetz—although therearestoriesabouthowSeidelenjoyedsome schadenfreude from an orchestra stand, when Heifetz played slightly out of tune while solo- ing at the Hollywood Bowl. But the two fiddlers were yin and yang, and Seidel, the more dra- matic character, should not be forgotten. So if you find a Toscha Seidel recording on YouTube (he’s there, too, hiding in plain sight), keep in mindthatthere’smoreheretowhatyou’rehear- ing than a rich, singing tone with an impetuous vibrato. You’re catching part of a tale cut short too early that deserves to live on with hopeful imagination. OnalateJuneafternoon,asmall,eagercrowd gatheredattheNewYorkCityCenterforawork- shop reconstruction of choreographer Merce Cunningham’s 1975 work Sounddance. A short, dark-haired man entered the room, spinning towardtheaudience,withDavidTudor’srecorded electronicscoresoundingvariouslylikemidtown traffic,dentaldrilling,andanMRImachine.Ina theater,dancersmaketheirentrancesandexits fromthewings.Inthestudio,theypretend.The restofthedancersentered,groupingandregroup- ing in couples, trios, larger clusters. The perfor- mance was full of funny footwork, hip bumps, cocked heads. One dancer left, and eventually they all did, the first man out the last to leave. Like all of Cunningham’s works, Sounddance is abstract, but fresh, full of feeling, revealing new ideas with each viewing. Both the audience and D a n c e Step by Step Keeping the work of legendary choreographers alive depends on a cadre of experts JULIA LICHTBLAU Julia Lichtblau, formerly a dancer, is the book review editor at The Common and teaches at Drew University. thedancersseemedtorelishtheoccasion.After all,performancesofCunningham’sworks,though notexactlyrare,havebecomelessfrequentsince hisdeathin2009andtheclosureofhiscompany two years later. Cunningham was one of an extraordinary generationof20th-centuryAmericanchoreogra- phersincludingGeorgeBalanchine,MarthaGra- ham, José Limón, Alvin Ailey, Jerome Robbins, andPaulTaylor.(OnlyTaylor,87,survivesofthat cohort.MurrayLouis,animportantmidcentury choreographer,diedinFebruary2016,andpost- modernist Trisha Brown died in March 2017.) Collectively,they’veleftmassivebodiesofwork. Balanchinemade425danceworks,roughly200 ofthemballets.Cunninghamcreatedaround200, Graham181.Yetofallthemodesofart,dancesare the most vulnerable to neglect. Few have mass- market value. Films notwithstanding, a dance existsprimarilyinperformance.Thereisnouni-

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